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Title: The Shadow of the Czar
Author: Carling, John R.
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.

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Transcriber's Note:

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The Shadow of the Czar

  [Illustration: THE CORONATION DUEL.
   _Frontispiece_]



     The
     Shadow of the Czar

     By
     John R. Carling

     _Illustrated_

     Boston
     Little, Brown, and Company
     1903



     _Copyright, 1902_,
     BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

     _All rights reserved._


     Published September, 1902


     UNIVERSITY PRESS · JOHN WILSON
     AND SON · CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.



Contents


     PROLOGUE

     CHAPTER                                PAGE

     I. THE MEETING IN THE FOREST              1

     II. THE CASTLE BY THE SEA                 3

     III. FEVER AND CONVALESCENCE             30

     IV. THE SEALED CHAMBER                   45

     V. THE RETURN OF THE "MASTER"            60


     THE STORY

     I. TWO YEARS AFTERWARDS                  78

     II. CZERNOVESE POLITICS                  92

     III. A MENACE FROM THE CZAR             110

     IV. THE PRINCESS AND THE CARDINAL       122

     V. ON THE RUSSIAN FRONTIER              136

     VI. KATINA THE PATRIOT                  149

     VII. WHAT HAPPENED IN RUSSOGRAD         170

     VIII. PAUL AND THE PRINCESS             186

     IX. A DISPLAY OF SWORDSMANSHIP          200

     X. THE DEED OF MICHAEL THE GUARDSMAN    215

     XI. THE ENVOY OF THE CZAR               230

     XII. THE POLISH CONSPIRACY              254

     XIII. THE FATE OF THE APPROPRIATION
       BILL                                  274

     XIV. NEARING A CRISIS                   300

     XV. THE EVE OF THE CORONATION           326

     XVI. THE CRIME THAT FAILED              343

     XVII. THE BEGINNING OF THE CORONATION   361

     XVIII. THE GREAT WHITE CZAR             377

     XIX. THE CORONATION DUEL                395

     XX. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL           410



THE SHADOW OF THE CZAR

PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I

THE MEETING IN THE FOREST


Paul Cressingham, captain in Her Britannic Majesty's army, had seen
some active service, and was therefore not unused to sleeping on the
ground at night wrapt in his military cloak. Nevertheless he had a
civilian weakness, if not for luxury, at least for comfort, and much
preferred a four-poster, whenever the same was procurable.

At the time, however, when this story opens it seemed likely that if
he slept at all, his slumbers would have to be _à la belle étoile_,
for he found himself late at night wandering in a deep pine-forest of
Dalmatia.

Paul's regiment--the Twenty-fourth Kentish--had its headquarters at
Corfu; for his were the days when the United States of the Ionian
Isles formed a dependency of the British Crown. His uncle, Colonel
Graysteel, was commander-in-chief of the forces stationed there,--a
fact which stood Paul in good, or possibly in bad, stead, for thereby
he was enabled to obtain more relaxation than is consonant with the
traditions of the War Office, his furloughs being extremely numerous,
and spent chiefly in exploring odd corners of the Adriatic.

Colonel Graysteel growled occasionally at his nephew's negligences.
Having no children of his own, he had adopted Paul as his heir. On
parade there was no finer figure than Paul's,--tall, athletic,
soldierly. With hair of a golden shade and having a tendency to curl,
with soft hazel eyes that could look stern, however, at times, and
with graceful drooping moustache, he was first favorite with the
ladies of the English colony at Corfu, especially as his elegance in
waltzing was the despair of all his brother-officers. He was an
excellent shot, a deadly swordsman, a dashing rider, a youth of spirit
and bravery. To one of this character much must be forgiven, and the
old colonel forgave accordingly.

Nevertheless when Paul one fine morning walked into his uncle's villa
at breakfast-time and requested furlough for no other reason than a
wish to explore the wilds of Dalmatia, there was a slight outbreak of
wrath on the part of the commander-in-chief.

"Another leave of absence? I don't believe you've put in three months'
service this year."

"Four months, five days," corrected the other amiably.

"The Commissioner's beginning to notice your vagaries."

"Hang the Commissioner," replied the young man, irreverently. "Let him
give me something worthy of doing, and I'll do it. Get up a war, say
against Austria or Turkey, the latter preferred; show me the enemy and
you'll find me to the fore. But this playing at soldiers; this
marching and counter-marching; this inspection of kit, and attendance
at parade,--I'm growing wearied of it. I'm rusting here,--I, whose
motto is 'Action.' Am I to remain for ever in these cursed malarial
isles, a mere drilling machine?"

"The drillings pay when comes the day," retorted the colonel, so
surprised at this betrayal into rhyme that he repeated it. "And what's
this new craze of yours for Dalmatia? Wild outlandish place! Nobody
ever goes there."

"Precisely my reason for visiting it," returned Paul, lunging with
his sabre-point at a mosquito that had just settled on a panel of the
wall. "Why go where everybody goes? My tastes run in the direction of
the odd, the romantic, the wild, the--anything that's opposed to the
common round of existence. I fancy I shall find it in Dalmatia."

"You'll find yourself in the hands of banditti. That's where you'll
be. The mountains swarm with them. And I'm damned if I'll pay your
ransom," cried the colonel with returning wrath, as he recalled the
liberality and frequency with which Paul drew upon his purse.
"Remember the case of young Lennox, and the severed ear sent to his
father in an envelope. Ten thousand florins! That's what the old chap
had to pay to get his son out of the clutches of the infernal
scoundrels, and never a thaler has he been able to recover from the
Austrian Government. And now you would run yourself and me into a
similar noose!"

"Banditti won't fix my ransom at so high a rate. Besides," added Paul,
critically contemplating the Damascene inlaying of his sabre, "they've
first got to take me."

"Well, if they'll fix it at what you're worth," said his uncle,
grimly, "I shall not object to the payment."

Ultimately Paul obtained the desired furlough by resorting to his
usual threat; he would sell his commission, buy a string of camels,
and spend the rest of his life in trying to discover the sources of
the Nile.

Thus it came to pass that a few days after this interview young
Captain Cressingham embarked on board the Austrian Lloyd's steamer
_Metternich_, bound for Zara, the clean, well-built capital of
Dalmatia, directing his voyage to this city in order to renew old
memories with some former college-chums, who were about to pass their
summer holiday in its neighborhood.

Finding that he had anticipated the arrival of his friends by a few
days, Paul resolved to spend the interval in taking a pedestrian tour
southward as far as Sebenico: and accordingly he set off, without
either companion or servant, and wearing his uniform, partly because
as a soldier he was proud of it, partly because experience had taught
him that in these eastern regions a uniform inspires respect in the
minds of innkeepers, if not in those of banditti.

He passed the first night of this journey at a wayside hostelry.

At sunrise he resumed his course, walking amid picturesque scenery--on
the right the sparkling sea, on the left glorious pine-clad mountains.

Late in the afternoon Paul, who had followed the post-road, reached a
point where it entered a magnificent forest. As this wild-wood was
just the sort of place where banditti might be expected to lurk,
Paul's first impulse was to turn aside, and to take the more
circuitous way along the sea-beach.

"You fear!" a secret voice seemed to whisper: and the reproach decided
his route. Not even in his own eyes would he be a coward.

This choice of a road was but a small matter, one might think; yet it
was to form the turning-point of his life.

He walked forward at a quick pace, and, with an eye to a challenge
from some outlaw of the forest, he kept his hand constantly upon the
butt of his revolver.

He did not meet with a bandit, however, but with a bear--the first he
had ever seen in a wild, free state.

The creature came shambling from the wood on one side of the road a
few yards in front of him, and there it stood, with its eyes fixed
upon the wayfarer, as if questioning the right of man to invade these
solitudes.

"An adventure at last!" murmured Paul, tingling with excitement.
"_Ursus Styriacus_ from his size. Now to emulate Hereward the Wake."

As previously stated Paul was an excellent shot, and inasmuch as his
revolver was six-chambered he had little fear as to the result of the
encounter.

The killing of a bear is the easiest thing in the world, at least
according to the theory set forth by a hunter whom Paul had met the
previous evening at the hostelry.

"If you fire at Bruin while he is on all-fours, you waste powder and
shot, for his tough shaggy sides are almost impervious to bullets. You
must face him at close quarters, and when he rises on his hind legs to
welcome you with that hug which is his characteristic, then is the
time to aim at the vital parts. If the shots fail to take effect, and
you find yourself in his embrace, you simply draw your knife, give the
necessary stab, and the thing is done."

The plan seems beautifully simple.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Paul did not have the
opportunity of reducing the theory to practice; for, as he slowly
advanced, revolver in hand, and with his eye alert to every movement
of the bear, the latter ambled off again into the wood.

Resolving to give chase, Paul turned aside from the road. He would
shoot that bear, bring back some fellows from the inn to flay the
animal, and present the skin to his uncle.

But Colonel Graysteel was not destined to decorate his smoking-room
with a trophy of his nephew's valor, for though Paul followed hard
upon his quarry, its rate of progress surpassed his own. In a few
moments it had passed from view, and all the shouting and random
firing on the part of Paul failed to provoke the return of the animal.

"Talk no more to me of the spirit of bears," he muttered, as he put up
his weapon.

Paul turned to resume his journey in some vexation of spirit--a
feeling which did not diminish as he began to realize that he had lost
his bearings. All around him rose the lofty pines, obscuring his view
of the road from which he had been diverted by the chase of the bear.
There was nothing to indicate the way. He carried an ordnance-map of
the district, and the forest was marked large upon it, but he was
unable to tell what particular point of the map corresponded with his
own position at that moment. Moreover, he was without a compass; and,
to add to his difficulty, the sun had set.

Seek as he would he could not find the road. Now and again he shouted
at the top of his voice, even at the risk of attracting the notice of
persons less friendly than charcoal-burners or wood-cutters, but his
cries met with no response. The silence and solitude of the leafy
vistas around were more suggestive of the primeval back-woods of the
New World than of an European forest.

For several hours he walked, or rather stumbled along, in the
darkness, wandering this way or that, as blind fancy directed, and
haunted by the reflection that Bruin might return with one of his
_confrères_, eager to dine off a too venturesome tourist.

He had given himself up as hopelessly lost, when he came to a spot
where the foliage above his head suddenly lifted, revealing a sky of
the darkest blue set with glittering stars. This sky extending in a
broad band far to the left and far to the right proclaimed the welcome
fact that he had hit upon the road again.

He looked at his watch, and found that it was close upon midnight.
That infernal Bruin had delayed his journey by six hours.

Even now he had no idea which way to turn for Sebenico, till his eyes,
roaming over as much of the sky as was contained within his circle of
vision, caught the sign of Ursa Major.

"Poetic justice!" he smiled. "Misled by the earthly bear, guided by
the heavenly." Knowing that Sebenico lay to the south, he accordingly
set his face in that direction with intent, on reaching the first
milestone, to ascertain from his ordnance-map the position of the
nearest village or inn.

He stepped forward briskly, and keeping a sharp lookout soon came upon
a milestone glimmering white upon one side of the road. Kneeling down
he struck a match--like the revolver, a recent invention in 1845--and
by the faint glow learned that he was thirty miles from Zara.

Taking out his map, together with the "Tourist's Manual for Dalmatia,"
he proceeded to make a study of both by the brief and unsatisfactory
illuminations afforded by a succession of lucifers.

"After to-night," he muttered, "I shall always carry a small lantern
with me; likewise a compass."

Now while Paul was kneeling there, intent upon book and map, he
received the greatest surprise of his life.

"Which way does Zara lie?"

The question was spoken in Italian--the common language of
Dalmatia--by a voice so soft and musical that the like had never been
heard by Paul.

When he had risen to his feet he stood mute with astonishment, a
passage from "Christabel" floating through his mind,--

     "I guess 't was frightful there to see
     A lady so richly clad as she--
     Beautiful exceedingly!"

For, in truth, it _was_ a lady that Paul saw standing before him at
midnight hour beneath the light of the stars in the depth of the
Dalmatian forest; and, like the lady of the poem, she was both richly
dressed and marvellously beautiful--lovely as the soft beauty of a
southern night; with raven hair, and dusky eyes that seemed the
mirrors of a sweet melancholy. She wore a long Dalmatian capote with
the hood drawn over her head. The capote being partly open revealed a
costume of the richest silk. Decorated with curious gold brocade, and
with a wealth of chain-work and gems, this dress, though it might have
been pronounced bizarre by the more sober taste of Western ladies,
harmonized in Paul's judgment with the wild oriental beauty of the
wearer.

"Pardon me if I have startled you. Which way does Zara lie?"

And the astounded Paul, usually full of assurance in the presence of
women, could do nothing on the present occasion but simply stammer
forth, while pointing to the north,--

"That is the road to Zara."

"I thank you, signor."

With a stately inclination of her head she drew her capote more
closely around her, and walked away in the direction indicated by Paul
as quietly and confidently as if the lonely forest-road were the
Boulevard des Italiens, and the distant Zara a pretty toy-shop a few
yards ahead!

Different people, different customs. Was it the habit of young
Dalmatian women to take solitary midnight walks through bear-haunted
forests?

Recovering from his surprise Paul hastened after her.

"Signorina, you cannot walk alone to Zara."

"And why cannot I walk alone to Zara?" said the young lady, facing
Paul and assuming a hauteur that had a somewhat chilling effect upon
his gallantry.

"Perils beset you--banditti, for example."

"With native Dalmatians the person of a woman is held sacred. No one,
not even a robber, will do me hurt."

Subsequent inquiry on the part of Paul proved that the lady had spoken
correctly. Indeed he learned that if a stranger travelling in this
region were to place himself under the escort of a woman, he would be
free from molestation.

This high standard of chivalry, curious among a people otherwise
barbarous, explained the lady's confidence and fearlessness in
approaching him.

"But, signorina," remonstrated Paul, "the way is so long. Zara is
thirty miles off. And you would walk that distance on foot! Consider
the fatigue."

"I can sit and rest, and when tired can sleep for a time on the ground
as I did last night. I _must_ reach Zara," she added, with a shiver as
of fear.

Her dress of jewels gave proof of her wealth, her voice and manner of
refinement. It was amazing, then, to hear her talk of sleeping _al
fresco_ on the turf like a gipsy or a soldier.

"I thank you, signor, but I do not require an escort." So saying she
walked away again with the dignity of a princess, while Paul in his
bewilderment gazed after her retreating figure.

"Here's a mystery, forsooth! Who is she? What is she? What lovely
eyes! And what a witching face! Now how should a fellow act in a case
like this? Ought I not to follow her?"

Paul had no wish to force his protection upon a young woman averse to
it, but the circumstances seemed to justify him in exercising some
sort of surveillance over her, for though the Dalmatians might be such
paladins as she had represented, there were dangers other than those
arising from the malevolence of human beings--bears, for example. If
harm should befall her, then his would be the blame for permitting her
to go on her way alone. But as she was opposed to his presence he
shrank from walking by her side. She might insist upon his retiring,
and refusal or obedience would be equally distasteful to him. His
course was clear; the protection must be exercised from a distance,
and without her knowledge.

Accordingly he followed in the wake of the young woman, screening
himself from a possible backward glance on her part by keeping within
the covert of the trees that skirted the roadside, and stepping out
from time to time to note her progress.

Her slow and halting pace gave clear indication that she was worn with
travelling, and half-an-hour had not passed when Paul observed her
swaying to one side as if about to fall. Too tired to proceed farther,
she turned to a grassy mound beside the road and sat down, resting her
brow upon her hand, the very picture of languor and despondency.

The sight of her helplessness moved Paul strangely. No longer
concealing himself, he walked boldly forward in the centre of the road
that she might observe his coming.

"Signor, you are following me," she said, with a touch of reproach in
her voice.

"I plead guilty."

"Wishing to protect me from imaginary perils?"

"Imaginary! You may be safe from men, but have you made a truce with
the beasts? A huge bear crossed this road a few hours ago."

The lady gave a start of fear. Paul saw his advantage and pursued it.

"Signorina, I am an Englishman--a military officer, as you see," he
remarked, putting aside his cloak and revealing his handsome uniform
of dark blue adorned with silver facings. "I do not ask who or whence
you are; but whether you be princess or peasant, I cannot let you go
on your way alone and unprotected."

She did not reply, and Paul continued in a somewhat firmer tone,--

"You do wrong to repel me. You are too exhausted to walk farther
without aid."

"You speak the truth," she murmured. "I am faint. I have eaten nothing
for twelve hours."

Her tone went to Paul's heart, the more so as he had nothing to offer
her in the shape of food, for he had long ago consumed his last
morsel.

"You must think it strange," said the lady, after a brief pause, "for
a woman to be wandering in this hour in such a spot."

"I do not press for confidences--only for permission to conduct you to
a place of safety."

"But learn the risk you run by so doing. It was not from churlishness
that I refused your escort just now. Signor, I will be frank with you,
believing that you will not betray me. I have escaped from a convent,
where I was forcibly detained, and I fear pursuit by the Austrian
gendarmerie. Hence, by aiding me, you may come into collision with the
authorities. Why should I bring trouble upon you? Now you understand
my desire for Zara. I hope to find there some English vessel. Once
beneath its flag I shall be safe."

"You fear pursuit? Then you require an arm for your defence. So long
as I can handle sword and pistol no one shall carry you off against
your will. Signorina, you must come with me."

"And where would you take me?" she asked in a tone that showed she was
yielding.

"Not far from here, according to my guide-book, is a path leading down
to the sea. On the shore, which is distant about a mile, stands a
building, old but tenanted, and called Castel Nuovo. This is the
nearest human habitation," continued Paul. "Before meeting you I had
intended to try my fortune there. Now, suppose we go together? As the
Dalmatians are such respecters of women they will not refuse you
hospitality. Rest at this castle for the night, and to-morrow you
shall find an easier way of reaching Zara than journeying thither on
foot."

The young lady was not long in coming to a decision. A roof, food, and
a bed, and these distant but a mile, offered a more attractive
prospect than supperless repose on the dank turf of the dark
bear-haunted wild-wood. She rose to her feet, looked intently at Paul,
and read in his clear eyes the glance of a good conscience.

"Take me with you," she said, with the simplicity of a child.

Paul bowed, and offered his arm, which she accepted. The touch of her
little hand thrilled him with a strange pleasure.



CHAPTER II

THE CASTLE BY THE SEA


Walking onward a few paces they came to the path mentioned in the
guide-book.

Few words were spoken, for Paul, knowing that his fair companion was
tired, famished, and sleepy, purposely refrained from conversation.

Once, however, the silence was broken, when the lady timidly ventured
to ask his name, which being given, he in turn requested the like
favor from her.

"I have been taught to call myself Barbara," was her answer, which
Paul could not but think was a somewhat odd way of expressing herself.

Barbara! If he had not thought it a pretty name before, he certainly
thought it such now.

"And Barbara," he murmured, more to himself than to his companion,
"means 'strange.'"

"I fear you will find my character correspondent."

"But you have a second name?" smiled Paul.

"Presumably, but I am in ignorance respecting it, for my parentage is
unknown to me. Indeed, signor, it is true," she added sadly. "I am a
mystery to myself."

Her statement filled Paul with wonder, but though desirous of learning
her history he recognized that the time was scarcely yet ripe to press
for confidences.

The path traversed by them formed a gradual descent, in parts so steep
that Barbara would often have slipped but for Paul's strong arm. The
murmur of the sea was now heard; a faint breeze blew coldly; finally
emerging from the wood, they found themselves on an open grassy space
shelving down to the beach.

There, distant about a hundred yards, stood the building that they
sought--Castel Nuovo.

The retention of the epithet "Nuovo" was perhaps intended as a joke on
the part of the Dalmatians. Like the rest of earthly things the castle
must once have been new, but that once, judging by appearances, was a
long time ago. The greater part of the edifice was in ruins, the stars
glimmering through the vacant window spaces and through the gaps that
yawned in the ivy-mantled walls.

A massive, square built tower perched on a rock that overhung the sea,
seemed the portion likeliest to be tenanted, if tenanted at all, for
signs of human presence were wanting. Neither light nor sound came
from it.

Silent and ghostly in the cold starlight rose the gray tower, the sea
splashing with melancholy murmur at the foot of the crag.

The brief notice contained in the guide-book--"Castel Nuovo, an old
mansion, residence of the Marquis Orsino"--did not suggest a place
like this, a place seeming to be desolated by the curse of some past
tragedy; and as Paul contemplated the scene, a feeling of misgiving
stole over him,--a misgiving which found reflection in Barbara's face.

Seating his companion upon a fallen column, Paul went forward to
reconnoitre. Crossing the grass-grown pavement of what had once been a
stately loggia, he mounted the mossy fractured steps leading to the
door of the tower. On the lintel was sculptured, "Marino Faliero,
1348"--proof that the castle dated from the days when the Venetians
held sway in Dalmatia.

No sooner had Paul rapped upon the massive oaken door than a terrible
din arose from within. His summons had startled into wakefulness a
menagerie of dogs, and these, judging by their deep bass, brutes of
the largest size.

A casement high above the portal opened immediately, and an old man's
voice cried,--

"Is that you, Master?"

The question was spoken in Romaic, a language with which Paul had
become familiar by reason of his residence in Corfu.

He directed his eyes upward, but the speaker was invisible. Familiar
perhaps with the attacks of banditti, he was too cautious to expose
his person as a target for a pistol-shot.

Stepping back, the better to be heard, and speaking in Romaic, the
better to be understood, Paul explained his object in knocking,
withholding the fact, however, that the lady with him had escaped from
a convent, lest it should dispose the old man to decline so dangerous
a fugitive.

"You cannot stay here," was the answer, when Paul had finished
speaking.

"I will pay you, and that handsomely, for the trouble we give."

"It's not a question of money. This house is not mine, and I cannot
open it to whom I will. I have received strict orders from the Master
to admit no one during his absence. If he should return and find me
entertaining strangers, I should suffer."

"Your master, whoever he may be, never meant that you should turn away
at midnight a young lady exhausted by a twelve hours' wandering in the
forest without food. I ask not for myself, but for her. It is but for
a single night."

"A single hour would be too long."

Paul stood dismayed by the old man's churlishness. He pictured
Barbara's look of distress on announcing that he had brought her on a
bootless errand.

"You a Greek," he cried, "to refuse hospitality to an Englishman,
whose uncle fought for Greece--"

This appeal wrought a remarkable change in the old man.

"What do you say you are?"

"An Englishman, nephew of Colonel Graysteel, commandant of the British
forces at Corfu, and--"

"An Englishman! Why the devil didn't you say so before? I took you for
a damned Austrian. And you are the nephew of old 'Fighting Graysteel'?
I was with him at Missolonghi. Wait. I'll be down in a moment. Hi,
Jacintha, Jacintha," he added, addressing some one within. "Get up, or
I'll throw something at your head."

The old man withdrew from the casement, and Paul concluded that he was
coming downstairs, for the baying of the dogs gradually ceased; there
were sounds suggestive of the idea that he was kicking them into some
place of safety.

"Jacintha?" thought Paul. "The old fellow's wife, daughter, or
servant? Whoever she may be, I am glad for the young lady's sake that
a woman lives here."

Footsteps were now audible in the passage. A little panel in the upper
part of the door slid aside revealing an iron grating, behind which
appeared a man's face set in a square of light.

"No tricks with me. Now, mylordos, if you are what you say you are,
speak to me in English, for though I don't talk the language myself I
understand it when spoken by others."

"Open the door, and give me some supper--" began Paul.

"Ah! you're an Englishman, all over," interrupted the other with a dry
chuckle. "The first thing he thinks of is his belly."

And the inmate, apparently satisfied with this credential of
nationality, swung open the great iron-studded door and revealed
himself.

He was a little man, and though past seventy years of age, his form
had lost little of the elasticity and strength of youth. His thin
curved nose was extremely suggestive of the beak of an eagle, a
resemblance increased by his bright piercing eyes. His hair was white
and flowing, and his moustaches were of such a length that he had tied
them together at the back of his head.

His attire was gorgeous in the extreme, and he was evidently very
proud of the fact. He wore an open jacket that was a perfect marvel of
silk, velvet, and rows of silver buttons; a white fustanella or kilt
glittering with embroidery of gold; and gaiters and slippers rich with
the same decoration. Altogether he was one of the strangest creatures
that Paul had ever beheld.

In one hand he carried a yataghan, and in the other a lighted lamp,
and he bowed low with theatrical grace.

"Since you are an Englishman, enter. Welcome, ten thousand welcomes,"
he cried, waving his sparkling yataghan around, as if inviting Paul to
take entire possession of the castle. "Every Englishman is my brother,
for did not your countrymen fight for the liberation of Greece? Can we
ever forget Navarino? You see before you the friend, the
companion-in-arms of General Church and Lord Cochrane. You must have
heard your uncle talk of me,--Lambro the Turcophage, with whose name
Ottoman mothers still frighten their children, by telling them how
Lambro, whenever food ran short in the camp, never hesitated to roast
and eat his Turkish prisoners. Ah!" Like a ghoul he smacked his lips
at the memory of those repasts. "Yes, to me, and to men like me,
Greece owes the freedom that she now enjoys. I should be great to-day,
and hold high office under King Otho: but what am I? What you see. The
custodian of an old ruin. This is national gratitude, mylordos. It is
thus that Hellas rewards those who have shed their blood for her."

Paul immediately recognized in the speaker one of the class called
Palicars, men who had fought for the independence of Greece in the
twenties; in their youth half soldiers and half brigands, but always
full of patriotism and bold as lions against the Turk; in old age too
often apt to be garrulous, boastful, vain.

Muttering some words of gratitude for the proffered hospitality, Paul
immediately flew off for Barbara, whom he found asleep. In a state of
weariness she had rested her arm on a stone balustrade, pillowed her
cheek on her sleeve, and without intending it had fallen asleep in
that attitude.

"Fie, signorina," said Paul with chiding smile, as he gently roused
her. "Sleeping in the open air! Do you court malaria? Come, there is
better rest for you in yon tower, where you will not be the only lady.
Our host is a somewhat queer character, but--'any port in a storm,' as
our English proverb has it."

He assisted her to rise, and helped her across the dilapidated loggia,
and up the steps to the entrance of the hall where Lambro stood
waiting to receive them.

But no sooner had the old Palicar obtained a clear view of Barbara
than his eyes almost started from their sockets. His shaking hand
dropped the lamp, and the hall was plunged into sudden darkness. With
the ejaculation of "Kyrie eleison" the warrior, who was wont to boast
that he had fought in a hundred battles, fled at the sight of a young
maiden's face.

At the end of the corridor he recovered himself, and shouted,
"Jacintha, Jacintha, come down."

"What is the matter?" said a voice at his elbow.

"Matter enough," replied Lambro, grasping the woman's shoulders and
whispering in her ear. "The dead have returned to life. Walk to the
door, pick up the lamp, re-light it, and look at the lady that the
Englishman has brought with him."

Jacintha did as bidden. The lamp, re-kindled, showed her as a little
fair-haired woman of subdued demeanor, her face retaining traces of
former good looks.

She cast one glance at Barbara, and immediately gave a strange gasp.

"In God's name," she murmured, "who are you?"

"A hard question," returned Barbara, with a touch of bitterness in her
voice, "seeing that I myself cannot answer it."

This reply seemed to enhance Jacintha's fear. She stood mutely staring
at Barbara, who began to feel something of resentment at the woman's
strange manner.

"I will depart if you wish it," she said, turning away with quiet
dignity, though her heart sank within her at the thought of passing
the night out of doors.

"Oh! no, no. Pardon me, my lady, if I seem rude," replied Jacintha,
assuming an humble manner, and stepping forward as if to intercept
Barbara's departure. "Do not go. We shall be glad if you will stay.
Stay here as long as you will--at least--that is--till--till--"

"Till the Master returns," chimed in Lambro, "and then--well, it's his
rule to have no strangers here."

He had apparently plucked up his courage, for he had come forward to
the entrance again, where he and Jacintha stood staring curiously,
first at Barbara, then at each other.

"You seem to know me," said Barbara, "though I do not think that you
can ever have seen me before to-night."

Receiving no reply, she glanced at Paul as if seeking an explanation
from him, who had none to give, for he was as much perplexed as
Barbara herself to account for the singular behavior of this couple.

"At first sight of you," began Lambro, "we thought--But no matter what
we thought; we see now we were wrong."--He cast at the woman a glance
which Paul interpreted as a warning for her to be reticent, and
continued: "Now, Jacintha, show our guests the way upstairs. The
nephew of the man who fought for Greece shall have no cause to
complain of our hospitality."

"A queer couple," whispered Paul to Barbara, "but trustworthy, I
believe. I think you will be safe here."

Barbara, almost ready to sink to the ground with fatigue, had no other
course than to accept the shelter of Castel Nuovo, however strange her
entertainers; and accordingly still resting upon Paul's arm, she
followed Jacintha up the staircase, while Lambro, having locked the
door, brought up the rear.

"Your wife?" Paul asked of him and referring to Jacintha.

"She answers the purpose," replied Lambro. "We've done without a
priest so far. She's mine because I bought her. Five hundred beshliks
she cost me in the slave-mart of Janina. A deal of money, a great deal
of money," continued the old fellow, wincing as if he had had a tooth
drawn. "I'm doubtful whether I've had the value of it. I could have
bought a lovely young Circassian at the price. But since she was
warranted to be a splendid nurse and an excellent cook, I took her as
a helpmeet for my old age."

Paul trusted that Barbara did not understand Romaic, for the old
Palicar's society was not exactly of the sort that a matronly duenna
would have chosen as suitable for a young maiden.

The interior of Castel Nuovo formed a pleasant and striking contrast
with its dilapidated exterior. The apartment to which the visitors
were conducted was stamped with an air of wealth and dignity,--lofty,
composed of dark oak, and furnished with stained-glass casements,
blazoned in their centre with the Winged Lion of St. Mark. The roof
was richly fretted; the pictures painted on the panelling of the walls
were in a fine state of preservation. On the wide tesselated hearth
beneath a beautifully carved mantelpiece were pine logs disposed as
for a fire. To these Jacintha applied a match, and soon a blaze sprang
up, so bright as to render any other light superfluous.

"The Master's dining-hall," remarked Lambro.

"Let me help you, my lady," said Jacintha, observing Barbara
embarrassed with the fastenings of her capote.

She assisted in untying the hood, and having removed the cloak, seated
Barbara in a comfortable arm-chair by the fire.

Despite the Romaic costume worn by Jacintha, and the golden coins
twisted in her hair, Paul had no difficulty in fixing her nationality.

"You are an Englishwoman?" he said, with a smile.

"Yes, sir, I am," was her reply, accompanied by a submissive little
curtsey.

A few words on her part sufficed to give her history. Nurse in the
service of an English doctor at Constantinople, she had, when
returning home, been captured by Turkish pirates, and carried to
Janina for sale, where she was purchased by Lambro, and brought to
Castel Nuovo. Paul's ears tingled at the thought of an Englishwoman
being sold in an Albanian slave-mart. He wondered whether she knew
that she was now living in a free country. Her real name was Winifred
Power, but Lambro would persist in calling her Jacintha.

It so happened that Paul was well acquainted with her native town,
inasmuch as his school-days had been passed in its neighborhood. His
allusions to places with which both were familiar drew tears to the
woman's eyes.

"Ah! do not talk of home," she said. "Every week I can see from the
windows here the steamer from Trieste on its way to England; a few
days' sail only, and yet as impossible for me to reach as the stars."

"You're better off here," growled the old Greek. "I bought you, and by
God I'll keep you. You are not to leave me till I--I--die--" He
winced as if not liking the prospect presented by the last word.--"You
have promised as much. I have treated you better than any Turk would.
You live in a castle with fine dresses and plenty to eat and drink;
and when I'm a--gone you'll have my savings, and can then go back to
England. What more do you want?"

"Shall I be permitted to leave here after your death?" asked Jacintha,
darting a strange look upon Lambro, who frowned, and said,--

"Who is to prevent you? What nonsense you talk! Why don't you ask our
guests what they'll have for supper?"

"What would my lady like?" inquired Jacintha turning to Barbara, and
enumerating the contents of her larder.

"You are very good," smiled Barbara. "Anything will do for me."

"Except, of course, roast Turk," said Paul, turning to Lambro. "We
must draw the line at that."

The Turcophage grinned and withdrew in company with Jacintha; and as
they called no servant to their aid, Paul concluded, and rightly, that
these two were the sole tenants of the castle.

Paul had now a better opportunity than heretofore for observing his
fair companion as she sat by the hearth, the bright firelight playing
over her silken attire with its shimmer of chain-work and jewels. Her
figure was beautifully shaped; her features were of pure, classic
type, as clear and delicate as if sculptured from alabaster. There was
something peculiarly noble in the pose of her head, which disposed
Paul to the belief that when the mystery of her origin became solved,
it would be found that she was of high birth.

She had spread out her hands to the fire, and with her face upturned
to Paul, she said with charming _naïveté_,--

"I am so glad that you insisted upon me accompanying you, for this is
certainly more cheerful than the dark forest."

The light of gratitude sparkling in her soft dusky eyes completely
captivated Paul. He began to think that it would be a pleasant thing
if she would always smile so upon him, and upon none other.

"Our new friends," he remarked, "are evidently expecting visitors, and
those--two in number--to judge from the cutlery." He pointed to the
dining-table and its snowy cloth set with Majolica-ware, cut-glass,
and silver. "The Master and his wife I presume. Unpleasant for us if
they should arrive to-night, and should object to the proceedings of
their hospitable seneschal."

Lambro and his partner now entered, bringing in a repast.

Barbara and Paul drew to the table. The humble Jacintha acted as
waitress and seemed to take pleasure in the office.

Though Barbara ate but sparingly, her companion amply atoned for any
deficiencies on her part; and when Lambro, going down to the castle
cellar, returned with a bottle of delicious maraschino, and a box
containing cigars of ambrosial flavor, Paul's satisfaction was
complete.

Lambro having called for his chibouque, perched himself upon a chair
and sat cross-legged upon it in oriental fashion, while Jacintha at
his command took a live coal from the fire by aid of the tongs, and
applied it to the bowl of his pipe. Then the old Palicar puffed away
in placid contentment while Jacintha went off to prepare a room for
Barbara.

"Those cigars," Lambro presently remarked, addressing Paul, "have
never paid Austrian duty. Whence do I procure them? From the sea,--my
constant friend. A toast, a toast," he cried, raising his glass of
maraschino. "Here's to the storm-fiend, and may he never cease to
send us rich flotsam and jetsam. The dress I wear," he added, patting
his gay costume with pride, "comes from the body of a drowned
compatriot. If the signorina requires a new dress we can supply her
with one as rich as that she now has. No, I am not a wrecker," he
continued, as if in answer to Paul's suspicions. "I simply take the
gifts the waves send me, and they send them pretty frequently on this
wild rocky coast. Sometimes it is a Turkish vessel that goes to pieces
on the reef out yonder," he went on, nodding in the direction of the
sea. "Jacintha and I can hear their cries, but we are unable to help
them. I would not help them if I could," he exclaimed with a fierce
flash of energy, and taking the pipe from his mouth. "Are not the
Turks the enemies of Greece? When I hear their shrieks rising above
the sound of the storm--A-a-h!" He finished the sentence with a smack
of his lips.

It would be impossible to imagine any being more weird than this
little Greek, as he sat there cross-legged, tricked out in the finery
of the dead, his eye glittering wildly, and his moustaches tied at the
back of his head.

Paul deemed it advisable on Barbara's account to give a different turn
to the conversation.

"This must have been a grand old castle when entire," he said. "The
property, is it not, of the Italian Marquis Orsino?"

"Not so," replied Lambro, with a shake of his head. "The marquis sold
it seven years ago to my present Master--"

"My guide-book is evidently not up to date."

"Though," added Lambro, "the sale was kept a secret."

"Why so?"

"All the Master's ways are secret."

"May one ask his name?"

"He has forbidden me to reveal it."

Paul, though conscious that he was treading on delicate ground, could
not repress his further curiosity.

"Where does he live when not here?"

"He has never told me."

"What is his nationality?"

"That is equally a mystery to me."

Paul's interest in the Master increased, and as Lambro did not seem to
resent his questioning, he continued,--

"How often does he visit this place?"

"It may be once only in the year, it may be twice or thrice."

"I gather from your first words when I knocked at the door, and also
from the previous state of this table, that you are expecting him at
the present time?"

"Expecting him!" echoed Lambro. "I am always expecting him. He never
gives warning of his coming, either by letter or messenger. A loud
knock of the door, and there he is! He may arrive to-night, he may not
arrive for six months. But present or absent the larder must always be
full, and the dining-room and the bedroom ready for his immediate
reception. A hard man is the Master."

"And how long do his visits last?"

"That depends upon the mood of his companion."

"His companion? Do you mean his wife?"

"His wife?" repeated Lambro, with a peculiar laugh. "The Master is a
bachelor and will always remain such. He is a member of a peculiar
brotherhood pledged to the repudiation of women."

"What is the object of his visits?"

But Lambro was not disposed to be more communicative.

"Captain Cressingham," he said with a deprecatory shake of his head,
"you must not ask me to betray my Master's secrets."

Paul accepted the rebuke with a good grace.

"You speak truth. I have no right to pry into his affairs. I
apologize."

Secrecy is always suspicious. Lambro's reticence served but to whet
Paul's curiosity. A weird interest began to gather around the unknown
owner of Castel Nuovo, who was so studious of concealing his identity,
who without previous warning came and vanished at irregular intervals
on errands that necessitated a reserve in speaking of them.

At this point Jacintha reappeared carrying a lighted lamp.

"Would my lady like to retire now?"

Yes, my lady would, and arose for that purpose. Paul held the door as
she passed forth.

"Good night, signorina."

She returned the valediction, accompanying it with a graceful
inclination of her head, and a grateful smile that said as plainly as
words could say, "But for you I should now be without bed."

The room to which Jacintha conducted Barbara was intended as a lady's
bedchamber, as the toilet accessories sufficiently proved. A princess
could not have found fault with its dainty tasteful appointments. And,
surprising to relate, not a particle of dust was visible anywhere; the
place was clean, swept, and garnished as if prepared that very day for
the reception of a visitor.

"You are not giving up your own room to me, I hope?" said Barbara.

"Oh, no, my lady. I do not sleep here."

Barbara stared hard at the speaker. Seeing that the "Master,"
according to Lambro's statement, was a foe to womankind, it was
singular, to say the least of it, that Castel Nuovo should contain a
chamber of this description.

Tired as Barbara was, her curiosity would not let her rest, and she
wandered about the room asking a variety of questions. Had this been a
bridal-chamber, or a death-chamber, or both? Had the mysterious
"Master," mourning the loss of a wife or a daughter, given command
that this apartment should be attended to every day, preserved in the
same order as that in which it was when last occupied? Barbara could
extract nothing from the reticent Jacintha, who seemed troubled by her
visitor's catechism.

In her course round the apartment Barbara's quick eyes detected a
circular piece of violet-colored sealing-wax adhering to one of the
walls. She inquired how it came there, but Jacintha professed
ignorance. Attracted by an indefinable feeling, Barbara asked that the
lamp might be brought near. The wax was situated at a point just where
a horizontal band of carving that formed the upper border of a panel
touched upon the smooth plain oak above. A closer inspection showed
that the wax bore the image of a paschal lamb,--an image, tiny indeed,
yet perfectly clear. The wax had been stamped with a seal. Why?
Children might perhaps find pleasure in fixing a piece of wax upon a
wall and in stamping it with a seal, but as there were no children at
Castel Nuovo this explanation would not suffice. If it were the work
of adults what was its purport? Jacintha averred that it was not her
doing; she could not say whose it was or assign any reason for its
origin.

"Can you not put me in another room?"

"The other rooms are somewhat damp. Why, my lady, what do you fear?"
she asked in reproachful surprise.

A hard question. It was impossible to link this piece of wax with any
harm to herself, so Barbara turned away. The dainty little bed invited
her to repose. Why trouble further?

When at last Barbara with a delicious sense of relief had slipped her
tired and aching limbs beneath the sheets, Jacintha brought to the
bedside a glass containing a dark-colored liquid.

"Only quinine, my lady."

In a moment Barbara was sitting up in manifest fear, her eyes large
and ghost-like.

"You don't think I have caught malaria?"

"It is best to take precautions," replied Jacintha, evasively.

"Fever? I have been dreading that," exclaimed Barbara, clasping her
hands. "And I must be at Zara to-morrow. If I linger here I shall be
caught by--Give me the quinine; give me double, treble the ordinary
draught, if it will act as an antidote."

Barbara, after taking the potion, fell asleep almost immediately, and
Jacintha returned to the dining-hall, where in answer to her eager
questioning Paul gave an account of the meeting in the forest and
related all he knew concerning Barbara, which, in truth, was not very
much.

"And now tell me, Jacintha," he said, when he had finished, "why did
you start so on first seeing the signorina?"

Jacintha seemed absolutely terror-stricken at this question. The old
Palicar who had been drinking somewhat freely of the maraschino turned
upon his consort with a fierce frown, drew his yataghan and shook it
furiously at her.

"If ever you let that matter out--you know what I mean--by God, I'll
cut your throat. Be off, woman! Go to bed; and remember what I say."

And Jacintha, who evidently stood thoroughly in awe of the fiery
little Greek, withdrew without a word.

"Captain Cressingham," continued Lambro in a quieter tone, "you may
believe me or not, as you will, but it is a fact that Jacintha and
myself have never seen the signorina till to-night."

"Nor her portrait?"

"Nor her portrait."

Something in his manner convinced Paul that the old Palicar was
speaking the truth, which only made the matter more perplexing.
Despite the repudiation there was evidently some mystery connected
with Barbara, a mystery known to Lambro and his consort. Paul
intuitively felt that the Palicar's reticence could never be overcome,
but he was not without hope of extracting the secret from Jacintha if
he should have an opportunity of speaking with her alone.

"Paul Cressingham," he murmured, when he found himself left in the
dining-hall for the night, "you came to Dalmatia in quest of the
strange, the romantic, the wild. I am beginning to think you have
found them." He drew his chair to the fire, composed himself for
sleep, and dreamed of Barbara till morning gleamed through the
casement.



CHAPTER III

FEVER AND CONVALESCENCE


Of the four occupants of Castel Nuovo the first to awaken in the
morning was Jacintha, who, after dressing, proceeded immediately to
Barbara's room. Having tapped at the door, first softly, then loudly,
and receiving no answer, she ventured to enter.

Barbara was awake, and talking to herself in a very odd manner.

She took no notice of the approach of Jacintha, and the latter
perceived at once that her forebodings were realized.

Barbara, her dark hair lying in disorder on her pillow, a bright color
burning in her cheek, the light of reason quenched in her eye, was in
a high state of fever. She was not speaking in Italian, the language
used by her the previous evening, but in another tongue altogether
strange to Jacintha.

The latter returned quickly to her own room to make it known to
Lambro, who had just struggled into his finery.

"What else could be expected after sleeping at night in a damp
forest?" was his comment. "Fever! and she in that very chamber, too!
By God, if the Master should return and find her there!"

"Come and listen to her. She is talking in a strange language: she
looks at me with piteous eyes as if making some request. Perhaps you
can understand her."

The old Palicar followed her to Barbara's chamber. His roving life in
the Balkan Peninsula had given him a knowledge, more or less
imperfect, of all the languages spoken from the Danube to Maina, but
he failed to identify the speech of Barbara with any one of these.

"It's not Romaic, nor Turkish, nor Albanian, nor--"

"Listen!" said Jacintha, in a startled voice.

Amid the plaintive flow of unintelligible sound there came at
irregular intervals a recurrence of the same three syllables.

"_Rav-en-na!_" murmured Jacintha with white lips.

"She's thinking of Ravenna on the other side of the sea," said Lambro,
indicating the direction with his hand. "Wishes to go there perhaps."

"No, no. Have you forgotten? Ravenna! That's what the last one said
when she raved. 'O Ravenna, what have you done?' were her words."

Lambro stared dubiously at Jacintha. Then the eyes of both turned
simultaneously to the violet sealing-wax on the wall, as if that had
some connection with the name.

"I don't like this," muttered the old Palicar, turning away uneasily.
"There's something eerie about it. How has the signorina got hold of
that name?"

Leaving Jacintha there he proceeded with subdued mien to the
dining-hall, and aroused Paul from slumber with the question,--

"Have you ever had the malaria?"

"Can any one live in your cursed Greek climate, and not take it?" said
Paul, somewhat resenting the rough shaking he had received.

"Then you run no risk of taking it again by staying here."

Paul was wide awake now, and sprang instantly to his feet.

"You mean that the signorina has caught the fever?"

"That is so. She'll not see Zara for some weeks--if indeed at all. You
have done a nice thing for me, Captain Cressingham, for she cannot be
removed now. And what will the Master say if he should return and find
a fever-stricken person in his house? His was wise advice, after all.
'Admit no strangers in my absence, Lambro.' I have broken his orders,
and this is the result."

It may have been selfish on the part of Paul, but his thoughts were
too much set on Barbara to permit of commiseration for Lambro's
position. Never had he been attracted by any maiden as he had been by
Barbara, and now to learn that she was in a dangerous fever filled him
with a feeling akin to horror.

"Where does the nearest doctor live? I must fetch him at once."

"She's a dead woman if you do. Leave her to Jacintha, and she may
recover; trust her to a Dalmatian doctor, and she'll certainly die."

With which assurance Lambro retired grumbling terribly, for inasmuch
as all Jacintha's attention would be required by the patient, he
foresaw that for the next month he would have to prepare his own
meals, and likewise those of Paul, should the latter choose to remain
at Castel Nuovo; and if there was aught that the old Palicar disliked
it was work, even of the lightest sort.

In descending the stairs Paul was met by Jacintha.

"There is no use in disguising the truth," she said in answer to his
eager questioning. "The signorina is in a very dangerous state. But
leave her to me, and she shall recover. I was a nurse at
Constantinople, remember; and in the matter of fever I know what to do
as well as a doctor, perhaps better than any you will find in this
uncivilized region."

Impressed somehow by Jacintha's faith in her own powers Paul felt that
Barbara could not be in better hands.

"And you will remain at Castel Nuovo till she recovers?"

Paul gladly assented to this proposal.

"I know that she is a stranger to you," continued Jacintha, "but
still she came here under your guidance and protection, and therefore
in some measure you are responsible for her safety. Yes, I say,
safety. Captain Cressingham," she added, with a strange earnestness,
"your presence here is necessary. The signorina is in peril. If the
Master should return and find--"

She broke off abruptly, perceiving Lambro at the foot of the
staircase.

"Now, Jacintha, attend to your patient. I'll see to the captain's
breakfast."

And awed by the cold glittering eye of her partner, Jacintha became
mute and glided away.

That day, and the few days that followed, formed the most unhappy time
that Paul had ever known, for the fair maiden whom he loved lay in the
mystic borderland betwixt life and death.

He haunted the corridor leading to her bedroom, either sitting silent
in the recess of an embrasured window, or walking to and fro with
noiseless tread, eagerly questioning Jacintha whenever she appeared.
She began to pity this young Englishman with his haggard looks, so
much so that she always returned favorable answers, even when the
waters of the dark river had almost closed over the head of her
patient.

Mindful of Barbara's escape from a convent, Paul would not wander more
than a few yards from the castle, fearful lest the ecclesiastical
authorities or the Austrian gendarmes should make their appearance
during his absence, to say nothing of the return of the mysterious
Master, whose presence was equally to be guarded against, if Jacintha
had spoken truly.

Paul's refusal to accompany Lambro for a sail on the sea or on a tramp
through the woods with his dogs provoked that worthy's contempt. A
fine soldierly fellow like Paul to be fretting over a thing of a girl,
when a Circassian equally lovely could be bought in the neighboring
province of Albania for five hundred beshliks, with the additional
advantage of selling the damsel again when she had ceased to please.
It was absurd!

At last one day Jacintha was able to announce that Barbara had passed
the crisis. The relief to Paul's overwrought mind was so great that he
almost felt as if he himself, and not Barbara, had been the sufferer.

"And you will be glad to learn, Captain Cressingham," said the nurse,
with a smile that had a hidden meaning in it, "that the illness has
left no disfiguring traces on her beauty."

She was still too weak for conversation, and Jacintha averred that
some days must elapse before she could let him see the patient.

In the meantime, however, Paul did not fail to remind her daily of his
existence.

Near by lived a charcoal-burner accustomed to call at the castle for
the purpose of bringing Jacintha her stock of provisions from the
market-town.

Making use of this man Paul every day procured the loveliest of
flowers, in addition to fruits and other delicacies, and these,
accompanied by wishes for her welfare, he would send up to the patient
through the medium of the faithful Jacintha, who in turn brought back
Barbara's expressions of gratitude.

The period of Barbara's convalescence was a somewhat dull time for
Paul, self-debarred as he was from quitting the vicinity of the
castle.

He tried to take an interest in Lambro's companionship, despite his
indefinable suspicion of the old Palicar, but he soon grew tired of
hearing the same stories, for there was but one theme upon which the
Greek would converse, namely, the Hellenic War of Independence,--a war
in which, though history be strangely silent on the matter, Lambro had
taken the leading part, at least, according to his own account.

Occasionally the vain old man, forgetful that his strength and skill
were departing, would invite Paul to a fencing-bout; if defeated, he
grew angry; but when Paul, in the exercise of a little _finesse_,
permitted himself to be worsted, then Lambro, suspecting the trick
played upon him, grew more angry still; so that there was no pleasing
him. In short, he was a somewhat trying individual to live with, and
Paul was never sorry when he saw him setting off for a long tramp by
the shore or through the woods, attended by his twelve mastiffs,
brutes big and ferocious, but esteemed by Paul because they were such,
since they would prove excellent auxiliaries against any foe who
should approach the castle with intent to carry off Barbara, and that
such abduction might be attempted was a fear ever present to his mind.

Indeed, it was quite within the range of probability that any day a
serious fray might occur, for heedless as to what the Austrian law
might be in the matter of maidens who escaped from convents, Paul was
determined that Barbara should not be surrendered to the authorities
without opposition on his part; while Lambro, though disposed to look
upon the fair fugitive somewhat in the light of an encumbrance, was
nevertheless fierce in declaring, with a fine scorn of consequences,
that he would shoot the first gendarme who should attempt to cross
_his_ threshold; and Paul had little doubt that the fiery old Klepht
would keep his word.

Still, this was not quite the sort of recreation that Paul wanted.

"Have you no books here?" he asked of Lambro one day.

"Would you turn caloyer or papa? No? Then, what can you want with
books?"

"Your classic ancestors would not have asked that question. To read,
of course."

"Bah! the best use you can put books to is to twist them into
cartridges. That's what we did with them in the war." In Lambro's
opinion there had only been one war worthy of the name. "Did you ever
hear of the siege of ----?"

"But as to the books now?" gently murmured Paul, who did not wish to
hear anything about the siege of ----.

"Books? Yes, there are some here in the topmost room of the castle;
but you cannot get at them, for that room is the Master's study; and
on his departure he always locks the door, and takes the key with
him."

Paul, with his head full of suspicion against the Master, could
discern nothing but a sinister caution in his practice of keeping the
study-door locked during his absence. Accordingly on the following day
when Lambro was out of the way, and Jacintha occupied with her
patient, Paul ascended the staircase leading to the upper portion of
the tower. On the topmost landing of all he came upon a stout door of
oak securely locked. This without doubt was the entrance of the study
spoken of by Lambro. A pendant on the other side of the key-hole
prevented Paul from obtaining the slightest glimpse of the interior.

Not only had the Master left this door locked, but he had likewise
taken precautions to prevent any one during his absence from entering
without his knowledge, for the hinges of the door were sealed with
violet-colored wax bearing the impress of a paschal lamb.

The care thus taken to screen the room from espionage increased Paul's
suspicions. Then he turned away, becoming suddenly conscious that to
pry thus upon the affairs of a stranger was conduct unworthy of a
soldier and a gentleman; and yet a secret voice seemed to whisper that
he was justified in his proceeding, when he recalled Jacintha's
strange remark that the return of the Master threatened Barbara's
safety.

"Jacintha," said he, when next he saw that person, "what secret is
contained in that locked room at the top of the tower, for," he
added, proceeding beyond his knowledge, "I am convinced that there is
some mystery connected with it."

That he was correct in his surmise was sufficiently evinced by the
look of fear that came over Jacintha's face.

"You must ask Lambro."

"He will not tell me."

"And I dare not."

"Why?"

"Lambro would kill me if I should reveal the secret. You yourself
heard his threat. I have taken a solemn oath upon the Holy Sacrament
itself to preserve silence. Do not speak of this matter again, I pray
you," she continued, with pain in her voice, "for, indeed, Captain
Cressingham, it is no concern of yours."

And then, as if desirous of reverting to a more pleasing topic, she
added,--

"I have good news for you. The signorina is now strong enough to rise
and be dressed. To-morrow you shall see her."

This intelligence was more acceptable to Paul than the baton of a
general. He had very little sleep that night for thinking of Barbara.

Next day at noon, Barbara having been dressed by Jacintha, was
assisted by the same faithful attendant to an adjoining sitting-room,
and comfortably installed in a big arm-chair placed beside an open
casement which commanded a view of the sea.

How quick was the turn of her head towards the door when Paul's step
sounded there! How bright her smile as she offered him her slender
hand. How sweet the color that played over her cheek while she thanked
him for the presents that he had sent up to her! A white rose graced
her dusky hair, the flower being, as Paul noticed with secret
pleasure, his gift of the previous day.

Jacintha had withdrawn on Paul's entrance. Wise creature, Jacintha!
It is not every woman who will recognize herself as _de trop_ when
youth and maiden meet.

"I am glad to see you recovering, signorina."

"I am still very weak. I tremble to think what would have become of me
had I lain down in that wood. The fever would certainly have carried
me off. I owe my life to you."

"No--to Jacintha."

"And to Jacintha, who will not take any reward from me."

After this there was a silence. Paul found his usual flow of language
gone. He longed to be brilliant; he was conscious of seeming stupid.

"It is six weeks since our meeting in the woods," he observed, for
want of a better remark.

"And you were going to Sebenico, then. Have you remained at Castel
Nuovo all this time on my account?"

"I desire to keep my promise of seeing you safely to Zara."

Barbara murmured her gratitude, adding,--

"But am I not putting you to great inconvenience?"

"No, signorina, no. These are my holidays. I am on a long furlough. My
time is my own, or rather it is at your disposal."

Barbara's eyes drooped beneath Paul's gaze. Why should this handsome
young captain interest himself so on her behalf?

"Jacintha tells me that you have never quitted the vicinity of the
castle."

"True. It has been my desire to guard against a surprise on the part
of your pursuers."

Barbara's face lost its bright expression for a moment.

"My pursuers!" she murmured. "My pursuers! The thought of them haunted
me while I lay ill. I dreaded lest I should be carried off in my
helpless state. But as six weeks have elapsed I think I may regard the
pursuit--if pursuit there were--as over. But tell me, Captain
Cressingham,"--how prettily the name fell from her lips!--"what would
you have done if my pursuers had appeared?"

"Fought," replied Paul laconically.

"But supposing they had been a dozen in number?"

"No matter. Lambro loves a fight, so do I. Castel Nuovo was built to
stand a siege. The door is of massive oak; the lower windows are
barred; there are abundant loopholes convenient for taking shots at
the enemy. And besides there are the twelve mastiffs, each of which is
capable of tackling a man. Trust us, signorina, we should have made a
good defence."

It was pleasant to be near such towers of strength as Paul and Lambro,
who appeared to regard Austrian gendarmerie with contempt. Then her
pleasure became lost in surprise. Was this Englishman really willing
to undergo such perils on her behalf? Ay, those, and much more,
Barbara, to gain your smiles.

"I am fortunate in my friends," she said, "but rather than expose them
to such hazard I think I should prefer to give myself up."

She was a sweet and interesting patient, and the charm of her face and
figure was enhanced by the toilette in which Jacintha had arrayed
her,--a dress all soft and white and foamy with silk muslin. A silver
rope girdle was tied at one side and fell in two long, graceful
tassels. Delicate antique lace fringed the slender wrists. Paul's
quick eye observed that a small portion of the lace was torn off from
the right sleeve. He wondered why the defect had not been repaired. A
trifling circumstance, but one destined to recur with peculiar force
at a later date.

This was not the costume she had worn on the night of her first
meeting with him. Whence, then, did it come? Barbara seemed to divine
his thoughts.

"I see you are observing my dress," she remarked. "It is a gift from
Jacintha, drawn from an old chest in her wardrobe. It might have been
expressly made for me, for it fits to a nicety without requiring the
least alteration. Made for another, and yet suiting me to perfection.
Is not that a singular coincidence?"

The fit of the dress did not strike Paul so much as the costliness of
the material. He could not account for Jacintha's possession of such
attire except on the supposition that it formed part of the flotsam
and jetsam which supplied Lambro with his finery.

Again Barbara seemed to read his thoughts.

"No, it is not a gift of the sea; Jacintha assured me of that;
otherwise I would not wear it. I have no liking for the clothing of
the drowned." And then displaying a pair of pretty satin shoes, she
added: "And these, too, are Jacintha's gift, and they fit as if my
feet had been measured for them."

She turned to the open casement and surveyed the scene without.

"Ah! if I could but get into the air outside I should recover the
sooner."

"Then come down to-morrow, and sit outside on the terrace."

"I am too weak to walk."

"No matter. I will carry you," replied Paul, boldly.

"I shall have to get Jacintha's leave first," said Barbara,
half-pleased, half-reluctant. "Jacintha is an ideal nurse. She will
have her commands obeyed, and will not yield to the whims of her
patient."

When Jacintha appeared, her consent was readily obtained, and as she
averred that Barbara had talked enough for one day, Paul was compelled
to take his leave.

He spent the rest of the day in recalling Barbara's words. The
interview, though delightful, contained one element of disappointment:
Barbara had said nothing as to her previous history. Paul had
hesitated to question her on the matter, leaving her to take the
initiative. Time would doubtless bring increasing confidence on her
part.

On the following day he redeemed his promise of carrying her into the
open air. An exquisite sense of pleasure filled him as he felt the
clasp of Barbara's arm around his neck and noted the sweet color that
mantled her cheek. From her chamber he bore her down the staircase and
out to a dismantled marble terrace, where he seated her in a lounge,
which had been placed there by Jacintha. Above her rose a stately
terebinth, whose light-green foliage, crimsoned with clusters of
delicate flowers, cast a circle of shade around.

It was the height of summer, and the day, though hot, was not
oppressive; the atmosphere being tempered by the air flowing from the
Dalmatian highlands that rose behind them, peak above peak, in dark
wooded glory.

Facing them was the smooth Adriatic almost as blue as the heaven it
reflected. Far off in the summer haze picturesque feluccas, with their
white lateen sails, glided to and fro with slow dream-like motion.

Sea, sky, and mountains combined to form a scene of enchanting beauty,
rendered still more enchanting to Paul by the presence of Barbara, to
whom Jacintha had imparted an additional charm by adorning her with
the graceful _pezzotto_, or muslin scarf, which, pinned on the head
and falling over the arms and shoulders, permitted the beautiful face
and hair of the wearer to be seen through it.

"Have you ever noticed, Captain Cressingham, how trifles annoy when
one is in a state of illness? And I am annoyed by a trifle, one so
absurd that I feel ashamed to mention it."

Paul urged her, nevertheless, to describe the annoyance.

"What torments me is a piece of sealing-wax on a panel in my bedroom.
Reposing the other night, with my eyes turned towards it, I was
seized by a singular fancy. The wax seemed to be receding through the
wall, drawing me after it. Reason told me that this could not be so,
that the wax was immovably fixed to the panel, and that I was in bed;
yet all the same, there was the circle of wax gliding onward with
never-ending motion through the realm of air, and myself floating
along in its wake like a disembodied spirit. This sensation occurs
every night. My mind is kept perpetually on the rack following that
piece of wax through the infinity of space, ever lured onward by the
hope of arriving at some goal. But that goal perpetually evades me,
and therein is the torment."

"Having had the malaria myself," observed Paul, "I can testify that
such queer notions do occur. What is the color of this wax?" he added,
having little doubt as to what the answer would be.

"It is of a violet hue, and bears the impress of a lamb carrying a
banner. I cannot go back to that chamber again," continued Barbara,
"or I shall be driven mad, for the annoyance is depriving me of all
sleep. I must change my room, even though my good nurse is opposed to
it."

But Jacintha did not offer any opposition when Paul made known her
patient's desire for a different sleeping-room; without any demur she
immediately set about preparing another chamber.

That same night, when all was still in the castle, Paul, taking a
revolver and a lamp, sought the room vacated by Barbara. He quickly
discovered the piece of stamped wax, and saw that it corresponded
precisely with the seal upon the door of the mysterious study.

Extinguishing his lamp, he sat down on a chair beside the panel,
determined to watch there during the night to ascertain, if possible,
whether there was any ground for Barbara's strange fancy.

It was a long and dreary vigil, and when the gray light of dawn stole
in through the casement, and nothing had occurred to excite suspicion,
he was fain to question the wisdom of his action.

That day Paul again carried Barbara downstairs to breathe the pure air
of the sunlit terrace.

"My sleep last night was sweet and sound," she remarked. "With my new
bedroom, and with this glorious air, I shall soon be well again."

She looked so radiant that Paul refrained from mentioning his
nocturnal vigil. Though full of indefinable suspicion himself, he had
no wish to alarm her mind; and he had laid both on Lambro and Jacintha
an injunction to maintain silence respecting the locked room.

Barbara's strength gradually returned. In a day or two she was able to
stand, and, leaning upon Paul's arm, she walked to and fro in the
immediate vicinity of the castle. These promenades were soon
lengthened into rambles along the seashore or through the fragrant
pine woods, Paul being her constant companion. She had taken his arm
at first from weakness; she now continued to do so from habit.

As his knowledge of Barbara increased Paul discovered that she had
received an extraordinary education, her course of study having been
as remarkable for what it omitted as for what it contained. While
knowing very little of poetry, painting, music, needle-work, and other
accomplishments usually included in the feminine curriculum, she was
nevertheless well versed in mathematics, logic, and "the dismal
science," to wit, political economy. Classic antiquity was almost a
sealed book to her, but modern history and current continental
politics she had at her finger-tips, and her knowledge of royal and
noble genealogies with all their ramifications might have put a herald
to the blush. She could give the biographies, and the characteristic
foibles, of all the leading statesmen of Europe; was mistress of
several modern languages, notably Polish or Russian, and--most
puzzling circumstance of all--she was quite _au fait_ with the
mysteries and subtleties of Catholic theology.

As she could scarcely have passed her twentieth year, it seemed to
Paul that Barbara, in view of her extensive acquirements, must have
commenced her studies so soon as she had quitted her cradle.

Her intellectual training appeared more adapted to the acquirements of
a ruler, a statesman, or an ambassador than to those of an ordinary
young lady; and Paul puzzled himself to account for the aims of those
who had directed her education, for Barbara herself volunteered no
information on the matter, and still maintained an attitude of
reticence as to her past life.



CHAPTER IV

THE SEALED CHAMBER


When, amid the most enchanting scenery to be found in Europe, and at a
time when all the charms of summer are poured upon the earth, a
handsome young captain is brought into companionship with a youthful
woman, whose intellect charms even more than her beauty; and when the
pair dwell isolated from the rest of the world with nothing to divert
attention from each other, it requires no prophet to predict the
result.

Barbara was now out of her convalescent stage; and, therefore, neither
she nor Paul had any valid excuse for remaining longer at Castel
Nuovo; nevertheless they continued to postpone indefinitely the day of
departure.

Paul completely ignored the regiment at Corfu, and the good uncle, who
was doubtless fuming at his nephew's protracted absence; and Barbara
on her part seemed to have forgotten her pursuers from the convent,
and her desire for the protection of the British flag.

Enwrapped in each other, yielding to the delicious spirit of _dolce
far niente_, the pair were leading an idyllian life.

To Lambro and Jacintha the scenery around was as it had always been,
but to Paul and Barbara, mountains, sea, air, sky, had become steeped
in hues of divine beauty; each succeeding day seemed happier than the
preceding.

They entertained a dreamy notion that their life at Castel Nuovo would
not last forever, but its end they put far from their thoughts. The
golden present was all in all. Why anticipate pain? _Vogue la
galère._

Lambro offered no opposition to their stay, though the thought of the
Master's return gave him some uneasiness at times, and he said as much
to Jacintha.

"I wish he would come," was her reply. "I should like to see his face
when he sets eyes upon the signorina."

"He'll think as we did, that she has risen from the dead," returned
Lambro.

"Well, she has a protector in Captain Cressingham, who will know how
to deal with the Master, should he appear."

"Humph! there'll be the devil to pay ere long," growled Lambro. That
Jacintha was not married to the old Greek troubled Barbara very
little, if at all. Jacintha had brought her back to life; Jacintha was
as good as gold; Barbara, figuratively speaking, would have turned and
rent any one who should have ventured to assail the reputation of
Jacintha.

For, thanks to new influences, Barbara's character was undergoing
development. The stateliness and gravity that had marked her bearing
on the first night of her coming to Castel Nuovo were yielding to a
more buoyant and girlish spirit.

Close to the castle a semicircle of dark rocks, with a sandy base,
over which the tide flowed, formed an ideal bathing place. Every
morning Barbara would seek this spot attended by Jacintha.

"Wouldn't Abbess Teresa and the nuns be scandalized if they saw me
now?" she would remark as she returned to breakfast, laughing and
wringing out her dark wet locks like some lovely Nereid.

She was a maiden formed for gayety. In previous days her natural
disposition had evidently been kept under restraint. She was now
revelling in the sunshine of a new and sweet liberty, and Jacintha
could scarcely believe her own eyes, when one day, attracted by the
sounds of sweet laughter and of ringing steel proceeding from an
adjoining apartment, she peeped in and discovered the cause of it all
to be Barbara, who was receiving her first lesson in fencing from
Paul, while Lambro looked on with sombre approval.

"What next, I wonder?" thought Jacintha.

Barbara illumined the dark and melancholy castle like a sunbeam. Even
Lambro relaxed something of his moroseness in her presence, and had
begun to doubt whether five hundred beshliks could procure in the mart
of Janina a maiden in all respects like Barbara. She had taken to
Lambro much more than Paul had, who could not overcome his secret
distrust of the old Palicar.

But then Lambro was a hero in Barbara's eyes, because he had fought
for the freedom of a conquered race, and she herself, as it
subsequently transpired, was the daughter of a conquered race.

When the day's strolling with Paul was over, and the evening meal
finished, she would invite the old Greek to fight his battles over
again. Sitting on a low stool at his feet, and resting her elbows on
her lap and her chin on her hands, her hair sometimes falling in dusky
waves around her fair throat, she would betray such interest in
Lambro's reminiscences that the foolish Paul was often moved to
jealousy.

"And by deeds such as these," she murmured on one occasion, "was the
freedom of Hellas won. Why should not Poland achieve what Greece has
achieved?"

"So, signorina, you are of Polish blood?" smiled Paul.

"And am proud of my nationality."

"I would for your sake that your people were free."

"They _will_ be free again," she answered, a beautiful heroic look
transfiguring her face with a new light. "Oh! Kosciusko," she cried,
with an outburst of patriotism that quite surprised Paul, "why did you
say '_Finis Poloniæ_'? Because _you_ said it, men have come to believe
it. No, no, it is not true. The greenstone sceptre of Poland may lie
in the treasury of the Kremlin broken in halves, but the spirit of the
Polish people is not broken. Would that I had been born a man that I
might shoulder musket and fight for fatherland! The Princess Radzivil
fought on horseback against the Russians, and why may not I?" And then
raising her wine-glass aloft, she added, "Confusion to the Czar!"

"Amen," said Lambro, responsive to the toast. "We had to assassinate
old Capo d'Istria because he was too much under Russian influence. Ah!
how we danced the Romaïka the night he died!"

This remark of Lambro created a diversion, for Barbara, who had never
seen the Greek national dance, asked him to describe it.

The old Palicar did more than describe,--he acted it. Kicking his
embroidered slippers into the air he went through all the flings and
evolutions of the Romaïka with an agility surprising for one so aged,
at the same time chanting an appropriate ballad.

"Ah! who could leap higher than Lambro in his youth?" he cried, when
he had finished his performance.

Barbara thanked him, and observed, with a pretty air of command, that
as Lambro had done something to entertain them it was now Paul's turn
to do the like.

And Paul began by singing the first song that entered his head and
that happened to be "The Mistletoe Bough," at that time not so
hackneyed a ballad as now, and probably never before heard in the hall
of a Dalmatian castle. At any rate it was new to his hearers, and
Barbara in particular seemed much interested by it.

"Is there any truth in it?" she asked at its conclusion.

"Supposed to be founded on fact," returned Paul, proceeding to relate
the story of the fair lady of Modena.

"Ginevra, if she had lived at Castel Nuovo," observed Barbara, "might
have found a better place of concealment than an oaken chest. Now,"
she added, prompted by a playful impulse, "give me a clear start of
one minute, and without going outside the castle I will undertake to
hide where no one shall find me."

She sprang up, and with laughing eyes and graceful step danced from
the apartment.

"She is still a girl, you see," smiled Paul.

Entering into the fun of the thing they allowed a full minute to
elapse, and then set off to find her.

They went through the castle from roof to basement, exploring every
place capable of affording concealment. But Barbara was invisible; she
had vanished as if completely melted to air.

Half-an-hour had passed in this search. Then they went again through
the building loudly calling her by name, and, proclaiming themselves
beaten, they invited her to come forth from her hiding place.

Their appeal met with no response. They stared dubiously at one
another. The affair had begun to lose its humorous side. The
death-like silence, Barbara's invisibility, the gray twilight now
stealing through the castle, caused it to assume a somewhat ghostly
aspect.

"She must have gone outside," said Lambro.

"She promised to keep within the building," observed Paul.

For the third time they explored the castle, ending their search on
the highest landing of the staircase. Here they paused before the
locked door of the mysterious study.

"She is perhaps concealed here," suggested Paul.

"Impossible," returned Lambro, pointing to the wax. "The Master's seal
is unbroken."

"There is an entrance to this room leading from the chamber in which
the signorina first slept," remarked Paul quietly.

This statement was pure conjecture on his part, but its truth was
instantly made evident by Lambro's manner. He turned so savagely upon
Jacintha that Paul thought he was going to strike her.

"So you couldn't keep your tongue quiet?"

"You err," said Paul, hastening to vindicate the woman. "Jacintha has
told me nothing. It is simply a guess of mine, and--"

He broke off abruptly and placed his ear to the door.

"By heaven, there is some one in this room. I can detect a sound
within. Signorina, are you here?" he cried, rapping upon the panels.

The dusk of the landing was suddenly illumined by a light that came
and went in a moment. Merely a flash of summer lightning.

It was accompanied by something startling within. A faint cry of
"Oh!"--plainly the voice of Barbara; a dull thud as of the fall of a
human body, and then a significant stillness.

With a soldier's promptitude Paul flung himself against the door,
bruising his shoulders by the violence of the impact.

"You'll never force that door," said Lambro. "It's too strong. We must
go downstairs. The signorina must have got in here through the secret
panel in the bedroom."

Paul darted down the staircase, and in a moment more was within the
bedchamber. He saw what had escaped his eye in the three previous
explorations, namely, that the circular piece of violet-colored wax
was traversed by a horizontal fracture, clearly caused by the moving
of the panel. Lambro, who had followed close upon Paul, touched a
certain spring hidden within some ornamental carving of the wall, and
the panel glided off laterally, revealing a narrow corridor behind.

"To the left," said Lambro. "There's a staircase a few feet off. At
the top of that another to the right. Mount that and you'll see the
Master's room before you."

It was strange that the old Palicar did not follow Paul up the
staircase, but so it was. He remained in the bedroom by the open panel
with his hand to his ear in the attitude of listening.

"Oh, if she has discovered--it!" said Jacintha, with clasped hands.

"Well, what if she has? It was not our doing, nor the Master's for the
matter of that."

"When I heard the signorina fall just now it brought the heart to my
mouth. It reminded me of that other fall--you know whose. And in the
same room, too! If--"

"Hold your tongue! How can I listen while you keep chattering?"

Paul, following the directions given by Lambro, had ascended the two
staircases, and passing through a square opening in a panelled wall
similar to that which he had just quitted, found himself in the
mysterious study.

Barbara lay upon the floor in a seeming swoon.

Paul cast one swift glance around the apartment, but failed to discern
anything in its present state calculated to inspire fear.

Kneeling by Barbara's side he raised her to a sitting posture, and
passing his left arm around her rested her head upon his shoulder.

"Dearest Barbara, what has frightened you?" he asked, observing that
her eyes were opening. It was the first time he had addressed her by
her Christian name; the word had escaped him quite involuntarily.
"What has frightened you?" he repeated.

"That!" she said.

Like a timid child she clung to him, and indicating as the cause of
her fear the life-size portrait of a man hanging upon the wall,--a
portrait scarcely discernible in the dim light.

"Take me away," she murmured faintly. "There is something strange in
the atmosphere of this room, something that I can't understand,
something that makes me fear. Take me away."

As she seemed unable of herself to rise, Paul raised her light form in
his arms and carried her down the secret stairway, through the
bedchamber, past the wondering Lambro and his consort, back again into
the dining-hall whence she had first set out.

She neither blushed nor resisted at finding herself in his arms,
apparently not giving the matter a thought. Her fear overpowered every
other emotion.

"Lambro," she asked, when somewhat revived by a stimulant administered
by Jacintha. "There is a man's portrait on the wall of that room.
Whose?"

"The Master's."

"The Master's?" she echoed in a tone of dismay. "Have I been living
all this time in the house of my enemy?"

"You know the Master, then?" inquired Paul of Barbara. "What is his
name?"

"Cardinal Ravenna."

"The Master _is_ a cardinal, I believe," said Lambro. "Ravenna? Humph!
I have heard him called that by--by some; but it's not the name he
usually bears when here."

"You serve a very bad master, Lambro," said Barbara reproachfully.

The old Palicar shrugged his shoulders in lieu of a reply.

Paul here recalled Lambro's remark to the effect that the Master
belonged to a peculiar brotherhood pledged to the repudiation of
women. This misogyny was now explained. But why should the abode of a
Roman ecclesiastic contain a lady's bedchamber kept in a state of
preparation for an occupant? Paul glanced at Jacintha as if seeking an
explanation from her, but the old Greek had set a warning eye upon
his partner, and under that glittering terror Jacintha became mute.

"You have broken the Master's seal," grumbled Lambro, turning to
Barbara. "He will learn that some one has been in that room. What
excuse am I to make to him?"

"How did you discover the secret panel?" asked Paul of Barbara, and
paying but scant respect to the Palicar's complaint.

"By accident," she replied. "Sleeping or waking that violet wax has
exercised a fascination over me. Yesterday, attracted by an
indefinable impulse, I stole into the bedchamber. Conjecturing that
the panel might be a movable one, I began to search for the spring.
Fortune favored my endeavors; I discovered the hidden corridor, but
did not venture within. To-day when I heard you relate the story of
Ginevra, I thought it would be a piece of fun to hide behind the panel
and get you to search for me. While standing there in concealment the
impulse came upon me to go forward and explore. I ascended the two
staircases, and entered the upper room by a panel which I found open.
Till that moment curiosity had been my only feeling, but as soon as I
entered the gray twilight of that room I found myself trembling; the
place seemed like a haunted chamber. And yet frightened though I was I
could not retreat. Some strange power drew me on to the centre of the
apartment, and there I stood looking around for--I know not what. I
could hear your far-off cries, but I hesitated to answer lest the
sound of my voice should call forth something terrible from this
silent chamber.

"Then suddenly the sight of a lady's portrait hanging on the wall
impelled me forward and almost made me forget my fears. The portrait
was so like me that at first I thought it must be mine, but I know it
cannot be."

"Why not?" asked Paul.

"Because I have never sat to an artist, and, moreover, the lady is
wearing a dress such as I have never worn. She carries a sceptre in
her hand and on her head is a diadem. Who ever saw me with sceptre and
diadem? No; the portrait is not mine. Whose can it be? Do you know,
Lambro?"

The old Palicar shook his head, but Paul felt that little reliance
could be placed on his denial.

"In a distant corner," continued Barbara, "was another portrait, less
easy to examine since it hung in the shadows. As I was moving forward
a sudden gleam illumined the dusky chamber, bringing every line of the
portrait into clear relief. I recognized the face of my enemy,
Cardinal Ravenna; he seemed to be smiling at me with wicked
satisfaction. Such fear and trembling took hold of me that I fainted."

"And that is all you have seen?" said Lambro, with evident relief, a
feeling in which Jacintha seemed to share.

"What else was there to see, then?" asked Paul, fixing a significant
look on the Palicar, who remained mute to the question.

"And this place, you say, belongs to Cardinal Ravenna?" said Barbara.
"I must leave to-morrow."

"Oh! my lady, so soon?" cried Jacintha sorrowfully, for she had become
very fond of Barbara.

"If the cardinal should appear he will take me back to the convent."

"By whose authority?" asked Paul, hotly.

"He is my guardian."

"That may be, but he shall not restore you to the convent against your
will. You have not taken the vows of a nun?"

"No. I was placed in the convent to be educated merely."

"And you do not wish to return?"

"After enjoying freedom? Oh! no, no."

"Then you shall not return," said Paul, decisively.

"Still I must leave here. I cannot stay longer under this roof."

"True, but do not act hastily. Where are you going? What are your
plans? Take a day for reflection. That brief delay will not make much
difference. It is not likely that the cardinal will appear to-morrow,
and if he should, what matters? For my own part I should very much
like to come face to face with the man who proposes to immure you
within the walls of a nunnery. He would not find me honey-tongued,
though such a course may seem ungrateful after having so long enjoyed
the shelter of his roof. Fear him not, signorina. Remain at least
another day. Remember that to-morrow was fixed for our sail to Isola
Sacra."

Barbara was persuaded by these words. One day, as Paul had said, would
not make much difference.

"And I fainted at sight of a picture!" she said, with self-reproachful
smile. "I, who have talked of shouldering a musket, and of fighting
for Poland."

"We all have our fears at times. I ran away from my first battle,"
observed Lambro, without stating from how many others he had run.

Now that her fears were vanishing, Barbara began to review the sequel
of her recent adventure. She had waked from a swoon to find herself in
the arms of Paul, and with the words "dearest Barbara" falling upon
her ear. The significance of the expression did not appeal to her at
the time, but now the recalling of it caused her heart to palpitate.
Her color came and went. She scarcely dared raise her eyes to meet his
gaze. Silence and shyness marked her as their own for the remainder of
the evening.

That night, when the other inmates of the castle were sleeping, Paul,
with lighted lamp, stole off to the bedchamber containing the secret
panel, and began to explore the hidden passage and staircase leading
to the mysterious study. Roof, walls, and flooring were of black oak
thick with dust. Every angle had a festoon of cobwebs. On turning the
corner of the staircase Paul made his first discovery. For some
purpose or other a very long nail had been fixed in the baluster, and
not having been driven far into the wood, it projected in such a
manner that unobservant persons brushing hastily by would run the risk
of tearing their clothing.

Some such accident had happened, for from the head of this nail there
hung a tiny shred of flimsy fabric, which, upon examination by the
light of the lamp, Paul found to be a fragment of delicate lace,--lace
of a color, texture, and pattern that he had seen in the charming
white costume with the silver rope-girdle which Jacintha had bestowed
upon Barbara.

This fragment of lace had not become detached while Barbara herself
was turning the staircase, inasmuch as during her recent adventure she
had been wearing a different dress.

Scrutinizing everywhere, Paul was attracted by a faint sparkle coming
from the dust in a corner of the staircase, the cause of which proved
to be a little article of gold, obviously a seal. It was circular in
shape, and the band encircling the stone was inscribed with the motto,
"_Esse quam videri_." The stone itself forming the seal was a lovely
sapphire bearing the image of a double-headed eagle, beautifully and
delicately engraved.

"The royal arms of Poland, as I live!" muttered Paul. His surprise was
naturally very great, but since speculation as to how the thing came
to be there would have been mere waste of time, he pocketed the
treasure-trove and passed on to the mysterious apartment. This he
found differed in no way from an ordinary study. It was well lighted
and well carpeted. There were numerous shelves with books thereon.
There were chairs, a table, and an escritoire. There were
oil-paintings on the walls. There was really nothing to alarm one in
the aspect of the apartment. Paul did not feel anything of the strange
sensation spoken of by Barbara, and therefore he felt compelled to
ascribe that part of her experience to the imagination of a timid
maiden. The room was locked and sealed from intrusion: _ergo_, her
argument was there must be something fearful in it.

Paul turned his attention to the portraits on the wall, and began with
that of the Master who was represented in the scarlet robes of a
cardinal. It was a handsome face upon which Paul gazed,--a face full
of intellectual power, with nothing of the mystic visionary about it;
the face of a man of action, a man of ambition, an ecclesiastical
statesman of the type of Richelieu or Mazarin. Paul waved the lamp to
and fro, trying to educe the wicked expression that had frightened
Barbara. True, the countenance was a cold and haughty character, but
he could not honestly affirm that there was anything sinister in it.
Barbara's fancy was probably due to her hostile feelings.

He next surveyed the picture of the young lady,--a maiden robed in
jewelled attire with pearl necklace, diadem, and sceptre. The
resemblance to Barbara was indeed so marvellous that Paul at first was
disposed to believe that she was the person here represented, and that
the symbols of high rank were decorative fancies of the artist.

A closer study of the portrait, however, made him think otherwise.
True, every feature corresponded with Barbara's; hair and eyes were of
the same color. The difference was in the expression. This girl had
mischievous eyes, an arch smile, a radiant look. It was clearly the
face of one leading a happy, unclouded life, whereas even in Barbara's
smile there was always a tinge of melancholy, as if her mind were
shadowed by the memory of some secret sorrow.

Who was this youthful lady with the smiling eyes? If she resembled
Barbara in face, why not in the height and shape of her figure? Ah!
here without doubt was the original wearer of that soft, silky dress
which had required no alteration to suit Barbara. The young lady had
perhaps left it as a parting gift to Jacintha for services rendered by
the latter.

She had doubtless come to Castel Nuovo under the charge of Cardinal
Ravenna. Singular that the bedchamber in which Barbara had slept
should have been previously occupied by a lady her exact counterpart
in face and figure! Was the bedroom that was kept in a constant state
of readiness intended for her use?

He understood now the cause of the amazement on the part of Lambro and
Jacintha when they first beheld Barbara; they were doubtless startled
by her extraordinary resemblance to their previous guest.

That this lady had traversed the corridor leading to the cardinal's
study was proved by the lace fragment of her dress adhering to the
nail of the staircase, though it was difficult to assign a reason for
this proceeding. A secret amour was the first idea that suggested
itself. But then, a girl with so lovely a face would never lack
youthful and handsome lovers; it was not likely, therefore, that she
would be guilty of an intrigue with an ecclesiastic old enough to be
her father.

The mystery was bewildering, especially when the diadem and sceptre
were taken into consideration. Lambro and his consort could explain
it, but only by breaking the oath imposed upon them by the
cardinal,--an oath taken, if Jacintha's words were true, upon the Holy
Sacrament itself. It must be a weighty secret to require such
safeguarding; nay, more, it was a secret that threatened Jacintha's
own life, as shown by her remark to Lambro: "Shall I be permitted to
leave here after your death?"

Musing on all this, Paul turned from the portraits to examine the rest
of the apartment, without discovering anything of consequence, till,
being near the hearth, he happened to glance downwards. For a moment
he stood as still as a statue; then he stooped and held the lamp low.

On the polished oak flooring was a dark stain.



CHAPTER V

THE RETURN OF THE "MASTER"


The "Isola Sacra" mentioned by Paul as an inducement for Barbara to
prolong her stay, was a small, uninhabited island facing Castel Nuovo
at the distance of about three miles.

The island had often attracted the curiosity of Barbara, and Paul had
promised that he would row her over to it whenever she felt disposed.

The day named by her for the excursion had come, and accordingly after
breakfast Paul and Barbara descended to the beach, where they found
Lambro getting his sailing-boat ready for their use. Jacintha followed
with a luncheon-basket on her arm.

"It's no use putting up the sail," remarked the old Greek. "There's
not a breath of wind stirring. You'll have to row."

Barbara sat by the tiller, where a silken cushion had been placed for
her accommodation. Paul taking the oars pushed off, giving a smile to
Jacintha and a nod to Lambro.

"At what hour must we expect you back?" asked Jacintha.

"Not till evening," replied Paul, who set out with the intention of
spending the day upon the island, and of returning in romantic style
beneath the light of the stars.

It was a morning of soft sunlight, lovely and still,--"the very bridal
of the earth and sky." The heaven was one deep, living blue, and the
sea so smooth that the mountain peaks, the cliffs, and the towers of
the castle were reflected on the azure surface of the water as in a
mirror.

"It seems," sighed Barbara to herself, "that my last day here is to be
the fairest."

In happy, dreamy silence she leaned back in her seat, holding the
cords of the tiller, and watching Paul as he manipulated the oars.
Each sweep of his arm lifted the boat half out of the water, for he
was no novice at rowing, being the captain of the Britannic Aquatic
Club at Corfu.

Barbara had never known any pleasure equal to that of Paul's
companionship; and now this pleasure was about to end--unless--unless.
And then the questions that had robbed her of sleep during the night
began again their work of torture. Why had he called her "dearest
Barbara"? Was it a mere transitory outburst of affection on his part,
evoked by her helpless state? Would he place her on shipboard at Zara,
and, leaving her to go on her way alone, return to Corfu? The thought
alarmed her; she grew faint at the idea of a future without Paul.

She contrived to mask her emotion beneath a calm exterior, and as Paul
caught her smiles, he little thought how her heart was pulsating to
the very tune of love. She even volunteered to take one of the oars.

"What? and but just recovered from a fever! Besides, you will blister
your fingers."

But Barbara was not to be dissuaded. She took the oar, and, never
having held one before, behaved like a true novice. She failed to keep
time with her partner, and her oar either did not strike the water, or
striking, deluged the boat with spray, till Paul began to consider
whether it would not be wise to suspend the luncheon-basket from the
masthead. Strange how man will tolerate in woman blundering such as he
would not tolerate for a moment in his fellowman! Barbara's
incompetence at the oar was delightful in Paul's eyes.

"I'd better give it up," she cried laughingly. "Our boat is
performing such extraordinary gyrations that the steamer from Zara,
which I can see in the distance, will be coming up to ascertain the
cause."

So Paul resumed possession of the oar, and rowing onward in gallant
style, reached the island, and ran the boat in upon the sands of a
little bay.

Isola Sacra was not more than two miles in length, and about one in
breadth; nevertheless, within its limited space there was considerable
diversity. There were cliffs rising vertically from the water; there
were strips of yellow sand by the sea; there were woods, and a
silver-flashing stream. And most attractive sight of all, the remains
of a Grecian temple crowning the summit of a small eminence, the
marble columns glowing brilliantly white against a background of dark
cypresses.

Towards this edifice they slowly made their way.

"To whom was this temple raised?" asked Barbara, as they stood within
the ruin.

"It was the shrine of Eros."

The Temple of Love! What more appropriate place could there be for an
avowal?

"The god of love," she murmured softly. "And his altar and shrine are
fallen!"

"But not his worship," replied Paul. "That is eternal."

Barbara averted her eyes, and trembled with a sweet feeling.

They sat down on a fallen column beneath the shadow cast by a graceful
palm. Before them lay the bay they had just crossed,--a blue
semicircular mirror, the Illyrian mountains forming a picturesque
background.

Paul and Barbara sat drinking in the deep beauty of the scene. In the
boat their conversation had been lively and unrestrained, but now a
silence lay on both.

Barbara was the first to speak.

"I think," she murmured dreamily, gazing at the sky, "that the
loveliest part of heaven must be above this isle."

Paul glanced at her inquiringly, not quite comprehending her remark.

"The Arabian poets," she continued, "assert that the fairest spot on
earth is situated beneath the fairest spot in heaven, the earthly, as
it were, being a reflex of the heavenly."

"A pretty idea!" said Paul. "With me, however, the fairest place on
earth is not a fixed, but a moveable point."

"Yes?" said Barbara inquiringly.

"To me the fairest place is wherever you happen to be. Do I make
myself clear, dearest Barbara, or shall I say more?"

Barbara tried to speak, but the words would not come. There was no
need for speech, however. A light that would have made the plainest
features beautiful stole over her face. She placed her little hand
within his, and by that act Paul knew that she was his for ever.

He drew her to his embrace, where she reclined supremely happy and yet
afraid to raise her eyes to his.

"Barbara," he whispered, "you have never yet told me the story of your
life. Will you not do so now?"

There was nothing Barbara would not have done to please Paul. She was
silent for a few moments, as if collecting her thoughts, and then,
still within the circle of his arms, she began in a voice as low and
silvery as if coming from dreamland.

"If I have been truly told, I was born at Warsaw in 1826, and shall
therefore be nineteen years of age next month.

"My parents I never knew; indeed I am even ignorant of their names and
station in life. I had been adopted in infancy by a noble Polish lady,
the Countess Lorenska,--a youthful widow, who, although kindness
itself, was always mute to any remark relative to my parentage,
though, as you may guess, the question as to my origin troubled me but
little in those early days.

"The Countess Lorenska was very rich, her mansion at Warsaw a palace,
and the ladies and gentlemen who attended her salons vied with each
other in caressing and spoiling me. I had all that wealth could
supply, including learned masters, under whose tuition I began that
course of instruction which you have characterized as peculiar for a
woman.

"My adoptive mother, herself well educated, superintended my studies,
but the lesson she seemed chiefly desirous of inculcating is contained
in almost the first sentence I was taught to utter,--'I will always
love Poland and the Catholic Church. I will never cease to oppose
Russia and the Greek Faith.' This vow was part of my prayers morning
and evening, and such is the force of habit that I still continue to
say it.

"As you may suppose, Polish history formed part, and a very important
part, of my curriculum. My blood glowed as I listened to the story of
my country's wrongs. But indeed I did not require the voice of past
history to teach me patriotism. What was happening all round was
sufficient. I was between five and six years of age when the uprising
at Warsaw took place, and the unjust and terrible reprisals exacted by
the conquering Russians have left an impression upon my mind which no
length of time can ever efface.

"The war passed, and an era of tranquillity, or rather of torpor,
followed.

"Among those who frequented the assemblies held by the Countess
Lorenska--assemblies that partook more of a political than of a social
character--was a young priest of Italian origin, named Pasqual
Ravenna, who exercised considerable influence over the mind of my
adoptive mother, inasmuch as he was her father-confessor.

"One night during a brilliant entertainment I stole out of the _salle
de danse_ into the moonlit gardens without, in order to avoid waltzing
with a silly fellow who was my special aversion. I secreted myself in
a quiet arbor. On the other side of the shrubbery two persons were
slowly pacing to and fro, and earnestly conversing. I recognized the
voices of Countess Lorenska and Father Ravenna. I had no wish to hear
what they were saying; indeed, I was too much pre-occupied with my
would-be partner, whom I could see through the leaves vainly trying to
find me, to pay much attention to them, but still fragments of their
dialogue reached my ears.

"'She must be removed,' Ravenna was saying; 'she is too near'--I did
not catch the word--'to be safe. He often visits Warsaw. If she should
be seen and recognized by him, our plan would be frustrated. Besides,
she is growing. We must take care that she forms no love-attachment.'

"The countess laughed.

"'How absurd! She is too young for such notions.'

"'She is only twelve, 'tis true, but she is more advanced physically
and mentally than most girls of fifteen. She will be safer in a
convent till--till--her restoration,' he added, as if hesitating for
the choice of a word.

"'If you say so, it must be so,' said the countess with a sigh,
'though it will almost break my heart to part with her. Your
instructions have been carried out to the very letter. She will always
be a devout Catholic, and patriotically Polish.'

"'So far--good,' replied Ravenna.

"They both moved off at this point, and not till then did it dawn upon
me that they were speaking of myself.

"Next morning I was summoned by the countess, whom I found seated with
Father Ravenna.

"'Barbara,' she said, 'you are going to live in a convent for the next
six years, where you will continue the studies you have begun here.
Father Ravenna will conduct you to the convent. And do not forget
that if I should die he will be your guardian, and you must obey his
commandments, however strange they may appear.'

"I cried very much on parting from my adoptive mother.

"'Courage! It is for the good of Poland,' said the countess, as she
folded me in a last embrace.

"I failed to understand how Poland could be benefited by poor simple
me, still less how my six years' residence in a convent was to
accomplish that end.

"Under the conduct of Ravenna I travelled southward by easy stages. I
began to forget my grief in the novelty of the scenes that succeeded
each other. We entered Dalmatia, the country growing in grandeur and
wildness with every mile of our journey.

"At last we reached our destination,--the Convent of the Holy
Sacrament, situated in an isolated valley amid the loftiest peaks of
the Dinaric Alps,--and here Ravenna left me after a long conference
with the abbess.

"My life in the convent was a very pleasant one. Being the youngest
person in the establishment, I became a sort of pet with the nuns.
Though I took part in the devotional services of the convent, I did
not wear the religious habit, nor did I partake of the food of the
other inmates. My fare was more delicate than theirs; I wore costly
dresses; I had my own dining-chamber with a nun to wait upon me. In
short, if I had been a princess they could not have paid me more
deference and attention.

"My studies were mainly directed by three monks from a neighboring
establishment, one of whom, so the nuns asserted, had been a leading
statesman of Austria, who, for some offence, had been ordered by the
Kaiser to retire to a monastery; be that as it may, his was a mind
well stored with political knowledge, and Metternich himself could not
have taught me more of the secrets of contemporary history.

"My second year's residence in the convent was saddened by the tidings
of the Countess Lorenska's death,--to me a calamity in more ways than
one, for it made Father Ravenna my guardian, and him I had always
viewed with secret dislike, if not with fear.

"Now that I was growing older and more thoughtful, the question as to
my parentage began to trouble me. Who was I? why kept ignorant of my
origin? why put to this course of study? The abbess Teresa averred
that all would ultimately be made clear by my guardian Ravenna, who
would remove me from the convent as soon as I was eighteen.

"On the eve of my eighteenth birthday Ravenna appeared, no longer a
simple priest. His scarlet robes and the title 'Your Eminence,'
addressed to him by the abbess, showed that he had risen to the
dignity of a cardinal.

"He held an interview with me in the quietude of my own apartment. He
had not seen me for six years, remember, and of course during that
time I had grown from girlhood into womanhood.

"I noticed that as soon as he had set eyes on me he gave a start. I am
certain that he murmured 'How like'! During the whole of the interview
he walked to and fro, seemingly intent on studying my face and figure,
now in one light, now in another, conduct which very much embarrassed
me.

"'Know, my daughter,' he began, 'that your father, supposed by you to
be dead, is really living.'

"You can imagine my surprise at this statement.

"'Then why does he not acknowledge me?'

"'He has lived under the belief that you died as soon as born.'

"'He knows differently now?'

"'I have informed him of his error.'

"'And he has sent you to bring me to him?' I cried joyfully.

"'Alas! there's a difficulty at present in the way of your meeting
each other. Accustomed for eighteen years to regard you as dead, he
listens with scepticism to the story that you are living. Nay, more,
he avers the statement to be a conspiracy on my part."

"'A conspiracy!' I repeated wonderingly.

"'He has another daughter by a second wife, your half-sister, of whom
he has grown passionately fond. You, as the elder, stand in the light
of her interests; whatever she thought herself entitled to now
devolves upon you. For this reason he seeks to deny your relationship
to him.'

"'They wrong me by such thoughts,' I cried. 'I ask not for wealth, but
for affection.'

"'Tut, tut,' returned the cardinal. 'We have clear proofs of your
filiation and legitimacy. We shall compel him to acknowledge you. You
shall not be deprived of your rights.'

"'How came my father to think me dead?'

"'I believe I am responsible for that error,' he said, with a smile
that told me some interested motive lay at the root of his deception.

"I was unable to control my indignation.

"'You!' I cried. 'A holy cardinal the author of a falsehood that has
separated a father from his daughter for eighteen years, and that will
perhaps keep them apart forever! I honor my father for his present
distrust of you. If you lied to him in my infancy, what wonder that he
should deem you to be lying now?'

"The cardinal waved his hand deprecatingly. 'The end sanctifies the
means, and my end is a noble one.'

"Curiosity overcame my anger. Despite my aversion to the cardinal, I
could not refrain from plying him with questions; the names of my
father and my sister; their station in life; their abode, and the
like.

"But Cardinal Ravenna remained inflexibly uncommunicative. It was in
vain that I knelt before him, and with tears entreated that he would
let me see my father and sister face to face.

"'My presence may move them,' I said.

"'Your presence, my daughter, would create confusion,' he said coldly.
'Leave to me the task of winning for you a splendid heritage. Till
then you must remain in this convent.'

"And with that Ravenna took his departure.

"The new knowledge imparted by the cardinal contributed rather to
embitter than to cheer my life. It was not a pleasant reflection that
somewhere in the world I had both father and sister who had never seen
me, and who, apparently, had no desire to see me.

"For this state of affairs the cardinal, according to his own
statement, was responsible, and I hated him for it. He cared nothing
for the feelings of parent and child; his only object in bringing the
two together was to advance his own interests; he would exact a price
both from the father and from the new daughter.

"I resolved to cast off the self-constituted guardianship of Cardinal
Ravenna. I would quit the convent, and, making my way to Warsaw,
endeavor to discover the friends of my girlhood.

"But when I conferred with Abbess Teresa she told me kindly, yet
firmly, that this could not be; the cardinal had left strict orders
that I must be detained till his return.

"From that time my freedom ceased. The walks which I had been
accustomed to take outside the convent in the company of two attendant
nuns were stopped. The cloister gardens were open to me; once I had
deemed them spacious, now they seemed very narrow. Though treated
kindly in other ways I knew myself to be a prisoner watched by
innumerable eyes.

"The cardinal came not to release me. And thus eight months
passed,--the most melancholy time I had ever known.

"At last the porter, Bulgar, with whom I had always been a favorite,
listened to my pleading, and one dark night, by preconcerted
arrangement with me, he left the convent-gate unlocked, and I stole
forth.

"But my flight might soon be intercepted. A few miles to the north of
the convent, on the Bosnian frontier, is a fortress garrisoned by
Austrian troops. I remembered that once when a poor nun longing for
her freedom again, had run away, the Abbess had obtained aid from this
fortress. The commandant sent out a troop, which, scouring the country
around, returned with the fugitive after a three days' search. Devoted
to the cardinal's interests, Abbess Teresa would certainly make a
similar requisition in my case.

"Still I had the advantage of several hours' start, and, trusting to
heaven for aid, I fled onward through the darkness. Zara, sixty miles
to the northwest, was the haven of my desires. For two days I
journeyed on foot, sleeping the first night in the woods.

"At the end of the second day--but you know the rest.

"O Paul," she murmured, with a soft pressure of her arms, "whom have I
in the world but you? And to think that I at first repulsed you when
you met me that night in the wood!"

And here Barbara, having finished her story, looked up at Paul.

"Why so grave?" she asked, with a smile that masked a certain
misgiving on her part.

"In the very act of asking you to be my wife, Barbara, I feel
compelled to pause. Your story is so suggestive. Supposing you should
prove to be a rich heiress, or a peeress, or," he continued, his mind
reverting to the portrait of the lady with the diadem, "shall we
ascend higher, and say a princess?--you will make a mesalliance by
marrying one who has nothing but a cloak and a sword."

"Dreams, Paul, dreams."

"Nay, the interest taken in you by the cardinal proves that you are a
person either of rank or wealth, or possibly both."

"I place no faith in the cardinal's story. Doubtless, there does exist
somewhere a rich Polish noble, whose infant daughter was lost or
stolen away eighteen or nineteen years ago, but I do not believe that
I am she, though Ravenna would have me play the rôle of the missing
heiress. But even if I were an empress--"

Here Barbara paused in her utterance.

"Yes; if you were an empress--?"

"Cannot you guess the rest?"

"You would be my wife. Is that so, Barbara?"

"Yes, Paul," she replied, simply. "None but you."

Paul raised her beautiful face upward to his own, and looked down into
the light of her dark eyes.

"Barbara, I have loved you from the first moment of seeing you."

Barbara could not truthfully say that her love had begun so early. The
knowledge of it had come upon her perhaps a month ago.

"I wish I had known it. A month ago!" he added ruefully. "Just think
of the kisses I have missed!"

"Nothing prevents you, Paul, from repairing lost opportunities."

Who could have resisted the witchery of those lips raised so
temptingly at that moment? Not Paul, certainly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dusk of twilight was stealing over the island. The stars were
beginning to glimmer through the violet air above.

"It is time to return," said Paul, leading Barbara towards the boat.

"The mantilla!" she exclaimed, suddenly stopping short in her walk. "I
left it in the ruins. I must go back for it, since it is Jacintha's.
And my diamond brooch is fastened to it."

"You are tired, Barbara. Remain here. I will fetch it."

"Do not be long."

"Can you not bear a parting of five minutes?" he asked with a smile.

"One minute is too long, Paul."

Seating Barbara upon a fragment of rock, Paul hastened over the grassy
upland in the direction of the classic ruin, which was distant about a
quarter of a mile from the shore.

At the edge of a small wood that intervened between himself and the
temple, he paused for a moment to listen to Barbara, who was singing
in a sweet plaintive voice the hymn to the Virgin accustomed to be
sung in her convent at vesper hour.

     "Fading, still fading, the last beam is shining.
     Ave Maria! day is declining:
     Safety and innocence fly with the light:
     Temptation and danger walk forth with the night:
     From the fall of the shade till the matin shall chime
     Shield us from peril, and save us from crime.
               _Ave Maria, audi nos!_"

She formed a pretty picture as she sat there alone by the dusky-blue
sea in the faint starlight, her dainty white-robed figure clearly
outlined against the black rock.

"I'm the luckiest mortal living," muttered Paul. "By heaven! won't the
fellows be dumb with surprise and envy when I mount the jetty-stairs
at Corfu with Barbara upon my arm! And as for uncle, always an admirer
of the ladies, he'll fairly worship her."

He pictured Colonel Graysteel's look of admiration, and caught his
whispered aside: "By Jove, Paul, where did you find this lovely
vestal? Lucky dog! no wonder you have stayed away so long!"

Barbara had followed Paul with her eyes, and now, on seeing him pause,
she waved her hand prettily, while he, like a gallant lover, waved his
in turn. Then, eager to despatch his quest and to return to her, he
plunged into the wood, and Barbara was lost to view.

On reaching the temple, Paul quickly found the mantilla, but the
brooch which should have been attached to it was missing. As the
ornament was a valuable one he did not like to return without it, and
he therefore began a search in the fading light.

Having spent ten minutes without success, he resolved to quit the task
lest Barbara, sitting by the lonely shore, should become nervous at
his long delay.

As he rose to his feet he looked upward, and found that the stars were
invisible. A white mist like a ghost was floating over the isle.

Snatching up the mantilla, he dashed down through the woodland, and,
but for the murmur of the sea, which served to direct his course, he
would most certainly have missed his way.

As he drew near to the beach he called upon Barbara by name, but
received no answer. This was puzzling, inasmuch as he was near the
place where he had left her. Near? He was at the exact spot. There was
the crag upon which she had been seated a few minutes previously, but
of Barbara herself not a trace was visible.

Vainly did his eyes seek to pierce the veil of mist that hung around;
every object more than a few feet distant was hidden from view.

The melancholy lapping of the waves over the sand was the only sound
that broke the stillness.

Where was Barbara? Ah! alarmed perhaps by the mist and by his long
absence, she had left the shore to seek him, and had missed her way to
the ruin. He would go back at once and find her.

He had just turned to retrace his steps, when suddenly from out the
mist that overhung the sea there came a strange voice,--

"_All ready? Give way, then. To Castel Nuovo!_"

The words were immediately followed by the dip and roll of
oars,--sounds that sent a thrill of horror through Paul's heart. In
one swift moment he realized what was happening.

The Austrian gendarmerie sent by the convent authorities had come at
last! Come? ay, and were going with their purpose accomplished!

Barbara, silent, perhaps because in a swoon, was in the hands of
enemies who were carrying her off, and though her captors were but a
few yards distant, he was unable to render her any aid. The
suddenness, the stillness, the mysteriousness of it all was more
appalling than the act of abduction itself.

Half-an-hour had not yet elapsed since Barbara had pressed her glowing
lips to his. And now--and now--was ever lover's dream cut short so
awfully and abruptly as this?

"Barbara! Barbara!" he cried in agony. "If you are there, speak."

Was he mistaken, or did he really hear his own name pronounced by a
voice faintly sounding, as if the speaker's head were muffled within
the folds of a cloak?

Following his first impulse, he dashed into the sea towards the point
whence came the sound of the oars. Like a madman he leaped and plunged
forward through mist and water with the desire of arresting the
progress of the receding boat. Vain hope! He did not even obtain a
glimpse of the boat, much less come up with it.

Not till the water surged breast-high around him did he pause, and
then he stood mechanically listening to the sound of the oar-sweep as
it died away in the distance.

Recovering from his stupor he waded back to land, and sought the place
where he had left his own boat.

It was gone!

It had either been taken in tow by Barbara's captors, or cast adrift
in order to prevent him from giving trouble by following them.

The island had become his prison, inasmuch as he had no way of
crossing to the mainland except by swimming, and though he might not
have shrunk from a three-mile course in smooth water, the same
distance across a sea-channel traversed by currents and covered by a
thick fog was a very different matter.

Though every moment of detention diminished his hope of effecting
Barbara's rescue, yet here he was, absolutely helpless, dependent for
his release upon the chance passing of some fishing-boat.

He did not doubt--he could not doubt--that the abduction of Barbara
was the work of Cardinal Ravenna, who had probably been apprised by
Abbess Teresa of the flight of his youthful _protégé_. It was not
likely that he would restore her to the Convent of the Holy Sacrament;
some more secure establishment would be chosen, and, when Barbara was
once immured by the authority of a powerful ecclesiastic, it would be
difficult, if not impossible, to reach her. The only consoling feature
in this dark affair was that the success of the cardinal's scheme,
whatever its character, hung upon Barbara's life; so far she was safe,
but the thought of the sufferings to which she might be subjected, in
order to extort submission, drove Paul's mind to the verge of frenzy.

At midnight the mist began to lift almost as suddenly as it had come
on. The whole blue arch of heaven became revealed. The moon was now at
its full, and the cold, pallid light shone over the island with its
dark woods, and its ivory-white temple on the hill-top, the fallen
shrine of love.

Paul mounted this hill and glanced over the sea in all directions; but
his hope of seeing some barque in the vicinity of the isle was
immediately extinguished. Not a sail was visible.

He had brought to the island a pair of field-glasses, and these he now
directed over the channel that separated him from the Dalmatian
mainland. The light was insufficient for the taking of distant
observations; nevertheless, he came to the conclusion that a tiny
light visible at a certain point on the coast marked the position of
Castel Nuovo; and, aware that Barbara's captors must long ere this
have reached their destination, this light became an object of deep
interest. Without any reason whatever to guide him, he took up the
belief that it marked the room in which she was detained for the
night, and impressed by this fancy, he kept his eyes fixed upon it as
wistfully as if it were the face of Barbara herself.

Suddenly the light vanished.

A very simple occurrence, and yet Paul had no sooner noted it than
there came over him a trembling and a horror as great as if the
extinction of that light had likewise involved the extinction of
Barbara.

His mind was either playing him strange tricks, or else his hearing
had become more than ordinarily acute. Sounds on the opposite coast
seemed close at hand,--sounds of an eerie character.

The deep silence of the night was first broken by the fitful ringing
of church bells; immediately afterwards came a series of
reverberations which Paul could compare only with the rattling echoes
produced by the discharge of artillery among lofty hills; and next
there floated over the sea a prolonged cry like the wild shriek of
some captured town.

Then all was still again.

What had happened along that moonlit coast?

       *       *       *       *       *

Night waned. Morning dawned with all the fair golden glory of that
southern clime.

On the shore of Isola Sacra stood a man, his gaze fixed eastward as it
had been fixed ever since the growing light had enabled him to
perceive distant objects with any degree of distinctness.

The British regiment at Corfu would have failed to recognize their
captain in this man with his wild air, blood-shot eyes, and haggard
face staring continually over the sea.

For the twentieth time his shaking hands raised the field-glasses.

Whenever he turned the binoculars to that point of coast where Castel
Nuovo should have been, he found that Castel Nuovo was not there.
Focus the glasses as he would, he could not detect a trace of the
edifice. The blue sea seemed to be rolling over the site!

In like manner other landmarks along the coast had disappeared,
notably a white lighthouse a few miles to the north of Castel Nuovo.
The mountains, too, seemed to present an outline differing from that
of the previous day.

Then the truth in all its ghastliness broke upon Paul, and, strong man
though he was, he dropped upon the sands as one dead.

The explanation was simple and terrible.

During the night an earthquake had devastated the coast of Dalmatia;
towns had been laid in ruins; scores of people had perished; and,
among a crowd of minor catastrophes enumerated by the "Zara Times" of
that week, was the complete submergence of a picturesque edifice,
erected in the fourteenth century by the Doge Marino Faliero, and
known by the name of Castel Nuovo!



THE STORY



CHAPTER I

TWO YEARS AFTERWARDS


"Here's to the Princess of Czernova!" cried Noel Trevisa,--a
dark-eyed, handsome young fellow,--raising his glass as he spoke.
"Have you seen her yet, Paul?"

Captain Cressingham, or to use the new name assumed by him on the
death of a relative, Captain Woodville, smiled at the enthusiasm with
which his friend proposed the toast.

"I entered Slavowitz only last evening," he replied, "and have already
been asked that question six times. It seems to be the first one put
to a visitor."

"And when you have seen her you will cease to wonder at the pride of
the Czernovese in their princess. Natalie Lilieska is more than
beautiful,--she is Beauty's self."

This interchange took place on an elevated balcony of the Hôtel de
Varsovie, the principal establishment of its kind in Slavowitz, the
picturesque capital of the old Polish principality of Czernova.

Between Paul and his companion stood a marble-topped table decorated
with a bottle of Chartreuse and a box of cigars, and in the quiet
enjoyment of these luxuries the two Englishmen yielded themselves to
lazy abandon in the soft sunshine of a spring morning, watching the
gay current of Czernovese life as it flowed along the boulevard
beneath their feet.

Two years had elapsed since the night when Barbara had been carried
off to perish, as Paul believed, in the engulfing of Castel Nuovo.

A fishing-barque passing by next morning had taken Paul from the
island; its arrival was timely, for the vessel had scarcely gone
half-a-mile when the sea became violently agitated, and Isola Sacra
itself disappeared beneath the waves. The frightened fishermen,
perceiving that the force of the earthquake was not yet spent, refused
to put in on the Dalmatian coast, believing it to be safer on water
than on land. For four-and-twenty hours they kept out on the deep,
disembarking only when they deemed the peril past.

The moment Paul touched land he made his way to the vicinity of Castel
Nuovo, and found its site covered by the sea. Must he believe that the
last resting-place of Barbara was fathoms deep below these waves? He
rowed to and fro over the spot, peering through the singularly
transparent water, and sometimes fancying that he could discern the
ghostly outline of towers and battlements.

Had Barbara really been lodged at Castel Nuovo during the night of the
earthquake, or at some other place?

Inquiries carried on by him within a wide area around Castel Nuovo
yielded no tidings as to the missing maiden. Barbara, Jacintha,
Lambro, were like the shadows of a past dream.

Blank despair settled upon Paul. Life seemed scarcely worth living.

Then came news that the British troops stationed at Corfu had been
ordered to India to suppress a rising among the hill-tribes of the
frontier.

Paul, whose first impulse had been to resign his commission, now
decided to accompany his regiment lest his retirement on the eve of
war should be attributed to a spirit of cowardice. The fierce thrill
of fighting might help to drown the memory of Barbara--for a time.
And since life without her was hard to bear, he cherished the hope
that an Afghan spear might give him the death he desired.

On his arrival at Corfu, Paul learned that, owing to the death of a
wealthy aunt, he was now master of considerable landed property in
Kent, subject to the condition that he should assume his relative's
name of Woodville. Paul mechanically acquiesced, and was henceforth
gazetted as "Captain Woodville."

"Cressingham or Woodville, what matters?" he said. "Soon to be a
little dust, I hope."

This legal formality over, he hurried off to India.

In the campaign that followed he did not die; on the contrary, he
lived to gain a brilliant reputation,--a reputation destined, though
he foresaw it not, to stand him in good stead during a political
crisis of the future.

In a small border-fortress he found himself one of a garrison of four
hundred men besieged by an Afghan force twenty times its own number.

It was winter, and the mountain-passes were filled with snow.

Weeks must elapse ere relief could come. Scantily provided with
artillery, their provisions running out, sleepless from incessant
attacks, the heroic little band kept grimly to the work.

Early in the siege the major in command, with two or three officers,
yielding to a spirit of fear strange in English soldiers, proposed in
council an unconditional surrender.

"We were sent here," said Paul, darkly and haughtily, "to hold the
fortress, not to cede it. If you do not know your duty, Major, there
are those who will teach it you. I will shoot the first man that talks
again of surrender, be he commandant or be he private."

And without delay Paul took strong measures. He put his own superior,
together with the recreant officers, under arrest, and he himself took
the command. Upon this there arose from the garrison, when informed of
what had taken place, a ringing British cheer that startled the enemy
in their distant entrenchments.

Paul henceforth was the soul of the fight,--at the head of every
sortie, charging the enemy regardless of their number. The garrison
attributed his conduct to sheer devilry; it was, in truth, the
despairing mood of a man bent on finding death.

Ever amid the clash of arms he seemed to see before him the beautiful
face of her whom he had lost, and scarcely conscious of the fact, he
would cry "Barbara! Barbara!" to the bewilderment of his men. The wild
Afghans shrank back in dismay whenever the "Feringhee devil" turned
his dripping sabre in their direction, deeming the "bar-bar-a" uttered
by him to be a magic spell capable of dealing death around.

When at last the long-desired relief came, and the story of the heroic
defence of Tajapore became known to the world, Paul found that he had
unintentionally become a famous person.

At the end of his second year in India Paul made a remarkable
discovery.

Up till that time he had entertained the belief that Cardinal Ravenna
had perished in the Dalmatian earthquake, though strange as it may
appear, he had not thought of putting his opinion to the proof by
ascertaining whether the Sacred College had actually lost a member in
the year '45. However, being in the club-room at Poonah one day, he
happened to be glancing over a continental newspaper, when his eye was
caught by the following paragraph,--

"The Pope has been pleased to appoint Cardinal Ravenna to the
archiepiscopal see of Slavowitz."

Paul laid down the paper trembling with new hope. If the cardinal had
survived the earthquake, why should not Barbara likewise? Could it be
that she was really alive?

Till that moment Paul had been ignorant of the name of Slavowitz, but
a reference to a dictionary of geography informed him that it was the
capital of Czernova, the latter being a small independent state on the
borders of Austria and Russia.

He resolved to set off immediately for this principality, for the
purpose of interviewing the dark-dealing cardinal in whose breast was
contained the secret of Barbara's history.

Two years' assiduous attention to duty easily earned for Paul a long
furlough. He quitted India, arrived at Alexandria, and took ship for
Constantinople; thence travelling post-haste day and night he threaded
the passes of the Balkans, crossed the Danube, traversed the forests
of the Carpathians, and finally arrived at Slavowitz late at night,
where he was much disappointed to learn that the new archbishop was
absent from his see, having gone on a journey to Rome, his return,
however, being daily expected.

Paul determined to await his coming.

On this, his first morning at Slavowitz, while gazing from the balcony
of his hotel, he caught sight of an old college chum in the person of
Noel Trevisa.

Paul immediately cried to him by name, and in a moment more the two
friends were sitting together renewing old memories; and great were
Trevisa's surprise and admiration on learning that the Captain
Woodville whose name had become familiar to all Europe, was the same
as his old friend, Paul Cressingham.

"And what has brought you to this city?" inquired Paul, when the other
had drunk his toast to the fair ruler of Czernova.

"This city is my adopted home. Formerly professor of English at the
university of Slavowitz, I am now private secretary to the loveliest
princess in Europe, and occupy a suite of apartments in the palace."

"Accept my congratulations. How did you, a foreigner here, obtain the
post?"

"Thaddeus the Good--"

"Who is he?"

"Was, my dear fellow--'was' is the word, inasmuch as he is no
more--the late Prince of Czernova, her Highness's father. He died six
months ago."

"I understand. Proceed."

"Prince Thaddeus, about two years ago, offered me the post of tutor to
his daughter Natalie. I was to instruct her in English Literature and
English Constitutional History. Naturally I did not refuse so charming
a student. When a few months later her secretary resigned through
ill-health, the princess installed me in his place, where I am proud
to be. I wish I could persuade you too, Paul, to take service under
her Highness."

"What! Accept command in a toy army destined never to smell powder!
All thanks to you, Noel, but I prefer to remain with the old
Twenty-fourth."

"That's a pity, for the princess is very desirous of officering her
army with men experienced in warfare. And of all nationalities she
seems to prefer the English. On her return from Dalmatia--"

"From where?" interrupted Paul, sharply.

"From Dalmatia. Why shouldn't she go there?" retorted Trevisa,
aggressively.

"Why not, indeed? And how long is it since she returned from
Dalmatia?"

"About two years."

"Ha! proceed."

Paul's strange manner led Trevisa to wonder whether his head had not
become affected by his two years' residence in the tropics.

"Well, as I was about to say, after her return from Dalmatia, one of
the first acts of the princess was to appoint a new uniform for her
body-guard. Accordingly sketches of the various costumes worn in the
different European armies were laid before her. You, my dear Paul,
ought to feel honored by her selection."

"Why so?"

"Because the uniform she chose is one so like your own that for my
part I fail to detect the difference. As you walk through the streets
of Slavowitz you will certainly be taken for one of her _corps du
garde_, known as the Blue Legion."

A strange suspicion entered Paul's mind.

"How old is the Princess Natalie?"

"She celebrated her nineteenth birthday last week."

"Barbara, if she were living, would be twenty-one by this time,"
murmured Paul to himself; and then aloud he added: "And you say that
the princess is very beautiful?"

"Be thyself the judge," smiled Trevisa. "Within a quarter of an hour
from now she will pass along this boulevard on her way to the Mazeppa
Gardens. From the balcony here you will have a good view of her."

"Haven't you her portrait upon you?"

"At present I have with me no other likeness than this."

And here Trevisa drew forth a gold-piece, bright as if fresh from the
mint.

"The new coinage, issued this week. Reverse--the double-headed eagle,
the ancient arms of Poland. Obverse--the profile of the princess with
the legend '_Natalia, Princeps Czern. Amat. Patr._' 'Natalie, Princess
of Czernova, Lover of her Country.' Did the goddess Athene carry a
more dainty head than this?"

Paul took the coin, glanced at the obverse, and then sat in a state
wavering between belief and unbelief.

Was this golden disc really stamped with the head of Barbara? So it
seemed to Paul. At any rate, if her profile had been engraved on metal
with due regard to fidelity, it would have differed little or nothing
from that on the coin.

Then a new idea seized him, and one more consonant with probability.
Was this the profile of the maiden whose portrait he had seen in the
cardinal's secret study at Castel Nuovo--the maiden with the laughing
eyes, the sceptre and the diadem?

"A graceful head, a very graceful head," he remarked, returning the
coin. "I should like to hear more of the fair lady."

"As many questions as you please."

"First, where did the Princess Natalie pass her childhood and youth?"

"Here in the city of Slavowitz and its vicinity. Of course she has had
her travels like the rest of us, and has visited different European
countries, but, speaking generally, she was reared and educated in the
Vistula Palace, whose towers you can see rising behind yon cathedral
spire."

Clearly not Barbara, for Barbara had spent her earlier years at
Warsaw, her later in the Illyrian Convent of the Holy Sacrament.

"And what of her visit to Dalmatia?"

"That was undertaken two and a half years ago; at that time she was in
a delicate state of health, and the physicians recommended a tour
around the Adriatic. She travelled incognito with a slender suite
under the care of Cardinal Ravenna."

"Who took her, among other places," thought Paul, "to Castel Nuovo, as
is proved by the fragment of lace in the secret corridor."

"This tour was productive of singular results," continued Trevisa,
musingly.

"In what way?"

"Well, it was to have lasted three months, but it was extended to six;
and when the princess returned she was an altered being; I do not mean
in appearance, I refer to her character."

Light began to dawn upon Paul. The Princess Natalie had not returned
to Czernova; instead there had come her living image--Barbara!

"What remarkable development had the princess's character undergone?"

"Beforetime she was a gay and vivacious maiden. She returned grave and
sedate. This change was attributed to the earthquake."

"The earthquake?"

"Yes. Don't you remember the great upheaval on the Dalmatian littoral
two years ago?"

"Ah! I remember something of the sort, now I come to think of it."

"Well, the terrible scenes witnessed by Princess Natalie, together
with her own nearness to death, seem to have sobered her from girlhood
into womanhood. From that time she began to take a keen interest in
state affairs, which she had previously regarded as boredom."

"Barbara was keenly interested in politics," thought Paul.

"Beforetime her predilections, if she had any, were in favor of
Russia. She returned divested of her Muscovite sympathies."

"Barbara was decidedly an anti-Muscovite," thought Paul.

"But the greatest change--"

"Yes, the greatest change--?" repeated Paul, observing that the other
had stopped short in his utterance with the air of one about to be
betrayed into an imprudent statement.

As Trevisa did not reply, Paul drew a bow at a venture.

"The princess was reared in the Greek faith, I am given to
understand? Humph! what was Prince Thaddeus thinking of when he placed
his daughter under the tutelage of Cardinal Ravenna? One can guess the
result. The princess went away a Greek, and came back a Catholic. Is
it not so?"

"Hush!" muttered Trevisa, glancing around in some trepidation. "Yes,
that is so. You have hit on a state secret, communicated only to her
cabinet, and to me--her secretary. But, Paul, breathe not a word of
this to any one, for the knowledge of it would shake her throne,
and--"

He paused. There was a sudden commotion in the street below.
Pedestrians had stopped in their walk, and were crowding to the edge
of the pavement with their faces all set in one direction, whence came
the distant sound of cheering and of clapping hands. The applause
rolled in _crescendo_ along the boulevards, advancing nearer each
moment to the two friends.

"Here comes the princess!" cried Trevisa, springing to his feet. Paul
felt his heart beating as it had never beat before when he turned his
eyes towards the approaching cavalcade.

First came a detachment of Polish uhlans, their burnished lances
glittering in the morning sunshine, and the points decorated with
black pennons that fluttered in the breeze.

The handsome regimentals of this _corps du garde_, the Blue Legion,
promptly drew from Paul the remark,--

"Why, their uniform is the same as the Twenty-fourth Kentish!"

"A remark previously made by me," observed Trevisa, drily. "You are
singularly forgetful, Paul."

On came the lancers at a swinging trot, followed by an open landau
containing the princess.

A moment more and this carriage was abreast of the hotel, and as if
fortune were favoring Paul, the vehicle was brought to a sudden
stand-still opposite the balcony on which he stood.

The equipage was a dainty one, lined with pale blue silk, the arms of
Poland gleaming in gold from the polished sable panel. The fine black
horses, with coats like shining satin, were decked in silver harness.

But Paul saw nothing of this equipage; his eyes were set upon its
occupant.

There, seated in graceful state, with silken sunshade poised above her
head, and responsive to the plaudits of the people by sweet smiles and
a courteous bending of her head, was--the youthful and beautiful
Barbara!

The supreme joy of realizing that she was actually living so affected
Paul that for a moment the whole street--Barbara, soldiers, people,
buildings--became a confused swimming vision. A sound like the murmur
of many waters filled his ears.

With difficulty he controlled his first impulse to descend the hotel
steps, crying "Barbara! Barbara!" It set his teeth on edge afterwards
when he recalled how near he had come to making a fool of himself. No,
his first interview with her must not take place in the open street
before a wondering, gaping throng.

Fearing lest she should glance upwards and recognize him, Paul drew
aside behind a screen of aloes that decorated the balcony, and
continued to watch.

Yes, it was truly Barbara. The convent-fugitive who had strolled with
him through the pine-woods of Dalmatia, the Polish maiden whom he had
held in his arms had become a real princess with a court, ministers,
and an army at her command. The wonderment of it all! And though she
had spent nearly a third of her life in a convent, yet there she sat
with the air of one born in the purple. It was amazing, nay, charming,
to mark the dignity and the ease with which she carried herself in her
new state.

The landau of the princess had been stopped before the Hôtel de
Varsovie in order to enable her to address two pedestrians, who,
judging from the respect paid to them by the crowd, were persons of
distinction in the little world of Czernova.

The first was an elderly, silver-haired man of fine presence, and
distinguished by a stately, old-fashioned courtesy.

"Count Radzivil," replied Trevisa, in answer to Paul's question. "The
prime minister of Czernova, brother of the celebrated Michael, who
commanded the Polish insurgents of '30."

As the premier was old enough to be Barbara's grandfather, Paul could
afford to view him with composure; but the case was very different
with the other individual.

He was a man of lofty stature, and of broad, massive build, with a
dark, handsome face set off with black eyes and a black beard. The
sunbeams toyed with the silver eagle upon his helmet. His splendid
uniform glittered with gold lace, stars, and orders. He carried
himself erect, his left hand resting upon the hilt of his sabre; and
it was clear that both in his own opinion, and also in the opinion of
the crowd, he was a very grand personage indeed.

"Who's His Serene Tallness?"

"John the Strong, Duke of Bora, commander of the Czernovese army, a
member of the cabinet, and the heir-apparent to the crown. He is first
cousin to the princess, and likewise a near kinsman of the Czar."

Envy and misgiving stole over Paul as he contrasted his own inferior
rank with that of the imperially-connected Bora. Barbara was bending
forward in her carriage, laughing pleasantly, and apparently holding
an animated conversation with the duke. One might almost have thought
that she was exerting all her arts to please him.

Paul surveyed him more attentively, and quickly gauged his
character,--an individual naturally sullen, of a somewhat slow
intellect, yet not without ambition; a man upon whom the graces and
restraints of polite life lay but lightly; a little provocation, and
the savage would soon be in evidence. What could Barbara find in this
man to interest her?

"Bora seems on excellent terms with the princess," said Paul.

"Naturally, seeing that he is to marry her."

"What?"

Paul's intonation was so sharp that Trevisa turned to survey him.

"Why, Paul, how white you're grown!"

"Merely a pang from an old wound. But your princess; she can't
entertain any real love for _that_ fellow."

"Love was never fashionable at courts," smiled Trevisa. His words
jarred upon Paul. If Barbara had become such that she could marry
without any love on her side, then her nature must have sadly changed
from what it was in the old sweet days at Castel Nuovo.

"It is a _mariage de convenance_," continued Trevisa, "tending to
secure her position on the throne, and--but see, she is about to set
off again."

The princess, having finished her conversation, drew off her right
glove and extended her fair jewelled hand to the duke with a smile and
graciousness of manner that roused all the jealousy in Paul's nature.

"She has forgotten me," he murmured bitterly. "Well, of course, she
thinks me dead; but even if she knew otherwise, it is not likely that
she will pay much regard to me now. And yet what were her words to me
on the day that we were parted? 'If I were an empress, Paul, I would
be your wife.' Humph! we shall see."

Bora raised the delicate hand to his lips amid the applause of the
crowd, who seemed to regard the incident as a very pretty tableau.

Count Radzivil lifted his hat with courtly grace, and the next moment
the landau was gliding smoothly along the Boulevard de Cracovie,
followed by a detachment of cavalry similar in equipments to that
which had preceded it.

Paul was left a victim to perplexing thoughts.

What had become of the real Princess Natalie, and why had Barbara
assumed the name, title, and sceptre of the daughter of Thaddeus,
personating the character with such art and tact as apparently to defy
detection, since Trevisa, though long resident in Czernova, had no
suspicion of the substitution that had taken place?

Had Barbara a just title to the throne? Recalling her air as she sat
in the landau, Paul felt that he could not associate the appropriation
of another's heritage with that winsome and dignified presence. No,
difficult though it was to explain her conduct, he would believe
anything rather than that she was a conscious and willing usurper.



CHAPTER II

CZERNOVESE POLITICS


"Well," said Trevisa, puzzled by Paul's long silence, "what think you
of this fair vestal throned in the east?"

"My wonder is how you, her private secretary, compelled by your office
to attend her daily, have avoided falling in love with her."

"By steeling my heart and playing the philosopher. Princesses are not
for common mortals like myself. Give me blue blood and a title, and I
might aspire. The sovereign of Czernova must not marry a commoner, on
pain of forfeiture of the crown. Her consort must be one of royal or
noble birth."

"Ah! is that the law?" asked Paul, with affected carelessness.

"So runneth the statute of Czernova," replied the secretary.

"_The sovereign must not marry a commoner!_" Why had he come to
Czernova? Better to have remained in ignorance of her fate, than, on
finding her, to learn that she could never be his.

"You said," he remarked, after an interval of silence, "that the
marriage of the princess with the duke will secure the stability of
her throne. In what way?"

"The explanation will require a long lecture on Czernovese politics.
You will esteem me a bore."

"Not at all. Go on."

"To begin then. This principality of Czernova represents the last
fragment of the ancient kingdom of Poland; it is one of the old
palatinates, and the Lilieskis were its palatines.

"On the fall of Poland, in 1795, Czernova formed part of the share
allotted to Russia, and received exceptional treatment from that
power, the reason being that the Lilieski of that day, a handsome
young fellow, was one of the favorites of the Empress Catherine. She
not only permitted him to retain his palatinate, but even created him
Prince, and set her hand and seal to a new constitution framed by
Lilieski himself, which conferred upon Czernova all the rights of a
free and independent state. The Russians of to-day aver that the
Empress must have signed the document without reading it, or at least
without understanding what she was granting. Be that as it may, the
Poles of Czernova, having obtained a Charter of Liberty, have
resolutely refused to assent to any modification of its provisions."

"But seeing that Russia is a hundred times the stronger, what has
prevented her from annexing Czernova?"

"The rescript of the Congress of Vienna to the effect that 'Czernova
shall be governed according to the Charter granted by Catherine II.'
The Powers are therefore pledged to maintain the _status quo_.

"So much for the political frame-work. Now for the people.

"The Czernovese consist of diverse elements, but the two chief
nationalities are Poles and Muscovites.

"The Poles are the original inhabitants of the country, passionately
attached to their liberty, and Catholics to a man. They form a
majority in the principality; but for the two past decades there has
been a steady influx of immigrants from Russia, which, if continued in
the same ratio, will inevitably result in the Russification of
Czernova.

"These Muscovites, it need scarcely be said, belong to the Greek
Church, the head of which is the Czar; their sympathies are of course
pro-Russian, and if the Emperor Nicholas were to prepare to-morrow for
annexation very few of them would lift a finger to prevent it.

"Here, then, is the crux of the political situation.

"Czernova is occupied by two races alien in blood, language, religion
and ideals. They can no more unite than fire with water. In the Diet,
Poles and Muscovites form two hostile factions; the debates are
acrimonious; swords are sometimes drawn, and the scenes occurring lack
none of the fiery picturesqueness that was wont to characterize the
old Polish Diet of Warsaw."

"A difficult matter," interjected Paul, "to find a ruler who shall be
acceptable to both factions."

"Well, as things are at present," replied Trevisa, emphasizing the
last two words, "the Princess Natalie satisfies the requirement. The
Poles love her for her nationality; and the Muscovites, if they do not
love, are at least disposed to tolerate a ruler whom they believe to
be a member of their own Church. It is a guarantee that their own
creed will not be persecuted, for you know how intolerantly the Roman
Church behaved in old Poland.

"Now it is the princess's secret faith which constitutes the coming
peril.

"When the Muscovites learn that she is a Catholic--and the truth
cannot remain much longer hidden--it is doubtful whether their loyalty
will be able to stand the shock. They may rise in arms and endeavor to
seat the Duke of Bora on the throne, who has three recommendations in
their eyes; he is of the Greek Church, a Muscovite on the mother's
side, and connected, as I have said, with the blood-imperial of
Russia.

"Hence, in the opinion of the cabinet, the necessity for the marriage
of the princess with the duke; their joint occupation of the throne is
the only thing that can keep Pole and Muscovite from cutting each
other's throats. A son born of this marriage will tend to unite the
interests of both parties."

Barbara with a son! And by the duke! The thought set Paul's blood on
fire.

"The cabinet of course are united on the question of this marriage?"
he asked.

"They mayn't like it, but, as I have said, they feel its necessity. I
can name two ministers, however, who, outwardly assenting, are
secretly opposing the match."

"And they are--?"

"Cardinal Ravenna and Marshal Zabern."

Ravenna! It was rather surprising to find Barbara including among her
ministry the ecclesiastic who had formerly inspired her with aversion.
Then Paul's surprise ceased when he reflected that the cardinal was
master of her secret history, and would therefore require to be
conciliated. An uneasy suspicion began to form in his mind that
Barbara was the innocent victim of a Jesuitical conspiracy--that she
had been duped into believing herself a princess by ecclesiastics who
intended to make use of her as a tool.

"A Latin cardinal," he said. "I can understand that he would oppose
the marrying of the princess to a Greek heretic. But Zabern--who is
he?"

Trevisa smiled.

"You will not be long in Czernova without learning who Zabern is. He
is the Warden of the Charter, the most subtle character in the
cabinet, the idol of the Czernovese Poles, whose motto is 'Trust in
God and Zabern--especially Zabern.' Ask the Muscovites who Zabern is,
and they will blaspheme and tell you that he is the incarnation of the
devil. And as the slaying of the devil would be a holy act, their
pious attentions in this respect have compelled the marshal to go
about with chain-mail beneath his clothing."

"And Zabern, you say, is opposed to the match? But if the princess
has set her mind upon it, how does Zabern propose to play his game?"

"His first card is the Pope."

"The Pope?"

"Yes. The princess, being a Catholic, is debarred by the canons of her
Church from marrying the duke, inasmuch as he is her first cousin. The
papal dispensation is necessary before the union can be celebrated."

"And should the Holy Father refuse to grant it?"

Trevisa's face assumed a very grave expression.

"Then the princess will indeed be in a dilemma. If she marries without
papal sanction the union will be deemed null and void by her Catholic
subjects. All the Polish clergy will be set against her, and you know
what that means. On the other hand, if she submits to the will of the
Pope, and dismisses her ducal suitor, she will put herself in grave
peril. The coronation takes place within four months from now, and the
Muscovites are fully expecting to see the duke seated side by side
with her in that ceremony. Disappointment will cause an armed rising
on their part, and then--and then--I greatly fear there will be an end
to the princess's rule."

"How so? Why should not her adherents prevail?"

"They would, if left to themselves, for they are the more numerous
party. But, behind the Muscovite faction, and filling the minds of the
ministers with secret fear, looms the colossal shadow of the Czar. If
there should be riots, and the Poles should take to burning and
killing, the Muscovites will cry to Nicholas to protect his own kith
and kin, and then, good-bye to Czernovese liberty. The Czar will have
what he has so long sought--a pretext for annexation. Heaven avert
such a calamity, but one cannot prophesy a bright future for Czernova
unless this marriage takes place."

Trevisa had scarcely finished this exposition of Czernovese politics
when he happened to see a lady well known to him entering the hotel.
Asking Paul to excuse his absence for a few minutes, he went off to
pay his devoirs.

Paul, not unwilling to be left alone, sat thinking of Barbara. What
would be the state of her feelings when she learned that he was alive?
She had accepted his love prior to the knowledge of her high rank. It
was not likely that under her changed circumstances she would consider
herself bound by her past promises. Granting, however, that she still
loved him; granting that the Duke of Bora would be so heroic as to
efface himself, marriage was impossible without the forfeiture of that
sceptre, which rightfully or wrongfully she now held, and to this
sacrifice Paul felt that he could never consent, even if Barbara
herself were willing.

His duty was clear. He must live his life apart from her. But before
he left Czernova he must have an interview with her. He must see her
once more face to face and alone, and he thought of this meeting with
feelings of pleasure and pain.

Looking up from this reverie, whom should he see at a little distance
but the Duke of Bora, attended by Count Radzivil. The pair were making
their way along the balcony of the hotel, apparently with the
intention of taking a seat or calling for wine at one of the many
little tables spread about.

As the duke drew near, a spirit of latent defiance took possession of
Paul. This was the man destined to rob him of Barbara--Barbara who
belonged of prior right to himself. It was clearly state-policy that
dictated her attitude towards the duke. Paul found it impossible to
believe that the delicately-minded and intellectual Barbara could feel
any genuine love for this great, clumsy barbarian.

"Let him keep to Natalie, and leave me Barbara. What sort of a lover
must he be? Where were his eyes two years ago, that he did not
perceive that the returning princess was not his first love? Barbara
must have played her part well so to impose upon him. But was he
deceived? Does he know the truth, and knowing, make use of it to
intimidate Barbara into marrying him?"

A thought which did not tend to increase Paul's amiability.

As the duke passed he eyed Paul askance, and then wheeling round with
a suddenness that formed a marked contrast with his previous slowness,
he exclaimed in a voice of thunder,--

"You have neither stood nor saluted, sir!"

Paul regarded the fierce Bora with a look of calm surprise. What right
had this Czernovese grandee to demand a salute from him--an English
officer?

"You have neither stood nor saluted, sir!"

"Why should I?"

The duke's black eyes flashed savagely; his face grew as dark as
night.

"Are you mad or drunk? Report yourself a prisoner at the Citadel."

"Again I ask, why should I?"

Bora gripped his sword-handle with an air compounded of amazement and
fury. A whispered word from Radzivil seemed to exercise a moderating
effect upon him.

"Permit me to give my name," said the minister, stepping forward with
a courteous bearing. "I am Count Radzivil, premier of Czernova. May I
ask a like favor?"

"I am an Englishman, Captain Woodville of the 24th Kentish. May I ask
who is this--ah!--gentleman?"

An Englishman! Bora immediately recognized his error. Misled by Paul's
uniform he had taken him for one of his own officers. The duke could
ill bear ridicule, and if this story got abroad he would be the
laughingstock of Czernova.

"Permit me to reveal my dignity," he began stiffly.

"Your--? But proceed, sir."

"I am the Duke of Bora, commander-in-chief of the Czernovese army.
Your English uniform being so similar to the Czernovese--"

"Pardon me. You mean that the Czernovese is so similar to the
English."

"That I not unreasonably took you for a Czernovese officer."

And with a scowl the duke drew aside, deeming that he made a
sufficient apology, and Paul, had he chosen, might have boasted that
he was the only man who had ever drawn an apology from the duke.

"Woodville? Woodville?" murmured the premier with a musing air.
"Surely not the Captain Woodville who conducted the defence of the
Afghan fortress of Tajapore?"

"The same," replied Paul modestly.

The duke glanced askance at Paul with a feeling of jealousy, the mean
jealousy of the man who had done Nothing, against the man who had done
Something.

Paul's breast was without a single decoration. The duke's breast was a
glitter of stars and crosses, none of which had been gained by actual
service in war. Bora felt the irony of the contrast, and grew more
bitter. Radzivil, however, was full of genuine affability.

"Captain Woodville, it gives me great pleasure to meet you," he said,
extending his hand. "Had we known of your intention to visit Czernova
you should have been met with a guard of honor, and received in a
manner worthy of your fame. It was wrong of you to slip privately into
Slavowitz. Englishmen are always welcome at the court of the princess.
The princess, sir, takes a great interest in English affairs, so much
so that some of our free-speaking newspapers (for as you are perhaps
aware, we have no censorship of the press in Czernova) have ventured
to term her an Anglomaniac; Anglophile would be a more suitable term.
At her initiative we have modelled the forms of our Diet upon the
lines of your House of Commons. For example, we give three readings to
a Bill. The princess has a great admiration for the English. You may
not know that she has an Englishman for her private secretary."

"You allude to Trevisa. My friend, count. We studied together at the
same university."

"Really now, this is a very interesting coincidence," said Radzivil,
tapping his snuff-box pleasantly. "Your grace," he added, turning to
the duke, "Captain Woodville is an old friend of Trevisa's."

But Bora affected not to hear. He hated the secretary, and as a
corollary, all who were the friends of the secretary.

"Trevisa is an admirable acquisition," continued the premier, "and has
done us good service in many ways. Your grace remembers that important
cipher despatch which fell into our hands some time ago. It baffled
the experts. But Trevisa succeeded in unravelling it. He is the author
of a work on cryptography, I believe, though I am ashamed to say I
haven't yet read it. The princess has no more loyal servant than
Trevisa. He is more Czernovese than the Czernovese themselves, and
will take a pride in describing to you the resources of our little
state. We may not count for much among the Great Powers, but we are a
good deal stronger than most people suppose."

"'_Esse quam videri_,'" smiled Paul.

"Your grace, Captain Woodville honors you. He is quoting the motto of
the ducal House of Bora."

Now this little Latin sentence was the same as that inscribed on the
golden band of the seal which Paul had found in the secret corridor of
Castel Nuovo.

He happened at that moment to be wearing the signet affixed to his
watch-chain, and scarcely knowing that he did so, he drew it forth and
looked at it.

The duke, attentive to Paul's action, caught sight of the sparkling
sapphire. He started, took a step forward--another--a third--his eyes
all the time resting upon the gem.

"How came you possessed of that seal?"

There was something so peculiarly aggressive in the duke's manner that
an angry retort trembled on Paul's lips.

"Did you not receive it from a lady?"

Then the truth flashed upon Paul. This signet must have belonged to
the duke, inasmuch as it bore his motto. An historic heirloom, it had
been given by him to the Princess Natalie, and had been lost by her in
the secret passage where Paul had found it. No wonder that Bora was
incensed at its re-appearance in this fashion! Jealousy caused him to
draw an altogether erroneous conclusion, and unfortunately it was
impossible for Paul to set him right without entering into the
particulars of his sojourn at Castel Nuovo.

"A lady gave you that ring."

"There your grace errs."

"That's a lie," cried Bora savagely.

"Softly, your grace," remonstrated Radzivil, glancing nervously
around. "Let us have no scandal in public." With difficulty Paul
restrained his anger.

"Your grace's language is extremely offensive, but I am willing to
make all allowances. I do not wish to quarrel with you. This seal was
not given to me by a lady. I found it, and you claim it as yours. I am
quite willing to restore it."

Bora took Paul's self-restraint for cowardice.

"You found it? Where? When? Under what circumstances?"

"Those are questions that I must decline to answer."

"You refuse?"

"Most certainly."

"Then you shall fight me."

Paul, thoroughly roused by the duke's arrogant manner, was not at all
averse to accepting this challenge.

Then he thought of Barbara. The affair could not be hidden. She would
learn that his first act on coming into Czernova was to fight a duel
with her future consort. He would thus appear in her eyes as a
brawling swashbuckler presuming on her affection to protect him from
the consequences of his acts.

"No, your grace, I shall not fight," he replied quietly.

"Finding it easier to meet Afghans than a Czernovese," sneered Bora.
"Have you ever noticed, Radzivil, how brave these English are against
all the savage races of the world,--how reluctant to face the
European? If you will not fight I cannot, of course, compel you. But I
can at least brand you as a coward."

And lifting the cane that he carried he brought it down heavily across
Paul's cheek.

"Your grace!" exclaimed Radzivil, and filled with disgust and anger he
walked away to the far end of the balcony.

The bronze had faded from Paul's face leaving it deadly white save for
a livid stripe on the left cheek.

"Will you fight me now?" said the duke with a sneering smile and
raising his cane again, "or does your cowardice require a further
stimulus?"

"Fight you? Yes, by heaven!" said Paul, with a deep inspiration. "Send
your second here without delay to meet mine. I hold no further parley
with you. My sword shall speak for me."

A gleam of ferocious joy passed over the duke's face.

"My second shall attend yours within an hour. But first a caution to
Radzivil. He hath too talkative a tongue, and this matter must be kept
secret."

He turned from Paul, who sat down, the cynosure of many eyes. The
loungers on the balcony, the hotel-attendants, the passers-by on the
boulevard, had seen the duke's action, and concluded that in his usual
sweet fashion he was simply chastising the impertinence of one of his
own subordinates.

And as Paul sat there thinking, first of the insult he had received,
and then of the fair, graceful head of Barbara pillowed on the breast
of this savage, he felt the devil of hatred rising within him.

"By God, I'll kill him!" he muttered between his set teeth. "I shall
be doing Barbara a service. He to marry her, forsooth!"

The Duke of Bora, not at all ashamed of his display of passion, vexed
only that Radzivil should have shown such marked disapproval, moved
forward to the table where the premier sat with wine before him.

The latter durst offer no more than mild remonstrances, for he
occupied a delicate position. It was not polite to make an enemy of
one destined to be the Prince Consort of Czernova.

"Your grace, you forget that duelling is forbidden by the law."

"I am the heir-apparent, and above the law," returned Bora haughtily.

"You will not find the princess taking that view of the matter.
Remember how earnest she was in advocating the Anti-duelling Act. For
one of her own ministers to fly in the face of it is to treat her with
contempt. Your grace is acting very unwisely--acting in a manner,
pardon me for saying it, that may lead to the forfeiture of her hand."

"Bah! my good Radzivil, be but discreet and she will never hear of it.
Remember," he added with a menacing air, "if her Highness becomes
cognizant of this affair I shall know who was her informant."

He tossed off a glass of wine, and shot a ferocious glance in Paul's
direction.

"Who could avoid blazing forth?" he presently remarked. "Do you know,
Radzivil, that that sapphire seal was a gift of mine to Natalie?
Whenever I have had occasion to refer to it she has looked
embarrassed--why?"

"Probably because she lost it, and has not liked to say so; and
inasmuch as it is now in the Englishman's hands it is evident that he
must have found it."

"The finding of the seal would be a very innocent matter; why, then,
does he refuse to state the circumstances?"

Radzivil did not reply, as he might very well have replied, that the
mildest-natured individual would have taken umbrage at the duke's
insolent manner. He merely remarked,--

"What would your grace infer?"

"That the seal was given to yon fellow by Natalie herself."

"Your grace must be mistaken. This is Captain Woodville's first visit
to Czernova. When and where could the princess have seen him?"

"Where? Why not in Dalmatia? Ah! light at last," muttered Bora,
grinding his teeth and gripping his sabre-hilt with a murderous look
towards the distant Paul.

"Your grace, explain."

"Why did Natalie extend her stay in Dalmatia from three to six months?
There is the cause," he added, indicating Paul.

"A secret amour with him at a time when she was affianced to you! You
wrong the princess," said Radzivil coldly.

"Wait!" exclaimed the duke, excitement gleaming from his eyes. "Why
did she return so melancholy in mood that I almost doubted whether she
were the lively Natalie of former days? There is the cause!" he added,
again indicating Paul.

"Your grace, this is midsummer madness."

"Before that ill-starred tour she was ever ready to marry me; now, she
continually defers our nuptials. Why? There is the cause!" with the
same gesture as before. "She clothes her _corps du garde_ in a new
uniform. Why? To do honor to her hero--her lover."

"Her lover?" dissented Radzivil. "And yet she has kept him at a
distance for two years?"

"She knows that my sword is sharp, and that I brook no rivals. Who
aspires to the princess answers to me. Ha! her desire for an
Anti-duelling Act is now explained. The measure is to enable her lover
to walk securely in Czernova. She would protect him from my sword. She
thinks he may safely venture here now. She has doubtless been
corresponding with him since her return from Dalmatia, their common
friend, Trevisa, acting as intermediary, being well qualified for such
office. To an affianced princess engaged in a clandestine _affaire du
coeur_, an adept at cipher-writing is a very useful auxiliary."

He again glared in Paul's direction with such ferocity of countenance
that the premier, thinking that he was about to jump up for the
purpose of making an onslaught upon Paul, tried to divert the duke's
thoughts by turning to another topic, and accordingly snatched at the
word "cipher."

"Trevisa, as you say, is an adept at cipher-writing, but at present
his knowledge is somewhat at fault."

"To what do you allude?"

"To a cryptographic problem recently set him by Zabern. Four weeks ago
a tavern-brawl between some Poles and Muscovites rose so high as to
call for the intervention of the night watch, who marched the
offenders to the guard-house. The customary search taking place, there
was found upon one of the men a Russian passport made out to one Ivan
Russakoff, which name the man declared to be his."

Radzivil had succeeded admirably in diverting the duke's attention.
Anger faded from his face. Paul and the duel seemed to be forgotten in
a new interest.

"This Russakoff wore a caftan, in the lining of which was concealed a
large sheet of paper folded twice, and covered on both sides, not with
words but with rows of numerals.

"In the morning the offenders were released with the exception of
Russakoff, who was asked to explain the meaning of the paper. But this
he refused to do. He averred that he was an agent travelling for a
cloth merchant of Warsaw named Pascovitch; and, as a matter of fact,
he carried a portfolio containing specimens of cloth. Inquiries show
that there is a cloth merchant of that name at Warsaw, that Russakoff
is his agent, and that the tailoring establishments of Slavowitz have
considerable dealings with this Pascovitch."

"They let the fellow go after that, I presume?"

"Not so. The matter came to Zabern's ears, and he had the man brought
before him.

"'What do these numerals mean?' Zabern asked.

"'They are the secrets of my business,' answered Russakoff.

"'Without doubt,' said the marshal. 'Your business is that of a spy.
Your cloth-selling is a mere cloak to conceal your real calling.'
Zabern kept him under examination for a long time. Russakoff refused
to give the meaning of the mysterious paper; he failed to account for
certain portions of his time spent at Slavowitz; and the marshal,
convinced that the fellow is a spy in the service of Russia, has
removed him for greater security to the Citadel where he now is. The
paper has been entrusted to Trevisa for decipherment, and there the
matter rests for the present."

"And you say the cipher puzzles Trevisa?"

"He can make no headway with it at all."

The duke seemed rather pleased than otherwise at Trevisa's failure.

"Zabern sees a spy in every man who comes from Russia," he sneered.

"Well, we shall soon know the truth. Zabern talks of employing the
rack and the thumbscrew to-day."

"That's illegal," said the duke with a frown.

"So's duelling," retorted the premier.

Bora seemed on the point of making an angry reply, but checked himself
and said,--

"And this supposed spy was arrested a month ago, you say? If Zabern
deems this a matter of such importance, why was not I, a minister,
informed of it?"

"The affair falls within Zabern's department, as he is the Minister
for Justice. I myself did not hear of it till yesterday, and then it
was by accident. And," added the premier, weakly smiling at the
acknowledgment that he was not master in his own cabinet, "you know
Zabern's way of acting without the knowledge of his colleagues, and
the princess's reply to our plaint 'Zabern is privileged.'"

None knew this better than the duke himself, and there passed over his
face a dark look, which implied that when he should come to occupy a
moiety of the throne there would be a considerable curtailment of
Zabern's privileges.

Tossing off the remainder of his wine at one gulp, the duke rose to
go, accompanied by Radzivil.

After their departure Paul observed a little book lying on the floor
of the balcony near the table where the two men had been sitting, and
concluded that it had been unknowingly dropped by one of them. While
he was wondering whether to let it lie, or to send it after them by a
waiter, Noel Trevisa made his appearance, his long absence suggesting
that he had had a very interesting time with his fair lady friend.

He noticed the book and, moved by curiosity, picked it up and found it
to be a pocket-edition of the poet Æschylus containing the Greek text
of the seven plays without translation, note or comment.

While casually turning over the leaves Trevisa suddenly stopped and
knitted his brows in perplexity.

"Now who has put himself to all this trouble, and what is the object
of it?" he muttered.

"My book, Sir Secretary."

Looking up Trevisa caught the keen black eyes of the duke fixed
suspiciously upon him.

"I still keep up my knowledge of the classics, you perceive," remarked
Bora, as the book was returned to him.

"You study them very attentively, too, I observe," said the secretary;
"it isn't every student that takes to counting the exact number of
words in a Greek play."

Bora stared hard at Trevisa as if detecting a hidden meaning in his
reply, and then turned away, obviously ill at ease.

Trevisa rejoined Paul, and catching sight of the red line on his
friend's cheek he instantly inquired the cause.

"The signature of John the Strong," replied Paul, grimly, proceeding
to explain.

In describing the recent fracas Paul, not wishing to refer to Castel
Nuovo, suppressed the incident of the seal, making it appear that his
non-salute of the duke was the cause of the quarrel.

Trevisa listened with a look of the utmost consternation.

"The damned savage!" he muttered. "Paul, you are rushing to certain
death. The duke is mighty with the sabre. There is not his equal in
all Czernova."

"Small praise, seeing that Czernova is but small."

"He has already fought thirty duels, seven of which ended fatally for
his opponent."

"He won't fight more than his thirty-first. And, Noel, you must be my
second."

"Dare I? The princess is sternly opposed to duelling. Under the late
Prince Thaddeus it was frightfully prevalent; Poles and Muscovites
were for ever challenging and fighting each other. After her accession
Zabern carried a bill making the duels a penal offence."

"And yet the duke, though aware of this, gives a challenge! Humph!
law-maker, law-breaker! And what are the penalties for infringing the
law?"

"Imprisonment for principals and seconds alike. If one should fall the
survivor is to be put on his trial for murder. You are between the
devil and the deep sea, Paul. If the duke should win, you die; if you
should win, you die all the same at the hands of the Czernovese law,
unless you take to immediate flight."

What a picture was suggested by these last words! The duke lying dead,
Barbara in mourning, and himself red-handed, flying from justice! And
yet there seemed no way out of the affair consistent with a soldier's
honor.

"Listen, Paul, I have the ear of the princess. A word from me as to
what is about to happen, and--"

"Would you have the duke point at me as the craven who shirked a fight
by creeping behind the skirts of the princess, and begging for
protection? Anything but that! But Noel, you must not lose the favor
of the princess on my account. Let me find some other second."

"No, Paul, I were no true friend, if I did not stand by you in this
affair. Here comes Baron Ostrova, the duke's secretary, and presumably
his second, since he has usually acted as such in Bora's _affaires
d'honneur_. What instructions, Paul?"

"This evening. At six. Sabres. To the death."

And Paul went on smoking as quietly as if a duel were an everyday
event with him.



CHAPTER III

A MENACE FROM THE CZAR


In an ante-chamber of the Vistula Palace sat Count Radzivil, premier
of Czernova, in company with Marshal Zabern, the Warden of the
Charter; and the Charter being the palladium of Czernovese liberty,
the custody of that sacred document carried with it a high
distinction, second only to that of the premiership.

The two ministers were waiting to communicate to the princess the
contents of an important despatch, which had just arrived from the
Czernovese ambassador at St. Petersburg; for Czernova, be it known,
though but a small state, was nevertheless sufficiently wealthy to
maintain an embassy at the three courts with which its interests came
most in contact, namely, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Berlin.

The only other occupants of the apartment were two silent
chamberlains, standing like statues before the folding doors of the
audience-chamber, each dressed in white pantaloons and silk stockings,
and each decorated with the silk wand of office.

Ladislas Zabern was a man of fine soldierly presence, with limbs that
seemed carved from oak and soldered with iron. Courage was indelibly
stamped upon his face. He was fifty-three years of age, and though his
dark hair and moustaches were streaked with gray, he had lost none of
the energy of youth.

A sabre-cut marked his left cheek, for he had known fighting from
early days. There was a legend current among his admirers--and they
numbered every man with Polish blood in his veins--that in childhood
he had been taken by his father, a patriotic noble, to the sacramental
altar, and made to swear that he would be the life-long enemy of
Russia.

Be that as it may, his fiery youth had been spent in vain attempts to
procure the emancipation of Poland from the Russian yoke, and, as a
result, he had made acquaintance with that indispensable adjunct to
Muscovite civilization, Siberia. Chains and hardships, however, had
not soured his nature, as the good-humored twinkle in his eye
sufficiently proved.

He was the sword and buckler of Czernova, unceasingly vigilant in
guarding this last fragment of Poland both against open aggression
from without, and also against secret disaffection from within.

The Muscovites of the principality who regarded him as an incarnation
of the devil had some shadow of reason on their side; for though
Zabern was naturally of a frank and open disposition, the web of
political circumstances had forced him to be crafty and subtle.

Czernova, being but a small state, was dependent for its freedom, not
upon strength of arms but upon the arts of diplomacy, and in those
arts Zabern was without a rival. Prince Metternich and Count
Nesselrode came off second-best when they played their game with the
Polish patriot.

No man ever wore the mantle of Ananias with more ease and grace, and
when rebuked half-playfully, half-seriously by the princess for some
brilliant piece of deception, calculated to make the most daring
diplomatist stand aghast, he would merely reply: "The truth is, your
Highness, each of us was trying to deceive the other; I happened to be
the greater liar of the two, and so I succeeded. With two empires like
Austria and Russia pressing upon our borders and endeavoring to annex
us, it would be folly to act on the lines of the Sermon on the Mount.
We'll wait till they set us the example."

It was only natural that, as a refugee from Siberia, he should be an
object of hatred to the bureaucracy of St. Petersburg, and extradition
having failed to secure his person, recourse was had to darker
methods, and Zabern had come to regard attempts upon his life as all
in the day's work.

Such was Marshal Zabern, the leading member of the Czernovese
ministry, for Radzivil's premiership was purely nominal. None knew
better than the count himself that he had been selected by the
princess mainly to gild the cabinet with a famous historic name.

Radzivil had been narrating to the marshal the incident of the fracas
between Paul and the Duke of Bora.

To the premier's surprise Zabern received the news with an air of grim
satisfaction.

"Why, count, this is manna from heaven. Have you told the others?" he
added, meaning by that expression the rest of the ministry.

"Yes, and the opinion of one and all is that the princess must be
called upon to intervene."

Zabern smiled with the air of one who should say, "A parcel of old
women!"

"Count," he said, assuming an authoritative manner, "this duel must
take place. The good of the state requires it."

"The cabinet connive at the breaking of the law! Impossible! It is our
duty to inform her Highness without delay, unless," added the premier,
"unless you can give good reason for acting otherwise."

"Well, I, Zabern, forbid you," laughed the marshal good-humoredly.
"Won't that reason suffice you, count?"

Ere the premier could reply, the chiming of a silver bell in the
audience-chamber announced that the princess was ready to receive her
visitors.

The chamberlains flung wide the open doors.

"Remember," said Zabern, in a somewhat stern whisper, "not a word of
this duel to the princess."

And the perplexed Radzivil, always guided by the advice of his
colleague, gave a reluctant assent.

The two ministers entered the White Saloon,--a hall so called from its
pure white decorations relieved with gold.

At a table sat the fair princess who now bore the name of Natalie, but
in earlier days that of Barbara.

She looked up with a bright smile, and motioned the two councillors to
a seat at her table.

Zabern was her favorite minister, and he on his part was ready to
sacrifice his life to advance her interests and happiness. It was this
sentiment which made him look askance at her intended marriage with
the duke. With doubts of its wisdom even as a political expedient, he
had no doubts at all as to the private unhappiness that would result
from the union of such an ill-assorted pair.

Therefore, he, Zabern, would prevent it; and matters that day seemed
to be favoring his design.

"You come at an unusual hour, my lords, presumably, therefore, with
important tidings?"

"From the grand liberticide," remarked Zabern.

"Our representative at St. Petersburg," remarked the premier, taking
some papers from his despatch-box, "reports that at an ambassadorial
ball given at the Winter Palace a few nights ago the Emperor Nicholas
walked up to him, and in a severe voice, obviously intended to be
heard by the whole assembly, exclaimed: 'Is it true, sir, that the
Princess of Czernova has become a convert to the Catholic Faith?'"

"So my secret has transpired at last!" smiled Barbara. "Well, it
matters little. It would have become public knowledge soon, inasmuch
as my coronation must take place in a Latin cathedral."

"Of course the reply of our representative was that he could give no
answer till he had received instructions from the princess."

"What said the Czar to this?"

"'We,'" replied Radzivil, reading from the despatch, "'we shall send
an envoy to remind the princess that her coronation-oath requires
assent to the Greek Faith.' Your Highness, the Czar speaks truly.
Czernova must be governed according to its Charter, and as the Charter
fixes the words of the coronation-oath, we cannot deviate from them
without violating the conditions upon which autonomy was ceded to us.
I would that we could send word to deny the truth of your conversion.
Cannot," continued the premier, fixing a wistful look upon the face of
the young princess, "cannot your Highness be persuaded to return to
your early faith?"

"My early faith," murmured Barbara to herself, "has never changed."
And then aloud she added, "Why, count, would you have me change my
faith as lightly as I change my mantle?"

Zabern, though a Catholic himself, and that mainly because the Czar
was a Greek, was nevertheless a politician before all things, and he
here intervened with a characteristic suggestion.

"Since your Highness has not yet publicly avowed yourself a Catholic,
you are free to deny that you are one. Act diplomatically. Publicly
attend the services of the Greek basilica; privately have your own
oratory in the palace here. The Pope will doubtless grant you a
dispensation to this effect."

"No more such counsel, I pray you," said Barbara, coldly. "I am a
Catholic, not a Jesuit."

"Your Highness corrects me with admirable judgment," returned Zabern,
who made a point of always agreeing with his sovereign, for by such
course he usually contrived to secure his own way in the end.

"Our representative proceeds to say," remarked the premier, referring
again to his despatch, "that the Czar's words and manner were regarded
by all the ambassadors present as a distinct menace to your Highness.
'The annexation of the principality,' and '_Finis Czernovæ_' passed
from lip to lip."

"Czernova has survived many similar threats," said Barbara
disdainfully.

"It is the contention of the Czar and his ministers," pursued the
premier, "that as a Catholic your Highness is precluded from reigning.
We would not alarm your Highness unnecessarily, but we cannot disguise
the fact that we are approaching a very grave crisis."

"Be it so," replied Barbara, firmly. "My faith is dearer to me than
crown or life. I shall not change it to please the Czar."

Radzivil looked the picture of melancholy at this avowal.

"As the Czar has promised to send an envoy," remarked Zabern, "your
Highness will, of course, delay your answer till his arrival?"

To this Barbara assented.

"And in the interval," smiled Zabern cynically,--he was never happier
than when opposing Russian designs,--"we will set the jurists to work
to discover whether they cannot put upon the coronation-oath an
interpretation different from that taken by the Czar. We will appeal
to the decision of the other Powers; they being interested in opposing
Russian aggrandizement will readily lay hold of any ambiguity in the
wording of the oath."

After a brief interval of silence the princess, knitting her brows
into a frown, said,--

"How comes the Czar to be aware of that which I revealed to my cabinet
under pledge of secrecy?"

The two ministers interchanged significant looks.

"The statement we are about to make," began Radzivil, "is of so
distasteful, so startling a character that we have hitherto withheld
it from your Highness, hoping that it might prove false. In vain,
however. We can no longer blind ourselves to the fact that there is a
traitor in the cabinet."

"A traitor!" ejaculated Barbara.

"Reluctantly we are forced to this conclusion. Secrets discussed in
the privacy of our council-chamber have been reported to the ministers
of the Czar. The previous letters of our ambassador leave no doubt on
this melancholy question."

Here the premier began to read various extracts, all tending to prove
his statement.

"One of my own ministers secretly corresponding with the Czar!"
murmured Barbara in dismay. "Who is the traitor! Whom do you suspect,
my lords?" turning sharply upon her ministers.

"I know not in the least at whom to point the finger," replied the
premier.

A smile flickered over Zabern's face, and he murmured to himself,
"Blind Radzivil!"

"You suspect some one, marshal?" said Barbara, reading his looks.

"Your Highness, I do, but prefer to verify my suspicions ere stating
them. I will say this much, however," continued Zabern, bending
forward over the table and speaking in a whisper, "he whom I suspect
is not one of the 'Transfigured.'"

The princess seemed somewhat relieved by this last statement.

"My spies are attentive to the traitor's movements," continued Zabern.
"Nay, more; I have his emissary under lock and key in the Citadel."

"You refer to the man Russakoff?" asked Radzivil.

"Yes. I am convinced that he is the intermediary of this treasonable
correspondence, and nothing but her Highness's clemency prevents me
from learning the name of his principal."

"My clemency? How?" asked Barbara in surprise.

"The rack would soon make him confess."

"Oh! no, marshal," returned the princess, quickly. "No prisoner shall
be put to the torture during my _régime_. I am trying to civilize
Czernova. The rack would indeed be a return to barbarism."

"Then we must fall back upon our secretary, Trevisa, and pray the
saints that he will unravel that cipher despatch. It may give us the
clue we want."

"A traitor in the cabinet!" murmured Barbara. "Russia's arm is long
and crafty; when will it be stayed? That desire of our hearts, a war
betwixt England and Russia, seems as far off as ever."

"Nearer than men think," returned Zabern. "And strange to say, our
capital contains at the present moment an Englishman whose words may
have the effect of bringing it about."

"Who is this potent personage?" asked Barbara in surprise.

"A certain Captain Woodville, lately returned from India."

Zabern had been apprised by Radzivil of the duke's suspicion as to a
former love-affair between the princess and this English captain, and
therefore while speaking he watched Barbara with an eye ready to
detect the slightest change in her manner. But the princess showed no
confusion of face at the mention of the name "Woodville," and the
marshal was forced to the conclusion that the duke was laboring under
an error. Or, he murmured to himself, "the princess knows well how to
hide her feelings."

"Woodville? Woodville?" repeated Barbara pensively; and then her face
brightening, she added, "Surely not the Woodville of Tajapore renown?"

"The very same," replied Radzivil. "He is staying at the Hôtel de
Varsovie. I had a--a brief conversation with him this morning."

At this moment the premier received from Zabern a look which warned
him to say as little as possible concerning that interview.

"The siege of Tajapore!" said the princess. "Ah! that was a noble
defence. Would four hundred of our men have done the like, think you,
Zabern?" and without waiting for reply she turned to Radzivil and
asked: "Did you inquire of Captain Woodville how long he intends to
remain in Czernova?"

"His stay will be very brief, I fear," replied Radzivil, thinking of
the duel and its probable issue.

"Very long, you mean," said Zabern in a grim whisper to the premier,
"for you believe he'll never quit Czernova."

"I should like to see this illustrious Englishman ere he departs.
Count, you must arrange for an audience."

And the count, knowing that he was conniving at a breaking of the law
which would probably end in the death of this same Englishman, felt
extremely uncomfortable, and but for the presence of his colleague,
would certainly have revealed the whole truth.

"But how," inquired Barbara, "can Captain Woodville's words bring
about an Anglo-Russian War?"

"Why, thus," returned Zabern. "He was interviewed at Alexandria by the
correspondent of the English 'Times,' to whom he stated his belief
that the artillery officers commanding the Afghans in their attack
upon Tajapore were really Europeans in disguise, his opinion being
based upon the superior way in which they handled their guns. And of
what nationality they were is shown by the fact that Russian words
were frequently heard in the heat of the _mêlée_. Captain Woodville
has already embodied his views in despatches which are now under the
consideration of the British cabinet. We shall soon have a troubling
of the diplomatic waters. Lord Palmerston, alarmed at the recent
advances made by Russia in Central Asia, is in no mood to be trifled
with. He may seize upon the siege of Tajapore as a _casus belli_. If
an Anglo-Russian war should come--"

Zabern checked his utterance and tapped the hilt of his sabre
significantly.

"Then will come the day of Poland's uprising," said the princess with
a heightened color. "My lords, you may withdraw."

The premier of Czernova and the Warden of the Charter rose, bowed, and
retired, wending their way in leisurely fashion to the entrance of the
palace.

"Marshal," said Radzivil, with a troubled look, "the princess seems to
take great interest in this Woodville?"

"So much the more angry will she be with the man who slays him,"
returned the other, coolly.

"Which is your reason for wishing this duel to take place?" said
Radzivil angrily. "You seek to destroy my favorite scheme of uniting
the princess and the duke?"

"Precisely; that is my object. Her Highness will certainly be offended
at seeing her future consort presuming to set himself above the law.
It may cause her affections to become alienated. The duke has walked
nicely into my net, as I foresaw he would."

"What net?"

"The Anti-duelling Act," replied Zabern with a cynical smile. "Why was
I so earnest in getting the Diet to pass that measure?"

"To please the princess."

"Partly that, but much more because I saw in the measure an
opportunity of entangling the duke. Aware of his arrogant
disposition, I knew that he, deeming himself above the law, would soon
be engaging in another duel. And my plan has succeeded," continued the
marshall with a triumphant chuckle. "This day the duke is pledged to a
duel with sabres. They fight _à la mort_,--that's the best of it. It's
possible they may kill each other; if not, the alternatives are that
the Englishman will slay the duke--and may the saints confer that boon
upon Czernova!--or--"

"Or, which is far more likely, the duke will slay the Englishman."

"Regrettable that, since the Englishman is a fine fellow, who deserves
a better fate. In that case the duke, in accordance with the new
enactment, will have to stand his trial for murder."

Radzivil stood aghast. Strange that he had not carried the matter in
thought so far as this!

"And if the princess adheres to the spirit and the letter of the law,"
continued Zabern with imperturbable coolness; "and, as you know, she
is an enthusiast for law, she will have to sign the warrant for the
execution of her intended consort."

"Good God!" gasped the premier.

"Works out beautifully, doesn't it? I intended it should."

"Oh, this shall not be! The princess must intervene to stop this duel.
I will return at once and inform her."

"Hold!" said Zabern, sternly. "Let the duke abide by his folly and
lose his bride. If Polish ascendancy is to be maintained in Czernova
the duke must go. Fool!" he continued with a savage flash of his eyes,
and forcibly detaining the premier by the sleeve. "How long, think
you, shall we retain office if Bora once sits upon the throne of the
Lilieskis?"

They had now reached the grand entrance of the palace. A trooper
moved forward to meet them and stood at the salute, apparently wishful
to deliver a message.

"What is it, Nikita?"

"Sire, the spy Russakoff has escaped from the Citadel."

"Damnation! the guards shall swing for this."



CHAPTER IV

THE PRINCESS AND THE CARDINAL


After the departure of her two ministers the Princess Barbara, rising
from her seat, passed through an open casement into the sunlit gardens
without; the sentinels on the terrace presenting arms as she went by.

A broad and noble avenue of linden trees faced her, and here silent
and without attendants the fair princess walked, darkly meditating on
the treachery latent within her cabinet.

A shadow fell across her path, and, raising her eyes, she saw before
her a stately and dignified figure robed in splendid scarlet and
dainty lace.

It was Pasqual Ravenna, Cardinal Archbishop of Czernova, an
ecclesiastic who vainly sought to hide his Italian origin by
Polanizing his name into Ravenski.

He was a man who had passed his fortieth year, but he looked far more
youthful; and his clean-shaven, handsome face was as clearly
sculptured as a head on an antique medallion.

He was a member of the princess's ministry, a permanent member, in
fact, for, by virtue of an antiquated statute both the Roman
archbishop and the Greek archpastor were entitled to hold office in
the cabinet--an arrangement that did not tend to its harmony. A favor
to one was an affront to the other; and the mild and amiable Radzivil
was perpetually employed in smoothing the differences between them.

Barbara's avowal to the cabinet of her real faith had been a great
triumph for Ravenna over his Greek rival Mosco, and he looked forward
to additional triumphs. His desire of bringing all Czernova within the
papal fold was known to all men; not so well known, however, was his
taste for amorous intrigue, though a physiognomist on studying his
countenance would have said that Ravenna, like Cæsar, never permitted
pleasure to interfere with ambition.

Doffing his red beretta the cardinal bent his knee and raised the
princess's hand to his lips. It was clear at a glance that Ravenna was
not a _persona grata_ with Barbara, for though she did not withdraw
her hand her face assumed a cold expression.

With an air of authority he took his place on the left side of the
princess, and began to pace to and fro with her beneath the shade of
the linden trees.

"Princess, I have returned, as you see, from the Vatican, the bearer
of a missive from his Holiness, Pope Pius."

He presented a massive envelope, its seal stamped with the papal keys.
But Barbara waved it aside. She had received many such epistles of
late, and the novelty was wearing off.

"You know its contents, I presume. Read it for me. What says his
Holiness?"

Ravenna broke the seal and unfolded the letter which was a somewhat
lengthy one, and written in the choicest Latinity.

"The Holy Father greets you as his dear daughter _in Christo_, and, as
you are now firmly established upon the throne"--Barbara could not
repress a smile in view of the recent menace of the Czar--"he deems
that the time is ripe for the public avowal of your faith."

"At last the Pope and I are at one. This night shall Radzivil make
known my faith to the Diet. I ever loathed this garb of secrecy and
hypocrisy."

"Its assumption was necessary. The saints themselves must bow in the
house of Rimmon at times."

"Would that I could drop the other deception and reign in my own
name!" murmured Barbara to herself.

"His Holiness," proceeded the cardinal, glancing at the papal missive,
"anticipates the happy day when Czernova shall be purified from the
malaria of heresy that now taints it."

"And in what way does he suggest that the purificatory process shall
begin?" said the princess with a slight frown.

"His Holiness hath ventured in this epistle to briefly indicate the
lines of the ecclesiastical policy to be observed within the
principality. We must begin by penalizing the schismatic Greeks. The
Diet must pass a law to exclude them from holding civil offices."

"And create a rebellion!" murmured Barbara. "These priests! will they
never learn wisdom?" And aloud she asked, "And would your Eminence
have me exclude the Duke of Bora, my future consort, both from the
cabinet and the Diet?"

"Your future consort? Alas, princess, I regret to say that the Pope
has again refused to grant you dispensation to marry the duke."

"We shall not ask a third time."

"Your Highness cheerfully accepts his decision?"

"On the contrary, it is my intention to marry without the papal
sanction. I must," she added, her expression showing how hateful to
her was the thought of such marriage--"I must conciliate my Muscovite
subjects."

"Princess, you, as a vassal of the holy Roman suzerain--"

"By your leave, Sir Cardinal," exclaimed Barbara, haughtily, "will you
cite the Act by which the Diet consented that Czernova should become a
fief of the Papal See?"

It was the first time that Barbara had adopted such a tone with
Ravenna, who listened, however, without betraying surprise; for he was
one of those men whose outward serenity nothing seems to disturb, and
therein lay one of the secrets of his power. He clearly recognized
that a struggle was impending. The princess, hitherto compliant with
his will, was about to make an attempt to shake off his authority.

"Princess, you, as a loyal daughter of the True Church--"

"Daughter! that is a good word. A daughter is not a slave."

"But she owes obedience. You cannot marry the duke, for the Holy
Father forbids the union, and no Catholic priest dare perform the
ceremony in opposition to the will of Pio Nono."

"There is one brave priest in Czernova upon whose loyalty I can rely."

"You allude to the Abbot Faustus, a lawless ecclesiastic who must
learn to discipline his proud soul. If your Highness will glance at
this missive, you will note that the Pope has conferred upon me full
jurisdiction over the Convent of the Transfiguration."

"A convent whose abbot from old time hath been independent of the see
of Slavowitz! You will put Faustus in a dilemma," continued Barbara
with a touch of sarcasm in her voice; "he will not know which of the
two Infallibilities to follow: Pius II., who granted the convent its
privileges, or Pius IX., who abolishes them. I greatly fear that he
will follow the old Pope in preference to the new."

Barbara would have repudiated the statement that she was not a true
Catholic. Nevertheless it is to be seen that her Catholicism like many
other things in Czernova was peculiarly _sui generis_.

"And your Highness supports Faustus in his defiance of the
archbishop?"

The princess shrugged her graceful shoulders.

"I am aware that your Eminence is extremely anxious to regulate the
affairs of that convent, and that Faustus in the exercise of his
ancient rights declines to admit you within his walls. It is no
concern of mine if an abbot refuse to obey his archbishop."

"Still, a word from the princess would procure his instant
submission."

"And that word shall never be spoken."

"The Convent of the Transfiguration must hide strange mysteries behind
its walls when the Pope's own nuncio is denied admission."

There was on the part of the princess a sudden start, which the
cardinal accepted as confirmatory of his suspicion.

"Princess," he said with a smile, "you are not yet perfect in
statecraft, for you have not learned the art of veiling your thoughts.
It is as I have long suspected; you have some secret connected with
that monastery. Your championing of Abbot Faustus is not altogether
disinterested."

"Quit me this theme," said Barbara, with dignity. "I shall not misuse
my authority to gratify your ambition by depriving a brave abbot of
his ancient privileges. Indeed from this day forth it will be well for
each of us to understand the other, inasmuch as you seem strangely
disposed to reverse our respective positions, deeming yourself the
ruler of Czernova, and myself your minister." She paused for a moment
as if to collect her thoughts, and then resumed: "My lord cardinal,
under strange circumstances you stole me away in infancy, deluding my
father into the belief that I had died. You took charge of my training
and education--"

"With a view to your ultimate restoration," said the cardinal, bowing.

"True. You desire to present the Czernovese with a princess who
should be a Catholic, and not, as her forefathers had been, a member
of the Greek faith--"

"A noble aim!"

"A princess who should be a willing tool in the hands of the Latin
Church. The first part of your scheme has succeeded. I am a Catholic,
and shall never break with the faith of my childhood, for it has grown
dear to me, though the thought that you, my lord, belong to the same
faith might very well induce me to renounce it. But as to the second
part of your scheme--your expectation of finding in me a servile
instrument ready to execute every decree of the Papal See is destined
to failure. No priest shall dictate to the daughter of Thaddeus. Let
the crosier submit to the sceptre. Jesuits by their intolerance
contributed to the fall of old Poland. They shall not play their game
in Czernova."

The cardinal listened with chiding smile, as if at the waywardness of
a pretty child.

"Princess! princess! you forget the tenure by which you hold your
crown."

"I hold my crown," said Barbara, with proud flashing eyes, "by right
of birth."

"A right that you cannot prove without my witness."

"And therefore you would use your knowledge?"

"To advance in Czernova the interests of the True Church."

"For that I could forgive you. But have you no ulterior aim? Shall I
unmask the secret purpose of your heart? Radzivil made an unwise
choice in sending you to the Vatican to plead for the dispensation.
Were you really urgent on my behalf?"

"As urgent as one may be with a pope."

"Hypocrite!" said the princess, turning upon the cardinal with a blaze
of scorn. "Can I not see you now in my mind's eye whispering in the
ear of the Pope to withhold the dispensation? And why? The heretical
duke must not marry the princess, because the cardinal would have her
for his secret mistress. Will you say that I wrong you by this
thought?"

"Princess, you have rightly divined my secret. It is true that I love
you--"

"I would that Zabern could hear you!" said Barbara indignantly. "You,
a priest, to talk to your princess of love!"

It was significant that the marshal's name, and not that of Bora,
should be the first to rise to her lips.

"A priest? True. Such is my misfortune, since once a priest always a
priest. My love for you--"

"Let there be an end of this language," said Barbara with dignity. "It
is treason."

"Nay, princess, listen. I have loved you in secret from the day when I
set eyes on you in the Dalmatian convent. I have elevated you to a
throne partly for the purpose of making you mine, that you might taste
the luxury of power, and, tasting, be ready to sacrifice anything,
even your own person, rather than lose that power. Aware of my love,
you are forming a plan to escape me. If you should be deposed, who
succeeds? The Duke of Bora as next of kin. Therefore you think by
becoming his wife to retain your rank as princess, and thus to foil my
hopes. That motive, rather than a desire to conciliate the Muscovite
faction, urges you to this match."

His statement was perhaps correct, for Barbara did not offer any
denial to it.

"But be mindful of this: the duke cares less for you than for your
crown. At heart he dislikes you, for he finds his solemn dulness an
ill match for your bright wit. I have but to whisper to him that your
title is invalid, and he will be the first to demand your deposition.
It will not be difficult to prove that you are an impostor. The
physicians and nurses who attended the infant days of Princess Natalie
are still living. The simple baring of your right shoulder would
prove that, whoever you may be, you are not that princess. Your
assertion that nevertheless you are her elder and half-sister would be
laughed to scorn. Who will believe your word, unsupported by evidence,
that the late Prince Thaddeus had contracted an early and secret
marriage? The whole affair would be regarded as a plot on the part of
Cardinal Ravenna formed to advance the interests of his Church.
Barbara Lilieska, I acknowledge you to be the lawful Princess of
Czernova, but whenever it shall please me I can compel you to step
down from your throne."

Barbara quivered with indignation. She, a princess with the blood of
Polish kings in her veins, and at whose word twenty thousand swords
would flash from their scabbards, to be threatened by an Italian
ecclesiastic! She turned her head towards the armed sentinels slowly
pacing the stately terrace of the palace.

"One moment, princess, ere ordering my arrest. I do not venture upon
this avowal without safeguarding myself. Listen! There lives at the
present moment upon the other side of the frontier--in what town no
matter--an individual devoted to my interests. To him I have entrusted
the keeping of three sealed packets. So soon as he shall learn of my
arrest he will thus act. One packet he will despatch to the Russian
Foreign Minister; the second to the Duke of Bora; and with the third
he will hasten to the office of the 'Kolokol' newspaper, whose
pro-Russian editor, Lipski, will be but too delighted to print the
contents of that packet; its publication will cause a stir in
Czernova. There are your guards. Call them. Arrest me. Behead me on
the spot if you will. But be sure of this: your own downfall will
follow within seven days."

Barbara did not call her guards. She said nothing, did nothing.

"Princess, forgive me for using the language of threats; it is with
reluctance that I adopt such a course. But--you recognize my power,
and you know my love. Your answer?"

"Better the cloister's quiet shade than a throne on such terms."

"It is not the cloister's quiet shade that you will see, but the
interior of a Russian fortress. In occupying the throne of Czernova
you will be accused of assuming rights the reversion of which belongs
to the Czar, inasmuch as he is next heir after the duke. The Czar will
see in your usurpation an affront to his dignity. He will demand that
you be sent to Russia, there to take your trial. And the cowardly duke
will comply. You know how much 'the politician in petticoats' is hated
by the Russian ministry, and what justice you are likely to receive at
their hands. When the black wall of a Muscovite fortress girdles you
round forever," he added in a significant whisper, "when rough
soldiers are your jailers, when no cry of yours can penetrate to the
outer world, then--then the love of a cardinal even would be a
desirable thing."

Barbara could not repress a feeling of horror at the picture suggested
by these words.

"If the duke should rule he will rule merely as the vassal of the
Czar, and Czernova will become a province of Russia. Therefore,
consider well your decision. You ruin not yourself only, but the
faithful friends dependent upon you. Zabern, Radzivil, Dorislas, all
the ministers whose policy has offended the Czar, will be delivered up
to him by the duke. Czernova will be overrun by Cossack soldiery, and
placed under martial law. Her young men will be drafted off to serve
in the Russian army. The university will be closed, the Catholic
Church persecuted. The wailings of Czernova will mount upward to
Heaven, but when did Heaven ever listen to the cry of the oppressed?
Princess, it is true I require of you a sacrifice, but it is a
sacrifice meriting the name of virtue. The fate of a nation hangs
upon your answer. How easy for you to save them by conferring
happiness upon me!"

He could not have employed an argument more adapted to gain his end
than an appeal to the welfare of the people whom she loved;
nevertheless, it had altogether failed, as he saw by the sovereign
scorn that curved her lips.

"You are master of my secret, but not of me. Though I err in bearing
the name of Natalie, I am nevertheless the lawful princess of
Czernova; and Heaven, being just, will maintain me in my rights. He
sets himself a hard task, cardinal, who proposes to fight against the
truth. Reveal my story to the duke--to the Diet, to the whole
principality--this very day, if you will. I fear you not. I will do
nothing to stop you. I will wait to see whether you will be bold
enough to play this traitor's game. And when you have done your worst
to destroy the princess, and failed, then beware the vengeance of
Zabern; for though you fly to the secret recesses of the Vatican, and
cling to the holy robe of Pio Nono himself, Zabern will find and slay
you. There is my answer both to your threats and to your lust, for
call not your desires by the sacred name of love."

The cardinal gave a mock bow.

"Princess, I will not yet draw the sword against you, confident that
time and reflection will bring you wisdom. Reign till your
coronation-eve, when I will return to this theme."

His cold smile gave little indication of the volcano of passion that
was burning within him. The sight of the distant sentinels alone kept
him from seizing and holding Barbara within his arms. Brilliant in
youth and loveliness she tortured him; and he resolved to torture in
turn, since the means of doing so were at his disposal.

"Ere I take my leave," he said, "let me tell you of an event that took
place this morning. Nay, princess, do not turn away. The story will
interest you as no other story can."

Something in Ravenna's manner compelled Barbara to pause and face him
again.

"Princess, prepare yourself for a surprise. One whom we both thought
dead now proves to be living."

Despite her loathing of the cardinal, Barbara found herself forced to
utter one word,--

"Who?"

"One whose supposed demise caused you to say that you would forever
carry a dead heart within your breast."

The princess gave a great start, and placed her hand upon her side.
With a foreboding of what was to come she stood immovable, mute,
scarcely breathing.

"Isola Sacra was certainly submerged. We both saw that. But ere it
sank the captive must have escaped, for a young Englishman calling
himself Paul Cressingham Woodville put up last evening at the Hôtel de
Varsovie."

Barbara was powerless to speak, but the look in her eyes was a
language that plainly said, "Is it the same?"

The cardinal understood her silent question.

"The same. For verification I sent to the Police Bureau where
strangers register themselves. These little particulars on his _carte
de séjour_ leave no doubt on the matter."

Here Ravenna drew forth a paper and began reading from it. "'Name:
Paul Woodville, formerly Paul Cressingham. Age: twenty-seven.
Nationality: English. Residence: Oriel Hall, Kent, England. Religion:
Anglican Church. Calling: Captain in the Twenty-fourth Kentish, a
cavalry regiment. Object in visiting Czernova: The pleasure of
travelling,' Humph! was that the motive that drew him here? Princess,
do you mark the name Woodville? Your Dalmatian hero has been
distinguishing himself, for he is none other than the Englishman who
conducted the defence of Tajapore."

Emotion caused Barbara to sink upon a marble seat. She knew that
Ravenna was speaking, but she heard not his words. She was oblivious
of everything, but the one overwhelming thought that Paul was alive,
and at that very moment within her own city of Slavowitz!

Her feelings were eloquently testified by the new and radiant light
that came over her face, by her lips parted in an unconscious smile,
by her bosom heaving beneath its foam of white lace. Never had the
princess looked so lovely in the cardinal's eyes as now. Lost in a
delicious daze she was quite forgetful of his presence, as he himself
perceived, for two or three questions addressed to her evoked no
recognition.

Her pleasure struck a pang to his jealous heart. What would he not
have given to be the cause of such transfiguration? But though he
could not create such joy, he could extinguish it, and would; and
observing that Barbara was awaking from her day-dream, and endeavoring
to fix her attention upon him, he proceeded,--

"Captain Woodville--to call him by his new name--saw you this morning
from the balcony of the Hôtel de Varsovie. Knowing that you cannot
really be Natalie Lilieska he will, of course, conclude that you are
an impostor."

How could Paul, ignorant of her true history, come to any other
conclusion? The thought sent a sudden chill to her warm feelings.

"These Englishmen pride themselves on their blunt honesty and plain
dealing. What will he think when he sees that in the sacred matter of
religion you are acting the hypocrite, in secret a Catholic, yet for
the sake of self-interest publicly posing as a Greek!"

Yes; it was true. In name and religion she was a living lie. How she
must have fallen in Paul's esteem! Her quickly changing expression
gave pleasure to the cardinal.

"He saw the duke publicly kiss your hand, and must thus have learned
of your betrothal. Inquiries as to Bora's character must cause him to
marvel at the taste which selects this Scythian barbarian for your
consort."

Every word went, as intended, to Barbara's heart. Paul, not knowing
that she had believed him dead, must have thought himself forgotten by
her. How she longed to see him, to explain the difficulties of her
position, to set matters right between them!

Regardless of what court officials might think, she would send an
equerry this same day to the Hôtel de Varsovie with a message to the
effect that the Princess of Czernova was desirous of an interview with
Captain Paul Woodville.

"If it be sweet to learn that the dear friends whom we have long
thought dead are alive, how bitter it must be to lose them again, ere
we can have the opportunity of seeing them!"

"What do you mean?"

Barbara did not speak these words. The question was put by the eager,
fearful look of her eyes.

"It seems that the duke and Captain Woodville--I crave your Highness's
pardon, Captain Woodville and the duke--met by chance on the balcony
of the Hôtel de Varsovie. A sapphire seal worn by the Englishman
attracted the notice of the duke, inasmuch as he recognized it as a
former gift of his to the Princess Natalie. The Englishman refused to
state how he came by its possession, with the result that there is to
be a duel over the matter."

"Mother of God!"

But for her dark arched eyebrows and dusky glowing eyes, the
princess's face might have been taken for a piece of white sculpture.

"It is to be no mock contest. They fight with sabres and to the
death."

"They shall not fight," gasped Barbara, finding her voice at last. "I
shall send a troop to the Ducal Palace to arrest Bora--now--at once."

"Too late! princess," answered Ravenna in a mocking voice. "They fight
this very day, within an hour from now. The combatants are already on
their way to the rendezvous in the Red Forest. The swiftest horse of
the Ukraine could not reach the spot in time for you to stay the duel.
And granting that you should arrive in time you would be powerless;
for, in order to avoid breaking the Czernovese law, Ostrova, the
duke's second, has fixed the place of combat on the Russian side of
the frontier, where your authority does not extend."

White as the princess's face was it grew whiter still as Ravenna
proceeded in a fierce exultant tone,--

"You know the duke's reputation as a _beau sabreur_. Thirty duels, and
never a wound has he received in any one of them; that is his record.
In the Czernovese army are twenty thousand men, not one of whom,
unless he wish for death, dares face the duke's deadly blade. You
yourself have witnessed his feats in the _salle d'armes_; you have
seen him disarm in swift succession the best fencers among your
officers.--Zabern, Dorislas, Miroslav! Who can stand before the duke?"

He paused for a moment, and then, pointing to the sun shimmering
through the leaves of the linden-trees, he added,--

"Princess, ere that golden orb has set, your English hero will be
lying dead upon the turf, slain by the hand of the man whom you would
make your husband."

Barbara heard no more. With a cry of "O Paul, Paul,"--a cry in which
love and grief were intermingled,--she slid from her seat, and lay as
one dead at the feet of the cardinal.



CHAPTER V

ON THE RUSSIAN FRONTIER


The afternoon was drawing to a close as Paul Woodville and Noel
Trevisa made their way to the frontiers of Czernova.

From Slavowitz they had driven in a troika or three-horse car,
adopting by preconcerted arrangement a route different from that taken
by Bora and his second.

Having put up their vehicle at a roadside hostelry, Trevisa conducted
his friend to the place of assignation, the path lying through a
series of charming woodland glades, collectively known as the Red
Forest.

"Grand pines!" remarked Paul, admiring the erect and stately columns
presented by these trees.

"The haunt of wolves in winter," observed Trevisa. "They sometimes
devour the Russian sentinels. Who henceforth shall say that a wolf has
not its uses?"

Following the beaten track, they came to an extensive clearing.

"The frontier line runs somewhere through this glade. Yes; there is
the boundary mark."

Trevisa directed Paul's attention to an upright rectangular block of
stone, the sides of which fronted the four cardinal points. On the
northern face, deeply cut, were the letters R-U-S-S-I-A, and on the
southern face C-Z-E-R-N-O-V-A.

"We are now breathing the air of despotism," remarked Trevisa, as they
left the stone in their rear, "and unless we keep a lookout we may
experience the effects of it in a shot fired at us by some hidden
sentinel."

"What? Is it the fashion of Russian sentries to take pot-shots at
passing strangers?"

"Occasionally; at least, on this frontier. It is purposely done to
provoke hostilities from Czernova. Ah! there's a sentry. I thought we
shouldn't advance far without meeting one."

There under the shadow of the trees, about a hundred yards distant,
sitting on horseback with lance erect, was a wild-looking Cossack,
with Hessian boots, red breeches, and a small red turban-shaped cap.
He was chanting the Russian anthem, and his voice, mellowed by the
distance, had a strange plaintive effect.

The sight of this equestrian was well calculated to stir reflection in
Paul's mind.

Far, far away on the icy shores of Kamchatka other Russian sentinels
were keeping watch. The distance between the two frontiers was over
six thousand miles as the crow flies.

And this empire, so colossal in extent, the very incarnation of
military force, was threatening little Czernova, Barbara's own
principality! There was no hope of her emerging victorious from the
contest. The very idea was insanity. She would be but as an infant
struggling in the hands of a giant. And the nations of Europe would
look on unmoved, as they have often looked on and condoned the
conquest of the Weak by the Strong. There was none to pity or help
her. And as Paul thought of all this his heart grew hot within him. He
began to feel something of the spirit that animated the Polish
patriots of Czernova.

Suddenly the Cossack sentinel, catching sight of strangers, turned his
horse's head in their direction, and lowering his lance, he came on at
full speed.

On nearing the two friends he reined in his shaggy steed with such
quickness as to throw the animal almost on its haunches.

"Your passport, little fathers?"

"Here is the universal passport, in Russia as elsewhere--cash,"
replied Trevisa, displaying some rouble-notes. "We come no farther,
and are here simply to fight a duel."

"A duel! That's against the law of Russia. The guard-house is but
half-a-mile distant among those trees yonder," said the Cossack,
indicating the direction with his lance. "The captain is a terrible
fellow. If he should come this way he'll order your arrest and mine
too."

"Not he. He'll be only too pleased to witness a good fight. Besides,
we have rouble-notes for him also. He has his price, I dare be sworn,
otherwise he would be a novelty among Muscovites."

The Cossack reflected. A duel was a pleasant thing; a _douceur_ still
more pleasant. Why, then, seek to prevent the fight? He would take his
chance of discovery at the hands of his captain. So having first
looked cautiously round, he stuffed the rouble-notes into his left
boot and made no more opposition.

"Let the Czernovese slay each other," he muttered. "The fewer for our
Czar to fight when the talked-of war takes place."

"We are first on the field, it seems," remarked Trevisa, referring to
his watch. "Hum! five minutes yet to the appointed time."

Paul having presented the Cossack with a cigar, lighted one himself,
and paced leisurely to and fro, seemingly far more at ease than his
second.

"This duel is a very serious matter," muttered Trevisa.

"One can die but once."

"Just so. If one could die half-a-dozen times the first death would
not matter much. I, however, am not anticipating your death, Paul, but
the duke's. You may be doing grave hurt to the princess by killing
him."

"How so? Have you not said that it would be a good thing if the
princess could be released from him?"

"True; but your way of releasing her has its disadvantages. Forget not
that the duke is a near kinsman of the Czar, and that at the present
time the Czar hath no great love for Czernova. If Bora should fall
Nicholas may accuse the Czernovese cabinet of being privy to the death
of his kinsman, and with some show of justice, inasmuch as Radzivil,
the premier, though cognizant of the coming duel, has taken no steps
to prevent it. You perceive my meaning. The Czar might demand an
indemnity such as he foreknows that Czernova could not, and would not
pay. The result--annexation of the principality."

Paul reflected a moment.

"The duel was to have been _à la mort_, and I came intending to kill
or be killed, but your remark has set the matter in a different light.
I cannot retire nor apologize without loss of honor, yet it is equally
clear that I must do nothing to the hurt of the princess. There's but
one way out of the difficulty: I'll so wound him that he shall not be
able to use sword-arm for a month."

"If you can do that--well," replied Trevisa, very much doubting,
however, Paul's ability to make good his word, for was not John the
Strong the most expert swordsman in Czernova?

It was quite thirty minutes after the appointed time when the Duke of
Bora made his appearance attended by his second, Baron Ostrova. They
brought no surgeon with them, for Ostrova, in arrogant vein, had
declared that his principal had never yet required one; and Trevisa,
not to be outdone in bravado, had made the same avowal respecting
Paul.

While the duke remained at a little distance his second advanced,
gracefully raising his hat to Trevisa.

"You are late, baron."

"Accept our sincere regret. Our vehicle broke down on the way." Then,
adopting a somewhat submissive air, and addressing Paul and Trevisa in
common, he said,--

"Can we not terminate this little matter amicably? His grace is
willing to apologize for his hasty action of this morning."

To do the duke justice, it was not Paul's sword that he feared, but
loss of the princess. During the course of the day he had begun to
realize the force of Radzivil's words,--that if the affair should come
to the knowledge of the princess it might seriously affect the
projected marriage.

He would, therefore, swallow his pride, and for the first time in his
career as duellist cry off from the combat by making an apology.

"All's well that ends well!" murmured the delighted Trevisa. "You'll
accept the _amende honorable_, Paul?"

But Paul seemed bent on chastising the duke.

"It is pleasant to learn," he said, speaking sufficiently loud for
Bora to hear, "that his grace realizes that he has acted like a
ruffian. 'Liar' and 'coward' were the epithets he applied to me; his
action, a cane-stroke across my cheek. And now does he deem that
simply to express regret will be a sufficient satisfaction for an
affront offered to the uniform of the Twenty-fourth? Well, I will
accept the apology on this condition," continued Paul, breaking a
slender sapling from a tree overhead and leisurely stripping off the
foliage, "that the duke's cheek shall receive from this wand a stroke
similar to that bestowed upon mine. It will be a convincing token of
his repentance."

Ostrova, to whom had been committed the charge of bringing the
weapons, smiled satirically, and presented two sheathed sabres to
Trevisa.

"Take your choice."

Trevisa first measured the blades, and finding them of equal length
next proceeded to test their temper; and then, having made his
selection, handed the same to Paul, who in the meantime had doffed his
coat and vest and now stood ready for the fray.

The victor in thirty duels, humiliated beyond measure at the rejection
of his conciliatory address, did not wait for further preliminaries
but snatched the remaining sabre from the hand of Ostrova, and with
the fury of a lion darting upon his victim, he flew upon Paul as if
purposing to lay him _hors de combat_ at the first brunt.

But scarcely had the heavy sabres clashed together, sparkling in the
rays of the setting sun, when there came the command,--

"Let fall your swords in the name of the law."

The words were spoken in a woman's voice,--a voice that sent a thrill
to Paul's heart.

Parrying a thrust from the duke, Paul took a swift backward step, and
while maintaining his defensive attitude, contrived to glance
sideways.

And there, beautiful and pale, and so close to him that he could see
into her eyes, was Barbara, breathless as if from hurrying. From what
quarter she had so suddenly sprung none present could tell. Complete
absorption in the duel had prevented them from hearing her light
footfall upon the turf of the woodland.

Paul forgot his guard. He forgot everything. From sheer surprise his
sword dropped to the ground.

He looked at her in silence, striving to learn what were her feelings
towards him. She gave no token of recognition. Love on her part, if it
existed, was veiled at present in sorrowful reproach. In the light of
that look how ignoble seemed his desire for vengeance. His glance fell
even as his sword had fallen. He had acted, and knowingly acted, in a
way calculated to forfeit her esteem.

A death-like stillness fell upon the circle as they perceived that
the fair princess of Czernova, sternly hostile to duelling, was
present, a spectator of their misdeed. True, she was but one maiden,
but that maiden symbolized in her own person all the power of a state.

"Who first proposed this duel? Who issued the challenge?"

"I did, and with reason."

And stalking up to the princess, the Duke of Bora bent his head, and
said in a fierce, jealous whisper,--

"Cousin Natalie, how comes yon fellow to be in possession of the seal
I gave you?"

The princess stepped backward, and drawing her robe around her with a
stately grace, she exclaimed,--

"It ill becomes one of my ministers to be found setting himself above
the law. Marshal, conduct your prisoner to the Citadel."

Paul, following the wave of her arm, perceived that she had not come
without an escort.

On the Czernovese side of the frontier-stone stood Marshal Zabern with
folded arms, outwardly as inscrutable as the sphinx, inwardly
delighted at the course taken by events.

Some distance in his rear, drawn up across the woodland path, the
narrowness of which did not admit of more than two abreast, was a
posse of mounted lancers belonging to the Blue Legion. Fronting these
troopers was the vehicle evidently used by the princess in her journey
to this spot,--a light, elegant droshky, expressly adapted for swift
travelling.

And the Cossack sentinel, likewise noting all this, felt ill at ease.
The sound of his bugle would instantly have summoned a party from the
Russian guard-house, but as this might have led to the exposure of his
own participation in the affair, he refrained from the act, and looked
on in silence.

"Marshal, conduct your prisoner to the Citadel."

"You would arrest _me_?"

There was an emphasis on the last word which was intended to remind
the princess that it behoved her to consider who he was. It was clear
to her that relying on his kinship to the Czar, he set little store by
the law of Czernova. His pitying smile cut the constitutionalist
princess to the quick.

"You talk bravely, fair cousin, forgetful in whose territory you now
stand. I put myself under the protection of this sentry, the
representative of the Czar."

The duke was not mending matters in appealing to the Czar for
protection against the law of Czernova.

"O silly duke!" murmured Zabern. "How nicely you are playing into my
hands! You have lost the princess by that speech."

The Cossack sentinel, now heartily regretting that he had become
compromised by an affair in which the great ones of Czernova were
involved, nevertheless at the duke's abjuration rode off to the
princess.

"What is this?" he cried, with an air of authority. "Prisoner? No
arrest can take place here. Little mother, you are standing on Russian
ground; therefore--your passport, signed by the Russian consul at
Slavowitz."

"Princesses do not carry passports," replied Barbara disdainfully.

"Then the little mother must retire to her own side of the frontier."

Barbara seemed disposed at first to maintain her ground, but wiser
thoughts prevailed.

"You do but your duty," she replied.

And with this she retired, and took her station by the side of Zabern.

"Princess, I commend your celerity," smiled the marshal. "I was five
years in getting out of Russia,--you have accomplished it in as many
seconds."

Then lowering his voice to a whisper, he continued,--

"We cannot arrest the duke while he is on Russian ground. Were we to
do so, this Cossack would report the matter. In their present mood
Russian ministers would gladly seize upon the violation of their
territory as a _casus belli_, and we don't want war at present."

"John Lilieski," said the princess, addressing the duke from her own
side of the frontier, "you will either return under guard to
Slavowitz, or you will not return at all. Take your choice betwixt
imprisonment during my pleasure, or perpetual banishment from
Czernova."

This decision from one whom he had been accustomed to regard as his
affianced bride completely confounded his grace of Bora. His first
surprise over, he proceeded to take counsel with his second. Though
they spoke in low tones, Paul nevertheless caught a few words.

"They dare not harm you," said Ostrova, "and you will command more
interest, more sympathy, more power as a prisoner in the Citadel than
as a hanger-on at the Czar's court."

This argument seemed to decide the duke, for he immediately crossed to
the Czernovese side.

"Since you make a voluntary surrender of yourself," said the princess,
"declare it aloud that the Russian sentry may hear you."

"Of my own free will I enter the Czernovese territory," said Bora,
addressing the Cossack.

"Your sword," said Zabern.

Though not as yet deposed from his command of the army, Bora did not
doubt that this would follow, and that Zabern would be his successor.
Very bitter, indeed, then, was his smile as he handed the sabre over
to the marshal.

"I am curious to learn, fair cousin," he sneered, "the punishment you
reserve for my opponent, equally guilty with myself of breaking the
law."

"There is your escort to Slavowitz," said Barbara haughtily, pointing
to the posse of uhlans.

And Bora, with a dark glance at Paul, walked in the direction
indicated.

"For my part," observed Baron Ostrova airily, "I prefer liberty. I
shake the dust of Czernova from my feet."

"Forever," decreed the princess.

"Oh, your Highness, your reign will not last so long as that," replied
the other, with a peculiar smile, adding to himself, "Your reign, my
lady, is but a question of a few weeks."

Taking off his hat, he dropped it to the ground, and bowed so low over
it as almost to touch the turf with his fingers, herein imitating an
old custom of the Polish serf when addressing his lord.

"I kiss the feet of the dainty Lady Natalie," he said.

Then, picking up his hat, the Baron walked off to a little distance,
where he stood watching the sequel.

Paul longed to thrash the fellow for his insolence, but prudently
refrained from creating a disturbance in Russian territory.

"Trevisa," said the princess, "in remembrance of your many services I
remit the penalty due by law, but," and there was genuine sorrow in
her tone, "you lose your secretaryship."

"Your Highness," stammered Trevisa, his whole manner showing how
deeply he felt the loss of his office. "Fine. Imprisonment. Any
punishment but that."

"The cipher, your Highness," murmured Zabern. "The cipher letter! We
cannot do without Trevisa."

"Let me intercede for him," said Paul, bending his knee.

The princess had last heard that voice in the twilight hour by the
dark blue sea on the shore of Isola Sacra. The memory of that event
came back with a rush that almost stifled her breath.

"His only fault is," pleaded Paul, "that he has been too great a
friend."

"To you, but not to our law," she murmured faintly. "My servants must
not be law-breakers."

There was a brief interval of silence.

"Your Highness," said Paul, rising to his feet, "I await my sentence."

"You are safe where you stand," she faltered.

Her manner plainly besought him to remain where he was, and thus
relieve her from a painful situation.

"I will not take advantage of _that_."

And by a few steps Paul passed from the jurisdiction of the Czar to
that of Barbara.

The look in her eyes was like that of a fawn at bay. Love forbade her
to punish Paul, and yet, while meting punishment to others, how,
without bringing reproach to herself, could she let him go free?

"Your Highness," intervened Trevisa, "my friend Captain Woodville has
received extreme provocation from the duke, and when he accepted the
challenge, was ignorant of the Czernovese law relating to duelling."

Barbara had heard the whole story from Zabern as she was whirled along
in the droshky from Slavowitz to the frontier. She glanced at the weal
that disfigured Paul's cheek, and her anger grew hot against the duke.
No! come what might, she would not punish Paul.

"I appeal to the marshal," said Trevisa boldly, "whether he would not
have taken to the sword under the like provocation."

"Princess," replied Zabern, "Captain Woodville, as a soldier, had no
other course than to maintain the honor of his queen's uniform." The
foolish Barbara became jealous at the thought that Paul should owe
allegiance to a lady other than herself. Lowering his voice to a
whisper, Zabern continued, "Your Highness has authority to imprison
the duke, inasmuch as he is your own subject; but you will be
exceeding that authority if you venture to arrest an English citizen
for an offence committed on Russian ground. Let the Russians
themselves see to it."

The princess flashed a quick glance of interrogation at him.

"What would you imply? That the Russians will demand Captain
Woodville's extradition?"

"I clearly foresee that they will try to make political capital out of
this affair. Be sure that Baron Ostrova will give them his version of
it. Always excepting your Highness and myself," continued Zabern with
a grim smile, "there is no one upon whom the Russian Government would
more willingly lay hands than the Englishman who prevented them from
taking the Afghan fortress of Tajapore."

This reference to Paul's bravery brought a glow of pride to Barbara's
cheek. A new tie seemed to unite them. While she was contending with
Russian intrigue in one part of the world, he had been contending with
it in another.

"Captain Woodville," she said aloud, "the marshal informs me that I
have no legal ground for arresting you. And as I have not the
authority, so neither have I the wish to punish a soldier whose name
has become known throughout Europe."

While speaking, she had drawn nearer to him, and now with a face made
more beautiful by the love shining from her eyes, she whispered,
"Paul, keep my secret. Come and see me at the palace. Immediately."

Paul's eyes assured her of his ready acquiescence. The princess turned
to depart.

"One moment, your Highness," said Paul, humbly kneeling. "If I, the
principal in this duel, am innocent, how can Trevisa, my second, be
guilty?"

"The cases are not the same," replied the princess. "Still," she added
with a smile that brought back hope to the heart of the ex-secretary,
"still my decision may not be irrevocable."

Taking the proffered arm of Marshal Zabern, the princess returned to
her droshky. The cavalcade then set in motion and vanished almost as
mysteriously as it had appeared; and Paul was left standing there,
with the overwhelming revelation that Barbara's love towards him was
unchanged.



CHAPTER VI

KATINA THE PATRIOT


AS Paul and Trevisa emerged from the woodland and turned upon the
highroad, there drew near a cloaked figure with steel scabbard
clinking against spurs.

"Marshal Zabern!" exclaimed the ex-secretary. "How? Are you not
escorting the princess to Slavowitz?"

"I have a little matter to despatch at the hostelry called 'Sobieski's
Rest.' Her Highness has therefore condescended to relieve me from
escort-duty."

"Your way is our way, for at that inn we left our troika. Marshal
Zabern," continued Trevisa, presenting Paul, "my friend--need I
mention his name?--Captain Paul Woodville."

"No man whose friendship I desire more," said Zabern, raising his
plumed helmet.

He had taken a liking for Paul,--the liking of a brave soldier for a
compeer.

"I have always esteemed Englishmen," continued Zabern, "since the day
I ran from them at Waterloo."

"You have fought under the great Napoleon, then?" said Paul.

"For a brief space. As a lad of eighteen I took part in the Moscow
campaign. When Napoleon sounded the tocsin of war against Russia, who
joined him with more enthusiasm than the Poles, eager to avenge their
country's wrongs? Did not his emissary, the Abbé de Pradt, promise at
Warsaw that his imperial master had determined to expel the Muscovites
from Europe, and to replace them with Poles? Trusting to these words,
sixty thousand of us marched with the Grand Army upon Moscow. Heavens!
shall I ever forget the fierce thrill of joy that pervaded our ranks
as we drew rein and gazed upon the golden spires and domes of the city
of the Great Enemy, flashing on the far-off horizon. Yes," continued
Zabern, his eye kindling at the recollection, "yes, we took their holy
city, so-called, and planted the Polish eagles upon the ramparts of
the Kremlin, as our fathers had done before us in the glorious days of
old."

"And it has been the dream of the marshal's life," smiled Trevisa, "to
renew that experience."

"That experience, but not _this_!"

And here the speaker pushed back the sleeve of his right arm, and Paul
perceived what he had not noticed before, namely, that Zabern was
minus a hand.

"You know the sequel," continued the marshal. "We were compelled to
retire, defeated not by superiority in valor, but by famine and the
rigor of a Russian winter. And, my God! what a winter that was!"
continued Zabern, shivering as if he still felt the effects of the
cold. "The frost was so intense that it penetrated flesh, sinew, and
bone, rendering the limbs as white and brittle as alabaster. In
repelling an attack of Cossacks I aimed a sabre-stroke at a fellow's
head, feeling in the next moment a curious sensation at the wrist; and
there, lying before me upon the snow, and still grasping the
sabre-hilt, was my own hand. It had dropped off at the joint, as you
see."

"Good God!" cried Trevisa.

"Eh? well, yes, it was rather awkward, for it was the right hand, you
see, and never having accustomed myself to employ the left I was
rendered completely useless for the rest of the campaign. However, I
have repaired the deficiency, and here is a hand as good as the lost
one," continued Zabern, holding up his left hand. "So ended my first
experience with the Russians."

"You fought them again?" inquired Paul.

"At many times and in many places. I have aided Georgians in the
Caucasus, and Turks on the Danube. And when secret tidings came to me
that Poland was preparing to vindicate its freedom against the tyranny
of the viceroy Constantine, brother of the present Czar, I hastened to
take part in the enterprise. Her Highness's father, Prince Thaddeus,
would not permit Czernova to be drawn into the movement; selfishly, as
we then thought; wisely, as we now perceive.

"The rising began at Warsaw in a conspiracy to seize the person of the
Grand Duke Constantine. I was one of the eighteen appointed for the
purpose. At nightfall we set off for the palace, slew the guards, and
penetrated to the vice-regal bedchamber. But we were just a few
seconds too late. Roused from sleep by the clash of arms, and the
shouting, Constantine had sprung from the bed, thrown a cloak over
himself, and fled by a secret staircase communicating with the palace
gardens."

"The insurrection failed?"

"For a year we offered a gallant resistance to all the might of
Russia. But what can valor effect against numbers? We gained
victories, and those great ones; but if we slew ten thousand of the
enemy on one day, there was a second ten thousand to replace them on
the morrow. We had no such reserves to fall back upon. And then, too,
the damned Russians brought the cholera with them, an ally that proved
far more fatal than their arms; though, the saints be praised! it
carried off the tyrant Constantine. On the taking of Warsaw I became
one of a band of prisoners condemned to march in chains four thousand
miles over the winter snow to Siberia."

"And you escaped?"

"After five years, and have found asylum in Czernova. And here I am
to-day, fifty-three years of age, and good for a deal more mischief
yet," continued Zabern with a grim twinkle in his eye. "To see me
holding the post of minister is gall and wormwood to the Russians;
they have required my extradition, but the princess has resolutely
refused to grant it."

Such in brief was the history of Zabern, and though his attempts to
win freedom for his country were deserving of sympathy, Paul could not
avoid a feeling of regret that Barbara should have admitted to her
ministry such a firebrand as this patriot, whose undoubted aim was to
utilize the resources of Czernova against Russia, should a favorable
opportunity occur.

"By the way, Trevisa," said the marshal, turning to the ex-secretary,
"you must not let the princess's frown diminish your interest in the
cipher letter found upon the spy Russakoff. Read me that riddle, and I
will undertake to restore you to favor."

"I fear my restoration will not come upon those terms," said Trevisa,
lugubriously. "The cipher is a most baffling one. I should have a clue
if you could name the writer."

"How so?"

"The first step in a problem of this sort is to know in what language
the document is written; and of this I am ignorant. How, then, can I
proceed? The principles of decipherment which an expert applies to one
language fail when applied to another. But if I learn who the author
is, and I discover that he knows, say, Russian only, the inference is
that the document is written in that language; I apply certain
principles deduced from a study of Russian, and the result is
decipherment. The knowledge that the writer is versed in several
languages would, of course, enhance the difficulty; but still, with
time and patience success is certain. Have you no clue as to the
writer?"

Zabern was silent. He glanced at Paul as if wishing him away.

"I will step aside for a moment," said Paul.

"Not so," replied Trevisa. "Marshal, you can trust my friend Captain
Woodville as surely as myself."

"Then on my honor as a soldier I believe that the Duke of Bora was
either the author or the recipient of that letter."

"The duke!" cried Trevisa in amazement. "You accuse the duke of
holding a treasonable correspondence with Russia? Impossible!"

"Why impossible?"

"Is it reasonable that he should seek to subvert the throne of a
princess to whom he is affianced?"

Zabern smiled cynically.

"The duke has come to count it no great prize to have but a moiety of
the throne, and to be mated withal to a little lady who will take no
bidding from him, and therein small blame to her. The princess hath
ever been cold to the match, and therefore the duke, doubtful of her
affection, has begun to play a double part, or in other words, to
intrigue with Russia. 'Dispense with the princess, and reign alone
under the suzerainty of the Czar'--that is his secret ambition. What
other conclusion can I come to, when I see him tampering with the
Czernovese army? On frivolous pretexts he has removed Polish officers
from their command, replacing them by such Muscovites as have at heart
the interests of the Czar rather than those of the princess. Moreover,
we have certain proof that our cabinet contains a member who reveals
to Russia our secret counsels. You know the cabinet well, Trevisa;
tell me whom to suspect. Radzivil?--absurd! Ravenna? What hath a Roman
cardinal to gain by inviting the head of the Greek Church to take
possession of Czernova? Dorislas? Then let me fall on my sword's
point, so certain am I of never again finding faith among men, if he
be traitor. Mosco, the Greek Arch-pastor? Hum! his zeal on behalf of
the princess has perhaps diminished somewhat since her conversion to
Catholicism, but he is more dullard than villain. Polonaski the
Justiciary? I'll mention no more. When we would discover the author of
a crime, we naturally fix our suspicions upon the man who has most to
gain by the deed. Judged by this test the duke, and the duke alone, is
the traitor. _Delendus est Bora!_ Czernova will never be sound till he
be gone."

There was no reply from Trevisa, who seemed to be lost in deep
thought. Then suddenly his eyes lightened as with some new and
surprising idea.

"Marshal," said he emphatically, "you shall have a translation of that
letter in the morning."

It took a good deal to surprise the marshal; nevertheless on the
present occasion he was quite confounded.

"How? What?" he cried. "You claim to have discovered the key to the
cipher, when but a minute ago you professed ignorance of the very
language in which the letter is written?"

"The language is Greek," murmured Trevisa, almost breathless at his
discovery, and talking more to himself than to his companions. "Yes,
yes; I comprehend it all now. The most ingenious cipher ever devised.
Nothing but an accident could have revealed the key. You are quite
correct, marshal, in your estimate of the duke's character. He is a
traitor, and that letter will prove it. I will work at it to-night,
and to-morrow morning you shall have the result."

"Good!" replied Zabern, mystified, as was Paul likewise, by the
suddenness with which Trevisa had arrived at the solution of a problem
that during the past month had baffled his wit.

The shades of twilight were falling as the trio drew near to
"Sobieski's Rest," an inn so called because the greatest of the
Polish kings had once passed a night there. It was a spacious and
picturesque hostelry, composed of a mixture of stone and timber, and
shaded by overhanging birch-trees.

Outside the building, and holding two horses by the bridle, stood the
trooper Nikita, Zabern's orderly, who had been sent on ahead to await
the arrival of the marshal.

Bidding him remain at the entrance, Zabern passed within, and led the
two Englishmen to a private apartment wainscotted with oak and
decorated with elk-antlers.

"Poland has never been lacking in female beauty," remarked the marshal
to Paul, "and I am about to present you to her fairest daughter after
the princess. This inn is kept by a friend of mine,--an old
companion-in-arms,--Boris Ludovski by name, once a wealthy noble of
Warsaw. His zeal in the cause of Polish liberty has reduced him to the
position of inn-keeper. Freedom often treats her children hardly. As
this is a frontier-inn, and on the main road to Warsaw, it often
happens that suspicious characters call here for a drink, and Boris's
pretty daughter, Katina, being a maiden who keeps her eyes open, is
sometimes enabled to supply the police of Slavowitz with valuable
information. Hence my reason for coming here at this present moment,
for it is just possible that she can tell me something of the spy
Russakoff who escaped from the Citadel to-day. Ah! here is Katina
herself."

The person who had entered was a typical Polish belle with fine dark
hair and flashing eyes. Trevisa whispered to Paul that she was a
descendant of Mazeppa, the famous hetman of the Ukraine; and certainly
there was that in her elastic step, her fearless glance, her whole air
that marked Katina Ludovska as a true daughter of the steppes, wild
and untamable.

She was handsomely attired. Over a snow-white chemisette she wore a
close-fitting dark red jacket, laced in front from neckband to waist;
a polished black leather belt gleaming with silver bosses; and a dark
blue skirt, prettily braided with silver,--a skirt which, swelling out
below the waist, imparted a charming outline to her figure. A pair of
red leather shoes completed her outward costume.

The marshal saluted her in Polish fashion by kissing her hand, while
she in turn pressed her lips to his forehead. She gave the like
greeting to Trevisa, who appeared to be well known to her, and this
done she cast a glance of inquiry at the third comer.

"Paul?" she said with a pretty pout, after the marshal had introduced
him, "why do you bear the same name as a Czar?"

"There is little of the Czar in him, however," remarked Zabern. "Why,
Katina, Captain Woodville has fought against Russians in Asia."

"May he live to fight against them in Europe," said Katina; and Paul
could see that she was a maiden quivering with patriotism to her
finger-tips.

"Amen to that!" replied Zabern; and in an exultant tone he continued,
"but I have tidings for you, Katina, tidings. The princess and the
duke are riven asunder. She has plucked him from the cabinet, from the
command of the army, and better still from her heart. Never shall Bora
put wedding-crown upon the brow of the princess. He is of less account
now in her eyes than the driven leaf in the wind-swept wood."

Katina expressed her delight by dancing the first steps of a graceful
mazurka.

"Joy!" she cried. "I never liked that our fair princess should bide on
bolster with a Russ, and a Russ who hath sworn at the drink to harness
the Polish nobles to the yoke and with them plough his fields. And so
John the Strong has fallen! How came it to pass?"

The marshal explained; and when Katina learned that Paul had been the
direct cause of the duke's downfall she no longer withheld the kiss of
friendship.

"You have wrought a good deed for Czernova, and I love you for it,"
she cried impulsively, pressing her lips to his forehead, not once,
but twice. And though Katina was not the princess, Paul was fain to
confess that she made a charming substitute.

"Shades of Kosciusko! what have we here?" cried Zabern, walking
towards a smoke-begrimed oil-painting that hung upon one of the walls.
"Fie, Katina! you, a daughter of Poland, to keep a portrait of the
Czar--that Czar too who crushed us at Warsaw sixteen years ago, the
haughty, frowning Nicholas!"

"Ah! you Muscovite wolf!" cried Katina, shaking her fist at the
picture. "Lying Czar, that broke his coronation-oath to Poland. Where
is the constitution you promised us? Grandson of an empress who was
a--a--"

Katina suppressed the word that rose to her lips, for it was not a
pretty epithet, though justly applicable to the moral character of
Catherine II.

"Hold! let the grandmother be!" interposed Zabern. "Remember that
Catherine gave to Czernova its Charter of liberty."

"I warrant the old beldam was drunk when she granted it."

"No matter, drunk or sober, it _was_ granted. And to-day we have that
Charter, signed and sealed, locked in an iron chest, secured in a
stone chamber, and guarded by soldiers night and day."

"And to think," said Katina, still on the subject of the portrait, and
turning to the two Englishmen as she spoke, "to think that your sweet,
youthful queen Victoria should allow herself to be embraced and kissed
by this Muscovite bear when he parted from her at Windsor!"

"It wouldn't do to attempt the same with our princess,--eh, Katina?"

"No. Mild and gracious as she naturally is, I warrant she would flash
a dagger before his eyes."

"Since you hate the original so," asked Paul, "why display his
portrait?"

"To draw Russian customers, who like to have the face of their little
father looking down upon them at the drink. Why should I not levy
tribute from the enemy? Their kopeks all go to the good cause. The
last visitors to this room were Muscovites; hence that side of the
canvas. When Polish patriots come I have a fairer face to show.
Behold!"

She turned the picture, and lo! on the back of the canvas was a
well-executed portrait of the regnant Princess of Czernova.

"My pretty Janus!" laughed Zabern. "You should have been born a man.
What a statesman you would have made! Come, I know your love for the
princess. I'll reveal a truth that will make you love her still more.
You have always believed her to be of the Greek Church; learn, now,
that she is a Catholic."

"Are you not betraying a state secret?" smiled Trevisa.

"No; for the truth is known to all Czernova, or will be in a few
hours. That damnable Russophile journal, the 'Kolokol,' came out this
afternoon with a long article headed, 'Natalie the Apostate'--an
article roundly accusing the princess of Catholicism. Of course the
charge is true, and we can't deny it."

"Pity that the truth should first be proclaimed in the columns of a
slanderous journal rather than by the princess's ministers from their
places in the Diet! How did editor Lipski discover the secret?" asked
Trevisa.

"How? Ask the duke," replied Zabern.

"There will be deep murmurings to-night in the Muscovite faubourg."

"Which can soon be quelled by a few rounds of grape-shot," commented
Zabern, who, like the first Napoleon, was a great believer in the
pacificatory virtues of artillery.

"'The princess and Catholicism!'" cried Katina. "Let that be our
motto. What matters the defection of the Muscovites, since the Poles
will now be doubly loyal."

"Well said, Katina. Pass me the vodka. To the resurrection of Poland!"
continued Zabern, raising his glass. "Ah! Katina, when your father
Boris and myself first drew breath, we had a motherland. Stanislaus
was reigning, and Poland was free. To-day what is she?"

"A lioness in chains of whom the keeper is afraid. One day the lioness
will break from her chains, and then woe betide the keeper!"

"You wonder, perhaps, at Katina's patriotism?" whispered Zabern to
Paul. "You shall see that she hath good cause for it." And then aloud
he added: "What said Czar Nicholas after suppressing the rising of
1830? 'Russia hath a mission to fulfil.' Katina, let the two
Englishmen see how holy Russia fulfils her mission. Give them visible
proof. You know what I mean."

Paul, entirely ignorant of Zabern's object, wondered why Katina should
start, and why she should cast a glance of anguish at the speaker.

"Do you seek to humiliate me, marshal?"

"No, I seek to gain another sword for Poland," said Zabern gravely,
with a significant glance at Paul.

The ordinary woman might very well have hesitated to comply with the
marshal's request; but Katina was no ordinary woman. She walked a few
paces off, placed the lamp upon the table in a suitable position, and
then turning her back upon her visitors she began to unlace her
jacket, and to loosen and cast back the white linen beneath. A
startling act, truly, and yet performed with a modest air.

Holding the last vesture in position by its neckband, she said in a
bitter tone: "The ignorant have sometimes complimented me upon my
beautiful figure. See with what justice!"

The vesture dropped from her hand, and hung downward from her belt,
leaving her form bared to the waist.

The fall of that linen was a revelation!

A sculptor would have been charmed with the fair rounded throat and
white neck. But the torso below! It was no wonder that Katina made
haste to hide it from view again.

"Her bosom is the same," whispered Zabern, "or rather it is destroyed.
The long lash of the knout coils completely round its victim, you
know."

"The knout!" cried Paul, thrilling with horror at the thought that
such a dreadful instrument should have been applied to the delicate
skin of a youthful maiden.

If it had been Zabern's object to win Paul over to the Polish cause he
had succeeded. The most eloquent oration against Russian despotism
could not have wrought such effect upon him as the bared back of this
silent maiden.

"As there is a God in heaven, the nation that does such things must
perish. What had she done to be treated thus?"

While Katina was silently replacing her garments the marshal proceeded
to whisper her story.

"Katina's parents, who lived at Warsaw, gave shelter to a Polish
patriot, and for this offence the whole Ludovski family were banished
to the Uralian mines.

"Here Katina's beauty attracted the desires of the governor, Feodor
Orloff; and, sending for her he offered to restore her family to
liberty, upon what conditions you can guess, when I tell you that
Katina's reply was a fierce blow from her open palm.

"The morrow happened to be the emperor's birthday, and Orloff with
fiendish malice aforethought had the Polish exiles paraded before
him, told them that they would be free from work that day, and in
return for this boon required that they should cry 'God save the
Czar,' Some refused, and among them the spirited Katina. Here was
Orloff's opportunity. For disloyalty to the emperor, Katina was
condemned to receive fifteen strokes of the knout.

"Have you ever seen a knouting? No? Well, I trust you never will, for
it is not a pleasant sight, even though your nerves be of iron. I have
been compelled to witness many such scourgings in Siberia, and I tell
you that though Dante in his 'Inferno' has imagined many and various
tortures for the damned, none of them are equal to the agony that an
expert executioner can elicit with a few strokes of the knout.

"You must know that the victim, his wrist and ankles clasped by iron
rings, is fixed to a sort of framework set erect in the ground--fixed
in such a manner that he can make no movement, literally stretched as
an eel's skin is stretched to dry.

"About twenty paces off stands the executioner, with sleeves tucked
up, for nothing must embarrass the freedom of his movements. He holds
in both hands the instrument of punishment--the knout. This is a thong
of thick leather, cut triangularly, an inch in breadth, from nine to
twelve feet long, and tapering to a point; this tapering end is fixed
to a little wooden shaft about two feet in length.

"At the given signal the executioner advances, his body bent, and
dragging the long lash between his legs. When he has arrived within
three or four paces of his victim, he suddenly raises the knout above
his head: the thong flies into the air, whistles, descends and clasps
the naked torso of the sufferer as with a circle of iron.
Notwithstanding his state of tension the victim bounds as if under a
powerful shock of galvanism, at the same time uttering a shriek that,
once heard, can never be forgotten. My God! Even now I often start
from sleep with such a cry ringing in my ears.

"In drawing back the lash again the executioner has a way of pulling
it along the edges of the opened flesh in such a manner as to widen
and deepen the wound it has made.

"He retraces his steps and begins again the same manoeuvre as many
times as the victim is condemned to suffer blows. When the thong
envelops the body with its folds the flesh and the muscles are
literally cut into segments, as with a razor. The victim, crimson with
blood, foams at the mouth and writhes in fearful agonies.

"And so our pretty Katina, nude to the waist--but enough; you have
imagination, you can picture the scene."

Katina herself with saddened air had now drawn near again, in her dark
eyes a fire that spoke of a desire for vengeance.

"Katina," said Paul, impulsively, "if this Feodor Orloff be still
living tell me where he may be found; I will seek him out, challenge,
and slay him."

"No, brave Englishman, no. That vengeance belongs to me. No one must
rob me of my due. And," she added with clenched hand and stern look,
"the day is coming. Fate is drawing Count Orloff near to Czernova."

"True!" replied Zabern. "He has lately been appointed governor-general
of Warsaw, a province bordering on our own."

"And his appointment bodes no good to Czernova," remarked Katina.
"Marshal, I have a strange tale for your ears,--a tale I have been
waiting the opportunity to relate. What will you say when I tell you
that I have this very day seen the executioner who knouted me,--the
minion of Orloff?"

"You are dreaming, Katina."

"No, marshal, no. It is difficult, I am aware, for the knouted person
to see his executioner, but nevertheless I contrived to see the face
of mine, and what is more I have seen it again to-day--this
afternoon--in the room where we now are. I could not mistake those
furtive reddish eyes, that horse-shoe mark on the cheek--"

"Heavens! Katina, what are you saying?" interrupted Zabern, with more
excitement than he usually displayed. "That a man with a horse-shoe
mark on his cheek has been here this afternoon? Had the fellow a blue
caftan, a red beard, a trick of gnawing his finger-nails--?"

"You describe the very man, marshal."

"Russakoff, as I live! Your old executioner and my spy one and the
same person! Can it be?--And he was here this afternoon? At what hour
did he call?"

"About four o'clock."

"That would be five hours ago," observed Zabern, referring to his
watch. "He must have made his way here directly after escaping from
the Citadel, bent on crossing the frontier, doubtless. Let me have
your story, Katina. Would that you had told it me earlier!"

"This afternoon," Katina began, "I was returning from a walk, and on
entering the inn met my sister, Juliska, carrying a tray with two
glasses. 'Katina,' she said, 'we have two very suspicious-looking
visitors. They have asked for a private apartment and some vodka.
Carry this in, and tell me what you think of them.' I took the tray
from her hand and walked into this room.

"Two men were sitting here. One had his back to me; facing him was the
other whom I recognized in a moment as the man who had knouted me at
Orenburg. Why I did not drop the tray in surprise, how I contrived to
check my cry, I do not know; I somehow succeeded in repressing my
emotion."

"Did not the villain himself recognize you?"

"He did not look at me when I entered; his attention seemed wholly
absorbed by the words of his companion. While placing the vodka on the
table I kept my head averted from my old enemy, and took a glance at
the other man, but I failed to see his face clearly, for his hat was
pulled low over his brows, and the collar of his cloak was drawn up
almost to his mouth. It was this peculiarity that had excited
Juliska's suspicions. The brief glance I had of him disposes me to the
belief that he was a man far higher in the social scale than the
other."

"'Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us,'"
murmured Zabern. "Why did you not call upon your father and brothers
to seize the knouter, and give him a taste of what he had made you
suffer?"

"That idea, marshal, was running through my head. After placing the
vodka upon the table I withdrew silently and quickly; and while in the
act of closing the door I caught a remark uttered by the man who had
knouted me."

"Call him Russakoff; 't will be simpler," suggested Zabern.

"Russakoff, then--to please you. 'You will not persuade me to return
to Slavowitz,' he was saying. 'I have no wish to fall into Zabern's
hands again.' My excitement increased, marshal, at this mention of
your name. I resolved to try to learn something of their business
before giving orders for their seizure; and, accordingly, since they
were seated by the open window, beneath which is an immense leafy
laurel, I stole outside and put myself in concealment there in the
hope of overhearing their words.

"They conversed in low tones, but now and again, when their voices
were raised in evident anger, I caught a few remarks.

"'I wonder that Orloff should employ a fool like you,' said
Russakoff's companion; 'one unable to keep from the vodka, who takes
part in a tavern brawl, and gets himself arrested while carrying an
important political document! If that letter should be deciphered by
the princess's secretary, it will lead to the frustration of a scheme
by which the Czar hopes to gain possession of Czernova, legally and
quietly, without the employment of military force.'"

"What?" cried Zabern. "Let me hear that again, Katina."

Katina repeated her words.

"Russia to obtain Czernova legally, without employing force! In the
devil's name--how?"

Beneath their overhanging brows Zabern's gray eyes gleamed like
polished cannon deep-set within embrasures.

Paul was equally startled by Katina's words. Was it possible that the
Russian bureaucrats had discovered that the regnant princess was not
the real Natalie Lilieska? If they could prove that she had no title
to rule, the throne would devolve upon the Duke of Bora, who might of
his own free will resign his rights to the Czar Nicholas as the next
in succession.

Was this what Russakoff's companion meant when he spoke of a quiet and
legal way of obtaining possession of Czernova?

Fear seized Paul as he began to realize that the same result could be
attained by assassination. Over the body of Barbara, slain by the
dagger of some Muscovite fanatic, the Czar might step to the throne of
Czernova! Did the cipher-despatch relate to some such terrible plot?

"Proceed, Katina. Heard you aught else?"

"After some more whispering Russakoff raised his voice. 'No; it's a
risky business. Besides, what are four hundred roubles?'--'We will
double the sum if the work be done within twelve hours,' replied the
other.

"It was quite clear to me that some mischief was afoot, and, though
desirous of learning more, I feared that if I waited longer they might
rise and depart before I should be able to have them seized. I stole
off, summoned my two brothers, but, on entering the room--"

"Fire and brimstone! the birds had flown."

"You are not more vexed than I was, marshal."

"Were their glasses empty?"

"No; full."

"Ah! they had caught sight of you in hiding. A pity you delayed the
seizure! You gave chase, I presume?"

"Marshal, we--my father, brothers, Juliska, the servants, myself--ran
here and there; we looked in all directions, but failed to discover a
trace of them. My father deeming the matter of great importance,
immediately sent Juliska to Slavowitz to apprise you of it; but
evidently you have not seen her."

"I must have left Slavowitz before she arrived. Katina, you have once
more proved yourself a valuable auxiliary to the princess's
government. So this spy is employed by one Orloff; and since he was
certainly at one time in the service of Count Feodor Orloff, and
inasmuch as he comes from Warsaw, and is evidently the agent of one
high in authority there, we doubtless do the new governor-general no
wrong in crediting him with a plot to overturn the independence of
Czernova. If so, there will be a double pleasure in defeating him--eh,
Katina? It will please him to learn that it was Ludovski's daughter
that foiled his schemes, for I will take care that he shall learn it.
My suspicions have become certainties. The duke and Orloff are leagued
together for the hurt of the princess, and Russakoff is their
intermediary. What is the 'risky business' that Russakoff deems
ill-paid by a sum of four hundred roubles, sum to be doubled if the
work be done within twelve hours? You are certain those were the
words, Katina?"

"Quite certain, marshal."

"And the other man--who is he, I wonder?--was trying to persuade
Russakoff to return to the city? Has he returned? If so, my spies
shall find him ere the night be past. Trevisa," he continued, turning
to the ex-secretary, "you see now the importance of that secret
despatch, the necessity for its immediate decipherment. No more delay
then. To Slavowitz," cried Zabern, rising abruptly.

Katina instantly flew off to summon the driver of the troika in which
Paul and Trevisa had made their journey from Slavowitz. The three men
proceeded to the entrance of the inn where they found the trooper
Nikita, still holding the two horses, and seeming as if he had not
moved an inch from his previous position. Night had fallen, and the
stars were twinkling in a dark sky. The bright light from the inn-door
streamed pleasantly across the road to the trees on the opposite side.

"Pardon my haste, gentlemen," observed Zabern, "but I should do wrong
to tarry longer, when there may be rioting in the capital. The
princess's conversion to Romanism and the arrest of the Duke of Bora
are matters sufficient to set the Muscovite mind ablaze. I'll ride on
ahead; do you follow with all speed."

Katina reappeared at this moment, and the marshal gallantly kissed her
hand at parting. The glad light that came into her eyes told Paul a
secret.

"As I live," he murmured to himself, "our pretty Katina loves Zabern."

The marshal swung himself into the saddle, and the next moment with
his steel scabbard swinging beneath his cloak, he was galloping
towards Slavowitz, accompanied by his faithful orderly Nikita.

A minute afterwards the three-horsed car appeared at the inn-door in
charge of its istvostchik or driver.

"The troika is ready, my little fathers," he cried.

The two friends took their places in the vehicle, and scarcely had
they done so, when there passed into the glow of light, and out again
immediately, a man whose tall cylindrical hat and black cassock
proclaimed him to be a papa or priest of the Oriental Church.

On perceiving this ecclesiastic the istvostchik made the sign of the
cross in Greek fashion, at the same time quitting the troika and
saying as he did so: "Pardon me, little fathers, but I dare not drive
you to-night."

"What does he mean?" Paul in wonderment asked of Katina.

"The poor fellow is a Muscovite," she explained with a pitying smile,
"and Muscovites deem it a bad omen to meet a priest of their own faith
when setting out upon a journey."

Katina had spoken truly. All the inducements and bribes on the part of
the two friends failed to shake the resolution of the old istvostchik.

"The Muscovites have a curious way of honoring their priesthood,"
smiled Paul.

"I have a troika," said Katina, "and since I have promised to fetch my
sister Juliska home from Slavowitz to-night, why should you not
accompany me thither?"

Paul and Trevisa saw no reason, whatever, why they should not accept
the services of so fair a charioteer. Katina accordingly gave an order
to one of the inn-servants, and then disappeared within the hostelry.
She returned almost immediately, looking charming in a handsome mantle
trimmed with fur. At the same moment there was brought round from the
rear of the premises a second troika, which was certainly a much finer
vehicle than the first. It was lined with red leather, and drawn by
three spirited ponies.

"Here are steeds worthy of Mazeppa himself," said Katina, offering
each a sweetmeat. "The Ukraine hath not their like."

She laid her cheek against the manes of all three in turn. The ponies
tossed their heads and pawed the ground, evidently as proud of their
young mistress as she was of them.

"This is Natalie, and that Stephanie," she continued indicating the
two harnessed within the duga or wooden arch. "They are named after
the princess and her mother."

"And the third?" inquired Paul.

"Oh! she is for show, and not for use; she prances merely without
drawing, and so, being useless, my sister has, of course, called her
Katina. Now if your excellencies are ready."

Paul and Trevisa seated themselves in the vehicle and since each
declared that he must have Katina beside him, that maiden was
laughingly compelled to take her place between them.

"Do not travel to-night, my little masters," said the istvostchik as
he watched these preparations. "Ill-fortune will attend you."

Katina gave the reins a scornful shake.

Trevisa laughed pleasantly.

Paul looked grave; to his mind there was something strangely
impressive in the quiet dignity of this old man as he stood on the
steps of the inn-door, his cap doffed and his eyes raised to the
star-lit sky.



CHAPTER VII

WHAT HAPPENED IN RUSSOGRAD


Though Katina was an avowed foe of all Muscovites, she nevertheless
possessed a characteristic in common with them,--a passion for furious
driving.

With a stamp of her pretty red shoes, and with cries that sounded
somewhat wild on the night air, she urged the horses to their full
speed. She carried a short-handed whip with a long leathern thong, but
she used it only to lash the air.

Amid the tintinnabulation of a peal of silvery bells hung from the
duga, the spirited coursers plunged forward, as if each were holding a
race with the other, Katina handling the team with a dexterity that
evoked Paul's admiration.

Now where the road was broad she would spread the galloping horses
outwards like a fan; and now where its narrowness seemed to preclude
all possibility of passage, she would draw them together till they
appeared to occupy the space of one, without delaying for a moment her
onward rush.

Occasionally she would rise from her seat and bend gracefully forward
over the horses in an attitude suggestive of a Grecian charioteer,
bidding the two friends with a merry laugh to "Hold fast," and the
next moment they would be racing down a steep descent; a sudden
splash, a drenching shower of spray, and ere the two friends had time
to realize that they were crossing a stream, the ponies would be
tugging the troika up the opposite bank.

The marvels performed by this daughter of Mazeppa in guiding her
vehicle along the edge of a declivity, or in avoiding some obstacle
that suddenly appeared in her path, are past all belief; and though
Paul expected every moment to see the troika fall to pieces, the rapid
see-saw motion which in some persons causes all the sensations of _mal
de mer_, was both novel and pleasant, the rush of air producing an
exhilaration of spirits that quickly effaced from his mind the uneasy
presentiment caused by the words of the old istvostchik.

"At this pace we ought soon to overtake Marshal Zabern," remarked
Paul.

"We are not following the same road," replied Katina. "In journeying
to Slavowitz I myself always take this route, though it is more
circuitous. I renew my patriotism when in sight of that building."

She had brought the troika to a standstill, and was now pointing to a
large monastery that rose in solemn mediæval grandeur at the distance
of about a hundred yards from the roadside.

"The Convent of the Transfiguration," said Katina. "On some Czernovese
monasteries you will see a crescent beside the cross; it is a sign
that the place was once in the hands of the Turks. But the crescent
gleams not here," she continued proudly. "The pavement of the Convent
of the Transfiguration has never been trodden by the foot of pagan or
heretical foe. A strong fortress as well as a monastery, it has often
checked the march of Muscovite and Turkish conquest."

A liturgical service was taking place in the convent. The chant of the
monks was plainly audible, intermingled with the notes of the organ.

"They are supplicating for Poland," said Katina. "They pray for nothing
else. Day and night their one cry is, 'How long, O Lord, how long?'"

The voices of the chanting friars produced a singular, nay, a weird
impression upon Paul. Paganini himself could not have devised anything
more awe-inspiring and unearthly than the refrain that now rose upon
the night air.

"Some of the holy brethren," continued Katina, "are men who were once
in Siberian mines. And such men! If you thought my back a pitiable
sight, Captain Woodville, what would you think if you could see some
of the dreadful forms hidden behind those walls?"

Her words, her looks, and above all the wild plaint proceeding from
the convent, increased Paul's eerie sensations.

"Come here what hour you will of the twenty-four, you shall never miss
the chant of those monks; their prayer never ends."

"A perpetual service? I have heard of such."

"When our fatherland was conquered in '95," continued Katina, "the
then abbot of yon convent ordained that from that time forth the
brethren should pray for no other thing than the restoration of
Poland.

"To this end he drew up a liturgy and divided the whole body of the
monks into three parts, directing that each in turn should recite this
liturgy, band to succeed band without a moment's break. The convent
has never wanted for devout men to consecrate themselves to this
service.

"Day and night unceasingly for over fifty years their supplication has
been going up to the saints above," said Katina. "Is it not time their
prayer was answered?"

She clasped her hands and turned her face to the starlit heaven,--a
face made beautifully touching by its earnestness.

"Oh! Queen of heaven," she murmured, "look down upon our country. Give
us the thing we long for."

For a moment she stood in silent prayer, and then, taking up the reins
again, she began to urge the horses forward, as if finding in that act
a relief to her overwrought feelings. Once more the troika skimmed
along, scarcely seeming to touch the earth, and the majestic convent
with mysterious voices faded away in the gloom.

"Abbot Faustus still maintains his attitude of defiance towards the
new archbishop," said Trevisa addressing Katina.

"And he will ever maintain it," she replied. "Be sure that Ravenna,
anathematize as he may, will never be permitted to enter that
convent."

"Your mysterious smile, fair Katina, disposes me to believe that you
know the reason of the abbot's defiance."

"I _do_ know it," asseverated Katina, "but I must not reveal it. Ask
the marshal to make you one of the 'Transfigured,' and you will
understand the mystery. Faster, faster, my little doves," she added,
shaking the whip over the heads of her team.

Onward flew the horses _ventre à terre_, and within an hour of the
time of setting out, there glimmered into view the battled walls of
Slavowitz, with its towers, spires, and domes standing out in gray
relief against a background of blue sky dimly set with stars.

"Shall I take the Troitzka Gate?" asked Katina.

Trevisa nodded assent.

"'T will save a circuit," he said, "and will serve to show my friend
the two sides of Slavowitz. You have seen Cracovia, the fashionable
suburb," he added, addressing Paul; "now take a view of Russograd, the
Muscovite quarter."

Katina accordingly drove through an arched gateway, where, armed with
a long halbert, stood a Polish sentinel, who, at sight of Paul,
saluted, mistaking him for an officer of the Blue Legion.

As the troika, leaving the city gate behind, rolled forward over the
smooth wooden pavement of the main thoroughfare known as the Troitzkoi
Prospekt, it became quickly evident that the dwellers in this quarter
had become aware both of the princess's Romanist faith and likewise of
the duke's arrest,--matters that naturally tended to produce a state
of great excitement. Indeed, it looked as if there would be little
sleep that night in Russograd; for though the hour was late, all the
denizens of the faubourg, men and women alike, were abroad, discussing
in shrill tones and with fierce gesticulations this latest phase of
Czernovese politics. Russians, Tartars, Cossacks, and representatives
of other nationalities, who at ordinary times were ready to cut each
other's throats, were now united by the bond of a common religion
against "Natalie the Apostate."

"Now the saints confound these Long-beards!" murmured Katina,
compelled to exercise great care in steering her course. "Is it
Butter-week, that they throng so? Our short route is proving a long
one."

Owing partly to the crowded state of the street, and partly to the
condition of the wooden pavement, which a recent shower had rendered
somewhat slippery, it was impossible for the vehicle to proceed other
than at a walking pace, and thus the trio could not fail to overhear
the remarks made by some of the throng.

"I saw the duke brought in through the St. Florian Gate," cried a
woman, addressing a circle of bystanders.

"They knew better than to bring him in through the Troitzka Gate,"
observed a man beside her, apparently her husband. His face was
disfigured by a long smear of dried blood.

"He was riding with downcast eyes in the centre of a troop," continued
the woman. "And when my goodman cried, 'Long live our prince,' one of
the troopers struck him across the face with the flat of his sabre,
bidding him begone for a traitor. Look at the mark of the sword," she
screamed.

"Yes," chimed in her husband, "and the princess herself passed by a
minute later in her droshky, and drove off to the Palace, not looking
one whit troubled by the thought of the duke's imprisonment."

"Troubled, do you say?" cried his wife. "I never saw her looking more
glad than she did to-night. And to think that a mere girl should have
the power to arrest a big handsome man like our Duke John! We want a
full-grown, bearded soldier to rule over us, and not a silly maid."

"Especially a maiden under the thumb of Cardinal Ravenna," interjected
a bystander. "We all know why she has imprisoned the duke; because he
is a Greek, and loves the Muscovites and the great White Czar."

"And the princess hates the Czar," cried the woman.

"The shoes she wears in her palace are stamped on the sole with the
portrait of our little father Nicholas, so that she may tread his
image under foot whenever she walks."

This little anecdote, entirely without truth, found ready credence
among the haters of the princess.

"She is removing the duke from his command to make way for Zabern. And
why Zabern? Because he is a Pole, and a Catholic, and hates the
Muscovites."

Amid these observations, and others of a like character, the troika
moved, its rate of progress gradually diminishing, until the vehicle
was finally brought to a standstill by the immobility of the crowd in
front, who either could not, or would not, move out of the way.

"_Na pravo_--to the right!" cried those on the left angrily; while
just as angrily those on the right cried,--

"_Na levo_--to the left!"

Unable either to advance or retire, the occupants of the troika
remained stationary, the centre of a crowd evidently bent on mischief,
a crowd composed mainly of the lower orders,--or, to use the
suggestive phrase of the Russians themselves, the "Tshornoi Narod," or
"Black People."

Russograd was at no time a safe place for the adherents of the
princess; but in the present political crisis the sight of one
wearing, as they supposed, the uniform of her _corps du garde_ raised
the fanaticism of the Muscovite mob to a dangerous pitch. The three
friends were ill prepared for repelling an attack. Paul was armed with
his sabre only; Katina had her savage-looking whip; Trevisa was
without weapon of any kind.

Paul's chief fear was for Katina; but the maiden who had bravely
endured the knout did not seem at all disconcerted by the circle of
scowling faces.

"My little mother, step aside there," she cried, toying with her whip,
and gently endeavoring to urge the horses forward. "Now, old soldier,
have a care."

"Have a care yourself," exclaimed a harsh voice in front,--the voice
of a red-bearded individual in a blue caftan. "Would you ride over
me?" he added fiercely, grasping the bridle of one of the horses.

His was a voice which Katina had previously heard that same day in the
parlor of her own inn. Springing immediately to her feet, she looked
fearlessly around.

"In the name of the princess," she cried, "I call upon all loyal
citizens of Russograd to arrest that man and to convey him to the
Citadel, for he is an escaped prisoner."

"The more welcome for that!" said the man with the bloody smear.

"In the name of the Czar," cried the spy, "I call upon all loyal
citizens of Russograd to arrest that woman, and to convey her to
Orenburg, for she is an escaped prisoner, a fugitive from Russian
justice. What?" he continued, advancing into the ring of space around
the troika, "do you not know Katina Ludovska, the Polish harlot with
whom Zabern takes his pleasures?"

Quivering with indignation, Katina leaped from the troika, bent on
chastising the insulter. One lash from the thong of her whip would
have laid open his cheek as effectually as a sabre-stroke; but ere she
could carry out her purpose, the more prudent Paul had laid hand upon
her belt and swung her lightly back again.

"And do you not recognize this fellow?" continued Russakoff, pointing
to Trevisa. "He is the princess's paramour; private secretary is the
name used in court circles."

A coarse laugh greeted these words.

"The princess will never marry the duke. Why? Because the secretary
has poisoned her mind against him."

The mob grew more menacing in their attitude.

Katina laughed defiantly.

Trevisa glanced around, wondering what had become of the night watch
appointed to patrol the streets of Russograd.

Paul, casting about for a way of escape, observed that the crowd
facing the horses was but a few ranks deep. If Trevisa and he put on a
bold front, while Katina plied her whip vigorously, there was a
possibility of breaking through the hostile circle. He whispered this
idea to the two, who both nodded assent.

"Be it known to all that the princess has arrested our duke for
duelling. And here," continued Russakoff, pointing to Paul, "is the
man that fought with him. Before St. Nicholas I speak the truth. I lie
not," he added, taking out one of those sacred icons which the Russian
usually carries with him, and kissing it as he spoke. "The princess
imprisons the duke; she lets this man go free. Men of Russograd, is
this justice?"

"No! No!" cried the mob.

It was impossible to rescue their beloved duke from the grim Citadel
with its massive walls loop-holed with artillery; it was impossible to
do hurt to "Natalie the Apostate" in her strong palace, which the
foresight of the ministers had surrounded with a military cordon. But
here were persons almost as obnoxious as the princess herself, and a
hurricane of yells arose from all sides, the women exhibiting more
fury than the men.

"Down with the Jesuits!"

"Drag them from the car!"

"Tear them limb from limb!"

"Hurl their bloody heads through the princess's windows!"

As the crowd surged madly forward, Paul sprang to his feet, sabre in
hand.

"Now, Katina, now! Ah! the cowards!" he muttered in an agony of rage,
as a stone flung by one of the mob caught her on the temple.

Their escape seemed a doubtful matter. On all sides men, and women
too, were attempting to clamber into the troika, and dealing blows
with fists, sticks, and knives. They yapped and snarled like so many
dogs as they were hurled off again by the sturdy Englishmen, Paul
standing on the left side and using the flat of his sabre, Trevisa on
the right dependent merely upon the weapons supplied by nature, to
wit, his fists.

While this contest was being waged Katina, though dizzy from the
effects of the stone, bent backwards, and with a strength of wrist
marvellous in a slender maiden, she pulled the horses so far back on
their haunches as to cause their front hoofs to rise and describe
circles in the air. Poised thus she lashed them with a savagery
justified only by the occasion, though even in that moment of peril it
went to her heart to ill-treat her favorites; and then, with a warning
shout, she launched the maddened steeds pell-mell upon the crowd in
front, endeavoring also to clear the way by striking out to right and
left with her reddened whip.

The crowd facing the troika divided like water cleft by the hand, and
the vehicle flew forward with nothing to oppose it. A double line of
faces seemed to be rushing by; oaths and cries; a jolt, occasioned by
the troika bounding over a prostrate body; another, more violent,
which left a sickening sensation in the mouth; and the moment
afterwards the vehicle, with its bells wildly jangling, was clear of
the press and racing down the Troitzkoi Prospekt, the very embodiment
of the wind, followed by the yells of the baffled crowd.

"Bravo, Katina!" cried Paul. "You are the princess of charioteers. A
narrow shave, that--eh Noel?"

But, on turning to his companion, Paul gave a cry of horror. Trevisa
lay helplessly on the seat of the troika, his face as white as china,
his teeth set in agony, in his eyes an awful look.

Paul's cry drew Katina's attention to Trevisa. She immediately pulled
up the horses.

"Mary, mother of angels!" she cried in a tone of anguish. "He has been
stabbed; stabbed in the side!"

And all the womanhood of her nature asserting itself, she gently
raised Trevisa's head, and pillowed it upon her breast, regardless of
the blood that flowed down her dress.

"It was Russakoff," gasped Trevisa. "Paul," he continued, seizing his
friend's wrist. "Remember! it is the furies, the furies of--of--"

The act of speaking brought a rush of blood to his mouth, and ere he
could finish the strange utterance, he was gone.

"Jesu Maria, he's dead!" murmured Katina in awe; and then, her mood
changing, she added with a wild laugh, "Russakoff has earned his
roubles."

The whole affair had happened so quickly that it was almost
impossible to believe in its reality, though the dead form of Trevisa
lay there before their eyes. For fully half a minute Paul stared
helplessly at the silent figure. Amazement--grief--horror kept him
mute and motionless; then in a moment these feelings gave way to the
wild desire for vengeance.

"I'll find the assassin," he muttered, springing from the troika, "and
sabre him on the spot, though I die the next moment for it."

"Would you go back among those wolves?" cried Katina. "No, no; they
will kill you too." She also sprang from the troika, and held Paul by
the wrist. "Indeed you shall not go. Leave the assassin to Zabern.
Zabern will find him. And thank heaven, here is the marshal!"

As she spoke the clatter of horse-hoofs was heard, and turning in the
direction of the sound, Paul saw a troop of lancers approaching with
Zabern at their head.

On nearing the troika the marshal halted his men, saluted Paul with
his sword, and then eying the crowd that was still impotently yelling
in the distance, he said,--

"In the fiend's name, what possessed you three to drive through
Russograd on such a night as this?"

His eye now caught sight of the limp appearance presented by the
silent form reclining on the troika. He sprang from his horse with
consternation written on his face.

"Good God! don't say that Trevisa is dead!--Trevisa, whom I hoped to
see fighting under the banner of the princess! Dead!" he muttered
under his breath, "and just as he was on the point of deciphering the
secret despatch, too!"

"He is dead," said Paul; "but this is no time for words. The assassin
is among yon crowd, and his name is Ivan Russakoff."

The name of the spy acted like magic upon Zabern. He shouted some
order, and in a moment more ten uhlans trotting forward with couched
lances scattered the crowd; the object of these troopers was to secure
the Troitzka Gate, and so prevent the assassin from making his escape
by this exit. Like precautions were promptly taken with the rest of
the city gates. The remainder of his forces Zabern skilfully disposed
around the suburb of Russograd, forming them into a cordon through
which no one could break without detection.

Meanwhile, in answer to his summons, fresh detachments of troops
arrived together with a numerous corps of police; and to both he
briefly explained the object of the muster.

Zabern was well aware that, owing to the hostility with which Polish
authority was viewed in this quarter, he would have considerable
difficulty in inducing the Muscovites to surrender the spy, whose act
in slaying a government official would be certain to enlist their
sympathies. Every dweller in Russograd would take a pride in
concealing the felon. Hence the marshal was necessitated to make his
arrangements with almost the same care as if conducting a siege. For a
few hours Russograd was to become subject to martial law,--no new
experience for this riotous faubourg.

"Remember, Russakoff must be taken alive; his dead body is of no use
to me," said Zabern. "But as to the rest, don't hesitate to shoot if
there should be any resistance. Nikita," he added, addressing his
orderly, "dismount, and assist Katina in conveying the body to the
palace. Captain Woodville, here is a horse at your service. You will
accompany us?"

Zabern's elaborate precautions failed to secure the person of the spy.

Though all the streets of Russograd were traversed by the military,
and every individual subjected to scrutiny; though private dwelling
and public building were explored by keen-eyed police; and though the
marshal and his staff formed a sort of inquisitorial tribunal and
interrogated and cross-examined during the whole night, yet no one
answering to the description of Russakoff could be found.

Still the marshal continued the search, encouraged by the statement
alike of the sentinels at the city gates as of the members composing
the military cordon, that the spy had not passed outwards.

"So, Nariskin," he said at seven next morning, and addressing a
patriarchal, long-bearded individual who carried himself with some
show of authority, "so, Nariskin, another government official murdered
in your ghetto! A pretty guard your night-watch keep!"

Nariskin, chief of the ward council that directed the affairs of
Russograd, became voluble in attesting his grief,--his indignation, his
horror, that anything so--so--

"It isn't an oration that I want," said Zabern brusquely, "but the
person of Russakoff. You will assemble your council this morning and
make two announcements: first, that henceforth Russograd shall cease
to do its own policing; that shall be my care. And, secondly, that
unless the spy is surrendered before six this evening Russograd shall
pay a fine of fifty thousand roubles."

Nariskin protested by Saint Vladimir that there was not so much money
in all Russograd, but the marshal turned contemptuously away.

"It's useless," he said to Paul, "to search longer for a fugitive whom
a whole people are bent on concealing."

In gloomy mood he gave orders for the withdrawal of the soldiery from
Russograd. The military cordon, however, was still maintained, and
fresh injunctions were issued to exercise strict supervision over
every person passing outwards.

Paul accompanied Zabern at his request to the Vistula Palace, and
entered the apartments lately tenanted by Trevisa.

Beneath a catafalque of black velvet, surrounded by lighted tapers set
in tall silver candlesticks, reposed the body of Trevisa, his hands
folded across his breast, and holding within them lilies placed there
by Katina.

"A sad fatality!" murmured Zabern, his somewhat grim and hard nature
touched by Trevisa's early and mournful ending. "A sad fatality! And
partly of my own causing, too!"

"How so?"

"The cipher-despatch which I entrusted to his care has occasioned his
death."

"You mean that he was assassinated in order to prevent him from
deciphering it?"

"Precisely. The duke hesitates at nothing to conceal his treason."

"What proof have you of his complicity in this affair?"

"Actual proof--none, else would the headsman be now putting edge to
his axe. But here are matters that have a suspicious aspect. Not till
yester-morn did the duke learn that Russakoff was a prisoner in the
Citadel, and that Trevisa was occupied with the document found on the
spy. I did my best to keep the affair a secret, but our premier,
unthinkingly, revealed it; and, according to him, the duke, on hearing
of Russakoff's imprisonment, looked ill at ease. Why, unless the
matter concerned him? Subsequently the duke paid a visit to the
Citadel--in his official capacity, of course; but, mark the result!
Two hours afterwards Russakoff's cell was found empty. How? Great is
the power of the rouble-note!"

"Why, then, send the duke to the Citadel, since the itching palm that
opened the gate for Russakoff may do the like for Bora?"

"I have thought of that, and therefore I have appointed some of my own
troopers--fellows whom I can trust--to be the duke's jailers. But to
return to the cipher letter," continued Zabern, in a tone of profound
dejection. "It still keeps its secret. And Trevisa had just hit on the
clue! Did he speak of the matter at all on the way to Slavowitz? Did
he give you any hint?"

"None."

But scarcely had Paul given this reply than he started, as he suddenly
recalled Trevisa's dying utterance.

"Marshal, I believe he tried to make a communication to me in his last
moment. His words were 'Remember the furies!'"

"Passing strange! what meaning can there be in that?"

The two men puzzled themselves to no purpose over the singular saying.

"That cipher letter," said Zabern, reflectively, "was perhaps the last
thing in Trevisa's mind. With that sudden intuition which sometimes
belongs to the dying, he recognized why he had been assassinated, and
tried to give you a clue. 'Remember the furies!' Humph! here's an
enigma indeed!"

He paced the apartment gloomily, while Paul, looking down upon the
face of his dead friend, breathed a silent prayer for justice upon all
who had part in the cruel deed.

"The interpretation of that cipher letter," said Zabern, "would enable
us to defeat Russia's secret scheme for the subversion of Czernova;
but alas! where shall we look for the interpreter?"

"Give me the letter," said Paul with a sudden impulse, "and let me try
my wits upon it. I am not altogether ignorant of cryptography; it was
Trevisa's favorite pursuit when we were at college. He sought to
interest me in it, and I remember something of his methods."

There was at first some hesitancy on the part of Zabern. Was it wise
to trust such a weighty matter to one who owed no allegiance to the
Czernovese government?

Paul understood the scruples of the other.

"You may trust me; or if not, I will take whatever oath you wish. My
sole desire is to serve your beautiful princess."

Zabern's opposition vanished.

"You shall have the letter," he replied. "You defeated Russia's aim in
the East; now defeat her aim in the West. But, if you are like me, you
must feel the need of a little sleep. There is a bed in the next
apartment. Sleep for an hour or two, and rise fresh for the work."

Paul accepted this advice, and retired to the next apartment.

"Shall I call this Fate?" he murmured, as he laid his head on the
pillow. "Without any seeking on my part I am now beneath the same roof
as Barbara."



CHAPTER VIII

PAUL AND THE PRINCESS


After a brief interval of repose Paul awoke, and had scarcely donned
his uniform when a court chamberlain, carrying a silver gilt staff,
presented himself with a message to the effect that, "The Princess of
Czernova, having learned that the illustrious defender of Tajapore is
at the present time within her palace, desires to hold a private
interview with him in the White Saloon."

The chamberlain went on to say that though court dress or military
uniform was _de rigueur_ in such interviews, he had been expressly
commanded to state that on the present occasion the princess would
waive all ceremony.

Having no other attire with him, Paul had of necessity to go to this
momentous meeting in his uniform, and accordingly he set off at once
with the chamberlain, who on the way ventured to remind him of the
etiquette to be observed during the approaching interview: he must
stand unless requested to sit; make no observation of his own, but
simply reply to the questions addressed him; he must not withdraw till
the princess should give the signal, and in withdrawing he must keep
his face turned towards her.

All this, and much more, from Silver Staff touched Paul with a sense
of humor, when he recalled the sweet and unrestrained intercourse at
Castel Nuovo.

On entering the White Saloon Paul perceived Barbara seated at a
table, and pencil in hand, ostensibly occupied in annotating
state-papers. She wore a dainty dress of white tulle sparkling with
silver embroidery over ivory satin.

She was evidently in a state of nervousness. The pencil trembled
within her fingers. She did not glance at Paul, but kept her eyes upon
the papers before her.

Now that the chamberlain had withdrawn, she was expecting Paul to come
forward with the greeting, "Barbara!" Nay, if the truth must be told,
she was longing to be folded in his arms, and to hear again the
passionate language which he had addressed to her on that memorable
day of their parting.

But to her disappointment Paul seemed as formal as a courtier. With
his plumed helmet doffed he stood at the distance prescribed by court
etiquette waiting for her to speak.

Quick to interpret his secret thought, she saw that he recognized the
existence of a wide gulf between them, a gulf that could be crossed
only from her side; if there was to be a renewal of love it was for
her to take the initiative.

This attitude on his part, though studiously correct, embarrassed her
exceedingly.

"I little thought," she began in a low and faltering voice, "when
reading of the brave deeds of one Captain Woodville, that the doer of
them was known to me. Captain Cressingham," she continued, reverting
to the more familiar name, "for two years I have been under the belief
that you perished in that Dalmatian earthquake."

"Your Highness, I have been under a similar belief regarding
yourself."

"Knowing, as you do," she continued, aimlessly tracing lines on the
paper before her, "that I cannot be the real Princess Natalie, you are
perhaps of opinion that I have no right to the throne of Czernova?"

"Princess--no! I will believe anything rather than that you are an
usurper or an impostor."

The energy with which he spoke attested the sincerity of his belief.

Now for the first time since his entrance the princess raised her
eyes, and their flash of gratitude thrilled Paul.

"Your faith in me is not misplaced, for I am truly the lawful Princess
of Czernova, though a strange necessity has compelled me to assume the
name of my sister Natalie. You shall have the story anon, Captain
Cressingham," she continued, in a curiously labored voice, as if the
choice of words were a difficulty, "we were parted in a very strange
way. You will perhaps have guessed that I was carried off by the
orders of Cardinal Ravenna, who acted, however, under the authority of
my father, Prince Thaddeus.

"They justified the secret abduction on the ground that in my new
sphere it would be wise, nay absolutely necessary, to break entirely
with the past. But for my own part," added the princess softly, and
with the color mantling her cheek, "I do not see the necessity for
ignoring all former ties."

"Your Highness has not forgotten the days spent at Castel Nuovo?"

"No, nor that day in Isola Sacra. Captain Cressingham, I am a
Lilieska, and the herald will tell you that the motto of the House of
Lilieski is '_Keep to troth_.'"

Paul caught his breath at these words, the significance of which was
not to be mistaken.

That the lovely convent maiden should care for such an unworthy fellow
as himself had been a marvel to him two years previously; but that
now, when a princess, and capable of forming a brilliant alliance with
king or noble, she should still adhere to him, was more marvellous
still.

Barbara, no longer able to endure this state of tension, rose to her
feet, and with unsteady step moved towards Paul.

"When the suitor is of inferior rank," she said with a strange catch
in her voice, "court etiquette permits a princess to make the first
advance in love. Thus, then, do I avail myself of the privilege.
Paul," she continued, taking his hands in her own, and striving to
look into his averted face, "have you forgotten your words to me on
that sunny day in the old Greek temple? Day and night for two years I
have never ceased to think of them. Yes, though you may reproach me
with the name of Bora, your image has never been absent from my mind.
Does my new rank embarrass you? To you I am the same Barbara now as I
was then. I long to lay aside my state; to wander again through the
pine-woods of Dalmatia; to handle an oar on the blue Adriatic as on
that day when we were so cruelly parted. Ah, heaven! how cold, how
silent you are! Why do you turn away your eyes? Paul, look at me," she
entreated wistfully.

Paul, knowing full well that her attachment to him was certain to
create confusion in Czernovese politics, had come fully prepared to
sacrifice his own happiness to her interests. But this appeal on her
part overcame him. He could not resist the temptation presented by the
beautiful face so close to his own. Moved by a sudden impulse, he
clasped her passionately in his arms.

"Oh! this cannot be," he murmured a moment afterwards. "It is
madness."

"Then let me be mad," she said with a low sweet laugh as she clung to
him.

"You are a princess, and I am merely a military officer."

"And where would the princess now be but for the officer who found her
wandering in the wild-wood?"

"Princess--Barbara--I love you--"

"I have been waiting for those words, Paul."

"I love you--how deeply no words of mine can tell; but when I think of
the difference in our rank--"

"But you must not think of it, Paul," she interrupted, still within
the circle of his arms, and placing her finger with a witching air on
his lip.

"It must be that we part. The law of Czernova forbids our union."

"The Diet shall repeal that law."

"Your ministers, your nobility, your people will never tolerate an
untitled Englishman."

"I am ruler in Czernova," she answered proudly. "No one shall dictate
to me as to my choice of a consort."

"The Duke of Bora--what of him?" said Paul, with difficulty
pronouncing the name that had become doubly hateful to him.

Barbara's eyes drooped. She hid her face on his breast.

"Forgive me, Paul. Do not reproach me with his name. Remember that I
thought you dead. I have never forgotten you, nor ceased to love your
memory. It was political necessity that drove me to the arms of Bora.
On my coming here from Dalmatia in the character of Princess Natalie,
I was compelled by the _rôle_ I had assumed to receive the addresses
of the duke, addresses which I at heart loathed. It had been my
intention to break with him ultimately; but of late, since I have been
threatened with deposition by Cardinal Ravenna,--yes, deposition," she
repeated with flashing eyes,--"I have weakly thought of marrying the
duke; for inasmuch as he is the heir-apparent I should thus ensure my
rank, if not my power, as princess. But that idea is gone now; I cast
it from me forever."

"But why? Is not the necessity for conciliating the duke as great
to-day as yesterday?"

"No; for if I should have lost my crown I should have lost the one
thing I held most dear; if I lose it now--"

She paused in her utterance.

"Yes, if you should lose it now--?"

"Have I not you?" she answered with a soft pressure of her arms. Paul
would have deserved instant knouting if he had not kissed the princess
for that saying. Then, becoming grave again he said,--

"You say the cardinal threatens you with deposition? Why this
hostility on his part?"

"Because I will not dance to his piping."

"And by adhering to me you will increase his hostility, since with him
I shall not be a _persona gratissima_."

"He cannot ruin me without ruining himself, and ambition will cause
him to pause ere doing that."

"But," said the puzzled Paul, "since you are the daughter of Prince
Thaddeus, how is it possible for him to dethrone you, and why is it
necessary that you should personate the Princess Natalie?"

All this time Barbara had been standing clasped within Paul's arms;
but now, taking him by the hand, she led him to a seat, and sat down
beside him.

"The story of my life, as far as it was known to me, I told you at
Isola Sacra. Let me now supplement it with details which I have since
learned."

The following is a brief outline of Barbara's narration.

The late Prince Thaddeus had in youth contracted a marriage with a
young English lady named Hilda Tressilian, who lived in the
neighborhood of Warsaw. Thaddeus, aware that his father would be
averse to this match, kept it a secret, visiting his wife at
intervals. During his absence in Czernova Hilda died suddenly, and was
buried ere the prince had time to gaze upon her lifeless form.

On reaching the scene of her death, Thaddeus learned that there had
been a daughter still-born, the truth being that the infant was in
reality alive, Hilda's servants having been bribed to relate this
falsehood by Pasqual Ravenna, at that time a youthful priest of
ambitious views. His object was to train the child in the Catholic
faith,--Thaddeus was a Greek,--and ultimately to restore her to her
rightful dignity as Princess of Czernova; the interests of the Latin
Church would be thereby advanced. And for eighteen years Ravenna,
while rising from one ecclesiastical dignity to another, never lost
sight of this scheme; and, when he deemed the time ripe, secretly
apprised Thaddeus of the existence of Barbara.

That prince, pressed by political necessity, had made a second
marriage, the issue of which was an only child, Natalie, born eighteen
months after Barbara.

This Natalie, to whom Thaddeus had become passionately attached, was
now threatened with exclusion from the throne by the existence of her
elder half-sister. Thaddeus, suspecting a plot on the part of the
cardinal, refused to acknowledge his resuscitated daughter; and for a
time the matter remained in abeyance.

Some months later the Princess Natalie, being in a somewhat delicate
state of health, was advised by the court physician to take a tour in
the countries around the Adriatic; and Thaddeus, prompted either by
fear or by some other motive, permitted Cardinal Ravenna to take
charge of the princess. Among other places Dalmatia was visited, and
here, while at Castel Nuovo, Natalie died.

"In what way?" asked Paul.

"She committed suicide," replied Barbara, in a whisper of awe.

"You have proof of this?"

"I have my father's word. He had come to Dalmatia purposely to see
Natalie, and was in the neighborhood of Castel Nuovo at the time of
the tragedy. He was at once sent for. Oh! no, there was nothing
suspicious in her death," continued Barbara, observant of the
misgiving expressed on Paul's face. "Do you think that my father, who
loved Natalie so dearly, would have connived at a crime?"

Paul considered it not at all unlikely that Thaddeus had been deceived
by the cardinal. He refrained, however, from expressing his doubts.

"In what way did she commit suicide?"

"She stabbed herself before any one could prevent her. My father had
the story from Lambro and Jacintha, who, as well as the cardinal, were
eye-witnesses of the deed."

Paul was of opinion that the cardinal who had bribed servants to utter
the falsehood of Barbara's death would certainly employ the like
expedient where his own guilt was concerned.

The more Paul recalled Jacintha's air of terror and her admission as
to the mysterious oath taken on the Holy Sacrament, the more he became
convinced that Natalie Lilieska had met her death by foul play. But
dead princesses tell no tales; and the disappearance of the two
witnesses of the deed, Lambro and Jacintha, in the submergence of
Castel Nuovo, made it extremely improbable that the charge would ever
be brought home to the cardinal.

It was agreed, Barbara continued, that the scandal of Princess
Natalie's suicide must be kept secret. Her body, sealed in a leaden
coffin, was concealed beneath the flooring of the cardinal's study at
Castel Nuovo, to be removed at a convenient opportunity to the
princely vault at Slavowitz. That opportunity never came, and the
waves of the Adriatic now flowed over the body of the Princess
Natalie.

It was clear that unless Thaddeus consented to recognize the
convent-maiden as his daughter, the crown of Czernova would devolve
upon one whom he personally disliked, namely, upon Bora, though
Natalie herself had accepted the duke's addresses with pleasure.

Accordingly, Thaddeus, accompanied by the cardinal, set off for the
convent of the Holy Sacrament, to see the daughter whom he had never
yet seen. On his arrival, however, he learned with dismay that
Barbara had fled the day previously.

Many weeks were spent by the prince and the cardinal in searching for
her in the neighboring province and Bosnia. They had been led into
this region by a story to the effect that she had been seen journeying
in a caravan of gypsies.

Disappointed in their quest, Thaddeus and Ravenna returned to Castel
Nuovo, arriving there by a singular chance on the very day that Paul
and Barbara had chosen for their excursion to Isola Sacra. They
instantly resolved to send over a band of men for the purpose of
carrying off Barbara, and of leaving behind on the island the
dangerous young Englishman who was unknowingly wooing a princess.

Their plan succeeded.

Fortunately, Barbara and her abductors did not pass that night at
Castel Nuovo. In the mist the boat was carried by the current some
miles lower down the coast; and captors and captive lodged at an inn
which remained unaffected by the earthquake that had devastated the
rest of Dalmatia.

Barbara's passion of grief and indignation at being torn from Paul was
so violent, that the prince and the cardinal had no other course than
to promise that she should have her own way as regarded the young
Englishman. But next morning, to the despair of Barbara, the relief of
Thaddeus, and the secret joy of Ravenna, it was seen that Isola Sacra
had disappeared beneath the waves. It was naturally concluded that
Paul had gone down with it.

Grief-stricken at this ending of her love-dream, Barbara was more
disposed to return to the convent and assume the veil of a nun than to
accept the prospective crown of Czernova; but finally she was
persuaded to this latter course by Thaddeus, who, convinced now that
Barbara was indeed his daughter, displayed all a father's tenderness.

There would be a difficulty, however, in persuading the Czernovese
people to accept as the daughter of their prince a maiden of whom they
had never before heard.

Now it so happened that the church in which Thaddeus's marriage with
Hilda Tressilian had taken place had been subsequently destroyed by
fire, and with it the documentary evidence tending to prove Barbara's
identity and legitimacy.

Thaddeus was thus unable to establish her relationship to himself. The
Diet might be pardoned for refusing to take his bare word as proof.
Bora, too, would loudly declare that Barbara was a supposititious
child brought forward to deprive him of the throne.

In view, therefore, of her marvellous resemblance to Natalie, it was
decided by the prince and the cardinal that Barbara should lose her
own identity and should personate the late princess.

This Barbara had done, and with such art and tact that not even Bora
suspected the pardonable, if not altogether innocent manoeuvre by
which she had contrived to secure her rights.

"With the exception of yourself," said Barbara in conclusion, "the
cardinal is the sole depositary of my secret, for not even to Zabern,
my confidant in most things, have I revealed it. Now you understand
the power which the cardinal professes to wield over me, and why he
insolently presumes to menace me with deposition. But he shall not
succeed. Zabern is my hope. Zabern, crafty and subtle, will find a way
of defeating the cardinal's machinations; and then," she murmured,
"and then--he shall regret his threat to dethrone the Princess of
Czernova."

Barbara, menaced on the one side by the cardinal and on the other by
the Czar, had not a very firm hold on her throne, at least in Paul's
judgment; and now by her attachment to himself she was still further
imperilling her position. But he ceased to argue the matter. Any man
with those lovely arms around him might be pardoned for shutting his
eyes to the future.

"And so your mother was an Englishwoman?" he remarked, seeing in that
fact a possible explanation of Barbara's pro-Anglian tastes.

"Yes, I am half English," she replied, "and I am glad for your sake
that I am such. You have not told any one of our prior meeting in
Dalmatia?"

"I have kept it a secret."

"Let it remain such. And our love, too, must be kept secret,--at
least, for a time," she added with a sigh, for she loved open dealing,
and the hiding of her real faith, together with the assumption of her
sister's name, had never ceased to be a source of pain.

"How happily we sit here," murmured Barbara, "giving no thought to him
who is lying dead! You were with Trevisa at the time of his murder;
tell me how it happened."

Paul gave an account of Trevisa's death, in itself a sad event, and
one rendered still more painful to Barbara by the thought that it had
occurred so shortly after his dismissal from his secretaryship. The
sorrowful look with which he had received her decision would never
fade from her mind. She felt his loss keenly, inasmuch as he had been
her friend as well as her amanuensis, and for a long time she sat
talking of Trevisa, of his loyalty and his good services.

"I shall require a new secretary," she said. "You, Paul, must fill
Trevisa's place. Nay, forgive me for being thus imperious. I speak as
if I had the right to your obedience. My commands are for my
ministers, not for you."

  [Illustration: "'See how well it becomes you,' she said, drawing him
   gently towards a mirror."]

She slid playfully upon her knees before him, and put her hands
together with a demure air.

"May I have you for my secretary?"

Paul, though sometimes given to day-dreams, had certainly never
anticipated the time when a fair princess would be kneeling at his
feet. He attempted to raise her.

"I will not rise till you grant my request."

No post could be more acceptable to Paul than this secretaryship,
since he would thus live in daily companionship with Barbara; and,
moreover, the handling of her correspondence would initiate him into
the secrets of that fascinating subject, European diplomacy.

"Are you won over yet?" she asked.

"Who may gainsay a princess?" said Paul. "But are you certain that my
appointment will not give offence?"

"I reign over a divided realm. If I appoint a Pole I shall have the
Muscovites against me; if I appoint a Muscovite I shall have the Poles
against me. Therefore I will choose my secretary from neither party."

"In order to unite both against you," smiled Paul. "But I fear,
Barbara, that I am ill-qualified for the post."

"So much the better, Paul, for it will be charming to be your
instructress," she replied, delighted that he had accepted the
appointment. "What will your sovereign say at losing a brave soldier?"

"The princess is now my sovereign."

"Nay, not your sovereign, Paul, but your equal."

She rose and walked to a buhl table on which rested a golden diadem,
and returning with it, she placed it playfully upon his head.

"See how well it becomes you," she said, drawing him gently towards a
mirror. "There! every inch a prince."

Paul smiled oddly at his reflection in the glass. He to wear the crown
of Czernova! The idea seemed too fantastic to be entertained. For the
last four and twenty hours he seemed to have been playing a _rôle_ in
some romantic opera rather than to have been living in the world of
reality.

He put the diadem aside.

"It is not a crown I want, Barbara, but your own sweet self."

"And you have me, Paul," she said, kissing him affectionately.
"Nothing but death shall part us. And now," she continued, quitting
his arms with reluctance, "we must put on our masks and play our
parts, for I am about to summon the chamberlain."

On the appearance of Silver Staff, Barbara said,--

"Call the marshal to our presence."

Zabern was soon found. On entering he glanced keenly at Paul's face as
if expecting to gain from it some idea of the character of his long
interview with the princess; but Paul, when he chose, could be as
inscrutable as Zabern himself, and his face revealed nothing.

"What news of Russakoff?" asked the princess.

"Your Highness, I regret to say that the spy is still at large."

"The ruffians of Russograd, who slew Trevisa because he was an
Englishman and loyal to me, shall find that they have gained little by
their deed, for I herewith replace him by an Englishman equally as
loyal. Marshal, my new secretary."

Zabern bowed and answered like a courtier.

"No appointment could give the cabinet and the Diet greater pleasure,"
he replied, knowing that he was committing himself to a doubtful
statement.

"It is a matter in which the cabinet and the Diet have no concern,"
replied Barbara with a touch of hauteur in her voice.

"Your Highness, Miroslav is without, charged with a question from the
Duke of Bora."

"What says that law-breaker?"

"His grace is desirous of learning from the princess how long his
detention is to last."

"Till the mark on my secretary's cheek shall have disappeared. If his
grace be dissatisfied with our justice, it is open to him to appeal to
the law-courts of Czernova, whose sentence he will find considerably
less lenient than our own."

"Your Highness, I shall have extreme pleasure in conveying that
message to the duke."



CHAPTER IX

A DISPLAY OF SWORDSMANSHIP


On quitting the presence of the princess, Paul and Zabern took their
way through the palace gardens, where they were met by two individuals
in uniform, whom the marshal introduced to Paul. The more youthful of
the two, who had fair hair, blue eyes, and a comely face that seemed
to indicate habitual good humor, was Dorislas, and he held the office
of Minister of Finance. The other, a somewhat sullen-looking
personage, was Miroslav, the governor of the Citadel, "and," added
Zabern, "the present guardian of your friend the duke."

"Ah! the duke," said Dorislas to the governor. "I marvel, Miroslav,
that you have not yet been called upon to defend your Bastille. What
are your friends in Russograd thinking of, that they so tamely submit
to the duke's imprisonment?"

"The marshal's placards explain the reason. At the first attempt upon
the Citadel the duke is to be brought forth upon the battlements, and
summarily shot."

"And therefore," commented Zabern, "it is a pity that they do not make
the attempt."

"Well, you know the marshal and his ways by this time," laughed
Dorislas, addressing Miroslav. "When to-night you see a wild mob with
blackened faces advancing upon the Citadel and crying out for the
release of the duke, be sure that Zabern is somewhere among them,
disguised and playing the part of chief instigator."

Zabern and his two friends, so it appeared, were on their way to the
_salle d'armes_, which stood in the centre of the palace gardens. In
this hall it was their custom, provided that state affairs were not
too pressing, to fence daily. Zabern invited Paul to accompany them.

"And the cipher despatch, marshal?" said the new secretary, who,
having Barbara's interests at heart, was desirous of beginning work at
once.

"A little fencing on your part will quicken both blood and brain."

So Paul acquiesced, somewhat reluctantly, and while he and the
governor of the Citadel strode on in front, Zabern, adopting a more
tardy pace, followed in the rear conversing with Dorislas.

"Marshal, what is this mystery?" asked the Finance Minister with a
significant glance in Paul's direction. "There is a strange rumor that
he and the princess were together in Dalmatia, and that she there
presented him with a sapphire seal which had been given to her by the
duke himself. Within twelve hours of his coming to Czernova he is
challenged to a duel by Bora. Her Highness, on hearing of the affair,
flies to rescue the Englishman, sends her affianced husband to prison,
but permits the other duellist to go free. And now you bring the
amazing news that the princess has made this Woodville her secretary.
What is the meaning of it all?"

"You had better ask her Highness," said Zabern dryly, and abruptly
changing the subject of conversation, he added: "Did anything of
importance take place at the Diet last night?"

"What, marshal! haven't you heard?" cried Dorislas, his face
expressing the extreme of amazement.

"Heard? I've heard nothing. I was occupied in searching for that
assassin Russakoff till seven this morning, since when I have been
asleep. What new folly, then, did you and the rest of the ministry
perpetrate in my absence?"

"You know, of course, that the first order of the evening was the
notification to the House of the princess's change of faith. Scarcely
had Radzivil risen to make his statement, when he was interrupted by
Lipski with a sneering remark to the effect that the premier might
spare his words, for the Diet knew very well what he was going to say,
and that it would have been more becoming on the part of the princess
to have taken the House into her confidence earlier, and not to have
waited till her hand had been forced by the article contained in his
newspaper, the 'Kolokol.'"

"Damn his insolence! And of course the Muscovite crew howled applause?
Was Ravenna in his place?"

"No; the cardinal, having been the chief instrument in the princess's
conversion, shrank somewhat from facing the wrathful Muscovites last
night. He preferred the opera-house."

"The coward! Would that I had been there!"

"What! at the opera? Yes, it was well worth visiting, because--"

"A truce to your fooling. What happened next?"

"After order had been restored--for, of course, Radzivil's statement
provoked a devil of a row--Lipski rose and begged leave to bring in a
new bill. Lamenting the increased taxation--and you know, marshal, my
Budget is devilishly heavy this year--he introduced a measure for the
appropriation of all plate, jewels, and money belonging to the
conventual establishments throughout Czernova, such wealth to be
devoted to the needs of the state."

"Ha!" cried Zabern. "This is nothing else but an attack upon the
princess's faith. 'I have become a Catholic,' she avers. 'Then we will
plunder your Church,' is, in effect, the Muscovite answer."

"True, marshal; for though the bill affects to treat both creeds,
Latin and Greek, alike, yet inasmuch as the Latin convents are
numerous and wealthy, while those of the Greek faith are few and
comparatively poor--"

"It's a case of 'I'll share my kopek with you, if you'll share your
rouble with me,' eh?"

"Just so, marshal. Well, the bill was rushed through its first
reading--"

"Fire and brimstone! where, then, was our party with its splendid
majority?"

"You forget that Rubini was here last night."

"Who's he?" asked Zabern, whose ignorance of everybody and everything
outside the circle of politics was simply astounding.

"Come, marshal, you jest--Rubini, the Italian, the great
opera-singer."

"The devil fly away with him! Well?"

"The opera was 'The Bohemian Girl.' Rubini took the part of Thaddeus.
It would have brought the tears to your eyes, marshal, to hear him
sing, 'When the fair land of Poland was ploughed.'"

"It would--to hear a damnable Italian turning the sorrows of our
fatherland into a medium for putting rouble-notes into his pockets.
But what has this to do with the Diet?"

"Why, most of those on our side of the House went to hear Rubini."

"Including a simpleton named Dorislas. And so Lipski and his Muscovite
crew took advantage of the emptiness of the benches on the Right to
spring this new bill upon the Diet. But, sword of St. Michael, didn't
Radzivil send Opalinski to the opera-house to summon away the absentee
fools?"

"He did, with this result. When Opalinski arrived Rubini was singing,
and our whip became so entranced that he quite forgot the errand on
which he had come, till--till it was too late. When our fellows came
trooping back they were met with derisive laughter from the Left."

"The bill had already passed its first reading?"

"Precisely, marshal. But that's not all. Lipski had likewise proposed
that, pending the issue of this infernal bill, the precincts of the
monasteries shall be patrolled by the military."

"To prevent the monks from removing their treasures."

"That's the object. The Diet passed the resolution. Radzivil, as
servant of the House, was obliged to submit, with the result that
to-day there is not a monastery in Czernova that has not bayonets
moving round it."

"Including the Convent of the Transfiguration?" asked Zabern.

"Including the Convent of the Transfiguration," answered Dorislas.

Zabern muttered some oaths under his breath. Presently, however, he
broke into a grim smile.

"Lipski is a shrewder fellow than I gave him credit for. A clever
stroke this on his part--to prevent us from entering that monastery by
turning our own bayonets against us."

"Marshal," said Dorislas, looking very grave, "if Lipski's measure
should pass--"

"If?" repeated Zabern disdainfully. "We will extinguish it on the
second reading."

"Which has been fixed for this day month. Lipski boasts that there are
surprises in store for ministers, that there will be numerous
defections on our side."

"'Boasts'--that is a good word, Dorislas."

"If that bill should become law, commissioners appointed by the Diet
will make a round of the monasteries for the purpose of appropriating
their wealth; when they come to the Convent of the Transfiguration
they will discover--"

"What we do not wish them to discover. But as the bill has not the
remotest chance of passing, we may preserve a serene mind on the
matter."

Dorislas said no more. Though he was of an optimistic nature, it was
clear from his grave manner that he did not share in Zabern's hopeful
views.

The quartette had now reached the _salle d'armes_. Over the portico
hung the banner of the Lilieskis, which Paul reverently saluted, for
was he not honoring Barbara by the act?

"That flag," said Zabern, "shall one day float over a wider area than
Czernova."

Passing beneath the portico, they entered a fine and spacious hall,
decorated in a style that harmonized with its use. Along the walls
were suits of armor, and pictures of duels, tournaments, and battles.
The oaken panels were hung with swords, muskets, and pistols, so
arranged as to form devices, the favorite one being the arms of
Poland.

"Whenever a man is mentioned to me for promotion," remarked Zabern, "I
always bring him here for a bout. Ten minutes' fencing will give me a
better idea of his character than a month's investigation."

Paul, in view of his recent appointment, wondered whether this remark
was intended for application to himself.

Among the Czernovese nobles and military officers assembled in this
hall was Count Radzivil, occupied in a fencing-bout. In Paul's eyes
the sight of the gray-headed premier of seventy parrying and lunging
with all the ardor of a boy of seventeen was significant of much. It
seemed like a preparation for more serious work in the near future.

What surprised Paul still more was a bevy of youthful ladies fencing
with each other at the far end of the hall; and of this number was
Katina, engaged in spirited contest with her sister Juliska, a maiden
so pretty that a man must have had the insensibility of a stone not to
have wished for a kiss.

All ceased their play upon the entering of Zabern, who in a brief and
graceful speech introduced Paul to the assembly as the princess's new
secretary.

The Englishman who had conducted the famous defence of Tajapore could
not fail to be a person of interest,--an interest enhanced by the fact
that he had not shrunk from facing in duel the champion swordsman of
Czernova.

Curious glances were interchanged, both among the ladies and likewise
among the gentlemen, the meaning of which was laughingly explained by
Zabern.

"The truth is, Captain Woodville, we are hoping to see a little
English sword-play, in order that we may know who is to be
congratulated by the princess's intervention yesterday,--yourself or
the duke."

Paul modestly professed himself willing to give a display of his skill
if any one would come forward to meet him.

"We have here," continued Zabern, "the six best fencers in Czernova
after the duke. If you can defeat any of these we shall be able to
form some notion as to how he would have fared at your hands."

The six champions in order of merit were adjudged as
follows:--Firstly, Zabern, the Warden of the Charter; secondly,
Miroslav, the governor of the Citadel; next, Dorislas, the Minister of
Finance; then Count Radzivil, the Premier; Brunowski, the President of
the Diet, followed; and, lastly, came Nikita the trooper.

"And," whispered Zabern to Paul, "if we were to choose a seventh it
would not be a man but a woman, and she none other than Katina."

Paul bowed to the six men, and expressed his readiness to meet in
fencing-bout any one of the number, or all in turn; and taking up a
fencing-blade, a blunt sabre with its point topped by a button, he
stood prepared to make good his words.

Across the middle of the hall upon the oaken flooring ran a silver
line to which the opposing fencers were required to apply their right
foot; they might step over this mark if they chose, but to recede from
it by so little as an inch was counted for defeat.

As Paul declined to nominate an antagonist there was a slight argument
on the part of the six as to the one who should first respond.

After some hesitation Count Radzivil stepped forward. "I fear I am too
highly appraised," he modestly remarked, "when I am placed among the
seven best fencers in Czernova."

All drew near to witness the contest. A double ring was immediately
formed, the ladies being seated in a circle with the gentlemen
standing in their rear, the placing of the chairs having naturally
afforded opportunity for some pretty pieces of gallantry.

Paul was secretly conscious that though Zabern with Katina and Juliska
might regard him favorably, he did not possess the sympathy of the
rest of the persons present, who resented the unaccountable act of
their princess in appointing as her secretary one who was not only a
foreigner but a complete stranger to the principality. Were there no
loyal Czernovese from whom her choice might have been made?

Paul knew, too, that among those who stood around were some who bore
the proudest names in Polish history; he himself had neither title nor
long genealogy, but if there be an order of nobility founded upon
superiority in swordsmanship he determined to show that he was a
member of that order, and that it would not be well for any man to put
a slight upon him, because of the favor shown him by the princess.

On finding himself engaged in a contest with the premier Paul felt
some mortification at being pitted against one so aged; but a few
moments' play convinced him that Radzivil's arm had lost little of its
youthful strength, or of its suppleness and dexterity. Paul, however,
was decidedly the superior; and, within the space of five minutes he
succeeded in disarming the count, whose blade flying through the air
would have struck Katina, had she not adroitly warded it off with her
own fencing-foil.

Zabern, who had watched Paul with eyes that had hardly winked once,
seemed pleased with the result.

"An accident!" commented Dorislas, really believing the premier to
have been the superior of the two.

He himself was the next to engage, and again Zabern watched every
motion of Paul with unwinking eyes.

As a swordsman Dorislas excelled Radzivil; but, heated with a desire
to vindicate the honor of Czernova, which he conceived had suffered at
the hands of the premier, he became rash, was more disposed to attack
than to guard, and the second contest terminated in less time than the
first by the button of Paul's sabre coming full tilt against the
breast of the Finance Minister.

"Fairly pinked!" said Zabern, evidently more pleased than before. "No
accident this time."

The expression of surprise and bewilderment on the face of Dorislas at
a result so little anticipated by himself was so comically pathetic
that the spectators could not refrain from laughter.

"You were a dead man, Dorislas, had that been a real duel," they
cried.

Paul was beginning to rise in their esteem.

Miroslav next ventured to try his hand, and once more Zabern became so
attentive that one might almost have fancied his own life hung upon
the issue.

Profiting by the lesson of Dorislas' rashness the governor of the
Citadel commenced in a spirit of coolness and watchfulness,--a spirit
that quickly evaporated when he found himself met at every point. He
gave more trouble than his predecessors, but in the end Paul succeeded
in twisting the weapon from his hand.

Zabern's pleasure increased.

"Good luck, not science," cried Miroslav, hotly, "I defy you to repeat
that trick, Captain Woodville. I must have a second bout."

This demand was not allowed by Zabern, though Paul himself
good-naturedly offered to grant it.

"Miroslav seems in savage mood to-day," whispered a fair lady to the
cavalier who was bending over her.

"He suffered a prisoner to escape yesterday," replied her partner,
"and as a consequence he had a _mauvais quart d'heure_ with the
princess this morning. _Hinc illæ lacrimæ._"

"Captain Woodville ought now to give his arm a rest," cried Katina.

But Paul, perceiving the favorable impression that he was making,
expressed his readiness to proceed without delay.

"I am now to be your opponent," said Zabern, taking up a fencing-blade
in his left and only hand, "and I warn you, Captain Woodville, to be
careful."

This caution was not without its need. Zabern was considered by those
best qualified to judge the second swordsman in Czernova, and Paul
quickly found that he had met an opponent nearly equal, if not equal,
to himself. The marshal had an arm of steel; as a warrior who had
faced the charge of bayonets on many a battle-field he was not likely
to become nervous in a mock-contest. Cool and wary, after a few
preliminary passes designed to test the other's skill, Zabern seemed
content to remain for the most part on the defensive, watching his
opportunity. Paul, conscious of the marshal's dexterity, was disposed
to do the same; and hence this fourth bout appeared somewhat tame when
contrasted with the spirited and dashing style of the preceding
contests. It promised to prove indefinitely long, till on a sudden
Zabern cried,--

"Hold, I have felt enough to know that I am your inferior, and as
such, Captain Woodville, I lower my sword to you."

Which he did in graceful fashion, and, oddly enough, seeming to be
extremely pleased over this acknowledgment of defeat.

"You would not have to make such confession, marshal," said Paul, "if
you could recover the good hand you left behind in Russia."

He turned to glance at his two remaining opponents,--Brunowski and
Nikita.

"If the marshal, the best of us all, admits himself beaten," said the
President of the Diet, "of what use is it for me to try?"

The trooper murmured something to the like effect.

"Give me leave," said Paul, "to retire from this silver line and to
move about freely, and I will meet my two remaining opponents
together."

"That were to take an unfair advantage of a man," said Brunowski,
resenting Paul's proposal as a slight upon his swordsmanship.

"Fair or unfair," growled Zabern, "step forward, both of you, and let
us see whether Captain Woodville can do it. If you deem his word a
boast, prove it to be such."

The ladies, too, curiously eager to witness fresh proofs of Paul's
skill, added their voices to Zabern's, and thus adjured the two men
came forward and faced Paul.

As plenty of space would be required for the coming bout, the ladies
arose, the chairs were removed, and a wide circuit formed.

"A thousand roubles to a hundred that the Englishman succeeds," said
Zabern to Dorislas, who seeing confidence written large on the
marshal's face, declined the wager.

This fifth contest formed a brilliant finale.

Smarting under what they considered contemptuous disparagement, and
eager to punish the vanity of the Englishman, Brunowski and Nikita
pressed hard upon Paul. Each was no mean fencer, though much inferior
to Zabern, and Paul was quickly compelled to retreat from the silver
line upon which he had at first planted himself. The previous work
seemed child's play when compared with this. The interchange of cut
and thrust was so swift that the eyes of the spectators failed to
follow the dazzling motions of the weapons. Despite their endeavors
the two men failed to touch Paul, who at last saw his opportunity.
With one powerful stroke he shivered Nikita's blade to fragments, and
almost simultaneously he planted the button of his sabre upon
Brunowski's breast.

The members of the assembly looked at one another in breathless
wonder. Among a people who, like the Czernovese, retain much of the
spirit of the feudal age, he is most in esteem who is best able to
defend himself. In one sense, therefore, Paul was the foremost man in
the principality. The resentment previously felt against him had now
changed to unalloyed admiration.

"Such swordsmanship was never seen in Czernova," cried Juliska.

"Ten thousand devils!" muttered Zabern to himself. "Why did her
Highness intervene in the duel yesterday?"

And then aloud he added,--

"Ladies and lords, we must all admit that his grace of Bora has much
reason to be grateful to the princess."

No one ventured to controvert this statement.

Zabern's eyes twinkled with secret satisfaction.

"Marshal," whispered Juliska. "You have some plan in your head. You
have been trying an experiment, I know you have. Come, tell me. Of
what are you thinking?"

"That the princess's coronation-day will be a very exciting time,"
replied Zabern, oracularly.

And this was the only answer she could draw from the smiling marshal.

"Beaten! The whole six!" cried Katina in a voice of grief. "Shame upon
Czernova! Captain Woodville will have but a poor opinion of us. Let us
show, however, that we can shoot if we cannot fence."

With this Katina directed one of the attendants to hang a square
white-painted board upon the wall at one end of the hall. Then taking
her station at the other end with a supply of loaded revolvers, she
proceeded to aim at the distant board, the shots succeeding each other
with a rapidity that scarcely left an interval of silence.

The result of this firing was to cause a large oval to appear upon the
surface of the board. The revolvers having been reloaded, Katina
resumed her shooting. Now within the oval lines and curves began to
appear, the whole assuming the outline of a human countenance, and
that so well executed as to be clearly recognizable by those
acquainted with the original.

"Orloff, the governor-general of Warsaw," cried several voices in
unison.

"Czernova will never lack a good tirailleur so long as Katina Ludovska
be living," said Zabern, adding in a lower tone, "why have you learned
to shoot so well?"

"Can you ask?" she replied in a fierce whisper. "Against the day of my
meeting with Orloff. Can any one beat that shooting?" she added aloud,
with an invitatory glance at Paul, who smiled a negative.

A shout of applause went up in favor of Katina, who was considered to
have redeemed the honor of Czernova.

"Ah! why were you not born a Pole?" said Juliska, addressing Paul.

"May I not become one?"

"Then shall you be a better Pole than any of us," said Katina, "for
whereas we are such by accident of birth, you will be such by freedom
of choice."

"Well said, Katina," observed Zabern. "And never was there one whom I
more willingly admit to Czernovese citizenship. But Captain
Woodville," he added, thoughtfully, "it will be well if you remain a
British subject for a few more days. Why, the sequel will show."

And Paul, believing that Zabern did not speak without good reason,
assented to the delay.

There was no more fencing in the _salle d'armes_ that day. The members
shrank from displaying their inferior powers before such an expert as
Paul. The assembly broke up into little groups.

"And how fares our ducal prisoner?" asked Radzivil, addressing the
governor of the Citadel.

"In somewhat gloomy mood," answered Miroslav. "He spends his time
chiefly in drinking old Rhenish, and in muttering to himself. By the
way, he did a very peculiar act immediately after entering the Citadel
last evening."

"Ha!" exclaimed Zabern, catching at this. "What was the act?"

"You know, marshal, it is our rule to search all prisoners on their
entering,--a routine from which we did not except even his grace."

"And what did you discover?"

"Upon his person--nothing; that is, nothing of consequence. But a few
minutes afterwards a soldier caught sight of the remains of a book
burning upon a fire that was close by."

"Flung there by the duke?"

"Without doubt. The mystery is how he contrived to do it without our
knowledge, inasmuch as there were several persons standing by."

"You recovered the book from the flames?"

"We attempted to remove it with the tongs, but the thing fell to
pieces; the pages were consumed; nothing but the leather cover
remained, and that all charred; upon it we could just discern the
title."

"And that was--?"

"'The Plays of Æschylus.' Now why should the duke desire to destroy
his copy of the Greek poet?"

"He had a motive, I warrant, and that a powerful one. I wish,
Miroslav, you had secured the volume in time. Æschylus, Æschylus,"
repeated Zabern, thoughtfully. "My classical scholarship has long
since evaporated, but if I remember rightly," he added, his
countenance suddenly lighting up with a new idea, "Æschylus wrote a
play called 'The Furies.'"

"True, marshal," replied Paul. "'The Eumenides' or 'The Furies.'"

Zabern, with excitement gleaming in his face, drew Paul aside.

"The clew to the cipher despatch!" he whispered. "The last words of
our friend Trevisa were '_the furies_'!"



CHAPTER X

THE DEED OF MICHAEL THE GUARDSMAN


Accompanied by Zabern, Paul returned to the palace, where he was met
by the court chamberlain, who conducted him to a fine suite of
apartments, which by the special command of the princess were assigned
to the new secretary.

Supplied by Zabern with the cipher despatch, and by the court
librarian with a copy of the "Eumenides," Paul, having first requested
to be left to himself, sat down to work out the cryptographic problem.

The paper given to him by the marshal was covered with rows of
numerals, separated from each other by dots.

The first eight numbers were as follows,--

     6 . 42 . 50 . 37 . 97 . 39 . 65 . 21

What did these figures represent? Certain words in the Greek play? If
the sixth word of the "Eumenides," the forty-second, the fiftieth and
so forth, were picked out and placed in immediate sequence, would they
yield an intelligible sentence?

He tried this method with the above numbers, but the result did not
encourage him to proceed.

It was not likely that the writer of the despatch intended to forward
such intelligence as: "Of gods and a name a daughter of an art was
seated into an oracle."

On reflection Paul perceived the improbability that the numbers stood
for words, inasmuch as the vocabulary of an ancient Greek poet would
be insufficient to supply all the terms required by the usages of
modern civilization, such, for example, as passport, banknote, or
rifle. And to clench the matter, Paul observed that towards the end of
the despatch there was the number, .8537. Now the total of words in
the "Eumenides" falls considerably short of that sum.

But if all the letters that composed the words of the play were
numbered in consecutive order from Π the first to ς
the last, then, indeed, the sum total would far exceed 8537.

Paul resolved to test this theory, namely, that 6 was intended to mean
the sixth letter in the "Eumenides," 42 the forty-second letter, etc.

Great was his delight when he produced the following result,--

     . 6 . 42 . 50. 37 . 97 . 39 . 65 . 21 .

       ν    ι    κ    ο    λ    α    ο    ς

Nicholas, the name of the reigning Czar!

Proceeding in the same fashion, Paul found that the numbers following
those which stood for Nicholas yielded the intelligible word ουναινεται,
"assents."

"To what does Nicholas assent?" murmured Paul.

"Let me endeavor to ascertain, since it is quite clear that the key to
the cipher is now in my hands."

Obviously his best course would be to go through the "Eumenides"
first, marking, say, every tenth letter with its proper consecutive
number. This done, the work of decipherment would take but a few
minutes.

Paul started on this most monotonous task,--a task that occupied him
more than four hours, from the necessity imposed upon him of verifying
his enumeration from time to time, for a single error in his
calculation would have confused the whole issue. And when at last his
copy of the "Eumenides" lay ready figured for use, the misgiving
seized him that perhaps, after all, his labor had been in vain.

"Various readings occur in the manuscripts of the 'Eumenides,'" he
muttered. "If the writer of this despatch has used a different edition
from mine,--_Dindorf, Lips._ 1827,--well, then, lack-a-day!"

Fortunately, however, the result falsified his misgiving.

Once during his calculations the eager Zabern had entered the
apartment with the question, "What progress?"

"Return in two hours, and you shall have the solution."

And the marshal had withdrawn, somewhat doubtful of Paul's ability to
make good his promise.

However, before the expiration of the two hours Paul had mastered the
contents of the document. It was written in Greek, and, as the
marshal's knowledge of that language was extremely limited, Paul spent
some time in endeavoring to produce a faithful translation. And his
rendering was as follows,--

     _Nicholas assents. So proceed quickly. Risk of discovery in
     transmitting document. Therefore burn as soon as seized.
     When done, report matter. Envoy will follow to demand
     production._

     _Lipski's measure approved. Money shall be forwarded by
     usual route. Let him bribe freely. The success of his bill
     Russia's justification. Impossible, then, for Europe to
     oppose annexation.--ORLOFF._

The signature seemed to show that the letter came from the
governor-general of Warsaw, the knouter of Katina, but there was
nothing to indicate the person for whom it was intended. Paul had
little doubt as to the correctness of his decipherment, though the
meaning was far from clear to him.

Zabern would doubtless be able to understand the allusions, and if the
marshal should not soon make his appearance Paul was resolved to go in
quest of him.

The night was now far advanced, and, having been at work several hours
in a close chamber, Paul was beginning to feel somewhat languid. He
therefore walked forward and opened a casement to gain a breath of the
fresher air without.

It was dark and cloudy, and as he stood looking forth a mournful wind
dashed rain-drops into his face.

The part of the palace in which this apartment was situated formed the
extremity of an architectural wing, which was fronted at the distance
of about a hundred feet by a second wing equal in length to the first
and parallel with it. These two wings formed with the main structure
the three sides of a court.

As he casually turned his eyes upon the opposite wing, at the point
where it formed an angle with the main building, Paul thought he
detected a movement on the part of somebody or something about
half-way between the roof and the ground. Straining his eyes to the
utmost, he became convinced that what he saw dimly outlined against
the gray wall was the figure of a man poised in mid-air; for as Paul
could detect no ladder beneath him, he could only come to the
conclusion that the fellow was suspended by a rope.

The man made no attempt to ascend or descend, but continued in the one
position; and as far as Paul could discern in the darkness his arm was
moving to and fro with horizontal motion.

Now just at the place where this man hung there was, as Paul had
observed earlier in the evening, a small window, a window crossed by
iron bars.

A grated window in a palace suggests the idea that the room thus
secured is used for the preservation of things valuable; at any rate
this was Paul's idea. He believed that the fellow was quietly
removing the iron bars with the view of procuring whatever it was that
lay behind them.

It was an extremely hazardous enterprise. True, the man was favored by
the darkness, and by the noise of wind and rain, but at any moment he
was liable to be surprised by the night-watch going its rounds, either
in the courtyard below or on the roof above.

Two sentinels paced the very battlements overlooking this court.
Earlier in the evening Paul had heard their footsteps overhead and
their challenges. Were they asleep? If not, they must be keeping a
very lax watch to permit this man to perform such work under their
very eyes.

Then the truth flashed upon Paul. The man himself was a soldier, one
of the two appointed to patrol this particular part of the roof. The
other was his confederate. Both were engaged in some nefarious work.
Treason was afoot in the palace!

Rejecting his first impulse, which was to steal quietly downstairs and
summon the guard, Paul resolved to tackle the two single-handed. As
there was no staircase from his room to the roof, he determined to
mount to the battlements by means of a water-pipe adjacent to his
window.

Thrusting a loaded pistol within his breast, he stepped out upon the
window-sill, and pulling himself up by the water-pipe silently and
quickly, he clambered over the battlements without detection. Keeping
within an embrasure, he peered out along the roof. There, a few yards
distant, outlined against the sky, was the tall, cloaked figure of a
sentinel leaning upon his rifle and with his eyes turned towards the
grated window.

Paul, glancing in the same direction, could no longer see the man
hanging in mid-air. A faint glow of light stole through the mysterious
window. Hence Paul concluded that the fellow was now within the
chamber occupied upon the matter that had brought him there.

Stealing noiselessly forward, Paul suddenly clapped his hand upon the
sentinel's shoulder, and, pointing to the grated window he cried,--

"Do you intend to arrest that villain, or are you his confederate?"

The sentinel instantly turned, with confusion and guilt written upon
his face. Misled by the uniform, he took Paul for a Czernovese
officer, and as such he was one that must be silenced at all costs,
for it was death to be caught thus in the act of treason.

Lowering his bayonetted rifle to the charge, he made a thrust at
Paul's body. But Paul, on the watch for this movement, sprang aside,
wrested the rifle away, and clubbing it, dealt the fellow a fearful
blow on the head. The sentinel staggered back and dropped to the
pavement, where he lay senseless and still.

Peering over the battlements to learn whether this action on his part
had been observed, Paul was surprised to see a blue light at the
chamber-window. The man was flashing a lantern to and fro, an action
that lasted for a few seconds.

Recovering from his surprise, Paul sped onward, and reached the
battlement to which the rope was attached.

Kneeling within an embrasure and glancing downwards, he perceived a
faint cloud of smoke proceeding from the window.

What was taking place within? Was the fellow setting fire to this part
of the palace?

It was not in Paul's nature to remain inactive while evil was in
progress. He instantly resolved to descend to the chamber for the
purpose of putting a stop to what he could not doubt was nefarious
work. Grasping the rope with both hands, he swung himself downwards,
not neglecting, however, at the same time to keep an eye upon the
window. As soon as his feet touched the sill he drew forth his pistol,
and without pausing to notice what was happening within the room,
without a glance, even, he sent his feet through the space between the
bars, a space barely sufficient to admit the passage of his body.

The room was in darkness,--this much he was conscious of as he shot
forward, and a smell as of smoke hung in the air. Paul fell supine
upon the stone flooring, but he was up again in an instant,
endeavoring to ascertain through the gloom what strange thing had
happened or was happening.

His attention was immediately arrested by a strange voice,--a voice
lowered to a whisper that was full of guilty terror.

"Is that you, Peter? What has brought you down? In God's name make no
noise. Gabor is on guard in the corridor outside."

"Then let Gabor enter," shouted Paul in a voice of thunder. "Ho!
without there! Gabor, Gabor, whoever you may be, here is a prisoner
for you."

Directed by the voice, Paul rushed forward through the darkness, and
with his left hand he clutched the fellow by the throat, intending to
reduce him to submission by pressing the barrel of the pistol to his
forehead. The uplifting of the fellow's arm sent the weapon flying
from Paul's hand, and next moment the two men were grappling savagely
together.

The soldier, for Paul could tell that he was such by the feel of his
uniform, was a powerful fellow, and desperation had now doubled his
strength. He knew that the chamber-door was strong, and that the key
was not in the hands of the sentinels outside; if he could overcome
this present antagonist in the interval that must elapse before the
key could be procured, there was a possibility of his escaping. He
wrestled, therefore, with all the fury of a wild beast.

Locked in each other's arms, the two men swayed backwards and
forwards, and then fell, rolling over and over.

Paul's cry, together with the noise of the scuffle, had attracted the
notice of the guard posted at the end of the corridor leading to this
chamber. The shouting of voices and the running of feet were heard on
the other side of the door.

"Ho! Lasco, off to the captain for the key. The devil's work is going
on within. How have they managed to get inside? Ah, by the window!
Melchior, up to the battlement, and cover the window with your rifle.
See they escape not! Now, Lasco, dolt! dullard! slowbody! don't stand
gaping there. Run for the key. The key, man, the key!"

"The key _is_ here!" cried a deep, powerful voice. And above the oaths
and gasps of his struggling opponent, Paul could hear Zabern's Hessian
boots clattering along the corridor.

"Lasco, quick! Yon lamp! hold it up!" cried the marshal. "Gabor and
Melchior, as I open the door, rush in and cover them with your rifles.
Now!"

The key rattled in the lock; the massive door swung back upon its
hinges, and the two sentinels, eager to learn what was taking place,
rushed in with rifles levelled, ready to fire at any one who should
offer resistance.

They paused in blank amazement at beholding by the light of the lamp
one of their own corps stretched supine and panting, with Paul
Woodville above pinning him to the floor by the throat.

"Why, it's Michael!" cried Gabor.

Even in the midst of his excitement Paul observed that Zabern was
carrying in his hand a sheet of paper which he recognized as his
translation of the cipher despatch.

"In time, thank heaven!" murmured the marshal, from which remark Paul
concluded that the mission of the traitor-sentinel was connected in
some way with Orloff's letter.

"Gabor, Lasco, Melchior, leave us. Close the door; retire to the far
end of the corridor, and on your lives stir not from that spot till I
call."

The three sentinels retired.

"Good-night to Michael!" whispered Gabor to his two comrades. "We
shall never see him again. I know that look in the marshal's eye."

Paul, little the worse for the struggle, released his hold of the
soldier and rose to his feet. But it was beyond the power of the other
to rise. Fear, inspired by the presence of the dark-frowning Zabern,
kept him motionless and mute. He sat the picture of abject terror.

Now that Paul was free to look around, he observed that he was within
a vaulted stone chamber, about twenty feet square, and but scantily
supplied with furniture. In one part there was a small iron chest
fixed to the wall with staples. Paul, by some intuition, divined that
Michael's nefarious attempt was directed against the contents of this
chest.

Zabern made one swift stride towards the coffer, and seemed relieved
at finding it locked.

Turning again, he folded his arms and faced the man with a terrible
frown.

"I shall not ask your object in coming here. You and I both know that.
So you haven't got it?"

Michael made no reply.

"It is still safe?"

Michael remained mute. He seemed literally frozen with terror.

"Why so silent, fellow? Your tongue wagged ever loudest in the
guard-house."

"When I first entered," observed Paul, "smoke hung about the place."

An enthusiastic orator in the Diet had once described Zabern as "the
man who had never known fear." The statement, if true at the time of
the utterance, was certainly not true now. Fear in all its power fell
upon the heart of the marshal as his eye caught sight of a passage in
the paper which he held: "Risk of discovery in transmitting document.
Therefore burn as soon as seized."

"Hell shall seize you, fellow, if you have done so!" he cried. "Did
you come provided with a key, then? Where is it?"

Still Michael made no reply. Zabern, following the direction of his
eyes, perceived a key lying upon the floor. The marshal placed it
within the lock of the chest, turned it, raised the lid, and saw that
the coffer contained nothing but a heap of charred parchment. Zabern,
his mouth drawn in an agony that showed all his white teeth, rose, and
with a dreadful look in his eyes turned slowly round upon the guilty
man.

A cry for mercy rang through the chamber as the marshal sprang forward
with drawn sabre. His was not a 'prentice hand; he knew exactly where
to find the fifth rib. A swift stab,--the fall of a body, and then all
was silent, save for the mournful plash of the rain outside.

Paul was shocked by the ferocity of Zabern's action, which had been
performed with a quickness that left no time for intervention.

"Without a court-martial!" he said, severely. "We act not so in
England."

"I dare not let him live to see those fellows outside again, lest they
should learn from him what he has done. Not a hint as to his deed must
ever get abroad; for he who knows it holds the destiny of Czernova in
the hollow of his hand. Not even to a secret tribunal must the truth
be whispered. And, Captain Woodville," continued Zabern, raising his
dripping sabre with so menacing an air that Paul immediately stepped
backward, and set hand to his own sword-hilt, "if I thought that you
could not hold your peace I would slay you, too."

"What has he done?" asked Paul, impressed by the marshal's strange
manner.

"The blackest deed that could be done against the princess, and one
that has destroyed the liberties of a whole people. Your decipherment
of the secret despatch has come too late to do us good,--too late. Oh!
the bitterness of it, by a few moments only."

"I am still in the dark, marshal."

"On what is the liberty of Czernova based? On the Charter granted to
us by Catherine of Russia. And that Charter is now burnt paper. This
is the first act in the drama. The next will be, as this despatch
shows, the appearance of an envoy from the Czar to demand on what
grounds Czernova, formerly a part of Russian Poland, claims to be
independent. What answer can we give? What title can we show? Without
our Charter we are completely at the mercy of the Czar. His ministers
will loudly affirm that such Charter was never granted, that we have
obtained autonomy by a lying statement, that all extant copies of the
Charter are based upon a mythical document, that its mention in
history is no proof of its past existence. 'Let us see the original,'
will be their cry. 'Produce the autograph signature of the Empress
Catherine.' Now do you understand the crime that this miscreant has
wrought?"

The diabolical nature of the plot struck Paul with a feeling akin to
horror. His thoughts immediately flew to Barbara, sleeping peacefully
at that moment in her distant quarter of the palace, all unconscious
of this new peril that threatened her throne. He felt little pity now
for the slain wretch lying at his feet.

"Why did he not carry off the document to Russia?"

"The secret despatch assigns the reason. It was more expedient to
destroy it as soon as it fell into his hands. The sequel proves the
serpentine wisdom of Orloff. Had this fellow concealed the Charter
upon his own person it would now be in our keeping again. Oh! I could
tear out my eyes for having kept such sorry watch! 'Warden of the
Charter' is one of my titles. A pretty warden, truly! Fortunately you
and I alone know that Russia's plot has succeeded, for those sentries
at the end of the corridor are ignorant of it; in fact they do not
even know that the Charter was kept here, in this, the Eagle Tower."

"I fear, marshal, that there are others who know," said Paul, picking
up a lantern with a blue glass slide. "This was flashed to and fro at
the window,--what else but as a signal to some distant watcher that
the Charter is no more?"

The marshal ground his teeth as he recognized the force of Paul's
inference.

"Then we may expect the Czar's envoy at an early date," he replied.
"This villain," he continued, examining the window, "gained ingress by
removing the concrete in which the bars were embedded,--a task which
must have occupied two or three nights. What were the patrol on the
roof doing to allow of this?"

"He himself was one of the patrol," said Paul, quickly adding, "Ah!
that reminds me. There is a second fellow on the battlements whom I
knocked senseless with his own rifle."

"Another? By heaven, Captain Woodville, you have done wrong in
forgetting him. If he should have escaped with the tidings of what has
been done!"

Zabern darted from the chamber, and, rushing past the three sentinels
standing at the end of the corridor, he ran up a winding staircase
that led to the roof. He was closely followed by Paul. The
traitor-sentry was still lying in the place where Paul had left him.
Zabern's examination did not last a moment.

"He will never play the traitor again," remarked the marshal. "You
have shattered his skull for him. And without a court-martial, too!"
he added, dryly.

Having called up Gabor and his two companions, Zabern directed them to
inter the two bodies, at the same time enjoining the trio to observe
strict secrecy upon the events of that night; after which orders he
proceeded to pace moodily to and fro upon the battlements in company
with Paul, who, puzzled by one circumstance in the affair, sought
enlightenment of the marshal.

"Since Orloff's letter authorizing the plot was not delivered to its
intended recipient but fell into your hands, how comes it that the
plot has nevertheless been carried out?"

"Two messengers may have been sent, each carrying a similar
communication; or it may be that when Russakoff did not return within
an assigned time, Orloff, growing alarmed, despatched a second letter,
which, alas! has produced the desired result."

"Do you believe that the Czar is really accessory to this plot?"

"Accessory? Why not its author?" queried Zabern, ever ready to see in
the Czar the incarnation of wickedness. "There is a Byzantine finesse
about this plot which accords very well with the character of
Nicholas, who has been styled a 'Greek of the Lower Empire.' But
whether accessory or not, be sure that he will avail himself of the
weapon with which the action of his subordinates has supplied him. You
know who works the plot on this side of the Czernovese border."

"The Duke of Bora?"

"Who but he? And yet I still lack decisive proof of his treason. I
fear I acted somewhat too hastily in slaying Michael the guardsman. I
should have endeavored first to extract the names of his principals. I
am without hold upon the duke."

Paul here ventured to remind the marshal of Bora's suspicious conduct
in burning his copy of the poet Æschylus.

"True," replied Zabern, "that the cipher despatch depends for its
solution upon 'The Eumenides,' and equally true that the duke burns a
book containing this same play. But what of that? 'Mere coincidence,'
his defenders would reply. Besides, I dare not bring the duke to
trial, either secretly or openly, upon this charge."

"'I dare not' from the marshal!"

"Why, consider. I should have to proclaim to his judges the startling
fact that Czernova is now without her Charter, a secret that must be
kept concealed from all men; nay, even from the princess herself.
Captain Woodville, let not her Highness know of this loss. She has
political embarrassments enough already. Why should we spring a new
trouble upon her?"

"Count me tongue-tied, marshal, where the princess's peace of mind is
concerned."

Zabern continued to pace backwards and forwards, glancing from time to
time at the translation of the cipher letter which he still held in
his hand, and muttering language, the drift of which was not
altogether clear to Paul.

"What is this? Lipski's measure approved because its success would
justify Russia in annexing Czernova. Ha! so that's the motive that
prompts Lipski's action. His bill is aimed not so much at the Catholic
Church of Czernova as at the Convent of the Transfiguration. Some
inkling of the interior workings of that monastery has reached him,
and he would fain turn the light of publicity upon them. No wonder
that Orloff desires this bill to pass, and that he is sending Lipski
rouble-notes with which to corrupt the Polish members of the Diet.
'Money shall be forwarded by usual route.' Ha! I'll set a watch on
Lipski, and on those who visit him. 'T were no great shame if some of
those rouble-notes should find their way to our own Exchequer. Humph!
Czernova at present is in a truly critical state. But, no matter," he
added, with his face grimly set, "let perils come! They shall find me
equal to them. What said Peter the Great: 'It takes three Jews to
outwit a Russian'? It will take a good many Russians to outwit a
Zabern."



CHAPTER XI

THE ENVOY OF THE CZAR


Next morning Paul by command attended in the White Saloon, where,
under the sweet tuition of the princess herself, he was initiated into
the duties of his new office. Doubtless his affection for Barbara
caused him to infuse into his work an earnestness and an energy which
he might not otherwise have felt; however, be that as it may, when in
the course of a few days Barbara avowed that he was an ideal
secretary, she was uttering no empty compliment.

Those who had ascribed Paul's appointment to love on the part of the
princess were somewhat perplexed on observing the demeanor of each
towards the other, for, however tender and familiar their intercourse
in private, they did not permit their affection to betray itself in
public by look, word, or sign, Paul always evincing the modest
deference of an inferior, while Barbara maintained towards her new
secretary the authoritative dignity of a princess. The quick-witted
Zabern was not to be deceived by this acting, but whatever he may have
thought of the wisdom of the princess's choice, the prudent marshal
kept his own counsel; for, strange as the statement might have sounded
to the rest of the Czernovese ministry, Paul's sword, and his alone,
would be absolutely indispensable to the security of the princess's
crown in a certain contingency of the future, as the marshal, who was
a far-seeing man, very well knew.

As regards Cardinal Ravenna that ecclesiastic had smiled sourly to
himself on hearing of Paul's appointment to the secretaryship, but he
did not deem the time yet ripe to electrify Czernovese with the
announcement that their princess was not Natalie Lilieska. Indeed on
the third day after the interrupted duel Ravenna had received a
summons from Rome to attend an important conclave there. The cardinal
much preferred Slavowitz to the Vatican. Barbara's attitude of
defiance towards himself, together with the friendship that had so
suddenly sprung up betwixt Zabern and Paul, gave him much uneasiness;
but as it was not to his interest to disobey the command of Pio Nono
the cardinal had departed for Rome, and for a time Barbara was
relieved from his menacing presence. But for a time only. He would
return, and his return would be the beginning of trouble.

So passed many days during which the Duke of Bora remained a prisoner
in the Citadel, though Barbara's action in detaining him there without
trial had been the subject of a very pertinent question in the Diet by
Lipski, the Muscovite deputy for Russograd, a question to which Zabern
had curtly answered that it was a matter which did not concern the
honorable deputy; whereupon the said honorable deputy made reply (and
it took him two hours to say it) that inasmuch as the duke was a
member of the Diet, it did concern both himself and every other
member; and that freedom had come to a pretty pass in Czernova when
deputies who gave offence could be arrested by the arbitrary will of
an irresponsible maiden, and could even find ministers to defend her
action. When Lipski had sat down amid the cheers of his Muscovite
supporters, Zabern deprived the tirade of most of its points by
showing that the duke had made a voluntary surrender of himself with
full knowledge that he would be detained during the princess's
pleasure, and that if the duke on reflection had repented of the step
he had taken, it was quite open to him to appeal to the law of
Czernova, which was more powerful even than the will of the princess.

But Bora declined this course, knowing that if he should be tried in a
legal way his sentence would be an imprisonment of six months;
therefore, though chafing daily and secretly vowing vengeance upon
Paul, he deemed it more politic to await the pleasure of the princess.

This debate in the Diet did not cause Barbara to release the duke one
day earlier than the time previously fixed by her, for the fair ruler
of Czernova could be extremely self-willed when she chose, as those
who had opposed her had often found to their cost.

One morning as Paul entered the White Saloon to commence his usual
duties, Barbara, with a glance at his face, said,--

"The mark has disappeared from your cheek, Paul, and therefore it is
time for the release of Bora, according to my word; unless," she
added, deferentially, "unless you are opposed to it."

Though lacking proof, Paul did not doubt that the duke was a traitor;
and, moreover, he strongly suspected him of having instigated the
assassination of Trevisa; otherwise it mattered little to Paul whether
Bora was free man or prisoner.

He offered, however, no opposition to the duke's release, feeling not
a little flattered that the princess should have submitted such a
question to himself.

An order was accordingly despatched to the governor of the Citadel for
the liberation of the duke; and now Barbara braced her mind to meet
the fresh trouble that she felt to be in store for her. "For," she
murmured to herself with a sigh, "when Bora shall hear from my own
lips that he must abandon the idea of marrying me, he is certain to
become my enemy." Here, however, Barbara erred in supposing that
antagonism from the duke would be a new thing, inasmuch as Bora could
hardly become a greater enemy in the future than he had been in the
past. That same evening Paul in the quietude of his own compartment
received a visit from Zabern, who looked somewhat more grave than
usual.

"You were quite right in your opinion," he remarked, "that the blue
light flashed at the window by Michael the guardsman was a signal to
some distant watcher. The loss of our Charter has become known to
others. The plot is developing. Whom, think you, we shall have in
Slavowitz on the third day from this? Feodor Orloff!"

"Feodor Orloff!"

"None but he. He comes in the sacred character of envoy of the Czar,
desiring an audience of the Princess of Czernova. You can guess the
object of his coming?"

"To demand a view of the Czernovese Charter!"

"What but that?"

"Marshal, we do wrong in continuing to conceal the truth from the
princess. She is of firm and courageous mind, and can bear to hear of
the loss. If, after the envoy shall have formulated his demand, she
should send for the Charter--what then?"

"But she will not send for it. I have counselled her to resist that,
and every other demand made by the envoy. The princess will assume an
attitude of graceful refusal. Trust me, she will know how to evade his
demands. When it is a matter of diplomatic finesse and word-fencing,
she can leave her ministers far behind."

Three days later at noon the Princess Natalie Lilieska--to employ her
state-name--prepared to give audience to Count Feodor Orloff, the
governor-general of Warsaw, and envoy extraordinary of his Imperial
Majesty the Czar, Nicholas the First.

A few minutes previous to this interview a singular scene took place
in a private apartment of the palace reserved for the use of Zabern.
Just as the marshal was preparing to quit this sanctum to attend the
reception of the envoy, the door opened, and Katina Ludovska appeared
escorted by a file of troopers. The latter having saluted, withdrew,
leaving Katina alone with the marshal.

"So my spies have found you at last," he said, with an air of grim
satisfaction. "Where have you been hiding for the last two days?"

"It is true, then, that I have been arrested by your orders?" she
cried with an angry flash of her eyes.

"Quite true. This apartment must be your abode for the next few days.
See how pretty I have made it for you by introducing into it some of
the princess's own furniture and hangings! True, the windows are
barred, but you will not mind such trifles."

"Why am I here?"

"For the saving of your life. Do you know, Katina, that if you should
shoot Orloff, I, as Minister of Justice, would have to see that you
were hanged?"

"So you have divined my purpose?" she said, with a bitter smile.

"And must frustrate it. Come, Katina, be sensible. Would you violate
the common law of nations? In assassinating the Czar's ambassador you
would be playing the very devil with the public safety. Nicholas would
have good pretext, then, for annexing Czernova."

"And you would rob me of my vengeance?" she said with a gesture of
despair. "What other opportunity shall I ever have? Long ago would I
have entered Russia to slay him, but that my face is known to all the
police agents there. The moment I set foot over the frontier I should
be seized and sent again to Orenburg."

"I sympathize with you, and probably if I were Katina I should be
tempted to do even as she would. But I am Zabern, you see, and the
princess's government is my first care. Were Orloff in neutral
territory you might shoot him without hindrance from me--and glad
would I be to hear of his death--but on Czernovese ground--no! We
should have to respect the devil himself if he should come in the
character of ambassador."

The distant fanfare of trumpets now rose and fell on the air, signal
that the envoy had arrived at the entrance of the palace.

The sound seemed to madden Katina.

"Is he come here in pomp, to be graciously received by the princess,
to be feasted by her ministers, while I, his victim, scarred with the
knout for refusing to become his plaything, am to remain still and do
nothing to avenge myself? Your state policy to the winds," she cried
passionately. "Stand aside. You shall not stay my hand."

She made as if she would have escaped from the apartment, but Zabern,
on the watch for this movement, intercepted her and placed his back
against the door.

"Nay, Katina, here you must remain till Orloff shall have quitted
Czernova."

She recognized the futility of resistance, and turning away with her
face very white, and speaking very slowly, she said,--

"Then if you prevent me from killing Orloff I will kill myself." Her
words startled Zabern from his cynical composure. For a moment he
hesitated whether to leave her, for Katina looked as if she fully
intended to carry out her threat.

"Be it so," he said, coldly. "The guilt will not be mine. Better that
maid perish by her own hand than that the liberties of a whole people
be destroyed."

With that saying the marshal withdrew and having locked the door upon
Katina, he darkly wended his way to the audience chamber.

With a view of rendering due honor to the imperial envoy it had been
decided by Barbara that the reception should be attended with
considerable pomp.

The Throne Hall was accordingly chosen as the place of interview--a
magnificent apartment, its vaulted roof fretted with gold. The
frescoes and pictures were adapted to appeal to the patriotism of
those present, portraying, as they did, some of the noblest events in
Polish history; among them the envoy might have seen more than one
Russian defeat by Polish arms.

Ranged round the saloon, with back to the wall, were the finest and
loftiest of the princess's uhlans. Clad in gleaming breastplates, and
with burnished lances erect, they seemed in their rigidity and silence
more like statues than men.

Barbara occupied the throne, a slender gold diadem resting on her dark
hair, a purple robe of state looped gracefully over her dainty white
attire.

On each side of the throne were her ministers, and the chief of her
nobility. Patriots to a man, animated by a spirit of defiance to
Russia, ardent for the restoration of Poland, they formed a chivalric
band ready to die in defence of their fair princess.

The scene was striking and poetical; and more than once Paul, who was
present, received a secret glance from Barbara, as if she would fain
invite him to contrast her present state with that of the forlorn
maiden wandering in the Dalmatian forest; and truly, it was a
marvellous and brilliant contrast.

The emissary of the Czar was a man of giant stature clad in a gorgeous
uniform. His countenance gave indications of a harsh and arrogant
nature, nor did his countenance belie him; as a matter of fact he had
been purposely selected by the Russian ministry in order that his
objectionable manners, combined with the catechetical character of his
mission might provoke recriminatory language from the young and proud
princess, language that might afford Russia pretext for a quarrel with
Czernova. Therefore Barbara, warned of this beforehand by Zabern, had
determined that the envoy's speech, however provocative, should not
tempt her to play the enemy's game.

To Paul and Zabern he was an object of secret loathing, both as the
knouter of Katina, and also as an accessory to, if not the actual
author of, the plot which had resulted in the destruction of the
Czernovese Charter. Hard necessity precluded them from denouncing the
hypocrisy of the man who came to demand the production of what he had
himself destroyed.

"His grandfather did a noble deed," remarked Zabern in a whisper to
Paul.

"What did his grandfather do?"

"He strangled a Czar," replied Zabern, grimly. "What?" he continued,
noting Paul's look of surprise, "did you not know that we have here
the grandson of Gregory Orloff?"

Unjust as it may be to be influenced by the ill-deeds of a man's
grandsire, Paul nevertheless found his aversion to Orloff increasing,
that such a creature should be appointed ambassador to stand in the
presence of the pure and sweet Barbara! Orloff had removed his
leathern gauntlets, and Paul could not avoid glancing from time to
time at his large and knotted hands as if they were the same mighty
palms that had squeezed out the breath from the windpipe of the
unhappy Peter the Third.

With an odd mixture of humility and pride, the envoy knelt before the
throne, and having presented his credentials to the princess, he rose
again to his full height, and began to speak in a loud voice, and with
a sweeping glance that took in the whole assembly.

"Nicholas Paulovitch, Autocrat of all the Russias"--Here the envoy
proceeded to enumerate a variety of titles, among which there figured
"King of Poland,"--a title which made the more ardent patriots
whisper, "For how long?"--"Nicholas Paulovitch, as Head of the Holy
Greek Church throughout the world, is interested in learning whether
the Princess of Czernova has seceded from that Church."

Among Barbara's audience there was only one person who knew that
secession was not a term to apply to her conduct. It was hard to be
accused of apostasy, but political necessity compelled her to submit
to the imputation.

"Though denying the right of the Czar to catechize the ruler of
Czernova on such a matter I will, nevertheless, give answer,"
responded Barbara quietly. "I am not a member of the Greek, but of the
Catholic Church."

"His Imperial Majesty would direct your Highness's attention to the
Czernovese coronation-oath, the formula prescribed by the Charter."

"How is that oath phrased?" asked Barbara.

"Its precise wording is: 'I swear to maintain the Greek Faith.'"

"And it is my intention to maintain it. The Greek Church shall meet
with no interference or oppression from the Catholic princess. Its
liberty and privileges shall remain inviolate."

Orloff seemed quite dumfounded at this way of explaining the oath.
Recovering from his surprise, he said,--

"That is not the interpretation put upon those words by the Czar. In
his view 'maintaining' is synonymous with 'believing.'"

"Not so, count," replied Barbara, firmly. "On this point we have
consulted not the forensic authorities of Czernova, who might be
suspected of favoring our interest, but the leading jurists and
statesmen of Europe, and they are unanimous in the opinion that the
coronation-oath does not bind the ruler of Czernova to a personal
belief in the faith of the Greek Church, but merely imposes the
obligation of maintaining it as an establishment _in statu quo_."

That the Czernovese ministry had been seeking the views of Europe in
the matter of the coronation-oath came upon Orloff as a complete
surprise. If the princess had spoken truly, the consensus of opinion
would seem to show that the argument by which Russia had been hoping
to exclude her from the throne was lacking in validity. An appeal by
Czernova to the arbitrament of the Powers on this question would
enable the principality to sail triumphantly in the teeth of Russian
ambition.

"I will report your answer to the Czar," replied Orloff, and with
mortification plainly visible on his face, he proceeded to his next
point.

"The Czar regrets the necessity which compels him to prefer against
the state of Czernova a charge of the violation of his own
jurisdiction in the matter of his kinsman, the Duke of Bora, who while
on Russian ground was summarily arrested by order of the princess."

"Have you proof of this alleged violation of territory?"

"How?" exclaimed Orloff in feigned amazement. "'Proof'? 'Alleged
violation'? The sacred word of his Majesty doubted?"

"I can of my own knowledge testify that his grace was on Czernovese
ground at the time of his arrest."

"We have our witnesses, Baron Ostrova, the duke's secretary, and a
Cossack sentinel."

A murmur of indignation ran through the assembly at the envoy's
insolent language.

"And you have the word of a princess," replied Barbara, with dignity,
"word purer far than that of twenty Ostrovas or twenty Cossacks. But
we have a witness whom even the envoy of the Czar must respect. My
lord of Bora, stand forth."

And to the surprise of those, unaware till then of his presence, the
Duke of Bora, who had been keeping in the background, came forward and
stood before the throne.

However great his sympathy with the envoy's aims, however much
embittered with the princess by reason of his imprisonment, he durst
not in her presence, and in the presence of other witnesses of his
arrest, state anything else but the truth.

With a forced smile he bowed to Orloff, his fellow-conspirator.

"As the princess avers," he said, "there has been some error on the
part of his Majesty's informants. My arrest took place on the
Czernovese side of the frontier."

The envoy grew more disconcerted at this, his second failure to
entangle the princess in his political net.

"A twofold offence has been committed in his Majesty's dominions," he
continued; "first, in the matter of the duel itself, duelling being
contrary to the law of Russia; and, secondly, in the matter of
corrupting by bribes a soldier of the Czar, a Cossack sentinel."

"That honest Cossack," said Barbara, sweetly, "whose testimony you
would have used against me?"

A smile rippled round the assembly.

Orloff flushed angrily.

"And therefore," he continued, ignoring Barbara's pointed remark, "on
the ground that they have broken the law of Russia the Czar requires
the extradition of the two offenders, his grace the Duke of Bora, and
the Englishman, Captain Paul Woodville."

"The latter at all costs, I presume," said Barbara, caustically.

A second smile went round the assembly; their eyes with one accord
turned towards the soldier who had foiled the Russian arms at
Tajapore.

"Captain Woodville," continued Barbara, and none but Paul knew what
pleasure it gave her thus to act as his champion, "Captain Woodville,
though resident in Czernova, has not yet resigned the rights of a
British subject, and therefore it will be more prudent on our part to
wait till the English ambassador at St. Petersburg shall have notified
to us his will in this matter. Till such time the question of the
duke's extradition must likewise remain in abeyance."

Barbara's finesse in throwing her difficulty upon the broad shoulders
of the British representative drew a sour smile from Orloff, who knew
full well that that potentate would never sanction the extradition of
an English officer on the grounds alleged.

Orloff was not slow to perceive the triumph of the assembly. It was
clear to him that so far in the course of his embassy matters between
Russia and Czernova would have to remain _in statu quo_, inasmuch as
the princess's policy afforded no ground for quarrel. But Orloff had
other arrows in his quiver, and he prepared to discharge them.

"The Czar would fain learn the meaning of the device on the new
Czernovese coinage."

"What signification does his Majesty himself attach to it?"

"In his view the assumption of the arms of Poland implies a claim to
the throne of Poland,--a claim at variance with his own lawful
sovereignty over that realm."

"Count, tell us whose arms are those?"

And Barbara here directed Orloff's attention to a part of the roof
where hung a faded white banner, its centre embroidered with the
figure of a double-headed eagle in black thread, a banner captured in
old time from Russia, and therefore no agreeable sight to the eyes of
a Muscovite general.

"They are the arms of Russia," replied Orloff sullenly, and wondering
why he should be asked the question.

"Yet that double-headed black eagle was the arms of the Greek emperors
of Constantinople," said Barbara. "If my armorial device implies an
aspiration for the throne of Poland, then must the Czar be credited
with an aspiration for the throne of the Sultan. Are the chancelleries
of Europe to understand that such is his aim?"

Again the assembly smiled. Nicholas's intention of seizing upon "the
sick man's inheritance" was strongly suspected at this time, but it
would not have been politic on the part of Orloff to affirm it. A
scowl stole over his face at this, his fourth defeat.

"As regards the arms of Poland," said Barbara, "I, as a descendant of
Polish kings, have every right to use such arms upon my coinage."

"But has Czernova the right to issue a coinage of its own apart from
the Russian currency? Is it permitted by the Charter of Catherine?"

"Marshal, cause a copy of the Charter to be brought."

"Oh! no, your Highness," said Orloff quickly, and interchanging a
significant smile with the Duke of Bora, a smile noticed and
understood by Zabern, "not a copy. We would see the original document
itself."

Barbara stared hard at the speaker, having no suspicion of his
sinister purpose in preferring this request.

"You would see the original document?" she repeated. "This is truly a
singular demand. As the Charter was signed in duplicate, why not
consult your own original, which, if history err not, was deposited in
the archives of the Kremlin?"

"We would, if it were there; but seek as we may, we have never been
able to find the alleged document!"

"Alleged document?" repeated Barbara, knitting her brows. "Did you say
alleged?"

"Yes," retorted Orloff, with an insolent sneer that brought all the
blood to Barbara's face, and caused the more fiery portion of the
assembly to half-draw their blades. "Yes; for the truth is," he
continued, glancing defiantly around, "Czernova never had any such
Charter as is commonly alleged. How the first so-called Prince of
Czernova contrived to impose upon Russia the fiction of a Charter
granted by Catherine is indeed inexplicable; nevertheless the council
of the empire has received ample proof that such document has never
existed."

Barbara's lifted hand quelled the wrathful murmurs.

"And without such Charter," she said, "it necessarily follows
that--will you finish the sentence for me, Count?"

"It follows that Czernova is as much a part of the Czar's dominions as
the rest of Russian Poland."

"Proceed a step farther, Count. Say that in reigning over Czernova I
have become liable to a charge of treason in having usurped the
authority of the Czar."

"His Majesty will permit you to plead ignorance."

"We commend his sweet graciousness. But I can claim the word of the
Czar himself that I am the lawful ruler of Czernova, inasmuch as you,
his chosen representative, have greeted me with the title of
'Princess' and 'Highness.' If you now deny what you have previously
affirmed; if you now declare it to be treason to acknowledge me as
princess--then you have caused the Czar to be guilty of treason
against the Czar! Truly, Sir Envoy, you conduct your embassy in
strange and perplexing fashion, and we would pray you to be more clear
of speech. For as touching your allegation that the Charter never had
existence, by your own mouth are you contradicted, seeing that you
yourself have cited from that Charter the words of the Czernovese
coronation oath. Are we now to understand that in your desire to
exclude me from the throne, you did not scruple to quote from a
mythical document?"

Surely no ambassador can ever have blundered more than Orloff! He was
evidently better qualified to bully a regiment or to preside at a
knouting than to conduct diplomatic negotiations. Thick-skinned as he
was, he felt the sting of Barbara's remarks, and his great face
reddened. He had thought to gain an easy victory over a young girl,
whereas it was now clear that in this contest of the tongue, the
princess was decidedly his superior. Zabern smiled grimly, much
regretting that Katina was not present to be a witness of her enemy's
humiliation.

"In using the terms 'Princess' and 'Charter,'" said Orloff, "be it
understood that my language was provisional."

"And so," said Barbara, with sovereign disdain curving her lips, "it
would seem that for fifty years Czernova has been enjoying its freedom
by virtue of false statements. Marvellous that during all this time
Russia has never once raised her voice in protest! Truly it says but
little for the wisdom of her statesmen in thus permitting themselves
to be duped for a period of half a century! But we would draw the
Czar's attention to a decree of the Congress of Vienna, and worded
thus: 'The principality of Czernova shall be governed according to the
Charter granted by Catherine the Second; and Russia, Austria, and
Prussia are herewith empowered to uphold the provisions of the same.'
That Congress must have had reason for believing in the existence of
the Charter, else how could they have spoken thus? In the face of that
decree is the Czar so ill-counselled as to deny the existence of the
historic Czernovese Charter?"

"That is his attitude, and nothing but its production in my presence
will set his doubts at rest."

"Marshal Zabern is the Warden of the Charter. He can quickly prove
that there is such a document preserved in the Eagle Tower."

"Pardon me, your Highness, not in the Eagle Tower," observed Zabern.
"When your Highness appointed me Warden of the Charter, I had the
document removed to--to--well, for obvious reasons I prefer to keep
its place of deposit a secret. The document you refer to in the iron
coffer of the Eagle Tower is a copy merely."

The natural unaffected way in which Zabern spoke almost imposed upon
Paul himself. It certainly imposed upon Orloff. Never did human
countenance change so quickly as did that of the envoy at this
moment,--the moment of his anticipated triumph.

The Charter in the Eagle Tower a transcript merely, and not the great
original! Then his plot had resulted only in the destruction of a
worthless document. Czernova stood as firm as ever!

Orloff's mortification found a reflection in the face of Bora. Paul
marked them both, and never did falsehood give him such pleasure as
the falsehood told by Zabern.

"After such testimony on the part of the marshal," observed Barbara,
"you will no longer doubt."

"Then I am to understand," said Orloff, "that you refuse to permit the
Czar's envoy to inspect the Charter?"

"The Czar exceeds his authority in making such demand," replied
Barbara with dignity. "By the decree of the Congress of Vienna,
Austria and Prussia are equally concerned in this matter of the
Charter. They have not yet called its existence in question. To a
joint embassy from the three Powers doubt not that we shall pay due
regard."

Barbara's attitude in thus associating the courts of Vienna and Berlin
with that of St. Petersburg upon the point at issue was diplomatically
correct, as Orloff very well knew. Unless the two other states should
act in concert with Russia, the latter had no power to compel Czernova
to produce its Charter. And it was quite within the range of
probability that Austria and Prussia, from motives of political
jealousy, would decline to co-operate in an affair from which Russia
alone was to gain.

Therefore, reflecting upon all this, Orloff began to perceive that his
plot for the destruction of the Charter, even granting that it had
been successfully carried out, was by no means so decisive a blow as
he had at first been led to suppose. Czernova might be without its
title to autonomy, but this difficulty remained--how were the Czar's
ministry to establish the fact?

A gleam of cunning suddenly appeared on the face of the envoy. He had
solved the problem.

"Is it not a part of the coronation-ritual," he asked, "that the
original Charter of Catherine shall be placed upon the altar, and that
the ruler of Czernova with hand laid upon it shall swear to maintain
its provisions?"

"That is so," responded the princess; "and we especially invite you,
Count, to a seat in the chancel in order that you may witness the
ceremony, and set your doubts at rest."

"I shall certainly avail myself of the privilege offered me," said
Orloff with a peculiar smile, incomprehensible to Barbara, but
perfectly understood by at least two persons present.

Fear fell upon Paul, if not upon Zabern. Though it might be easy now
to equivocate, and to devise plausible excuses for withholding the
Charter from the envoy's view, yet on the great day of the coronation,
the day that should be the brightest in Barbara's life, the fatal
truth would have to be revealed. How was it possible to replace the
vital document that had been destroyed by fire!

"I have discharged my embassy," said Orloff, bowing.

"Count Radzivil," observed Barbara, turning to the premier, "on you
devolves the honor of entertaining our guest, Count Feodor Orloff, so
long as he shall remain in Czernova."

But the envoy, his asperity not at all softened by the princess's
courtesy, bluntly averred his intention of setting out for St.
Petersburg within an hour from that time.

"Loyalty to the Czar forbids me to dally in his service."

"The Czar is honored in possessing an envoy so discreet. My lords, we
will retire."

Zabern was the first to draw his sabre, and to hold it aloft over the
head of Barbara; the rest of her adherents standing in a double line
imitated his action, Paul among the number; and thus the fair
sovereign, with a smile and a blush, and yet maintaining an air of
dignity withal, passed out beneath an arcade of brilliant
sword-blades, and amid a saluting cry from her soldiery of "Long live
the Princess of Czernova!"

She had gained a diplomatic victory over Russia, but none knew better
than Barbara herself that her triumph was merely temporary, and that
Russia would return to the charge at the first opportunity.

The assembly broke up. Orloff went back to the Hôtel de Varsovie, and
summoning those of his suite who had not attended him to the Vistula
Palace, he set off immediately for Russia. The Duke of Bora, with
bitterness rankling at his heart, followed the princess to her
apartments, determined to hear from her own lips whether it was her
intention to break off the marriage to which she had been so long
pledged. The ministers sought the palace gardens, where they discussed
the envoy's defeat.

"The Czar will not submit to such rebuff," said Radzivil, gloomily.
"Yet how could the princess speak and act otherwise if she must
maintain her dignity?"

"Aha!" grinned Zabern to Paul, as they remained behind in the Throne
Hall. "Did you mark the two traitors--the fall in their faces? They
are somewhat doubtful now as to the success of their plot. Orloff is
returning to Russia more than half-convinced that the Charter is still
intact."

"He has a lingering suspicion, however," remarked Paul. "You have
staved off the difficulty--but only for a time. What will happen on
the coronation-day when Orloff beholds a charterless altar?"

"Bah! I'll remedy that," replied Zabern, adding as he turned away,
"shall I see you at the bal masque this evening?"

"Without doubt," answered Paul; for had not Barbara promised to dance
with none but himself, a course she could take without exciting
suspicion as to the relationship existing between herself and her
secretary, inasmuch as her mask and fancy costume would disguise her
identity. "Without doubt," he continued, "for I am young, which is to
say, frivolous. But you, marshal, will you be there? I thought you had
a soul above music and dancing?"

"And such have I. But the masquerade held this evening by command of
the princess is something more than a mere _fête_; it is a cloak to
cover a certain political enterprise--what, you shall learn when the
time comes. Captain Woodville," added Zabern, mysteriously, "at the
bal masque of to-night history will be made. Till then, farewell."

With this Zabern turned away, and ascended to the lofty chamber in
which he had left Katina.

He opened the door, not without a certain fear that she might have
fulfilled her threat of suicide, but to his relief he saw her sitting
pensively beside the barred casement. There was a pistol by her side,
a weapon which the marshal intuitively felt was a loaded one.

He had expected to be received with reproachful invective, instead of
which she met him with a glad light in her eyes. She seemed totally
transformed from the vengeful maiden whom he had left an hour
previously. Zabern noted the change and wondered.

"Your imprisonment is over, Katina," he said, gently. "Orloff has
departed."

"I know it," she replied, "for I have seen him."

"You have seen him," muttered the marshal, glancing suspiciously at
the pistol, and doubtful now as to whether it was loaded.

"Yes. In departing Orloff and his suite took their way through the
palace gardens and passed within view of this very window. I could
have over-reached you, marshal," she continued with a smile, "for, as
my pistol is with me," she added, tapping the weapon, "I could easily
have brought him down."

"But the thought of Czernova stayed your hand?"

"No!" she answered, "no," murmuring the words faintly, as if speaking
more to herself than to him, while at the same time the soft color
mantled her cheek, "it was the thought rather of him whom I love that
kept me from the deed."

"Him whom you love?" repeated Zabern, with a touch of surprise in his
voice. "Love? Humph! I am glad to hear that word from you, Katina."

"Why so?" she asked, casting a glance at him, and averting her eyes
again immediately, when she observed how steadfastly he was regarding
her.

"It shows that you are human if you can be touched by that sentiment,"
laughed Zabern. "I have been accustomed to think that you were even as
myself."

"In what way?"

"Insensible to love. You know that my father led me in childhood to
the sacramental altar, and there made me swear to do my best to
destroy a great empire. Complete devotion to that patriotic vow--"

"Has extinguished in you every other emotion," murmured Katina.

"True. _Delenda est Muscovia_ is written on my heart in letters of
fire. Patriotism is the only passion that has ever possessed me. But
with youthful maiden it should be different. Because Poland is not
free must you, too, steel your heart against natural affection? And so
my pretty Katina has a sweetheart? And his name?"

Why Katina should look frightened, and why her face should turn so
white, completely mystified Zabern. As she remained silent he repeated
his last question.

"His name? No! I cannot tell it; at least--not--not to you; though
others know it. Nay," she added, wildly, "even Russakoff, the spy,
can taunt me with it in the public street."

"Others know it, even Russakoff?" repeated Zabern. "And yet you would
keep the name from me? Well, be it so," he added reproachfully. "I
should have thought, Katina, that you would have let your old friend,
the marshal, be the first to congratulate you."

Strange that Zabern, so quick to divine the plans of his enemies,
should be so dull at reading a woman's heart! Yet so it was. He really
had not the least idea as to the cause of Katina's agitation. He
thought it behoved him to find out. He had nursed her as a child on
his knee, and now with the tender familiarity of an old friend he
placed his hand beneath her chin, and though she attempted a faint
resistance, he succeeded in raising her drooping face to his own. The
strange wistful look in her dark eyes that met his for a moment only,
and then fell again, was a complete revelation to the marshal. It told
her secret as clearly as if she had spoken it.

"Katina!" he murmured, huskily, quitting his hold of her, and starting
back.

Katina herself sank on a seat silently and with averted face, the very
picture of confusion.

"What! am I the man?"

If silence gives assent, then Katina had assented.

There was a brief interval of silence. Then the affair seemed to
present itself in a humorous light to the marshal, for he began to
laugh.

"You love me! Me! the greatest knave in Czernova! a one-handed grim
old fellow like myself, twice your age, with an ugly face,
made--thanks to the Russians!--still more ugly by sabre-cuts. You have
a strange taste, Katina, when there is many a young and handsome Pole
willing to make you his bride."

"But none like Zabern," she murmured, yet hardly daring to say the
words.

Though the marshal looked upon Katina as the fairest maiden in
Czernova after the princess, yet the thought of wooing her had never
entered his head; but now, while he contemplated her as she trembled
like a leaf, looking the more charming in her confusion, the grim old
warrior felt within himself a power unfelt till that moment.

"Katina," he said, and never before had she heard his voice sound so
gentle,--"Katina, you may kiss me--if you like."

"It is your place to come and kiss me."

Zabern was making a forward movement, but ere he could take the second
step Katina was within his arms, and clinging as if she intended never
to release her hold. And it was evident that the marshal found his new
experiences far more attractive than the business required of him as a
minister; for when a minute afterwards a secretary tapped at the door
with the announcement that he was bringing state despatches, Zabern,
in a loud voice, bade him begone and carry the despatches to
the--well, a certain dark gentleman popularly supposed by the
Muscovites of Czernova to be a near relation of Zabern himself.

"And have you never before loved any woman?" asked Katina, as she sat
on the marshal's knee, and seeming to be quite at home there, too!

"Never; but now I shall love all women for your sake."

"I had rather you did not," said Katina, opening wide her eyes; and
then as she nestled closer within his embrace she murmured, "this is
more pleasant than to hang for the slaying of Orloff."

"Much more," remarked Zabern. "To shoot him would have been a very
inadequate retribution for what he made you suffer. One swift pang,
and all would have been over. Now I will point out a better way of
avenging yourself--a way that shall cause Orloff to eat out his heart
in vexation of spirit."

"But, Ladislas," answered Katina, for she had begun to call the
marshal by his Christian name: "Ladislas," she repeated, with a
pressure of his arms, "love has extinguished the desire for
vengeance."

"Humph! well, vengeance or no vengeance, there is a certain work to be
done, and a work, too, that must be kept so secret that I dare not
trust any one with the knowledge of it, save you, my second self."

"If it be a task that can be performed by a woman, let me be the one
to do it."

"Good! Is not this little hand," said Zabern, raising it to his lips
as he spoke, "that can use pistol so well equally skilled in handling
the pen?"

"And how can my penmanship serve you?" asked Katina, with wonder in
her eyes. "Oh, I see," she continued, with a mock pout, "you wish me
to become your secretary, and when I bring despatches to the door, you
will tell me to go to Satan, as you did to that poor fellow just now."

"This is how your pen can aid me," said Zabern. "Listen, while I
reveal to you a state secret unknown even to the princess and her
cabinet."

And here the marshal proceeded to whisper his communication, adding at
its close, "Now you understand the work I require of you?"

"O Ladislas, Ladislas," she said, gravely shaking her head at him, "I
believe you want to hang me, after all."

"I have hanged men for similar work--true. But this deed is a
pardonable one, seeing that it is for the good of the state. 'The end
justifies the means'--that's Cardinal Ravenna's maxim; and if a holy
churchman adopts that policy, why should not the profane Zabern
likewise? The plan I have suggested is the only way of defeating the
knavery of Orloff, and of saving Czernova from the power of the Czar.
Your hand is more expert and delicate than mine, else would I not set
it to this task. I dare not entrust its execution to any other, for it
would be hazardous to admit a fourth person to the secret. The
knowledge of it must be confined to Katina, Captain Woodville, and
Zabern. You will do this?"

"I will do anything you ask of me," replied Katina, simply.



CHAPTER XII

THE POLISH CONSPIRACY


On the evening of the day that had witnessed the envoy's defeat a
masked ball was held, and the halls and gardens of the Vistula Palace
were alive with gay revellers.

The centre of attraction was the spacious ball-room, where, beneath
golden chandeliers that shed a radiance brighter than that of the sun,
moved a crowd of Czernova's noblest and fairest.

The picturesque character of the dresses, the glow of color, the
perfume of flowers, the gayety of the music, and the rippling laughter
of fair masqueraders, formed a scene bewildering and intoxicating to
the senses.

Amid this throng moved Paul Woodville in eager quest of the masked
Barbara, who had refrained from telling him what costume she would
assume. If he were a true lover he ought to be able to penetrate her
disguise, she had playfully observed, and if he failed to discover
her, why then the want of discernment on his part should bring its own
punishment.

As he moved here and there witching glances were cast at him by masked
ladies, for as regards figure and dress, few were more qualified than
Paul to serve as a cavalier.

He had adopted the old Polish costume. With a four-cornered cap
adorned by a waving heron plume, silken "contuschi" that fell in
graceful folds around well-shaped limbs clad in tight silk hose, short
boots decorated with gold lace, and a curved, diamond-hilted sabre
swinging lightly by his side, Paul walked among the men present, the
noblest figure of them all; and many whispering inquiries were
interchanged as to his identity.

At length Paul caught sight of a graceful figure, robed in the
silver-gray habit of a nun, standing solitary by the entrance of a
corridor leading from the ball-room.

He watched and saw her with a pretty shake of her head repel in
silence the addresses of three cavaliers in succession.

As Paul drew near, the lady suddenly turned her head and flashed a
glance at him through the eyelet-holes of her black silk vizard. That
glance was sufficient, and in another moment he was by her side.

"Fair lady," he whispered, "why this sad costume?"

"Is it not the garb of innocence?" returned the lady in a low and
obviously disguised voice.

"True, but it is also the negation of love."

"And why should I not frown upon love?"

"Because you would be gainsaying the vows you made to me in the old
Greek temple."

"Ah, Paul! you have discovered me," she whispered, her lips smiling
beneath the lace of her mask. "Now I, in turn, will ask, 'Why this old
Polish costume?'"

"I adopted what I thought would most please you."

"And it does please me," she replied with a tender light in her eyes.
"And it is suitable to the character of the revelation you shall hear
to-night. Come, we will not dance just yet. Take me to the gardens, to
the Long Terrace."

Conscious of something odd in her manner, Paul, drawing her arm within
his own, conducted Barbara from the brilliant ball-room to the quieter
scene without, and on reaching a retired corner of the marble terrace,
he seated her beside himself.

It was a lovely midsummer night. The air was pure and temperate, and
alive with the plash and sparkle of numerous fountains. The silver orb
of the moon, set in a dark-blue sky, and the colored lamps gleaming
everywhere among the foliage combined to produce a poetical glamor
that might have gladdened the eyes even of Titania herself, the Queen
of Fairyland.

"Who could have thought," said Paul, after complimenting Barbara upon
the admirable manner in which she had out-manoeuvred the Russian
envoy, "who could have thought when we first met in that Dalmatian
forest that a great empire would one day demand my extradition, and
that you would bravely refuse to grant it!"

"And I will not surrender you, Paul. No, not if it should cost me my
throne."

How sweet it was to hear such words from this fair princess! She who
was a match for the Czar's envoy to set such store by him! This maiden
pressing tenderly to his side scarcely seemed to be the same person
who that morning had filled a throne with such dignity. Nor was she.
Love had entirely transfigured her.

"Paul," she said quietly, "I have told the duke that I cannot marry
him."

"How did he take the tidings?"

"He said little, but his face expressed much--"

"Much--?"

"Hatred, then, if you will have the word. Excluded from the cabinet,
and from the command of the army, he is not likely to sit down quietly
under such dishonoring. And," she added with a sigh, "he is a
political force to be reckoned with."

"Sweet princess, give me leave to resume the duel with him, and you
shall soon be rid of one whom you seem to fear."

"No, Paul, no," she said, laying her hand affectionately upon his;
"promise me that you will not fight with him again."

"Does the princess command?"

"No; your Barbara entreats," she said with a soft pressure of her arm.
Who could resist such an appeal as this?

"I do not doubt your ability to overcome the duke, for Zabern has told
me of your feat in the _salle d'armes_; but you forget that duelling
is illegal in Czernova. Would you have me send you to the Citadel?
Moreover, if you should slay the duke it would become the aim of every
Muscovite fanatic to slay you. As it is, I fear you will carry your
life in your hands, when men come to learn that you are the cause of
the duke's rejection. Czernova is but semi-civilized, and
assassination is the favorite political weapon here. I would, Paul,
that you would do even as Zabern."

"And what is Zabern's habit?"

"He wears chain-mail beneath his clothing."

"An uncomfortable arrangement, I should say. For my own part I will
rely on my right arm and on my good sword. Fear not for me. But,
dearest Barbara, will you not unmask, and let me see your face, if
only for a moment?"

She shook her head tantalizingly.

"I would if I dared, but who knows what eyes may be watching me at
this moment? There are Russian spies at this masquerade, so Zabern
assures me. I must not be recognized in this guise. Ah! who comes
here?" Paul felt her arm trembling upon his, as there moved slowly
along the moonlit terrace a tall and stately figure robed in a
monastic habit. His cassock was identical in its shade of gray with
the nun's gown worn by Barbara, and like hers, it was marked on each
shoulder with a red cross.

Having reached the place where Barbara sat, the monk paused, surveyed
her attentively for a moment, and then spoke,--

"May a brother claim a few words from a sister of the same order?"

"How know you that I am of the same order?"

"The 'Transfigured' cannot be hidden from each other."

"Paul," she whispered, "I must speak with this man alone for a short
time. Remain here."

The princess arose, and in company with the newcomer paced slowly to
and fro along the terrace, repeatedly passing Paul.

This proceeding on the part of Barbara was somewhat strange, but not
altogether incomprehensible. Paul had learned that the word
"Transfigured" was used by the patriots of Czernova in the sense of
one who, from a state of despair as regards Poland, had passed to a
state of hope. Its English equivalent was "conspirator." The term
naturally associated itself with the Convent of the Transfiguration,
and hence Paul concluded that this masked individual was a monk sent
from that very mysterious monastery with some important message.

The conversation, of which he did not overhear one word, occupied
about fifteen minutes, and ended by the monk passing some papers to
the princess, who immediately concealed them upon her person, an
action performed so quickly that Paul almost doubted whether it had
really taken place.

This transference of documents accomplished, the monk glided quietly
away, and the princess returned to the side of Paul.

Ere he had time to question Barbara on the nature of the interview,
Paul saw with surprise a second masked friar making his way along the
terrace. He was robed so precisely like the other that Paul at first
thought it was the same individual; but a nearer view showed that he
was of shorter and more massive build. There could be no doubt that
he, too, was bent on having an interview with the princess.

Was this sort of thing to last all night?

Barbara guessed his thoughts, and her teeth gleamed in a pretty smile
beneath the silken fringe of her vizard.

"Patience, Paul," she whispered. "This is the second and last. There
in the distance comes Marshal Zabern, and as I must have no secrets
from you he shall act as my interpreter."

On the approach of the monk the same interchange of words took place,
evidently a pre-arranged signal, and, as before, Barbara arose and
joined in conversation with the new-comer.

A moment afterwards another figure came upon the scene whom, in spite
of the mask and black domino, Paul recognized as Zabern.

The marshal sat down by Paul's side and fixed his eyes upon the
princess, who, a little distance away, was stooping over the
balustrade of the terrace, apparently engaged in the act of writing.

"What think you that the princess is now doing?" asked Zabern.

"One might fancy her to be setting down the name of a cavalier upon
her dance-programme, but I suppose such is not the case?"

"Captain Woodville," returned the marshal impressively, "you are
witnessing an event destined to change the map of Europe in the near
future. The princess is signing a secret treaty with Louis Kossuth,
the uncrowned King of Hungary."

Paul's surprise and wonderment can be better imagined than described.

"The princess has signified to me her wish that you should be admitted
to the circle of 'The Transfigured;' and convinced as I am of your
loyalty to her, I offer no opposition, knowing that if you should not
altogether approve of our policy, you will at least keep our secret.
It is our custom to exact an oath from initiates--"

"I will vow upon the Four Evangelists--"

"Upon your sword if you must swear at all, as our Polish chevaliers of
old when at church they recited the 'Credo.' Our initiatory oath can
be dispensed with in your case. Your promise is sufficient. The word
of a soldier should be sacred. You pledge yourself to secrecy?"

And when Paul had assented, the marshal continued,--

"Know, then, that Princess Natalie is at the head of a secret
enterprise,--'conspiracy' would be the Czar's word,--an enterprise for
the liberation of Poland from the Russian yoke. The two monks are
agents in this affair. The first is a Pole bringing documents from the
headquarters of the patriots at Warsaw. The second is a Hungarian from
Buda charged with the secret treaty from Kossuth. The masquerade of
to-night was held with a special view to their meeting the princess,
no other way being so well suited to divert suspicion; for with spies
all around us it behoves us to act with caution. The traitor Bora, at
this moment in the ball-room, little knows what is happening only a
stone's-throw off."

"But what interest hath Hungary in this affair?"

"Hungary is herself preparing to revolt from the despotic rule of the
House of Hapsburg. Next spring she will rise under Louis Kossuth,
whose triumph is certain. Hungary will again take her place among the
free nations of Europe. We in Czernova sympathize with the Magyars,
but as matters are at present we dare not openly aid them with our
army. Austria would cry to the Czar, and the Czar, availing himself of
the opportunity, would lose no time in annexing Czernova. We are thus
necessitated to give our aid in secret. Money is the sinews of war; we
therefore lend the Hungarians money on the understanding that they in
turn shall aid us when the day of Poland comes."

"And how much are you advancing?"

"One hundred and eighty million roubles; not paper money, mark you,
but sterling gold in coinage and plate."

The vastness of the sum--thirty millions in English money--filled Paul
with amazement.

"How has Czernova contrived to raise such a large amount?"

"But small part of it comes from Czernova. It represents the free-will
offerings of Polish patriots throughout the world for a long course of
years. Noble ladies have given their jewellery, the peasant his kopek,
ay, often his last kopek, to the good cause."

"And where is this treasure stored?"

"In the Convent of the Transfiguration. Yes," continued Zabern, "we
aid Hungary, and Hungary will aid us when the great day of vengeance
shall come."

"And when will that be?"

"'Russia's danger is Poland's opportunity,'--that is the Czernovese
motto. We are waiting till Russia shall be engaged in war with
England."

"Is such war likely to occur?"

"It is a certain event of the near future. In the School of Naval
Engineers at Sebastopol," said Zabern, beginning a statement, whose
relevancy Paul failed at first to perceive, "is a complete
representation of all the forts that line the Bosphorus with their
towers and bastions, together with the most minute details respecting
the creeks and currents of that famous strait; so that the Russian War
Minister sitting at Sebastopol with these models before him could
direct the whole plan of an attack upon Constantinople."

"Well?"

"Imperative orders have just been issued from St. Petersburg
commanding the naval captains to study these models; lectures upon
them are given daily to the naval cadets. Bearing in mind Alexander's
saying to Napoleon, '_Il faut avoir les clefs de notre maison dans la
poche_,' what inference do you draw?"

"That Russia is preparing to seize the Sultan's dominions?"

"Precisely. Will England permit this?"

"Not while 'Old Pam' is living."

"'Old Pam'?" said Zabern, puzzled till Paul explained. "Ah! your grand
Lord Palmerston, the friend of oppressed nationalities! Well, then, we
shall soon have an Anglo-Russian war. Your gallant armies and fleets
will be seen ere long off the shores of the Baltic and Euxine. My
faith in the bravery of your countrymen enables me to prophesy that
they will be victorious. And then will come the day of our triumph!"

The patriotic Zabern, whose days from boyhood had been spent in
struggling for the freedom of his fatherland, was now fully convinced
that success was at hand.

"Yes," he continued, his eye kindling with enthusiasm; "yes, in the
hour of Russia's humiliation, when her treasury is exhausted and her
armies demoralized by defeat, there will be an upheaval of Poland; no
feeble flash-in-the-pan this time, but a grand national uprising,
north, south, east, and west. Little Czernova will be to the fore with
her army of twenty thousand under Zabern; the Magyars of Hungary will
pour across the border with Kossuth at their head; there will be a
combination such as will compel Russia to part with the kingdom she
wickedly stole fifty years ago. When I was born Poland was free; I
shall die seeing her free again. And the princess--"

"Yes, and the princess?" inquired Paul, as Zabern paused in his
utterance.

"Will be a princess no longer. The patriots have agreed that Natalie
Lilieska, as the sole surviving descendant of the ancient Jagellons,
shall be the queen of resuscitated Poland. Queen? ay, and why not
empress? Is she not worthy of an imperial crown?"

Paul's head fairly swam at these words. The sweet, fair, dark-haired
maiden who loved him, and who clung to him with such touching
fidelity, a future queen--empress! He knew that Barbara would never
waver in her attachment to him; to what dazzling heights, then, was he
destined to rise?

He glanced at the two gray moonlit figures in the distance--the monk
and the nun--conspiring for the creation of a kingdom. How
romantically impossible seemed this scheme looked at beforehand! and
yet how many of the noblest events in history have been previously
declared impossible by political prophets!

"As touching your secret treasure," remarked Paul, "is there not a
bill before the Diet,--a bill to seize all monastic wealth and to
convert it to state purposes?"

"At this very moment the Diet is putting its veto upon the measure.
To-night was fixed for the second reading. Our Polish adherents are
assembled in full force to reject it. After to-night we shall hear no
more of Lipski's bill. It would be an ill day for us if it should
pass. Ostensibly directed against Czernovese monasteries in general,
it is really aimed at the Convent of the Transfiguration. The
Czerno-Muscovites have a suspicion that the monks of that
establishment do other things besides offering perpetual prayers for
Poland, and the suspicion is well founded. If public commissioners
enter that monastery they will discover not only our store of gold,
but likewise the documents relating to our patriotic conspiracy; and
more than these, plans and models of Russian fortresses, supplied by
our adherents in the Czar's army, who are not a few. The convent
contains arms for one hundred thousand men, gunpowder sufficient to
blow up all Czernova, and in addition new military engines. Some of
the inmates of that convent devote their time to chemistry and
mechanics; and in the coming struggle betwixt Poland and Russia we
shall have the first use of inventions destined to revolutionize the
old-fashioned methods of warfare. In the light of these inventions the
numbers of our enemy will count for little. Now you understand why the
Convent of the Transfiguration must be kept from the eyes of prying
intruders."

"I likewise grasp the meaning of that passage in Orloff's cipher
despatch,--'The success of Lipski's bill is Russia's justification.'"

"I admit the truth of the statement. The secrets of that convent, if
brought to the light of day, would prove that the resources of
Czernova are being utilized for the emancipation of Poland. And have
we not the right to attempt the recovery of the kingdom stolen from
our forefathers? Nevertheless, in the opinion of European statesmen
fettered by conventional precedents, our aim would amply justify the
Czar in annexing the principality. Therefore Lipski's bill must not
pass."

At this juncture Barbara, having finished her interview, returned to
the side of Paul; Zabern, desirous of a word with the Hungarian envoy,
went forward to intercept his departure.

"So Zabern has told you of our enterprise? What think you, Paul?"

"May the crown of Poland indeed be yours, Barbara. And yet--and
yet--the higher you climb the greater the gulf between us."

"You shall rise with me, Paul," she said, placing her hand tenderly
within his. "You, who gained fame in India, shall gain a greater fame
in the coming war, and then there will be no obstacle to our union.
'Let the princess marry merit and not title,' men will say."

This gave a new aspect to their love-affair,--an aspect which
appealed to Paul's dashing and adventurous spirit; like the knights of
a bygone age he would fight both for the winning of fame and also for
the hand of a lovely princess. If the patriotic conspiracy should end
in failure, alas! for Barbara's hopes, but so much the better for his
prospect of a final union with her. His good fortune, he trusted,
would enable him to emerge safely from the political ruins of
Czernova, and with Barbara he would retire to his ancestral hall in
Kent, where they would spend the rest of their days in quiet
happiness, and recall with melancholy pleasure the time when they had
plotted and fought for the crown of Poland.

Zabern, having parted from the Hungarian messenger, sat down on the
other side of the princess, and for a long time the trio talked of the
conspiracy. Among other matters, Paul learned that Katina was cognizant
of the conspiracy, and that all the cabinet likewise were participants,
with the exception of the two permanent members--Cardinal Ravenna and
Mosco the Greek Archpastor.

"I can understand your Highness's motive in keeping our enterprise
concealed from a Muscovite prelate," remarked Zabern; "but with regard
to Ravenna is not the case different? He would be extremely useful to
us in drawing the Catholic clergy of Poland into the plot."

"Marshal," said Barbara firmly, "I know the cardinal, and I know that
he is not to be trusted."

Their attention was diverted at this point by the approach of two
masked figures, each habited, like Zabern, in a black domino.

"Radzivil and Dorislas returning from the Diet," observed the marshal.
The premier and his colleague recognized the princess and Zabern by
their costumes, but glanced inquiringly at Paul, uncertain as to his
identity.

"Captain Woodville, my lords," replied Barbara, responsive to their
thoughts.

Paul drew aside, permitting Radzivil to take a place beside Barbara, a
courtesy which the premier gracefully acknowledged.

Dorislas with folded arms leaned in silence against the marble
balustrade of the terrace. As far as can be judged of men who are
masked and cloaked, both the premier and the finance minister were in
a very gloomy mood. Paul intuitively felt that they were the bearers
of bad tidings.

"Has your Highness signed the treaty with Kossuth?" began Radzivil.

"An hour ago. The Hungarian envoy has departed with it."

"I fear, princess, that the treaty will have to be rescinded. We are
doomed to lose our treasure."

"Say not so, count. The Catholic Poles form the majority in the Diet;
why should they desert both their princess and their religion?"

"This evening, as your Highness knows," explained the premier, "there
took place the second reading of the Secular Appropriation Bill.
During the course of the debate Lipski presented to the House certain
statistics appraising the wealth contained in the various monasteries
of Czernova. These statistics were, of course, purely imaginary--"

"For," intervened Dorislas, "if he knew the whole truth concerning the
Convent of the Transfiguration he would have put the amount at four
times his actual estimate."

"Just so," responded Radzivil, a melancholy smile appearing beneath
his mask. "Well, he attempted to prove by means of these statistics
that the monastic wealth would enable Czernova to be tax-free for the
next three years. The House eagerly caught at the bait. All the
Muscovite faction voted with Lipski as a matter of course; and many of
our side, charmed with the idea of a three years' remission of
taxation, likewise cast their suffrages in favor of the bill. The
members of our party do not know the reason why the ministry are so
anxious to throw the ægis of their protection over the convents, and,
of course, we dare not take them into our confidence. The result is,
and with extreme regret I announce it to your Highness, that the
second reading of the Appropriation Bill has been carried by a
majority of eleven."

"Ha!" muttered Zabern to himself. "Orloff's gold is doing its work."

"Was there a full house?" asked Barbara.

"Your Highness, every member of the Opposition was present; and on our
side there were but three absentees,--the marshal, the cardinal, and
the duke."

"The duke?" said Barbara. "I fear that his vote will be given against
us now, which will raise the majority to twelve. The marshal's vote
and the cardinal's would reduce it to ten. When does the third reading
take place?"

"It has been fixed for this day week."

"Ten votes against us," murmured the princess. "The transference of
six votes from the opposite side would place us in a majority of two.
My lords, we must win over those six votes, if no more."

"I fail to see how it's to be done," commented Radzivil gloomily.

Silence fell upon the little group. Truly, with the Charter destroyed,
and with Lipski's bill on the eve of triumphing, Barbara's throne was
in desperate jeopardy.

"Cannot your Highness refuse to sign the bill?" asked Paul.

"By the terms of the Charter," replied Barbara, "the ruler of Czernova
is compelled to sign every bill passed by the Diet. In the event of
refusal the Diet has the right of calling upon Russia, Austria, and
Prussia, to enforce the signature."

"And Lipski and his Muscovite crew would not be slow in appealing to
them," remarked Dorislas. "And we know what the intervention of the
three Powers would mean."

"If I should dissolve the Diet, and order a fresh election--?" began
Barbara.

"We should have the same majority against us," replied Radzivil.

"Insert a clause in the bill," suggested Paul, "to the effect that the
Convent of the Transfiguration shall be exempted from the operation of
the bill."

"Useless," answered the premier, "since that convent is the one
particularly aimed at."

"A clause giving her Highness sole power to appoint the
Commissioners."

Dorislas grinned.

"I moved that amendment myself, but it was rejected."

"Play Cromwell's game: on the day of the voting station troopers at
the doors of the Diet-house to exclude obnoxious members; or the night
before carry some off and detain them till the voting is over."

"Unconstitutional," said Barbara. "To secure the rejection of the bill
by such methods would be to court the intervention of the three
Powers."

"Secretly withdraw the documents and the treasure from the convent."

"With soldiers patrolling the precincts?" said Dorislas. "Lipski,
subtle knave that he is, has artfully turned our own bayonets against
us. Every one passing out of the convent is carefully searched."

"Bribe the soldiers."

"Lipski is alive to that manoeuvre. Day and night his creatures are
watching that monastery."

"Let the monks, then, bury the arms and the treasure within their own
walls."

"Lipski, who is certain to be appointed one of the Commissioners,
will dig up every foot of ground and pull down every brick in his
endeavors to discover something of disadvantage to the ministry,"
returned Dorislas.

Paul made no more suggestions; how, indeed, could he, when it passed
the wit of the premier himself to devise a plan adequate for defeating
the manoeuvres of Lipski?

"If the bill should pass," continued Dorislas, "I see but one way out
of our difficulty. The monks must contrive to steal out some dark
night, leaving a slow match burning in the powder-magazine."

"And we must lose the fruit of years?" said the princess, mournfully.

"Why, your Highness, consider what would happen otherwise. Here, close
to the Russian frontier, and commanding the highroad to Warsaw, is an
edifice, presumably a monastery, but in reality a fortress and an
arsenal. True, Abbot Faustus can destroy the treasonable documents;
yet, nevertheless, here will be found, because impossible to be
annihilated or concealed, a vast store of gold, rifles for one hundred
thousand men, and other war _matériel_. Vain would it be for the
Czernovese ministry to put an innocent interpretation upon their
attempts to keep the interior workings of this convent from public
view. The Czar would be wanting in common sense if he should not see
in all this a menace to his own dominions. His ministers, in fact,
already have their suspicions, and hence they are more eager than
Lipski himself for the passing of the Appropriation Bill."

"I note that the marshal has not yet spoken," smiled Barbara; "sure
proof that he is developing some plan. Now, Zabern, your enemies call
you 'the Asp of Czernova'; you must maintain your character for
serpentine wisdom by extricating us from our dilemma."

"Fear not, your Highness. Lipski shall not triumph. On the third
reading I, without resorting to bribery, threats, or violence, will
persuade the Diet to reject his bill."

"How?" asked Radzivil, who, desirous as he was of seeing the measure
defeated, yet nevertheless felt aggrieved that Zabern should propose
to do what he himself, the premier, despaired of doing; "how? what is
your plan?"

"To reveal it beforehand would ensure its defeat. My plan is one which
requires absolute concealment."

"Even from the princess?" said Barbara.

"From the princess most of all," replied Zabern with a peculiar smile.

This statement was naturally productive of great surprise on the part
of Barbara.

"We will accept your saying, marshal, though a hard one, and put a
check upon our curiosity. You have never yet failed to keep word with
me--"

"And shall not fail now, your Highness."

"Then," said Barbara, rising, as there came floating on the air from
the ball-room the slow, dreamy music of a Hungarian waltz, "then if
Zabern be on the watch, the princess may dance. Captain Woodville,
your arm. You were promised a dance. Let me redeem my word. But first,
marshal, guard these papers for me. It would be dangerous to let them
fall upon the ball-room floor."

And Barbara, having handed to Zabern the documents which she had
received from the Polish envoy, moved off towards the ball-room
leaning upon the arm of Paul.

This bestowal of favor upon her secretary caused Radzivil and Dorislas
to stare suspiciously at each other; but ere they could interchange
thought on the matter, their attention was diverted by the sound of
many voices coming from the direction contrary to that taken by the
princess.

Looking up, the three ministers beheld moving along the terrace
towards them a company of masqueraders, ladies and gentlemen,
fancifully costumed. All were laughing and talking gayly, being
evidently in the best of spirits.

"Whom have we here?" muttered Radzivil, eying the throng.

"He who would supplant the princess in the sovereignty," replied
Zabern, recognizing the central figure, who was garbed as Peter the
Great. "A barbarian aping a barbarian."

"The Duke of Bora?"

"The same, surrounded by his favorites and satellites, all jubilant
with the thought that Lipski's bill will triumph, and that the fall of
the princess is at hand. Let them laugh. Their gayety will turn to
mortification after next week's vote shall have been taken. Let us
uncover and tempt the traitor to address us. I am curious to learn
what he will say."

As the duke and his friends drew near the trio unmasked. Bora,
catching sight of them, stopped in his walk, and then came slowly
forward attended by his followers, all intent on enjoying the
presumable mortification of the ministers.

"A sad blow this, dear marshal, to the feelings of the princess,"
began the duke blandly, and lighting a cigar as he spoke. "It's quite
certain that the Appropriation Bill will pass."

"Pass? Oh! dear no. Nothing of the sort," replied Zabern in his most
cheerful manner.

"We have just been informed that the second reading has been carried
by a majority of 'eleven.'"

"The third reading has yet to come."

"Now, Saint Nicholas give you wisdom!" cried Bora, amid the scarcely
repressed laughter of his creatures. "Are you clinging to the hope
that the men who voted one thing to-night will vote the contrary seven
days hence?"

"I _know_ that they will," returned Zabern, coolly.

"There is certain to be a full House next week--one hundred and twenty
members, should Ravenna have returned from Rome in time to take part
in the division. Out of that number I venture to prophesy that seventy
will be found to reject the bill."

"Giving the ministry a majority of twenty?"

"Giving the ministry a majority of twenty," repeated Zabern.

Bora could only attribute this utterance to mere bravado.

"Marshal, I should like to know with what amount you will back your
opinion," he sneered.

"With whatever sum your grace is prepared to back yours."

"I will stake five thousand roubles--" began the duke.

"Oh! your grace, make it more than that," said Zabern affably.

"I will double the amount. I will wager ten thousand roubles that the
votes given against the bill will fall short of seventy."

"Let me have that wager in your handwriting, dear duke," said Zabern
blandly. "The like sum from me if ministers have not seventy votes on
their side, or a clear majority of twenty."

When the written pledges had been interchanged Radzivil spoke,
addressing the duke in somewhat indignant tones.

"And do you bet, then, on the success of a measure known to be hateful
to the princess?"

Bora shrugged his shoulders.

"This is a bill on which the best of friends may differ, as is shown
by the schism among your own Polish adherents. Remember," he added,
"there must be no underhand work to secure the passing of this bill,
or my wager becomes null and void. There must be no bribery on the
part of the ministry."

"We leave bribery to Lipski and his principal, Orloff; or shall I put
the word in the plural, your grace, and say principals," said Zabern
with a meaning smile.

Bora gave a slight start, which did not escape the other's notice.

"You see, dear duke," drawled Zabern airily, "we know all that is
going on behind the scenes. Governor Orloff in his palace at Warsaw
pulls the strings, and the puppets dance in the Diet of Slavowitz.
Next week I shall manipulate the strings, and you shall see the
figures dancing to my tune."

The duke began to grow somewhat uneasy under the knowledge displayed
by Zabern. In his previous contests with the wily Pole he had always
come off second-best. Was Zabern again to triumph over him?

"You talk boldly, marshal," he said with a supercilious smile, "but I
think I shall win my roubles."

So saying he passed on with his company.

"Humph!" muttered Radzivil, gloomily, "it's quite clear that, vexed
with the princess for excluding him from the cabinet, he will now
throw in his lot with the Opposition."

"Therein appearing in his true colors," replied Zabern. "There he
walks, a would-be sovereign, attended by a would-be court. _Carpe
diem, Bora, carpe diem!_ Enjoy your brief span of existence! The 15th
of September next will see your end."

"The 15th of September?" repeated Dorislas. "That is the day of the
princess's coronation."

"True; and if I rightly forecast the future, Dorislas, the duke will
not outlive that day."



CHAPTER XIII

THE FATE OF THE APPROPRIATION BILL


By a singular turn of circumstances the day on which the fate of the
Appropriation Bill was to be decided, and possibly with that bill the
fate of Czernova itself, was likewise the day appointed for the annual
review of the Czernovese army.

This marshalling of troops took place in a spacious plain a few miles
to the north of Slavowitz, and was presided over by the princess
herself.

The muster fell considerably short of that of the previous year, due
to the fact that many of the troops were engaged in the duty of
keeping guard over the numerous monasteries of Czernova.

Still, in spite of absentee regiments, the review was a fine sight,
even in the eyes of Paul, accustomed as he was to much more striking
displays. His frequent expressions of admiration gave pleasure to
Barbara, who had been somewhat dreading his criticism, anticipating
that he, as a tried soldier, might disparage the merits of an army,
whose mettle had never yet been tested in actual battle.

A peculiar and significant feature of the scene was the proximity of
the Convent of the Transfiguration, which overlooked the place of the
review. Barbara's landau was drawn up almost within the shadow of its
gray Gothic towers.

The weird chant of the monks, that dirge which had never ceased day or
night for fifty years, was clearly audible, mingling with the more
stirring and martial sounds without, and contributing to impress Paul
with the curious character of Czernovese civilization.

The precincts of this convent were patrolled by sentinels whom the
Diet had sent thither to prevent any removal of monastic treasures on
the part of ecclesiastics who might feel tempted to evade the
provisions of the pending bill.

With bayonets flashing in the sunshine, the sentries paced slowly to
and fro, their presence grimly reminding the princess that there was a
greater than herself in Czernova, to wit, the Diet. That legislature,
regardless of her wish in the matter, might that very night pass a
measure destined to disclose the secrets of a conspiracy of which she
was the head.

Nothing had occurred during the course of the week to lead to the
opinion that the Diet would change their views respecting the
Appropriation Bill; on the contrary, judging from the tenor of the
debates, it seemed probable that the majority in its favor would be
increased on the third and final reading.

No wonder then, that, though she smiled pleasantly upon each regiment
in the grand march past, winning all hearts by her gracious demeanor,
Barbara nevertheless felt a terrible depression of spirit at the
thought of the coming night,--a depression which all Zabern's
assurances could not remove.

The review being over, the princess and her suite set off for
Slavowitz. Paul and Radzivil sat side by side in the same landau with
Barbara, while Zabern rode in the rear at the head of a troop of
horse.

About a mile from the scene of the review the road for a considerable
distance was bordered on each side by thick woods.

As the carriage rolled on, the postilions beheld in the distance two
men by the wayside sitting upon the trunk of a fallen tree. They were
fellows of rough appearance, seemingly woodmen or charcoal-burners;
one, with a black beard, was holding a newspaper in his hand and
apparently reading from it, while his companion, a red-bearded
individual, seemed to be listening.

When the princess's landau was a few yards distant, these two men
sprang to their feet with startling quickness, and then it was seen
that the red-bearded fellow held a revolver in his hand. Raising the
weapon he pointed it at the princess, and took aim so quickly that the
postilions had not time to raise a warning cry.

Barbara, though her face was set in the direction of her would-be
assassin, saw nothing of his action, being occupied at the time in an
animated conversation with the premier.

One shot whizzed its flight clean through the brim of her hat; a
second bullet sang past her temple so closely as to scorch her skin
with its fiery glow.

Then as if overcome by sudden terror at the boldness of their deed, or
possibly fearful lest the advancing cavalry should prevent their
escape, the two men turned, without waiting to see whether the shots
had taken effect, and plunged into the woodland bordering the roadside
just as Zabern's voice was heard thundering the word, "Fire!"

A dozen carbines rang out simultaneously, but the discharge came a
second too late.

Paul and Radzivil, sitting with back to the horses, knew nothing of
what was passing, till informed by the report of the firearms, and by
the sudden change that came over Barbara's face, for the sight of two
men running away, one of whom carried a smoking pistol, apprised her
of the peril she had escaped.

"Princess, you are not hurt?" cried the premier, looking far more
terrified than Barbara herself.

"No," she answered in a faint voice, but with a smile, "they have
missed me."

"Thank heaven!" said Paul. "Count, remain with the princess while I
give chase to the villains."

The startled postilions had reined in their horses, bringing the
landau to a standstill. Paul sprang from the vehicle just as Zabern
with the guards came galloping up, witnesses of the deed which they
had been unable to prevent.

Perceiving that the contiguity of the trees prevented the passage of
their horses, the troopers flung themselves from the saddle, and
dashed after Paul, who had now disappeared in the woodland. Foremost
among them was Zabern with his orderly Nikita.

Plunging along a narrow path thick-set on each side with leafy
boscage, Paul caught sight of the two retreating figures a few yards
only in front of him. They were running in single file, their running
being of a somewhat singular character, and very like the leaping of a
kangaroo, the cause of which Paul soon divined.

He had drawn out his pistol, and while still forging ahead he took aim
at the rearmost figure, but the shot flew aloft almost perpendicularly,
for in the very act of firing he stumbled over some hidden obstacle.

Though dazed by concussion with the hard earth he was instantly on his
feet again, observant of the fact that the two men had now disappeared
round a bend in the path. He dashed swiftly onward, but had scarcely
taken a dozen steps when he was once more brought to earth by the same
sort of contrivance that had caused his previous fall.

The desperadoes had taken precautions to secure their retreat. Strong
wires at irregular distances, placed at the necessary height, and
concealed by the profusion of weeds and bracken, had been drawn
transversely across the path from tree to tree. The contrivers of this
device, aware of the exact position of the wires, had cleared them by
a series of leaps, and hence their kangaroo-like motions.

Those following Paul were tripped up in similar manner by the wires
which, spread over a distance of about a hundred yards, retarded the
pursuit, and enabled the fugitives to obtain a good start.

At a point a little way beyond the last wire the path branched off in
three directions through the wood, and a momentary halt took place on
the part of the pursuers, doubtful as to which track they should take,
since the fugitives themselves were lost to view.

The quick eye of Zabern detected a bright-colored object lying a few
feet away down the left-hand path. It proved to be a red cap,
decorated with a paltry leaden medal of the Czar, a cap declared by
Nikita to have been worn by the black-bearded individual.

"Then, forward," cried Zabern, taking the lead. "They have fled this
way."

The trio set off again, the extreme narrowness of the path compelling
them to run in single file. The ground, hard at first, gradually
assumed a moist and muddy character. Its appearance brought Zabern to
a sudden stop.

"There are no foot-prints here. We are on the wrong track. Back again.
The villains must have flung that cap into this path purposely to
mislead us."

Chafing at their loss of time, they ran back to the place where the
tracks diverged. Other troopers had come up by this time, and while
Paul and Zabern and Nikita took the middle track others hastened along
the right-hand path.

"They may not have followed the path at all," said Paul, as he hurried
along in the rear of Zabern. "They may be lying hidden in the wood."

"True; but we'll post through first, and if we find no trace of them
in the road beyond, I'll draw a cordon round the wood through which
they shall not be able to break."

"Marshal, did you see the face of him who fired?" asked Nikita.

"Not clearly."

"Russakoff the spy, or may I turn Muscovite."

"The red-bearded fellow was not tall enough for Russakoff," answered
Paul. "In fact both men struck me as being remarkably short of
stature."

"My eyes have not erred."

"Have it so, then," replied Paul, as he stumbled onward. "Let us but
lay hands upon the villains, and we shall soon ascertain whether you
be right."

A run of a few minutes' duration brought them through the wood to the
highway beyond. A quick glance to the right threw Zabern into a
paroxysm of rage.

Far off on the white dusty road which stretched onward in a straight
line, till it seemed to touch the horizon, three black objects were
visible, each moment dwindling in size.

"The villains have escaped us," cried Zabern. "They had horses
tethered here with a third man to watch them. See! here are their
hoof-marks in the clay. They'll be over the frontier within ten
minutes. I warrant they are well provided with Russian passports."

The trio hurried back for horses, but, by the time they had passed
them through the wood, the pursuit had become a jest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Night had fallen over Slavowitz.

Excitement was prevailing both within and without the Diet.

Beneath a glorious starlit sky in the great Zapolyska Square, which
fronted the broad and stately flight of steps leading up to the
entrance of the Sobieskium or Diet-house, now ablaze with light, was a
vast concourse of people, awaiting the stroke of twelve; for at
midnight the vote was to be taken on the Secular Appropriation
Bill--a measure which had been fiercely debated night after night
during the course of five weeks.

Poles, Muscovites, and Jews formed the bulk of this throng, but there
was a considerable sprinkling of other elements. Tartars, Cossacks,
Hungarians, Roumanians, Servians--representatives of all the motley
nationalities of Eastern Europe, elbowed and jostled each other,
talking, singing and cursing in a very Babel of tongues.

Diverse, however, as was the crowd, it fell politically into two sharp
divisions, the one eager for the passing of the bill, the other eager
for its defeat. There was no neutral party in that square.

So high did the spirit of faction run that Zabern's landau on its
appearance was overturned by a body of malevolent Muscovites, and the
marshal was compelled to lay about him with his sabre till the
military came to his rescue.

The indignant Poles retaliated a few minutes later by making an onset
upon Lipski, and that deputy escaped only after a severe mauling.

The game once begun was continued by both factions, so that it became
almost impossible for the succeeding deputies to reach the Sobieskium,
except under police or military escort, or unless attended by a strong
circle of their own adherents.

Cheers were given by the hostile sections as their respective
favorites were seen safely mounting the steps of the Diet-house
beneath the brilliant light of the suspended lamps; the singing of the
Polish and the Russian Anthems went on simultaneously all over the
square; there were ugly rushes, displays of fisticuffs, scenes of wild
disorder, that continued to deepen as the night advanced and the
throng increased.

Dorislas, who commanded the mounted cuirassiers drawn up four deep all
round the Sobieskium, was obliged to accord the crowd considerable
license, lest a too frequent interference on the part of the military
should lead to worse mischief.

The tumult and din that filled the Zapolyska Square penetrated the
Sobieskium to the distant chamber where the Sejm or Diet sat, the
Ministerialists or Poles to the right, the Opposition or Muscovites to
the left of the dais, where was the chair, table, and bell of the
President Brunowski, he who had been one of Paul's opponents in the
_salle d'armes_.

The presidential bell was in constant requisition on this particular
night, for the debate had taken an extremely acrimonious turn. The
temper of many of the deputies had not been sweetened by the treatment
they had received at the hands of the populace.

Lipski boldly accused the ministers of hiring ruffians whose orders
were to stop certain members of the Opposition from reaching the
Diet-house and thus to prevent them from recording their votes.

Zabern, pointing to his own frayed uniform and to the ugly scratches
on his face, replied that though it would be easy to retort with a
"_Tu quoque_" he would refrain; that the charge was absurd, for the
mob had bestowed their favors impartially upon both sides of the
House.

The Duke of Bora sat in the chamber, for though no longer of cabinet
rank he was still a member of the Diet, and he gave clear indication
of the way in which he intended to vote by vacating his usual seat and
taking a place next Lipski himself.

Lesko Lipski, deputy for Russograd, editor of the "Kolokol," an
anti-dynastic newspaper, leader of the Opposition, and author of the
Secular Appropriation Bill, was, as regards appearance, the very
antithesis of the typical Russ. He was slim and beardless, and dressed
in the latest Parisian fashion, though his costume at that moment,
owing to the playfulness of the mob without, was not quite the same as
when it had first left the tailor's hands. He had black beady eyes,
and his habit of constantly questioning ministers upon every topic
under the sun seemed to have permanently impressed his face with an
eager, hungry look.

There was in the air of the chamber that nervous feeling of expectancy
which always arises when the issue of a contest is problematical. On
the previous evening every member of the Diet, Pole and Muscovite
alike, had departed with full conviction that the Appropriation Bill
would pass.

The attempted assassination of the princess had given a different turn
to the matter by creating a feeling of sympathy for her, a feeling
which was likewise extended to her political views. To secure the
triumph of a measure known to be hateful to the young princess in the
first hours of her joy at escaping the assassin's bullet seemed an
unchivalrous proceeding; and those of the Poles who had hitherto
regarded the bill with favor now began to reconsider their attitude.

The attempt on the princess's life, deplorable from one standpoint,
was from another decidedly advantageous, and the ministry were hopeful
that they would capture from the Opposition the minimum six votes
necessary to secure the rejection of Lipski's measure.

Half-an-hour before midnight Zabern rose to wind up the debate for the
ministerial side.

His rising was the signal for a hostile ebullition from the Muscovite
members who dreaded Zabern's oratory. Not that the marshal was
particularly eloquent; far from it. He had all a soldier's contempt
for speech-making and for the "men of words," as he was wont to term
the Czernovese deputies; a military dictatorship was more to his
liking than a democratic legislature. Hence his voice was rarely heard
in the chamber, but when he did speak it was always to the point, and
his plain, blunt way of putting matters had often decided wavering
voters, and at that moment there were a good many wavering voters.

At first Zabern was unable to obtain a hearing. Every time he
attempted to speak, his words were drowned in a terrible din,
occasioned by the clamor of voices, the stamping of feet, and the
banging of desk-lids. Though the Duke of Bora did not join in yet, as
he made no attempt to check the tumult, Zabern strongly suspected him
of being its secret instigator.

For fully two minutes President Brunowski continued to swing his bell,
but without producing any effect upon the Opposition, whose intention
was plainly to continue the uproar till midnight, in order to prevent
Zabern from addressing the assembly.

Brunowski whispered a few words in the ear of an attendant, who left
the chamber and returned almost immediately with a file of gendarmes.
In the sudden stillness that followed upon their entrance, Brunowski
sternly announced his intention of suspending both from the sitting
and from the voting all future disturbers of order, a threat which
effectually silenced the Muscovite clamorers, who felt that in the
present conjuncture they could not afford to lose a single vote.

The marshal, being free to speak, began by affirming the obligation
imposed upon him of making some comment upon the recent attempt to
assassinate the princess.

At this statement Lipski rose.

"Mr. President, I must protest. The marshal is not in order. He is
evading the subject of the debate, which is the Secular Appropriation
Bill."

"The marshal will doubtless show the relevancy of his remarks to the
matter under discussion," returned Brunowski. As President of the
assembly he tried to be impartial, but he could not always forget that
he was a Pole.

"The House will understand presently," continued Zabern, "why the
honorable deputy wishes the name of the princess to be kept out of the
question. Who is responsible for this day's outrage? Not the wretched
dupe, who, happily for Czernova, missed his mark. No! as well blame
the bullet, or punish the pistol. Sir," continued Zabern, addressing
the President, "the real authors of the act are the persons who by
their words and writings have labored to create in Czernova a spirit
of hostility to its legitimate ruler. And of those persons," thundered
the marshal, looking round upon the assembly, "the deputy for
Russograd is the chief."

Lipski was on his feet again in an instant.

"Mr. President, must I sit and hear assassination imputed to me
without raising my voice in protest?"

"Certainly not. The marshal must withdraw the charge, or prove it."

"The proof is forthcoming. The two miserable wretches who fired at the
princess were seen before the deed seated at the wayside, and
strengthening their wicked determination by reading from a certain
newspaper. I already see the editor of that journal beginning to look
uneasy, for the name of the journal is the 'Kolokol,' and its editor
is one Lesko Lipski. The would-be assassins were diligent students of
the 'Kolokol;' they evidently regarded its editor as a great political
teacher."

"How do you know?" inquired the voice of the duke.

"Well, I judge from this circumstance," answered Zabern, producing a
dirty copy of the 'Kolokol' and unfolding it. "Here is the identical
paper dropped by the two men in their flight. It contains an article
entitled, 'Harmodius the Patriot;' and on the margin of this article
pencil-notes have been scrawled, such as 'Good!' 'True!' 'This seems
reasonable,' and the like; nay, more, we have here in badly spelled
Russian this sentiment: 'Death to the girl-tyrant!'"

At this point Zabern held up the journal for the inspection of the
assembly.

"Now I need scarcely remind the House that Harmodius was a man of
ancient days, who assassinated the ruler of Athens, and was in
consequence honored as a splendid patriot by his fellow-citizens. Why
does the editor of a journal, supposedly devoted to current politics
and affairs of to-day, publish an article on an event that happened
twenty-three centuries ago? Simply because he wishes to inculcate the
doctrine, that, as it was a fine piece of patriotism to assassinate
the ruler of ancient Athens, so would it be an equally fine piece of
patriotism to assassinate the ruler of modern Czernova."

"I deny the inference that you draw from that article," cried Lipski.

"Two at least of your readers understand what you mean, and have acted
upon your hints. Now, on seeing practical effect given to your
teaching, you would cravenly shirk the responsibility for your part in
this outrage. Be honest; do not run away from your own words. Perhaps
the House will bear with me while I read a few sentences from this
'Killing No Murder' essay."

"You must read the whole of it, or none," said Brunowski, "inasmuch as
one passage may be modified by another."

Zabern adopted the President's first alternative, and read the entire
article, which, although written in guarded language, with a view of
preserving its author from the possibilities of legal indictment, was
obviously a plea for the assassination of rulers who have become
obnoxious to their subjects.

At the conclusion of the marshal's reading, there was a storm of
hisses from the Right. The Left sat in sullen silence.

"It is known to all that on coming to the throne the princess, with
one stroke of her pen, abolished the censorship of the press. And
this," continued Zabern, pointing to the criminatory article in the
"Kolokol,"--"this is how the privilege has been requited! Such,
gentlemen of the Diet, such are the sentiments--such is the character
of the deputy for Russograd! And yet this teacher of assassination has
the effrontery to come forward and solicit the votes of the Poles--the
Poles, who, whatever may be their faults, are at least men of honor,
and loyal to their princess. Vote for this bill? Not if it were the
finest piece of legislation ever devised by the wit of statesmen.
Those who can may separate the man from his bill; for my part, the two
are identical. Every suffrage cast on the side of Lipski, every vote
given in favor of this bill, is a vote in favor of assassination."

"No, no," cried the Left. "We are not assassins."

"That statement shall be proved by your votes. Let those who repudiate
the work of the assassin, let those who rejoice at the escape of the
princess from death, show their sympathy by rejecting a bill which is
hurtful to the best feelings of the princess."

And now ensued a dramatic tableau pre-arranged by the wily Zabern. A
small door opened upon the right of the presidential chair, and
Barbara herself entered the hall of debate, to the utter confounding
of the deputies, whose first thought was that she had come to dissolve
the Diet.

Brunowski immediately vacated his chair in favor of the princess, who
took her place on the dais, but remained standing. Her mien, graceful
and bright, offered a pleasing contrast to that of the angry debaters.
Even the Muscovites were forced to admit that if beauty of person
should entitle one to a crown, their princess would have carried off
all the diadems of Europe.

The silence that came over the chamber caused the din of voices in the
square to be much more plainly heard. The tumultuous sounds without
lent additional excitement to the scene within.

The princess glanced slowly around the assembly, and then, as if moved
by a sudden idea, she removed her hat,--the same hat that she had worn
on her return from the review. In the act of taking it off the light
from behind gleamed through a hole in the brim, a mute appeal to the
sympathy of the House, the more striking because unintentional.

"Your Highness, do not uncover," cried Brunowski.

"I crave your pardon, Mr. President," replied Barbara, and her
utterance sounded like a clear silvery bell after Brunowski's
magnificent bass voice, "but I understand that the usages of this
House require that only one person shall remain covered."

This was said in reference to Lipski, who, while all the rest of the
deputies were standing uncovered, sat with his hat on his head.

Zabern, with his sabre clinking against his spurs, strode across the
floor of the House.

"Fellow!" he muttered, grinding his teeth, "if you do not remove your
hat, my troopers shall nail it to your pate."

And Lipski, seeing Zabern's savage demeanor, prudently doffed his
head-covering.

"Mr. President," said Radzivil, "I move that the deputy for Russograd
be suspended from this sitting for treating the person of the princess
with contempt."

"Oh, no, Count," observed Barbara. "Let it not be said that we sought
to deprive a deputy of his vote."

When the ringing of the President's bell had repressed the cheers
evoked by this remark, Barbara proceeded to explain the reason of her
appearance.

"Mr. President, Ministers and Deputies," she began, speaking with
self-possession and dignity, "it may be said that the princess ought
not to intervene in the affairs of the Diet, but should remain
quiescent, and simply register the decrees of the majority. But, sir,"
she added, with a graceful inclination of her head towards Brunowski,
"your princess is not an automaton, but a human being with feelings
that can be moved. I feel strongly on this bill, and I do not hesitate
to say so."

She paused for a moment, and then resumed.

"I shall always act with regard to the Constitution. If this bill
should pass I shall affix my signature."

Cheers arose from the Left.

"But I trust the House will not let it pass."

Counter-cheers arose from the Right.

"If my sentiments can in any way influence the decision of deputies, I
would appeal to them, irrespective of party, to reject this measure."

With this she bowed to the Diet, and withdrew from the chamber, amid
enthusiastic cries of "Long live the Princess of Czernova!"

The chivalry of the Poles, if not of the Muscovites, was evoked. The
assassin's pistol-shot, the princess's personal appeal, had produced
more effect than all the oratory of the five previous weeks.

As soon as Brunowski had resumed the presidential chair, Zabern again
spoke.

"The princess has made it a personal question between herself and
Lipski. Well, gentlemen, you have seen the princess, and--you see
Lipski," he continued, pointing to that deputy, who looked far from
amiable at that moment. "Can any man doubt," he added, with fine
scorn, "can any man doubt for whom he shall vote? Let it not be said
that--"

Zabern paused. A sound louder than any they had yet heard penetrated
to the chamber. A mighty roar was rising from the Zapolyska Square.
Twenty thousand voices blending into one proclaimed that the time had
come for deciding the great controversy. The iron tongue of the
cathedral-clock was booming forth the hour of midnight.

"The vote will now be taken," cried Brunowski, amid a scene of
indescribable excitement.

"I move that it be taken by secret ballot," exclaimed Zabern.

"I oppose it," said the Duke of Bora.

The President put the question to the assembly, and the proposal for
secret ballot was carried by acclamation.

Zabern smiled grimly as he observed the secret glances of rage
interchanged between Bora and Lipski. By this manoeuvre on his part
they were prevented from learning whether those Poles who had secretly
taken the gold of Orloff would vote according to promise.

In the Diet of Slavowitz, when voting by ballot, each deputy took from
his desk one of a set of discs. These discs were of two colors, white
for affirmation, black for negation.

Concealing the disc between the fingers and the palm--carrying it
openly was forbidden on pain of forfeiture of the vote--each deputy
walked past the presidential table, and placing his hand within the
mouth of a large bronze urn, dropped the disc.

As a precaution against the artifice of giving more than one vote, the
names of the deputies were marked on the roll as each person passed
by, and the number of counters checked by this arrangement.

In prescribed order the deputies quitted their seats, and filed past
the table, and for a few moments nothing was heard but the clink of
the metallic discs as they fell within the urn. Brunowski took no part
in the division, but had the right of a casting-vote.

"One hundred and nineteen members have voted," said the chief clerk,
looking up from the register, after the last suffrage had been given.

This was a record division, being the largest that had ever occurred
in the history of the Czernovese Diet. Every deputy, with the
exception of Cardinal Ravenna, was present and had voted.

The great question was how had they voted?

Amid a hush like that in the chamber of the dying when the fatal
moment has come, the chief clerk, at a sign from the President, slowly
inverted the urn, and poured out the discs upon the red table-cloth.

In their excitement the deputies rose and stood upon seats and desks,
craning their necks forward, eager to catch the first glimpse of the
black and white counters, eager to learn which of the two was the
prevailing color.

       *       *       *       *       *

To the waiting populace in the Zapolyska Square the time taken in
recording the votes and in counting the same seemed unnecessarily
long.

A great sensation had been created when the officials of the House
reported to those near the doors that the princess herself had
appeared in the Diet with an appeal for the rejection of the bill. The
story gathered in detail as it passed from mouth to mouth, and men on
the outskirts of the crowd told how the princess with tears in her
eyes had gone down on her knees before the assembly, and how Zabern,
sabre in hand, had stalked up and down the chamber threatening to cut
the throats of all who would not vote against the bill.

And when the hour of midnight began to toll, and Dorislas was seen to
fling himself from his charger, and hurry up the steps of the
Diet-house, for the purpose of recording his vote within the chamber,
the interest grew to fever-heat.

Wild work had been going on in the square, but now the knowledge that
the great division was taking place had a somewhat quieting effect
upon the crowd. All eyes were turned towards the grand entrance,
brilliant with light that streamed far out into the darkness, for from
this entrance the result was to be proclaimed.

Ten minutes after midnight there was a movement at the head of the
stairs; the gendarmes parted, and the white-haired clerk of the House
was seen holding in his hand the paper inscribed with the momentous
result. Dorislas appeared at the same instant and mounted his charger
in readiness for the riot which he knew to be imminent.

Standing at the head of the steps the clerk raised his hand, and at
that signal the crowd, which but a moment before had been surging this
way and that, became instantly immobile. The square was a sea of
upturned faces, each gleaming with painful curiosity. Even the
cuirassiers extended along the front wall of the Diet-house forgot for
a moment their discipline, and bent sideways in the saddle, eager to
hear the result. The stillness of death prevailed. Not a movement. Not
a word. Not a breath.

"People of Czernova," said the clerk, speaking in a voice that
penetrated to every portion of the square, "in a House of one hundred
and nineteen members, thirty-nine have voted for the Secular
Appropriation Bill, and eighty against it. The measure therefore
stands rejected by a majority of forty-one."

These figures seemed to show that the voting had been conducted
strictly on party lines. The Muscovite members of the Diet numbered
thirty-eight, or, with the addition of the Duke of Bora, thirty-nine.
The tale of the Poles was eighty-one; the vote of the absent Ravenna
being deducted, the majority of forty-one was thus accounted for.

The publication of the figures was followed by a moment of bewildering
silence. The Poles could not believe in such a victory, nor the
Muscovites in such a defeat. Some among the crowd, supposing that the
clerk had made an error in his statement, called upon him to read it
again.

But now at the side of the clerk appeared the tall figure of Zabern,
waving his helmet and greeting his adherents with a triumphant smile.

All doubt vanished. Exultant cries of "Slava! slava!" burst from
Polish throats. The Muscovites replied by yells of execration. The two
factions were intermingled; the triumph of the one evoked the fury of
the other, and in a moment more the Zapolyska Square was transformed
to pandemonium.

"Forward!" cried Dorislas, waving his sabre. "Clear the square."

And loud above the trampling and the din arose a carillon of bells
from the cathedral of St. Stanislas, pealing forth a jubilation over
the victory gained by the Latin Church.

Inside the House the excitement was equally great. Pole shook hands
with Pole, for it was felt to be a splendid party triumph. The
Muscovite members stared sullenly at each other, Lipski himself
looking the very incarnation of malignity. More than a score of Polish
deputies, after accepting splendid bribes, had betrayed him by voting
with Zabern, and he was precluded from making their duplicity known by
the fact that the procuration of a deputy's vote by bribery was an
offence punishable by perpetual exclusion from the Diet.

Both parties streamed out into the corridors to discuss the event,
leaving Brunowski and a dozen members in the chamber to pass the
resolution: "That the military be withdrawn from the monasteries."

In a small apartment, adjacent to the hall of debate, sat Barbara,
surrounded by her radiant ministers. An ardent politician, she was in
her element on such nights as these.

"A two-thirds majority of the House!" she murmured with a glow on her
cheek. "Thirty-nine for the bill, and eighty against it. What a
triumph!"

"Thank heaven, our secret is safe!" said Radzivil. "Kossuth can have
his gold."

"Another defeat for Russia!" grinned Zabern. "How Orloff will regret
the roubles he has wasted!"

In passing along one of the corridors Zabern encountered the Duke of
Bora.

That ex-minister, long a traitor at heart, and a secret sympathizer
with the aims of the Opposition, had at last cast off the mask, but on
a very inopportune occasion as he now perceived. Hoping to profit by
the anticipated defeat of the ministry, and the consequent confusion,
if not fall, of the princess, he had crossed to the opposite side of
the House, and he had seated himself cheek by jowl with Lipski and his
colleagues, only to see them suffer a most crushing defeat. His
mortification, already great, was enhanced by Zabern's caustic smile.

"Ah, dear duke, you don't seem quite so cheerful as you did last week
on the Long Terrace. Payment within one hour after the division," he
continued, exhibiting the duke's written pledge, "was not that our
agreement? May I trouble your grace, then, for the sum of ten thousand
roubles, since our majority has exceeded twenty? Ten thousand roubles
is rather a large amount, but you will doubtless recoup yourself from
Orloff's Bribery Fund."

If looks had power to kill, Zabern would certainly have fallen dead
beneath Bora's savage glance. Unable, however, to evade the fulfilment
of his word, the duke reluctantly wrote out a check for the required
amount.

"An unforeseen circumstance has enabled you to win this wager," he
said, curtly.

"Yes, it was a very fortunate--ah!--circumstance for us," drawled
Zabern, as he walked away with the check in his pocket, "but as to its
being unforeseen!--" He finished the sentence with a short laugh.
"Duke of Bora, you must be the biggest fool in Czernova not to suspect
the game I've played."

Averse to the noisy demonstrations, friendly or hostile, which her
presence in the crowded streets was certain to evoke, Barbara lingered
for some time in the Diet-house, conversing with the deputies of both
parties, and charming even the rugged hearts of the Muscovites by her
gracious and winsome manner.

When the streets were reported quiet she drove back to the Vistula
Palace, accompanied by Zabern and Paul, the latter of whom from a side
gallery had watched the course of the debate.

The trio retired to the White Saloon.

"That pistol-shot has wrought us so much good, marshal," observed
Barbara, "that I feel quite capable of forgiving the assassin."

"Then your Highness shall have an opportunity of doing so," replied
Zabern, "since he, or rather she, is in the next apartment."

He stamped heavily on the floor thrice. A door opened, and there
entered Katina Ludovska with her sister Juliska, not now garbed in
male attire, as when awaiting the princess's landau in the
forest-road, but dressed each in her own pretty Polish costume.

They advanced with a somewhat timid air and knelt, till requested by
the wondering princess to rise. They were not strangers to her, for
she had often witnessed their fencing feats in the _salle d'armes_.

"This lady," said Zabern, indicating Katina, "craves pardon for
shooting at the princess, without obtaining her Highness's permission,
but at the same time she can plead that she was acting under the
command of Marshal Zabern."

"Explain," said the princess, haughtily, and with a flash of her eyes
that made even the bold Katina quail.

"It was well known to the Diet," began Zabern, cool and unabashed,
"that your Highness was opposed to the Appropriation Bill. Six votes
only were wanted to secure its rejection.

"Now, if at the present crisis some desperado would only oblige us by
seeking to kill your Highness, the attempt would create such a feeling
of sympathy among the secessionist members of our party that not only
would the required six votes be captured, but many more in addition.

"I therefore resolved that such outrage should take place. But the
deed must have every appearance of reality. Blank cartridges might
suggest a mock attempt, but real bullets, missing your Highness's
person by a hair's-breadth only, would disarm all suspicion.

"Accordingly, I made overtures to the finest pistol-shot in Czernova,
Katina Ludovska, who consented to the plan.

"Do not accuse me of recklessly hazarding your Highness's life, since
I was fully convinced that Katina's hand would not fail, for Juliska
of her own accord gave me striking proof of her sister's unerring
marksmanship. She bade Katina regard her as the princess, and while
Katina stood revolver in hand upon the steps of the inn-door, Juliska
rode fearlessly past on horseback six times in succession; and on each
occasion Katina sent one shot through the brim of her sister's hat,
while the second whizzed close to her temple.

"This experiment convinced me of Katina's ability to do the trick, and
success has justified my opinion. A bold liberty on my part, your
Highness, but pardonable, considering the object I had in view."

Barbara's first emotion of breathless amazement was followed by a
sense of anger, as she recalled the dreadful sensation that came over
her when the hot bullet whizzed past her face.

"Remember," pleaded Zabern, cognizant of Barbara's feelings, "remember
that your Highness gave me _carte blanche_ to do whatsoever I pleased,
provided that I could but secure the rejection of the Appropriation
Bill."

This was true, but who could have guessed that Zabern would have
resorted to such a desperate remedy?

"And you could devise no other plan than this for defeating the bill?"

"None, though I racked my brain for a week."

Barbara's anger began to yield to a mournful feeling. It was her
belief that no state can flourish long on duplicity. If her chief
minister could maintain her in power only by resorting to trickery
such as this, then, indeed, the day of her fall could not be far
distant.

"It is past," she murmured. "I am scathless, and the bill is rejected;
what more should I desire?" And then, addressing Katina and her
sister, she said, "You played a very hazardous game as well with your
own lives as with mine. Why, marshal, you ordered the guards to fire
upon the fugitives!"

"Nikita was in the plot, your Highness, and had taken the precaution
to serve out blank cartridges to your _corps du garde_; so the volley
was a harmless one. But I confess my heart was in my mouth when I saw
Captain Woodville taking aim with his pistol. Fortunately he tripped
up in the very act of firing."

"I little thought that I was taking aim at Mistress Katina," smiled
Paul, "and grateful am I that she did not return the shot. And so
Nikita was in the plot? Why, the rogue vowed that one of the two was
Russakoff!"

"He couldn't resist the temptation of poking a little fun at you,"
replied Zabern. "Had you looked round, you would have seen him choking
with suppressed laughter."

"And I suppose, marshal, that you led the way down the path where the
red cap lay--"

"Purposely to give Katina and Juliska more time to escape."

"And I presume, likewise, that it was your hand which annotated the
copy of the 'Kolokol' newspaper?"

"Precisely. Those marginal remarks were my own invention."

Paul could not refrain from laughter as he recalled the fine air of
indignation with which Zabern had pointed out to the Diet the
annotations that his own pencil had made.

"Marshal, you lie with admirable grace."

"I have lived five years in Russia, you see."

"But, marshal," remonstrated Barbara, gravely, "you have placed me in
a false position, by letting me pose before the Diet as the escaped
victim of an assassination plot."

"A splendid way of catching votes," returned Zabern, coolly. "And
votes were what we wanted."

"And you have endeavored to connect Lipski with the deed. Is that well
devised, marshal?"

"Perfectly," replied the unscrupulous Zabern. "He has in his paper
advocated the slaying of rulers; he is therefore a potential, if not
an actual, assassin. I have but given the people of Czernova a
practical illustration of his teaching. O your Highness, let me show
that your consideration for Lipski is somewhat misplaced. You are
doubtless aware that to his editorship of the 'Kolokol' he also adds
the calling of gunsmith and armorer, and a very convenient calling it
is for one who is ill-disposed to the state."

"Be plainer with me, marshal."

"I have long suspected Lipski of treasonable designs, and therefore,
observing a few days ago that a private house contiguous to his
establishment in the Boulevard de Cracovie was to be let, I instructed
one of my spies to rent and occupy the said house, the cellar of which
adjoins Lipski's. Last night my agent and I cautiously removed a few
bricks from the upper part of the intervening wall, and turned the
light of a lantern through the orifice thus made. Your Highness, that
vault, which is a lofty and spacious one, contains more rifles than
Lipski will ever be able to sell, even if he should live to be a
centenarian. They lie stacked up from floor to ceiling. I probably do
not overshoot the mark when I say that there cannot be less than ten
thousand. The law does not permit any citizen, even a gunsmith, to
possess one-twentieth of that number."

"This is a grave matter," said Barbara. "Those arms must be seized."

"Certainly, your Highness; for while it is right for us to store up
arms against the Czar, it's a monstrous thing that the Czar's
hirelings should be permitted to pile up arms against ourselves. Never
let others do to you as you would do to them."

"You have a cynical way of putting things, marshal."

"These arms are designed for the denizens of Russograd. As they are
much too poor to purchase their own rifles, there is to be a free
distribution--probably on the night of the 14th of September."

"The eve of my coronation," said Barbara, startled by this
announcement.

"The same. My spies report that there are whispers among the
Muscovites of an armed rising to take place on the coronation day. In
fact, they propose to hold a rival coronation in the Greek basilica.
You can guess, princess, who is to play the central figure in this
unauthorized ceremony."

"A ceremony that shall never take place," said Barbara, with a flash
of her eyes.

"True. We'll foil them. With your sanction, princess, I'll make no
movement at present in this matter. The longer we delay Lipski's
arrest the more the plot will develop, the wider will be the sweep of
our net when the cast is made, and the more fishes shall we enclose.
Meantime, rest assured that my spy will keep a careful eye upon that
secret store of arms."

"Be it so, marshal. We leave the matter to your wisdom."

"And your Highness pardons that little affair of the shooting?"

The princess with a smile extended her hand for Zabern to kiss.

"Without your constant vigilance, marshal, the princess were nothing."



CHAPTER XIV

NEARING A CRISIS


A few nights after the defeat of the Appropriation Bill, Paul
Woodville at a late hour strolled forth into the gardens of the
Vistula Palace, with no design of meeting Barbara, but drawn thither
chiefly by the extreme beauty of the moonlight.

He sat down in solitude by the margin of a tree-girt lake, watching in
an abstracted manner the silvery path of light on its surface, and
musing over the strangely romantic turn his life had taken.

A sudden rustling among the foliage put an end to his reverie, and on
turning he found Barbara by his side.

She was excited, if not angry. There was a defiant expression upon her
face, and a lovely color burned on her cheek. She was habited as if
for a journey, for her figure was concealed by a cloak with the hood
drawn around her head. Her appearance reminded Paul of their first
meeting in the Illyrian forest; and, as if responsive to his thoughts,
Barbara's first words recalled that time.

"Paul, do you remember those happy days in Dalmatia? Come and let us
renew them."

"I am not quite sure that I understand."

"Let us leave Czernova this night--this hour--now. Take me with you."

For a moment Paul doubted whether he could have heard aright. Then
recovering from his surprise, he asked,--

"What has happened to make you take this wild resolution?"

"There is no other course left us if we are to be united. Listen!"

She proceeded to explain the cause of her agitation.

It appeared that at a cabinet council held earlier in the evening
Barbara had announced what had for some time been suspected, namely,
that the projected match between herself and the duke had been
dissolved by mutual consent. Thereupon the Greek Archpastor, Mosco,
whom Barbara suspected of acting as the mouthpiece of the duke, rose
and boldly, yet respectfully, asked the princess to define her
attitude towards her secretary, Captain Woodville; he invited her to
contradict the growing rumors as to the relationship existing between
herself and the Englishman.

Perceiving that other members of the cabinet were in sympathy with
Mosco's questioning, Barbara put aside her first impulse, which was
haughtily to ignore the subject, and gave answer that it was her firm
resolve to make Captain Woodville the Prince-consort of Czernova.

The council were united in maintaining that this could not be.

"Zabern among the number?" asked Paul.

"Zabern spoke not a word--sure sign that he is on your side. He deems
it prudent to sacrifice his private opinion to the will of the rest;
otherwise Radzivil would call upon him to resign, and Zabern believes
that he can do me more good in the cabinet than out of it. They have
insisted upon your immediate withdrawal from Czernova. I pledged my
word that you should depart this very night; but, Paul," she
continued, with a laugh that had something of hysteria in it, "I did
not tell them that it was my intention to accompany you. I will never
give you up, Paul, never. You are dearer to me than crown or life.
Come, we will go away together, and leave Czernova to its own
devices."

Such was the invitation addressed to Paul by Barbara, whose arms were
encircling his neck as with a garland; her lovely face was close to
his; her dark eyes radiant with love were looking into his own. Now at
last she seemed to belong to him.

Paul, as previously related, had by the death of a relative become the
possessor of an ample fortune. How delightful, then, to while away the
hours on the sunny shores of the Riviera with Barbara for his bride!
What admiration her beauty would elicit from all who saw her! What a
halo of romance would surround her personality! The princess who
resigned a throne for love, who preferred an untitled Englishman to an
imperially connected archduke! He would be the most envied man in
Europe. It was a splendid temptation, but he rose superior to it.

"If you have pledged your word for my withdrawal, I must go--and
alone," he added.

"You shall not go to please them," she cried passionately.

"Then I will go to please myself."

"Without me? Do you mean that--that we must part forever?"

The anguish of her voice went to Paul's heart. The stately princess
that had confronted the Diet was gone, and in her place was a
clinging, trembling maiden with eyes full of tears.

"Sweetest Barbara, doubt whatever else you will, but do not doubt my
love. It behoves us to part at least for a time. I go, but you must
remain. Remember, that, as a princess, you are not your own but your
people's. If you desert Czernova you give to the duke the crown for
which he is basely plotting. Do not let that traitor succeed. Do not
hand over your loyal Poles to the tyranny of Bora. Abdication on your
part will mean the final triumph of Russia."

"And that triumph is not far distant," replied Barbara bitterly. "We
have received intelligence to-day from our ambassadors at Berlin and
Vienna that Prussia and Austria have jointly agreed to withdraw from
the responsibility of upholding the integrity of Czernova, leaving the
onus of this political duty to Russia. We know what this means. In
plain language Kaiser and King will permit the Czar to exercise a free
hand in the principality. The long-threatened annexation is at hand."

"Then it is time for me to be going."

"In my hour of peril?"

"I go to save you from this peril, to deliver you from the
ever-threatening shadow of the Czar. I have a scheme in mind,--a
scheme so daring that it seems madness to attempt it; and yet better
to dare and fail than not to dare at all. My plan, if it succeeds,
will make Czernova so strong that it will no longer fear the arms of
Russia. And then," added Paul hopefully, "and then it may be that in
return for such service your ministry will regard me with more
favorable eyes."

Love is proverbially blind, and therefore it will not seem matter for
wonder that the princess in her passionate attachment to Paul should
place more reliance upon his promise than upon the united wisdom of
her cabinet. But what his plan was she could not learn; to all her
questions he smiled pleasantly and mysteriously; the sooner he set off
the sooner would come its realization.

But each time he turned to depart Barbara pleaded so sweetly for delay
that he was forced to stay a few minutes longer; and they continued to
sit in the moonlight, Paul radiant with the hope of coming success,
Barbara puzzled, yet confident in his ability to fulfil his word. They
were a long time in parting, and often after saying what they
intended as their final farewell they turned again to repeat it.

Paul at length tore himself away, and had not proceeded very far when
he was met by Marshal Zabern.

"You are leaving Czernova?"

"Since the cabinet decrees it."

"But you must return."

"When?"

"On the eve of the princess's coronation."

"Why on that day?"

Zabern bent his head and whispered. The communication was such as to
cause Paul's eyes to sparkle and his hand to seek the hilt of his
sabre.

"Is that the plan of the duke, then?"

"Such is my belief. And you alone, Captain Woodville, can defeat it.
You will be there?"

"Can you doubt it? If I be living."

"Good! You will have the laugh of these fools," returned Zabern,
referring to his colleagues in the ministry. "They will not deny you
the hand of the princess then."

And Paul and Zabern parted on an understanding eminently satisfactory
to both.

On the following day the ministry learned with relief that Captain
Woodville had quitted Czernova, though none knew, not even Barbara,
whither he had betaken himself.

The coronation ceremony was now but two months distant, and Zabern
ventured to remind the princess that some of its most important
details still awaited settlement.

"The great question is who shall have the high honor of crowning your
Highness?"

"Abbot Faustus, for he is a good man," replied Barbara; and, noting
Zabern's look of surprise, she added, "He, and none other. The cabinet
have had their way in the matter of Captain Woodville; I will have my
way in this. Let the council meet again to-day. When this point comes
to be discussed, do you, marshal, propose Abbot Faustus for the
office, and I will assent."

Though wondering much at her choice, Zabern refrained from comment.

That same evening another cabinet council was held in the Vistula
Palace, Barbara again presiding.

Among the members present was the Archbishop Mosco, or, as he was
styled in Slavowitz, the Archpastor, who, as previously stated, had a
seat in the cabinet, not by the appointment of the princess, but by
virtue of his office as head of the Greek Church in Czernova.

The crowning of the sovereign had hitherto been one of the privileges
attaching to his see. Barbara's Latin faith, however, had necessarily
deprived him of his prerogative, which would thus seem to devolve by
natural right upon the highest ecclesiastic in the Catholic Church of
Czernova, or in other words, upon the Cardinal Archbishop Ravenna.

Therefore, when Zabern rose to propose that Abbot Faustus, of the
Convent of the Transfiguration, should have the high honor of crowning
the princess, there were murmurs of dissent from the council, the
majority not deeming the abbot of sufficient dignity for the office.

"The cardinal would regard such appointment as an affront to himself,"
remarked Radzivil.

"And might seek, in his disappointment, to give us trouble," commented
Dorislas. "Being the ecclesiastical superior of Faustus, he might
appear in the cathedral and interdict the abbot from crowning the
princess, which would be a pretty scandal."

"Ah, well," replied Zabern, carelessly, "we have prisons for
disorderly prelates, as well as for law-breaking dukes."

"What says her Highness in this matter?" said Radzivil turning to the
princess.

"The marshal's nomination meets with my approval," returned Barbara.
"My lords, I will not now enter into my reasons. Let it suffice to say
that Cardinal Ravenna has made it impossible for me to receive the
crown from his hands. Sooner would I resign than do so."

Great wonderment appeared on the faces of the ministers, yet none
ventured to ask in what way the cardinal had offended. Opposition to
the abbot was immediately withdrawn, for the cabinet, gratified by
Barbara's supposed dismissal of Paul, were in a complaisant mood,
though they plainly saw trouble looming ahead in thus excluding
Ravenna from participating in the coronation.

At this point of the debate Polonaski intervened with a suggestion. He
was the Justiciary, and by virtue of his office the highest legal
authority in Czernova.

"Since your Highness reigns over Greeks as well as Catholics, would it
not be politic to conciliate the former by permitting a Greek prelate
to have some share, however small, in your coronation?"

"That is good counsel," replied Barbara. "I trust, my lord," she
added, addressing Mosco with a gracious smile, "that you have not
viewed with bitterness this setting aside of the ancient privilege
attaching to your see? But, indeed, you are welcome to take whatever
part you please in my coronation, short of the administration of the
Sacrament and of the imposition of the diadem."

Mosco, apparently gratified by this concession, spent a few moments in
studying the coronation ritual, a copy of which had been supplied to
each member of the cabinet.

"I ask for nothing more," he finally observed, "than for leave to read
the Gospel at the beginning of the ceremony."

"It is granted," replied Barbara, wondering why the archpastor should
select this, a somewhat humble office, compared with others which were
open to him.

Mosco's lips curved into a smile, which, though lasting but a moment,
did not escape the quick eye of Zabern, who immediately became full of
suspicion.

"As I live," he muttered to himself, "our archpastor is a traitor!
Have I got rid of Bora only to find that he has left a successor in
the cabinet? That smile means mischief. But what mischief can come
from the reading of the Gospel?"

An enigma which was not solved till the actual day of the coronation,
and those who witnessed the solution were not likely ever to forget
it.

That picturesque personage, accustomed to figure at a coronation,
namely, the champion, now became a subject of discussion, Mosco
himself having introduced the question.

"It is the duty of such champion," he explained in answer to Barbara's
interrogation, "to stand before the throne, and, casting down a glove,
to defy to mortal combat any one who shall openly challenge the right
of the sovereign to rule."

"But why," said the princess, with a pitying smile, "why should we
retain a feudal usage out of place in this nineteenth century?"

"It has always formed a part of the coronation ceremonial," protested
Mosco. "Your late father, Prince Thaddeus, would not have it omitted
when he was crowned."

"And what would happen," asked Radzivil, "if some one malevolently
disposed towards the princess should step forward and pick up the
glove?"

"We had better consult the Justiciary," smiled Barbara. "He is our
authority on all matters of law."

"Your Highness," returned Polonaski, "the ancient statute touching the
championing of the sovereign's rights has never been repealed, and
therefore still stands good in point of law. Should any one accept the
champion's challenge by taking up the gage thrown down, the combat
would have to take place."

"With what result?" queried Radzivil. "Will you say that if her
champion should fall the princess must resign the throne?"

"According to the law of Czernova," replied the Justiciary.

Zabern leaned back in his seat and caustically whispered in the
premier's ear,--

"Count, methinks you were a little premature last night in banishing
an excellent swordsman from Czernova."

"I venture to differ from the Justiciary," remarked the princess. "An
earlier law is always repealed by a later. Therefore the feudal
statute which has been cited is abrogated by the recent Anti-duelling
Act. We will therefore omit this pretended championing of our rights
as an obsolete, barbarous, and unmeaning ceremony."

The Justiciary did not look as if convinced by Barbara's reasoning. He
refrained from further comment, however, and the motion to omit the
champion from the ceremonial was unanimously accepted.

Various other matters relative to the solemnity were settled, after
which the council broke up, leaving Zabern still troubled by Mosco's
smile. A permanent member of the cabinet, the Greek archpastor,
equally with the Roman archbishop, could not be removed at will by the
princess or the premier, unless guilty of treason, and of this Zabern
as yet lacked proof.

"He is playing Bora's game," muttered the marshal. "He is a party to
Lipski's plot. I warrant he knows all about the store of arms
concealed in that traitor's cellar. Mosco, you shall sit no more as
the betrayer of our meetings, for none shall be held. For some time
to come Czernova shall be governed by a council of three--the
princess, Radzivil, and myself."

But the evil which the Greek archpastor might do was as nothing
compared with what the Roman archbishop could effect, and in the
course of a few days Barbara found herself facing a peril of which
even her confidant Zabern little dreamed.

A week after Paul's departure Cardinal Ravenna returned to Slavowitz,
coming from Rome in no good humor. The Sacred College, at the
invitation of the Pope, had been spending many days in the discussion
of some abstruse doctrine of theology, much to the irritation of
Ravenna, whose self-interest required his presence in Czernova.

In the first hour of his return he was made aware that the cabinet,
ignoring his superior claims, had deputed Abbot Faustus to crown the
princess, and that all men were talking of the event; for inasmuch as
it was the current belief that Ravenna was the very person who had
converted the princess to the Catholic faith, the Czernovese were
naturally not a little mystified by this exclusion of the archbishop
from the coronation ceremony.

Ravenna knew full well that this appointment could not have been made
without the sanction of Barbara herself, and accordingly on the
following morning he repaired to the Vistula Palace, his mortification
becoming still further enhanced by the mocking smile of his Greek
rival, whom he chanced to pass on the way. Barbara received the
cardinal with a chilling mien.

"Is it true, princess," he began with a grave air, "that in the matter
of the coronation you have given to the Abbot Faustus, my inferior,
the honor which belongs of right to the archbishop?"

"Quite true," responded Barbara, coldly.

"Do you intend, then, with set purpose, to put an affront upon me in
the sight of all Czernova?"

"None but pure hands shall set the diadem upon my head. Shall I accept
the Sacrament from one who has insulted me with words of unhallowed
love, repeat prayers uttered by your lips? My lord cardinal," she
added in scorn, "have you no conscience?"

Probably not. He was indifferent to the moral precepts of religion, if
not at heart wholly atheistic, having adopted the ecclesiastic life
merely as a stepping-stone to power.

"Is it likewise true that Zabern purposes at no distant date to
introduce into the Diet a bill for the expulsion of Jesuits from
Czernova?"

"Your eminence has been correctly informed. We cannot tolerate in the
principality those whose aim it is to create an _imperium in imperio_.
Besides," added the princess, caustically, "a Jesuit Expulsion Bill
will put my Muscovite subjects in a good humor, while not greatly
offending the Catholics."

Though maintaining a calm exterior, the cardinal nevertheless listened
with secret dismay, for her words were the very death-knell of his
ambition. By using the princess as his instrument he had hoped to play
the _rôle_ of a Richelieu in Czernova, and to be the supreme director
of affairs, secular as well as ecclesiastical. By reason of his
supposed conversion of a Greek princess he had obtained a high place
in the Pope's favor. He had openly boasted at the Vatican that the
Greek heresy would soon vanish from Czernova. But now? The attitude of
Barbara and her cabinet showed that he had been building castles in
the air.

Was this to be the end of his life's work? Must he write "failure"
across the scheme that had occupied his mind for twenty years? It
would seem so.

"Is it to be war between us? Good! Thus, then, do I take up the gage
flung down by you. On your coronation day, in the sight of all
assembled in the cathedral, I shall rise to affirm, ay, and to prove
too, that you are not Natalie Lilieska. I shall denounce you as an
impostor, as a knowing usurper of the rights of Bora."

"And be arrested as an accomplice of the impostor; since, if I fall,
you fall with me."

"Not so, princess; for I shall previously have made my terms with
Bora. You may count, now, upon having the Pope as your enemy, since
you are bent upon persecuting the Society of Jesus. By falsely
claiming to be princess you have imposed upon the Holy Father. You
admit a heretical prelate to participate in the ceremony of your
coronation. You pretend to be a Catholic, yet your ministers have
placarded Slavowitz to the effect that the princess will swear at the
altar to preserve inviolate the ancient privileges as well of the
Greek as of the Latin Church. Such Laodicean policy will not suit Pio
Nono. A word in his ear from me will bring against you a bull of
excommunication. And, remember, that the subjects of an excommunicated
ruler are absolved from their allegiance."

Barbara laughed scornfully.

"We are not living in the time of the Crusades. Excommunication is an
obsolete weapon."

"Not so obsolete as you deem, princess. The Poles are loyal, or shall
we say superstitious, Catholics. Many of them will obey the Pope
rather than yourself. There will be a cleavage in the ranks of your
Polish adherents fatal to your interests. Barbara Lilieska, with the
Pope and the Catholic clergy of Czernova alienated from you; with
dissension among your own adherents; with the duke and his Muscovite
faction opposed to you; with the jealous Czar, ready, nay, eager, to
march his armies against the usurping princess who had so often
thwarted his policy--it will pass the wit of Zabern himself to keep
you upon the throne. Dream not of your coronation. You may ride in
state to the cathedral, but only to witness the crowning of Bora. From
that ceremony you will return not to this Vistula Palace, but to that
Citadel in which you once imprisoned the duke. He hates you bitterly
since your rejection of him for Captain Woodville. Now he will be able
to wreak his vengeance upon you. You will have to drink deep of the
cup of humiliation. Are you prepared for this?"

Barbara sat, pondering over the difficulties of her position. Then
amid her troubled thoughts came the memory of Paul and of his
mysterious plan, and she took courage.

The cardinal stood silently drinking in the beauty of her face and
figure, loving and hating her in the same moment, hoping against hope
that she would change her attitude towards him.

So long did Barbara remain mute that the cardinal began to think that
her opposition was weakening, and under this delusion he ventured to
renew his proposals of love.

"No more such language, my lord," said the princess, her eyes flashing
with indignation, "or I call the guard."

"And thereby precipitate your immediate ruin. The news of my
imprisonment would cause my nephew Redwitz of Zamoska to put in
evidence the three sealed letters. At present the secrets contained
within them are unknown even to him; but in a day more all the world
would be talking of the impostor-princess of Czernova. There are still
seven weeks left to you; why abbreviate your reign?"

Ravenna had spoken without his accustomed caution in revealing the
names Redwitz and Zamoska, which last was a small town in Russia,
distant a few miles from the Czernovese border. Though trembling with
anger at the cardinal's insolence, which a hard necessity compelled
her to tolerate, Barbara did not let the phrase "Redwitz of Zamoska"
escape her. The words seemed to afford a ray of hope. If these letters
could be seized, and the cardinal arrested on one and the same day,
why--then--then--

"Barbara Tressilian," said the cardinal quietly, "your aversion to
illicit love would seem to combat the theory of heredity."

At this singular utterance the princess gave a palpable start.

"The daughter is more scrupulous than the mother."

These words and the cold sneer accompanying them occasioned in Barbara
a fear far greater than that caused by the threat of deposition.

"What devil's lie are you inventing now?" she murmured.

"Your English mother, Hilda Tressilian, was content to be wooed and
won without asking the church to consecrate her love."

If it be possible for the human heart to suspend its pulsation, then
Barbara's heart did at that moment.

When at last she spoke it was in a voice breathless with indignation.
"Can there be a more base deed than to slander a dead mother in the
presence of her daughter?"

"No slander, but the solemn truth do I speak. Your father, Prince
Thaddeus, withheld this knowledge from you, from a desire to spare
your feelings. When after the Dalmatian earthquake of two years ago,
you were wavering between the crown of a princess and the veil of a
nun, the knowledge that you were of illegitimate birth might have
deterred you from accepting the crown; therefore Prince Thaddeus kept
that matter a secret. He invented the story that the church, the scene
of his marriage, had been burnt, and the record of the union
destroyed; and the more effectually to deceive you he made choice in
his fiction of a certain church which had actually been consumed by
fire. But the preservation of the edifice would have availed you
nothing, for its marriage-book contained no such names as Thaddeus
Lilieski and Hilda Tressilian."

"It is a question betwixt my father's word and yours. I prefer my
father's."

"Naturally, inasmuch as it suits your interests. When on your
crowning-day, and before a vast assembly, I rise to deny that you are
Natalie Lilieski, will you dare affirm it, knowing, as you do, that
you lack a certain birth-mark of that princess? If you aver that you
are in reality Barbara Lilieska, the elder daughter of Thaddeus, what
answer will you give to those who challenge you to produce the proofs
of Thaddeus's early marriage? Barbara Tressilian, you are
illegitimate, and as such debarred from reigning. Your beauty has made
you many enemies among the proud and envious ladies of Czernova. Those
over whom you have queened it will be able to point the finger of
scorn at the discrowned princess, branded with the stain of illicit
birth."

He marked with secret pleasure the shiver of wounded pride on the part
of Barbara, and clenched his remarks with the question,--

"Knowing what I can effect, do you still maintain your defiance of
me?"

"I do," responded Barbara, quietly. "Believing myself to be the lawful
princess of Czernova, I shall hold to my throne. Girt around with
earthly perils, I tranquillize my mind by looking above, confiding in
the justice of heaven."

That any one should think of trusting to such a shadowy weapon as the
justice of heaven drew a sneer from the atheistic cardinal.

"The history of Poland should have taught you that God is always on
the side of the strong." And then, conscious of the futility of
further argument, he made a mock bow, and with the words, "Farewell,
Princess Lackland," he withdrew from the saloon.

Barbara retired to her own private apartments, and was seen no more
that day, save by her personal attendants.

Her belief in her legitimacy had rested upon her father's word; but
how if he had deceived her? The thought that she might be of illicit
birth rankled in her mind, poisoning all her happiness. She clenched
her hands in agony, and unable to sit still, paced restlessly to and
fro.

The spirit of justice was deep-planted within Barbara's breast; a
throne unlawfully held had no attractions for her; if she could be
certain that the cardinal's statement were true, then, bitter though
the duty might be, she must resign the crown of Czernova to her enemy
Bora. But she was not certain, and therein lay the torture. She would
have no peace of mind till the question should be settled, and
unfortunately the circumstances of the case seemed to preclude the
possibility of solving the doubt.

When Zabern next day sought the presence of the princess, he was
struck by her pallid complexion and melancholy air.

"The cabinet," he muttered to himself, mistaking the cause of her
sadness, "will have to recall Woodville, or our princess's health will
give way. Your Highness," he said aloud, "Dorislas has just proposed a
conundrum."

"To what effect?" asked Barbara with a smile.

"'Whether does Cardinal Ravenna live at Slavowitz or at Rome?' I
confess I am unable to answer it. It is but forty-eight hours since
the cardinal's return, and yet we now hear that he has set off again
for Rome, and will not come back till your coronation eve."

"When he will bring with him," observed Barbara, quietly, "a papal
bull excommunicating the Princess of Czernova."

"Ha! he'll be well advised not to read it," said Zabern, touching the
hilt of his sabre significantly. "I plainly foresaw that our
preference for Faustus would make an enemy of Ravenna. And so he hath
gone to Rome to solicit a bull of excommunication? And he'll obtain
it. Our intended attack on the Jesuits will not please Pio Nono; once
their foe, he hath of late become their friend and patron.
Excommunication! Thus does the Church reward us for preserving her
property, since in fighting for our own Convent of the Transfiguration,
we were fighting likewise for all the other monasteries of Czernova;
for which service it now appears we are to receive papal curses.
Humph! 'Catholicism without the Pope' will soon have to be our cry."

"Marshal," said Barbara, resolving to make Zabern a confidant of her
secret history, "did you not present me with a handsome bow and quiver
about six months ago?"

Zabern replied in the affirmative, wondering why the princess should
have introduced a matter seemingly irrelevant.

"Have you not felt hurt that I have never once made use of your
gifts?"

"The princess has been occupied with more important matters."

"Shall I give you my reason?"

"If your Highness wills."

"The reason is very simple. I have never handled bow and arrow, and it
might create suspicion if I should now begin to learn."

"Now your Highness is jesting," said Zabern, puzzled to account for
this humor on the part of the princess, because Barbara was not in the
habit of jesting; and, moreover, if her remark were intended for a
jest, it was somewhat difficult to see the point. "You shoot like
Diana herself, or rather, I should say you did, for I must confess
that since your Dalmatian tour you seem to have taken a dislike to
archery."

"Marshal, I have never in my life taken aim at a target."

Zabern was completely dumfounded by the seriousness with which Barbara
spoke. On recovering from his surprise, he said, smiling the while,
for he did not believe in what he was saying,--

"Then if I am to accept your Highness's statement as true, it must
follow as a logical conclusion that the young princess who handled the
bow so admirably three years ago is not the same as she who now
addresses me."

"Now you have hit upon my secret, marshal. I am not Natalie Lilieska."

"And I am not Ladislas Zabern," laughed the other. He could not tell
why the princess spoke thus; he certainly could not believe her.

"Now, Zabern, be serious, for I am serious. Can you not recall when I
first came here from Dalmatia, many supposed lapses of memory on my
part? Was it not a common saying at that time, 'The princess has grown
very forgetful?' Was I ever seen without either my father or Ravenna
by my side? The truth is they were secretly instructing me as to the
persons whom I met, giving me their names, history, and the like. And
yet in spite of many blunders on my part, no one seemed to have any
suspicion as to the truth, not even the Duke of Bora. Listen,"
continued Barbara to the utterly bewildered marshal, "listen while I
give you a secret chapter of my biography."

Zabern gave due heed; and though the story was one of the most
marvellous and most romantic that had ever come under his notice,
either in history or fiction, he was compelled to believe in its
truth, for what motive could the princess have in fabricating such
story?

But when he was made aware of the sacrifice which the cardinal had
demanded of Barbara as the price of his silence, Zabern became first
cold with horror, then hot with rage. A saint as regarded his own
dealings with women, he viewed with peculiar aversion a priest
addicted to illicit amours.

"By heaven, your Highness, if I had but known this three hours earlier
I would have cut the villain's throat."

"And thereby, in the cardinal's words, have precipitated my immediate
ruin. We must act warily. Listen."

And here Barbara proceeded to enlighten the marshal as to Redwitz of
Zamoska, the guardian of the three sealed letters; and how on
receiving intelligence of his uncle's imprisonment or death, the
nephew was to despatch these missives,--one to the Russian Foreign
Minister, a second to the Duke of Bora, and a third to the office of
the "Kolokol" newspaper.

"A subtle knave!" smiled Zabern.

Himself born with a genius for plotting, the marshal took a keen zest
in outwitting the plans of others, and in his view the cardinal's
contrivance for safeguarding himself presented some interesting
features.

"I fail to see why your Highness should fear the cardinal. You are so
like Princess Natalie in face and figure that you can laugh at his
threat to expose you on the coronation day. We will ascribe his
statement to the malice of a disappointed ecclesiastic."

"Not so," replied Barbara, with a shake of her graceful head. "My
sister Natalie had a mole upon her right shoulder, as the physicians
who attended her birth, and the nurses and ladies who waited upon her,
can prove. I have no such mark. Now, Zabern, never lacking in subtle
counsel, you see my peril. Aid me. You defeated Lipski; now defeat the
cardinal for me."

"A very easy matter. Why did not your Highness confide in me before?"

"How--easy? In what way do you propose to act?"

"In the first place, are you certain that no one knows your secret
besides ourselves, Ravenna, and Captain Woodville? This Redwitz, for
example?"

"The cardinal asserted that his nephew was ignorant of the contents of
the three packets."

"Good! For my own part I do not think it probable that the cardinal
would share so valuable a secret with others; his own self-interest
would forbid it. Well, now," mused Zabern, "if we lay violent hands
upon Ravenna the nephew over the border will send off the letters."

"That has been my fear."

"On the other hand, if I despatch an agent to the house of Redwitz to
obtain possession of the letters, and it would be very easy to effect
this--"

"Then Redwitz, discovering his loss, would notify the fact to the
cardinal, who would thus become apprised of our design."

"True, princess; therefore our plan is obvious. Either the seizure of
the papers and the seizure of the cardinal must take place
coincidently, or--But leave it to me, your Highness," added Zabern,
breaking off somewhat abruptly. "Let the cardinal enjoy his brief span
of life at Rome. As soon as he returns he shall be secretly seized in
his own palace, instantly gagged to prevent him from revealing
anything even to his captors, and conveyed in a covered carriage to
the oubliettes of the Citadel. He shall never see daylight again."

Much as the cardinal might deserve such fate, Barbara nevertheless
could not repress a shudder.

"Marshal," she said, with a grave look, "it is a dangerous thing to
seize, imprison, and execute a cardinal, a prince of the Church,
without any pretence at a trial. The Pope--all Europe--will have
something to say on the matter."

"Trial? We dare not try him, for then would he make known to the
judges and others the very matter we wish to keep secret. Ours is a
dangerous game, true; but it would be far more dangerous to let the
villain live. Still, there is no need for his arrest; there are other
and safer ways. The cardinal may disappear mysteriously, and then
Marshal Zabern, the Minister of Justice, will offer a large reward,
ay, and will give it, too, to any one who can tell what has become of
the missing archbishop. Or," added Zabern, grimly, "he may be found to
have committed suicide in his own palace."

Zabern spoke without the least scruple. He was not naturally cruel nor
treacherous, but he reflected that the crown of Czernova was at stake,
and with it, so he believed, the future liberation of Poland; and
where these weighty matters were concerned, the secret removal of a
cardinal was but a light thing in his eyes.

But Barbara was distressed. Must she resort to crime, she who had
declared to the cardinal that her reliance was upon heaven? For her
conscience refused to palliate Zabern's intended deed; the slaying of
Ravenna without trial would be murder, and murder wrought to secure a
title the validity of which she herself was beginning to question.

Zabern noted her look of pain.

"Your Highness, bestow no pity upon the cardinal; he deserves death,
if ever man deserved it. Consider the case of your sister Natalie. Do
not believe that she committed suicide. A maiden of seventeen, to whom
life was just unfolding fair and bright, heiress to a crown, and
affianced to a man whom she loved--heaven forgive her for her
choice!--she had every inducement to live. Doubt not that the cardinal
had a hand in her death. Give me leave to employ the rack upon him,
and I'll soon extract the truth."

"You have my authority for his arrest and conveyance to the oubliettes
of the Citadel. Solitary confinement and a deaf jailer, if you will;
but murder--no! _Fiat voluntas mea._"

With that the interview terminated, and Zabern departed to reduce to
practice the plan he had formed.

Four weeks afterwards he presented to the princess three small
packets, each fastened with violet-colored wax, stamped with the image
of a paschal lamb, a seal that recalled vividly to her mind the
mysterious incidents connected with the cardinal's study at Castel
Nuovo.

"There are Ravenna's documentary safeguards," laughed Zabern. "One
half of our task is accomplished."

"How have you managed it?" asked Barbara.

"Katina's sister Juliska has been my agent. Going to Zamoska she
succeeded in making acquaintance with a maid-servant belonging to the
household of this Redwitz, who, it appears, is a Catholic priest. By
the offer of a large bribe Juliska persuaded this girl to ask her
master's leave to visit a dying brother in a distant part of Russia,
the said dying brother being, of course, a mythical personage; in the
meantime, the maid averred, her duties could be performed by a friend
of hers then resident in Zamoska. The unsuspecting Redwitz gave his
consent, and the pretty Juliska took up her residence under the
priest's roof in the character of temporary servant.

"Fortunately for our plan one of her duties was to attend to the study
of this Redwitz, and, making careful search in his absence, she soon
lighted upon these three packets in a secret drawer of an escritoire.
Having been provided beforehand with the necessary materials, namely,
violet wax and the cardinal's seal, Juliska quickly made up three
blank packets outwardly similar in all respects to the originals; and
the latter being abstracted from the escritoire were replaced by the
fac-similes."

Barbara, breaking the seals, proceeded to read the contents of the
three missives, which were all couched in much the same terms. Each
began by affirming that the then regnant Princess of Czernova was not
Natalie Lilieska, and various circumstances were adduced in proof of
this statement. The document then went on to assert, and the assertion
brought the color of shame to Barbara's cheek, that the self-styled
Natalie was the illegitimate daughter of the late Prince Thaddeus, and
therefore legally debarred from reigning.

"Mother of God! can this be true?" murmured Barbara, with anguish at
her heart.

The cardinal did not deny his own share in the plot by which Barbara
had been raised to the throne, but rather took credit to himself in a
matter, which, as he fondly hoped, would tend to advance the interests
of the Catholic Church in Czernova. He concluded by stating that he
lived in some fear of the princess, who viewed him with dislike, as
being the sole depositary of her secret; therefore if he should be
arrested, or should be secretly slain, or should mysteriously
disappear, men would know to whom the deed should be ascribed.

Barbara, having read the documents, threw them upon the fire, and
watched till they were consumed.

"Nothing now remains," remarked Zabern, "but to arrest the cardinal in
the first moment of his return."

"There is another who threatens my safety. When, marshal, do you
intend to seize Lipski, and his store of arms?"

"Not till the day before the coronation, so please your Highness."

"Where is the advantage in this delay?"

"Why, thus. If we arrest Lipski now we give the enemy opportunities of
forming new plans, and of collecting fresh supplies of weapons,
whereas a raid on the very eve of the coronation will throw the
plotters into a confusion, from which they will not have time to
recover."

"But if the arms should be carried forth before the 14th of
September?"

"My spies are on the watch; of course if that should occur, I shall
have to antedate my raid. Has Radzivil informed your Highness that the
Czar is sending his representative to attend your coronation?"

"The same ambassador as before, the insolent-tongued Orloff, he who so
strangely presumed to doubt the existence of our Charter? Let the
court marshal appoint him a seat near the high altar, whence he can
view our document at his leisure, nay, handle it, if he will," she
added.

"The Charter!" muttered Zabern, grimly, as he withdrew from the
presence of Barbara. "The Charter, humph; I'll not add to your present
anxieties, princess, by stating the truth. Will that devil of an
Orloff suspect my manoeuvre?"

As the day assigned for the coronation drew near, the ancient and
stately capital of Czernova began to assume a gala aspect. Flags waved
in every street. Bright drapery wrought with mottoes decked the walls.
Venetian masts and triumphal arches arose. In a word, all things
deemed essential to a great state-pageant were in due course of
preparation.

For the maintenance of order troops were drafted daily into Slavowitz,
until one half at least of the Czernovese army was quartered in
various parts of the capital.

The Muscovite populace, disposed at first to be wrathful at the
holding of the coronation in a Catholic edifice, moderated their ire
somewhat on learning that their own Archpastor Mosco was to take part
in the solemnity, while the great cardinal, the object of their
hatred, was to be entirely excluded.

Placards containing the words of the amended coronation oath were
posted up in public places, that all might see that the princess would
pledge herself at the altar to respect the rights both of the Greek
and of the Latin churches.

The disaffected, who were hoping for riots on the coronation day,
seemed fated to meet with disappointment, owing to the judicious and
pacificatory policy of the princess's ministry.

That ministry took courage, and anticipated, nay, were confident,
that the great day would pass off without disturbance.

Then came a bolt from the blue!

Early on the morning of the day prior to the coronation, Radzivil and
Zabern sought the presence of the princess.

"Your Highness," said the premier, "a Russian army of one hundred
thousand men is assembling at Zamoska."

Zamoska, distant but six miles from the frontiers of Czernova!

"A Russian army at Zamoska?" repeated Barbara.

"And commanded by the Czar in person," added Radzivil.

"What is the Czar's object in mustering his troops so near our own
borders?"

"When the news reached us late last night," said the premier, "your
ladies reported that you were in so sweet a sleep that it would be
wrong to disturb you. I therefore took upon myself to send an envoy in
your name to the Czar to inquire the reason for this massing of troops
so close to our frontiers."

"You did quite right, my lord. Has the messenger returned?"

"A few minutes ago. And the explanation given is that the Russian army
is gathering at Zamoska for the autumn manoeuvres."

"You do not believe this story?" said the princess, turning to Zabern.

"Princess, no. You must nerve yourself to bear the truth. In my
opinion the Czar is assembling his forces for the purpose of
preventing your Highness's coronation."

"By what right?" exclaimed Barbara, with flashing eyes, and Zabern was
glad to see that she who had most reason for fear showed far more
spirit than Radzivil; "by what right?"

"By that right ever recognized by the world--the right of the
strong," returned Zabern. "By open diplomacy and by secret intrigue,
Russia has failed to sap the independence of Czernova; therefore she
now resorts to the sword."

"And the foe without will be aided by traitors within," murmured the
princess.

"If," said Zabern, with a glance of inquiry at Barbara, "if the
Russians should enter our territory--?"

"We shall not cry 'quarter.' We shall meet them in arms."

"But, your Highness," remonstrated Radzivil, in a tone of dismay,
"what hope have we of defeating them?"

"Very little," replied Barbara, "but what then, Count? Would you have
me be as a saint upon cathedral window with folded hands and downcast
eyes? Meekly submit to see my realm filched from me? Never! So long as
there shall remain to me a man and a musket, so long will I offer
resistance."

"Will not your Highness assemble the cabinet and the Diet?" asked the
premier.

"And listen to timid, divided, or traitorous counsels? No! Marshal,
you are the head of the army; give immediate orders for our troops to
proceed to the frontier. Take what steps you deem best for the defence
of the principality."

"Shall your Highness delay your coronation?" inquired Radzivil.

"And show Russia that we fear her? No. Let not the ceremony be delayed
by so little as one hour. And when the solemnity is over then will I
proceed direct from the cathedral to the camp. To arms! To arms! This
last fragment of Poland shall not fall without making a valiant
stand."

"There spake the spirit of your ancestors, the Jagellons," said
Zabern. "Princess, you should have been born a man."



CHAPTER XV

THE EVE OF THE CORONATION


The dusk of a lovely autumnal eve had fallen over Slavowitz. Lights
were beginning to twinkle along the boulevards.

The preparations for the coronation were complete. The clinking of the
carpenter's hammer had ceased; the last bench had been put up; the
last flag hung out. The streets had become fairy arcades festooned
with flowers and colored lamps.

Crowds of sight-seers were abroad viewing the city decorations.

A numerous throng, composed principally of peasants from the more
remote parts of Czernova, and who had never before seen their
princess, moved to and fro in front of the Vistula Palace, calling for
a sight of their fair ruler; and Barbara, responsive to their desire,
appeared at intervals on the balcony smiling her acknowledgments, and
occasionally waving a scarf--an action which drew forth rounds of
applause.

The gayly decorated capital, brilliant with light, resonant on all
sides with song and music, alive with an ever-moving, laughing
populace, formed a picture difficult to associate with coming
disaster.

"So hath many a city looked on the eve of its fall," murmured Barbara,
as she turned away from the window. "Oh, Paul, why are you not with
me? If you have a plan for the salvation of Czernova, now is the time
for putting it forth."

By means of swift couriers despatched at intervals of every hour the
princess was kept informed of the movements that were taking place
along the frontier.

Early in the day the Russian army--horse, foot, and artillery--with
the Czar Nicholas at its head, had set forward from Zamoska, and was
now encamping within a mile of the Czernovese border. East and west
for many a furlong stretched the armed line of one hundred thousand
men. The Paulovski and Semenovski Guards were there, the most splendid
in the imperial service; as well as the Tartar Guards, the Finland
Guards, and other regiments drawn from the motley nationalities that
compose the vast empire of the Czar. Picturesque Circassians, clad in
silver mail, and mounted upon fiery steeds, pranced proudly along to
the camping-ground marked out for them, discharging their pistols at
the sun in the exuberance of their glee at the prospect of fighting
and pillage.

Wild-looking Cossacks riding shaggy ponies were continually galloping
up to the frontier-line with defiant cries as if challenging the
Czernovese sentinels to fire; after which, with a menacing flourish of
their lances they would career back to their own camp.

Russian generals, stately and bearded, could be seen standing on
various points of elevated ground, coolly reconnoitring through
field-glasses, and studying the topography of Czernova, as if
purposing to conduct a campaign in the principality.

Two envoys successively despatched by the princess to the Russian camp
to inquire into the meaning of these sinister doings had failed to
return. The obvious conclusion was that they had been forcibly
detained.

Barbara had resolved at all hazards to defend her throne; and
accordingly, while a body of ten thousand troops was retained at
Slavowitz for the preservation of order during the coronation, a
second division of ten thousand, with Dorislas in command, had made
their way to the frontier. Under the personal supervision of Zabern,
artillery had been planted upon all the strategic points that
commanded the road to Slavowitz.

It was a critical time. The Czernovese army lay encamped within sight
of a force whose numerical superiority was as ten to one. On each side
of the frontier Polish and Russian sentinels paced not one hundred
yards apart; a chance shot from either side might easily bring on
hostilities.

The princess's ministry lived in hourly dread of invasion, and though
striving to put a bold front upon the matter, were secretly convinced
that the sands of Czernovese liberty were fast running out.

In the midst of a melancholy revery, Barbara learned that the Duke of
Bora was in the palace, desirous of an interview with her. She was not
unprepared for his coming, and stern was her face as she descended to
the White Saloon where the duke was in waiting.

At the foot of the staircase she was met by the captain of the
palace-guard, who requested the watchword for the night; and taking
the proffered tablet, the princess returned it inscribed with the
words, "Fatherland and Liberty."

Lifting her eyes she perceived Zabern by her side.

"The duke has come," she whispered.

"All is ready," replied the marshal.

As Barbara entered the White Saloon, the duke bowed with a scarcely
disguised smile of triumph. The recent Russian movement, as the
princess had secret reason to know, was directed in his interests;
with pitying grace he came as a sort of conqueror to make his terms
with her.

Great at swordsmanship, Bora was not very shrewd in other matters, and
none but a fool would have ventured to play the game that he was
playing.

"I have come, fair cousin," he began, undeterred by her cold manner,
"to remind you of your promise so frequently made--your promise to
marry me."

Barbara made no reply, but regarded him with a look of sovereign
disdain on her beautiful face.

"It is true," continued Bora, airily, "that you gave what you were
pleased to call your final decision some weeks ago; still, the logic
of events often compels one to revoke a decision."

"And why do you deem the present a favorable time for renewing your
suit? What is this logic of events?"

Bora smiled mysteriously.

"I will say no more than this," he remarked, "that you will certainly
live to regret the rejection of my suit."

"You evade my question. Let me then express what is in your mind. My
lord, by favor of the Czar, you expect to reign over Czernova; you
seek to usurp my throne. But knowing that so long as I live, your
throne would always be insecure, you would make me your wife, not from
love, not from generosity or pity, but merely to give validity to your
title. Have I not read your cowardly motive aright?"

She had--accurately.

Unaware how much the princess had learned of his secret dealings, the
fatuous Bora had come in the full assurance that the approach of a
Russian army and the consequent rumors of annexation would have
disposed her to welcome his suit as a means of retaining her throne.
He now perceived his error. The princess was not so timid a person as
he had thought. Her stern manner somewhat alarmed him. He began to
regret his imprudence in thus venturing into her presence.

"In short, your grace, marriage with you is the only thing that can
save me from deposition. Is not that what you would say?"

"You reject my suit? Good! Then let this interview terminate," said
Bora, rising as if to depart.

The princess restrained him by a haughty gesture.

"Keep your seat, or I shall call the guard."

The duke obeyed, trembling now for his own safety. Never had he seen
the princess looking so angry.

"Why, during the past twelve months, have you insulted me with vows of
love, with offers of marriage?"

"Insulted? Why that word?" said the duke, striving to conceal his
alarm under an assumption of dignity.

"Because while simulating affection for me you were secretly
intriguing with my enemies."

"You have been listening to the aspersions of Zabern."

"I have been listening to the words of Lipski. Ah! you start, my lord,
and well you may. You are not yet aware--for the affair was carried
out very quietly--that a raid was made this afternoon upon Lipski's
premises. His cellars were found to contain a vast store of arms. In
the house, too, was a number of Russian agents, among them the spy,
Ivan Russakoff. Lipski has made full confession."

"Of what?" muttered the duke, looking thunderstruck at the princess's
statement.

"Of many things. Here is one. About a twelve-month ago there was
established a new journal entitled the 'Kolokol,' mainly devoted to
the libelling of myself and to the stirring-up of civil strife. Before
the founding of that newspaper the Muscovites of Russograd were as
loyal and law-abiding as the Poles themselves; under the influence of
the 'Kolokol,' however, they have become restless, disorderly,
inclined to sedition. Was that well done, John Lilieski?"

"What has this to do with me?"

"Much, for though Lipski might be editor, yet he who actually owned
the paper, financed it, and secretly controlled its policy was none
other than the Duke of Bora."

"A fable of Lipski's, invented to please the princess's ministers."

"We will see whether you adhere to that statement in the presence of
Lipski, for you shall have the opportunity of facing your accuser. He
likewise avers that his measure, the Secular Appropriation Bill, was
in reality your work; he simply acted as your mouthpiece in the Diet.
The money with which he corrupted the deputies was supplied by you,
and came from Orloff, the governor-general of Warsaw."

"A falsehood. I affirm the story to be a falsehood."

"You devised a plot for the destruction of the Czernovese Charter. You
wrote to Orloff desiring him to obtain the Czar's sanction for this
scheme--a scheme which was, however, happily frustrated," added
Barbara, not knowing how widely she erred from the truth.

"Lipski has been terrorized into saying whatever Zabern wishes,"
muttered the duke, moistening his dry lips with his tongue.

He saw that his treason had become known and proved; and for such
treason as his there could be but one punishment--death! He glanced
around the apartment, wondering whether her guards were really within
call. In his desperation he would not have hesitated at slaying her,
if by that deed he could have effected his escape.

Barbara drew forth a handkerchief marked with a dreadful dark stain.
Instead of regarding it with a shudder as might have been expected,
she pressed it affectionately to her lips.

"The blood of Trevisa," she said solemnly, "of Trevisa, the most
faithful and loyal of my servants--slain at your instigation.
Russakoff was paid to do the deed by Lipski, but Lipski took his
instructions from the Duke of Bora."

"It's a lie."

"Katina Ludovska, though at the time she did not clearly see Lipski's
face, has to-day recognized him by his voice, as the man who at the
inn--Sobieski's Rest--offered to Russakoff the bribe of four hundred
roubles. I have had Lipski brought here purposely to meet you. He is
in the palace at the present moment. Your grace, come with me," said
the princess, rising and motioning Bora to follow her. "Let me see you
meet him with a denial. None more glad than I if you will do this.
Come. Dare you?"

It seemed not. He shrank back from accompanying the princess to the
adjoining ante-room, where sat both his miserable accomplice Lipski
and the equally miserable Russakoff, each under the guard of a
quaternion of soldiers.

"You virtually admit your guilt in refusing to face your accuser. The
muskets found on Lipski's premises have been surreptitiously forwarded
by Orloff with your knowledge and approval. To-morrow before break of
day those arms were to have been distributed to a Muscovite mob
rendered valiant by copious supplies of vodka. At a certain point
along the intended route of the coronation procession, barricades were
to be thrown up, and when firing and rioting had begun, a message was
to be despatched to the camp of the Czar, urging him to come and save
the Muscovites from massacre at the hands of the Poles. And the Czar,
responsive to the appeal, would come to establish in Czernova what he
would call a stable government, its stability to consist in the
acceptance of his own suzerainty and in the establishment of his
kinsman Bora upon the throne. The deposed princess might marry Bora,
if she chose; if not, there is in Ladoga's gray lake an island
fortress named Schlusselburg; there let her pass the remainder of her
days. Such is the programme you would fain carry out to-morrow. My
lord of Bora, you have played a dark game; it is time you received
your reward."

The princess clapped her hands quickly, and at the sound every door of
the White Saloon opened and through each there came marching a file of
soldiers, two abreast. With quick silent footfall they advanced over
the velvet carpet, and with a thrill of awe the duke perceived that
all were carrying their arms reversed as at a funeral.

Deploying in their advance the files so moved as to form a double ring
around the princess and the duke, and there they stood, terrible in
their rigidity and silence.

The circle gave way and Zabern appeared, a chilling glare in his eye.
At a sign from him one soldier with a swift motion pulled the duke's
hands behind him, and in a moment more had corded his wrists, while a
second pinned upon his breast a piece of white satin in shape like a
heart.

At sight of this dreadful fabric designed to direct the aim of a
firing party, the duke's courage fled; his knees smote together; he
grew white to the very lips.

Only ten miles distant were one hundred thousand men ready to assist
him to a throne; for all the aid they could now give him they might as
well have been situated in the planet Mars.

"The firing-party awaits you in the quadrangle," said Zabern, as the
guards closed up around the duke. "Forward!"

"Have a care what you do, Cousin Natalie," said Bora, scarcely able to
speak from fear. "You will have to answer to the Czar for this."

"You speak treason with your last breath," said Barbara. "Answer to
the Czar for executing a traitor in my own principality! What
jurisdiction hath the Czar in Czernova?"

"Traitor!" cried Zabern, fiercely. "I would stab you with my own hand,
though the Czar himself were by. To the quadrangle--forward!"

The murmur of the restless populace without penetrated to the interior
of the palace, and was heard by the wretched duke. Was he to die with
the sound of the coronation-mirth ringing in his ears?

In the ante-chamber Zabern halted his troop and returned to the side
of the princess.

"This instrument lacks your Highness's signature," he remarked,
presenting her with the warrant for the duke's execution.

"On occasions such as this," murmured Barbara, taking the document,
"one is tempted to say with Saint Vladimir, 'Who am I that I should
shed blood?'"

"And yet Vladimir shed a good deal, if history speak truth," responded
Zabern, "and therefore became he a saint after Russia's own heart.
Your Highness, this is no time for pity. It is a question of your life
or the duke."

The princess appended a name to the warrant.

"I fear," observed Zabern, with a grave smile, "that the captain of
the firing-party will question the authority of that signature."

The princess looked, and to her surprise saw that she had subscribed
herself not "Natalie Lilieski," but "Barbara Tressilian!" She had
unwittingly written her mother's maiden name.

She did not erase the signature, but proceeded to indite a fresh
warrant. She wrote very slowly, pondering as she wrote. What would the
real Natalie have thought, said, or done, if she were living now and
saw her elder sister signing the death-warrant of her lover?

With a sigh she handed the document to the marshal, who immediately
returned it with a very strange look. And there, staring at her from
the paper, were the self-same words as before--"Barbara Tressilian!"

The princess had her superstitious moments, and this was one of them.
That she should unintentionally have written the same twice seemed a
confirmation of the misgiving that had troubled her for several weeks.

"This is the hand of heaven," she murmured, in a tone of awe, and
laying down the pen. "Are not the illegitimate always called after
their mother? I have written my true name. Marshal," she added in a
fearful whisper, "it is Bora who should be on the throne, and I should
be the prisoner of the Citadel."

"Your Highness, do not talk thus."

But Barbara paid little heed.

"I am tempted to summon the Diet, even at this late hour, and to
reveal to them my secret history, the whole miserable story of my
birth."

"You will bring ruin on Czernova if you do. What guarantee have you
that the cardinal's story is true?"

"This," replied Barbara, pointing to her signature on the
death-warrant.

The marshal shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly.

"And therefore, because you suspect yourself to be of illicit birth,
you would tender your diadem to an assassin and a traitor. Then let
the Czar himself lay down his power; true, he is the son of the
Emperor Paul, but was Paul really the child of Peter III.? Catherine
and Soltikoff, the chamberlain, could best answer that question.
Princess, you are over-scrupulous. Your title to the throne is founded
on a better right than that of the accident of birth. The sovereign
rules by the will of the people, and are not the majority on your
side? If the princely office were made elective, is there any
candidate who would have the least chance of success against yourself?
And, _vox populi, vox Dei_. What other sanction do you require?"

"The sanction of my own conscience. And to-morrow--to-morrow," she
murmured in a tone of distress, "after taking the Holy Sacrament I
must lay my hand upon the Charter--"

"Upon a forged document, rather," muttered Zabern, grimly to himself.

"And declare that 'I, Natalie Lilieska, do solemnly vow' to maintain
its provisions, knowing that I am not Natalie Lilieska. No, Zabern, I
cannot--I will not utter this falsehood."

"Then let the Pope avow himself a liar when in solemn conclave he
assumes the style of Pio Nono, and ignores his true name of Giovanni
Mastai."

"All men know of the Pope's change of name; there is no attempt at
deception; but I claim to be other than I am. If I were certain of
illegitimacy I would resign my power this very night."

"I see quite plainly," said Zabern, speaking with more freedom than he
had hitherto employed towards the princess, "that if Czernova were
handed over to the Czar, and your faithful ministers sent to Siberia,
you would be very well content."

As he spoke the marshal drew his sabre.

"Do you bid me break the sword that has been so long used in the
Polish cause? Must I retire hence to aid the Hungarians, to obtain
that freedom which you would deny to us in Czernova?"

"No, marshal, no; we must not part. I will stand by those who have
stood by me. Clinging to the hope that there is no dishonor on my
name, I will hold to my crown."

"A wise decision, princess," replied Zabern, considerably relieved by
her words. "And now as to the duke's execution."

"What, marshal? Would you have me sign his death-warrant when I am
doubtful of my right to rule?--and sign it, too, in the name of one,
who, strange as it may seem to us, loved him? No, I cannot sign this
document with the name of Natalie."

"But your Highness cannot sign it with any other."

"Then I will not sign it at all."

"I greatly fear that your Highness will live to regret this clemency."

"Be it so."

The first glow of Barbara's anger had passed, and she listened to the
voice of prudence. Though the duke richly merited death, yet his
execution without trial would give the Czar a very convenient pretext
for intervening in the affairs of Czernova.

"By shooting the duke I make the Czar the heir to my crown," said
Barbara. "By retaining him alive I may be able to make use of his
person as a pawn on the political chessboard. Imprisonment will be the
wiser course. Remove the duke to the Citadel."

And inasmuch as the marshal recognized Barbara as his princess, he had
of necessity to obey.

When Zabern had seen the duke securely lodged in a cell of the
Citadel, he returned to the White Saloon, where Barbara still
lingered, wrapt in melancholy thought.

"Your Highness, on entering the palace this note was put into my
hands."

Barbara glanced at the missive and saw that it contained the following
words: "Marshal, will you accord the bearer of this an interview with
the princess?--PAUL WOODVILLE."

Barbara's melancholy vanished as if by enchantment. Two months had now
elapsed since Paul's departure, and during that time she had received
no message from him. Now at last there seemed to be tidings.

"Who is the bearer, marshal?"

"One returned from the dead. A woman calling herself 'Jacintha of
Castel Nuovo.' She is in the ante-room at the present moment awaiting
your Highness's pleasure."

The mention of the name "Jacintha" almost drew a scream from the
princess. She ordered the visitor to be instantly admitted.

Barbara's character was not marked by the false pride that is too
often the accompaniment of rank and wealth. She welcomed her humble
visitor as warmly as she would have welcomed a queen or empress.
Jacintha had nursed her back to life, and Barbara, mindful of this
service, was delighted to have the opportunity of making some return.

"My lady--your Highness, I should say," began Jacintha, sinking upon
her knees, "it is very untimely on my part to visit you on the eve of
your coronation, when you are occupied--"

"My dear old nurse," said Barbara, raising Jacintha up with a winning
smile, "let me whisper a secret to you. I want to forget my
coronation, and your presence will make me forget it. Sit here beside
me, and let us talk of the old days at Castel Nuovo."

Zabern would have withdrawn, but the princess bade him stay.

"I had thought," continued Barbara, "that you had perished in that
dreadful earthquake. And Lambro? Is he alive?"

"No, my la--your Highness. We were outside the castle at the time of
the calamity, for some previous rumblings had alarmed us. When the
great shock came Lambro slipped into a fissure that opened beneath his
feet. He went down before my very eyes, and the earth closed over him
immediately. How I myself escaped I cannot tell, for the ground was
opening and closing all around me."

"Poor Lambro!" sighed Barbara, who had always entertained a liking for
the old Palicar, not knowing how little he deserved her friendship.
"And where have you been living during the two past years?"

Jacintha's story, briefly stated, was as follows. After the earthquake
she had made her way to Trieste, and thence by steamer to England.
Within a few weeks of her return she had had the good fortune to
become housekeeper in one of the ancient halls of Kent.

"But now will you not remain with me?" smiled the princess.

"Your Highness will not wish it after you have heard the whole of my
story," replied Jacintha, and the strange look which accompanied her
words somehow caused all Barbara's gladness to die away.

A few days previously Jacintha's master had bidden her prepare for the
coming of one of his friends, Captain Woodville by name. What was her
amazement to find in her visitor none other than Captain Cressingham,
who on his part was equally astounded at meeting Jacintha. Paul
immediately fell to talking of the old days at Castel Nuovo, and,
among other matters, he questioned Jacintha closely as to the young
lady who had visited the castle under the escort of Cardinal Ravenna.
Jacintha learnt from Paul that this lady was in reality the
half-sister of Barbara, and that both held the rank of princess. Then
it was that Jacintha resolved to tell Paul the true story of Natalie's
death.

"Ha!" muttered Zabern, foreseeing that his dark suspicion was about to
be verified.

"And Captain Woodville has sent you here to tell it to me likewise--is
it not so?" asked Barbara.

"Yes, your Highness. I wanted to put the story into writing, that you
might learn it in that way. I wanted Captain Cressingham himself to
tell it to you. But no; he said it was better that you should hear it
from my lips, and he prevailed upon me to come here."

"Go on, Jacintha," said Barbara encouragingly, for Jacintha seemed
very loath to proceed.

"Your Highness, it is no wonder that the earthquake came to swallow up
the castle, for wicked doings took place there. But do not blame me
for my association with them. I loathed my position there, and would
have run away, but for the fear of Lambro and his mastiffs. Now that
you are a great princess, you will perhaps punish me when you shall
have heard the truth."

"Captain Woodville would not have sent you all the way to Czernova, if
he had thought that I should punish you. Tell me the story of my
sister's death. You have my word beforehand that no hurt shall happen
to you."

And Jacintha with a faltering tongue began a story, the recital of
which caused Barbara to thrill with horror.

"O Natalie, my sister! my sister!" she murmured, when Jacintha had
finished. "But for the cardinal, you would still be living. His guilty
love has driven one sister to suicide, and now, opposed in his wicked
desires, he seeks to destroy the other. How can heaven permit this man
to live? Bora's guilt is innocence compared with the guilt of
Ravenna."

Powerless to allay the princess's grief, Zabern could only watch her
in sympathizing silence, and mentally renew his vows of vengeance upon
the cardinal. So full was Barbara of this new sorrow that she seemed
to have forgotten Paul; at least she made no inquiries about him.

Zabern, however, leading Jacintha aside, quietly questioned her as to
the movements of the princess's late secretary. It appeared that Paul
had accompanied Jacintha as far as Berlin, and had there put her in a
train bound for Czernova; seized with a sudden illness on the way, she
had been removed from the carriage at the first stopping-place, and
this circumstance had delayed her arrival in Czernova by several days.
Paul himself, on parting from her, was going direct to St. Petersburg,
a statement which Zabern received with incredulity.

"St. Petersburg? Are you certain?"

Yes, Jacintha was quite certain.

"St. Petersburg," muttered Zabern. "Not three months ago the Russians
were demanding his extradition, and now does he venture into the
country of his enemies? If his passport is made out in the name of
Paul Woodville, he is a doomed man; they will never let the defender
of Tajapore depart. This is something I can't understand."

Though closely interrogated by Zabern, Jacintha was unable to throw
any light upon the motives that had prompted Paul to visit Russia.

The marshal paced uneasily to and fro.

"Captain Woodville," he murmured, "pledged his solemn word to be in
Czernova on the coronation eve; for, forewarned by me, he had reason
to believe that the princess's crown depended upon his sword. But he
has not yet appeared. His absence has something sinister in it, for it
is certain that he would be here if he could. True, his presence in
one sense has now become unnecessary, inasmuch as the duke being a
prisoner in the Citadel will be unable to appear in the cathedral
to-morrow to challenge the princess's rights, and to defy her to
mortal combat by deputy. But as Woodville can know nothing of the
duke's imprisonment, why does he not hasten to the supposed aid of the
princess? I greatly fear that our champion is himself a prisoner."

At this point intimation was given by the chamberlain that one of
Zabern's familiars, privileged to enter the palace at all hours, was
in the anteroom, desirous of a word with the marshal.

Zabern withdrew from the White Saloon, and returned after a minute's
absence with the tidings for which he had been waiting all day.

"Your Highness, my spy appointed to watch the cardinal in his
journeying to and fro from Rome reports that his Eminence has just
arrived at Slavowitz, bringing with him the papal bull which deposes
the Princess of Czernova, and absolves her subjects from their
allegiance."

"Say, rather, bringing with him his own death-warrant," cried
Barbara, with a blaze of wrath unusual in her.

"Your Highness gives me leave to deal with the cardinal as I please,"
whispered Zabern, tapping the hilt of his sabre significantly.

Barbara made no reply.

The marshal interpreting her silence as consent, stole quietly from
the apartment.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CRIME THAT FAILED


The coronation eve was drawing to a close as Pasqual Ravenna, Cardinal
Archbishop of Czernova, sat in the library of his archiepiscopal
palace in company with a young priest, Melchior by name.

One of the points which had wounded the pride of Ravenna in time past
had been the refusal of Abbot Faustus, of the Convent of the
Transfiguration, to submit his monastery to a visit of inspection from
the cardinal. Though ecclesiastically the superior, Ravenna was unable
to enforce compliance from the sturdy abbot, who claimed to be
independent in virtue of an ancient bull granted by Pius the Second.
Even a mild admonition from the regnant Pope had failed to produce any
effect.

The cardinal had begun to suspect that Faustus's defiance was prompted
by other motives than the desire to maintain his independence; there
was some secret connected with this monastery, a secret in which the
princess herself was involved; and accordingly he had deputed the
priest Melchior, whose crafty character well qualified him for the
work, to discover, if possible, the mystery that lay hidden behind the
walls of the Convent of the Transfiguration.

And now, in the first hour of the cardinal's return from Rome,
Melchior had come to report the results of his investigations, results
which were highly satisfactory to Ravenna.

"So," he murmured, when the other had unfolded his discoveries, "a
conspiracy for the emancipation of Poland, a conspiracy to which
Ravenna must not be admitted, such being the express command of the
princess. 'The cardinal is not to be trusted.' Ha! The place then is
no true monastery but an arsenal, a treasury, and a repository for
treasonable documents. This explains the conduct of Faustus in
excluding me from his convent. Favored by the princess, he has grown
insolent, and would usurp my place at the coronation. To-morrow he
will rue his defiance when he sees his monastery in the hands of
Russian soldiery. The Czar's army lies conveniently near for the
seizure. How did you learn all these details, Melchior?"

"From a kinsman of mine, a monk in this same convent. In a
conversation with him I stated my belief that his monastery was
utilized as a secret rendezvous for Polish patriots. After some
hesitation he admitted as much; and then, won over by my professions
of patriotism, he revealed to me the length and breadth of the
conspiracy."

"Melchior, you have done well, and shall not go unrewarded."

The priest expressed his gratitude by an ugly smile, and then with a
look of cunning he continued,--

"Your Eminence, I have discovered something more. We Czernovese have
lost our title to autonomy. The Charter has been destroyed, and the
princess's ministers are doing their best to keep the matter a
secret."

"Ha! how do you know this?" said Ravenna, surprised beyond measure at
the statement.

"The Charter was burnt by two sentinels whose duty it was to guard the
Eagle Tower. They were traitors in the pay of Russia. By the waving of
a blue lamp they signalled the successful accomplishment of the work
to a confederate concealed in the palace grounds, who immediately
conveyed the news to Orloff, the governor of Warsaw. This confederate
returned to Slavowitz a few weeks ago. He is a Catholic, it seems,
regular at confessional. Being troubled with the thing called
conscience, and desiring to be absolved from his guilt, he revealed
the matter to his father confessor Virgilius, who, in turn--"

"Revealed it to you," interrupted the Cardinal, his surprise yielding
to delight, for the news furnished him with another weapon to be used
against the princess. "What has become of the two who destroyed the
Charter?"

"They have never been seen since the night of the deed. Doubtless they
are now in Russia enjoying a pension from the Czar's ministers. Oh!
your eminence, there can be no doubt as to the truth of the story.
Orloff himself came as envoy to Slavowitz; he boldly declared in the
presence of the princess and her ministers that the Czernovese Charter
was a myth, and non-existent; and--here is the significant point--her
Highness and Zabern did not refute him by producing the Charter, but
took refuge in evasions."

"But, Melchior," observed the cardinal with perplexed air, "you must
be in error. This evening the iron coffer containing the Charter was
conveyed to the Cathedral under a strong guard of soldiers. It plays a
part in the coronation-ritual."

Melchior smiled caustically.

"Your eminence, three little circumstances that have happened of late
may serve to throw a little light upon what is contained in that
coffer. Firstly, within a few days after the destruction of the
Charter, Zabern's mistress, Katina Ludovska, made purchase of some
parchment at a stationer's in the Rue de Sobieski, and was very
critical as to its color, texture, and the like. Secondly, this same
Katina was for several days in an apartment of the Vistula Palace
occupied in writing. Thirdly, as you are aware, our _Museum
Czernovium_ contains a collection of historical documents, among them
autograph letters of several Czars, and--what is more pertinent to the
occasion--an imperial ukase bearing the signature, '_Buit po semu,
Ickathrina._--Be it so, Catherine.' Your Eminence will doubtless
remember that our Charter ended with these same words, '_Buit po semu,
Ickathrina_.' Now it is a curious circumstance that this imperial
ukase should have vanished some weeks ago from its glass case in the
Museum; the curator is unable to account for its disappearance, but
probably Zabern can."

"You mean--?"

"That any one wishing to imitate the signature of Catherine would find
the task facilitated by having this ukase before him. Your Eminence,
doubt it not that the document to be laid upon the altar to-morrow is
a forgery. Count Orloff in the character of ambassador will be present
at the coronation. A word to him--"

"Enough," interrupted Ravenna with an exultant smile. "This shall to
the Czar. Here's matter sufficient to depose the princess. Within
twenty-four hours the iron hand of Russia will be pressing the
principality."

"True. And yet," said Melchior, somewhat puzzled to account for his
master's attitude, "and yet when that happens what place will there be
for a Roman archbishop?"

"None: and therefore after to-morrow I quit this barbarous
principality for Italy, leaving without reluctance, for, you know, I
never was a Pole. The Pope has appointed me to the See of Palestrina.
You shall accompany me, Melchior, and the first rich benefice that
becomes vacant in my diocese shall be yours. Italia, Italia," said the
cardinal with a glow of enthusiasm, "where the skies are sunny, the
wines delicious, and the women--"

"More yielding than the cold dames of Czernova," smiled Melchior, well
acquainted with his master's character.

"The hour is late, and much remains to be done," observed Ravenna.
"Melchior, you will call upon those of the clergy whom I have named,
and request their attendance here at eight in the morning to listen to
a rescript from the Pope."

The priest bowed and quitted the apartment.

Left alone, the cardinal drew writing-materials towards himself, and
proceeded to indite a letter, a letter intended for the perusal of no
less a personage than the Czar Nicholas. The contents of the missive
were brief, but exceedingly weighty.

In leisurely fashion, Ravenna went over what he had written, and
seemingly satisfied with the composition, he proceeded to fold the
paper several times; then selecting--and not without reason as the
sequel proved--an extremely small envelope, he enclosed the letter
within it.

The night was very warm; and the windows were open to catch every
breath of air. These windows overlooked the gardens in the rear of the
palace, for the cardinal's library lay remote from the public street.

The sounds of distant revelry floated faintly on the air. The
Czernovese were not disposed to retire early on such a festal eve as
this. Many, indeed, were spending the night in the streets for the
purpose of securing a place of vantage from which to view the
coronation procession next day.

Ravenna smiled cynically as he listened to the murmur of the far-off
voices.

"The morrow shall see your mirth turned to mourning," he muttered.

The letter accidentally dropped from his hand as he was in the act of
affixing his seal of the paschal lamb. He let it lie, while with
closed eyes he leaned back in his chair, picturing his triumph of the
morrow. In fancy he could see the princess led off, a pale, silent,
drooping captive under an escort of Russian soldiers, and the Duke of
Bora enthroned in the cathedral amid the shouting of the Czar's
legions.

"Barbara Lilieska," he said aloud, and with his eyes still closed,
"you shall regret your insolence in putting an affront upon me in the
sight of Czernova."

"Don't be too sure of that," said an ironical voice.

The one man in Czernova whom the cardinal least desired to see on this
particular night was Zabern; and yet it was Zabern who had spoken!

With a sudden start Ravenna opened his eyes to find the marshal
standing with folded arms upon the other side of the table. Behind him
was his orderly, Nikita. A third man, a trooper named Gabor, was in
the act of locking the door of the apartment. Alive to his peril, the
cardinal struck repeatedly at a bell upon the table.

"Of no use," remarked Zabern, with an ice-cold smile. "There is no one
in the house but your steward, who is keeping watch at the foot of the
staircase. He has lately become a spy in my service. He has just
dismissed your household, bidding them go forth to view the city
decorations. They will not return for an hour at least--ample time for
our work."

"What do you want of me?"

"Your life."

Ravenna could not suppose that Zabern had come for anything else;
nevertheless, the cool, frank avowal sent the blood to his heart with
a rush.

"You would murder me?" he gasped.

"Call it murder if you will. Execution is my term."

"What is my trespass?"

"'Stolen waters are sweet.' Strange text for holy cardinal to address
to youthful princess. You comprehend? Do you ask, then, why you should
die?"

So all was known to these men. What mercy could he expect? He glanced
from one to the other, but saw no pity in their stern, set faces. The
trio had come to do a bloody work, and would do it. He strove to keep
a cool head; he tried to reason with his would-be assassins.

"You will have to answer for what you do."

"To the saints above--yes; and I am ready. At the bar of God I'll rest
my title to heaven on the holy deed I do to-night. To a human
tribunal--no, for none shall know that you have been killed by others.
Behold!"

Zabern, as he spoke, drew forth a small cut-glass phial, half-full of
a liquid resembling distilled water. The silver cap bore the
inscription, "The Manna of Saint Nicholas."

"_Aqua Tophania_," continued the marshal. "Ah! you start? You
recognize the phial? Yes, it has been taken from a secret drawer of
your own cabinet. Why a holy cardinal should have poison in his
possession is best known to himself. I can, however, testify to its
efficacy, for the condemned criminal upon whom I experimented to-day
died within five minutes. Pasqual Ravenna, your servants on their
return will find you leaning over the table dead, clutching this empty
phial in your hand. To-morrow all Slavowitz will be discussing the
suicide of the cardinal archbishop. Your nephew, Redwitz of Zamoska,
may send off his three sealed packets, and very much surprised the
recipients will be to find nothing within them but blank papers, for
the originals have been abstracted, read by the princess, and burnt."

Like one dazed by a heavy blow, Ravenna stared vacantly at the
speaker, and then his eye, mechanically sinking lighted upon something
white near his feet. It was the letter that he had recently written.
The sight of it suddenly quickened his blood and suggested a plan for
outwitting his assassins. He was still seated at the table, and with
his foot he gently pushed the letter forward till it lay concealed
beneath the fringe of the overhanging damask cloth.

Upon the table itself there lay before him a document almost as
dangerous as the letter. This was a roll of vellum with papal seals
attached. It was beyond him to conceal this document from Zabern,
whose face was set upon it with grim satisfaction.

"What have we here?" he cried, stooping over the table, and lifting
the vellum. "The papal bull, as I live," he continued, glancing his
eye rapidly over the document, and reading snatches from it. "'We, Pio
Nono ... do herewith commission our faithful brother in Christ,
Pasqual Ravenna'--Angels of light! such names mingled! Christ and
Ravenna!--'commission him to pronounce sentence of anathema and
excommunication against the so-called Natalie Lilieska,'--so-called,
so-called," muttered Zabern, stopping in his reading with a sudden
fear, and hardly daring to continue the perusal; "what does that
mean?--'in that while claiming to be lawful Princess of Czernova, and
a daughter of the True Church, she is an impostor who ...' Oh, devil
that you are!" cried Zabern, breaking off, and grinding his teeth in
anger, "so you have told that story to the Pope?"

"It is known to all the Vatican," replied Ravenna, hoping that the
knowledge of the fact would restrain Zabern from his dreadful purpose.
"The Pope will understand why I am murdered, and to whom the deed
should be ascribed. You will do well to pause and reflect."

Zabern's face grew terrible in its expression, as he realized the
desperate strait to which Barbara was now reduced. If the Pope were
master of her secret, not only could he anathematize, but he had
likewise the power of deposing her whenever he chose.

"'Pause and reflect'?" said Zabern, repeating Ravenna's words. "Why,
this disposes me more than ever to slay you. What motive have I for
keeping you alive? So, cardinal," he continued, after a brief pause,
"you would have come to the coronation, robed in full canonicals,
with the Latin clergy of Czernova at your back, to interdict Abbot
Faustus from performing the ceremony, to read the Pope's rescript, and
to anathematize the princess with bell, book, and candle. Vain your
hopes! This papal bull shall not be read in the cathedral to-morrow,
for here is the end of it."

With these words Zabern raised the document to the flame of the
candelabrum, and there held it till the vellum had shrivelled to
blackened flakes.

"That the Pope should sign his name to such rhodomontade!" he muttered
contemptuously. "He threatens us; let him beware of his own downfall.
The House of Savoy shall be our avengers. The Sardinian king will
never rest till he himself shall reign at Rome."

A prediction destined to be fulfilled.

Zabern, resolving to show cause for the slaying of Ravenna, seated
himself in a chair, rested his elbow upon the table, his face upon his
hand, and glared across the crimson damask.

"Cardinal, when you told the Pope that story, did you tell him the
whole of it? How the Princess Natalie met her death, for example?"

"The Princess Natalie committed suicide at Castel Nuovo."

"True; and so you told her father, Prince Thaddeus, but you did not
tell him her reason for the act. Let us hear it."

Ravenna was silent.

"The truth is that you had become possessed of unhallowed desires
towards that fair princess during your tour with her around the shores
of the Adriatic. When at Zara you proposed a visit to your place,
Castel Nuovo, and the princess, doubting nothing, willingly
accompanied you. While there you made certain proposals to her, who
was so innocent in mind that she failed to understand you, and
wonderingly repeated your words to the housekeeper Jacintha. Full well
did Jacintha know your object in bringing that young girl there. For,
holy cardinal, Natalie was not the first. You were ever eloquent in
persuading youthful widows and maidens to renounce the world and to
take the veil. It was your practice to escort your victims to some
convent in Dalmatia, and the journey was always broken at Castel
Nuovo. When your _protégées_ left that place they had good reason for
wishing to hide themselves in a convent.

"To such a point of depravity and recklessness had your nature grown
that you could not refrain, even where a princess was concerned. At
Castel Nuovo there was a secret passage leading from your study to the
chamber where Natalie slept. In the silence and darkness of the night
you stole down to accomplish your wicked purpose. When I think of the
shame and horror of that poor girl's awakening, her imploring words
and cries--"

At this point Nikita, thinking of his own youthful daughter, who once
upon a time had been almost persuaded by Ravenna to adopt a conventual
life, could no longer restrain himself.

"Have at you!" he cried fiercely, drawing his sabre.

The stroke aimed by him at the cardinal's head was intercepted by the
sword of the quick-moving Zabern.

"Hold, Nikita. No clumsy work. No betrayal of ourselves. Toffana's
hell-drops will do the trick more safely. Put up your weapon."

When the other had somewhat reluctantly obeyed, Zabern resumed,--

"Next morning the wretched princess, rendered completely insane by the
thought of her dishonor, staggered through the secret passage, and
after invoking the vengeance of heaven upon you, she stabbed herself
and so died.

"By some means you prevailed upon Lambro and Jacintha to maintain
silence on the part played by you in this tragedy. A message was sent
to Prince Thaddeus, who happened at this time to be at Zara. He came;
wept over his daughter's suicide; wondered what motive could have
prompted the deed, but never suspected the holy cardinal. Pasqual
Ravenna, do you deny the truth of this?"

No answer came from the accused.

"Cardinal, such guilt as yours would be ill-atoned for by an
after-life of penance in monastic cell, in sackcloth and ashes, with
scourgings and with diet of bitter herbs. But, untroubled by the
crime, dead to the voice of conscience, you mingle unashamedly with
your fellow-men, you aspire to play the statesman--nay, you hesitate
not to minister in the holiest rites of religion. Was it not enough
for you to have destroyed Natalie, but that you must seek to draw her
sister to your arms? And because our princess would remain virtuous
and good, you in your black rage would come forward at the coronation
to-morrow, and, by lying words--for none know better than yourself
that she is the lawful daughter of Thaddeus--you would seek to procure
her dethronement. Never slew I man yet, save with regret; now for the
first time do I take pleasure in killing a fellow-mortal.

"Pasqual Ravenna, your last hour has come. To-night shall Princess
Natalie's dying cry be answered. The maidens whom you have wronged
shall be avenged."

Something glittered in Zabern's hand. It was a surgical instrument of
steel, designed for forcing open the jaws of persons bent on keeping
them shut.

Holding this dreadful instrument, together with the poison-phial, in
his left and only hand, Zabern motioned Nikita and Gabor to grip the
cardinal by the arms.

"Give me ten minutes, ten minutes only, in the next apartment," gasped
Ravenna.

"For what purpose?"

"To--pray."

"I fail to see the use," responded Zabern dryly. "Heavens! Nikita, how
strangely constituted these churchmen must be to think that a life of
guilt may be atoned for by ten minutes of prayer."

"As you yourself hope for mercy at the last day, I beseech you to
grant me ten minutes--five, then--in the next room."

Zabern laid the steel and phial upon the table.

"You may have ten minutes' grace, but you will do your praying here."

"That apartment is an oratory," pleaded Ravenna.

"Let him have his wish, marshal," said Gabor.

"And see him escape us?" ejaculated Nikita fiercely.

"I cannot escape. There is no exit from the oratory, secret or open,
save by that door. The window is fifty feet from the ground."

Zabern, suspecting that Ravenna was trying to effect his escape,
approached the chamber in question, and found it to be an oblong
apartment, twenty feet by ten, fitted up as an oratory, and hung with
sacred pictures. At the far end, through a casement of stained glass,
arrowy beams of tender silvery moonlight slanted upon an altar,
surmounted by an ivory crucifix with waxen tapers burning before it.
There was an air of solemnity in the place which exercised an
influence even upon the stern mind of Zabern.

"Take your ten minutes," he exclaimed, pointing within, "but seek not
to escape, for my eye shall be on you the while."

Ravenna rose from his seat; in rising he purposely stumbled and fell,
and while so doing he contrived to secure possession of the letter
lying beneath the table, and to secrete it within the folds of his
cassock. Then with slow and faltering step he moved into the oratory,
and taking out his rosary, he knelt with bowed head before the altar.

Zabern, standing without, kept the door slightly open in order that he
might not lose sight of Ravenna's movements.

Gabor the trooper here put a very pertinent question.

"Marshal, since the Pope and his cardinals know the princess's secret,
what do we gain by killing the archbishop?"

"We stop his mouth from proclaiming the secret to-morrow," replied
Zabern.

"True. But afterwards--?"

"Afterwards, my good Gabor, no one shall be able to say that our
princess is not Natalie Lilieska. Was the real Natalie marked with a
mole upon her right shoulder? A friendly physician can soon produce
that disfigurement for us upon the fair skin of our princess."

Nikita laughed aloud.

"Is there any one living who can defeat the marshal?" he cried.

"There is one here who will make the attempt," said a voice.

At this the trio stared curiously at one another, for the words came
from the oratory, and had plainly been uttered by none other than the
cardinal. Recovering from his momentary surprise, Zabern, with sudden
misgiving at his heart, flung wide the door.

"Marshal Zabern," said the voice of Ravenna, "as you value the throne
of the princess, come not one step farther. Mark well what is in my
hand."

The window of the oratory, which before had been shut, was now wide
open, and the moonlight fell upon the lofty figure and pale face of
the cardinal, who was standing erect on one side of the altar. In his
right hand he held a dove, to the neck of which a letter was attached.
The sight kept the three men dumb and motionless, for they instantly
divined that the bird was a carrier-pigeon.

Ravenna's Italian guile had been more than a match for Zabern's
subtlety. His object in kneeling before the altar had not been to
pray, but to release the dove which had been attached to it by a
silken thread--a dove purposely kept for emergencies. What captain of
the guard on arresting the archbishop would be so stern-natured as to
refuse his prisoner a few minutes' prayer in his private oratory?
Ravenna, on releasing the dove, had affixed the letter to its neck,
performing the feat so guardedly, that though he had been watched, now
by Zabern, and now by Nikita, his movements had not given rise to
suspicion.

"Listen," cried Ravenna, raising his left hand warningly. "If you
enter I quit my hold of the dove. You observe the letter. Let me tell
you what it contains."

"Say on," returned Zabern with affected indifference. "Your ten
minutes have not yet expired."

"This evening," began the cardinal, "and just prior to your arrival I
penned a letter intended for the Czar's perusal. That letter now hangs
from this dove's neck. It contains three statements. Firstly, that the
Princess of Czernova is not Natalie Lilieska; secondly, that the
Czernovese Charter is a forgery from the hand of Katina Ludovska;
thirdly, that the Convent of the Transfiguration contains ample
evidence of a conspiracy for the emancipation of Poland. Each of these
facts, singly, if known to the Czar, would be sufficient to hurl the
princess from her throne. If this dove should fly forth it would be in
my nephew's house at Zamoska within thirty minutes; an hour more, and
Redwitz would be in the camp of the Czar. Thus, then, do I make my
terms. Approach to do me hurt, and I release the dove. Retire from the
palace, give me my life, and I swear by all that I hold holy to
refrain from endangering the throne of the princess. It is within
your power to murder me, but the murder will be dearly purchased, for
it will bring utter ruin upon Czernova."

"Idle vaunting!" said Zabern. "All know that the carrier-pigeon flieth
not in the dark."

"This dove has ere now found its way to Zamoska by moonlight."

That the cardinal spoke truth when he declared that the letter
contained the weighty secrets Zabern did not doubt. Therefore to
advance with intent to slay would be fatal to the interests of the
princess; and yet to retire, leaving Ravenna to his own devices would
be equally fatal, for Zabern knew full well that the cardinal's most
solemn oath was not to be trusted. So soon as the trio should
withdraw, so soon as Ravenna should be released from the fear of their
presence, he would laugh at their simplicity, and would carry out his
evil work against the princess, ay, and with more determination than
ever, embittered as he would be by the attempt made upon his life. It
was a terrible dilemma.

The trio stood upon the threshold of the oratory, immovable,
irresolute, silent, gazing at the cardinal, who in turn kept his eyes
fixed upon them like a prisoner waiting for the verdict of life or
death.

"No terms with a Jesuit," muttered Zabern under his breath. "Nikita,
you are the best shot. Draw your pistol, and shoot, not the cardinal,
but the dove."

As Zabern spoke he moved slightly to one side, in order to screen the
movements of his henchman.

Directly afterwards a report rang out, startlingly loud in that small
chamber. It was accompanied by a sharp cry of anguish from the
cardinal, and by a swift forward rush on the part of his foes, each
eager to pounce upon the fallen bird.

But, by a strange mischance, Nikita, who was considered to be second
only to Katina herself in the handling of the pistol, had somehow
failed to hit a conspicuous object seventeen feet away. The bullet had
penetrated the wrist of the cardinal, whose hand had involuntarily
relaxed its hold, with the result that the startled dove was now
flying forth through the open casement.

With the air of one mad, Zabern pulled Nikita towards the window, and,
hurling Ravenna aside, he thrust his own pistol into the trooper's
hand.

"Shoot, Nikita, shoot in God's name," he cried, pointing to the dove,
whose white form was clearly defined against the dark blue sky. "The
fate of all Czernova rests on your aim."

The bird, as if doubtful what direction to take, was moving slowly
round in a series of spirals and rising higher and higher each moment.
Nikita pointed his weapon, raising it gradually with the ascent of the
dove, till, deeming himself certain of his aim, he drew the trigger. A
second shot rang out. Both men looked, expecting the instant fall of
the dove, but the winged messenger remained unhurt, and apparently
having chosen its route, flew off in a straight line, and immediately
disappeared over the tree-tops.

"By heaven, you've missed again!" cried Zabern, his dismay being lost
for the moment in wonder that Nikita's hand should have so strangely
lost its cunning.

"God's curse is on me to-night," said Nikita, flinging the pistol from
him. "Who," he added, with a touch of Slavonic superstition, "who can
shoot a dove, symbol of the Holy Ghost?"

"Symbol of the holy devil!" cried Zabern. "Where's the cardinal?"

In his eagerness to mark the effect of Nikita's second shot Gabor had
likewise pressed forward to the casement, forgetful of Ravenna, who,
taking advantage of this negligence, picked himself up from the corner
where Zabern had flung him, and ran from the oratory into the
library. The wondering police next day traced his course over the
carpet by the blood-drops that fell from his shattered wrist.

But in a moment more the avenging Zabern was after him, his sabre
gleaming in his hand.

The cardinal had reached the locked door of the library: his unwounded
hand had turned the key; his fingers were already upon the door-handle
when Zabern, with a laugh of horrid glee, clutched him by the collar
of his cassock with the same hand that held the sabre, and pulled him
backward upon his knees.

The agony of the situation forced from Ravenna a yell that curdled the
blood of the treacherous steward who kept watch at the foot of the
staircase, but it had no effect upon Zabern.

"You paid no heed to Natalie's screams, nor will I to yours."

He thought no more now of safeguarding himself by imparting to the
murder the appearance of suicide.

"To hell, and say that Zabern sent you."

Foaming with fury, he dealt not one, but many strokes at the kneeling,
swaying figure, with its feebly upraised hands. Nikita and Gabor,
equally frenzied, joined in the savage work.

       *       *       *       *       *

The three miserable men wiped their bloody sabres upon the
window-curtains, and stared down upon the carpet at something which
had once been a man.

The clock-tower of the cathedral now sent forth the sweet and pretty
carillon that always heralded the striking of the hour. Then after a
solemn interval came the first peal of midnight.

"The princess's coronation day!" said Nikita.

"Humph! will there be any coronation?" muttered Zabern.

"Hark to the shouting!" said Gabor.

From every quarter of the capital, from the groups moving to and fro
along the route of the intended procession, from spacious square and
narrow alley, from the brilliantly illuminated hotel, and from the
obscure private dwelling, came the sound of cheering, gradually
swelling into one prolonged universal roar. The gala-day had come at
last!

Zabern with a grim smile looked towards the north. The heaven in that
direction was tinged with a red glow from the thousands of watch-fires
in the Czar's camp--that camp towards which the swift-flying dove was
now winging its course with the tidings fatal to Czernova. How long
would it be ere that huge array came pouring across the border to
depose the princess, and to establish the duke upon--

Zabern started.

Ere the shouting of the joyous populace had died away, a new and
startling sound was reverberating through the night air. It was the
boom of a single cannon, and that at no great distance. Its
significance was intuitively divined by Zabern.

"The Citadel-gun!" he cried, recoiling from the window. "By God, the
duke has escaped!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE BEGINNING OF THE CORONATION


The morning of Barbara's coronation broke soft and sunny; it seemed
almost impossible that anything disastrous could happen on a day so
fair.

Prior to setting off for the cathedral the princess entertained her
ministers at breakfast. She herself occupied the head of the table,
with Radzivil at her right hand and Zabern at the left. Dorislas was
absent in command of the ten thousand appointed to guard the frontier.

So far no hostilities had occurred. Successive couriers arriving at
intervals of every half-hour continued to report that the Russian
forces still preserved their position of the previous afternoon,--a
position about a mile distant from the Czernovese border. There was no
movement on their part suggestive of coming invasion. The more hopeful
of the ministers, therefore, began to pluck up courage, and tried to
believe that the Czar's army had really mustered for the customary
autumn manoeuvres, and not for the purpose of preventing the
coronation.

Zabern did not share in these hopeful views; none knew better than he
did the magnitude of the peril that overhung Czernova. In reporting
the cardinal's death to the princess Zabern had suppressed some
details, and hence Barbara was unaware that a dove had flown off to
Zamoska bearing a letter, which, if it should reach the Czar's hands,
would most assuredly result in her dethronement. From very pity he
withheld the fact.

"She will learn it soon enough," he thought. "Why add to evil the
anticipation of it?"

During the course of the breakfast many comments were made upon the
murder of Cardinal Ravenna.

"A terrible and mysterious affair!" said Radzivil, greatly shocked by
the tragedy, and completely ignorant as to its authors. "The
physicians assert that there are no less than eighteen wounds upon the
body."

"Five less than Julius Cæsar received," commented Zabern irrelevantly.

"You offer a reward, I presume, for any information that shall lead to
the detection of the assassins?" said the premier to Zabern, who, as
Minister for Justice, was head of the department that took cognizance
of crime.

"Not a rouble note," replied Zabern bluntly.

"That's contrary to your usual practice."

"Why should I offer a reward when I know who the--ah!--assassins are?
There were three of them to the deed."

"You know them? And yet they have not been seized!"

"I have weighty reasons for deferring their arrest."

"Delay may end in their escape."

"The chief assassin cannot escape from me. The police know him and
have their eye upon him whenever he walks abroad. I can put my finger
upon him as easily as I now lay hand upon this coat," said Zabern
smiling, and suiting the action to the word.

Radzivil was about to press for further enlightenment, but Barbara
checked him.

"The subject is distressing to me," she said with a look that
confirmed her words.

"Your Highness, I crave pardon," said the premier.

Though Barbara fully believed that no one had ever merited death more
than Ravenna, yet the deed lay heavy on her mind. Not even the thought
of the many maidens, her own sister among the number, sacrificed to
the unholy desires of the cardinal, could blind her to the fact that
in sending Zabern to slay him she had committed a crime.

No such scruple, however, troubled the conscience of the marshal,
whose only regret was that he had not despatched the duke likewise,
while it lay in his power to do so.

Ere coming to the breakfast he had witnessed the execution of the
deputy Lesko Lipski and the spy Ivan Russakoff with the feeling,
however, that it was but sorry justice to shoot the agents, while the
more guilty principal was at large.

"You have no tidings of Bora, I presume?" said Barbara turning to the
marshal.

"None--so far, your Highness," replied Zabern. "But, oh!" he added
with mingled surprise and satisfaction, "here comes one who should be
able to explain the mystery of the duke's escape."

All eyes had turned towards a door which had just opened, giving
ingress to a file of soldiers; they were under the command of Gabor,
and escorted in their midst Miroslav, the governor of the Citadel.

"Your Highness," said Gabor, advancing and saluting, "I came upon the
governor in the act of departing from the city. Thinking that you
might like to interview him, I took the liberty of arresting him on my
own authority."

"You have done well," replied Barbara; and then turning a cold face
upon the governor, she said: "What defence have you to make, Miroslav?
You received orders to exercise special vigilance over your prisoner,
the Duke of Bora, and yet he contrived to escape."

"And with my connivance, so please your Highness."

"Traitor!" said Zabern, starting up, and half drawing his sword, "you
have signed your death-warrant."

"Your Highness, hear my story ere condemning me. At eleven o'clock
last night I was informed that a man stood at the gate of the Citadel
demanding an interview with me. I sent to ascertain his name and
business. 'Carry that to your master,' said the stranger, pencilling a
few words on a card, and enclosing it within an envelope. On opening
the envelope this is what I beheld."

Here Miroslav drew forth a small card, which Gabor conveyed to the
princess, who started at sight of the words that were written upon it.
She handed the note to Radzivil, whose face immediately expressed the
utmost consternation. He tendered the card to Zabern, who in turn
passed it to the minister beside him, and thus amid a death-like
silence it went the round of the table.

And the words of the note were these,--

     _You are herewith commanded to release the Duke of Bora.
     Delay will mean death to you._

     _NICHOLAS PAULOVITCH
     Czar of all the Russias._

"When I saw that signature," continued Miroslav, "I gave orders that
the visitor should be instantly admitted. On entering the room he
commanded my servant to retire, and then when he had withdrawn the
cloak from his face I saw that it was indeed the Emperor Nicholas.
'Have you given command for the release of my kinsman?' were his first
words. Vain was it for me to protest that I could receive such an
order only from the princess herself. 'I am the suzerain of Czernova,
and therefore above the princess,' was his reply."

"Ha!" said Barbara, with a flash of her eyes. "And you acknowledged
his suzerainty?"

"Your Highness is great, but the Czar is greater. Who is like the
mighty Nicholas?"

"No one on earth, Miroslav; for which fact may the saints be praised!"
remarked Zabern.

"Your Highness, I was so awed by the emperor's majestic presence, by
his authoritative manner, by the thought of his empire and power that
I could not do otherwise than obey him. The marshal himself would have
done the like, had he been in my place."

Zabern repudiated the statement with a scornful laugh.

"I brought the duke to the presence of the emperor, and the two
withdrew, going I know not where. Fearing your Highness's displeasure,
I myself quitted the Citadel, intending to fly from Czernova. I throw
myself upon your Highness's mercy."

"It was your duty, Miroslav," returned Barbara, "to retain your
prisoner, even at the hazard of your life. In taking orders from a
foreign sovereign you have committed an act of treason. Gabor, see
that the governor be kept in the palace here till our return from the
cathedral. We will then decide as to his punishment."

Gabor saluted, and the troop retired with their prisoner.

"The Czar secretly in our city!" murmured Radzivil, in a tone of
dismay. "What is his object?"

"No good to our rule, count," replied Barbara, quietly.

The secret visit of the Czar to Slavowitz, and his act in releasing
the Duke of Bora, had so sinister an aspect that the hopeful ones
among the ministry returned at a bound to their previous state of
doubt. Were they about to witness a coronation or a dethronement? Was
the Czar preparing to intervene in the ceremony? Would the solemnity
in the cathedral end amid the mockery and the triumph of the Muscovite
faction? With a feeling of pity they glanced at their fair young
ruler, who for her part showed no sign of fear in this great crisis.
They recognized that if she should fall, she would fall with dignity.

The breakfast ended, and Barbara retired to dress for the coming
ceremony.

Outside, in the wide extent of ground fronting the Vistula Palace, the
long line of the procession was slowly forming under the direction of
marshals and heralds.

Part of the procession consisted of a sort of historic pageant; its
members, attired in costumes that recalled every period of Polish
history, carried trophies and emblems, calculated to stir the
patriotic enthusiasm of the populace.

In this pageant Katina Ludovska bore part, by far the most charming of
the maidens present, clad as she was in a dainty corselet of silvered
mail, above a dark-blue satin skirt flowered with gold. Mounted upon a
beautiful bay, she bore proudly aloft a famous historic memorial, a
standard captured by King Sigismund at the taking of Moscow, its white
silken folds distinctly stamped with the impress of a bloody hand, a
ghastly testimony to the struggle that had once raged around it.

In riding along the line of the procession, Zabern stopped and
addressed a few words to his affianced.

"Not pasteboard and tinsel, I trust?" he said, with a smile, and
referring to the sword by her side.

"Real steel," replied Katina, exhibiting the blade.

"Good! 'Tis well to go armed on such a day as this. We shall be
fighting for our liberties ere long."

"Death before submission," replied Katina, with a brave light in her
eyes that made Zabern love her the more.

The din caused by the marching of soldiers, the neighing of steeds,
the rolling of carriage-wheels, the snarling of silver trumpets, the
crisp, sharp word of command floated upward to Barbara's ears as she
sat undergoing her toilet at the hands of her ladies. She wondered, as
she had wondered many times that morning, how it would all end, for
assuredly no coronation could ever have been heralded with more
sinister auspices than her own.

Partly with a view to picturesque effect, and partly that the populace
along the line of route might have a clear and uninterrupted view of
their princess, it had been decided that she should proceed to the
cathedral mounted upon a white palfrey.

Barbara had been somewhat disposed at first to shrink from this
exposure to public gaze, but had finally consented to the arrangement,
won over by the argument that as the people would assemble for the
express purpose of seeing her, it would be a disappointment to them to
catch but a glimpse of their ruler through the windows of a
state-coach.

To Radzivil and Zabern had been given the honor of riding side by side
with the princess, though the marshal cared much less for the honor
than for the opportunity afforded him of exercising guard over her
person, since he was not without apprehension that some fanatic
Muscovite might attempt her life during her progress through the
streets.

The procession was timed to start at ten o'clock, and as the hour drew
near Zabern and the premier rode to the entrance of the palace, and
there waited the coming of the princess.

The marshal was mounted upon a magnificent black charger, and made a
splendid figure, for he wore the old picturesque Polish costume, and
sparkled with diamonds from plume to spur.

"And to think," he mused in the interval of waiting, "to think that
Captain Woodville has not yet arrived."

"Captain Woodville?" exclaimed the premier with a start. "Surely the
princess is not recalling him?"

"No, but I am; and his non-arrival is a grave matter for us. Were the
duke still in the Citadel, Woodville's absence might be borne with
equanimity. As it is--but here comes the princess. I must defer my
explanation."

Punctually at one minute to ten, Barbara appeared at the entrance of
the palace, and descending the marble stairs, she mounted her white
palfrey with the assistance of Radzivil.

Zabern at the same moment waved his plumed cap, and immediately a
salvo of artillery from the roof of the palace proclaimed to the
waiting populace that the princess was about to set off.

Amid the roll of drums, the crash of music, and the pealing of bells
from every steeple in the city, the great brazen gates of the palace
gardens were flung wide, and there rode forth the head of the
procession, the Blue Legion, their lances flashing brightly in the
sunlight.

As they moved out, the sight that met their eyes was sufficient to
stir the blood of the most sluggish. The centre of the road was empty,
but the sidewalks were literally paved with human heads. Every window,
balcony, and roof was alive with spectators. All Czernova was there,
every citizen apparently determined to find a place somewhere along
the line of route. Resolved to obtain a view somehow of their youthful
sovereign, men could be seen clinging in mid-air to steeples,
pediments, cornices, wherever foothold could be found. From the ground
below to the sky above nothing but human faces.

"Sword of Saint Michael!" muttered Zabern. "A pity all have not been
trained to use the rifle. We might, then, make good defence, even
against the Czar's one hundred thousand."

As soon as Barbara made her appearance, she was greeted with frenzied
cheering. Roar after roar rent the air. Rolling along the boulevard,
and mounting upward to the sky, the sound was almost loud enough to be
heard in the distant camp of the Czar. So great was the enthusiasm
that the troops lining the streets could with difficulty prevent the
populace from pressing forward to touch her.

If any dissentients to her rule were present along the line of route,
they were careful to dissemble their feelings. But who could dissent
from a maiden so sweet and fair? Dressed simply in white silk, she
looked every inch a princess. Her dark hair was without covering, save
for a slender gold diadem, from which there flowed behind a veil of
diaphanous lace.

Tears glistened in eyes that had not been wet for years.

Aged men who had seen the great Kosciusko carried off from the fatal
field of Macicowice; veterans who, like Zabern, had marched with
Napoleon to the fall of Moscow; fugitives from Siberian mines, with
bodies scarred by the iron fetters they had worn; Polish patriots,
survivors of the ill-starred rising of '30--all were gathered that day
in the Czernovese capital to acclaim one destined, so they believed,
to revive the ancient empire of Poland. Many a salute did Zabern give,
as from time to time he caught sight among the crowd of the face of
some old familiar-in-arms.

Barbara, however, though smiling sweetly upon all around, was inwardly
unhappy. A secret voice seemed to whisper, "Deceiver! this tribute of
loyalty is offered to Natalie Lilieska, the lawfully born daughter of
the Princess Stephanie, and not to the Barbara of doubtful origin."

It was too late now to recede from the _rôle_ she had assumed, and so
amid shouting multitudes she rode on, her progress from the palace to
the cathedral being one continuous scene of triumph, unmarred by
anything of a hostile character.

"It is here, then, that we are to look for the Czar's _coup_?"
muttered Zabern, as the cavalcade drew in sight of the stately Gothic
cathedral of Saint Stanislas, from every tower of which silver-tongued
bells were pealing jubilant carillons.

Those in the procession whose duty or privilege it was to enter the
cathedral, made their ingress by various doors to their appointed
places; the less fortunate remained drawn up in order around the
edifice.

As Zabern stood upon the broad flight of steps, carpeted with crimson
velvet, and surveyed the vast crowds around, his attention was
suddenly arrested by the sight of a horseman at the far end of a
boulevard which opened upon the cathedral square. As this avenue was
kept clear by the military for the return journey of the princess,
there was nothing to impede the rider's progress, and on he came with
flying rein and bloody spur.

"A courier! a courier!" cried the people, instinctively divining that
he was the bearer of weighty tidings. "What news? What news?"

To their cries, however, the rider remained mute.

"By heaven, it's Nikita!" muttered the marshal.

As the quivering steed drew up at the foot of the cathedral-stairs,
Zabern sprang to meet his orderly.

"Now, marshal," said the latter, "play the Roman, and fall on your
sword's point, for the end has come."

"A good many men shall fall by this blade ere it reaches my heart,"
growled Zabern. "What new trouble do you bring?"

"The chanting of the monks hath ceased; or to be plainer, the Russian
standard is floating over the Convent of the Transfiguration."

"Speak you from hearsay merely?"

"I speak of what I have seen."

"The cardinal laughs at us from hell; this is the first result of his
letter. The Russian invasion has begun, then? Pretty generalship on
the part of Dorislas to let the enemy steal thus upon his rear! And
where are the monks, that they have not fired the powder-magazine, and
sent themselves and their foes flying into the air? They have sworn an
oath to do it rather than let the convent fall into the hands of the
enemy. There would not now have been one stone upon another if old
Faustus had been there."

"It was when on my way back from the camp of Dorislas that I caught
sight of the Muscovite standard on the tower of the convent. I
immediately rode near and perceived the bayonets of the Paulovski
Guards moving to and fro along the battlements. And who should be in
command there but Baron Ostrova, the duke's former secretary--he whom
the princess banished from Czernova. I at once galloped back to our
camp with the news. Dorislas instantly set off with a thousand men; he
has invested the convent; his artillery are ready planted for shelling
the place, and he now awaits orders from you."

"'Orders'?" repeated Zabern with contempt. "My orders should be,
'Consider yourself cashiered for incompetence.' How many Russians do
you suppose there are in the convent?"

"I cannot state the number, marshal--sufficient evidently to overpower
the monks, and to hold the place in case of siege."

"And the rest of the Czar's forces?"

"Are abiding quietly in their camp on the other side of the frontier."

"Gladly would I come, Nikita, to direct operations, but that I dare
not leave the side of the princess, for there is more danger to be
apprehended here than before the convent. Dorislas shall see me with
all speed as soon as the coronation is over. Meantime here are his
orders."

And the marshal wrote upon a slip of paper: "Maintain cordon till my
arrival. Do nothing unless attacked.--ZABERN."

Taking the note, Nikita rode off, his breakneck pace along the
boulevard again exciting the wonder of the populace.

"This holding of the coronation while the foe is on Czernovese ground
might seem a jest to some," murmured Zabern; "yet if, as I am hoping,
the ceremony should tempt the Czar to come forward personally to
oppose the princess's rights, then all may yet be well. Since Nicholas
has chosen to make an armed raid upon our territory, let him not
complain if he should find himself a prisoner of war. And with the
Czar in our hands we shall be masters of the game."

On turning to enter the porch, Zabern was met by the chief court
official, to whom had been committed all the arrangements connected
with the coronation.

"Marshal, the cathedral is full to overflowing, and yet there are
hundreds at the northern porch clamoring for admittance, and all
provided with proper orders."

"Very bad arrangement on your part."

"Not so, marshal. The tickets issued did not exceed the seating
accommodation."

"Ha!" said Zabern, alive to the significance of this statement; "you
mean that there are several hundred persons within who have no right
to be there?"

"That is so, marshal. The whole body of the northern transept is
filled with men who, I am certain, have gained entrance by means of
forged orders. Among these men I recognize many Muscovites, not
ruffians from Russograd, but Muscovites of the nobler and wealthier
class."

"So!" murmured Zabern. "Their plot of the barricades having been
forestalled and thwarted, the enemy are resorting to new
manoeuvres."

"Some are in uniform, and some in court dress, and hence they are
armed with swords. If we should attempt to expel them there will be
opposition, tumult, possibly bloodshed. What's to be done?"

"At present, nothing. Let us, if possible, avoid a riot. If they
choose to remain orderly, good; but if it be their object to oppose
the coronation by armed force, then their blood be upon their own
heads."

"And the multitude at the northern porch?"

"Will have to remain there, I fear," replied Zabern, shrugging his
shoulders.

He passed from the porch to the interior of the edifice.

The scene within fairly dazzled the eye. The rich dresses of the
ladies, the splendid military costumes of the men, formed a picture
glowing with color; on all sides were to be seen the sparkle of jewels
and the gleam of scarlet and gold.

As Zabern slowly made his way towards his allotted seat in the choir,
he did not fail to notice certain mocking glances cast at him by the
occupants of the northern transept. Mischief was evidently the object
of their assembling; but inasmuch as they were inferior in number to
the Poles present, and as a word on his part could instantly set in
motion the military both inside and outside the cathedral, Zabern
viewed this Muscovite gathering without any alarm.

The chancel, elevated considerably above the general level of the
cathedral-pavement, was the cynosure of all eyes.

On the altar were the sacramental vessels, the princely regalia, and
the document supposed to be the original Czernovese Charter, never
publicly exhibited, except at a coronation.

To the left of the altar was an oaken chair in which the princess
would sit, till the time came for her to take her place on the throne.

Respectively north and south of the altar, and each vying with the
other in splendor of vestment, stood the two ecclesiastics who were to
officiate in the ceremony, the Greek Archpastor Mosco, and the mitred
Abbot Faustus; the latter a good man, and a stern old patriot, quite
capable, as Zabern had said, of blowing himself to fragments, if
Polish interests should require such sacrifice.

While Zabern from his place was intently studying the occupants of the
northern transept, under the belief that the Czar was concealed
somewhere among them, a small door in the left wall of the choir
opened, and Barbara entered, bare-headed, and clothed in her
coronation-robe,--a vestment of purple velvet, bordered with ermine,
and gleaming with pearls. Four ladies attended her as train-bearers.

Awed by the solemnity of the occasion, she was very pale, and with the
glory of the sunlight illumining her figure as she moved forward with
slow and majestic pace, she seemed to her adherents afar off like a
fair vision from another world.

According to the prescribed ritual, the first part of the ceremony
consisted in reading a chapter from one of the Four Evangelists, a
duty which by previous arrangement fell to the lot of Mosco.

As soon, therefore, as Barbara had taken her place in the oaken chair,
she glanced at the archpastor as a sign for him to begin.

Now great importance was attached both by the Poles and the Muscovites
to this reading of the Gospel. The lection was neither appointed
beforehand nor chosen by the ecclesiastic officiating; it was left to
the guidance of chance, or rather, as the Czernovese themselves
believed, to the will of the Deity. The lector, following a usage of
mediæval times, was required to open the holy volume at random and to
read the first chapter upon which his eye should happen to light. It
was believed that the portion thus hit on would contain something
applicable to the person crowned or even prophetic of the character of
the reign.

As Mosco with dignified bearing moved to the lectern, he passed close
to Zabern, whose quick ear instantly detected a peculiar sound beneath
the archpastor's brocaded and jewelled cassock,--a sound which the
marshal could liken only to the trail of a steel scabbard.

"As I live the fellow is armed," he muttered. "A holy prelate with a
sword beneath his gown! There's treason here."

Zabern's first impulse was to spring up, and tearing off Mosco's
gown, to expose him to the assembly as an armed conspirator.

It might be, however, that, like himself, the archpastor anticipated
that there would be rioting and fighting at the coronation, and hence
he had as much right as others to carry arms for his own defence.

Zabern therefore refrained from violence, but his keen eyes were
attentive to every movement of Mosco.

On the brazen lectern, which stood upon the edge of the choir,
directly facing the assembly, lay a volume of the Four Evangelists,
closed and clasped.

Mosco unfastened the clasp, and then evidently wishing to be thought
clear of all suspicion of designedly choosing his lection, he turned
away his head, and with nimble fingers threw open the volume; and yet
in spite of this, Zabern was impressed with the belief that the Greek
prelate knew beforehand at what page the book was open. He had not
forgotten that this reading of the Gospel had been selected by Mosco
himself as his part in the coronation-ceremony, and he recalled the
archpastor's peculiar smile at the time of his choosing the office.
Was the mystery about to be solved?

Turning his eyes upon the opened volume, Mosco began to read. The
lection obtained by this _sors sacra_ proved to be the opening chapter
of the Fourth Gospel.

With a curious anticipatory interest the assembly listened to the
reading, prepared to catch at any verse which might be twisted into
some allusion to the princess and her reign.

Mosco, in a magnificent bass voice and with majestic delivery, read
through five verses. Then, making a momentary pause, he resumed,
changing his tone to one of peculiar emphasis,--

"'_There was a man sent from God whose name was John_--'"

"And there he is!" cried a voice that rang like a clarion all over
the cathedral, the voice of Feodor Orloff; "there he is! John, Duke of
Bora. People of Czernova, listen to the voice of God."

Scarcely had the words been spoken when the Duke of Bora was seen
emerging from the northern transept.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE GREAT WHITE CZAR


The sudden utterance of Count Orloff, combined with the simultaneous
appearance of the Duke of Bora, caused an electric thrill to pervade
the cathedral.

The holy Gospels, appealed to by a method approved by both factions
alike, seemed to have given a mandate in favor of the duke, to the
confusion of the adherents of the princess. The occupants of the
northern aisle, as well as of the northern transept, gave instant
proof of the side on which their sympathies lay. They rose to their
feet as one man, and ignoring the sacred character of the place, gave
vent to tumultuous cries.

"The holy oracles are on our side!"

"They bid us elect a man, and not a woman!"

"A John, and not a Natalie!"

"One sent from God, and not from Rome!"

"Bora, Bora! Give us Bora! The duke is our ruler!"

Their voices immediately became lost in the overwhelming shouts of the
Poles, who likewise rose to their feet, and replied by counter-cries.

"The princess! the princess! We will have none but Natalie Lilieska!"
There was not a shadow of doubt in Zabern's mind that the assembling
of the Muscovites in the northern transept, the apt lection of Mosco,
the utterance of Orloff, and the sudden appearing of the duke were all
parts of a preconcerted arrangement.

"Holy hireling of the duke!" he said, grinding his teeth and
addressing Mosco, "you have done your work. Stand from the choir, or
by heaven!" he continued, half unsheathing his sabre, "I'll add a
martyr to the Russian calendar."

"Thou hast the wisdom of the serpent, marshal, though scarcely the
innocence of the dove," sneered the archpastor, who had many an old
score to settle with Zabern. "We will see if thy wit can get the
better of this situation. No Catholic ruler in Czernova!"

And directing a glance of scarcely disguised hatred towards the
princess, he withdrew from the choir and took his station among the
Muscovites.

Amid wild excitement the Duke of Bora, his face somewhat pale,
continued to advance till he reached the open space fronting the
choir, where he stood visible to all in the cathedral.

His outward appearance was sufficiently indicative of the power upon
which he relied for support, for he was clad in the grand uniform of a
marshal of the Seminovski Guards, and carried on his breast the cross
of Saint Andrew, the blue riband of Russia.

At his approach the princess rose from her seat. The two factions
perceiving her action, and curious to learn what she would say, ceased
their raging.

"Marshal Zabern," cried Barbara in a voice that sounded like music
after the raucous clamor of the previous few moments: "I call upon you
to re-arrest that escaped prisoner, and to conduct him to the
Citadel."

"You threaten me with imprisonment?" exclaimed Bora with a stern air.
"It is mine to threaten, and yours to fear. People of Czernova," he
continued, turning from the choir to address the assembly, "hear a
revelation, strange yet true. She who sits there has no right to the
crown, inasmuch as she is not Natalie Lilieska, but an impostor
bearing a marvellous resemblance to that princess. The true Natalie
died in Dalmatia more than two years ago."

The duke's words destroyed Zabern's lingering hope that Ravenna's
letter might have miscarried, for how had Bora become possessed of his
present knowledge, except through the medium of the cardinal's dove?

"Marshal Zabern," continued the duke, pointing to Barbara, "I call
upon you to arrest an impostor who usurps my throne."

"And you may call," replied Zabern.

The duke's statement drew derisive laughter from the Poles; it was too
absurd for belief, a malicious invention of a disappointed suitor. At
this point Polonaski the Justiciary, who occupied a seat directly
fronting the choir, arose and addressed the princess.

"Lady," he began, and showing by that word that he, too, like Mosco,
had taken the side of her enemies, "lady, you have heard the duke's
accusation. Let this assembly learn from you whether the charge be
true."

It was hard for a youthful and spirited princess to be catechised by a
minister who had suddenly turned against her.

"Your Highness, do not answer the traitorous gray-beard," said Zabern.

For a moment only did Barbara hesitate.

"It is true that I am not Natalie Lilieska."

An earthquake rocking the cathedral-pavement could not have dismayed
the Poles more than had this startling acknowledgment. True it must
be, since she herself admitted the impeachment,--an impeachment fatal
to her own interests. And if she must cease to be princess, what would
become of them under the rule of Bora?

The Muscovites, themselves bewildered with the unforeseen turn taken
by events, sat as silent as the Poles.

"Consider well what you say," observed Polonaski with a slight smile
of triumph. "You dethrone yourself by that statement."

"Not so," replied Barbara. "So long as I should have lived, the
Princess Natalie could not have reigned; inasmuch as I am her elder
sister Barbara, and therefore lawfully entitled to the throne."

The Poles raised a shout of applause; though somewhat dubious as to
the truth of Barbara's statement, they were prepared to welcome it, as
well as any other device which might deliver them from the power of
the duke.

"Barbara Lilieska," returned the Justiciary, "is a person of whose
existence Czernova has hitherto been ignorant. Princess Stephanie,
wife of the late Thaddeus, had but one daughter, Natalie."

"I am the daughter of an earlier marriage."

"You bring strange tidings to our ears. It was never known in Czernova
that Prince Thaddeus was twice wedded. Have you proof of this former
marriage?"

"Yes," replied Barbara, inspired by a sudden thought, "I will cite
yourself, Polonaski, as a witness, for at the time of my father's
demise you were present with other ministers in the death-chamber. You
can testify that Prince Thaddeus handed the diadem to me with the
words: 'To you, my daughter lawfully born, do I bequeath this crown,
to be held for the weal of Czernova.' Do you mark the words 'lawfully
born'? Ill would my sire merit his title of 'The Good' if he died in
the utterance of a lie. And what I have received, that will I keep."

The thunders of Polish applause in no way disconcerted the calm and
forensic Polonaski.

"The word of the dying prince is not legal proof," he answered. "And,
moreover, lady, you yourself, in concealing your own identity and in
taking the name of another, have given clear evidence of disbelief in
the claim that you now put forward."

"People of Czernova," said the duke, raising his voice, and again
addressing the assembly, "I affirm that she who calls herself Barbara
Lilieska was not born in lawful wedlock, but is a natural daughter of
the late Prince Thaddeus, and as such is debarred from the
succession. In the days of old," he continued, "when Czernova was a
palatinate, the palatine at his investiture, was always prepared,
either in person or by deputy, to defend his rights with the sword,
nor was the rite discontinued when the palatines became princes and
the investiture a coronation. I invoke the ancient law of the land and
claim the ordeal of battle. I demand that the princess, so-called,
shall meet me by deputy in single combat. There is my gage," he added,
flinging his leathern gauntlet upon the flagstone of the choir. "Let
the sword decide between us."

A triumphant laugh arose from the Muscovites. Where was the champion
who would face the duke's deadly blade? Not even Zabern durst pick up
that glove. Willingly would he have sacrificed his life in the cause
of the princess, but death in this case would mean her deposition.

"The stars in their courses fight against Czernova," muttered Zabern,
clenching his one and only hand. "Long ago, foreseeing this challenge
would be given, I provided, as I thought, for the event. And now we
must decline the combat, for our swordsman," he added in despair, "our
swordsman is absent."

"It is now eleven," remarked Polonaski. The cathedral clock was
chiming as he spoke. "The princess must appoint her champion within an
hour from the giving of the challenge, the duel itself to take place
upon the same day as the challenge. So runs the statute."

The mild and pacific Radzivil had beheld with indignation the casting
down of the duke's glove.

"What a return to barbarism is this," he cried, addressing the
Justiciary, "to make the crown of Czernova dependent upon the result
of a duel! The statute which you cite is five hundred years old. It is
obsolete, quite obsolete."

"By your favor," replied Polonaski, cool and judicial as ever, "permit
me, as the highest legal authority in Czernova, to affirm that as that
law is still on the statute-book it is therefore valid and of good
effect."

"Your contention is null and void," said Zabern, "inasmuch as the Diet
has passed a law against duelling."

"Against ordinary duelling--true; but the recent statute contains no
clause against the coronation-combat, which, therefore, stands as part
of the law of the land."

"The ex-Justiciary," said Barbara, deposing him from his office by a
word, even as he had deposed her by a word, "the ex-Justiciary, as the
interpreter of the law, should know that a traitor has no legal
standing. The duke has shown himself a traitor to the state, and is
therefore not in a position to impugn his sovereign."

"No court of justice has yet proved him to be a traitor," replied the
inflexible Polonaski. "We cannot accept the word of even the lawful
sovereign as the voice of the law, still less the word of an usurper."

"An usurper and a harlot's daughter," cried the voice of Orloff from
amid the Muscovite ranks.

At this a deep murmur of indignation ran through the Polish part of
the assembly.

"Men of Czernova," cried a woman's voice, "do you sit thus inactive,
letting your princess be opposed and insulted by the Czar's hirelings?
Where is the ancient spirit of the Poles fled? Would our forefathers
have won this banner if they had shown the timidity that you now
show?"

All eyes turned towards the speaker, who was none other than Katina
Ludovska. Standing high upon a seat in the centre of the nave, she was
plainly visible to all in the cathedral. While speaking she shook out
the silken folds of the standard she had carried in the procession,
and with her drawn sword pointed to the stamp of the bloody hand.

Her action was well understood by the Poles. What their fathers had
done they could do. Her gesture was a tacit incentive to rise, to give
battle to the Muscovites, and to sweep them from the cathedral. In
silver helm and corselet Katina stood aloft, looking like some fair
Amazon of ancient days. With eyes starry with patriotic fire, she
waved the standard, and began to sing in a firm, sweet voice that
penetrated to the most distant part of the cathedral,--

     "Boja ro-dzica dziewica
     Bojiem wslavisna Marya--"

A wave of emotion thrilled the assembly as these words fell upon their
ears.

"The old Polish battle-hymn!" muttered Zabern. "By God, there'll be
slaughter now."

It was indeed the famous hymn of Saint Adalbert, the anthem accustomed
to be sung in old time by the Poles when moving forward to battle, the
pæan that has struck terror to the heart of Muscovite, Tartar, and
Turk in those brave days when Poland was the bulwark of Christendom
against the barbarism of the East.

The memory of their past glories fired the blood of every patriot in
the cathedral to an enthusiasm bordering on frenzy. Moved by a
simultaneous impulse, the whole body of Poles sprang to their feet,
drew their swords, and began to join in the refrain; and Katina's
voice was immediately drowned in one grand outpouring.

The sparkle of a thousand sword-blades waving in the iridescent light
cast by richly stained glass, the coloring and splendor of dresses and
jewels, the magnificent roll of voices beneath the lofty Gothic
arches, the notes of the organ pealing high above the chant--for the
organist, catching the fire of patriotism, was pressing the keys of
his instrument as he had never pressed them before--were sights and
sounds that baffle description. Strong men sang with tears in their
eyes, and women fainted with emotion.

Now, as previously stated, the Muscovites occupied the northern aisle
and its adjacent transept, a narrow space only separating them from
the Poles in the nave. Across this division the two factions glared
fiercely at each other; threats were uttered; challenges interchanged;
and when the Muscovites in turn began to raise the Russian National
Anthem the berserker spirit of the Poles broke forth.

"Down with the Muscovites!"

"Sweep them from the cathedral!"

"The princess forever!"

"No. Duke of Bora!"

Katina herself, skilled in the use of the sword, was the first in the
fray, the standard still held in her hand.

"Take to your guard, knouter of women!" she cried, singling out her
old enemy, the ex-governor of Orenburg.

Her example found ready imitators, and in a moment more the clash of
steel went ringing down the northern aisle.

Half-a-dozen Muscovites, sword in hand, sprang forward, and facing
outwards, formed a protecting circle around the person of the duke,
who, for his part, stood with folded arms, a passive and silent
spectator of the wild work that was taking place.

Zabern, desirous of defending Katina, drew his sabre and endeavored to
force his way through the two opposing lines to the place where the
red-handed banner waved like a rallying beacon above the flashing
points of steel.

Barbara rose to her feet and gazed with grief upon a scene, the like
of which, though rarely witnessed in modern times within the hallowed
interior of a cathedral, was familiar enough in the old Byzantine days
when the election of a bishop had often to be decided by an appeal to
arms.

She was in the act of bidding Radzivil summon the military to part the
combatants, when a sudden and striking apparition rendered the command
unnecessary.

"Down with your arms!"

The voice in which these words were uttered rose like thunder above
the _mêlée_, compelling even the two long lines of combatants to pause
and turn their eyes towards the speaker. On the edge of the choir, and
with hand uplifted, stood a stately figure clothed in a brilliant and
imposing uniform, a figure half a head taller at least than the usual
height of men, and standing as he did upon the elevated pavement of
the choir, his stature seemed more than human.

Though few in the cathedral had ever before seen this personage, yet
all recognized in a moment the superb brow, the severe, haughty
features, the dark eyes always melancholy, even when the mouth smiled.

"The devil himself at last!" murmured Zabern, a grim joy stealing over
his face. "Now have the saints delivered him as a hostage into our
hands!"

The stranger's form seemed really to dilate, as, with the voice of one
born to command, he again cried,--

"Down with your arms!"

Furious conspirators, advancing to slay, had once been awed and
checked by that lofty voice, that majestic presence, which did not
fail now to produce a remarkable effect.

"The Czar! the Czar!" cried the Poles.

"The little father! the little father!" cried the Muscovites.

The fighting ceased. The assailants on each side fell back. Slowly the
tumult died away in utter silence. The wounded repressed their groans;
for wounded there were; many, too, brief as had been the combat; and
one man lay dead upon the pavement, slain by the hand of a woman.

The Czar, for it was in truth the mighty Nicholas, turned his face
slowly round upon all sides. The fiercest of the Poles felt compelled
to sheathe his blade and to resume his seat as that terrible eye fell
upon him. Who durst continue to assail a Muscovite with the lord of
the Muscovites looking on, even though that lord were without a single
guard?

It was somewhat mortifying to Barbara's pride that the cessation of
the strife should have been caused by the authority of the Czar rather
than by her own, since it seemed to place him upon a higher plane than
herself. Clearly he had prevented a massacre of her Muscovite
subjects, and thus far thanks were due to him. But Barbara was in no
mood to offer courtesies to one who had always shown himself a bitter
enemy. The very authority now assumed by him was an infringement of
her own, and put her instantly upon her mettle.

Among the combatants there was one at least who retained an undaunted
mien, namely, Katina. She advanced towards the choir, wiping her
reddened blade upon the silken standard, which during the fray had
become detached from the staff.

At the edge of the choir Katina knelt.

"Seek not pardon of me," exclaimed the Czar loftily, mistaking her
purpose. "You who commenced the fray, you who have slain one of my own
subjects!"

"The stars shall fall from heaven ere Katina Ludovska craves pardon of
Nicholas Paulovitch," scornfully replied the Polish maiden, ever
mindful of the fact that the warrant condemning her to receive the
knout was signed with this same name, Nicholas Paulovitch. "Your
Highness," she continued, still on her knees, and addressing Barbara,
"if through zeal I have wrought amiss in slaying one who traduced the
fair name of my princess, of you alone I crave pardon."

"If the name of him whom you have slain be Feodor Orloff," said
Barbara, "then have you done a good deed, and you need ask pardon of
none."

A Russian governor slain in the very presence of the Czar, and the
princess justifying the deed! Barbara's ministers sat completely
dumfounded by her boldness. There were two sovereigns in the choir,
each contending for the mastery; which would prevail?

Turning to the emperor with an air of dignity and self-possession,
Barbara said,--

"Let the Czar explain by what right he has set free a traitor
imprisoned by my authority."

Such language as this was new to the autocrat, who is credited with
the saying, "Let there be no will in Russia but that of the Czar." He
glanced with surprise, not unmixed with admiration, at the young girl
who faced him so spiritedly.

"What gives you such boldness in the presence of the Czar?"

"The Charter of your ancestress Catherine."

"Catherine, 'tis true, granted to the palatines of Czernova the title
of princes, but conferred no independence upon them. The story of the
Charter is a myth."

"Your Majesty may see upon the altar here the identical document
itself, signed by the hand of the empress."

"That," replied Nicholas, scarcely deigning to turn his eyes in the
direction indicated, "that document is a forgery, as Marshal Zabern
can prove."

"I plainly see that a little bird has been whispering to him,"
murmured Zabern to himself.

A scornful repudiation trembled upon Barbara's lips, but it died away
when she beheld Zabern's grave look.

"Marshal, is not that the original Charter of Catherine?"

There was something so wistful and pathetic in her expression--an
expression which plainly said, "Let me know the worst,"--that Zabern
felt he could no longer deceive her.

"It is a faithful transcript, so please your Highness."

Barbara understood the significant reply. Zabern, in describing to her
the plot formed by Bora and Orloff for the destruction of the Charter,
had represented the scheme as resulting in failure. She now perceived
that from pity the marshal had kept the terrible truth from her,
endeavoring to repair Czernova's loss by means of a forged document.
Wrong of him, doubtless, but the fault lay more with those whose
wickedness had compelled him to resort to such a policy.

Outwardly Barbara was as firm and as brave as ever, but inwardly she
felt that her throne was going, nay, had gone from her. And bitter
indeed was it to see the crafty flourishing in their craftiness.

She beckoned Zabern to her side.

"So, marshal," she whispered sadly, but not reproachfully, "you have
deceived me."

"With good intent, your Highness."

"Is forgery good?"

"Yes, in this case. Do you blame me, princess, for seeking to maintain
the liberties of Czernova?"

"Ill would it become me to blame you, Zabern, especially at such time
as this."

She turned from him to listen to the Czar, who seemed to be addressing
herself and the assembly in common.

"The marshal," he said, "dare not uphold the genuineness of the
document upon the altar. It is now manifest that Czernova can show no
valid title to the autonomy it has so long exercised. It is an
integral part of the Russian dominion, and to-day we resume our
usurped authority. As sovereign-lord of this principality we declare
the claim of the present occupant of the throne to be null and void."

"On what ground?" inquired Radzivil.

"On the ground alleged by the duke--illicit birth."

Zabern marked Barbara's look of humiliation, and thought it not amiss
to give the emperor _quid pro quo_.

"A difficult matter this proving of one's legitimacy," he observed,
turning to the assembly as if taking them into his confidence. "I have
even known emperors to be in doubt as to the true name of their
grandfathers."

This allusion to the frailties of Catherine drew a terrible look from
the Czar. He even laid hand upon his sword; but, checking his wrath,
he resumed his speech to the assembly.

"And though in the strict view of the law the Duke of Bora be the
rightful ruler of this principality, yet we, as suzerain, in the
exercise of our clemency will permit the princess so-called to retain
her throne, provided she can produce a champion who shall overcome the
duke in armed combat."

"Then the duke's challenge meets with your Majesty's approval?" said
Radzivil.

"As suzerain," replied the emperor, "it is my duty to uphold the
usages and institutions of the principality; and the Justiciary--"

"Ex-Justiciary," corrected Barbara quietly.

"We will not quarrel as to that. It is enough that the highest legal
authority here present has affirmed that the duke's action is in
entire assonance with the Czernovese law."

The Czar did not add, as he might have added, that it was almost
certain that the duke would gain the crown by this arrangement, which
was the reason why he, the Autocrat, had become so suddenly favorable
to constitutionalism. It would be more polite to place his kinsman
Bora upon the throne under the guise of law, than to install him by
force of arms. Europe, then, could not so easily raise a protest.

"If," said Barbara, addressing the emperor, "if duelling be so
agreeable to your Majesty, on what ground do you now justify your
former demand for the extradition of the duke?"

Nicholas, little accustomed to be catechised or to give reasons for
his conduct, frowned and was silent.

Zabern laughed.

"Princess, you demand too much in requiring a Czar to be logical."

"And how," asked Radzivil of the emperor, "how if we should ignore the
duke's claim and should proceed with the coronation of the princess?"

The Czar's eyes flashed at this defiance of his authority.

"If you will not uphold your own laws, there is a power upon the
frontier that shall compel you to do so."

Ill-starred Barbara! Publicly stigmatized as illegitimate; her
principality void of its boasted Charter; her dream of a Polish empire
vanished; her own throne of Czernova forfeited to the duke, inasmuch
as it meant death to any one who should meet him in combat. And all
this occurring in the space of one brief hour upon the day which she
had anticipated as the most splendid of her life!

Was this to be the end of her triumphal progress through the shouting
crowds of her capital--doomed amid the mocking laughter of the
Muscovites to quit the cathedral a discrowned princess, attended by a
melancholy train of fallen ministers?

"I am--I AM princess!" she murmured between her set teeth. "They shall
not drive me from the throne."

But what booted it to resist? There, a few paces off, and sternly
opposed to her, was the master of many legions, the lord of
one-seventh of the globe, who had but to give the signal, and one
hundred thousand troops would come marching across the border to do
his will. She might have Right on her side, but he had Might, and
bitterly did she realize the saying of the old Norse god: "Force rules
the world; has ruled it; shall rule it."

Zabern, however, fertile in expedients, was not yet reduced to a state
of despair. He had formed the plan of seizing the Czar as a prisoner
of war, and of making his release conditional upon the cession of
autonomy to Czernova. If Barbara should refuse to sanction this
desperate scheme, well then he, Zabern, would act without her, finding
a higher authority in the interests of the Czernovese. Much as he
revered the princess, if that princess should refuse to be true to
herself, it would behove him to put the state before the individual.

He was on the point of communicating his design to Barbara when
Polonaski rose to speak.

"The hour is drawing to a close. She who calls herself princess has
but five minutes left in which to appoint her champion."

At a sign from the Czar the Duke of Bora stepped forward to renew his
challenge.

"Barbara Lilieska," he said amid a solemn hush, "I call upon you
either to resign the crown you have usurped, or to defend it at the
sword's point. Appoint your champion. My desire is for a man that we
may fight together."

"Have, then, your desire!" cried a firm, clear voice.

All eyes were immediately turned towards the speaker who had just
entered the cathedral by the western porch,--a young man with face
bronzed as if by eastern suns, his handsome, athletic figure arrayed
in a dark-blue uniform with silver facings.

"Paul Woodville, by all that's holy!" cried Zabern in an ecstacy of
delight.

"The man who defeated me at Tajapore," murmured the Czar darkly.

Amid a scene of wild excitement Paul moved towards the choir, his long
cloak hanging gracefully from his shoulders, his sabre clanking
heavily upon the cathedral pavement.

Barbara, her heart beating wildly, her lips parted in a smile, half of
pride, half of fear, watched him, knowing for what purpose he was
advancing.

Paul reached the edge of the choir, and picking up the duke's
gauntlet, which had lain untouched for an hour, he tossed it
disdainfully against its owner's face.

"Duke of Bora, I will do battle with you to the death on behalf of the
princess."

"One moment, young sir," said Polonaski. "You cannot nominate
yourself. The appointment rests with the lady. Do you accept this man
as your champion?" he added, turning to Barbara.

"Oh, no, no!" cried Barbara. "This must not be."

A minute previously she had been longing to triumph over the Czar; now
the princess was lost in the woman. She would rather resign her throne
than put Paul's life to such terrible hazard.

The anguish pictured on her face, her clasped hands, her form bent
forward, attested the state of her feelings towards the handsome young
Englishman. There was not one person in the cathedral ignorant of the
cause of her emotion. Her love for Paul, and the reason of his going
away, were matters well known to all the Czernovese. His sudden return
at this crisis imparted an additional interest to a tableau already
thrilling.

"By heaven, your Highness must accept him," whispered Zabern in her
ear. "I have tested his swordsmanship in the _salle d'armes_ with a
view to this very event, and I know that the duke has no chance
against him."

Barbara remained silent. A struggle was taking place in her mind. The
high spirit that had sustained her during the terrible strain of the
last twenty-four hours was beginning to give way. Her crown had never
brought her anything but sorrow. Why not resign it, and depart with
Paul to his own Kentish home, that home which he had so often
described to her,--a fair castellated hall shaded with beech-trees
beside a cool lake! Far happier the life of an English lady than that
of a princess ruling over a semi-barbarous people.

Polonaski had marked Zabern's triumphant smile at the appearance of
Paul, and that smile made him somewhat uneasy, implying as it did a
firm belief in Paul's ability to overcome the duke.

"Was not Captain Woodville banished from Czernova?" he asked; "because
if so he has no right to be on Czernovese ground."

"Captain Woodville retired from Czernova of his own free will,"
replied Zabern. "The cabinet signed no decree of banishment against
him."

Barbara was still wavering in mind.

"Stick to your throne," growled Zabern.

"To hold it as a vassal of the Czar!" she murmured faintly.

"Fear not. We'll find a way of defeating his claim of suzerainty.
What! will you desert the faithful Poles who have so long stood by
you? Will your Highness resign your throne to the duke, a traitor and
assassin, when you have the opportunity of giving him his final
quietus? Who slew Trevisa? Who burnt the Charter? Who has brought the
Russian army within our borders? Who but the duke? And now will you
let him triumph? Give the word for the duel. Princess, I know, I
_know_," he added emphatically, "that Captain Woodville will come off
victorious."

At this point the Czar spoke.

"The princess so-called must either appoint a champion or prepare to
abdicate."

Despair seized the Poles at the thought of being ruled by Bora,--Bora,
who in his cups had been heard to declare that when he should come to
power, he would harness the Polish nobles to the yoke, and compel
them to plough his fields.

Loud murmurs arose at Barbara's reluctance to accept Paul as her
champion.

"Appoint him, your Highness, appoint him," was the cry.

"Let Captain Woodville slay the duke, and receive the hand of the
princess as his reward," cried Zabern. "Have I not said?" he added,
addressing the assembly.

The cathedral rang with a shout of applause, a shout that doomed the
princely marriage statute to the limbo of obsolete things. Zabern had
voiced the sentiments of the Poles. Better an untitled Englishman than
Bora.

At that moment the first stroke of twelve chimed from the cathedral
clock. Barbara's decision, if given after the hour, would be too late.
To his dismay Zabern saw that she was on the point of swooning.

"The word, princess, the word!" he cried, almost savagely.

"Barbara, say the word," pleaded Paul gently.

She looked at him, and was unable to resist the wistful, earnest
appeal of his eyes.

"I accept--Captain Woodville--as--my--my champion," she gasped. "Oh!
what have I done?" she added in the next moment. And as the twelfth
stroke of the clock died away, she swayed helplessly forward and sank
unconscious into Paul's arms. He surrendered her light form to the
care of her attendant ladies, who immediately bore her away from the
choir to the sacristy which had served as her robing-room.

"Duke of Bora," cried Zabern, with an exultant smile, "your last hour
has come!"



CHAPTER XIX

THE CORONATION DUEL


Those who had come to the cathedral in the expectation of witnessing
an interesting ceremony were beginning to find that the reality far
surpassed the anticipation.

A series of dramatic episodes had occurred in quick succession, but
the climax of all was now reached when it became known that the throne
of Czernova was to be put to the hazard of a duel, and a duel that was
to ensue immediately within the walls of the cathedral itself, an
arrangement due to the initiative of Zabern; for, as according to the
statute the combat must take place that same day, he had proposed that
it should be fought at once upon the open pavement fronting the choir.

"A duel within a cathedral!" exclaimed Radzivil in amazement.

"Why not?" asked Zabern coolly.

"This is a consecrated place. The wilful shedding of blood here is
forbidden by the Church."

"Well, let's take the opinion of the Church as expressed in the person
of Faustus."

Now, sad to relate, that mitred abbot dearly loved to witness a good
fight, for he had been a soldier ere adopting the monastic profession,
and the old Adam was still strong within him.

"This cathedral is holy ground," he began.

"Presumably so," replied Zabern.

"And to maintain the princess's throne and the Latin faith is a holy
deed."

"Without doubt."

"Then let the holy deed take place on holy ground."

"My view of the matter."

"But if the shedding of blood should profane a church--"

"As the timid allege."

"Then is the place already profaned by the blood of Orloff."

"True."

"Therefore this being now common ground the duel can take place
without occasion of profanation."

"Faustus, thou reasonest well. Gentlemen, we have heard the voice of
the Church. _Fiat voluntas ecclesiæ._ Let the combat take place here,
and now."

"Good!" commented Paul, who had listened in silence to this dialogue.
"It cannot come too soon."

A remark echoed by the ferocious Bora, confident in his ability to
overcome the other.

Paul now found his hands grasped by those of admiring ministers, all
of whom were anxious that he should forget how near they had come to
banishing him by public edict.

In the midst of their congratulations Paul was approached by a
lady-in-waiting, who brought word that the princess desired to speak
with him ere the duel should begin.

"Go to your dalliance," sneered Bora, who had overheard the message.
"It will be your last."

"If your grace will take counsel of an enemy," replied Paul, "you will
seek the ministration of a priest, for you never needed it more."

There was something in Paul's quiet and confident manner, something
far removed from boasting, that sent a momentary uneasiness to the
hearts of both Bora and of his imperial patron, the Czar.

Paul followed his conductress to the sacristy, where he found Barbara
attended by her ladies, who had divested her of her heavy coronation
robes. The pure white of her silk dress was not whiter than her face
at that moment.

At a sign from the princess the attendants withdrew, leaving her alone
with Paul.

"What a pity," murmured one, "if so handsome a hero should die!"

Barbara rose to her feet, but so great was her emotion that she would
have fallen, had not Paul caught her in his arms, where she reclined,
clinging convulsively to him.

"Oh! Paul, Paul," she murmured, and for a long time she could do no
more than repeat his name.

The sweetness and the pain at her heart! Was this a meeting or a
parting? Her throne, her power, her wealth, her triumphs in the
diplomacy and the Diet were all as nothing in comparison with her love
of Paul. He was her dearest possession, and yet--and yet--this clasp
of his arms might be the last! Within an hour his corpse might be
carried out of the cathedral, and the voice of the Czar would proclaim
her downfall, and the accession of Bora. And what would life be
without Paul?

"Do not weep, Barbara," he cried, tenderly stroking her dark hair.
"This day shall prove the brightest of your life."

But Barbara failed to see how this could be. To her it would ever
remain as the most wretched, for even if she should triumph over Czar
and duke, that would not remove the reproach of illegitimacy publicly
cast in her teeth. She shivered at the recollection. Of all the
incidents which had happened that day, this--the imputed stain on her
birth--had most wounded her pride. Would she ever be able to disprove
the charge? But it was not the time to be thinking of this now.

"Oh! Paul," she murmured, "it is selfish, it is wrong of me to hazard
your life in this barbarous fashion."

"It is too late to plead now," he answered gravely. "I have publicly
accepted the honor--for an honor it is--of acting as the princess's
champion, and not even Barbara herself shall dissuade me to withdraw."

"But are you certain, quite certain, that you will be victorious?"

"Try me," said Paul grimly.

"How can I let you do this?" she cried in an outburst of anguish. "I
will resign my crown. We will go away together to some other land
where happiness may be found. Say 'yes' to this. Oh, Paul,
don't--_don't_ fight. If you should fall--"

"No fear of that, since your throne depends upon the issue."

"My throne!" repeated Barbara bitterly. "What pleasure can it give me
now? The Czar has learned that our Charter is no more. He claims
Czernova as part of his empire. If I should continue to rule I must
rule merely as his vassal. Consider the humiliations to which I shall
be subjected. Is it worth while risking your life in order to preserve
for me a gilded mockery of power?"

How could Paul smile at the prospect presented by her words? Yet he
did, pleasantly and tenderly.

"Sweet princess!" he said, "for princess you are, and princess you
shall remain, take courage." He turned her beautiful face upward to
his own, and gazed into the depth of her dark eyes, on whose silken
lashes the tear-drops glittered. "During my absence I have worked for
the good of Czernova. I have splendid tidings for you. Fear no more
the machinations of Russia. From this day forth you are firmly seated
upon the throne."

The sudden and unaccountable joy that filled Barbara's heart at that
moment almost effaced the thought of the coming duel.

"Oh, Paul, what--what do you mean?"

"That I have accomplished my mission. But ere explaining let me first
dispose of the duke; otherwise when the great news which is now on
its way reaches Slavowitz, he may seek to escape in the train of the
Czar, which must not be, for Trevisa's death calls for atonement."

Though full of wonder, Barbara succeeded in repressing her curiosity,
and said,--

"Paul, you do not wish me to be a witness of this duel? I mean," she
added timidly, "if you think that--that--"

"That I shall fight with better success if you are looking on? No,
Barbara, it is no sight for your gentle eyes. Remain here till it is
over. And do not fear for me," he continued, kissing her tearful face,
"I am more than a match for the duke. From boyhood upward to excel in
sword-play has been my ambition. Rarely have I let a day pass without
exercise. I can see now that Providence has been training my arm for
this very event."

His words inspired Barbara with a momentary confidence.

"You will succeed, Paul. Heaven will help you, for you fight in a
righteous cause. Oh, are you going? So soon? Why, we have but just
met. Not yet--not yet. A minute longer--one more kiss--lest--lest--it
should be--the last--O Paul--don't go--no--no--"

He kissed her tenderly, gently removed her clinging arms, and quitted
the sacristy.

The Duke of Bora, who was sitting beside his great kinsman, the Czar,
scowled as Paul made his appearance in the choir. The dullest
imagination could picture the tender interview that had taken place in
the sacristy. All knew that Paul had come to the combat with Barbara's
kiss dewy on his lips.

"But for yon fellow," muttered Bora, "I might now be the consort of
the princess."

"The fair lady loves power," replied the emperor. "She may yet consent
when she sees the crown on your brow. See, the herald summons you. Now,
Bora, play the man, and you are prince by the law of Czernova itself.
All Europe will be unable to dispute the legality of your title."

The two duellists did not immediately take to the sword and engage.
The coronation-rubric prescribed certain formalities--relics of a
mediæval usage--in connection with the championing of the sovereign;
and these a herald, dressed in the quaint antique costume of his
office, proceeded to carry out.

"Let the champions come forward."

Paul, with a smile serene and high, stepped to the appointed place,
namely, the space fronting the choir. Sand had been sprinkled upon the
pavement to absorb the blood that might be shed, and to prevent the
combatants' feet from slipping.

Bora with a scowling brow faced his opponent.

"Do you, Paul Cressingham Woodville, affirm that she who calls herself
Barbara Lilieska is the true and lawful ruler of this principality of
Czernova?"

"I do."

"And do you, John Lilieski, affirm that you yourself are the true and
lawful ruler of this principality of Czernova?"

"I do."

"And to prove your respective contentions, are you each willing to
submit to the ordeal of battle?"

The champions signified their assent.

The herald then proceeded to explain the conditions that were to
regulate the combat. Swords of a certain length were to be the weapons
used. From beginning to end the duel was to be continuous without any
interval for rest or refreshment. Each was to fight till his opponent
should be destroyed, for quarter was neither to be given nor accepted,
and though the life-blood were being drained from the combatants the
wounds were not to be stanched.

By a solemn oath repeated after the herald, each champion bound
himself to observe these regulations. Hence it was certain that one,
possibly both, would not leave the cathedral alive, a fact which
imparted a terrible interest to the coming combat.

"No quarter! that's a good rule," remarked Zabern to Katina, who sat
beside him. "The craven duke would be begging for his life, and we
want no more Boras in Czernova."

"The champions will now take their position for the combat," cried the
herald.

The duellist when hard pressed is apt to give way before his opponent.
In the present case, however, advance or retreat, save within very
narrow limits, was rendered impossible.

Fixed in the stone flooring was a ring of brass designed for raising a
slab that covered a stairway leading to a crypt below. The right ankle
of each combatant was attached to this same ring by a strong cord six
feet in length, thus confining their movements within a circle of four
yards in diameter.

These preparations raised the interest of the spectators to a high
pitch. A dreadful sensation thrilled the ladies present as they
watched the champions during the process of cording; the men, more
cool and critical, strove to predict the victor from the physique
presented by each of the opponents.

Judged thus, the advantage seemed to be on the side of the duke, whose
frame was powerful and massive; Paul was not equal in stature to his
antagonist, was of more slender build, and any superiority derivable
from his greater activity was somewhat nullified by the restraining
cord.

The circumstances attending this combat contributed to render it
unique in the annals of Czernovese duelling.

The one champion, Bora, stimulated by the presence of his imperial
patron, the mighty Czar, fought to gain a crown; the other, Paul, for
the hand of a fair princess. There was a coloring of romance about the
affair strongly suggestive of the days of chivalry, and this was
enhanced by the quaint character of the ritual employed.

Each of the Czernovese factions was confident of the success of its
champion. The Muscovites boasted of the duke's thirty duels, from all
of which he had emerged victorious without taking a wound. The Poles
had no such record to show on behalf of their champion; his brilliant
feat in the _salle d'armes_ was unknown to them, but they had marked
Zabern while Paul was lifting the duke's glove, and they felt that the
marshal must have had good cause for the grim joy that had appeared on
his face. Moreover, Paul's gallant defence of Tajapore was still fresh
in their minds; his triumph over the Czar's policy in the East was an
augury of a similar triumph in the West, and contributed to give a
piquant zest to the coming duel. At any rate, his cold, flashing eye,
compressed lips and resolute mien showed that he was a dangerous
opponent.

As soon as Paul had removed his coat and vest the herald placed his
hand beneath his shirt.

"To ascertain whether you wear an under-tunic of mail," he explained
in answer to Paul's look of surprise.

"Do you deem me a person of so little honor?"

"This scrutiny is so enjoined by the rubric," remarked the herald, as
he subjected Bora to the same inspection.

The weapons next occupied the herald's attention.

The duke had come prepared for the contest, and hence his blade was of
the length prescribed by the statute; Paul's sword fell short of this
by two inches, and though he much preferred to fight with his own
weapon, the herald would not permit him to do so.

"My blade is of the requisite length," said Zabern, "and I can warrant
it tried steel. Take it; you will make it historic. It has already
shed the blood of a cardinal; why not that of a duke? There will be a
sort of poetic justice in despatching the princess's two enemies with
the same weapon."

"You seem very confident, marshal," sneered Bora.

"Very confident, your grace. You see there's no princess to intervene
this time."

The herald having tested the length and flexibility of Zabern's sword
returned it to the marshal, saying, as he did so,--

"Pierce your skin with the point."

Zabern instantly pricked the palm of his hand till the blood flowed,
while the duke did the like with his own weapon.

The puzzled Paul looked inquiringly at Zabern, who explained that it
was an old usage in Czernova, adopted as a precaution against poisoned
blades.

The two combatants were now bidden to stand as far apart as the cords
would permit, and each after kissing his blade held it vertically
aloft, repeating after the herald the following oath,--

"Hear, O ye people, that I have this day neither eaten nor drunk
aught, nor have I upon my person either charm or amulet, nor have I
practised any enchantment or sorcery, whereby the law of Heaven may be
abased, or the law of Satan be exalted. So help me God and His
saints!"

Very absurd and mediæval, no doubt, but being a part of the ancient
ritual its enunciation was required from each champion.

The news of the coming duel had been announced to the populace
without, and their cries of excitement contrasted strangely with the
deadly stillness that reigned within the interior of the fane.

Upon that part of the cathedral roof that overlooked the square, a
group of soldiers could be seen standing about a flag-staff, at the
foot of which were two banners, one white, the other black. The eyes
of all the people below were set upon this flag-staff, when it became
known that the hoisting of the white standard would signify the
triumph of the princess's champion, and the black standard his defeat.

The time for the great contest had now come, and the herald stepped
backward a few paces.

"May Heaven defend the right! In the name of God--fight!"

As the blades clashed together the spectators drew a deep breath. The
time occupied by the preliminaries, though in reality very brief, had
seemed so long that the beginning of the duel came as an actual
relief.

A shiver of expectancy ran around the cathedral. Five thousand pairs
of eyes were riveted upon the choir, and upon naught else. The
loveliest lady present might have sighed in vain for a single glance.

Abbot Faustus had sunk upon his knees by the altar, and was now
telling his beads, but though his spiritual eyes might be directed
towards heaven, his earthly vision was certainly fixed upon the two
combatants, as Katina observed to Zabern.

"Well, he can cite Moses as a precedent," remarked the marshal, as he
sat down to watch the fray. Loving a good fight, Zabern viewed the
present spectacle with a real sense of enjoyment, untroubled by any
doubt as to the result.

The Czar, with his strong liking for everything military, was likewise
in his element. He sat, bent forward, resting the point of his sabre
upon the pavement, and his hands upon the hilt, prepared to view the
display of swordsmanship with the critical eye of a _maître d'armes_,
as confident in the triumph of Bora as Zabern was in that of Paul.

The Duke of Bora, burning to distinguish himself in the presence of
the Czar, and apparently desirous of terminating the combat in the
shortest space of time possible, made so furious an attack upon Paul
that the latter could do no more than remain on the defensive. So
weighty was the descent of Bora's blade that Paul's arm tingled at
each shock; so swift his tierce that his sabre-point was often swept
aside when within an inch only of Paul's breast. In truth the eye
could scarcely follow the movement of the blades, which in their
rapidity resembled flashes of light, rather than pieces of steel
wielded by human hands.

The duke pressed his adversary yet harder, compelling him to recede
inch by inch to the end of his tether, a retrogression which, added to
the fact that Paul did not return the cut and thrust of his opponent,
occasioned grave misgiving in the minds of the Polish spectators.

"Our champion has degenerated since the day he surprised us in the
_salle d'armes_," murmured the premier in alarm.

"Bah! my good Radzivil," returned Zabern confidently, "cannot you see
that he is letting the duke exhaust himself? Bora is rash in thus
pouring out his strength like water. This is too violent to last long.
Ah! said I not so? First blood to us!"

The duke had failed to preserve his guard, and as a result Paul's
weapon had penetrated his side to the depth of a quarter of an inch, a
feat performed with such quickness that though all were watching, few
perceived it.

"The duke is wounded."

"He is not."

Doubt vanished with the appearance on Bora's white shirt of a small
red disk that began slowly to expand.

Zabern smiled grimly at the bewilderment of the duke, whose air
resembled that of a bull in the Spanish arena when first pierced by
the dart of the banderillero--the air of amazement as to how the thing
could have happened, mingled with incredulity that any one should
have ventured to play such a trick upon him.

This was the first wound ever received by him in his character as
duellist, and the blow thus given to his prestige stung the duke far
more than the mere physical pain caused by the stab. Its occurrence,
however, at this stage was timely, for it served to check his fiery
conceit and to teach him caution; it behoved him to guard as well as
to assail.

Paul's vigilance in detecting an error on his adversary's part raised
the spirit of the Poles to a high degree, while the feeling of the
Muscovites underwent a corresponding depression.

"Good for the Englishman," cried a Pole.

"He is the duke's match," exclaimed a second.

The combat being now waged with more caution on the part of the duke,
there ensued a really brilliant display of swordsmanship, which,
interesting to the civilians, was far more so to the military officers
present, from whom came subdued murmurs of admiration.

"Humph!" said Zabern, conscious that the duke was now in his best
form. "The great Napoleon, with whom I once dined, made remark to me,
'Scratch a Russ, and you will find a Tartar.' In the present instance,
however, the scratch seems to have made our Russ more cool."

The Czar, who had overheard these words, so far permitted his
curiosity to overcome his dislike of Zabern as to ask coldly,--

"Where did you dine with Napoleon?"

"Beneath the roof of the Kremlin, sire," replied Zabern, with an
ironical salute.

The emperor repressed his wrath, and turned again to view the strife.

Every movement of the blades was watched in fear and trembling by the
Polish spectators, who felt that it was a fight betwixt liberty and
despotism; a mortal thrust on the part of the duke would leave them
but a shadow of that freedom which they had enjoyed under the _régime_
of the princess.

Many of the ladies present, unable to endure the sight, averted their
eyes, and then, impelled by a dreadful curiosity, turned to gaze
again. Some looked on with handkerchiefs pressed to their mouths to
check the screams which might have disconcerted the combatants.
Intense emotion caused a few to swoon away.

The tide seemed to be turning in favor of Paul. He began to press the
duke, whose strength was beginning to fail. Mighty in a first onset,
he lacked the steady endurance of his adversary. Suddenly, while
bending sideways to avoid a thrust which he had failed to parry, Bora
lost his balance and fell. In falling, his sword flew from his hand.

And there he was, resting upon one knee, defenceless, at the mercy of
his opponent.

The spirit of chivalry restrained Paul from giving the fatal stroke.

"I cannot slay an unarmed man," he said.

"What folly is this?" cried Zabern, starting up in wrath. "Did he
spare Trevisa? Would he spare you if you were now in his place? This
is no time for generosity or mercy. The princess's throne is at stake.
Strike and spare not."

Bora neither moved nor spoke, awaiting his end in trembling terror.
Paul's refusal to strike evoked the long-suppressed feelings of the
Poles.

"Kill! kill!"

The lofty arches rang with excited cries. Even tender ladies, carried
away by the heat of the moment, added their voices to those of the
men. Paul, looking around upon the assembly, saw nothing but a forest
of waving hands, and a multitude of fierce-gleaming eyes urging him to
the bloody work.

"No quarter can be granted," said the herald. "You have each sworn an
oath to slay, or be slain."

But inasmuch as Paul was not to be moved from his purpose, there was
no other course left than to permit the duke to resume the combat.

"You have given him time to recover himself," grumbled Zabern, as he
sat down again. "It is a violation of the rules."

During his discomfiture, Bora had glanced more than once at the Czar,
as if supplicating his intervention. But the emperor sat impassive as
a statue, ignoring the silent appeal. Relying on the duke's boastful
assurances of victory, Nicholas had assented to the policy of the duel
as a convenient and constitutional way of deposing the princess. It
now seemed that this plan would fail. Then let the duke pay the
penalty merited by his presumption. Woe to the man who deceives the
Czar! Bora's heart sank within him at sight of the emperor's cold
face.

The contest now entered upon its last, its fatal phase.

Equality had disappeared between the two champions; the duel was
virtually over; the result known to all present; it was merely a
question of time.

And the person most conscious of this was the duke himself. His
confident swagger had vanished. He was fighting now, not for glory or
a throne, but for dear life itself.

He made no attempt to assail Paul. Why should he? He could do no more
than he had done. He had tried again and again to reach his adversary,
and with graceful ease Paul had parried each cut and tierce. He could
escape death only by some negligence on the part of his opponent, but
that opponent was too keen to be caught erring.

Little by little Bora was forced backwards, till at last further
retreat was rendered impossible by the cord attached to his ankle; yet
farther back he must go if he must avoid that sabre-point, which,
swift and deadly as the tongue of a serpent, glittered continually
within an inch of his face and breast.

His strength was ebbing fast; his arm had grown completely wearied by
the constant parrying; he longed to throw away his weapon and cry for
mercy; but for the restraining cord he would have cast himself at the
feet of the Czar to implore his intervention. The despair pictured on
his face produced a painful feeling among the more sensitive portion
of the spectators.

With vision continually blurred by the great drops of sweat that hung
from his eyebrows, the duke struggled on, till at last came the end.

Tempted from his defensive Bora made a sudden thrust, and his
sabre-point entered a tiny orifice in the ornamental work that formed
the cross-guard of Paul's sword. Lunging with wild vehemence, Bora was
unable to check his impetus, and the result was that the blade of his
weapon instantaneously curved upwards with such force as to snap in
two, while at the same moment Paul's sabre, darting forward
horizontally, entered the duke's breast, and passed out under his left
shoulder.

Bora's arms flew aloft with a convulsive jerk; the fragment of his
blade dropped with a ringing sound upon the pavement; he gave a
strange gasping sigh, and then his body slid from Paul's blade and lay
on the floor in a huddled heap.

"Now, I call that a very pretty fight," remarked Zabern.

A long shout of triumph arose from the Poles, followed a few seconds
later by a tremendous roaring from the populace outside, as the white
standard flew up the flagstaff, announcing the victory of the
princess's champion.



CHAPTER XX

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL


As the Czar beheld his champion lying dead, a wave of anger swept over
him, suppressed immediately by his stern fortitude.

"The word of the Czar is sacred," he cried, rising from his seat and
addressing the assembly. "Barbara Lilieska is Princess of Czernova.
Let the coronation proceed."

Paul, released from the cord that had confined him to the place of
combat, here turned and confronted the emperor.

"Your Majesty," he remarked, with a somewhat cold expression, "ere
claiming to exercise suzerainty in Czernova, will do well to await the
arrival of your Foreign Minister now on his way hither."

The Czar stared haughtily at Paul, having no idea whatever of his
meaning, while Zabern, equally mystified, murmured,--

"In the name of the saints, explain your saying."

Paul whispered a few words into the ear of the marshal, who received
the communication with an expression of incredulity.

"It is true," asseverated Paul. "And," he added, "here comes the
confirmer of my words."

A slight commotion here took place at the far end of the cathedral,
and there entered a man of distinguished presence whom Zabern
immediately recognized as the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Then the marshal no longer doubted. His face became lighted with an
expression of joy, succeeded the next moment by one of trouble.

"The Convent of the Transfiguration!" he murmured.

"There is our danger. We are lost if our secret documents fall into
the Czar's hands. And how is it to be prevented with a Russian
regiment in possession of the monastery?"

The newcomer on entering had thrown a quick glance around, and
catching sight of the emperor standing upon the edge of the choir, he
at once made his way to the imperial presence.

"Count Nesselrode! you here! How is this?" asked the Czar, perceiving
plainly that trouble was in the air.

"A despatch from the Court of St. James's, requiring your Majesty's
immediate attention," replied Nesselrode, sinking upon one knee as he
presented the document. "On receiving it from the British ambassador,
I instantly set off for Zamoska, travelling day and night; and,
learning on my arrival there that you would be found in the cathedral
of Slavowitz, I have hastened hither. A grave despatch, your Majesty,"
he added in a lower tone, "a despatch affecting this very
principality. Hence my haste to deliver it to you."

The emperor sat down again, broke the seal of the envelope, unfolded
the despatch, and proceeded to read it with a darkening countenance.

The only person in the cathedral whose eyes were not set upon the Czar
at this particular juncture was Zabern, who was himself occupied in
the reading of two very interesting documents which had just been put
into his hands.

During the course of the duel there had entered the cathedral the
chief of the Police Bureau, who had personally taken upon himself to
investigate matters relative to the murder of Cardinal Ravenna. His
search in the archiepiscopal palace had resulted in the finding of
certain papers, so extraordinary in their character that the
police-official felt constrained to hasten at once to Zabern with the
news of his discovery. The sight of the duel had kept him dumb and
motionless, but as soon as it was over he had hurried to the side of
Zabern.

"Marshal," he whispered, "what name did the Czar give to our
princess?"

"Barbara Lilieska. That is her true name, Casimir."

"Then these papers do not depose her?" said the chief of the police,
exhibiting what he had found.

"Depose her?" repeated Zabern, as he ran his delighted eye over the
document. "By the soul of Sobieski, you could not have brought a more
acceptable gift to her Highness. This will--"

"Marshal, is it true that the princess has not yet been informed of
the result of the duel?"

It was Paul who spoke, and he spoke with some warmth.

"Such have been my orders."

"Why do you prolong her suspense?"

"Who more fitting than the victor himself to convey the glad tidings?
Go. Carry these papers with you. Tell the princess that they were
found in the cardinal's palace!"

Taking the documents from the hand of Zabern, Paul proceeded to the
sacristy, where he had left Barbara.

She was alone on her knees in prayer. She had heard the rapturous
applause ringing through the cathedral aisles; she had heard the still
louder shout from the square, and had trembled, knowing that all was
over.

But when moment after moment went by and no one came with tidings, a
black pall of horror fell over her. It must be that the duke's sword
had prevailed, and that her friends from pity hesitated to come
forward with the truth.

The door opened, yet she durst not turn her head.

Through the corridor came the solemn roll of the organ, and with it
the voices of the white-robed choir: "_Deposuit potentes et exaltavit
humiles_."

Why had Faustus ordered the "Magnificat" to be sung? Could it be
that--?

"Barbara!"

A delicious feeling of relief thrilled her whole frame as that word
fell on her ear.

She looked up from her knees. Yes, it was the living Paul, and not his
spirit; Paul smiling tenderly, and apparently unhurt. She tried to
speak, but emotion checked her utterance. Paul raised her drooping
figure from the ground and girdled her in a grasp of iron.

"My sweet floweret. You must not faint. All is well. Your throne is
safe."

"Your life is safe," she faintly articulated, "and that is all I care
for."

Then followed a long interval of silence. Their joy was too deep for
words. At last Barbara spoke.

"And is Bora really dead?"

"May all enemies of the princess be as the duke is."

"And you? Are you not wounded--hurt?" she asked, holding him at arm's
length.

"There is not a scratch upon me."

"And the Czar--?"

"Is taking a lesson in the school of humiliation."

And here Paul proceeded to relate what he had been doing during his
absence. He had gone away boldly resolved on making an attempt to
persuade the English Foreign Secretary to interest himself on behalf
of Czernovese liberty.

With this view, then, Paul, on the very first night of his arrival in
London, called at the residence of Viscount Palmerston, and sent in
his card. That statesman had no sooner read the notable name "Paul
Woodville," than he gave orders that the visitor should be instantly
admitted to his presence.

He received Paul with great affability, expressing his regret that a
young soldier, certain of promotion, should have so strangely quitted
the service of a great empire for that of one of the smallest states
in Europe.

"You have sadly disappointed the British public," he remarked with a
smile. "We were preparing great honors for you in England."

"I desire no other honor, my lord," replied Paul, boldly, "but that
England should observe towards my adopted home that faith to which she
stands pledged by the Treaty of Vienna."

Now it was a point in Paul's favor that Lord Palmerston had warningly
declared from his place in the House of Commons at the close of the
session of '46 that "The Governments of Austria, Russia, and Prussia,
would recollect that if the Treaty of Vienna was not good on the
Vistula, it might be equally invalid on the Rhine and on the Po."
Therefore he became immediately attentive when Paul began to hint at
an intended violation of this treaty; ever the friend of nationalities
striving to be free, he listened with considerable warmth and
indignation as his visitor went on to describe the insidious attempts
made by Russia to undermine the independence of Czernova.

At this particular date Russia was the _bête noire_ of Lord
Palmerston, who had long viewed with misgiving the continual advance
of that Power in the direction of India. He had learned from the
despatches forwarded both by Paul and by other officers, that a
considerable body of Russians had joined the Afghans in the attack
upon the British garrison at Tajapore; but since it could not be
proved that these auxiliaries had acted with the authority, or even
with the knowledge of the Czar's ministry, the English cabinet had
been obliged to let the matter pass.

The affairs of Czernova, however, seemed to afford a favorable
opportunity, both for administering a check to Russia's growing spirit
of aggression, and also of asserting British authority in the councils
of Europe.

Accordingly, when certain of the Continental powers had been sounded
as to their views upon the matter, the English ministry, after due
deliberation, decided to uphold that clause of the Vienna Treaty which
guaranteed independence to Czernova.

A Queen's messenger carrying the cabinet's decision was despatched to
St. Petersburg. Paul himself had accompanied this emissary, and after
lingering a day or two by the Neva, had set off for Czernova, so
arranging the stages of his journey that he might reach Slavowitz on
the eve of the coronation. An unforeseen breakdown on the way had
delayed him by twenty-four hours.

"The English ambassador at St. Petersburg," he added, "favored me in
confidence with an outline of 'Old Pam's' despatch. Ignoring the
Charter altogether, it declares that Czernova shall continue to
exercise that independence which it has exercised since 1795."

"But," said Barbara, who had listened in breathless wonder, "to what
point is England prepared to go in order to maintain the integrity of
Czernova?"

"To the point of the bayonet, if necessary. The present despatch, I am
given to understand, contains no threats, but its language, though
diplomatically polite, is quite unmistakable. France, too, is with us
in this matter; the Porte likewise, and the Kingdom of Sardinia.
Therefore, take courage, Barbara. The Czar will not risk a European
war for the sake of Czernova."

For a moment the princess gazed at Paul, admiration, pride, and love
shining from her eyes. Then with a low, sweet cry of rapture she flung
herself into his arms.

"Paul, you have saved Czernova," she said.

Paul here ventured to call Barbara's attention to the papers entrusted
to him by Zabern.

No sooner did the princess realize the character of the documents than
she gave a second cry of delight. The one document was a certificate
of marriage between Thaddeus Lilieski, Prince of Czernova, and one
Hilda Tressilian; the other a baptismal certificate of an infant,
Barbara Lilieska, described as the daughter of the aforesaid Thaddeus
and Hilda.

How these documents came into the possession of the cardinal could
only be surmised. Probably he had secured them prior to springing his
plot upon Thaddeus, conjecturing that the prince, on seeing the claims
of his beloved daughter Natalie threatened, would do his best to
destroy all proofs of Barbara's relationship to himself. Afterwards,
when Thaddeus became anxious to establish the fact that he had another
and a legitimate daughter, Ravenna had maintained silence respecting
these documents, thinking perhaps that secrecy would be more conducive
to his own interests.

Be that as it may, there the documents were, and their genuineness was
not called in question by the legal experts, to whose inspection they
were afterwards submitted.

Paul, gazing upon Barbara, saw her face "as it had been the face of an
angel." No marvel that she was filled with an exquisite sense of joy!
She was now free from the imputation of illegitimacy. She could assume
her rightful name instead of masquerading under a false guise. The
sword of Paul had kept her throne from becoming the prize of the duke;
and, thanks to the ægis of Britain, Czernova was safe from the
aggression of Russia.

Best and sweetest thought of all, there was now no obstacle to her
union with Paul, for who among her ministers would oppose her marriage
with the gallant Englishman who had saved the principality?

The sound of approaching footsteps caused the princess to withdraw
from the arms of Paul; and immediately afterwards Zabern entered the
sacristy, followed by Katina and by most of the ministry.

"Princess," said Zabern solemnly, and Barbara observed that there were
tears in his eyes; "princess, amid your joy give a thought to the
brave men who have died to save our secret."

"What mean you, marshal?"

"Early this morning the Convent of the Transfiguration was seized and
occupied by a regiment of the Paulovski Guards."

"By that act, then, the Czar has violated the Treaty of Vienna."

"True; but considering what that convent contained," said Zabern with
a melancholy smile, "we shall act wisely in ignoring this raid upon
our territory, especially as the Czar has paid the penalty of his act
by losing a splendid regiment. Dorislas, who invested the convent, has
just sent this message."

Zabern handed the princess a note inscribed with the following
words,--

"At noon convent blew up with tremendous explosion. Building and
inmates reduced to atoms. Some of our men injured by falling débris,
but none killed.--DORISLAS."

Barbara's face saddened.

"So the monks kept their vow," she murmured, "and fired the
powder-magazine, sacrificing their own lives to save us from
discovery."

"Fortunately your Highness has saved Faustus by inviting him here to
crown you, and yet the old abbot is grieving because he has not died
with the rest of his brethren."

"Though it be harsh to say it," remarked Paul, "the destruction of
that monastery is, under the present circumstances, the best thing
that could have happened to Czernova. If it could be proved that the
principality is the nucleus of Polish conspiracies directed against
the Czar's rule, the protecting arm of England will of necessity be
withdrawn. This thought troubled me during my interview with Lord
Palmerston."

"Then we will not abuse the good-will of England," commented the
princess. "From henceforth I cease to be a conspirator. My dream of a
wider realm is over. I must leave to others the liberation of Poland,"
she continued with a sigh. "But," she added, knitting her brows, "a
conspirator I must be, _nolens volens_; for have I not secretly
pledged my written word to assist Kossuth and the Magyars with gold,
if not with arms?"

"Your Highness, I am happy to state that the treaty is non-existent,"
remarked Radzivil. "The Hungarian envoy who carried the treaty, while
endeavoring to pass the Austrian frontier in the dark, was detected
and chased by the sentinels; knowing that it meant death to be caught
with the document upon his person, he, seeing his pursuers gaining
upon him--"

"Destroyed the treaty?"

"Effectually, for he _ate_ it."

Barbara smiled sadly as she replied, "Kossuth will deem me unjust, but
I fear there can be no renewal of the treaty."

"Your Highness," said Radzivil, with a significant glance at Paul,
"the first act of to-morrow's Diet shall be the repeal of the princely
marriage statute."

"But," whispered Zabern to Katina, "since no such statute bars our
way, why should not old Faustus make us one ere the night come?"

Katina blushed and averted her head. But, be it noted, she offered no
opposition to the marshal's desire.

"Princess," said Zabern, glancing at his watch, "your coronation has
been delayed two hours by the action of the duke and the Czar. Your
loyal subjects in the cathedral are beginning to ask whether there is
to be any coronation. Let your Highness resume your place in the
choir, and receive your lawful crown, thus triumphing in the very
presence of the Czar."

The party withdrew from the sacristy, and the ladies entered to aid
the princess in her robing.

As Paul made his appearance in the choir, he was greeted with a cry
which, rolling through the cathedral and penetrating to the sacristy,
caused Barbara's cheek to color with pride and pleasure. For that cry
was--

"LONG LIVE PAUL, PRINCE OF CZERNOVA!"


THE END



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