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Title: 'Farewell, Nikola'
Author: Boothby, Guy, 1867-1905
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "'Farewell, Nikola'" ***

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'FAREWELL, NIKOLA'



[Illustration: "He swept his fingers over the strings ... and commenced
to sing." (Page 140.)]



  'Farewell, Nikola'

  BY

  GUY BOOTHBY

  AUTHOR OF 'DR. NIKOLA,' 'THE BEAUTIFUL WHITE DEVIL,'
  'PHAROS, THE EGYPTIAN,' ETC.


  ILLUSTRATED BY HAROLD PIFFARD


  LONDON

  WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED

  NEW YORK AND MELBOURNE

  1901



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                PAGE

  HE SWEPT HIS FINGERS OVER THE STRINGS ... AND
  COMMENCED TO SING                                    _Frontispiece_

  HE PRESSED A SPRING IN THE WALL                                 46

  PRESENTLY A PICTURE SHAPED ITSELF IN THE CLOUD                 100

  THROWING OPEN THE SECRET DOOR ... HE CONFRONTED
  THEM                                                           177

  HE LAID HIS HAND UPON HER FOREHEAD                             208

  "PUT DOWN YOUR PISTOLS," SAID NIKOLA                           249

  HE CRAWLED UPON THE FLOOR LIKE A DOG                           273

  SHE KNELT, WITH ARMS OUTSTRETCHED, IN SUPPLICATION             306



'FAREWELL, NIKOLA'



CHAPTER I


We were in Venice; Venice the silent and mysterious; the one European
city of which I never tire. My wife had not enjoyed good health for some
months past, and for this reason we had been wintering in Southern
Italy. After that we had come slowly north, spending a month in
Florence, and a fortnight in Rome _en route_, until we found ourselves
in Venice, occupying a suite of apartments at Galaghetti's famous hotel
overlooking the Grand Canal. Our party was a small one; it consisted of
my wife, her friend, Gertrude Trevor, and myself, Richard Hatteras, once
of the South Sea Islands, but now of the New Forest, Hampshire, England.
It may account for our fondness of Venice when I say that four years
previous we had spent the greater part of our honeymoon there. Whatever
the cause may have been, however, there could be no sort of doubt that
the grand old city, with its palaces and churches, its associations
stretching back to long-forgotten centuries, and its silent waterways,
possessed a great fascination for us. We were never tired of exploring
it, finding something to interest us in even the most out-of-the-way
corners. In Miss Trevor we possessed a charming companion, a vital
necessity, as you will admit, when people travel together. She was an
uncommon girl in more ways than one; a girl, so it seems to me, England
alone is able to produce. She could not be described as a pretty girl,
but then the word "pretty" is one that sometimes comes perilously near
carrying contempt with it; one does not speak of Venus de Medici as
pretty, nor would one describe the Apollo Belvedere as very
nice-looking. That Miss Trevor was exceedingly handsome would, I fancy,
be generally admitted. At any rate she would command attention wherever
she might go, and that is an advantage which few of us possess. Should a
more detailed description of her be necessary, I might add that she was
tall and dark, with black hair and large luminous eyes that haunted one,
and were suggestive of a southern ancestor. She was the daughter, and
indeed the only child, of the well-known Dean of Bedminster, and this
was the first time she had visited Italy, or that she had been abroad.
The wonders of the Art Country were all new to her, and in consequence
our wanderings were one long succession of delight. Every day added some
new pleasure to her experiences, while each night saw a life desire
gratified.

In my humble opinion, to understand Italy properly one should not
presume to visit her until after the first blush of youth has departed,
and then only when one has prepared oneself to properly appreciate her
many beauties. Venice, above all others, is a city that must be taken
seriously. To come at a proper spirit of the place one must be in a
reverent mood. Cheap jokes and Cockney laughter are as unsuited to the
place, where Falieri yielded his life, as a downcast face would be in
Nice at carnival time. On the afternoon of the particular day from which
I date my story, we had been to the island of Murano to pay a visit to
the famous glass factories of which it is the home. By the time we
reached Venice once more it was nearly sunset. Having something like an
hour to spare we made our way, at my wife's suggestion, to the Florian
_café_ on the piazza of Saint Mark in order to watch the people. As
usual the place was crowded, and at first glance it looked as if we
should be unable to find sufficient vacant chairs. Fortune favoured us,
however, and when we had seated ourselves and I had ordered coffee, we
gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of what is perhaps one of the most
amusing scenes in Venice. To a thoughtful mind the Great Square must at
all times be an object of absorbing interest. I have seen it at every
hour, and under almost every aspect: at break of day, when one has it to
oneself and is able to enjoy its beauty undisturbed; at midday, when the
importunate shop-keepers endeavour to seduce one into entering their
doors (by tales of the marvels therein); at sunset, when the _cafés_ are
crowded, the band plays, and all is merriment; and last, but not least,
at midnight, when the moon is sailing above Saint Mark's, the square is
full of strange shadows, and the only sound to be heard is the cry of a
gull on the lagoon, or the "_Sa Premi_" of some belated gondolier.

"This is the moment to which I have looked forward all my life," said
Miss Trevor, as she sat back in her chair and watched the animated crowd
before her. "Look at that pretty little boy with the pigeons flocking
round him. What a picture he would make if one only had a camera."

"If you care to have a photo of him one can easily be obtained," I
remarked. "Any one of these enterprising photographers would be only too
pleased to take one for you for a few centissimi. I regret to say that
many of our countrymen have a weakness for being taken in that way."

"Fancy Septimus Brown, of Tooting," my wife remarked, "a typical English
paterfamilias, with a green veil, blue spectacles, and white umbrella,
daring to ask the sun to record his image with the pigeons of St. Mark's
clustering about his venerable head. Can't you picture the pride of that
worthy gentleman's family when they produce the album on Sunday
afternoons and show it to their friends? 'This is pa,' the eldest girl
will probably remark, 'when he was travelling in Venice' (as if Venice
were a country in which one must be perpetually moving on), 'and that's
how the pigeons came down to him to be fed. Isn't it splendid of him?'
Papa, who has never ventured beyond Brighton beach before, will be a
person of importance from that moment."

"You forget one circumstance, however," Miss Trevor replied, who enjoyed
an argument, and for this reason contradicted my wife on principle,
"that in allowing himself to be taken at all, Brown of Tooting has
advanced a step. For the moment he dared to throw off his insularity, as
the picture at which you are laughing is indisputable testimony. Do you
think he would dare to be photographed in a similar fashion in his own
market-place, standing outside his shop-door with his assistants
watching him from behind the counter? I am quite sure he would not!"

"A very excellent argument," I answered. "Unfortunately, however, it
carries with it its own refutation. The mere fact that Brown takes the
photograph home to show to his friends goes a long way towards proving
that he is still as insular as when he set out. If he did not consider
himself of sufficient importance to shut out a portion of Saint Mark's
with his voluminous personality, he would not have employed the
photographer at all, in which case we are no further advanced than
before."

These little sparring-matches were a source of great amusement to us.
The Cockney tourist was Miss Trevor's _bête noir_. And upon this failing
my wife and I loved to twit her. On the whole I rather fancy she liked
being teased by us.

We had finished our coffee and were still idly watching the people about
us when I noticed that my wife had turned a little pale. I was about to
remark upon it, when she uttered an exclamation as if something had
startled her.

"Good gracious! Dick," she cried, "surely it is not possible. It must be
a mistake."

"What is it cannot be possible?" I inquired. "What do you think you
see?"

I glanced in the direction she indicated, but could recognize no one
with whom I was acquainted. An English clergyman and his daughter were
sitting near the entrance to the _café_, and some officers in uniform
were on the other side of them again, but still my wife was looking in
the same direction and with an equally startled face. I placed my hand
upon her arm. It was a long time since I had seen her so agitated.

"Come, darling," I said, "tell me what it is that troubles you."

"Look," she answered, "can you see the table a little to the right of
that at which those officers are seated?"

I was about to reply in the affirmative, but the shock I received
deprived me of speech. The person to whom my wife referred had risen
from his chair, and was in the act of walking towards us. I looked at
him, looked away, and then looked again. No! there was no room for
doubt; the likeness was unmistakable. I should have known him anywhere.
_He was Doctor Nikola_; the man who had played such an important part in
our life's drama. Five years had elapsed since I had last seen him, but
in that time he was scarcely changed at all. It was the same tall, thin
figure; the same sallow, clean-shaven face; the same piercing black
eyes. As he drew nearer I noticed that his hair was a little more grey,
that he looked slightly older; otherwise he was unchanged. But why was
he coming to us? Surely he did not mean to speak to us? After the manner
in which he had treated us in by-gone days I scarcely knew how to
receive him. He on his side, however, was quite self-possessed. Raising
his hat with that easy grace that always distinguished him, he advanced
and held out his hand to my wife.

"My dear Lady Hatteras," he began in his most conciliatory tone, "I felt
sure you would recognize me. Observing that you had not forgotten me, I
took the liberty of coming to pay my respects to you."

Then before my wife could reply he had turned to me and was holding out
his hand. For a moment I had half determined not to take it, but when
his glittering eyes looked into mine I changed my mind and shook hands
with him more cordially than I should ever have thought it possible for
me to do. Having thus broken the ice, and as we had to all intents and
purposes permitted him to derive the impression that we were prepared to
forgive the Past, nothing remained for us but to introduce him to Miss
Trevor. From the moment that he had approached us she had been watching
him covertly, and that he had produced a decided impression upon her was
easily seen. For the first time since we had known her she, usually so
staid and unimpressionable, was nervous and ill at ease. The
introduction effected she drew back a little, and pretended to be
absorbed in watching a party of our fellow-countrymen who had taken
their places at a table a short distance from us. For my part I do not
mind confessing that I was by no means comfortable. I remembered my
bitter hatred of Nikola in days gone by. I recalled that terrible house
in Port Said, and thought of the night on the island when I had rescued
my wife from his clutches. In my estimation then he had been a villain
of the deepest dye, and yet here he was sitting beside me as calm and
collected, and apparently as interested in the _résumé_ of our travels
in Italy that my wife was giving him, as if we had been bosom friends
throughout our lives. In any one else it would have been a piece of
marvellous effrontery; in Nikola's case, however, it did not strike one
in the same light. As I have so often remarked, he seemed incapable of
acting like any other human being. His extraordinary personality lent a
glamour to his simplest actions, and demanded for them an attention they
would scarcely have received had he been less endowed.

"Have you been long in Venice?" my wife inquired when she had completed
the record of our doings, feeling that she must say something.

"I seldom remain anywhere for very long," he answered, with one of his
curious smiles. "I come and go like a Will-o'-the-wisp; I am here to-day
and gone to-morrow."

It may have been an unfortunate remark, but I could not help uttering
it.

"For instance, you are in London to-day," I said, "in Port Said next
week, and in the South Sea Islands a couple of months later."

He was not in the least disconcerted.

"Ah! I see you have not forgotten our South Sea adventure," he replied
cheerfully. "How long ago it seems, does it not? To me it is like a
chapter out of another life." Then, turning to Miss Trevor, who of
course had heard the story of our dealings with him sufficiently often
to be weary of it, he added, "I hope you are not altogether disposed to
think ill of me. Perhaps some day you will be able to persuade Lady
Hatteras to forgive me, that is to say if she has not already done so.
Yet I do not know why I should plead for pardon, seeing that I am far
from being in a repentant mood. As a matter of fact I am very much
afraid that, should the necessity arise, I should be compelled to act as
I did then."

"Then let us pray most fervently that the necessity may never arise," I
answered. "I for one do not entertain a very pleasant recollection of
that time."

I spoke so seriously that my wife looked sharply up at me. Fearing, I
suppose, that I might commit myself, she added quickly--

"I trust it may not. For I can assure you, Doctor Nikola, that my
inclinations lie much nearer Bond Street than the South Sea Islands."

All this time Miss Trevor said nothing, but I could tell from the
expression upon her face that Nikola interested her more than she would
have been willing to admit.

"Is it permissible to ask where you are staying?" he inquired, breaking
the silence and speaking as if it were a point upon which he was most
anxious to be assured.

"At Galaghetti's," I answered. "While in Venice we always make it our
home."

"Ah! the good Galaghetti," said Nikola softly. "It is a long time since
I last had the pleasure of seeing him. I fancy, however, he would
remember me. I was able to do him a slight service some time ago, and I
have always understood that he possesses a retentive memory."

Then, doubtless feeling that he had stayed long enough, he rose and
prepared to take leave of us.

"Perhaps, Lady Hatteras, you will permit me to do myself the honour of
calling upon you?" he said.

"We shall be very pleased to see you," my wife replied, though with no
real cordiality.

He then bowed to Miss Trevor, and shook hands with myself.

"Good-bye, Hatteras," he continued. "I shall hope soon to see you
again. I expect we have lots of news for each other, and doubtless you
will be interested to learn the history and subsequent adventures of
that peculiar little stick which caused you so much anxiety, and myself
so much trouble, five years ago. My address is the Palace Revecce, in
the Rio del Consiglio, where, needless to say, I shall be delighted to
see you if you care to pay me a visit."

I thanked him for his invitation, and promised that I would call upon
him.

Then with a bow he took his departure, leaving behind him a sensation of
something missing, something that could not be replaced. To sit down and
continue the conversation where he had broken into it was out of the
question. We accordingly rose, and after I had discharged the bill,
strolled across the piazza towards the lagoon. Observing that Miss
Trevor was still very silent, I inquired the cause.

"If you really want me to tell you, I can only account for it by saying
that your friend, Doctor Nikola, has occasioned it," she answered. "I
don't know why it should be so, but that man has made a curious
impression upon me."

"He seems to affect every one in a different manner," I said, and for
some reason made no further comment upon her speech.

When we had called a gondola, and were on our way back to our hotel, she
referred to the subject again.

"I think I ought to tell you that it is not the first time I have seen
Doctor Nikola," she said. "You may remember that yesterday, while
Phyllis was lying down, I went out to do some shopping. I cannot
describe exactly which direction I took, save that I went towards the
Rialto. It is sufficient that in the end I reached a chemist's shop. It
was only a small place, and very dark, so dark indeed that I did not see
that it contained another customer until I was really inside. Then I
noticed a tall man busily engaged in conversation with the shopman. He
was declaiming against some drugs he had purchased there on the previous
day, and demanding that for the future they should be of better quality,
otherwise he would be compelled to take his patronage elsewhere. In the
middle of this harangue he turned round, and I was permitted an
opportunity of seeing his face. He was none other than your friend,
Doctor Nikola."

"But, my dear Gertrude," said Phyllis, "with all due respect to your
narrative, I do not see that the mere fact of your having met Doctor
Nikola in a chemist's shop yesterday, and your having been introduced to
him to-day, should have caused you so much concern."

"I do not know why it should," she answered, "but it is a fact,
nevertheless. Ever since I saw him yesterday, his face, with its
terrible eyes, has haunted me. I dreamt of it last night. All day long I
have had it before me, and now, as if to add to the strangeness of the
coincidence, he proves to be the man of whom you have so often told
me--your demoniacal, fascinating Nikola. You must admit that it is very
strange."

"A coincidence, a mere coincidence, that is all," I replied. "Nikola
possesses an extraordinary face, and it must have impressed itself more
deeply upon you than the average countenance is happy enough to do."

Whether my explanation satisfied her or not, she said no more upon the
subject. But that our strange meeting with Nikola had had an
extraordinary effect upon her was plainly observable. As a rule she was
as bright and merry a companion as one could wish to have; on this
particular evening, however, she was not herself at all. It was the more
annoying for the reason that I was anxious that she should shine on this
occasion, as I was expecting an old friend, who was going to spend a few
days with us in Venice. That friend was none other than the Duke of
Glenbarth, who previous to his succession to the Dukedom had been known
as the Marquis of Beckenham, and who, as the readers of the history of
my adventures with Doctor Nikola may remember, figured as a very
important factor in that strange affair. Ever since the day when I had
the good fortune to render him a signal service in the bay of a certain
south-coast watering-place, and from the time that he had accepted my
invitation to join us in Venice, I had looked forward to his coming with
the greatest possible eagerness. As it happened it was well-nigh seven
o'clock by the time we reached our hotel. Without pausing in the hall
further than to examine the letter-rack, we ascended to our rooms on the
floor above. My wife and Miss Trevor had gone to their apartments, and I
was about to follow their example as soon as I had obtained something
from the sitting-room.

"A nice sort of host, a very nice host," said a laughing voice as I
entered. "He invites me to stay with him, and is not at home to bid me
welcome. My dear old Dick, how are you?"

"My dear fellow," I cried, hastening forward to greet him, "I must beg
your pardon ten thousand times. I had not the least idea that you would
be here so early. We have been sitting on the piazza, and did not hurry
home."

"You needn't apologize," he answered. "For once an Italian train was
before its time. And now tell me about yourself. How is your wife, how
are you, and what sort of holiday are you having?"

I answered his questions to the best of my ability, keeping back my most
important item as a surprise for him.

"And now," I said, "it is time to dress for dinner. But before you do
so, I have some important news for you. Who do you think is in Venice?"

Needless to say he mentioned every one but the right person.

"You had better give it up, you will never guess," I said. "Who is the
most unlikely person you would expect to see in Venice at the present
moment?"

"Old Macpherson, my solicitor," he replied promptly. "The rascal would
no more think of crossing the Channel than he would contemplate standing
on his head in the middle of the Strand. It must be Macpherson."

"Nonsense," I cried. "I don't know Macpherson in the first place, and I
doubt if he would interest me in the second. No! no! this man is neither
a Scotchman nor a lawyer. He is an individual bearing the name of
Nikola."

I had quite expected to surprise him, but I scarcely looked for such an
outbreak of astonishment.

"What?" he cried, in amazement. "You must be joking. You don't mean to
say that you have seen Nikola again?"

"I not only mean that I have seen him," I replied, "but I will go
further than that, and say that he was sitting on the piazza with us not
more than half-an-hour ago. What do you think his appearance in Venice
means?"

"I don't know what to think," he replied, with an expression of almost
comic bewilderment upon his face. "It seems impossible, and yet you
don't look as if you were joking."

"I tell you the news in all sober earnestness," I answered, dropping my
bantering tone. "It is a fact that Nikola is in Venice, and, what is
more, that he has given me his address. He has invited me to call upon
him, and if you like we will go together. What do you say?"

"I shall have to take time to think about it," Glenbarth replied
seriously. "I don't suppose for a moment he has any intention of
abducting me again; nevertheless, I am not going to give him the
opportunity. By Jove, how that fellow's face comes back to me. It haunts
me!"

"Miss Trevor has been complaining of the same thing," I said.

"Miss Trevor?" the Duke repeated. "And pray who may Miss Trevor be?"

"A friend of my wife's," I answered. "She has been travelling with us
for the last few months. I think you will like her. And now come along
with me and I'll show you your room. I suppose your man has discovered
it by this time?"

"Stevens would find it if this hotel were constructed on the same
principle as the maze at Hampton Court," he answered. "He has the virtue
of persistence, and when he wants to find a thing he secures the person
who would be the most likely to tell him, and sticks to him until his
desire has been gratified."

It turned out as he had predicted, and three-quarters of an hour later
our quartet sat down to dinner. My wife and Glenbarth, by virtue of an
old friendship, agreed remarkably well, while Miss Trevor, now somewhat
recovered from her Nikola indisposition, was more like her old self. It
was a beautiful night, and after dinner it was proposed, seconded, and
carried unanimously, that we should charter a gondola and go for a row
upon the canal. On our homeward voyage the gondolier, by some strange
chance, turned into the Rio del Consiglio.

"Perhaps you can tell me which is the Palace Revecce?" I said to the
man.

He pointed to a building we were in the act of approaching.

"There it is, signor," he said. "At one time it was a very great palace
but now--" here he shrugged his shoulders to enable us to understand
that its glory had departed from it. Not another word was said upon the
subject, but I noticed that all our faces turned in the direction of the
building. With the exception of one solitary window it was in total
darkness. As I looked at the latter I wondered whether Nikola were in
the room, and if so, what he was doing? Was he poring over some of his
curious books, trying some new experiment in chemistry, or putting to
the test some theory such as I had found him at work upon in that
curious house in Port Said? A few minutes later we had left the Rio del
Consiglio behind us, had turned to the right, and were making our way
back by another watery thoroughfare towards the Grand Canal.

"Thanks to your proposition we have had a delightful evening," Miss
Trevor said, as we paused to say good-night at the foot of the staircase
a quarter of an hour or so later. "I have enjoyed myself immensely."

"You should not tell him that, dear," said my wife. "You know how
conceited he is already. He will take all the credit, and be unbearable
for days afterwards." Then turning to me, she added, "You are going to
smoke, I suppose?"

"I had thought of doing so," I replied; and then added with mock
humility, "If you do not wish it of course I will not do so. I was only
going to keep Glenbarth company."

They laughed and bade us good-night, and when we had seen them depart in
the direction of their rooms we lit our cigars and passed into the
balcony outside.

At this hour of the night the Grand Canal looked very still and
beautiful, and we both felt in the humour for confidences.

"Do you know, Hatteras," said Glenbarth, after the few moments' pause
that followed our arrival in the open air, "that Nikola's turning up in
Venice at this particular juncture savours to me a little of the
uncanny. What his mission may be, of course I cannot tell, but that it
is some diabolical thing or another I haven't a doubt."

"One thing is quite certain," I answered, "he would hardly be here
without an object, and, after our dealings with him in the past, I am
prepared to admit that I don't trust him any more than you do."

"And now that he has asked you to call upon him what are you going to
do?"

I paused before I replied. The question involved greater
responsibilities than were at first glance apparent. Knowing Nikola so
well, I had not the least desire or intention to be drawn into any of
the plots or machinations he was so fond of working against other
people. I must confess, nevertheless, that I could not help feeling a
large amount of curiosity as to the subsequent history of that little
stick, to obtain which he had spent so much money, and had risked so
many lives.

"Yes, I think I shall call upon him," I said reflectively, as if I had
not quite made up my mind. "Surely to see him once more could do no
harm? Good heavens! what an extraordinary fellow he is! Fancy you or I
being afraid of any other man as we are afraid of him, for mind you, I
know that you stand quite as much in awe of him as I do. Why, do you
know when my eyes fell upon him this afternoon I felt a return of the
old dread his presence used to cause in me five years ago! The effect he
had upon Miss Trevor was also very singular, when you come to think of
it."

"By the way, Hatteras, talking of Miss Trevor, what an awfully nice girl
she is. I don't know when I have ever met a nicer. Who is she?"

"She is the daughter of the Dean of Bedminster," I answered; "a splendid
old fellow."

"I like his daughter," the Duke remarked. "Yes, I must say that I like
her very much."

I was glad to hear this, for I had my own little dreams, and my wife,
who, by the way, is a born matchmaker, had long ago come to a similar
conclusion.

"She is a very nice girl," I replied, "and what is more, she is as good
as she is nice." Then I continued, "He will be indeed a lucky man who
wins Gertrude Trevor for his wife. And now, since our cigars are
finished, what do you say to bed? It is growing late, and I expect you
are tired after your journey."

"I am quite ready," he answered. "I shall sleep like a top. I only hope
and pray that I shall not dream of Nikola."



CHAPTER II


Whether it was our excursion upon the canal that was responsible for it
I cannot say; the fact, however, remains, that next morning every member
of our party was late for breakfast. My wife and I were the first to put
in an appearance, Glenbarth followed shortly after, and Miss Trevor was
last of all. It struck me that the girl looked a little pale as she
approached the window to bid me good-morning, and as she prided herself
upon her punctuality, I jestingly reproved her for her late rising.

"I am afraid your gondola excursion proved too much for you," I said, in
a bantering tone, "or perhaps you dreamt of Doctor Nikola."

I expected her to declare in her usual vehement fashion that she would
not waste her time dreaming of any man, but to my combined astonishment
and horror her eyes filled with tears, until she was compelled to turn
her head away in order to hide them from me. It was all so unexpected
that I did not know what to think. As may be supposed, I had not the
slightest intention of giving her pain, nor could I quite see how I
managed to do so. It was plain, however, that my thoughtless speech had
been the means of upsetting her, and I was heartily sorry for my
indiscretion. Fortunately my wife had not overheard what had passed
between us.

"Is he teasing you again, Gertrude?" she said, as she slipped her arm
through her friend's. "Take my advice and have nothing to do with him.
Treat him with contempt. Besides, the coffee is getting cold, and that
is a very much more important matter. Let us sit down to breakfast."

Nothing could have been more opportune. We took our places at the table,
and by the time the servant had handed the first dishes Miss Trevor had
recovered herself sufficiently to be able to look me in the face, and to
join in the conversation without the likelihood of a catastrophe. Still
there could be no doubt that she was far from being in a happy frame of
mind. I said as much to my wife afterwards, when we were alone together.

"She told me she had had a very bad night," the little woman replied.
"Our meeting with Doctor Nikola yesterday on the piazza upset her for
some reason or another. She said that she had dreamt of nothing else. As
you know she is very highly strung, and when you think of the
descriptions we have given her of him, it is scarcely to be wondered at
that she should attach an exaggerated importance to our unexpected
meeting with him. That is the real explanation of the mystery. One
thing, however, is quite certain; in her present state of mind she must
see no more of him than can be helped. It might upset her altogether.
Oh, why did he come here to spoil our holiday?"

"I cannot see that he has spoilt it, my dear," I returned, putting my
arm round her waist and leading her to the window. "The girl will very
soon recover from her fit of depression, and afterwards will be as merry
as a marriage-bell. By the way, I don't know why I should think of it
just now, but talking of marriage-bells reminds me that Glenbarth told
me last night that he thought Gertrude one of the nicest girls he had
ever met."

"I am delighted to hear it," my wife answered. "And still more delighted
to think that he has such good sense. Do you know, I have set my heart
upon that coming to something. No! you needn't shake your head. For very
many reasons it would be a most desirable match."

"For my own part I believe it was for no other reason that you bothered
me into inviting him to join our party here. You are a matchmaker. I
challenge you to refute the accusation."

"I shall not attempt to do so," she retorted with considerable hauteur.
"It is always a waste of time to argue with you. At any rate you must
agree with me that Gertrude would make an ideal duchess."

"So you have travelled as far as that, have you?" I inquired. "I must
say that you jump to conclusions very quickly. Because Glenbarth happens
to have said in confidence to me (a confidence I am willing to admit I
have shamefully abused) that he considers Gertrude Trevor a very
charming girl, it does not follow that he has the very slightest
intention of asking her to be his wife. Why should he?"

"If he doesn't he is not fit to sit in the House of Lords," she
answered, as if that ought to clinch the argument. "Fancy a man posing
as one of our hereditary legislators who doesn't know how to seize such
a golden opportunity. As a good churchwoman I pray for the nobility
every Sunday morning; and if not knowing where to look for the best wife
in the world may be taken as a weakness, and it undoubtedly is, then all
I can say is, that they require all the praying for they can get!"

"But I should like to know, how is he going to marry the best wife in
the world?" I asked.

"By asking her," she retorted. "He doesn't surely suppose she is going
to ask him?"

"If he values his life he'd better not do that!" I said savagely. "He
will have to answer for it to me if he does!"

"Ah," she answered, her lips curling, "I thought as much. You are
jealous of him. You don't want him to ask her because you fancy that if
he does your reign will be over. A nice admission for a married man, I
must say!"

"I presume you mean because I refuse to allow him to flirt with my
wife?"

"I mean nothing of the kind, and you know it. How dare you say, Dick,
that I flirt with the Duke?"

"Because you have confessed it," I answered with a grin of triumph, for
I had got her cornered at last. "Did you not say, only a moment ago,
that if he did not know where to find the best wife in the world he was
unfit to sit in the House of Lords? Did you not say that he ought to be
ashamed of himself if he did not ask her to be his wife? Answer that, my
lady."

"I admit that I did say it; but you know very well that I referred to
Gertrude Trevor!"

"Gertrude Trevor is not yet a wife. The best wife in the world is
beside me now; and since you are already proved to be in the wrong you
must perforce pay the penalty."

She was in the act of doing so when Gertrude entered the room.

"Oh, dear," she began, hesitating in pretended consternation, "is there
never to be an end of it?"

"An end of what?" demanded my wife with some little asperity, for she
does not like her little endearments to be witnessed by other people.

"Of this billing and cooing," the other replied. "You two insane
creatures have been married more than four years, and yet a third person
can never enter the room without finding you love-making. I declare it
upsets all one's theories of marriage. One of my most cherished ideas
was that this sort of thing ceased with the honeymoon, and that the
couple invariably lead a cat-and-dog life for the remainder of their
existence."

"So they do," my wife answered unblushingly. "And what can you expect
when one is a great silly creature who will not learn to jump away and
be looking innocently out of the window when he hears the handle turned?
Never marry, Gertrude. Mark my words: you will repent it if you do!"

"Well, for ingratitude and cool impudence, that surpasses everything!" I
said in astonishment. "Why, you audacious creature, not more than five
minutes ago you were inviting me to co-operate in the noble task of
finding a husband for Miss Trevor!"

"Richard, how can you stand there and say such things?" she ejaculated.
"Gertrude, my dear, I insist that you come away at once. I don't know
what he will say next."

Miss Trevor laughed.

"I like to hear you two squabbling," she said. "Please go on, it amuses
me!"

"Yes, I will certainly go on," I returned. "Perhaps you heard her
declare that she fears what I may say next. Of course she does. Allow me
to tell you, Lady Hatteras, that you are a coward. If the truth were
known, it would be found that you are trembling in your shoes at this
moment. For two centimes, paid down, I would turn Queen's evidence, and
reveal the whole plot."

"You had better not, sir," she replied, shaking a warning finger at me.
"In that case the letters from home shall be withheld from you, and you
will not know how your son and heir is progressing."

"I capitulate," I answered. "Threatened by such awful punishment I dare
say no more. Miss Gertrude, will you not intercede for me?"

"I think that you scarcely deserve it," she retorted. "Even now you are
keeping something back from me."

"Never mind, my dear, we'll let him off this time with a caution," said
my wife, "provided he promises not to offend again. And now let us
settle what we are going to do to-day."

When this important matter had been arranged, it was reported to us that
the ladies were to spend the morning shopping, leaving the Duke and
myself free to follow our own inclinations. Accordingly, when we had
seen them safely on their way to the Merceria, we held a smoking council
to arrange how we should pass the hours until lunch-time. As we
discovered afterwards, we both had a certain thought in our minds, which
for some reason we scarcely liked to broach to each other. It was
settled, however, just as we desired, but in a fashion we least
expected.

We were seated in the balcony outside our room, watching the animated
traffic on the Grand Canal below, when a servant came in search of us
and handed me a note. One glance at the characteristic writing was
sufficient to show me that it was from Doctor Nikola. I opened it with
an eagerness that I did not attempt to conceal, and read as follows--

     "DEAR HATTERAS,

     "If you have nothing more important on hand this morning, can you
     spare the time to come and see me? As I understand the Duke of
     Glenbarth is with you, will you not bring him also? It will be very
     pleasant to have a chat upon by-gone days, and, what is more, I
     fancy this old house will interest you.

     "Yours very truly,

     "NIKOLA."


"What do you say?" I inquired, when I had finished reading, "shall we
go?"

"Let us do so by all means," the Duke replied. "It will be very
interesting to meet Nikola once more. There is one thing, however, that
puzzles me; how did he become aware of my arrival in Venice? You say he
was with you on the piazza last night, so that he could not have been at
the railway station, and as I haven't been outside since I came, except
for the row after dinner, I confess it puzzles me."

"You should know by this time that it is useless to wonder how Nikola
acquires his knowledge," I replied. "For my own part I should like to
discover _his_ reason for being in Venice. I am very curious on that
point."

Glenbarth shook his head solemnly.

"If Nikola does not want us to know," he argued, "we shall leave his
house as wise as we entered it. If he _does_ let us know, I shall begin
to grow suspicious, for in that case it is a thousand pounds to this
half-smoked cigar that we shall be called upon to render him assistance.
However, if you are prepared to run the risk I will do so also."

"In that case," I said, rising from my chair and tossing what remained
of my cigar into the water below, "let us get ready and be off. We may
change our minds."

Ten minutes later we had chartered a gondola and were on our way to the
Palace Revecce.

As a general rule when one sets out to pay a morning call one is not the
victim of any particular nervousness; on this occasion however both
Glenbarth and I, as we confessed to each other afterwards, were
distinctly conscious of being in a condition which would be described by
persons of mature years as an unpleasant state of expectancy, but which
by school-boys is denominated "funk." The Duke, I noticed, fidgeted with
his cigar, allowed it to go out, and then sat with it in his mouth
unlighted. There was a far-away look on his handsome face that told me
that he was recalling some of the events connected with the time when he
had been in Nikola's company. This proved to be the case, for as we
turned from the Grand Canal into the street in which the palace is
situated, he said--

"By the way, Hatteras, I wonder what became of Baxter, Prendergrast, and
those other fellows?"

"Nikola may be able to tell us," I answered. Then I added after a short
pause, "By Jove, what strange times those were."

"Not half so strange to my thinking as our finding Nikola in Venice,"
Glenbarth replied. "That is the coincidence that astonishes me. But see,
here we are."

As he spoke the gondola drew up at the steps of the Palace Revecce, and
we prepared to step ashore. As we did so I noticed that the armorial
bearings of the family still decorated the posts on either side of the
door, but by the light of day the palace did not look nearly so imposing
as it had done by moonlight the night before. One thing about it was
certainly peculiar. When we ordered the gondolier to wait for us he
shook his head. Not for anything would he remain there longer than was
necessary to set us down. I accordingly paid him off, and when we had
ascended the steps we entered the building. On pushing open the door we
found ourselves standing in a handsome courtyard, in the centre of which
was a well, its coping elegantly carved with a design of fruit and
flowers. A broad stone staircase at the further end led up to the floor
above, but this, as was the case with everything else, showed
unmistakable signs of having been allowed to fall to decay. As no
concierge was to be seen, and there was no one in sight of whom we might
make inquiries, we scarcely knew how to proceed. Indeed, we were just
wondering whether we should take our chance and explore the lower
regions in search of Nikola, when he appeared at the head of the
staircase and greeted us.

"Good-morning," he said, "pray come up. I must apologize for not having
been down-stairs to receive you."

By the time he had finished speaking he had reached us, and was shaking
hands with Glenbarth with the heartiness of an old friend.

"Let me offer you a hearty welcome to Venice," he said to Glenbarth
after he had shaken hands with myself. Then looking at him once more, he
added, "If you will permit me to say so, you have changed a great deal
since we last saw each other."

"And you, scarcely at all," Glenbarth replied.

"It is strange that I should not have done so," Nikola answered, I
thought a little sadly, "for I think I may say without any fear of
boasting that, since we parted at Pipa Lannu, I have passed through
sufficient to change a dozen men. But we will not talk of that here. Let
us come up to my room, which is the only place in this great house that
is in the least degree comfortable."

So saying he led the way up the stairs, and then along a corridor, which
had once been beautifully frescoed, but which was now sadly given over
to damp and decay. At last, reaching a room in the front of the
building, he threw open the door and invited us to enter. And here I
might digress for a moment to remark, that of all the men I have ever
met, Nikola possessed the faculty of being able to make himself
comfortable wherever he might be, in the greatest degree. He would have
been at home anywhere. As a matter of fact this particular apartment was
furnished in a style that caused me considerable surprise. The room
itself was large and lofty, while the walls were beautifully frescoed,
the work of one Andrea Bunopelli, of whom I shall have more to say anon.
The furniture was simple, but extremely good; a massive oak
writing-table stood beside one wall, another covered with books and
papers was opposite it, several easy-chairs were placed here and there,
another table in the centre of the room supported various chemical
paraphernalia, while books of all sorts and descriptions, in all
languages and bindings, were to be discovered in every direction.

"After what you have seen of the rest of the house, this strikes you as
being more homelike, does it not?" Nikola inquired, as he noticed the
look of astonishment upon our faces. "It is a queer old place, and the
more I see of it the stranger it becomes. Some time ago, and quite by
chance, I became acquainted with its history; I do not mean the
political history of the respective families that have occupied it; you
can find that in any guide-book. I mean the real, inner history of the
house itself, embracing not a few of the deeds which have taken place
inside its walls. I wonder if you would be interested if I were to tell
you that in this very room, in the year fifteen hundred and eleven, one
of the most repellent and cold-blooded murders of the Middle Ages took
place. Perhaps now that you have the scene before you you would like to
hear the story. You would? In that case pray sit down. Let me offer you
this chair, Duke," he continued, and as he spoke he wheeled forward a
handsomely carved chair from beside his writing-table. "Here, Hatteras,
is one for you. I myself will take up my position here, so that I may be
better able to retain your attention for my narrative."

So saying he stood between us on the strip of polished floor which
showed between two heavy oriental rugs.

"For some reasons," he began, "I regret that the story I have to tell
should run upon such familiar lines. I fancy, however, that the
_dénouement_ will prove sufficiently original to merit your attention.
The year fifteen hundred and nine, the same which found the French
victorious at Agnadello, and the Venetian Republic at the commencement
of that decline from which it has never recovered, saw this house in its
glory. The owner, the illustrious Francesco del Revecce, was a sailor,
and had the honour of commanding one of the many fleets of the Republic.
He was an ambitious man, a good fighter, and as such twice defeated the
fleet of the League of Camberi. It was after the last of these victories
that he married the beautiful daughter of the Duke of Levano, one of the
most bitter enemies of the Council of Ten. The husband being rich,
famous, and still young enough to be admired for his personal
attractions; the bride one of the wealthiest, as well as one of the most
beautiful women in the Republic, it appeared as if all must be well with
them for the remainder of their lives. A series of dazzling _fêtes_, to
which all the noblest and most distinguished of the city were invited,
celebrated their nuptials and their possession of this house. Yet with
it all the woman was perhaps the most unhappy individual in the
universe. Unknown to her husband and her father she had long since
given her love elsewhere; she was passionately attached to young Andrea
Bunopelli, the man by whom the frescoes of this room were painted.
Finding that Fate demanded her renunciation of Bunopelli, and her
marriage to Revecce, she resolved to see no more of the man to whom she
had given her heart. Love, however, proved stronger than her sense of
duty, and while her husband, by order of the Senate, had put to sea once
more in order to drive back the French, who were threatening the
Adriatic, Bunopelli put into operation the scheme that was ultimately to
prove their mutual undoing. Unfortunately for Revecce he was not
successful in his venture, and by and by news reached Venice that his
fleet had been destroyed, and that he himself had been taken prisoner.
'Now,' said the astute Bunopelli, 'is the time to act.' He accordingly
took pens, paper, and his ink-horn, and in this very room concocted a
letter which purported to bear the signature of the commander of the
French forces, into whose hands the Venetian admiral had fallen and then
was. Its meaning was plain enough. It proved that for a large sum of
money Revecce had agreed to surrender the Venetian fleet, and, in order
to secure his own safety, in case the Republic should lay hands on him
afterwards, it was to be supposed that he himself had only been taken
prisoner after a desperate resistance, as had really been the case. The
letter was written, and that night the painter himself dropped it into
the lion's mouth. Revecce might return now as soon as he pleased. His
fate was prepared for him. Meanwhile the guilty pair spent the time as
happily as was possible under the circumstances, knowing full well that
should the man against whom they had plotted return to Venice, it would
only be to find himself arrested, and with the certainty, on the
evidence of the incriminating letter, of being immediately condemned to
death. Weeks and months went by. At last Revecce, worn almost to a
skeleton by reason of his long imprisonment, _did_ manage to escape. In
the guise of a common fisherman he returned to Venice; reached his own
house, where a faithful servant recognized him and admitted him to the
palace. From the latter's lips he learnt all that had transpired during
his absence, and was informed of the villainous plot that had been
prepared against him. His wrath knew no bounds; but with it all he was
prudent. He was aware that if his presence in the city were discovered,
nothing could save him from arrest. He accordingly hid himself in his
own house and watched the course of events. What he saw was sufficient
to confirm his worst suspicion. His wife was unfaithful to him, and her
paramour was the man to whom he had been so kind a friend, and so
generous a benefactor. Then when the time was ripe, assisted only by his
servant, the same who had admitted him to his house, he descended upon
the unhappy couple. Under threats of instant death he extorted from them
a written confession of their treachery. After having made them secure,
he departed for the council-chamber and demanded to be heard. He was the
victim of a conspiracy, he declared, and to prove that what he said was
true he produced the confession he had that day obtained. He had many
powerful friends, and by their influence an immediate pardon was granted
him, while permission was also given him to deal with his enemies as he
might consider most desirable. He accordingly returned to this house
with a scheme he was prepared to put into instant execution. It is not a
pretty story, but it certainly lends an interest to this room. The
painter he imprisoned here."

[Illustration: "He pressed a spring in the wall."]

So saying Nikola stooped and drew back one of the rugs to which I have
already referred. The square outline of a trap-door showed itself in the
floor. He pressed a spring in the wall behind him, and the lid shot
back, swung round, and disappeared, showing the black abyss below. A
smell of damp vaults came up to us. Then, when he had closed the
trap-door again, Nikola drew the carpet back to its old position.

"The wretched man died slowly of starvation in that hole, and the woman,
living in this room above, was compelled to listen to his agony without
being permitted the means of saving him. Can you imagine the scene? The
dying wretch below, doing his best to die like a man in order not to
distress the woman he loved, and the outraged husband calmly pursuing
his studies, regardless of both."

He looked from one to the other of us and his eyes burnt like living
coals.

"It was brutish, it was hellish," cried Glenbarth, upon whom either the
story, or Nikola's manner of narrating it, had produced an extraordinary
effect. "Why did the woman allow it to continue? Was she mad that she
did not summon assistance? Surely the Authorities of a State which
prided itself upon its enlightenment, even in those dark ages, would not
have tolerated such a thing?"

"You must bear in mind the fact that the Republic had given the husband
permission to avenge his wrongs," said Nikola very quietly. "Besides,
the woman could not cry out for the reason that her tongue had been torn
out at the roots. When both were dead their bodies were tied together
and thrown into the canal, and the same day Revecce set sail again, to
ultimately perish in a storm off the coast of Sicily. Now you know one
of the many stories connected with this old room. There are others in
which that trap-door has played an equally important part. I fear,
however, none of them can boast so dramatic a setting as that I have
just narrated to you."

"How, knowing all this, you can live in the house passes my
comprehension," gasped Glenbarth. "I don't think I am a coward, but I
tell you candidly that I would not spend a night here, after what you
have told me, for anything the world could give me."

"But surely you don't suppose that what happened in this room upwards of
three hundred years ago could have any effect upon a living being
to-day?" said Nikola, with what I could not help thinking was a double
meaning. "Let me tell you, that far from being unpleasant it has decided
advantages. As a matter of fact it gives me the opportunity of being
free to do what I like. That is my greatest safeguard. I can go away for
five years, if I please, and leave the most valuable of my things lying
about, and come back to the discovery that nothing is missing. I am not
pestered by tourists who ask to see the frescoes, for the simple reason
that the guides take very good care not to tell them the legend of the
house, lest they may be called upon to take them over it. Many of the
gondoliers will not stop here after nightfall, and the few who are brave
enough to do so, invariably cross themselves before reaching, and after
leaving it."

"I do not wonder at it," I said. "Taken altogether it is the most dismal
dwelling I have ever set foot in. Do you mean to tell me that you live
alone in it?"

"Not entirely," he replied. "I have companions: an old man who comes in
once a day to attend to my simple wants, and my ever-faithful
friend----"

"Apollyon," I cried, forestalling what he was about to say.

"Exactly, Apollyon. I am glad to see that you remember him."

He uttered a low whistle, and a moment later the great beast that I
remembered so well stalked solemnly into the room, and began to rub
himself against the leg of his master's chair.

"Poor old fellow," continued Nikola, picking him up and gently stroking
him, "he is growing very feeble. Perhaps it is not to be wondered at,
for he is already far past the average age of the feline race. He has
been in many strange places, and has seen many queer things since last
we met, but never anything much stranger than he has witnessed in this
room."

"What do you mean?" I inquired. "What has the cat seen in this room that
is so strange?"

"Objects that we are not yet permitted to see," Nikola answered gravely.
"When all is quiet at night, and I am working at that table, he lies
curled up in yonder chair. For a time he will sleep contentedly, then I
see him lift his head and watch something, or somebody, I cannot say
which, moving about in the room. At first I came to the conclusion that
it must be a bat, or some night bird, but that theory exploded. Bats do
not remain at the same exact distance from the floor, nor do they stand
stationary behind a man's chair for any length of time. The hour will
come, however, when it will be possible for us to see these things; I am
on the track even now."

Had I not known Nikola, and if I had not remembered some very curious
experiments he had performed for my special benefit two years before, I
should have inclined to the belief that he was boasting. I knew him too
well, however, to deem it possible that he would waste his time in such
an idle fashion.

"Do you mean to say," I asked, "that you really think that in time it
will be possible for us to see things which at present we have no notion
of? That we shall be able to look into the world we have always been
taught to consider Unknowable?"

"I do mean it," he replied. "And though you may scarcely believe it, it
was for the sake of the information necessary to that end that I
pestered Mr. Wetherall in Sydney, imprisoned you in Port Said, and
carried the lady, who is now your wife, away to the island in the South
Seas."

"This is most interesting," I said, while Glenbarth drew his chair a
little closer.

"Pray tell us some of your adventures since we last saw you," he put in.
"You may imagine how eager we are to hear."

Thereupon Nikola furnished us with a detailed description of all that he
had been through since that momentous day when he had obtained
possession of the stick that had been bequeathed to Mr. Wetherall by
China Pete. He told us how, armed with this talisman, he had set out for
China, where he engaged a man named Bruce, who must have been as plucky
as Nikola himself, and together they started off in search of an almost
unknown monastery in Thibet. He described with a wealth of exciting
detail the perilous adventures they had passed through, and how near
they had been to losing their lives in attempting to obtain possession
of a certain curious book in which were set forth the most wonderful
secrets relating to the laws of Life and Death. He told us of their
hair-breadth escapes on the journey back to civilization, and showed how
they were followed to England by a mysterious Chinaman, whose undoubted
mission was to avenge the robbery, and to obtain possession of the book.
At this moment he paused, and I found an opportunity of asking him
whether he had the book in his possession now.

"Would you care to see it?" he inquired. "If so, I will show it to you."

On our answering in the affirmative he crossed to his writing-table,
unlocked a drawer, and took from it a small curiously bound book, the
pages of which were yellow with age, and the writing so faded that it
was almost impossible to decipher it.

"And now that you have plotted and planned, and suffered so much to
obtain possession of this book, what use has it been to you?" I
inquired, with almost a feeling of awe, for it seemed impossible that a
man could have endured so much for so trifling a return.

"In dabbling with such matters," Nikola returned, "one of the first
lessons one learns is not to expect immediate results. There is the
collected wisdom of untold ages in that little volume, and when I have
mastered the secret it contains, I shall, like the eaters of the
forbidden fruit, possess a knowledge of all things, Good and Evil."

Replacing the book in the drawer he continued his narrative, told us of
his great attempt to probe the secret of Existence, and explained to us
his endeavour to put new life into a body already worn out by age.

"I was unsuccessful in what I set out to accomplish," he said, "but I
advanced so far that I was able to restore the man his youth again. What
I failed to do was to give him the power of thought or will. It was the
brain that was too much for me, that vital part of man without which he
is nothing. When I have mastered that secret I shall try again, and
then, perhaps, I shall succeed. But there is much to be accomplished
first. Only I know how much!"

I looked at him in amazement. Was he jesting, or did he really suppose
that it was possible for him, or any other son of man, to restore youth,
and by so doing to prolong life perpetually? Yet he spoke with all his
usual earnestness, and seemed as convinced of the truth of what he said
as if he were narrating some well-known fact. I did not know what to
think.

At last, seeing the bewilderment on our faces, I suppose, he smiled, and
rising from his chair reminded us that if we had been bored we had only
ourselves to thank for it. He accordingly changed the conversation by
inquiring whether we had made any arrangements for that evening. I
replied that so far as I knew we had not, whereupon he came forward with
a proposition.

"In that case," said he, "if you will allow me to act as your guide to
Venice, I think I could show you a side of the city you have never seen
before. I know her as thoroughly as any man living, and I think I may
safely promise that your party will spend an interesting couple of
hours. What have you to say to my proposal?"

"I am quite sure we shall be delighted," I replied, though not without
certain misgivings. "But I think I had better not decide until I have
seen my wife. If she has made no other arrangements, at what hour shall
we start?"

"At what time do you dine?" he inquired.

"At seven o'clock," I replied. "Perhaps we might be able to persuade you
to give us the pleasure of your company?"

"I thank you," he answered. "I fear I must decline, however. I am
hermit-like in my habits so far as meals are concerned. If you will
allow me I will call for you, shall we say at half-past eight? The moon
will have risen by that time, and we should spend a most enjoyable
evening."

"At half-past eight," I said, "unless you hear to the contrary," and
then rose from my chair. Glenbarth followed my example, and we
accordingly bade Nikola good-bye. Despite our protest, he insisted on
accompanying us down the great staircase to the courtyard below, his
terrible cat following close upon his heels. Hailing a gondola, we bade
the man take us back to our hotel. For some minutes after we had said
good-bye to Nikola we sat in silence as the boat skimmed over the placid
water.

"Well, what is your opinion of Nikola now?" I said, as we turned from
the Rio del Consiglio into the Grand Canal once more. "Has he grown any
more commonplace, think you, since you last saw him?"

"On the contrary, he is stranger than ever," Glenbarth replied. "I have
never met any other man who resembled him in the slightest degree. What
a ghastly story that was! His dramatic telling of it made it appear so
real that towards the end of it I was almost convinced that I could hear
the groans of the poor wretch in the pit below, and see the woman
wringing her hands and moaning in the room in which we were sitting. Why
he should have told it to us is what I cannot understand, neither can I
make out what his reasons can be for living in that house."

"Nikola's actions are like himself, entirely inexplicable," he answered.
"But that he has some motive beyond the desire he expressed for peace
and quiet, I have not the shadow of a doubt."

"And now with regard to to-night," said the Duke, I am afraid a little
pettishly. "I was surprised when you accepted his offer. Do you think
Lady Hatteras and Miss Trevor will care about such an excursion?"

"That is a question I cannot answer at present," I replied. "We must
leave it to them to decide. For my own part, I can scarcely imagine
anything more interesting."

When we reached Galaghetti's I informed my wife and Miss Trevor of
Nikola's offer, half expecting that the latter, from the manner in which
she had behaved at the mere mention of his name that morning, would
decline to accompany us, and, therefore, that the excursion would fall
through. To my surprise, however, she did nothing of the kind. She fell
in with the idea at once, and, so far as we could see, without
reluctance of any kind.

There was nothing for it, therefore, under these circumstances, but for
me to fall back upon the old commonplace, and declare that women are
difficult creatures to understand.



CHAPTER III


In the previous chapter I recorded the surprise I felt at Miss Trevor's
acceptance of Doctor Nikola's invitation to a gondola excursion. Almost
as suddenly as she had shown her fear of him, she had recovered her
tranquillity, and the result, as I have stated, was complete perplexity
on my part. With a united desire to reserve our energies for the
evening, we did not arrange a long excursion for that afternoon, but
contented ourselves with a visit to the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo.
Miss Trevor was quite recovered by this time, and in very good spirits.
She and Glenbarth were on the most friendly terms, consequently my wife
was a most happy woman.

"Isn't it nice to see them together?" she whispered, as we crossed the
hall and went down the steps to our gondola. "They are suited to each
other almost as--well, if I really wanted to pay you a compliment, which
you don't deserve, I should say as we are. Do you notice how prettily
she gives him her hand so that he may help her into the boat?"

"I do," I answered grimly. "And it only shows the wickedness of the
girl. She is as capable of getting into the boat without assistance as
he is."

"And yet you help her yourself every time you get the chance," my wife
retorted. "I have observed you take the greatest care that she should
not fall, even when the step has been one of only a few inches, and I
have been left to get down by myself. Perhaps you cannot recall that day
at Capri?"

"I have the happiest recollections of it," I replied. "I helped her
quite half-a-dozen times."

"And yet you grudge that poor boy the opportunities that you yourself
were once so eager to enjoy. You cannot deny it."

"I am not going to attempt to deny it," I returned. "I _do_ grudge him
his chances. And why shouldn't I? Has she not the second prettiest
hands, and the second neatest ankle, in all Europe?"

My wife looked up at me with a suspicion of a smile hovering round her
mouth. When she does that her dimples are charming.

"And the neatest?" she inquired, as if she had not guessed. Women can do
that sort of thing with excellent effect.

"Lady Hatteras, may I help you into the gondola?" I said politely, and
for some reason, best known to herself, the reply appeared to satisfy
her.

Of one thing there could be no sort of doubt. Miss Trevor had taken a
decided liking to Glenbarth, and the young fellow's delight in her
company was more than equal to it. By my wife's orders I left them
together as much as possible during the afternoon, that is to say as far
as was consistent with the duties of an observant chaperon. For
instance, while we were in the right aisle of the church, examining the
mausoleum of the Doge, Pietro Mocenningo, and the statues of Lombardi,
they were in the choir proper, before the famous tomb of Andrea
Vendramin, considered by many to be the finest of its kind in Venice. As
we entered the choir, they departed into the left transept. I fancy,
however, Glenbarth must have been a little chagrined when she, playing
her hand according to the recognized rules, suggested that they should
turn back in search of us. Back they came accordingly, to be received by
my wife with a speech that still further revealed to me the duplicity of
women.

"You are two naughty children," she said, with fairly simulated wrath.
"Where on earth have you been? We have been looking for you
everywhere!"

"You are so slow," put in Miss Trevor, and then she added, without a
quaver in her voice or blush upon her cheek, "We dawdled about in order
to let you catch us up."

I thought it was time for me to interfere.

"Perhaps I should remind you young people that at the present moment you
are in a church," I said. "Would it not be as well, do you think, for
you to preserve those pretty little prevarications until you are in the
gondola? You will be able to quarrel in greater comfort there. It will
also give Phyllis time to collect her thoughts, and to prepare a new
indictment."

My wife treated me to a look that would have annihilated another man.
After that I washed my hands of them and turned to the copy of Titian's
_Martyrdom of Saint Peter_, which Victor Emmanuel had presented to the
church in place of the original, which had been destroyed. Later on we
made our way, by a long series of tortuous thoroughfares, to the piazza
of Saint Mark, where we intended to sit in front of Florian's _café_ and
watch the people until it was time for us to return and dress for
dinner.

As I have already said, Miss Trevor had all the afternoon been in the
best of spirits. Nothing could have been happier than her demeanour when
we left the church, yet when we reached the piazza everything was
changed. Apparently she was not really unhappy, nor did she look about
her in the frightened way that had struck me so unpleasantly on the
previous evening. It was only her manner that was strange. At first she
was silent, then, as if she were afraid we might notice it, she set
herself to talk as if she were so doing for mere talking's sake. Then,
without any apparent reason, she became as silent as a mouse once more.
Remembering what had happened that morning before breakfast, I did not
question her, nor did I attempt to rally her upon the subject. To have
done either would have been to have risked a recurrence of the
catastrophe we had so narrowly escaped earlier in the day. I accordingly
left her alone, and my wife, in the hope of distracting her attention,
entered upon an amusing argument with Glenbarth upon the evils attendant
upon excessive smoking, which was the young man's one, and, so far as I
knew, only failing. Unable to combat her assertions he appealed to me
for protection.

"Take my part, there's a good fellow," he said pathetically. "I am not
strong enough to stand against Lady Hatteras alone."

"No," I returned; "you must fight your own battles. When I see a chance
of having a little peace I like to grasp it. I am going to take Miss
Trevor to Maya's shop on the other side of the piazza, in search of new
photographs. We will leave you to quarrel in comfort here."

So saying Miss Trevor and I left them and made our way to the famous
shop, where I purchased for her a number of photographs, of which she
had expressed her admiration a few days before. After that we rejoined
my wife and Glenbarth and returned to our hotel for dinner.

Nikola, as you may remember, had arranged to call for us with his
gondola at half-past eight, and ten minutes before that time I suggested
that the ladies should prepare themselves for the excursion. I bade them
wrap up well, for I knew by experience that it is seldom warm upon the
water at night. When they had left us the Duke and I strolled into the
balcony.

"I hope to goodness Nikola won't frighten Miss Trevor this evening,"
said my companion, after we had been there a few moments. (I noticed
that he spoke with an anxiety that was by no means usual with him.) "She
is awfully sensitive, you know, and when he likes he can curdle the very
marrow in your bones. I shouldn't have liked her to have heard that
story he told us this morning. I suppose there is no fear of his
repeating it to-night?"

"I should not think so," I returned. "Nikola has more tact in his little
finger than you and I have in our whole bodies. He would be scarcely
likely to make such a mistake. No, I rather fancy that to-night we shall
see a new side of his character. For my own part I am prepared to
confess that I am looking forward to the excursion with a good deal of
pleasure."

"I am glad to hear it," Glenbarth replied, as I thought with a savour of
sarcasm in his voice. "I only hope you won't have reason to regret it."

This little speech set me thinking. Was it possible that Glenbarth was
jealous of Nikola? Surely he could not be foolish enough for that. That
Miss Trevor had made an impression upon him was apparent, but it was
full early for him to grow jealous, and particularly of such a man.

While I was thinking of this the ladies entered the room, and at the
same moment we heard Nikola's gondola draw up at the steps. I thought
Miss Trevor looked a little pale, but though still very quiet she was
more cheerful than she had been before dinner.

"Our guide has arrived," I remarked, as I closed the windows behind us.
"We had better go down to the hall. Miss Trevor, if you will accompany
me, the Duke will bring Phyllis. We must not keep Nikola waiting."

We accordingly left our apartments and proceeded down-stairs.

"I trust you are looking forward to your excursion, Miss Trevor?" I
said as we descended the stairs. "If I am not mistaken you will see
Venice to-night under circumstances such as you could never have dreamed
of before."

"I do not doubt it," she answered simply. "It will be a night to
remember."

Little did she guess how true her prophecy was destined to be. It was
indeed a night that every member of the party would remember all his, or
her, life long. When we had reached the hall, Nikola had just entered
it, and was in the act of sending up a servant to announce his arrival.
He shook hands with my wife, then with Miss Trevor, afterwards with
Glenbarth and myself. His hand was, as usual, as cold as ice and his
face was deathly pale. His tall, lithe figure was concealed by his
voluminous coat, but what was lost in one direction was compensated for
by the mystery that it imparted to his personality. For some reason I
thought of Mephistopheles as I looked at him, and in many ways the
illustration does not seem an altogether inapt one.

"Permit me to express the gratification I feel that you have consented
to allow me to be your guide this evening, Lady Hatteras," he said as he
conducted my wife towards the boat. "While it is an impertinence on my
part to imagine that I can add to your enjoyment of Venice, I fancy it
is, nevertheless, in my power to show you a side of the city with which
you are not as yet acquainted. The night being so beautiful, and
believing that you would wish to see all you can, I have brought a
gondola without a cabin. I trust I did not do wrong."

"I am sure it will be delightful," my wife answered. "It would have been
unendurable on such a beautiful evening to be cooped up in a close
cabin. Besides, we should have seen nothing."

By this time we were on the steps, at the foot of which the gondola in
question, a large one of its class, was lying. As soon as we had boarded
her the gondolier bent to his oar, the boat shot out into the stream,
and the excursion, which, as I have said, we were each of us to remember
all our lives, had commenced. If I shut my eyes now I can recall the
whole scene: the still moonlit waters of the canal, the houses on one
side of which were brilliantly illuminated by the moon, the other being
entirely in the shadow. When we were in mid-stream a boat decorated with
lanterns passed us. It contained a merry party, whose progress was
enlivened by the strains of the invariable _Finiculi Finicula_. The
words and the tune ring in my memory even now. Years before we had grown
heartily sick of the song, now however it possessed a charm that was
quite its own.

"How pretty it is," remarked my wife and Miss Trevor almost
simultaneously. And the former added, "I could never have believed that
it possessed such a wealth of tenderness."

"Might it not be the association that is responsible?" put in Nikola
gravely. "You have probably heard that song at some time when you have
been so happy that all the world has seemed the same. Hearing it
to-night has unconsciously recalled that association, and _Finiculi
Finicula_, once so despised, immediately becomes a melody that touches
your heart-strings, and so wins for itself a place in your regard that
it can never altogether lose."

We had crossed the canal by this time; the gondola with the singers
proceeding towards the Rialto bridge. The echo of the music still
lingered in our ears, and seemed the sweeter by the reason of the
distance that separated us from it. Turning to the gondolier, who in the
moonlight presented a picturesque figure in the stern of the boat,
Nikola said something in Italian. The boat's head was immediately turned
in the direction of a side-street, and a moment later we entered it. It
is not my intention, nor would it be possible for me, to attempt to
furnish you with a definite description of the route we followed. In the
daytime I flatter myself that I have a knowledge of the Venice of the
tourist; if you were to give me a pencil and paper I believe I should be
able to draw a rough outline of the city, and to place St. Mark's
Cathedral, Galaghetti's Hotel, the Rialto bridge, the Arsenal, and
certainly the railway station, in something like their proper positions.
But at night, when I have left the Grand Canal, the city becomes a
sealed book to me. On this particular evening every street, when once we
had left the fashionable quarter behind us, seemed alike. There was the
same darkness, the same silence, and the same reflection of the lights
in the water. Occasionally we happened upon places where business was
still being transacted, and where the noise of voices smote the air with
a vehemence that was like sacrilege. A few moments would then elapse,
and then we were plunged into a silence that was almost unearthly. All
this time Nikola kept us continually interested. Here was a house with a
history as old as Venice itself; there the home of a famous painter;
yonder the birthplace of a poet or a soldier, who had fought his way to
fame by pen or by sword. On one side of the street was the first
dwelling of one who had been a plebeian and had died a Doge; while on
the other side was that of a man who had given his life to save his
friend. Nor were Nikola's illustrations confined to the past alone. Men
whose names were household words to us had preceded us, and had seen
Venice as we were seeing it now. Of each he could tell us something we
had never heard before. It was the perfect mastery of his subject, like
that of a man who plays upon an instrument of which he has made a
lifelong study, that astonished us. He could rouse in our hearts such
emotions as he pleased; could induce us to pity at one moment, and to
loathing at the next; could make us see the city with his eyes, and in a
measure to love it with his own love. That Nikola _did_ entertain a deep
affection for it was as certain as his knowledge of its history.

"I think I may say now," he said, when we had been absent from the hotel
for upwards of an hour, "that I have furnished you with a superficial
idea of the city. Let me attempt after this to show you something of its
inner life. That it will repay you I think you will admit when you have
seen it."

Once more he gave the gondolier an order. Without a word the man entered
a narrow street on the right, then turned to the left, after which to
the right again. What were we going to see next? That it would be
something interesting I had not the least doubt. Presently the gondolier
made an indescribable movement with his oar, the first signal that he
was about to stop. With two strokes he brought the boat alongside the
steps, and Nikola, who was the first to spring out, assisted the ladies
to alight. We were now in a portion of Venice with which I was entirely
unacquainted. The houses were old and lofty, though sadly fallen to
decay. Where shops existed business was still being carried on, but the
majority of the owners of the houses in the neighbourhood appeared to be
early birds, for no lights were visible in their dwellings. Once or
twice men approached us and stared insolently at the ladies of our
party. One of these, more impertinent than his companions, placed his
hand upon Miss Trevor's arm. In a second, without any apparent effort,
Nikola had laid him upon his back.

"Do not be afraid, Miss Trevor," he said; "the fellow has only forgotten
himself for a moment."

So saying he approached the man, who scrambled to his feet, and
addressed him in a low voice.

"No, no, your excellency," the rascal whined; "for the pity of the
blessed saints. Had I known it was you I would not have dared."

Nikola said something in a whisper to him; what it was I have not the
least idea, but its effect was certainly excellent, for the man slunk
away without another word.

After this little incident we continued our walk without further
opposition, took several turnings, and at last found ourselves standing
before a low doorway. That it was closely barred on the inside was
evident from the sounds that followed when, in response to Nikola's
knocks, some one commenced to open it. Presently an old man looked out.
At first he seemed surprised to see us, but when his eyes fell upon
Nikola all was changed. With a low bow he invited him, in Russian, to
enter.

Crossing the threshold we found ourselves in a church of the smallest
possible description. By the dim light a priest could be seen
officiating at the high altar, and there were possibly a dozen
worshippers present. There was an air of secrecy about it all, the
light, the voices, and the precautions taken to prevent a stranger
entering, that appealed to my curiosity. As we turned to leave the
building the little man who had admitted us crept up to Nikola's side
and said something in a low voice to him. Nikola replied, and at the
same time patted the man affectionately upon the shoulder. Then with the
same obsequious respect the latter opened the door once more, and
permitted us to pass out, quickly barring it behind us afterwards
however.

"You have seen many churches during your stay in Venice, Lady Hatteras,"
Nikola remarked, as we made our way back towards the gondola, "I doubt
very much, however, whether you have ever entered a stranger place of
worship than that."

"I know that I have not," my wife replied. "Pray who were the people we
saw there? And why was so much secrecy observed?"

"Because nearly all the poor souls you saw there are either suspected or
wanted by the Russian Government. They are fugitives from injustice, if
I may so express it, and it is for that reason that they are compelled
to worship, as well as live, in hiding."

"But who are they?"

"Nihilists," Nikola answered. "A poor, hot-headed lot of people, who,
seeing their country drifting in a wrong direction, have taken it into
their heads to try and remedy matters by drastic measures. Finding their
efforts hopeless, their properties confiscated, and they themselves in
danger of death, or exile, which is worse, they have fled from Russia.
Some of them, the richest, manage to get to England, some come to
Venice, but knowing that the Italian police will turn them out _sans
cérémonie_ if they discover them, they are compelled to remain in hiding
until they are in a position to proceed elsewhere."

"And you help them?" asked Miss Trevor in a strange voice, as if his
answer were a foregone conclusion.

"What makes you think that?" Nikola inquired.

"Because the doorkeeper knew you, and you spoke so kindly to him."

"The poor fellow has a son," Nikola replied; "a hot-headed young rascal
who has got into trouble in Moscow. If he is caught he will without
doubt go to Siberia for the rest of his life. But he will _not_ be
caught."

Once more Miss Trevor spoke as if with authority, and in the same hushed
voice.

"You have saved him?"

"He _has_ been saved," Nikola replied. "He left for America this
morning. The old fellow was merely expressing to me the gratification he
felt at having got him out of such a difficulty. Now, here is our
gondola. Let us get into it. We still have much to see, and time is not
standing still with us."

Once more we took our places, and once more the gondola proceeded on its
way. To furnish you with a complete _résumé_ of all we saw would take
too long, and would occupy too great a space. Let it suffice that we
visited places, the mere existence of which I had never heard of before.

One thing impressed me throughout. Wherever we went Nikola was known,
and not only known, but feared and respected. His face was a key that
opened every lock, and in his company the ladies were as safe, in the
roughest parts of Venice, as if they had been surrounded by a troop of
soldiery. When we had seen all that he was able to show us it was nearly
midnight, and time for us to be getting back to our hotel.

"I trust I have not tired you?" he said, as the ladies took their places
in the gondola for the last time.

"Not in the least," both answered at once, and I fancy my wife spoke not
only for herself but also for Miss Trevor when she continued, "we have
spent a most delightful evening."

"You must not praise the performance until the epilogue is spoken,"
Nikola answered. "I have still one more item on my programme."

As he said this the gondola drew up at some steps, where a solitary
figure was standing, apparently waiting for us. He wore a cloak and
carried a somewhat bulky object in his hand. As soon as the boat came
alongside Nikola sprang out and approached him. To our surprise he
helped him into the gondola and placed him in the stern.

"To-night, Luigi," he said, "you must sing your best for the honour of
the city."

The young man replied in an undertone, and then the gondola passed down
a by-street and a moment later we were back in the Grand Canal. There
was not a breath of air, and the moon shone full and clear upon the
placid water. Never had Venice appeared more beautiful. Away to the
right was the piazza, with the Cathedral of Saint Mark; on our left were
the shadows of the islands. The silence of Venice, and there is no
silence in the world like it, lay upon everything. The only sound to be
heard was the dripping of the water from the gondolier's oar as it rose
and fell in rhythmic motion. Then the musician drew his fingers across
the strings of his guitar, and after a little prelude commenced to sing.
The song he had chosen was the _Salve d'amora_ from _Faust_, surely one
of the most delightful melodies that has ever occurred to the brain of a
musician. Before he had sung a dozen bars we were entranced. Though not
a strong tenor his voice was one of the most perfect I have ever heard.
It was of the purest quality, so rich and sweet that the greatest
connoisseur could not tire of it. The beauty of the evening, the silence
of the lagoon, and the perfectness of the surroundings, helped it to
appeal to us as no music had ever done before. It was a significant
proof of the effect produced upon us, that when he ceased not one of us
spoke for some moments. Our hearts were too full for words. By the time
we had recovered ourselves the gondola had drawn up at the steps of the
hotel, and we had disembarked. The Duke and I desired to reward the
musician; Nikola however begged us to do nothing of the kind.

"He sings to-night to please me," he said. "It would hurt him beyond
words were you to offer him any other reward."

After that there was nothing more to be said, except to thank him in the
best Italian we could muster for the treat he had given us.

"Why on earth does he not try his fortune upon the stage?" asked my
wife, when we had disembarked from the gondola and had assembled on the
steps. "With such a voice he might achieve a European reputation."

"Alas," answered Nikola, "he will never do that. Did you notice his
infirmity?"

Phyllis replied that she had not observed anything extraordinary about
him.

"The poor fellow is blind," Nikola answered very quietly. "He is a
singing-bird shut up always in the dark. And now, good-night. I have
trespassed too long upon your time already."

He bowed low to the ladies, shook hands with the Duke and myself, and
then, before we had time to thank him for the delightful evening he had
given us, was in his gondola once more and out in mid-stream. We watched
him until he had disappeared in the direction of the Rio del Consiglio,
after we entered the hotel and made our way to our own sitting-room.

"I cannot say when I have enjoyed myself so much," said my wife, as we
stood talking together before bidding each other good-night.

"It has been delightful," said Glenbarth, whose little attack of
jealousy seemed to have quite left him. "Have you enjoyed it, Hatteras?"

I said something in reply, I cannot remember what, but I recollect that,
as I did so, I glanced at Miss Trevor's face. It was still very pale,
but her eyes shone with extraordinary brilliance.

"I hope you have had a pleasant evening," I said to her a few moments
later, when we were alone together.

"Yes, I think I can say that I have," she answered, with a far-away look
upon her face. "The music was exquisite. The thought of it haunts me
still."

Then, having bade me good-night, she went off with my wife, leaving me
to attempt to understand why she had replied as she had done.

"And what do you think of it, my friend?" I inquired of Glenbarth, when
we had taken our cigars out into the balcony.

"I am extremely glad we went," he returned quickly. "There can be no
doubt that you were right when you said that it would show us Nikola's
character in a new light. Did you notice with what respect he was
treated by everybody we met, and how anxious they were not to run the
risk of offending him?"

"Of course I noticed it, and you may be sure I drew my own conclusions
from it," I replied.

"And those conclusions were?"

"That Nikola's character is even more inexplicable than before."

After that we smoked in silence for some time. At last I rose and tossed
what remained of my cigar over the rails into the dark waters below.

"It is getting late," I said. "Don't you think we had better bid each
other good-night?"

"Perhaps we had, and yet I don't feel a bit tired."

"Are you quite sure that you have had a pleasant day?"

"Quite sure," he said, with a laugh. "The only thing I regret is having
heard that wretched story this morning. Do you recall the gusto with
which Nikola related it?"

I replied in the affirmative, and asked him his reason for referring to
it now.

"Because I could not help thinking of it this evening, when his voice
was so pleasant and his manner so kind. When I picture him going back
to that house to-night, to that dreadful room, to sleep alone in that
great building, it fairly makes me shudder. Good-night, old fellow. You
have treated me royally to-day; I could scarcely have had more
sensations compressed into my waking hours if I'd been a king."



CHAPTER IV


After our excursion through Venice with Nikola by night, an interval of
a week elapsed before we saw anything of him. During that time matters,
so far as our party was concerned, progressed with the smoothness of a
well-regulated clock. In my own mind I had not the shadow of a doubt
that Glenbarth was head over ears in love with Gertrude Trevor. He
followed her about wherever she went; seemed never to tire of paying her
attention, and whenever we were alone together, endeavoured to inveigle
me into a discussion of her merits. That she had faults nothing would
convince him.

Whether she reciprocated his good-feeling was a matter which, to my
mind, there existed a considerable amount of doubt. Women are
proverbially more secretive in these affairs than men, and if Miss
Trevor entertained a warmer feeling than friendship for the young Duke,
she certainly managed to conceal it admirably. More than once, I
believe, my wife endeavoured to sound her upon the subject. She had to
confess herself beaten, however. Miss Trevor liked the Duke of Glenbarth
very much; she was quite agreed that he had not an atom of conceit in
his constitution; he gave himself no airs; moreover, she was prepared to
meet my wife half-way, and to say that she thought it a pity he did not
marry. No, she had never heard that there was an American millionaire
girl, extremely beautiful, and accomplished beyond the average, who was
pining to throw her millions and herself at his feet! "And then," added
my wife, in a tone that seemed to suggest that she considered it my
fault that the matter had not been brought to a successful conclusion
long since, "what do you think she said? 'Why on earth doesn't he marry
this American? So many men of title do now-a-days.' What do you think of
that? I can tell you, Dick, I could have shaken her!"

"My dear little woman," I said in reply, "will nothing convince you that
you are playing with fire? If you are not very careful you will burn
your fingers. Gertrude is almost as clever as you are. She sees that you
are trying to pump her, and very naturally declines to be pumped. You
would feel as she does were you in her position."

"I do not know why you should say I am trying to pump her," she answered
with considerable dignity. "I consider it a very uncalled-for
expression."

"Well, my dear," I answered, "if you are going to attempt to improve
your position by splitting straws, then I must stop."

The episode I have just described had taken place after we had retired
for the night, and at a time when I am far from being at my best. My
wife, on the other hand, as I have repeatedly noticed, is invariably
wide-awake at that hour. Moreover she has an established belief that it
would be an impossibility for her to obtain any rest until she has
cleared up all matters of mystery that may have attracted her attention
during the day. I generally fall asleep before she is half-way through,
and for this reason I am told that I lack interest in what most nearly
concerns our welfare.

"One would at least imagine that you could remain awake to discuss
events of so much importance to us and to those about us," I have known
her say. "I have observed that you can talk about horses, hunting, and
shooting, with your bachelor friends until two or three o'clock in the
morning without falling asleep, but when your wife is anxious to ask
your opinion about something that does not concern your amusements, then
you must needs go to sleep."

"My dear," I replied, "when all is said and done we are but human. You
know as well as I do, that if a man were to come to me when I had
settled down for the night, and were to tell me that he knew where to
lay his hand upon the finest horse in England, and where he could put me
on to ten coveys of partridges within a couple of hundred yards of my
own front door, that he could even tell me the winner of the Derby, I
should answer him as I am now answering you."

"And your reply would be?"

I am afraid the pains I had been at to illustrate my own argument must
have proved too much for me, for I was informed in the morning that I
had talked a vast amount of nonsense about seeing Nikola concerning a
new pigeon-trap, and had then resigned myself to the arms of Morpheus.
If there should be any husbands whose experience have run on similar
lines, I should be glad to hear from them. But to return to my story.

One evening, exactly a week after Glenbarth's arrival in Venice, I was
dressing for dinner when a letter was brought to me. Much to my surprise
I found it was from Nikola, and in it he inquired whether it would be
possible for me to spare the time to come and see him that evening. It
appeared that he was anxious to discuss a certain important matter with
me. I noticed, however, that he did not mention what that matter was.
In a postscript he asked me, as a favour to himself, to come alone.

Having read the letter I stood for a few moments with it in my hand,
wondering what I should do. I was not altogether anxious to go out that
evening; on the other hand I had a strange craving to see Nikola once
more. The suggestion that he desired to consult me upon a matter of
importance flattered my vanity, particularly as it was of such a nature
that he did not desire the presence of a third person. "Yes," I thought,
"after all I will go." Accordingly I wrote a note to him saying that, if
the hour would suit him, I hoped to be with him at half-past nine
o'clock. Then I continued my dressing and presently went down to dinner.

During the progress of the meal I mentioned the fact that I had received
the letter in question, and asked my friends if they would excuse me if
I went round in the course of the evening to find out what it was that
Nikola had to say to me. Perhaps by virtue of my early training, perhaps
by natural instinct, I am a keen observer of trifles. On this occasion I
noticed that from the moment I mentioned the fact of my having received
a letter from Nikola, Miss Trevor ate scarcely any more dinner. Upon my
mentioning his name she had looked at me with a startled expression
upon her face. She said nothing, however, but I observed that her left
hand, which she had a trick of keeping below the table as much as
possible, was for some moments busily engaged in picking pieces from the
roll beside her plate. For some reason she had suddenly grown nervous
again, but why she should have done so passes my comprehension. When the
ladies had retired, and we were sitting together over our wine,
Glenbarth returned to the subject of my visit that evening.

"By Jove, my dear fellow," he said, "I don't envy you your excursion to
that house. Don't you feel a bit nervous about it yourself?"

I shook my head.

"Why should I?" I asked. "If the truth must be told I am a good deal
more afraid of Nikola than I am of his house. I don't fancy on the
present occasion, however, I have any reason to dread either."

"Well," said the Duke with a laugh, "if you are not home by
breakfast-time to-morrow morning I shall bring the police round, and
look down that trap-door. You'll take a revolver with you of course?"

"I shall do nothing of the kind," I replied. "I am quite able to take
care of myself without having recourse to fire-arms."

Nevertheless, when I went up to my room to change my coat, prior to
leaving the house, I took a small revolver from my dressing-case and
weighed it in my hand. "Shall I take it or shall I not?" was the
question I asked myself. Eventually I shook my head and replaced it in
its hiding-place. Then, switching off the electric light, I made for the
door, only to return, re-open the dressing-case, and take out the
revolver. Without further argument I slipped it into the pocket of my
coat and then left the room.

A quarter of an hour later my gondolier had turned into the Rio del
Consiglio, and was approaching the Palace Revecce. The house was in
deep shadow, and looked very dark and lonesome. The gondolier seemed to
be of the same opinion, for he was anxious to set me down, to collect
his fare, and to get away again as soon as possible. Standing in the
porch I rang the great bell which Nikola had pointed out to me, and
which we had not observed on the morning of our first visit. It clanged
and echoed somewhere in the rearmost portion of the house, intensifying
the loneliness of the situation and adding a new element of mystery to
that abominable dwelling. In spite of my boast to Glenbarth I was not
altogether at my ease. It was one thing to pretend that I had no
objection to the place when I was seated in a well-lighted room, with a
glass of port at my hand, and a stalwart friend opposite; it was quite
another, however, to be standing in the dark at that ancient portal,
with the black water of the canal at my feet and the anticipation of
that sombre room ahead. Then I heard the sound of footsteps crossing the
courtyard, and a moment later Nikola himself stood before me and invited
me to enter. A solitary lamp had been placed upon the coping of the
wall, and its fitful light illuminated the courtyard, throwing long
shadows across the pavement and making it look even drearier and more
unwholesome than when I had last seen it. After we had shaken hands we
made our way in silence up the great staircase, our steps echoing along
the stone corridors with startling reverberations. How thankful I was at
last to reach the warm, well-lit room, despite the story Nikola had told
us about it, I must leave you to imagine.

"Please sit down," said Nikola, pushing a chair forward for my
occupation. "It is exceedingly kind of you to have complied with my
request. I trust Lady Hatteras and Miss Trevor are well?"

"Thank you, they are both well," I replied. "They both begged to be
remembered to you."

Nikola bowed his thanks, and then, when he had placed a box of excellent
cigars at my elbow, prepared and lighted a cigarette for himself. All
this time I was occupying myself wondering why he had asked me to come
to him that evening, and what the upshot of the interview was to be.
Knowing him as I did, I was aware that his actions were never
motiveless. Everything he did was to be accounted for by some very good
reason. After he had tendered his thanks to me for coming to see him, he
was silent for some minutes, for so long indeed that I began to wonder
whether he had forgotten my presence. In order to attract his attention
I commented upon the fact that we had not seen him for more than a week.

"I have been away," he answered, with what was plainly an attempt to
pull himself together. "Business of a most important nature called me to
the south of Italy, to Naples in fact, and I only returned this
morning."

Once more he was silent. Then leaning towards me and speaking with even
greater impressiveness than he had yet done, he continued--

"Hatteras, I am going to ask you a question, and then, with your
permission, I should like to tell you a story."

Not knowing what else to do I simply bowed. I was more than ever
convinced that Nikola was going to make use of me.

"Have you ever wondered," he began, still looking me straight in the
face, and speaking with great earnestness, "what it was first made me
the man I am?"

I replied to the effect that I had often wondered, but naturally had
never been able to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

"Some day you shall know the history of my life," he answered. "But not
just yet. There is much to be done before then. And now I am going to
give you the story I promised you. You will see why I have told it to
you when I have finished."

He rose from his chair and began to pace the room. I had never seen
Nikola so agitated before. When he turned and faced me again his eyes
shone like diamonds, while his body quivered with suppressed excitement.

"Hatteras," he went on, when he had somewhat mastered his emotion, "I
doubt very much if ever in this world's history there has been a man who
has suffered more than I have done. As I said just now, the whole story
I cannot tell you at present. Some day it will come in its proper place
and you will know everything. In the meantime----"

He paused for a few moments and then continued abruptly--

"The story concerns a woman, a native of this city; the last of an
impoverished, but ancient family. She married a man many years her
senior, whom she did not love. When they had been married just over four
years her husband died, leaving her with one child to fight the battles
of the world alone. The boy was nearly three years old, a sturdy, clever
little urchin, who, up to that time, had never known the meaning of the
word trouble. Then there came to Venice a man, a Spaniard, as handsome
as a serpent, and as cruel. After a while he made the woman believe that
he loved her. She returned his affection, and in due time they were
married. A month later he was appointed Governor of one of the Spanish
islands off the American coast--a post he had long been eager to obtain.
When he departed to take up his position it was arranged that, as soon
as all was prepared, the woman and her child should follow him. They did
so, and at length reached the island and took up their abode, not at the
palace, as the woman had expected, but in the native city. For the
Governor feared, or pretended to fear, that, as his marriage had not
been made public at first, it might compromise his position. The woman,
however, who loved him, was content, for her one thought was to promote
his happiness. At first the man made believe to be overjoyed at having
her with him once again, then, little by little, he showed that he was
tired of her. Another woman had attracted his fancy, and he had
transferred his affections to her. The other heard of it. Her southern
blood was roused, for though she had been poor, she was, as I have said,
the descendant of one of the oldest Venetian families. As his wife she
endeavoured to defend herself, then came the crushing blow, delivered
with all the brutality of a savage nature.

"'You are not my wife,' he said. 'I had already a wife living when I
married you.'

"She left him without another word and went away to hide her shame. Six
months later the fever took her and she died. Thus the boy was left, at
five years old, without a friend or protector in the world. Happily,
however, a humble couple took compassion on him, and, after a time,
determined to bring him up as their own. The old man was a great
scholar, and had devoted all his life to the exhaustive study of the
occult sciences. To educate the boy, when he grew old enough to
understand, was his one delight. He was never weary of teaching him, nor
did the boy ever tire of learning. It was a mutual labour of love. Seven
years later saw both the lad's benefactors at rest in the little
churchyard beneath the palms, and the boy himself homeless once more.
But he was not destined to remain so for very long; the priest, who had
buried his adopted parents, spoke to the Governor, little dreaming what
he was doing, of the boy's pitiable condition. It was as if the devil
had prompted him, for the Spaniard was anxious to find a playfellow for
his son, a lad two years the other's junior. It struck him that the waif
would fill the position admirably. He was accordingly deported to the
palace to enter upon the most miserable period of his life. His likeness
to his mother was unmistakable, and when he noticed it, the Governor,
who had learned the secret, hated him for it, as only those hate who are
conscious of their wrong-doing. From that moment his cruelty knew no
bounds. The boy was powerless to defend himself. All that he could do
was to loathe his oppressor with all the intensity of his fiery nature,
and to pray that the day might come when he should be able to repay. To
his own son the Governor was passionately attached. In his eyes the
latter could do no wrong. For any of his misdeeds it was the stranger
who bore the punishment. On the least excuse he was stripped and beaten
like a slave. The Governor's son, knowing his power, and the other's
inordinate sensitiveness, derived his chief pleasure in inventing new
cruelties for him. To describe all that followed would be impossible.
When nothing else would rouse him, it was easy to bring him to an
ungovernable pitch of fury by insulting his mother's name, with whose
history the servants had, by this time, made their master's son
acquainted. Once, driven into a paroxysm of fury by the other's insults,
the lad picked up a knife and rushed at his tormentor with the intention
of stabbing him. His attempt, however, failed, and the boy, foaming at
the mouth, was carried before the Governor. I will spare you a
description of the punishment that was meted out for his offence. Let it
suffice that there are times even now, when the mere thought of it is
sufficient to bring--but there--why should I continue in this strain?
All that I am telling you happened many years ago, but the memory
remains clear and distinct, while the desire for vengeance is as keen as
if it had happened but yesterday. What is more, the end is coming, as
surely as the lad once hoped and prophesied it would."

Nikola paused for a moment and sank into his chair. I had never seen him
so affected. His face was deathly pale, while his eyes blazed like
living coals.

"What became of the boy at last?" I inquired, knowing all the while that
he had been speaking of himself.

"He escaped from the island, and went out into the world. The Governor
is dead; he has gone to meet the woman, or women, he has so cruelly
wronged. His son has climbed the ladder of Fame, but he has never lost,
as his record shows, the cruel heart he possessed as a boy. Do you
remember the story of the Revolution in the Republic of Equinata?"

I shook my head.

"The Republics of South America indulge so constantly in their little
amusements that it is difficult for an outsider to remember every
particular one," I answered.

"Well, let me tell you about it. When the Republic of Equinata suffered
from its first Revolution, this man was its President. But for his
tyranny and injustice it would not have taken place. He it was who,
finding that the Rebellion was spreading, captured a certain town, and
bade the eldest son of each of the influential families wait upon him at
his headquarters on the morning following its capitulation. His excuse
was that he desired them as hostages for their parents' good behaviour.
As it was, however, to wreak his vengeance on the city, which had
opposed him, instead of siding with him, he placed them against a wall
and shot them down by the half-dozen. But he was not destined to
succeed. Gradually he was driven back upon his Capital, his troops
deserting day by day. Then, one night he boarded a ship that was waiting
for him in the harbour, and from that moment Equinata saw him no more.
It was not until some days afterwards that it was discovered that he had
despatched vast sums of money, which he had misappropriated, out
of the country, ahead of him. Where he is now hiding I am the
only man who knows. I have tracked him to his lair, and I am
waiting--waiting--waiting--for the moment to arrive when the innocent
blood that has so long cried to Heaven will be avenged. Let him look to
himself when that day arrives. For as there is a God above us, he will
be punished as man was never punished before."

The expression upon his face as he said this was little short of
devilish; the ghastly pallor of his skin, the dark, glittering eyes, and
his jet-black hair made up a picture that will never fade from my
memory.

"God help his enemy if they should meet," I said to myself. Then his
mood suddenly changed, and he was once more the quiet, suave Nikola to
whom I had become accustomed. Every sign of passion had vanished from
his face. A transformation more complete could scarcely have been
imagined.

"My dear fellow," he said, without a trace of emotion in his voice, "you
must really forgive me for having bored you with my long story. I cannot
think what made me do so, unless it is that I have been brooding over it
all day, and felt the need of a confidant. You will make an allowance
for me, will you not?"

"Most willingly," I answered. "If the story you have told me concerns
yourself, you have my most heartfelt sympathy. You have suffered
indeed."

He stopped for a moment in his restless walk up and down the room, and
eyed me carefully as if he were trying to read my thoughts.

"Suffered?" he said at last, and then paused. "Yes, I have suffered--but
others have suffered more. But do not let us talk of it. I was foolish
to have touched upon it, for I know by experience the effect it produces
upon me."

As he spoke he crossed to the window, which he threw open. It was a
glorious night, and the sound of women's voices singing reached us from
the Grand Canal. On the other side of the watery highway the houses
looked strangely mysterious in the weird light. At that moment I felt
more drawn towards Nikola than I had ever done before. The man's
loneliness, his sufferings, had a note of singular pathos for me. I
forgot the injuries he had done me, and before I knew what I was doing,
I had placed my hand upon his shoulder.

"Nikola," I said, "if I were to try I could not make you understand how
truly sorry I am for you. The life you lead is so unlike that of any
other man. You see only the worst side of Human Nature. Why not leave
this terrible gloom? Give up these experiments upon which you are always
engaged, and live only in the pure air of the commonplace every-day
world. Your very surroundings--this house, for instance--are not like
those of other men. Believe me, there are other things worth living for
besides the Science which binds you in its chains. If you could learn to
love a good woman----"

"My dear Hatteras," he put in, more softly than I had ever heard him
speak, "woman's love is not for me. As you say, I am lonely in the
world, God knows how lonely, yet lonely I must be content to remain."
Then leaning his hands upon the window-sill, he looked out upon the
silent night, and I heard him mutter to himself, "Yes, lonely to the
End." After that he closed the window abruptly, and turning to me, asked
how long we contemplated remaining in Venice.

"I cannot say yet," I answered, "the change is doing my wife so much
good that I am anxious to prolong our stay. At first we thought of going
to the South of France, but that idea has been abandoned, and we may be
here another month."

"A month," he said to himself, as if he were reflecting upon something;
then he added somewhat inconsequently, "You should be able to see a
great deal of Venice in a month."

"And how long will you be here?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"It is impossible to say," he answered. "I never know my own mind for
two days together. I may be here another week, or I may be here a year.
Somehow, I have a conviction, I cannot say why, that this will prove to
be my last visit to Venice. I should be sorry never to see it again, yet
what must be, must. Destiny will have its way, whatever we may say or do
to the contrary."

At that moment there was the sound of a bell clanging in the courtyard
below. At such an hour it had an awe-inspiring sound, and I know that I
shuddered as I heard it.

"Who can it be?" said Nikola, turning towards the door. "This is
somewhat late for calling hours. Will you excuse me if I go down and
find out the meaning of it?"

"Do so, by all means," I answered. "I think I must be going also. It is
getting late."

"No, no," he said, "stay a little longer. If it is as I suspect, I fancy
I shall be able to show you something that may interest you. Endeavour
to make yourself comfortable until I return. I shall not be away many
minutes."

So saying, he left me, closing the door behind him. When I was alone, I
lit a cigar and strolled to the window, which I opened. My worst enemy
could not call me a coward, but I must confess that I derived no
pleasure from being in that room alone. The memory of what lay under
that oriental rug was vividly impressed upon my memory. In my mind I
could smell the vaults below, and it would have required only a very
small stretch of the imagination to have fancied I could hear the groans
of the dying man proceeding from it. Then a feeling of curiosity came
over me to see who Nikola's visitor was. By leaning well out of the
window, I could look down on the great door below. At the foot of the
steps a gondola was drawn up, but I was unable to see whether there was
any one in it or not. Who was Nikola's mysterious caller, and what made
him come at such an hour? Knowing the superstitious horror in which the
house was held by the populace of Venice, I felt that whoever he was, he
must have had an imperative reason for his visit. I was still turning
the subject over in my mind, when the door opened and Nikola entered,
followed by two men. One was tall and swarthy, wore a short black beard,
and had a crafty expression upon his face. The other was about middle
height, very broad, and was the possessor of a bullet-head covered with
close-cropped hair. Both were of the lower class, and their nationality
was unmistakable. Turning to me, Nikola said in English--

"It is as I expected. Now, if you care to study character, here is your
opportunity. The taller man is a Police Agent, the other the chief of a
notorious Secret Society. I should first explain that within the last
two or three days I have been helping a young Italian of rather advanced
views, not to put too fine a point upon it, to leave the country for
America. This dog has dared to try to upset my plans. Immediately I
heard of it I sent word to him, by means of our friend here, that he was
to present himself here before twelve o'clock to-night without fail.
From his action it would appear that he is more frightened of me than he
is of the Secret Society. That is as it should be; for I intend to teach
him a little lesson which will prevent him from interfering with my
plans in the future. You were talking of my science just now, and
advising me to abandon it. Could the life you offer me give me the power
I possess now? Could the respectability of Clapham recompense me for the
knowledge with which the East can furnish me?"

Then turning to the Police Agent he addressed him in Italian, speaking
so fast that it was impossible for me to follow him. From what little I
could make out, however, I gathered that he was rating him for daring to
interfere with his concerns. When, at the end of three or four minutes,
he paused and spoke more slowly, this was the gist of his speech--

"You know me and the power I control. You are aware that those who
thwart me, or who interfere with me and my concerns, do so at their own
risk. Since no harm has come of it, thanks to certain good friends, I
will forgive on this occasion, but let it happen again and this is what
your end will be."

[Illustration: "Presently a picture shaped itself in the cloud."]

As he spoke he took from his pocket a small glass bottle with a gold
top, not unlike a vinaigrette, and emptied some of the white powder it
contained into the palm of his hand. Turning down the lamp he dropped
this into the chimney. A green flame shot up for a moment, which was
succeeded by a cloud of perfumed smoke that filled the room so
completely that for a moment it was impossible for us to see each other.
Presently a picture shaped itself in the cloud and held my attention
spell-bound. Little by little it developed until I was able to make out
a room, or rather I should say a vault, in which upwards of a dozen men
were seated at a long table. They were all masked, and without exception
were clad in long monkish robes with cowls of black cloth. Presently
a sign was made by the man at the head of the table, an individual
with a venerable grey beard, and two more black figures entered, who led
a man between them. Their prisoner was none other than the Police Agent
whom Nikola had warned. He looked thinner, however, and was evidently
much frightened by his position. Once more the man at the head of the
table raised his hand, and there entered at the other side an old man,
with white hair and a long beard of the same colour. Unlike the others
he wore no cowl, nor was he masked. From his gestures I could see that
he was addressing those seated at the table, and, as he pointed to the
prisoner, a look of undying hatred spread over his face. Then the man at
the head of the table rose, and though I could hear nothing of what he
said, I gathered that he was addressing his brethren concerning the
case. When he had finished, and each of the assembly had voted by
holding up his hand, he turned to the prisoner. As he did so the scene
vanished instantly and another took its place.

It was a small room that I looked upon now, furnished only with a bed, a
table, and a chair. At the door was a man who had figured as a prisoner
in the previous picture, but now sadly changed. He seemed to have shrunk
to half his former size, his face was pinched by starvation, his eyes
were sunken, but there was an even greater look of terror in them than
had been there before. Opening the door of the room he listened, and
then shut and locked it again. It was as if he were afraid to go out,
and yet knew that if he remained where he was, he must perish of
starvation. Gradually the room began to grow dark, and the terrified
wretch paced restlessly up and down, listening at the door every now and
then. Once more the picture vanished as its companion had done, and a
third took its place. This proved to be a narrow street-scene by
moonlight. On either side the houses towered up towards the sky, and
since there was no one about, it was plain that the night was far
advanced. Presently, creeping along in the shadow, on the left-hand
side, searching among the refuse and garbage of the street for food,
came the man I had seen afraid to leave his attic. Times out of number
he looked swiftly behind him, as if he thought it possible that he might
be followed. He was but little more than half-way up the street, and was
stooping to pick up something, when two dark figures emerged from a
passage on the left, and swiftly approached him. Before he had time to
defend himself, they were upon him, and a moment later he was lying
stretched out upon his back in the middle of the street, a dead man.
The moon shone down full and clear upon his face, the memory of which
makes me shudder even now. Then the picture faded away and the room was
light once more. Instinctively I looked at the Police Agent. His usually
swarthy face was deathly pale, and from the great beads of perspiration
that stood upon his forehead, I gathered that he had seen the picture
too.

"Now," said Nikola, addressing him, "you have seen what is in store for
you if you persist in pitting yourself against me. You recognized that
grey-haired man, who had appealed to the Council against you. Then, rest
assured of this! So surely as you continue your present conduct, so
surely will the doom I have just revealed to you overtake you. Now go,
and remember what I have said."

Turning to the smaller man, Nikola placed his hand in a kindly fashion
upon his shoulder.

"You have done well, Tomasso," he said, "and I am pleased with you. Drop
our friend here at the usual place, and see that some one keeps an eye
on him. I don't think, however, he will dare to offend again."

On hearing this, the two men left the room and descended to the
courtyard together, and I could easily imagine with what delight one of
them would leave the house. When they had gone, Nikola, who was
standing at the window, turned to me, saying--

"What do you think of my conjuring?"

I knew not what answer to make that would satisfy him. The whole thing
seemed so impossible that, had it not been for the pungent odour that
still lingered in the room, I could have believed I had fallen asleep
and dreamed it all.

"You can give me no explanation, then?" said Nikola, with one of his
inscrutable smiles. "And yet, having accumulated this power, this
knowledge, call it what you will, you would still bid me give up
Science. Come, my friend, you have seen something of what I can do;
would you be brave enough to try, with my help, to look into what is
called The Great Unknown, and see what the Future has in store for you?
I fancy it could be done. Are you to be tempted to see your own end?"

"No, no," I cried, "I will have nothing to do with such an unholy thing.
Good heavens, man! from that moment life would be unendurable!"

"You think so, do you?" he said slowly, still keeping his eyes fixed on
me. "And yet I have tried it myself."

"My God, Nikola!" I answered in amazement, for I knew him well enough to
feel sure that he was not talking idly, "you don't mean to tell me that
you know what your own end is going to be?"

"Exactly," he answered. "I have seen it all. It is not pleasant; but I
think I may say without vanity that it will be an end worthy of myself."

"But now that you know it, can you not avert it?"

"Nothing can be averted," he answered solemnly. "As I said before these
men entered, what must be, must. What does Schiller say? '_Noch niemand
entfloh dem verhangten Geschick._'"

"And you were brave enough to look?"

"Does it require so much bravery, do you think? Believe me, there are
things which require more."

"What do you mean?"

"Ah! I cannot tell you now," he answered, shaking his head. "Some day
you will know."

Then there was a silence for a few seconds, during which we both stood
looking down at the moonlit water below. At last, having consulted my
watch and seeing how late it was, I told him that it was time for me to
bid him good-night.

"I am very grateful to you for coming, Hatteras," he said. "It has
cheered me up. It does me good to see you. Through you I get a whiff of
that other life of which you spoke a while back. I want to make you
like me, and I fancy I am succeeding."

Then we left the room together, and went down the stairs to the
courtyard below. Side by side we stood upon the steps waiting for a
gondola to put in an appearance. It was some time before one came in
sight, but when it did so I hailed it, and then shook Nikola by the hand
and bade him good-night.

"Good-night," he answered. "Pray remember me kindly to Lady Hatteras and
to--Miss Trevor."

The little pause before Miss Trevor's name caused me to look at him in
some surprise. He noticed it and spoke at once.

"You may think it strange of me to say so," he said, "but I cannot help
feeling interested in that young lady. Impossible though it may seem, I
have a well-founded conviction that in some way her star is destined to
cross mine, and before very long. I have only seen her twice in my life
in the flesh; but many years ago her presence on the earth was revealed
to me, and I was warned that some day we should meet. What that meeting
will mean to me it is impossible to say, but in its own good time Fate
will doubtless tell me. And now, once more, good-night."

"Good-night," I answered mechanically, for I was too much surprised by
his words to think what I was saying. Then I entered the gondola and
bade the man take me back to my hotel.

"Surely Nikola has taken leave of his senses," I said to myself as I was
rowed along. "Gertrude Trevor was the very last person in the world that
I should have expected Nikola to make such a statement about."

At this point, however, I remembered how curiously she had been affected
by their first meeting, and my mind began to be troubled concerning her.

"Let us hope and pray that Nikola doesn't take it into his head to
imagine himself in love with her," I continued to myself. "If he were to
do so I scarcely know what the consequences would be."

Then, with a touch of the absurd, I wondered what her father, the
eminently respected dean, would say to having Nikola for a son-in-law.
By the time I had reached this point in my reverie the gondola had drawn
up at the steps of the hotel.

My wife and Miss Trevor had gone to bed, but Glenbarth was sitting up
for me.

"Well, you have paid him a long visit, in all conscience," he said a
little reproachfully. Then he added, with what was intended to be a
touch of sarcasm, "I hope you have spent a pleasant evening?"

"I am not quite so certain about that," I replied.

"Indeed. Then what have you discovered?"

"One thing of importance," I answered; "that Nikola grows more and more
inscrutable every day."



CHAPTER V


The more I thought upon my strange visit to the Palace Revecce that
evening, the more puzzled I was by it. It had so many sides, and each so
complex, that I scarcely knew which presented the most curious feature.
What Nikola's real reason had been for inviting me to call upon him, and
why he should have told me the story, which I felt quite certain was
that of his own life, was more than I could understand. Moreover, why,
having told it me, he should have so suddenly requested me to think no
more about it, only added to my bewilderment. The incident of the two
men, and the extraordinary conjuring trick, for conjuring trick it
certainly was in the real meaning of the word, he had shown us, did not
help to elucidate matters. If the truth must be told it rather added to
the mystery than detracted from it. To sum it all up, I found, when I
endeavoured to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, remembering also
his strange remark concerning Miss Trevor, that I was as far from
coming to any conclusion as I had been at the beginning.

"You can have no idea how nervous I have been on your account to-night,"
said my wife, when I reached her room. "After dinner the Duke gave us a
description of Doctor Nikola's room, and told us its history. When I
thought of your being there alone with him, I must confess I felt almost
inclined to send a message to you imploring you to come home."

"That would have been a great mistake, my dear," I answered. "You would
have offended Nikola, and we don't want to do that. I am sorry the Duke
told you that terrible story. He should not have frightened you with it.
What did Gertrude Trevor think of it?"

"She did not say anything about it," my wife replied. "But I could see
that she was as frightened as I was. I am quite sure you would not get
either of us to go there, however pressing Doctor Nikola's invitation
might be. Now tell me what he wanted to see you about."

"He felt lonely and wanted some society," I answered, having resolved
that on no account would I tell her all the truth concerning my visit to
the Palace Revecce. "He also wanted me to witness something connected
with a scheme he has originated for enabling people to get out of the
country unobserved by the police. Before I left he gave me a good
example of the power he possessed."

I then described to her the arrival of the two men and the lesson Nikola
had read to the Police Agent. The portion dealing with the conjuring
trick I omitted. No good could have accrued from frightening her, and I
knew that the sort of description I should be able to give of it would
not be sufficiently impressive to enable her to see it in the light I
desired. In any other way it would have struck her as ridiculous.

"The man grows more and more extraordinary every day," she said. "And
not the least extraordinary thing about him is the way he affects other
people. For my own part I must confess that, while I fear him, I like
him; the Duke is frankly afraid of him; you are interested and repelled
in turn; while Gertrude, I fancy, regards him as a sort of supernatural
being, who may turn one into a horse or a dog at a moment's notice,
while Senor Galaghetti, with whom I had a short conversation to-day
concerning him, was so enthusiastic in his praises that for once words
failed him. He had never met any one so wonderful, he declared. He would
lay down his life for him. It would appear that, on one occasion, when
Nikola was staying at the hotel, he cured Galaghetti's eldest child of
diphtheria. The child was at the last gasp and the doctors had given
her up, when Nikola made his appearance upon the scene. What he did, or
how he did it, Galaghetti did not tell me, but it must have been
something decidedly irregular, for the other doctors were aghast and
left the house in a body. The child, however, rallied from that moment,
and, as Galaghetti proudly informed me, 'is now de artiste of great
repute upon de pianoforte in Paris.' I have never heard of her, but it
would appear that Galaghetti not only attributes her life, but also her
musical success, to the fact that Nikola was staying in the hotel at the
time when the child was taken ill. The Duke was with me when Galaghetti
told me this, and, when he heard it, he turned away with an exclamation
that sounded very like 'humbug!' I do hope that Doctor Nikola and the
Duke won't quarrel?"

As she put this in the form of a question, I felt inclined to reply with
the expression the Duke had used. I did not do so, however, but
contented myself with assuring her that she need have no fears upon that
score. A surprise, however, was in store for me.

"What have they to quarrel about?" I asked. "They have nothing in
common."

"That only proves how blind you are to what goes on around you," my wife
replied. "Have you not noticed that they _both admire Gertrude
Trevor_?"

Falling so pat upon my own thoughts, this gave me food for serious
reflection.

"How do you know that Nikola admires her?" I asked, a little sharply, I
fear, for when one has uncomfortable suspicions one is not always best
pleased to find that another shares them. A double suspicion might be
described as almost amounting to a certainty.

"I am confident of it," she replied. "Did you not notice his manner
towards her on the night of our excursion? It was most marked."

"My dear girl," I said irritably, "if you are going to begin this sort
of thing, you don't know where you will find yourself in the end. Nikola
has been a wanderer all his life. He has met people of every
nationality, of every rank and description. It is scarcely probable,
charming though I am prepared to admit she is, that he would be
attracted by our friend. Besides, I had it from his own lips this
morning that he will never marry."

"You may be just as certain as you please," she answered. "Nevertheless,
I adhere to my opinion."

Knowing what was in my own mind, and feeling that if the argument
continued I might let something slip that I should regret, I withdrew
from the field, and, having questioned her concerning certain news she
had received from England that day, bade her good-night.

Next morning we paid a visit to the Palace of the Doges, and spent a
pleasant and instructive couple of hours in the various rooms. Whatever
_Nikola's_ feelings may have been, there was by this time not the least
doubt that the Duke admired Miss Trevor. Though the lad had known her
for so short a time he was already head over ears in love. I think
Gertrude was aware of the fact, and I feel sure that she liked him, but
whether the time was not yet ripe, or her feminine instinct warned her
to play her fish for a while before attempting to land him, I cannot
say; at any rate she more than once availed herself of an opportunity
and moved away from him to take her place at my side. As you may
suppose, Glenbarth was not rendered any the happier by these manoeuvres;
indeed, by the time we left the Palace, he was as miserable a human
being as could have been found in all Venice. Before lunch, however, she
relented a little towards him, and when we sat down to the meal in
question our friend had in some measure recovered his former spirits.
Not so my wife, however; though I did not guess it, I was in for a
wigging.

"How could you treat the poor fellow so badly?" she said indignantly,
when we were alone together afterwards. "If you are not very careful
you'll spoil everything."

"Spoil what?" I inquired, as if I did not understand to what she
alluded. "You have lately developed a habit of speaking in riddles."

"Fiddle-de-dee!" she answered scornfully, "you know very well to what I
allude. I think your conduct at the Palace this morning was disgraceful.
You, a married man and a father, to try and spoil the pleasure of that
poor young man."

"But she began it," I answered in self-defence. "Did you not see that
she preferred my company to his?"

"Of course that was only make-believe," my wife replied. "You are as
well aware of that as I am."

"I know nothing of the kind," I returned. "If the girl does not know her
own mind, then it is safer that she should pretend, as she did to-day."

"She was not pretending. You know that Gertrude Trevor is as honest as
the day."

"Then you admit that she was only playing her fish?" I said.

"If you are going to be vulgar I shall leave you," she retorted; "I
don't know what you mean by 'playing her fish.' Gertrude only came to
you because she did not want to allow her liking for the Duke to appear
too conspicuous."

"It's the same thing in the end," I answered. "Believe me it is! You
describe it as not making her conduct appear too conspicuous, while I
call it 'playing her fish.' I have the best possible recollection of a
young lady who used to play quoits with me on the deck of the _Orotava_
a good many years ago. One day--we were approaching Naples at the
time--she played game after game with the doctor, and snubbed me
unmercifully."

"You know very well that I didn't mean it," she answered, with a stamp
of her foot. "You know I had to act as I did."

"I don't mind admitting that," I replied. "Nevertheless, you were
playing your fish. That night after dinner you forgave me and----"

She slipped her arm through mine and gave it a hug. I could afford to be
generous.

"Those were dear old days, were they not? I, for one, am not going to
quarrel about them. Now let us go and find the others."

We discovered them in the balcony, listening to some musicians in a
gondola below. Miss Trevor plainly hailed our coming with delight; the
Duke, however, was by no means so well pleased. He did his best,
however, to conceal his chagrin. Going to the edge of the balcony I
looked down at the boat. The musicians were four in number, two men and
two girls, and, at the moment of our putting in an appearance, one of
them was singing the "Ave Maria" from the _Cavalleria Rusticana_, in a
manner that I had seldom heard it sung before. She was a handsome girl,
and knew the value of her good looks. Beside her stood a man with a
guitar, and I gave a start as I looked at him. Did my eyes deceive me,
or was this the man who had accompanied the Police Agent to Nikola's
residence on the previous evening? I looked again and felt sure that I
could not be mistaken. He possessed the same bullet-head with the
close-cropped hair, the same clean-shaven face, and the same peculiarly
square shoulders. No! I felt sure that he was the man. But if so, what
was he doing here under our windows? One thing was quite apparent; if he
recognized me, he did not give me evidence of the fact. He played and
looked up at us without the slightest sign of recognition. To all
intents and purposes he was the picture of indifference. While they were
performing I recalled the scene of the previous night, and wondered what
had become of the police officer, and what the man below me had thought
of the curious trick Nikola had performed? It was only when they had
finished their entertainment and, having received our reward, were about
to move away that I received any information to the effect that the man
had recognized me.

"Illustrious Senora, Senorita, and Senors, I thank you," he said,
politely lifting his hat as he spoke. "Our performance has been
successful, and the obstacle which threatened it at one time has been
removed."

The gondola then passed on, and I turned to the Duke as if for an
explanation.

"At first the hall-porter was not inclined to let them sing here," the
Duke remarked, "but Miss Trevor wanted to hear them, so I sent word down
that I wished them to remain."

In spite of the explanation I understood to what the man had referred,
but for the life of me I could not arrive at his reason for visiting our
hotel that day. I argued that it might have been all a matter of chance,
but I soon put that idea aside as absurd. The coincidence was too
remarkable.

At lunch my wife announced that she had heard that morning that Lady
Beltringham, the wife of our neighbour in the Forest, was in Venice, and
staying at a certain hotel further along the Grand Canal.

"Gertrude and I are going to call upon her this afternoon," she said,
"so that you two gentlemen must amuse yourselves as best you can without
us."

"That is very easily done," I answered; "the Duke is going to have his
hair cut, and I am going to witness the atrocity. You may expect to see
him return not unlike that man with the guitar in the boat this
morning."

"By the way," said Glenbarth, "that reminds me that I was going to point
out a curious thing to you concerning that man. Did you notice, Miss
Trevor, that when we were alone together in the balcony he did not once
touch his instrument, but directly Hatteras and Lady Hatteras arrived,
he jumped up and began to play?"

This confirmed my suspicions. I had quite come to the conclusion by this
time that the man had only made his appearance before the hotel in order
to be certain of my address. Yet, I had to ask myself, if he were in
Nikola's employ, why should he have been anxious to do so?

An hour later the ladies departed on their polite errand, and the Duke
and I were left together. He was not what I should call a good
companion. He was in an irritable mood, and nothing I could do or say
seemed to comfort him. I knew very well what was the matter, and when
we had exhausted English politics, the rise and fall of Venice, Ruskin,
and the advantages of foreign travel, I mentioned incidentally the name
of Miss Trevor. The frown vanished from his face, and he answered like a
coherent mortal.

"Look here, Hatteras," he said, with a fine burst of confidence, "you
and I have been friends for a good many years, and I think we know each
other about as well as two men can do."

"That is so," I answered, wondering what he was driving at; "we have
been through some strange adventures together, and should certainly know
each other. I hope that you are not going to propose that we should
depart on some harum-scarum expedition like that you wanted me to join
you in last year, to the Pamirs, was it not? If so, I can tell you once
and for all that my lady won't hear of it."

"Confound the Pamirs!" he replied angrily. "Is it likely that I should
think of going there just now? You misunderstand my meaning entirely.
What I want is a sympathetic friend, who can enter into my troubles, and
if possible help me out of them."

For the life of me I could not forbear from teasing him for a little
longer.

"My dear old fellow," I said, "you know that I will do anything I
possibly can to help you. Take my advice and get rid of the man at once.
As I told you in my letter to you before you left England, it is only
misplaced kindness to keep him on. You know very well that he has been
unfaithful to you for some years past. Then why allow him to continue in
his wrong-doing? The smash will come sooner or later."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I suppose your trouble is connected with the agent you were
telling me of yesterday. The man who, it was discovered, had been
cooking the accounts, selling your game, pocketing the proceeds, and
generally feathering his own nest at your expense."

An ominous frown gathered upon my friend's forehead.

"Upon my word," he said, "I really believe you are taking leave of your
senses. Do you think I am bothering myself at such a time about that
wretched Mitchell? Let him sell every beast upon the farms, every head
of game, and, in point of fact, let him swindle me as he likes, and I
wouldn't give a second thought to him."

"I am very sorry," I answered penitently, rolling the leaf of my cigar.
"Then it was the yacht you were thinking about? You have had what I
consider a very good offer for her. Let her go! You are rich enough to
be able to build another, and the work will amuse you. You want
employment of some sort."

"I am not thinking of the yacht either," he growled. "You know that as
well as I do."

"How should I know it?" I answered. "I am not able to tell what is in
your mind. I do not happen to be like Nikola."

"You are singularly obtuse to-day," he asserted, throwing what remained
of his cigar into the Canal and taking another from his case.

"Look here," I said, "you're pitching into me because I can't appreciate
your position. Now how am I likely to be able to do so, considering that
you've told me nothing about it? Before we left London you informed me
that the place you had purchased in Warwickshire was going to prove your
chief worry in life. I said, 'sell it again.' Then you found that your
agent in Yorkshire was not what he might be. I advised you to get rid of
him. You would not do so because of his family. Then you confessed in a
most lugubrious fashion that your yacht was practically becoming
unseaworthy by reason of her age. I suggested that you should sell her
to Deeside, who likes her, or part with her for a junk. You vowed you
would not do so because she was a favourite. Now you are unhappy, and I
naturally suppose that it must be one of those things which is causing
you uneasiness. You scout the idea. What, therefore, am I to believe?
Upon my word, my friend, if I did not remember that you have always
declared your abhorrence of the Sex, I should begin to think you must be
in love."

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I pretended not to notice
it, however, and still rolled the leaf of my cigar.

"Would it be such a very mad thing if I did fall in love?" he asked at
last. "My father did so before me, and I believe my grandfather did
also. You, yourself, committed the same indiscretion."

"And you have seen the miserable result?"

"I have observed one of the happiest couples in the world," he replied.
"But, joking apart, Hatteras, I want to talk the matter over with you
seriously. I don't mind telling you at once, as between friend and
friend, that I want to marry Miss Trevor."

I endeavoured to look surprised, but I fear the attempt was a failure.

"May I remind you," I said, "that you have known her barely a week? I
don't want to discourage you, but is not your affection of rather quick
growth?"

"It is, but it does not mean that I am any the less sincere. I tell you
candidly, Dick, I have never seen such a girl in my life. She would make
any man happy."

"Very likely, but would any man make her happy?"

His face fell, and he shifted uneasily in his chair.

"Confound you," he said, "you put everything in a new light. Why should
I not be able to make her happy? There are lots of women who would give
their lives to be a Duchess!"

"I admit that," I answered. "I don't fancy, however, your rank will make
much difference with Miss Trevor. When a woman is a lady, and in love,
she doesn't mind very much whether the object of her affections is a
Duke or a chimney-sweep. Don't make the mistake of believing that a
Dukedom counts for everything where the heart is concerned. We outsiders
should have no chance at all if that were the case."

"But, Hatteras," he said, "I didn't mean that. I'm not such a cad as to
imagine that Miss Trevor would marry me simply because I happen to have
a handle to my name. I want to put the matter plainly before you. I have
told you that I love her, do you think there is any chance of her taking
a liking to me?"

"Now that you have told me what is in your mind," I answered, "I can
safely state my opinion. Mind you, I know nothing about the young lady's
ideas, but if I were a young woman, and an exceedingly presentable
young man--you may thank me for the compliment afterwards--were to lay
his heart at my feet, especially when that heart is served up on
strawberry leaves and five-pound notes, I fancy I should be inclined to
think twice before I discouraged his advances. Whether Miss Trevor will
do so, however, is quite another matter."

"Then you are not able to give me any encouragement?"

"I will wish you God-speed upon your enterprise," I said, "if that is
any satisfaction to you. I cannot do more."

As I said it I held out my hand, which he took and shook.

"God bless you, old man," he said, "you don't know what all this means
to me. I've suffered agonies these last two days. I believe I should go
mad if it continued. Yesterday she was kindness itself. To-day she will
scarcely speak to me. I believe Lady Hatteras takes my side?"

I was not to be caught napping.

"You must remember that Lady Hatteras herself is an impressionable young
woman," I answered. "She likes you and believes in you, and because she
does she thinks her friend ought to do so also. Now look here, your
Grace----"

"You needn't put on any side of that kind," he answered reproachfully.

"I believe I am talking to the Duke of Glenbarth," I returned.

"You are talking to your old friend, the man who went round the world
with you, if that's what you mean," he answered. "What is it you have to
say?"

"I want you to plainly understand that Miss Trevor is my guest. I want
you also to try to realize, however difficult it may be, that you have
only known her a very short time. She is a particularly nice girl, as
you yourself have admitted. It would be scarcely fair, therefore, if I
were to permit you to give her the impression that you were in love with
her until you have really made up your mind. Think it well over. Take
another week, or shall we say a fortnight? A month would be better
still."

He groaned in despair.

"You might as well say a year while you are about it. What is the use of
my waiting even a week when I know my own mind already?"

"Because you must give your affection time to set. Take a week. If at
the end of that time you are still as much in earnest as you are now,
well, the matter will be worth thinking about. You can then speak to the
young lady or not, as you please. On the other hand, should your
opinion have changed, then I have been your only confidant, and no harm
has been done. If she accepts you, I can honestly say that no one will
be more delighted than myself. If not, you must look elsewhere, and then
she must marry the man she likes better. Do you agree?"

"As I can't help myself I suppose I must," he answered. "But my position
during the next week is not likely to be a very cheerful one."

"I don't at all see why," I replied. "Lots of others have been compelled
to do their courting under harder auspices. Myself for instance. Here
you are staying in the same house as the object of your affections. You
meet her almost every hour of the day; you have innumerable
opportunities of paying your court to her, and yet with all these
advantages you abuse your lot."

"I know I am an ungrateful beast," he said. "But, by Jove, Dick, when
one is as much in love as I am, and with the most adorable woman in the
world, and matters don't seem to go right, one ought to be excused if
one feels inclined to quarrel with somebody."

"Quarrel away with all your heart," I answered. "And now I am going down
with you to the hairdresser. After that we'll go to the piazza."

"I suppose I must," he said, rising from his chair with a fine air of
resignation. "Though what fun you can discover in that crowd I cannot
for the life of me imagine."

I did not remind him that on the previous afternoon he had declared it
to be the most amusing sight in Europe. That would have been an unfair
advantage to have taken, particularly as I had punished him enough
already. We accordingly procured our hats and sticks, and having secured
a gondola, set off. It was a lovely afternoon, and the Grand Canal was
crowded. As we passed the entrance to the Rio del Consiglio, I stole a
glance at the Palace Revecce. No gondola was at the door, so whether
Nikola was at home or abroad I could not say. When Glenbarth had been
operated upon we proceeded to the piazza of Saint Mark, which we reached
somewhat before the usual afternoon promenade. The band had not
commenced to play, and the idlers were few in number. Having engaged two
chairs at one of the tables we sat down and ordered coffee. The duke was
plainly ill at ease. He fretted and fidgeted continually. His eyes
scarcely wandered from the steps of the lagoon, and every gondola that
drew up received his scrutinizing attention. When at last two ladies
disembarked and made their way across the stones towards Florian's
_café_, where we were seated, I thought he would have made an
exhibition of himself.

Lady Beltringham, it would appear, had arrived, but was so fatigued by
her long journey that she was unable to receive visitors.

"We returned almost immediately to the hotel," said my wife
reproachfully. "We thought you would have waited for us there."

Glenbarth looked at me as if nothing I could ever do would make up for
the enormity of my offence. He then described to Miss Trevor some
wonderful photographs he had discovered that morning in a certain shop
on the other side of the piazza. She questioned him concerning them, and
I suggested that they should go off and overhaul them. This they did,
and when they had departed my wife produced some letters for me she had
taken from the rack at the hotel. I looked at the writing upon the
envelope of the first, but for a moment could not recall where or when I
had seen it before. Then I opened it and withdrew the contents.

"Why, it's from George Anstruther," I exclaimed when I had examined the
signature. "He is in Algiers."

"But what is the letter about?" my wife inquired. "You have not heard
from him for so long."

"I'll read it," I said, and began as follows--

     "MY DEAR HATTERAS,

     "Here I am in the most charming place on the whole Mediterranean,
     and I ought to know, for I've seen and loathed all the others. My
     villa overlooks the sea, and my yacht rides at anchor in the bay.
     There are many nice people here, and not the least pleasant is my
     very good friend, Don Josè de Martinos, who is leaving to-day for
     his first visit to Venice, _viâ_ Nice, and I understand from him
     that he is to stay at your hotel. He is a delightful creature; has
     seen much of the world, and if you will admit him to the circle of
     your acquaintance, I don't think you will regret it. I need not
     bore either myself or you by repeating the hackneyed phrase to the
     effect that any civility you show him will be considered a kindness
     to myself, etc., etc. Remember me most kindly to Lady Hatteras, and

     "Believe me to be,

     "Ever sincerely yours,

     "GEORGE ANSTRUTHER."


My wife uttered a little cry of vexation.

"Pleasant though he may prove, I cannot help saying that I am sorry Don
Josè Martinos is coming," she said. "Our little party of four was so
happily arranged, and who knows but that a fifth may upset its peace
altogether?"

"But he is Anstruther's friend," I said in expostulation. "One must be
civil to one's friends' friends."

"I do not at all see why," she answered. "Because we like Mr. Anstruther
it does not follow that we shall like his friend."

At that moment the young couple were to be observed crossing the piazza
in our direction. Glenbarth carried a parcel under his arm.

"I don't think there is much doubt about that affair," said my wife, as
she regarded them approvingly.

"Don't be too sure," I answered. "There is many a slip 'twixt the cup
and the lip, and there is another old saying to the effect that those
who live longest see most."

One is sometimes oracular even in jest.



CHAPTER VI


On the following day, having sent my servant to inquire, I was informed
that the Don Josè de Martinos had arrived at the hotel, and had engaged
rooms on the floor above our own. Accordingly, after luncheon I ascended
to the rooms in question, and asked whether he would receive me. I had
scarcely waited more than a minute before he made his appearance. He
paused on the threshold to give an order to his man, and while he did
so, I was permitted an opportunity of taking stock of him. He was a
tall, muscular man of between thirty-five and forty years of age. His
appearance did not betray so much of his Spanish origin as I had
expected. Indeed, it would have been difficult to have given him a
nationality. I noticed that his beard, which he wore closely clipped,
was not innocent of the touch of Time. His face was a powerful one, but
at first glance I was not altogether prepossessed in its favour. His
hands and feet were small, the former particularly so for a man of his
size and build. Moreover, he was faultlessly dressed, and carried
himself with the air of a man of the world and of good breeding.

"Sir Richard Hatteras," he said, as he crossed the room to greet me,
"this is kind of you indeed. My friend, Anstruther, informed me that you
were in Venice, and was good enough to take upon himself the
responsibility of introducing me to you."

His voice was strong and musical, and he pronounced every word (he spoke
excellent English) as if it had a value of its own. I inquired after
Anstruther's health, which for some time past had been precarious, and
it was with satisfaction that I learnt of the improvement that had taken
place in it.

"You would scarcely know him now," said Martinos. "He looks quite strong
again. But permit me to offer you a cigar. We Spaniards say that we
cannot talk unless we smoke; you English that you cannot smoke if you
talk."

As he said this he handed me a box of cigars.

"I fancy you will like them," he said. "The tobacco was grown upon my
own estate in Cuba; for that reason I can guarantee their purity."

The weed I selected was excellent, in fact one of the best cigars
I had ever smoked. While he was lighting his I stole another
glance at him. Decidedly he was a handsome man, but--here was the
stumbling-block--there was something, I cannot say what, about him that
I did not altogether like. It was not a crafty face, far from it. The
eyes were well placed; the mouth from what one could see of it under his
black moustache was well moulded, with white, even teeth; the nose was
slightly aquiline; and the chin large, firm, and square. Nevertheless,
there was something about it that did not suit my fancy. Once I told
myself it was a cruel face, yet the singularly winning smile that
followed a remark of mine a moment later went some way towards
disabusing my mind upon that point.

"Lady Hatteras, I understood from Senor Anstruther, is with you," he
said, after we had talked of other things.

"She is down-stairs at this moment," I answered. "We are a party of
four--Miss Trevor (the daughter of the Dean of Bedminster), the Duke of
Glenbarth, my wife, and myself. I hope you will permit me the pleasure
of introducing you to them at an early date."

"I shall be most happy," he replied. "I am particularly fond of Venice,
but, when all is said and done, one must have companions to enjoy it
thoroughly."

I had been given to understand that this was his first visit to the
Queen of the Adriatic, but I did not comment upon the fact.

"One is inclined to believe that Adam would have enjoyed the Garden of
Eden if it had not been for Eve," I remarked, with a smile.

"Poor Adam," he answered, "I have always thought him a much-abused man.
Unlike ourselves, he was without experience; he had a companion forced
upon him who worked his ruin, and his loss on the transaction was not
only physical but financial."

"How long do you contemplate remaining in Venice?" I asked, after the
little pause that followed his last speech.

"I scarcely know," he answered. "My movements are most erratic. I am
that most unfortunate of God's creatures, a wanderer on the face of the
earth. I have no relations and few friends. I roam about as the fancy
takes me, remain in a place as long as it pleases me, and then, like the
Arab in the poem, silently take up my tent and move on as soon as the
city I happen to be in at the time has lost its charm. I possess a
_pied-à-terre_ of four rooms in Cairo, I have lived amongst the Khabyles
in the desert, and with the Armenians in the mountains. To sum it up, I
have the instincts of the Wandering Jew, and fortunately the means of
gratifying them."

What it was I cannot say, but there was something in his speech that
grated upon my feelings. Whether what he had said were true or not, I am
not in a position to affirm, but the impression I received was that he
was talking for effect, and every one will know what that means.

"As you are such a globe-trotter," I said, "I suppose there is scarcely
a portion of the world that you have not visited?"

"I have perhaps had more than my share of travelling," he answered. "I
think I can safely say that, with the exception of South America, I have
visited every portion of the known globe."

"You have never been in South America then?" I asked in some surprise.

"Never," he replied, and immediately changed the conversation by
inquiring whether I had met certain of Anstruther's friends who were
supposed to be on their way to Venice. A few minutes later, after having
given him an invitation to dinner on the next evening, I bade him
good-bye and left him. On my return my wife was eager to question me
concerning him, but as things stood I did not feel capable of giving her
a detailed reply. There are some acquaintances who, one feels, will
prove friends from the outset; there are others who fill one from the
first with a vague distrust. Not that I altogether distrusted Martinos,
I had not seen enough of him to do that; at the same time, however, I
could not conscientiously say, as I have already observed, that I was
altogether prepossessed in his favour.

The following morning he accepted my invitation for that evening, and
punctually at half-past seven he made his appearance in the
drawing-room. I introduced him to my wife, and also to Miss Trevor when
she joined us.

"My husband tells me that you are a great traveller," said Phyllis,
after they had seated themselves. "He says you know the world as we know
London."

"Your husband does me too much honour," he answered modestly. "From what
I have heard of you, you must know the world almost as well as I do. My
friend, Anstruther, has told me a romantic story about you. Something
connected with a South Sea island, and a mysterious personage named----"

He paused for a moment as if to remember the name.

"Nikola," I said; "you do not happen to have met him, I suppose?"

"To my knowledge, never," he answered. "It is a strange surname."

At that moment Glenbarth entered the room, and I introduced the two men
to each other. For some reason of my own I was quite prepared to find
that the Duke would not take a fancy to our new acquaintance, nor was I
destined to be disappointed. Before dinner was half over I could see
that he had a great difficulty in being civil to the stranger. Had
Martinos not been our guest, I doubt very much whether he would have
been able to control himself. And yet the Spaniard laid himself out in
every way to please. His attentions were paid chiefly to my wife, I do
not believe that he addressed Miss Trevor more than a dozen times
throughout the meal. Notwithstanding this fact, Glenbarth regarded him
with evident animosity, insomuch that Miss Trevor more than once looked
at him with an expression of positive alarm upon her face. She had not
seen him in this humour before, and though she may have had her
suspicions as to the reason of it, it was plain that she was far from
approving of his line of action. When the ladies withdrew, and the wine
was being circulated, I endeavoured to draw the two men into greater
harmony with each other. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful. More
than once Glenbarth said things which bordered on rudeness, until I
began to feel angry with him. On one occasion, happening to look up
suddenly from the cigar which I was cutting, I detected a look upon the
Spaniard's face that startled me. It however showed me one thing, and
that was the fact that despite his genial behaviour, Martinos had not
been blind to the young man's treatment of himself, and also that,
should a time ever arrive when he would have a chance of doing Glenbarth
a mischief, he would not be forgetful of the debt he owed him. Matters
were not much better when we adjourned to the drawing-room. Glenbarth,
according to custom, seated himself beside Miss Trevor, and studiously
ignored the Spaniard. I was more sorry for this than I could say. It was
the behaviour of a school-boy, not that of a man of the world; and the
worst part of it was, that it was doing Glenbarth no sort of good in the
eyes of the person with whom he wished to stand best. The truth was the
poor lad was far from being himself. He was suffering from an acute
attack of a disease which has not yet received the proper attention of
Science--the disease of first love. So overwhelmed was he by his
passion, that he could not bear any stranger even to look upon the
object of his adoration. Later in the evening matters reached their
climax, when my wife asked the Don to sing.

"I feel sure that you _do_ sing," she said in that artless way which
women often affect.

"I try sometimes to amuse my friends," said he, and begging us to excuse
him he retired to his own rooms, to presently return with a large
Spanish guitar. Having taken a seat near the window, and when he had
swept his fingers over the strings in a few preliminary chords, he
commenced to sing. He was the possessor of a rich baritone, which he
used with excellent effect. My wife was delighted, and asked him to sing
again. Miss Trevor also expressed her delight, and seconded my wife's
proposal. This was altogether too much for Glenbarth. Muttering
something about a severe headache he hurriedly left the room. My wife
and I exchanged glances, but Martinos and Miss Trevor did not appear to
notice his absence. This time he sang a Spanish fishing-song, but I did
not pay much attention to it. A little later the Don, having thanked us
for our hospitality, took his departure, and when Miss Trevor had said
good-night to us, and had retired to her own room, my wife and I were
left alone together.

"What could have made the Duke behave like that?" she said.

"He is madly in love, my dear, and also madly jealous," I answered. "I
hope and trust, however, that he is not going to repeat this
performance."

"If he does he will imperil any chance he has of winning Gertrude's
love," she replied. "He will also place us in a decidedly awkward
position."

"Let this be a lesson to you, my dear, never to play with fire again," I
replied. "You bring two inflammable people together, and wonder that
there should be an explosion."

"Well, I'm really very angry with him. I don't know what the Don Josè
must have thought."

"Probably he thought nothing about it," I replied. "You mustn't be too
angry with Glenbarth, however. Leave him to me, and I'll talk to him.
To-morrow, I promise you, he'll be sorry for himself. If I know anything
of women, Gertrude will make him wish he had acted differently."

"I don't think she will bother about the matter. She has too much
sense."

"Very well; we shall see."

I then bade her go to bed, promising myself to sit up for Glenbarth,
who, I discovered, had gone out. It was nearly midnight when he
returned. I noticed that every trace of ill-humour had vanished from his
face, and that he was quite himself once more.

"My dear Dick," he said, "I don't know how to apologize for my
ridiculous and rude behaviour of to-night. I am more ashamed of myself
than I can say. I behaved like a child."

Because he happened to be in a repentant mood I was not going to let him
off the chastising I felt that I ought to give him.

"A nice sort of young fellow you are, upon my word," I said, putting
down the paper I had been reading as I spoke. "I've a very good mind to
tell you exactly what I think of you."

"It would be only wasting your time," he returned. "For you can't think
half as badly of me as I do of myself. I can't imagine what made me do
it."

"Can't you?" I said. "Well, I can, and as you are pretty certain to
catch it in one particular quarter to-morrow, I fancy, on mature
reflection, that I can afford to forgive you. The man had done you no
harm; he not only did not interfere with you, but he was not trespassing
upon your----"

"Don't speak of him," said the young fellow, flaring up at once. "If I
think of him I shall get angry again. I can't bear the look of the
beggar."

"Steady, my young friend, steady," I returned. "You mustn't call other
people's friends by that name."

"He is not your friend," said Glenbarth excitedly. "You've never seen
him until to-night, and you've known me ever since I was about so
high."

"I began to imagine you only 'so high' this evening," I said. "It's a
good thing for you that the wife has gone to bed, or I fancy you would
have heard something that would have made your ears tingle. After the
foolish manner of women, she has come to the conclusion that she would
like you to marry Miss Trevor."

"God bless her!" he said fervently. "I knew that she was my friend."

"In that case you would probably have enjoyed a friend's privilege, had
you been here to-night before she retired, and have received a
dressing-down that is usually reserved for her husband. I live in hopes
that you may get it to-morrow."

"Bosh!" he answered. "And now, if you have forgiven me, I think I will
go to bed. I've had enough of myself for one day."

With that we shook hands, and bade each other good-night. At his bedroom
door he stopped me.

"Do you think she will forgive me?" he asked, as humbly as would a boy
who had been caught stealing sugar-plums.

"My wife," I answered. "Yes, I think it is very probable that she will."

"No, no; how dense you are; I mean----" Here he nodded his head in the
direction of the room occupied by Miss Trevor.

"You'll have to find out that for yourself," I replied, and then went
on to my dressing-room.

"That will give your Grace something to think about all night," I said,
as I took off my coat.

As it turned out, I was destined to be fairly accurate in the prophecy I
had made concerning Miss Trevor's treatment of Glenbarth on the morrow.
At breakfast she did not altogether ignore him, but when I say that she
devoted the larger share of her attention to myself, those of my readers
who are married, and have probably had the same experience, will
understand. My wife, on the other hand, was affability itself, and from
her behaviour toward him appeared to be quite willing to forgive and
forget the unfortunate episode of the previous evening. I chuckled to
myself, but said nothing. He was not at the end of his punishment yet.

All that day we saw nothing of Martinos. Whether he remained at home or
went abroad we could not say. On returning to the hotel to lunch,
however, we discovered a basket of roses in the drawing-room, with the
Don's card tied to the handle.

"Oh, what lovely flowers!" cried my wife in an ecstasy. "Look, Gertrude,
are they not beautiful?"

Miss Trevor cordially admired them; and in order, I suppose, that
Glenbarth's punishment might be the more complete, begged for a bud to
wear herself. One was given her, while I watched Glenbarth's face over
the top of the letter I was reading at the moment. My heart was touched
by his miserable face, and when he and my wife had left the room to
prepare for lunch, I determined to put in a good word for him.

"Miss Gertrude," I said, "as an old friend I have a favour to ask of
you. Do you think you can grant it?"

"You must first tell me what it is," she said, with a smile upon her
face. "I know from experience that you are not to be trusted."

"A nice sort of character for a family man," I protested. "Lady Hatteras
has been telling tales, I can see."

"Your wife would never tell a tale of any one, particularly of you," she
asserted. "But what would you ask of me?"

"Only a plea for human happiness," I said with mock gravity. "I have
seen absolute despair written indelibly on a certain human countenance
to-day, and the sight has troubled me ever since. Are you aware that
there is a poor young man in this hotel, whose face opens like a daisy
to the sun when you smile upon him, and closes in the darkness of your
neglect?"

"How absurd you are!"

"Why am I absurd?"

"Because you talk in this fashion."

"Will you smile upon him again? He has suffered a great deal these last
two days."

"Really you are too ridiculous. I don't know what you mean."

"That is not the truth, Miss Trevor, and you know it."

"But what have I done wrong?"

"That business with the rose just now, for instance, was cruel, to say
the least of it."

"Really, Sir Richard, you _do_ say such foolish things. If I want a rose
to wear surely I may have one. But I must not stay talking to you, it's
five-and-twenty minutes past one. I must go and get ready for lunch."

I held open the door for her, and as she passed I said--

"You will do what I ask? Just to please me?"

"I don't know what you mean, but I will think it over," she replied, and
then departed to her room.

She must have done as she promised, for the rose was absent from her
dress when she sat down to lunch. Glenbarth noticed it, and from that
moment his drooping spirits revived.

That afternoon my wife and I went down to meet the P. and O. mail-boat,
in order to discover some friends who were on their way to Egypt. As
neither the Duke of Glenbarth nor Miss Trevor were acquainted with them
they were excused from attendance. When we joined them it was plain that
all traces of trouble had been removed, and in consequence the Duke was
basking in the seventh heaven of happiness. Had I asked the young man at
that moment for half his estates I believe he would willingly have given
them to me. He would have done so even more willingly had he known that
it was to my agency that he owed the wondrous change in his affairs. For
some reason of her own Miss Trevor was also in the best of spirits. My
wife was happy because her turtle-doves were happy, and I beamed upon
them all with the complacency of the God out of the machine.

All this time I had been wondering as to the reason why we had not heard
or seen anything of Nikola. Why I should have expected to do so I cannot
say, but after the events of three evenings ago, I had entertained a
vague hope that I should have seen him, or that he would have
communicated with me in some form or another. We were to see him,
however, before very long.

We had arranged to visit the Academy on our return from the mail-boat,
where my wife was anxious to renew her acquaintance with the Titans.
For my own part I am prepared to admit that my knowledge of the pictures
is not sufficiently cultivated to enable me to derive any pleasure from
the constant perusal of these Masters. Phyllis and Miss Trevor, however,
managed to discover a source of considerable satisfaction in them. When
we left the gallery, we made our way, according to custom, in the
direction of the piazza of Saint Mark. We had not advanced very far upon
our walk, however, before I chanced to turn round, to discover, striding
after us, no less a person than our new acquaintance, Don Josè Martinos.
He bowed to the ladies, shook hands with myself, and nodded to the Duke.

"If you are proceeding in the direction of the piazza, will you permit
me to accompany you?" he asked, and that permission having been given by
my wife, we continued our walk. What Glenbarth thought of it I do not
know, but as he had Miss Trevor to himself, I do not see that he had
anything to complain of. On reaching Florian's _café_, we took our
customary seats, the Don placing himself next to my wife, and laying
himself out to be agreeable. Once he addressed Glenbarth, and I was
astonished to see the conciliatory manner that the other adopted towards
him.

"Now that he sees that he has nothing to fear, perhaps he will not be
so jealous," I said to myself, and indeed it appeared as if this were
likely to be the case. I was more relieved by this discovery than I
could say. As we should probably be some time in Venice, and the Don had
arrived with the same intention, and we were to be located in the same
hotel, it was of the utmost importance to our mutual comforts that there
should be no friction between the two men. But enough of this subject
for the present. There are other matters to be considered. In the first
place I must put on record a curious circumstance. In the light of after
events it bears a strange significance, and he would be a courageous man
who would dare to say that he could explain it.

It must be borne in mind, in order that the importance of what I am now
about to describe may be plainly understood, that Miss Trevor was seated
facing me, that is to say, with her back towards the Cathedral of St.
Mark. She was in the best of spirits, and at the moment was engaged in
an animated discussion with my wife on the effect of Ancient Art upon
her _bête noir_, the Cockney tourist. Suddenly, without any apparent
reason, her face grew deathly pale, and she came to a sudden stop in the
middle of a sentence. Fortunately no one noticed it but my wife and
myself, and as she was herself again in a moment, we neither of us
called attention to it. A moment later I glanced across the square, and
to my amazement saw no less a person than Doctor Nikola approaching us.
Was it possible that Miss Trevor, in some extraordinary manner, had
become aware of his proximity to her, or was it only one of those
strange coincidences that are so difficult to explain away? I did not
know what to think then, nor, as a matter of fact, do I now.

Reaching our party, Nikola raised his hat to the ladies.

"I fear, Lady Hatteras," he said, "that I must have incurred your
displeasure for keeping your husband so long away from you the other
night. If so, I hope you will forgive me."

"I will endeavour to do so," said my wife with a smile, "but you must be
very careful how you offend again."

Then turning to Miss Trevor, he said, "I hope you will grant me your
gracious intercession, Miss Trevor?"

"I will do my best for you," she answered, with a seriousness that made
my wife and I look at her.

Then Nikola shook hands with Glenbarth, and glanced at the Don.

"Permit me to introduce you to Don Josè de Martinos, Doctor Nikola," I
said; "he has lately arrived from Algiers."

The two men bowed gravely to each other.

"You are fond of travelling, I presume, Senor," said Nikola, fixing his
eyes upon the Don.

"I have seen a considerable portion of the world," the other answered.
"I have seen the Midnight Sun at Cape North and the drift ice off the
Horn."

"And have not found it all barren," Nikola remarked gravely.

From that moment the conversation flowed smoothly. Miss Trevor had quite
recovered herself, and I could see that the Don was intensely interested
in Nikola. And indeed on this particular occasion the latter exerted
himself to the utmost to please. I will admit, however, that something
not unlike a shudder passed over me as I contrasted his present
affability with his manner when he had threatened the unfortunate Police
Agent a few nights before. Now he was a suave, pleasant-mannered man of
the world, then he figured almost as an avenging angel; now he discussed
modern literature, then I had heard him threaten a human being with the
direst penalties that it was possible for man to inflict. When it was
time for us to return to our hotel, Nikola rose and bade us good-bye.

"I hope you will permit me the pleasure of seeing more of you while you
are in Venice," said Nikola, addressing the Don. "If you are an admirer
of the old palaces of this wonderful city, and our friends will
accompany you, I shall be delighted to show you my own poor abode. It
possesses points of interest that many of the other palaces lack, and,
though it has fallen somewhat to decay, I fancy you will admit that the
fact does not altogether detract from its interest."

"I shall hasten to avail myself of the opportunity you are kind enough
to offer me," the other replied, after which they bowed ceremoniously to
each other and parted.

"Your friend is an extraordinary man," said the Don as we walked towards
the steps. "I have never met a more interesting person. Does he
altogether reside in Venice?"

"Oh dear, no," I replied. "If one were asked to say where Nikola had his
abode it would be almost necessary to say 'in the world.' I myself met
him first in London, afterwards in Egypt, then in Australia, and later
on in the South Sea Islands. Now we are together again in Venice. I have
good reason for knowing that he is also familiar with China and Thibet.
He himself confesses to a knowledge of Africa and Central America."

"To Central America?" said the Don quickly. "Pray what part of Central
America does he know?"

"That I am unable to say," I replied. "I have never questioned him upon
the subject."

From that moment the Don almost exclusively addressed himself to my
wife, and did not refer to Nikola again. We parted in the hall of the
hotel. Next morning we saw him for a few moments at the post-office, but
at no other time during the day. On the following day he accompanied us
on an excursion to Chioggia, and dined with us afterwards. Though I knew
that Glenbarth still disliked him, his hostility was so veiled as to be
scarcely noticeable. Towards the end of the evening a note was brought
to me. One glance at the handwriting upon the envelope was sufficient to
show me that it was from Nikola. It ran as follows--

     "MY DEAR HATTERAS,

     "Remembering your friend Don Martinos' desire to see my poor
     palace, I have written to ask him if he will dine with me to-morrow
     evening at eight o'clock. If I can persuade you and the Duke of
     Glenbarth to give me the pleasure of your society, I need scarcely
     say that you will be adding to my delight.

     "Sincerely yours,

     "NIKOLA."


"You have not of course received your letter yet," I said, addressing
the Don. "What do you say to the invitation?"

"I shall accept it only too willingly," he answered without delay.
"Provided, of course, you will go too."

"Have you any objection to raise, Duke?" I asked, addressing Glenbarth.

I could see that he was not very anxious to go, but under the
circumstances he could not very well refuse.

"I shall be very happy," he answered.

And for once in his life he deliberately said what he knew to be
untrue.



CHAPTER VII


"You surely are not going to dine with Doctor Nikola in that strange
house?" said my wife, when we were alone together that night. "After
what the Duke has told us, I wonder that you can be so foolish."

"My dear girl," I answered, "I don't see the force of your argument. I
shan't be the first who has eaten a meal in the house in question, and I
don't suppose I shall be the last. What do you think will happen to me?
Do you think that we have returned to the times of the Borgias, and that
Nikola will poison us? No, I am looking forward to a very enjoyable and
instructive evening."

"While we are sitting at home, wondering if the table is disappearing
bodily into the vaults and taking you with it, or whether Nikola is
charging the side-dishes with some of his abominable chemistry, by which
you will be put to sleep for three months, or otherwise experimenting
upon you in the interests of what he calls Science. I don't think it is
at all kind of you to go."

"Dear girl," I answered, "are you not a little unreasonable? Knowing
that de Martinos has but lately arrived in Venice, also that he is a
friend of ours--for did he not meet him when in our company?--it is only
natural that Nikola should desire to show him some courtesy. In spite of
its decay, the Palace Revecce is an exceedingly beautiful building, and
when he heard that Martinos would like to visit it, he invited him to
dinner. What could be more natural? This is the nineteenth century!"

"I am sure I don't mind what century it is," she replied. "Still I
adhere to what I said just now. I am sorry you are going."

"In that case I am sorry also," I answered, "but as the matter stands I
fail to see how I can get out of it. I could not let the Duke and
Martinos go alone, so what can I do?"

"I suppose you will have to go," she replied ruefully. "I have a
presentiment, however, that trouble will result from it."

With that the subject was dropped, and it was not until the following
morning, when I was smoking with Glenbarth after breakfast, that it
cropped up again.

"Look here, Dick," said my companion then. "What about this dinner at
Nikola's house to-night? You seemed to be very keen on going last
night; are you of the same mind this morning?"

"Why not?" I answered. "My wife does not like the notion, but I am
looking forward to seeing Nikola play the host. The last time I dined
with him, you must remember, was in Port Said, and then the banquet
could scarcely be described as a pleasant one. What is more, I am
anxious to see what effect Nikola and his house will produce upon our
friend the Don."

"I wish he'd get rid of him altogether," my companion replied. "I
dislike the fellow more and more every time I see him."

"Why should you? He does you no harm!"

"It's not that," said Glenbarth. "My dislike to him is instinctive; just
as one shudders when one looks into the face of a snake, or as one is
repelled by a toad or a rat. In spite of his present apparent
respectability, I should not be at all surprised to hear that at some
period of his career he had committed murders innumerable."

"Nonsense, nonsense," I replied, "you must not imagine such things as
that. You were jealous when you first saw him, because you thought he
was going to come between you and Miss Trevor. You have never been able
to overcome the feeling, and this continued dislike is the result. You
must fight against it. Doubtless, when you have seen more of him, you
will like him better."

"I shall never like him better than I do now," he answered, with
conviction. "As they say in the plays, 'my gorge rises at him!' If you
saw him in the light I do, you would not let Lady Hatteras----"

"My dear fellow," I began, rising from my chair and interrupting him,
"this is theatrical and very ridiculous, and I assume the right of an
old friend to tell you so. If you prefer not to go to-night, I'll make
some excuse for you, but don't, for goodness' sake, go and make things
unpleasant for us all while you're there."

"I have no desire to do so," he replied stiffly. "What is more, I am not
going to let you go alone. Write your letter and accept for us both.
Bother Nikola and Martinos as well, I wish they were both on the other
side of the world."

I thereupon wrote a note to Nikola accepting, on Glenbarth's behalf and
my own, his invitation to dinner for that evening. Then I dismissed the
matter from my mind for the time being. An hour or so later my wife came
to me with a serious face.

"I am afraid, Dick, that there is something the matter with Gertrude,"
she said. "She has gone to her room to lie down, complaining of a very
bad headache and a numbness in all her limbs. I have done what I can for
her, but if she does not get better by lunch-time, I think I shall send
for a doctor."

As, by lunch-time, she was no better, the services of an English doctor
were called in. His report to my wife was certainly a puzzling one. He
declared he could discover nothing the matter with the girl, nor
anything to account for the mysterious symptoms.

"Is she usually of an excitable disposition?" he inquired, when we
discussed the matter together in the drawing-room.

"Not in the least," I replied. "I should say she is what might be called
a very evenly-dispositioned woman."

He asked one or two other questions and then took leave of us, promising
to call again next day.

"I cannot understand it at all," said my wife when he had gone;
"Gertrude seemed so well last night. Now she lies upon her bed and
complains of this continued pain in her head and the numbness in all her
limbs. Her hands and feet are as cold as ice, and her face is as white
as a sheet of note-paper."

During the afternoon Miss Trevor determined to get up, only to be
compelled to return to bed again. Her headache had left her, but the
strange numbness still remained. She seemed incapable, so my wife
informed me, of using her limbs. The effect upon the Duke may be better
imagined than described. His face was the picture of desolation, and his
anxiety was all the greater inasmuch as he was precluded from giving
vent to it in speech. I am afraid that, at this period of his life, the
young gentleman's temper was by no means as placid as we were accustomed
to consider it. He was given to flaring up without the slightest
warning, and to looking upon himself and his own little world in a light
that was very far removed from cheerful. Realizing that we could do no
good at home, I took him out in the afternoon, and was given to
understand that I was quite without heart, because, when we had been an
hour abroad, I refused to return to the hotel.

"I wonder if there is anything that Miss Trevor would like," he said, as
we crossed the piazza of Saint Mark. "It could be sent up to her, you
know, in your name."

"You might send her some flowers," I answered. "You could then send them
from yourself."

"By Jove, that's the very thing. You do have some good ideas sometimes."

"Thank you," I said quietly. "Approbation from Sir Hubert Stanley is
praise indeed."

"Bother your silly quotations!" he retorted. "Let's get back to that
flower-shop."

We did so, and thereupon that reckless youth spent upon flowers what
would have kept me in cigars for a month. Having paid for them and given
orders that they should be sent to the Hotel Galaghetti at once, we left
the shop. When we stood outside, I had to answer all sorts of questions
as to whether I thought she would like them, whether it would not have
been better to have chosen more of one sort than another, and whether
the scent would not be too strong for a sick-room. After that he felt
doubtful whether the shopkeeper would send them in time, and felt half
inclined to return in order to impress this fact upon the man. Let it be
counted to me for righteousness that I bore with him patiently,
remembering my own feeling at a similar stage in my career. When we
reached the hotel on our return, we discovered that the patient was
somewhat better. She had had a short sleep, and it had refreshed her. My
wife was going to sit with her during the evening, and knowing this, I
felt that we might go out with clear consciences.

At a quarter to seven we retired to our rooms to dress, and at a quarter
past the hour were ready to start. When we reached the hall, we found
the Don awaiting us there. He was dressed with the greatest care, and
presented a not unhandsome figure. He shook hands cordially with me and
bowed to Glenbarth, who had made no sign of offering him his hand.
Previous to setting out, I had extorted from that young man his promise
that he would behave with courtesy towards the other during the evening.

"You can't expect me to treat the fellow as a friend," he had said in
reply, "but I will give you my word that I'll be civil to him--if that's
what you want."

And with this assurance I was perforce compelled to be content.

Having taken our places in the gondola which was waiting for us, we set
off.

"I had the pleasure of seeing Doctor Nikola this morning," said
Martinos, as we turned into the Rio del Consiglio. "He did me the honour
of calling upon me."

I gave a start of surprise on hearing this.

"Indeed," I replied. "And at what hour was that?"

"Exactly at eleven o'clock," the Don answered. "I remember the time
because I was in the act of going out, and we encountered each other in
the hall."

Now it is a singular thing, a coincidence if you like, but it was almost
on the stroke of eleven that Miss Trevor had been seized with her
mysterious illness. At a quarter past the hour she felt so poorly as to
be compelled to retire to her room. Of course there could be no
connection between the two affairs, but it was certainly a coincidence
of a nature calculated to afford me ample food for reflection. A few
moments later the gondola drew up at the steps of the Palace Revecce.
Almost at the same instant the door opened and we entered the house. The
courtyard had been lighted in preparation for our coming, and, following
the man who had admitted us, we ascended the stone staircase to the
corridor above. Though not so dismal as when I had last seen it, lighted
only by Nikola's lantern, it was still sufficiently awesome to create a
decided impression upon the Don.

"You were certainly not wrong when you described it as a lonely
building," he said, as we passed along the corridor to Nikola's room.

As he said this the door opened, and Nikola stood before us. He shook
hands with the Duke first, afterwards with the Don, and then with
myself.

"Let me offer you a hearty welcome," he began. "Pray enter."

We followed him into the room I have already described, and the door was
closed behind us. It was in this apartment that I had expected we should
dine, but I discovered that this was not to be the case. The tables
were still littered with papers, books, and scientific apparatus, just
as when I had last seen it. Glenbarth seated himself in a chair by the
window, but I noticed that his eyes wandered continually to the oriental
rug upon the floor by the fireplace. He was doubtless thinking of the
vaults below, and, as I could easily imagine, wishing himself anywhere
else than where he was. The black cat, Apollyon, which was curled up in
an arm-chair, regarded us for a few seconds with attentive eyes, as if
to make sure of our identities, and then returned to his slumbers. The
windows were open, I remember, and the moon was just rising above the
house-tops opposite. I had just gone to the casement, and was looking
down upon the still waters below, when the tapestry of the wall on the
right hand was drawn aside by the man who had admitted us to the house,
who informed Nikola in Italian that dinner was upon the table.

"In that case let us go in to it," said our host. "Perhaps your Grace
will be kind enough to lead the way."

Glenbarth did as he was requested, and we followed him, to find
ourselves in a large, handsome apartment, which had once been richly
frescoed, but was now, like the rest of the palace, sadly fallen to
decay. In the centre of the room was a small oval table, well
illuminated by a silver lamp, which diffused a soft light upon the
board, the remainder of the room being in heavy shadow. The decorations,
the napery, and the glass and silver, were, as I could see at one
glance, unique. Three men-servants awaited our coming, though where they
hailed from and how Nikola had induced them to enter the palace, I could
not understand. Nikola, as our host, occupied one end of the table;
Glenbarth, being the principal guest of the evening, was given the chair
on his left; the Don took that on the right, while I faced him at the
further end. How, or by whom, the dinner was cooked was another mystery.
Nikola had told us on the occasion of our first visit, that he possessed
no servants, and that such cooking as he required was done for him by an
old man who came in once every day. Yet the dinner he gave us on this
particular occasion was worthy of the finest _chef_ in Europe. It was
perfect in every particular. Though Nikola scarcely touched anything, he
did the honours of his table royally, and with a grace that was quite in
keeping with the situation. Had my wife and Miss Trevor been present,
they might, for all the terrors they had anticipated for us, very well
have imagined themselves in the dining-room of some old English country
mansion, waited upon by the family butler, and taken in to dinner by
the Bishop and Rural Dean. The Nikola I had seen when I had last visited
the house was as distant from our present host as if he had never
existed. When I looked at him, I could scarcely believe that he had ever
been anything else but the most delightful man of my acquaintance.

"As a great traveller, Don Josè," he said, addressing the guest on his
right hand, "you have of course dined in a great number of countries,
and I expect under a variety of startling circumstances. Now tell me,
what is your most pleasant recollection of a meal?"

"That which I managed to obtain after the fall of Valparaiso," said
Martinos. "We had been without food for two days, that is to say,
without a decent meal, when I chanced upon a house where breakfast had
been abandoned without being touched. I can see it now. Ye gods! it was
delightful. And not the less so because the old rascal we were after had
managed to make his escape."

"You were in opposition to Balmaceda, then?" said Nikola quietly.

Martinos paused for a moment before he answered.

"Yes, against Balmaceda," he replied. "I wonder whether the old villain
really died, and if so what became of his money."

"That is a question one would like to have settled concerning a good
many people," Glenbarth put in.

"There was that man up in the Central States, the Republic of--ah! what
was its name?--Equinata," said Nikola. "I don't know whether you
remember the story."

"Do you mean the fellow who shot those unfortunate young men?" I asked.
"The man you were telling me of the other night."

"The same," Nikola replied. "Well, he managed to fly his country, taking
with him something like two million dollars. From that moment he has
never been heard of, and as a matter of fact I do not suppose he ever
will be. After all, luck has a great deal to do with things in this
world."

"Permit me to pour out a libation to the God of Chance," said Martinos.
"He has served me well."

"I think we can all subscribe to that," said Nikola. "You, Sir Richard,
would not be the happy man you are had it not been for a stroke of good
fortune which shipwrecked you on one island in the Pacific instead of
another. You, my dear Duke, would certainly have been drowned in
Bournemouth Bay had not our friend Hatteras chanced to be an early
riser, and to have taken a certain cruise before breakfast; while you,
Don Martinos, would in all probability not be my guest to-night had
not----"

The Spaniard looked sharply at him as if he feared what he was about to
hear.

"Had not what happened?" he asked.

"Had President Balmaceda won his day," was the quiet reply. "He did not
do so, however, and so we four sit here to-night. Certainly, a libation
to the God of Chance."

At last the dinner came to an end, and the servants withdrew, having
placed the wine upon the table. The conversation drifted from one
subject to another until it reached the history of the palace in which
we were then the guests. For the Spaniard's information Nikola related
it in detail. He did not lay any particular emphasis upon it, however,
as he had done upon the story he had told the Duke and myself concerning
the room in which he had received us. He merely narrated it in a
matter-of-fact way, as if it were one in which he was only remotely
interested. Yet I could not help thinking that he fixed his eyes more
keenly than usual on the Spaniard, who sat sipping his wine and
listening with an expression of polite attention upon his sallow face.
When the wine had been circulated for the last time, Nikola suggested
that we should leave the dining-room and return to his own
sitting-room.

"I do not feel at home in this room," he said by way of explanation;
"for that reason I never use it. I usually partake of such food as I
need in the next, and allow the rest of the house to fall undisturbed
into that decay which you see about you."

With that we rose from the table and returned to the room in which he
had received us. A box of cigars was produced and handed round; Nikola
made coffee with his own hands at a table in the corner, and then I
awaited the further developments that I knew would come. Presently
Nikola began to speak of the history of Venice. As I had already had
good reason to know, he had made a perfect study of it, particularly of
the part played in it by the Revecce family. He dealt with particular
emphasis upon the betrayal through the Lion's Mouth, and then, with an
apology to Glenbarth and myself for boring us with it again, referred to
the tragedy of the vaults below the room in which we were then seated.
Once more he drew back the carpet and the murderous trap-door opened. A
cold draught, suggestive of unspeakable horrors, came up to us.

"And there the starving wretch died with the moans of the woman he loved
sounding in his ears from the room above," said Nikola. "Does it not
seem that you can hear them now? For my part, I think they will echo
through all eternity."

If he had been an actor what a wonderful tragedian he would have made!
As he stood before us pointing down into the abyss he held us
spell-bound. As for Martinos, all the accumulated superstition of the
centuries seemed to be concentrated in him, and he watched Nikola's face
as if he were fascinated beyond the power of movement.

"Come," Nikola began at last, closing the trap-door and placing the rug
upon it as he spoke, "you have heard the history of the house. You shall
now do more than that! You shall see it!"

Fixing his eyes upon us he made two or three passes in the air with his
long white hands. Meanwhile, it seemed to me as if he were looking into
my brain. I tried to avert my eyes, but without success. They were
chained to his face, and I could not remove them. Then an overwhelming
feeling of drowsiness took possession of me, and I must have lost
consciousness, for I have no recollection of anything until I found
myself in a place I thought for a moment I had never seen before. And
yet after a time I recognized it. It was a bright day in the early
spring, the fresh breeze coming over the islands from the open sea was
rippling the water of the lagoons. I looked at my surroundings. I was in
Venice, and yet it was not the Venice with which I was familiar. I was
standing with Nikola upon the steps of a house, the building of which
was well-nigh completed. It was a magnificent edifice, and I could
easily understand the pride of the owner as he stood in his gondola and
surveyed it from the stretch of open water opposite. He was a tall and
handsome man, and wore a doublet and hose, shoes with large bows, and a
cloak trimmed with fur. There was also a chain of gold suspended round
his neck. Beside him was a man whom I rightly guessed to be the
architect, for presently the taller man placed his hand upon his
shoulder and praised him for the work he had done, vowing that it was
admirable. Then, at a signal, the gondolier gave a stroke of his oar and
the little vessel shot across to the steps, where they landed close to
where I was standing. I stepped back in order that they might pass, but
they took no sort of notice of my presence. Passing on, they entered the
house.

"They do not see us," said Nikola, who was beside me. "Let us enter and
hear what the famous Admiral Francesco del Revecce thinks of his
property."

We accordingly did so to find ourselves in a magnificent courtyard. In
the centre of this courtyard was a well, upon which a carver in stone
was putting the finishing touches to a design of leaves and fruit. From
here led a staircase, and this we ascended. In the different rooms
artists were to be observed at work upon the walls, depicting
sea-fights, episodes in the history of the Republic, and of the famous
master of the house. Before each the owner paused, bestowing approval,
giving advice, or suggesting such alteration or improvement as he
considered needful. In his company we visited the kitchens, the
pantler's offices, and penetrated even to the dungeons below the
water-level. Then we once more ascended to the courtyard, and stood at
the great doors while the owner took his departure in his barge, pleased
beyond measure with his new abode. Then the scene changed.

Once more I stood before the house with Nikola. It was night, but it was
not dark, for great cressets flared on either side of the door, and a
hundred torches helped to illuminate the scene. All the Great World of
Venice was making its way to the Palace Revecce that night. The first of
the series of gorgeous _fêtes_ given to celebrate the nuptials of
Francesco del Revecce, the most famous sailor of the Republic, who had
twice defeated the French fleet, and who had that day married the
daughter of the Duke of Levano, was in progress. The bridegroom was
still comparatively young, he was also rich and powerful; the bride was
one of the greatest heiresses of Venice, besides being one of its
fairest daughters. Their new home was as beautiful as money and the
taste of the period could make it. Small wonder was it, therefore, that
the world hastened to pay court to them.

"Let us once more enter and look about us," said Nikola.

"One moment," I answered, drawing him back a step as he was in the act
of coming into collision with a beautiful girl who had just disembarked
from her gondola upon the arm of a grey-haired man.

"You need have no fear," he replied. "You forget that we are Spirits in
a Spirit World, and that they are not conscious of our presence."

And indeed this appeared to be the case, for no one recognized us, and
more than once I saw people approach Nikola, and, scarcely believable
though it may seem, walk through him without being the least aware of
the fact.

On this occasion the great courtyard was brilliantly illuminated. Scores
of beautiful figures were ascending the stairs continually, while
strains of music sounded from the rooms above.

"Let us ascend," said Nikola, "and see the pageant there."

It was indeed a sumptuous entertainment, and when we entered the great
reception-rooms, no fairer scene could have been witnessed in Venice. I
looked upon the bridegroom and his bride, and recognized the former as
being the man I had seen praising the architect on the skill he had
displayed in the building of the palace. He was more bravely attired
now, however, than on that occasion, and did the honours of his house
with the ease and assurance of one accustomed to uphold the dignity of
his name and position in the world. His bride was a beautiful girl, with
a pale, sweet face, and eyes that haunted one long after they had looked
at them. She was doing her best to appear happy before her guests, but
in my own heart I knew that such was not the case. Knowing what was
before her, I realized something of the misery that was weighing so
heavily upon her heart. Surrounding her were the proudest citizens of
the proudest Republic of all time. There was not one who did not do her
honour, and among the women who were her guests that night, how many
were there who envied her good fortune? Then the scene once more
changed.

This time the room was that with which I was best acquainted, the same
in which Nikola had taken up his abode. The frescoes upon the walls and
ceilings were barely dry, and Revecce was at sea again, opposing his
old enemy the French, who once more threatened an attack upon the city.
It was towards evening, and the red glow of the sunset shone upon a
woman's face, as she stood beside the table at which a man was writing.
I at once recognized her as Revecce's bride. The man himself was young
and handsome, and when he looked up at the woman and smiled, the
love-light shone in her eyes, as it had not done when she had looked
upon Revecce. There was no need for Nikola to tell me that he was Andrea
Bunopelli, the artist to whose skill the room owed its paintings.

"Art thou sure 'twill be safe, love?" asked the woman in a low voice, as
she placed her hand upon his shoulder. "Remember 'tis death to bring a
false accusation against a citizen of the Republic, and 'twill be worse
when 'tis against the great Revecce."

"I have borne that in mind," the man answered. "But there is nought to
fear, dear love. The writing will not be suspected, and I will drop it
in the Lion's Mouth myself,--and then?"

Her only answer was to bend over him and kiss him. He scattered the sand
upon the letter he had written, and when it was dry, folded it up and
placed it in his bosom. Then he kissed the woman once more and prepared
to leave the room. The whole scene was so real that I could have sworn
that he saw me as I stood watching him.

"Do not linger," she said in farewell. "I shall know no peace till you
return."

Drawing aside the curtain he disappeared, and then once more the scene
changed.

A cold wind blew across the lagoon, and there was a suspicion of coming
thunder in the air. A haggard, ragged tatterdemalion was standing on the
steps of a small door of the palace. Presently it was opened to him by
an ancient servant, who asked his business, and would have driven him
away. When he had whispered something to him, however, the other
realized that it was his master, whom he thought to be a prisoner in the
hands of the French. Then, amazed beyond measure, the man admitted him.
Having before me the discovery he was about to make, I looked at him
with pity, and when he stumbled and almost fell, I hastened forward to
pick him up, but only clasped air. At last, when his servant had told
him everything, he followed him to a distant portion of the palace,
where he was destined to remain hidden for some days, taking advantage
of the many secret passages the palace contained, and by so doing
confirming his suspicions. His wife was unfaithful to him, and the man
who had wrought his dishonour was the man to whom he had been so kind
and generous a benefactor. I seemed to crouch by his side time after
time in the narrow passage behind the arras, watching through a secret
opening the love-making going on within. I could see the figure beside
me quiver with rage and hate, until I thought he would burst in upon
them, and then the old servant would lead him away, his finger upon his
lips. How many times I stood with him there I cannot say, it is
sufficient that at last he could bear the pain no longer, and, throwing
open the secret door, entered the room and confronted the man and woman.
As I write, I can recall the trembling figures of the guilty pair, and
the woman's shriek rings in my ears even now. I can see Bunopelli rising
from the table, at which he had been seated, with the death-look in his
face. Within an hour the confession of the crime they had perpetrated
against Revecce had been written and signed, and they were separated and
made secure until the time for punishment should arrive. Then, for the
first time since he had arrived in Venice, he ordered his barge and set
off for the Council Chamber to look his accusers in the face and to
demand the right to punish those who had betrayed him.

[Illustration: "Throwing open the secret door ... he confronted them."]

When he returned his face was grim and set, and there was a look in his
eyes that had not been there before. He ascended to the room in which
there was the trap-door in the floor, and presently the wretched couple
were brought before him. In vain Bunopelli pleaded for mercy for the
woman. There was no mercy to be obtained there. I would have pleaded for
them too, but I was powerless to make myself heard. I saw the great
beads of perspiration that stood upon the man's brow, the look of
agonizing entreaty in the woman's face, and the relentless decision on
her husband's countenance. Nothing could save them now. The man was
torn, crying to the last for mercy for her, from the woman's side, the
trap-door gave a click, and he disappeared. Then they laid hands upon
the woman, and I saw them force open her mouth--but I cannot set down
the rest. My tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, and though I rushed
forward in the hope of preventing their horrible task, my efforts were
as useless as before. Then, with the pitiless smile still upon the
husband's face, and the moans ascending from the vault below, and the
woman with.... The scene changed.

When I saw it again a stream of bright sunshine was flooding the room.
It was still the same apartment, and yet in a sense not the same. The
frescoes were faded upon the walls, there was a vast difference in the
shape and make of the furniture, and in certain other things, but it
was nevertheless the room in which Francesco del Revecce had taken his
terrible revenge. A tall and beautiful woman, some thirty years of age,
was standing beside the window holding a letter in her hand. She had
finished the perusal of it and was lingering with it in her hand,
looking lovingly upon the signature. At last she raised it to her lips
and kissed it passionately. Then, crossing to a cradle at the further
end of the room, she knelt beside it and looked down at the child it
contained. She had bent her head in prayer, and was still praying, when
with a start I awoke to find myself sitting beside Glenbarth and the Don
in the room in which we had been smoking after dinner. Nikola was
standing before the fireplace, and there was a look like that of death
upon his face. It was not until afterwards that the Spaniard and
Glenbarth informed me that they had witnessed exactly what I had seen.
Both, however, were at a loss to understand the meaning of the last
picture, and, having my own thoughts in my mind, I was not to be tempted
into explaining it to them. That it was Nikola's own mother, and that
this house was her property, and the same in which the infamous governor
of the Spanish Colony had made his love known to her, I could now see.
And if anything were wanting to confirm my suspicions, Nikola's face,
when my senses returned to me, was sufficient to do so.

"Let me get out of this house," cried the Duke thickly. "I cannot
breathe while I am in it. Take me away, Hatteras; for God's sake take me
away!"

I had already risen to my feet and had hastened to his side.

"I think it would be better that we should be going, Doctor Nikola," I
said, turning to our host.

The Spaniard, on his side, did not utter a word. He was so dazed as to
be beyond the power of speech. But Nikola did not seem to comprehend
what I said. Never before had I seen such a look upon his face. His
complexion was always white, now, however, it was scarcely human. For my
own part I knew what was passing in his mind, but I could give no
utterance to it.

"Come," I said to my companions, "let us return to our hotel."

They rose and began to move mechanically towards the door. The Duke had
scarcely reached it, however, before Nikola, with what I could see was a
violent effort, recovered his self-possession.

"You must forgive me," he said in almost his usual voice. "I had for the
moment forgotten my duties as host. I fear you have had but a poor
evening."

When we had donned our hats and cloaks, we accompanied him down-stairs
through the house, which was now as silent as the grave, to the great
doors upon the steps. Having hailed a gondola we entered it, after
wishing Nikola "good-night." He shook hands with Glenbarth and myself,
but I noticed that he did not offer to do so with the Don. Then we shot
out into the middle of the canal and had presently turned the corner and
were making our way towards our hotel. I am perfectly certain that
during the journey not one of us spoke. The events of the evening had
proved too much for us, and conversation was impossible. We bade
Martinos "good-night" in the hall, and then the Duke and I ascended to
our own apartments. Spirits had been placed upon the table, and I
noticed that the Duke helped himself to almost twice his usual quantity.
He looked as if he needed it.

"My God, Dick," he said, "did you see what happened in that room? Did
you see that woman kneeling with the----"

He put down his glass hurriedly and walked to the window. I could
sympathize with him, for had I not seen the same thing myself?

"It's certain, Dick," he said, when he returned a few moments later,
"that, were I to see much more of Nikola in that house, I should go
mad. But why did he let me see it? Why? Why? For Heaven's sake answer
me."

How could I tell him the thought that was in my own mind? How could I
reveal to him the awful fear that was slowly but surely taking
possession of me? Why had Nikola invited the Don to his house? Why had
he shown him the picture of that terrible crime? Like Glenbarth I could
only ask the same question--Why? Why? Why?



CHAPTER VIII


Before Glenbarth and I parted on the terrible evening described in the
previous chapter, we had made a contract with each other to say nothing
about what we had seen to the ladies. For this reason, when my wife
endeavoured to interrogate me concerning our entertainment, I furnished
her with an elaborate description of the dinner itself; spoke of the
marvellous cooking, and I hope gave her a fairly accurate account of the
_menu_, or rather so much of it as I could remember.

"I suppose I must confess to defeat then," she said, when I had
exhausted my powers of narration. "I had a settled conviction that
something out of the common would have occurred. You seem simply to have
had a good dinner, to have smoked some excellent cigars, and the rest to
have been bounded merely by the commonplace. For once I fear Doctor
Nikola has not acted up to his reputation."

If she had known the truth, I wonder what she would have said? Long
after she had bade me good-night I lay awake ruminating on the different
events of the evening. The memory of what I had seen in that awful room
was still as fresh with me as if I were still watching it. And yet, I
asked myself, why should I worry so much about it? Nikola had willed
that his audience should see certain things. We had done so. It was no
more concerned with the supernatural than I was myself. Any man who had
the power could have impressed us in the same way. But though I told
myself all this, I must confess that I was by no means convinced. I knew
in my heart that the whole thing had been too real to be merely a matter
of make-believe. No human brain could have invented the ghastly horrors
of that room in such complete detail. Even to think of it now, is to
bring the scene almost too vividly before me; and when I lay awake at
night I seem to hear the shrieks of the wretched woman, and the moans of
the man perishing in the vaults below.

On my retiring to rest my wife had informed me that she fancied Miss
Trevor had been slightly better that evening. She had slept peacefully
for upwards of an hour, and seemed much refreshed by it.

"Her maid is going to spend the night in her room," said Phyllis; "I
have told her that, if she sees any change in Gertrude's condition, she
is to let me know at once. I do hope that she may be herself again
to-morrow."

This, however, was unhappily not destined to be the case; for a little
before three o'clock, there was a tapping upon our bedroom door.
Guessing who it would be, my wife went to it, and, having opened it a
little, was informed that Miss Trevor was worse.

"I must go to her at once," said Phyllis, and, having clothed herself
warmly, for the night was cold, she departed to our guest's room.

"I am really afraid that there is something very serious the matter with
her," she said, when she returned after about a quarter of an hour's
absence. "She is in a high state of fever, and is inclined to be
delirious. Don't you think we had better send for the doctor?"

"I will have a messenger despatched to him at once if you think it
necessary," I returned. "Poor girl, I wonder what on earth it can be?"

"Perhaps the doctor will be able to tell us now," said my wife. "The
symptoms are more fully developed, and he should surely be able to make
his diagnosis. But I must not stay here talking. I must go back to her."

When she had departed, I dressed myself and went down to the hall in
search of the night watchman. He undertook to find a messenger to go
and fetch the doctor, and, when I had seen him despatched on his errand,
I returned to the drawing-room, switched on the electric light, and
tried to interest myself in a book until the medico should arrive. I was
not very successful, however, for interesting though I was given to
understand the book was, I found my thoughts continually leaving it and
returning to the house in the Rio del Consiglio. I wondered what Nikola
was doing at that moment, and fancied I could picture him still at work,
late though the hour was. At last, tiring of the book and wanting
something else to occupy my thoughts, I went to the window and drew back
the shutters. It was a beautiful morning, and the myriad stars overhead
were reflected in the black waters of the canal like the lamps of a
large town. Not a sound was to be heard; it might have been a City of
the Dead, so still was it. As I stood looking across the water, I
thought of the city's past history, of her ancient grandeur, of her
wondrous art, and of the great men who had been her children. There was
a tremendous lesson to be learnt from her Fall if one could only master
it. I was interrupted in my reverie by the entrance of the doctor, whom
I had told the night watchman to conduct to my presence immediately upon
his arrival.

"I am sorry to bring you out at this time of the night, doctor," I
said; "but the fact is, Miss Trevor is much worse. My wife spent the
greater part of the evening with her, and informed me on my return from
a dinner that she was better. Three-quarters of an hour ago, however,
her maid, who had been sleeping in her room, came to us with the news
that a change for the worse had set in. This being the case, I thought
it better to send for you at once."

"You did quite right, my dear sir, quite right," the medico replied.
"There is nothing like promptness in these matters. Perhaps I had better
see her without further delay."

With that I conducted him to the door of Miss Trevor's room. He knocked
upon it, was admitted by my wife, and then disappeared from my gaze.
Something like half-an-hour elapsed before he returned to me in the
drawing-room. When he did so his face looked grave and troubled.

"What do you think of her condition now, doctor?" I asked.

"She is certainly in a state of high fever," he answered. "Her pulse is
very high, and she is inclined to be delirious. At the same time I am
bound to confess to you that I am at a loss to understand the reason of
it. The case puzzled me considerably yesterday, but I am even more
puzzled by it now. There are various symptoms that I can neither account
for nor explain. One thing, however, is quite certain--the young lady
must have a trained nurse, and, with your permission, I will see that
one comes in after breakfast. Lady Hatteras is not strong enough for the
task."

"I am quite with you there," I answered. "And I am vastly obliged to you
for putting your foot down. At the same time, will you tell me whether
you deem it necessary for me to summon her father from England?"

"So far as I can see at present, I do not think there is any immediate
need," he replied. "Should I see any reason for so doing, I would at
once tell you. I have given a prescription to Lady Hatteras, and
furnished her with the name of a reliable chemist. I shall return
between nine and ten o'clock, and shall hope to have better news for you
then."

"I sincerely trust you may," I said. "As you may suppose, her illness
has been a great shock to us."

I then escorted him down-stairs and afterwards returned to my bedroom.
The news which he had given me of Miss Trevor's condition was most
distressing, and made me feel more anxious than I cared to admit. At
seven o'clock I saw my wife for a few minutes, but, as before, she had
no good news to give me.

"She is quite delirious now," she said, "and talks continually of some
great trouble which she fears is going to befall her; implores me to
help her to escape from it, but will not say definitely what it is. It
goes to my heart to hear her, and to know that I cannot comfort her."

"You must be careful what you are doing," I replied. "The doctor has
promised to bring a trained nurse with him after breakfast, who will
relieve you of the responsibility. I inquired whether he thought we had
better send for her father, and it is in a way encouraging to know that,
so far, he does not think there is any necessity for such an extreme
step. In the meantime, however, I think I will write to the Dean and
tell him how matters stand. It will prepare him, but I am afraid it will
give the poor old gentleman a sad fright."

"It could not give him a greater fright than it has done us," said
Phyllis. "I do not know why I should do so, but I cannot help thinking
that I am to blame in some way."

"What nonsense, my dear girl," I replied. "I am sure you have nothing
whatsoever to reproach yourself with. Far from it. You must not worry
yourself about it, or we shall be having you upon our hands before long.
You must remember that you are yourself far from strong."

"I am quite myself again now," she answered. "It is only on account of
your anxiety that I treat myself as an invalid." Then she added, "I
wonder what the Duke will say when he hears the news?"

"He was very nearly off his head yesterday," I answered. "He will be
neither to hold nor to bind to-day."

She was silent for a few moments, then she said thoughtfully--

"Do you know, Dick, it may seem strange to you, but I do not mind saying
that I attribute all this trouble to Nikola."

"Good gracious," I cried, in well-simulated amazement, "why on earth to
Nikola?"

"Because, as was the case five years ago, it has been all trouble since
we met him. You remember how he affected Gertrude at the outset. She was
far from being herself on the night of our tour through the city, and
now in her delirium she talks continually of his dreadful house, and
from what she says, and the way she behaves, I cannot help feeling
inclined to believe that she imagines herself to be seeing some of the
dreadful events which have occurred or are occurring in it."

"God help her," I said to myself. And then I continued aloud to my wife,
"Doubtless Nikola's extraordinary personality has affected her in some
measure, as it does other people, but you are surely not going to jump
to the conclusion that because she has spoken to him he is necessarily
responsible for her illness? That would be the wildest flight of fancy."

"And yet, do you know," she continued, "I have made a curious
discovery."

"What is that?" I asked, not without some asperity, for, having so much
on my mind, I was not in the humour for fresh discoveries.

She paused for a moment before she replied. Doubtless she expected that
I would receive it with scepticism, if not with laughter; and Phyllis,
ever since I have known her, has a distinct fear of ridicule.

"You may laugh at me if you please," she said, "yet the coincidence is
too extraordinary to be left unnoticed. Do you happen to be aware, Dick,
that Doctor Nikola called at this hotel at exactly eleven o'clock?"

I almost betrayed myself in my surprise. This was the last question I
expected her to put to me.

"Yes," I answered, with an endeavour to appear calm, "I do happen to be
aware of that fact. He merely paid a visit of courtesy to the Don, prior
to the other's accepting his hospitality. I see nothing remarkable in
that. I did the same myself, if you remember."

"Of course I know that," she replied, "but there is more to come. Are
you also aware that it was at the very moment of his arrival in the
house that Gertrude was taken ill? What do you think of that?"

She put this question to me with an air of triumph, as if it were one
that no argument on my part could refute. At any rate, I did not attempt
the task.

"I think nothing of it," I replied. "You may remember that you once fell
down in a dead faint within a few minutes of the vicar's arrival at our
house at home. Would you therefore have me suppose that it was on
account of his arrival that you were taken ill? Why should you attribute
Miss Trevor's illness to Nikola's courtesy to our friend the Don?"

"I beg that you will not call him our friend," said Phyllis with
considerable dignity. "I do not like the man."

I did not tell her that the Duke was equally outspoken concerning our
companion. I could see that they would put their heads together, and
that trouble would be the inevitable result. Like a wise husband I held
my peace, knowing that whatever I might say would not better the
situation.

Half-an-hour later it was my unhappy lot to have to inform Glenbarth of
Miss Trevor's condition.

"I told you yesterday that it was a matter not to be trifled with," he
said, as if I were personally responsible for her grave condition. "The
doctor evidently doesn't understand the case, and what you ought to do,
if you have any regard for her life, is to send a telegram at once to
London, ordering competent advice."

"The Dean of Bedminster has a salary of eight hundred pounds per annum,"
I answered quietly. "Such a man as you would want me to send for would
require a fee of some hundreds of guineas to make such a journey."

"And you would allow her to die for the sake of a few paltry pounds?" he
cried. "Good heavens, Dick, I never thought you were a money-grabber."

"I am glad you did not," I answered. "It is of her father I am thinking.
Besides, I do not know that the doctor here is as ignorant as you say.
He has a most complicated and unusual case to deal with, and I honour
him for admitting the fact that he does not understand it. Many men in
his profession would have thrown dust in our eyes, and have pretended to
a perfect knowledge of the case."

The young man did not see it in the same light as I did, and was plainly
of the opinion that we were not doing what we might for the woman he
loved. My wife, however, took him in hand after breakfast, and talked
quietly but firmly to him. She succeeded where I had failed, and when I
returned from an excursion to the chemist's, where I had the
prescriptions made up, I found him in a tolerably reasonable frame of
mind.

At a quarter to ten the doctor put in an appearance once more, and,
after a careful inspection of his patient, informed me that it was his
opinion that a consultant should be called in. This was done, and to our
dismay the result came no nearer elucidating the mystery than before.
The case was such a one as had never entered into the experience of
either man. To all intents and purposes there was nothing that would in
any way account for the patient's condition. The fever had left her, and
she complained of no pain, while her mind, save for occasional relapses,
was clear enough. They were certain it was not a case of paralysis, yet
she was incapable of moving, or of doing anything to help herself. The
duration of her illness was not sufficient to justify her extreme
weakness, nor to account for the presence of certain other symptoms.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but for us to possess our souls in
patience and to wait the turn of events. When the doctors had departed I
went in search of Glenbarth, and gave him their report. The poor fellow
was far from being consoled by it. He had hoped to receive good news,
and their inability to give a satisfactory decision only confirmed his
belief in their incompetency. Had I permitted him to do so, he would
have telegraphed at once for the best medical advice in Europe, and
would have expended half his own princely revenues in an attempt to make
her herself once more. It was difficult to convince him that he had not
the right to heap liabilities on the old gentleman's shoulder, which, in
honour bound, he would feel he must repay.

I will not bore my readers with the abusive arguments against society,
and social etiquette, with which he favoured me in reply to my speech.
The poor fellow was beside himself with anxiety, and it was difficult to
make him understand that, because he had not placed a narrow band of
gold upon a certain pretty finger, he was debarred from saving the life
of the owner of that self-same finger. Towards nightfall it was certain
that Miss Trevor's condition was gradually going from bad to worse. With
the closing of the day the delirium had returned, and the fever had also
come with it. We spent a wretchedly anxious night, and in the morning,
at the conclusion of his first visit, the doctor informed me that, in
his opinion, it would be advisable that I should telegraph to the young
lady's father. This was an extreme step, and, needless to say, it caused
me great alarm. It was all so sudden that it was scarcely possible to
realize the extent of the calamity. Only two days before Miss Trevor had
been as well as any of us, and certainly in stronger health than my
wife. Now she was lying, if not at death's door, at least at no great
distance from that grim portal. Immediately this sad intelligence was
made known to me I hastened to the telegraph-office, and despatched a
message to the Dean, asking him to come to us with all possible speed.
Before luncheon I received a reply to the effect that he had already
started. Then we sat ourselves down to wait and to watch, hoping almost
against hope that this beautiful, happy young life might be spared to
us. All this time we had seen nothing of the Don or of Nikola. The
former, however, had heard of Miss Trevor's illness, and sent polite
messages as to her condition. I did not tell Glenbarth of this, for the
young man had sufficient to think of just then without my adding to his
worries.

I must pass on now to describe to you the arrival of the Dean of
Bedminster in Venice. Feeling that he would be anxious to question me
concerning his daughter's condition, I made a point of going to meet him
alone. Needless to say he was much agitated on seeing me, and implored
me to give him the latest bulletin.

"God's will be done," he said quietly, when he had heard all I had to
tell him. "I did not receive your letter," he remarked, as we made our
way from the station in the direction of Galaghetti's hotel, "so that
you will understand that I know nothing of the nature of poor Gertrude's
illness. What does the doctor say is the matter with her?"

I then informed him how the case stood, and of the uncertainty felt by
the two members of the medical profession I had called in. "Surely that
is very singular, is it not?" he asked, when I had finished. "There are
not many diseases left that they are unable to diagnose."

"In this case, however, I fear they are at a loss to assign a name to
it," I said. "However, you will be able very soon to see her for
yourself, and to draw your own conclusions."

The meeting between the worthy old gentleman and his daughter was on his
side affecting in the extreme. She did not recognize him, nor did she
know my wife. When he joined me in the drawing-room a quarter of an hour
or so later his grief was pitiful to witness. While we were talking
Glenbarth entered, and I introduced them to each other. The Dean knew
nothing of the latter's infatuation for his daughter, but I fancy,
after a time, he must have guessed that there was something in the wind
from the other's extraordinary sympathy with him in his trial. As it
happened the old gentleman had not arrived any too soon. That afternoon
Miss Trevor was decidedly worse, and the medical men expressed their
gravest fears for her safety. All that day and the next we waited in
suspense, but there was no material change. Nature was fighting her
battle stubbornly, inch by inch. The girl did not seem any worse, nor
was there any visible improvement. On the doctor's advice a third
physician was called in, but with no greater success than before. Then
on one never-to-be-forgotten afternoon the first doctor took me on one
side and informed me that in his opinion, and those of his colleagues,
it would not be wise to cherish any further hopes. The patient was
undeniably weaker, and was growing more so every hour. With a heart
surcharged with sorrow I went to the Dean's room and broke the news to
him. The poor old man heard me out in silence, and then walked to the
window and looked down upon the Grand Canal. After a while he turned,
and coming back to me once more laid his hand upon my arm.

"If it is the Lord's will that I lose her, what can I do but submit?" he
said. "When shall I be allowed to see her?"

"I will make inquiries," I answered, and hastened away in search of the
doctor. As I passed along the passage I met Galaghetti. The little man
had been deeply grieved to hear the sad intelligence, and hastened in
search of me at once.

"M'lord," said he, for do what I would I could never cure him of the
habit, "believe me it is not so hopeless, though they say so, if you
will but listen to me. There is Doctor Nikola, your friend! He could
cure her if you went to him. Did he not cure my child?"

I gave a start of surprise. I will confess that the idea had occurred to
me, but I had never given the probability of putting it into execution a
thought. Why should it not be done? Galaghetti had reminded me how
Nikola had cured his child when she lay at the point of death, and the
other doctors of Venice had given her up. He was so enthusiastic in his
praises of the doctor that I felt almost inclined to risk it. When I
reached the drawing-room Glenbarth hastened towards me.

"What news?" he inquired, his anxiety showing itself plainly upon his
face.

I shook my head.

"For God's sake don't trifle with me," he cried. "You can have no idea
what I am suffering."

Feeling that it would be better if I told him everything, I made a clean
breast of it. He heard me out before he spoke.

"She must not die," he said, with the fierceness of despair. "If there
is any power on earth that can be invoked, it shall be brought to bear.
Can you not think of anything? Try! Remember that every second is of
importance."

"Would it be safe to try Nikola?" I inquired, looking him steadfastly in
the face. "Galaghetti is wild for me to do so."

In spite of his dislike to Nikola, Glenbarth jumped at the suggestion as
a drowning man clutches at a straw.

"Let us find him at once," he cried, seizing me by the arm. "If any one
can save her he is the man. Let us go to him without a moment's delay."

"No, no," I answered, "that will never do. Even in a case of such
gravity the proprieties must be observed. I must consult the doctors
before calling in another."

I regret very much to say that here the Duke made use of some language
that was neither parliamentary nor courteous to those amiable gentlemen.

I sought them out and placed the matter before them. To the idea of
calling in a fourth consultant they had not the least objection, though
they were all of the opinion that it could do no good. When, however, I
mentioned the fact that that consultant's name was Nikola, I could
plainly see that a storm was rising.

"Gentlemen," I said, "you must forgive me if I speak plainly and to the
point. You have given us to understand that your patient's case is
hopeless. Now I have had considerable experience of Doctor Nikola's
skill, and I feel that we should not be justified in withholding him
from our counsel, if he will consent to be called in. I have no desire
to act contrary to medical etiquette, but we must remember that the
patient's life comes before aught else."

One doctor looked at the other, and all shook their heads.

"I fear," said the tallest of them, who invariably acted as spokesman,
"that if the services of the gentleman in question are called in, it
will be necessary for my colleagues and myself to abandon our interest
in the case. I do not of course know how far your knowledge extends, but
I hope you will allow me to say, sir, that the most curious stories are
circulated both as to the behaviour and the attainments of this Doctor
Nikola."

Though I knew it to be true, his words nettled me. And yet I had such a
deeply-rooted belief in Nikola that, although they were determined to
give up the case, I felt we should still be equally, if not more,
powerful without them.

"I sincerely hope, gentlemen," I said, "that you will not do as you
propose. Nevertheless, I feel that I should not be myself acting rightly
if I were to allow your professional prejudices to stand in the way of
my friend's recovery."

"In that case I fear there is nothing left to us but to most reluctantly
withdraw," said one of the men.

"You are determined?"

"Quite determined," they replied together. Then the tallest added, "We
much regret it, but our decision is irrevocable."

Ten minutes later they had left the hotel in a huff, and I found myself
seated upon the horns of a serious dilemma. What would my position be if
Nikola's presence should exercise a bad effect upon the patient, or if
he should decline to render us assistance? In that case I should have
offended the best doctors in Venice, and should in all probability have
killed her. It was a nice position to be placed in. One thing, however,
was as certain as anything could be, and that was the fact that there
was no time to lose. My wife was seriously alarmed when I informed her
of my decision, but both Glenbarth and I felt that we were acting for
the best, and the Dean sided with us.

"Since you deem it necessary, go in search of Doctor Nikola at once,"
said my wife, when the latter had left us. "Implore him to come without
delay; in another hour it may be too late." Then in a heart-broken
whisper she added, "She is growing weaker every moment. Oh, Dick, Heaven
grant that we are not acting wrongly, and that he may be able to save
her."

"I feel convinced that we are doing right," I answered. "And now I will
go in search of Nikola, and if possible bring him back with me."

"God grant you may be successful in your search," said Glenbarth,
wringing my hand. "If Nikola saves her I will do anything he may ask,
and still be grateful to him all the days of my life."

Then I set off upon my errand.



CHAPTER IX


With a heart as heavy as lead I made my way down-stairs, and having
chartered a gondola, bade the man take me to the Palace Revecce with all
possible haste. Old Galaghetti, who stood upon the steps, nodded
vehement approval, and rubbed his hands with delight as he thought of
the triumph his great doctor must inevitably achieve. As I left the
hotel I looked back at it with a feeling of genuine sorrow. Only a few
days before our party had all been so happy together, and now one was
stricken down with a mysterious malady that, so far as I could see, was
likely to end in her death. Whether the gondolier had been admonished by
Galaghetti to make haste, and was anxious to do so in sympathy with my
trouble, I cannot say; the fact, however, remains that we accomplished
the distance that separated the hotel from the palace in what could have
been little more than half the time usually taken. My star was still in
the ascendant when we reached the palace, for when I had disembarked at
the steps, the old man who did menial service for Nikola, had just
opened it and looked out. I inquired whether his master was at home,
and, if so, whether I could see him? He evidently realized that my
Italian was of the most rudimentary description, for it was necessary
for me to repeat my question three or four times before he could
comprehend my meaning. When at last he did so, he pointed up the stairs
to signify that Nikola _was_ at home, and also that, if I desired to see
him, I had better go in search of him. I immediately did so, and
hastened up the stairs to the room I have already described, and of
which I entertained such ghastly recollections. I knocked upon the door,
and a well-known voice bade me in English to "come in." I was in too
great a haste to fulfil my mission to observe at the time the
significance these words contained. It was not until afterwards that I
remembered the fact that, as we approached the palace, I had looked up
at Nikola's window and had seen no sign of him there. As I had not rung
the bell, but had been admitted by the old man-servant, how could he
have become aware of my presence? But, as I say, I thought of all that
afterwards. For the moment the only desire I had was to inform Nikola of
my errand.

Upon my entering the room I found Nikola standing before a table on
which were glasses, test-tubes, and various chemical paraphernalia. He
was engaged in pouring some dark-coloured liquid into a graduating
glass, and when he spoke it was without looking round at me.

"I am very glad to see you, my dear Hatteras," he said. "It is kind of
you to take pity on my loneliness. If you don't mind sitting down for a
few moments, and lighting a cigar--you'll find the box on the table--I
shall have finished this, and then we can talk."

"But I am afraid I can't wait," I answered. "I have come on the most
important business. There is not a moment to lose."

"In that case I am to suppose that Miss Trevor is worse," he said,
putting down the bottle from which he had been pouring, and afterwards
replacing the glass stopper with the same hand. "I was afraid it might
be so."

"How do you know that she is ill?" I asked, not a little surprised to
hear that he was aware of our trouble.

"I manage to know a good many things," he replied. "I was aware that she
was ill, and have been wondering how long it would be before I was
called in. The other doctors don't like my interference, I suppose?"

"They certainly do not," I answered. "But they have done no good for
her."

"And you think I may be able to help you?" he inquired, looking at me
over the graduating glass with his strange, dark eyes.

"I certainly do," I replied.

"I am your debtor for the compliment."

"And you will come?"

"You really wish it?"

"I believe it is the only thing that will save her life," I answered.
"But you must come quickly, or it will be too late. She was sinking when
I left the hotel."

With a hand that never shook he poured the contents of the glass into a
small phial, and then placed the latter in his pocket.

"I am at your disposal now," he answered. "We will set off as soon as
you like. As you say, we must lose no time."

"But will it not be necessary for you to take some drugs with you?" I
asked.

"I am taking this one," he replied, placing his hat upon his head as he
spoke.

I remembered that he had been making his prescription up as I entered
the room. Had he then intended calling to see her, even supposing I had
not come to ask his assistance? I had no chance of putting the question
to him, however.

"Have you a gondola below?" he asked, as we went down the stairs.

I replied in the affirmative; and when we gained the hall door we
descended the steps and took our places in it. On reaching the hotel I
conducted him to the drawing-room, where we found the Dean and Glenbarth
eagerly awaiting our coming. I presented the former to Nikola, and then
went off to inform my wife of his arrival. She accompanied me back to
the drawing-room, and when she entered the room Nikola crossed it to
receive her. Though she looked at him in a frightened way I thought his
manner soon put her at her ease.

"Perhaps you will be kind enough to take me to my patient," he said,
when they had greeted each other. "As the case is so serious, I had
better lose no time in seeing her."

He followed my wife from the room, and then we sat down to await his
verdict, with what anxiety you may imagine.

[Illustration: "He laid his hand upon her forehead."]

Of all that transpired during his stay with Miss Trevor I can only speak
from hearsay. My wife, however, was unfortunately too agitated to
remember everything that occurred. She informed me that on entering the
room he advanced very quietly towards the bed, and for a few moments
stood looking down at the frail burden it supported. Then he felt her
pulse, lifted the lids of her eyes, and for a space during which a man
might have counted fifty slowly, laid his hand upon her forehead. Then,
turning to the nurse, who had of course heard of the withdrawal of
the other doctors, he bade her bring him a wine-glass of iced water. She
disappeared, and while she was absent Nikola sat by the bedside holding
the sick girl's hand, and never for a moment taking his eyes from her
face. Presently the woman returned, bringing the water as directed. He
took it from her, and going to the window poured from a phial, which he
had taken from his pocket, some twenty drops of the dark liquid it
contained. Then with a spoon he gave her nearly half of the contents of
the glass. This done he once more seated himself beside the bed, and
waited patiently for the result. Several times within the next half-hour
he bent over the recumbent figure, and was evidently surprised at not
seeing some change which he expected would take place. At the end of
that time he gave her another spoonful of the liquid, and once more sat
down to watch. When an hour had passed he permitted a sigh of
satisfaction to escape him, then, turning to my wife, whose anxiety was
plainly expressed upon her face, he said--

"I think, Lady Hatteras, that you may tell them that she will not die.
There is still much to be done, but I pledge my word that she will
live."

The reaction was too much for my wife; she felt as if she were choking,
then she turned giddy, and at last was possessed with a frantic desire
to cry. Softly leaving the room, she came in search of us. The moment
that she opened the door of the drawing-room, and I looked upon her
face, I knew that there was good news for us.

"What does he say about her?" cried the Duke, forgetting the Dean's
presence, while the latter rose and drew a step nearer, without speaking
a word.

"There is good news," she said, fumbling with her handkerchief in a
suspicious manner. "Doctor Nikola says she will live."

"Thank God," we all said in one breath. And Glenbarth murmured something
more that I did not catch.

So implicit was our belief in Nikola that, as you have doubtless
observed, we accepted his verdict without a second thought. I kissed my
wife, and then shook hands solemnly with the Dean. The Duke had
meanwhile vanished, presumably to his own apartment, where he could
meditate on certain matters undisturbed. After that Phyllis left us and
returned to the sick-room, where she found Nikola still seated beside
the bed, just as she had left him. So far as she could judge, Miss
Trevor did not appear to be any different, though perhaps she did not
breathe as heavily as she had hitherto done. Nikola, however, appeared
to be well satisfied. He nodded approvingly to Phyllis as she entered,
and then returned to his contemplation of his patient once more. In this
fashion hour after hour went by. Once during each my wife would come to
me with reassuring bulletins. "Miss Trevor was, if anything, a little
better, she did not seem so restless as before." "The fever seemed to be
abating;" and then, towards nine o'clock that night, "at last Gertrude
was sleeping peacefully." It was not, however, until nearly midnight
that Nikola himself made his appearance.

"The worst is over," he said, approaching the Dean; "your daughter is
now asleep, and will only require watching for the next two hours. At
the end of that time I shall return, and shall hope to find a decided
improvement in her condition."

"I can never thank you enough, my dear sir," said the worthy old
clergyman, shaking the other by the hand while the tears ran down his
wrinkled cheeks. "But for your wonderful skill there can be no sort of
doubt that she would be lost to us now. She is my only child, my ewe
lamb, and may Heaven bless you for your goodness to me."

I thought that Nikola looked at him rather curiously as he said this. It
was the first time I had seen Nikola brought into the society of a
dignitary of the English Church, and I was anxious to see how the pair
comported themselves under the circumstances. A couple more
diametrically opposite could be scarcely imagined. They were as oil and
water, and could scarcely be expected to assimilate.

"Sir, I should have been less than human if I had not done everything
possible to save that beautiful young life," said Nikola, with what was
to me the suggestion of a double meaning in his speech. "And now you
must permit me to bid you good-bye for the present. In two hours I shall
return again."

Thinking he might prefer to remain near his patient, I pressed him to
stay at the hotel, offering to do all that lay in my power to make him
comfortable. But he would not hear of such a thing.

"As you should be aware by this time, I never rest away from my own
house," he answered, in a tone that settled the matter once and for all.
"If anything should occur in the meantime, send for me and I will come
at once. I do not apprehend any change, however."

When he had gone I went in search of the Duke and found him in his own
room.

"Dick," he said, "look at me and tell me if you can see any difference.
I feel as though I had passed through years of suffering. Another week
would have made an old man of me. How is she now?"

"Progressing famously," I answered. "You need not look so sceptical, for
this must surely be the case, since Nikola has gone home to take some
rest and will not return for two hours."

He wrung my hand on hearing this.

"How little I dreamt," he said, "when we were confined in that wretched
room in Port Said, and when he played that trick upon me in Sydney, that
some day he was destined to do me the greatest service any man has ever
done me in my life. Didn't I tell you that those other medicos did not
know what they were doing, and that Nikola is the greatest doctor in the
world?"

I admitted that he had given me the first assurance, but I was not quite
so certain about the latter. Then, realizing how he must be feeling, I
proposed that we should row down the canal for a breath of fresh sea
air. At first the Duke was for refusing the invitation, eventually
however he assented, and when we had induced the Dean to accompany us we
set off. When we reached the hotel once more it was to discover that
Nikola had returned, and that he had again taken up his watch in the
sick-room. He remained there all night, passing hour after hour at the
bedside, without, so my wife asserted, moving, save to give the
medicine, and without apparently feeling the least fatigue.

It was not until between seven and eight o'clock next morning that I
caught a glimpse of him. He was in the dining-room then, partaking of a
small cup of black coffee, into which he had poured some curious
decoction of his own. For my part I have never yet been able to discover
how Nikola managed to keep body and soul together on his frugal fare.

"How is the patient this morning?" I asked, when we had greeted each
other.

"Out of danger," he replied, slowly stirring his coffee as he spoke.
"She will continue to progress now. I hope you are satisfied that I have
done all I can in her interests?"

"I am more than satisfied," I answered. "I am deeply grateful. As her
father said yesterday, if it had not been for you, Nikola, she must
inevitably have succumbed. She will have cause to bless your name for
the remainder of her existence."

He looked at me very curiously as I said this.

"Do you think she will do that?" he asked, with unusual emphasis. "Do
you think it will please her to remember that she owes her life to
_me_?"

"I am sure she will always be deeply grateful," I replied, somewhat
ambiguously. "I fancy you know that yourself."

"And your wife? What does she say?"

"She thinks you are certainly the greatest of all doctors," I answered,
with a laugh. "I feel that I ought to be jealous, but strangely enough
I'm not."

"And yet I have done nothing so very wonderful," he continued, almost as
if he were talking to himself. "But that those other blind worms are
content to go on digging in their mud, when they should be seeking the
light in another direction, they could do as much as I have done. By the
way, have you seen our friend, Don Martinos, since you dined together at
my house?"

I replied to the effect that I had not done so, but reported that the
Don had sent repeated messages of sympathy to us during Miss Trevor's
illness. I then inquired whether Nikola had seen him?

"I saw him yesterday morning," he replied. "We devoted upwards of four
hours to exploring the city together."

I could not help wondering how the Don had enjoyed the excursion, but,
needless to remark, I did not say anything on this score to my
companion.

That night Nikola was again in attendance upon his patient. Next day
she was decidedly better; she recognized her father and my wife, and
every hour was becoming more and more like her former self.

"Was she surprised when she regained consciousness to find Nikola at her
bedside?" I inquired of Phyllis when the great news was reported to me.

"Strangely enough she was not," Phyllis replied. "I fully expected,
remembering my previous suspicions, that it would have a bad effect upon
her, but it did nothing of the kind. It was just as if she had expected
to find him there."

"And what were his first words to her?"

"'I hope you are feeling better, Miss Trevor,' he said, and she replied,
'Much better,' that was all. It was as commonplace as could be."

Next day Nikola only looked in twice, the day after once, and at the end
of the week informed me that she stood in no further need of his
attention.

"How shall we ever be able to reward you, Nikola?" I asked, for about
the hundredth time, as we stood together in the corridor outside the
sick-room.

"I have no desire to be rewarded," he answered. "It is enough for me to
see Miss Trevor restored to health. Endeavour, if you can, to recall a
certain conversation we had together respecting the lady in question on
the evening that I narrated to you the story concerning the boy, who was
so badly treated by the Spanish Governor. Did I not tell you then that
our Destinies were inextricably woven together? I informed you that it
had been revealed to me many years ago that we should meet; should you
feel surprised, therefore, if I told you that I had also been warned of
this illness?"

Once more I found myself staring at him in amazement.

"You are surprised? Believe me, however astonishing it may seem, it is
quite true. I knew that Miss Trevor would come into my life; I knew also
that it would be my lot to save her from death. What is more, I know
that in the end the one thing, which has seemed to me most desirable in
life, will be taken from me by her hands."

"I am afraid I cannot follow you," I said.

"Perhaps not, but you will be able to some day," he answered. "That
moment has not yet arrived. In the meantime watch and wait, for before
we know it it will be upon us."

Then, with a look that was destined to haunt me for many a long day, he
bade me farewell, and left the hotel.



CHAPTER X


To the joy of every one, by the Thursday following Miss Trevor was
sufficiently recovered to be able to leave her room. It was a happy day
for every one concerned, particularly for the Duke, who came nearer
presenting the appearance of an amiable lunatic on that occasion than I
had ever seen him before. Why my wife should have encouraged him in his
extravagance I cannot say, but the fact remains that she allowed him to
go out with her that morning with the professed idea of purchasing a few
flowers to decorate the drawing-room for the invalid's reception. So
great was their extravagance that the room more resembled a hot-house,
or a flower-show, than a civilized apartment. I pointed this out to my
wife with a gentle remonstrance, and was informed that, being a mere
husband, I knew nothing at all about the matter. I trust that I
preserved my balance and lived up to my reputation for sanity in the
midst of this general excitement, though I am prepared to confess that
I was scarcely myself when the triumphal procession, consisting of my
wife and the Dean, set off to the invalid's apartment to escort her in.
When she appeared it was like a ghost of her former self, and a poor wan
ghost too. Her father, of course, she had already seen, but neither I
nor Glenbarth had of course had the honour of meeting her since she was
taken ill. She received him very graciously, and was kind enough to
thank me for the little I had done for her. We seated her between us in
a comfortable chair, placed a footstool under her feet, and then, in
order that she should not have too much excitement, and that she might
rest quietly, the Dean, the Duke, and myself were sent about our
business for an hour. When we returned, a basket of exquisite roses
stood on the table, and on examining it the card of Don Josè de Martinos
was found to be attached to it.

It is some proof of the anxiety that Glenbarth felt not to do anything
that might worry her, when I say that he read the card and noted the
giver without betraying the least trace of annoyance. It is true that he
afterwards furnished me with his opinion of the giver for presuming to
send them, but the casual observer would have declared, had he been
present to observe the manner in which he behaved when he had first
seen the gift, that he had taken no interest in the matter at all.

Next day Miss Trevor was permitted to get up a little earlier, and on
the day following a little earlier still. In the meantime more flowers
had arrived from the Don, while he himself had twice made personal
inquiries as to the progress she was making. It was not until the third
day of her convalescence that Nikola called to see his patient. I was
sitting alone with her at the time, my wife and our other two guests
having gone shopping in the Merceria. I was idly cutting a copy of a
Tauchnitz publication that I had procured for her on the previous day.
The weather was steadily growing warmer, and, for this reason, the
windows were open and a flood of brilliant sunshine was streaming into
the room. From the canal outside came the sounds of rippling laughter,
then an unmistakably American voice called out, "Say, girls, what do you
think of Venice now you're here?" Then another voice replied, "Plenty of
water about, but they don't seem to wash their buildings much." Miss
Trevor was about to speak, in fact she had opened her lips to do so,
when a strange expression appeared upon her face. She closed her eyes
for a moment, and I began to fear that she was ill. When she opened them
again I was struck by a strange fact; the eyes were certainly there,
but there was no sort of life in them. They were like those of a
sleep-walker who, while his eyes are open, sees nothing of things about
him. A moment later there was a knock at the door, and Doctor Nikola,
escorted by a servant, entered the room. Wishing us "good-morning," he
crossed the room and shook hands with Miss Trevor, afterwards with
myself.

"You are certainly looking better," he said, addressing his patient, and
placing his finger and thumb upon her wrist as he spoke.

"I am much better," she answered, but for some reason without her usual
animation.

"In that case I think this will be the last visit I shall pay you in my
professional capacity," he said. "You have been an excellent patient,
and in the interests of what our friend Sir Richard here calls Science,
permit me to offer you my grateful thanks."

"It is I who should thank you," she answered, as if she were repeating
some lesson she had learnt by heart.

"I trust then, on the principle that one seldom or never acts as one
should, that you will not do it," he replied, with a smile. "I am amply
rewarded by observing that the flush of health is returning to your
cheeks."

He then inquired after my wife's health, bade me be careful of her for
the reason that, since I had behaved so outrageously towards them, no
other doctors in Venice would attend her, should she be taken ill, and
then rose to bid us adieu.

"This is a very short visit," I said. "Cannot we persuade you to give us
a little more of your society?"

"I fear not," he answered. "I am developing quite a practice in Venice,
and my time is no longer my own."

"You have other patients?" I asked, in some surprise, for I did not
think he would condescend to such a thing.

"I have your friend, Don Martinos, now upon my hands," he said. "The
good Galaghetti is so abominably grateful for what I did for his child,
that he will insist on trying to draw me into experimenting upon other
people."

"Would it be indiscreet to ask what is the matter with the Don?" I said.
"He does not look like a man who would be likely to be an invalid."

"I do not think there is so very much wrong with him," Nikola replied
vaguely. "At any rate it is not anything that cannot be very easily put
right."

When he left the room I accompanied him down the corridor as far as the
hall.

"The fact of the matter is," he began, when we were alone together, "our
friend the Don has been running the machinery of life a little too fast
of late. I am told that he lost no less a sum than fifty thousand pounds
in English money last week, and certainly his nerves are not what they
once were."

"He is a gambler, then?" I said.

"An inveterate gambler, I should say," Nikola answered. "And when a
Spaniard takes to that sort of amusement, he generally does it most
thoroughly."

Whatever the Don's illness may have been, it certainly had made its mark
upon his appearance. I chanced to meet him that afternoon on the Rialto
bridge, and was thunderstruck at the change. The man's face was white,
and his eyes had dark rings under them, that to my thinking spoke for an
enfeebled heart. When he stopped to speak to me, I noticed that his
hands trembled as though he were afflicted with St. Vitus's dance.

"I hope Miss Trevor is better," he said, after I had commented upon the
fact that I had not seen him of late.

"Much better," I answered. "In fact, she may now be said to be
convalescent. I was sorry to hear from Doctor Nikola, however, that you
yourself are not quite the thing."

"Nerves, only nerves," he answered, with what was almost a frightened
look in his eyes. "Doctor Nikola will set me right in no time, I am
sure of that. I have had a run of beastly luck lately, and it has upset
me more than I can say."

I knew to what he referred, but I did not betray my knowledge. After
that he bade me farewell, and continued his walk. That evening another
exquisite basket of flowers arrived for Miss Trevor. There was no card
attached to it, but as the Duke denied all knowledge of it, I felt
certain as to whence it came. On the day following, for the first time
since her illness, Miss Trevor was able to leave the house and to go for
a short airing upon the canal. We were rejoiced to take her, and made
arrangements for her comfort, but there was one young man who was more
attentive than all the rest of the party put together. Would Miss Trevor
like another cushion? Was she quite sure that she was comfortable? Would
she have preferred a gondola to a barca? I said nothing, but I wondered
what the Dean thought, for he is an observant old gentleman. As for the
young lady herself, she accepted the other's attentions with the most
charming good-humour, and thus all went merry as marriage-bells. On the
day following she went out again, and on the afternoon of the next day
felt so much stronger as to express a desire to walk for a short time on
the piazza of St. Mark. We accordingly landed at the well-known steps,
and strolled slowly towards the cathedral. It was a lovely afternoon,
the air being soft and warm, with a gentle breeze blowing in from the
sea.

It is needless for me to say that Glenbarth was in the Seventh Heaven of
Delight, and was already beginning to drop sundry little confidences
into my ear. Her illness had ruined the opportunity he had hoped to have
had, but he was going to make up for it now. Indeed it looked very much
as if she had at last made up her mind concerning him, but, having had
one experience of the sex, I was not going to assure myself that all was
satisfactory until a definite announcement was made by the lady herself.
As it turned out it was just as well that I did so, for that afternoon,
not altogether unexpectedly I must confess, was destined to prove the
truth of the old saying that the course of true love never runs smooth.
Miss Trevor, with the Duke on one side and my wife on the other, was
slowly passing across the great square, when a man suddenly appeared
before us from one of the shops on our right. This individual was none
other than the Don Josè de Martinos, who raised his hat politely to the
ladies and expressed his delight at seeing Miss Trevor abroad once more.
As usual, he was faultlessly dressed, and on the whole looked somewhat
better in health than he had done when I had last seen him. By some
means, I scarcely know how it was done, he managed to slip in between my
wife and Miss Trevor, and in this order we made our way towards our
usual resting-place, Florian's _café_. Never, since we had known him,
had the Don exerted himself so much to please. The Duke, however, did
not seem satisfied. His high spirits had entirely left him, and, in
consequence, he was now as quiet as he had been talkative before. It was
plain to all of us that the Don admired Miss Trevor, and that he wanted
her to become aware of the fact. Next morning he made an excuse and
joined our party again. At this the Duke's anger knew no bounds.
Personally I must confess that I was sorry for the young fellow. It was
very hard upon him, just as he was progressing so favourably, that
another should appear upon the scene and distract the lady's attention.
Yet there was only one way of ending it, if only he could summon up
sufficient courage to do it. I fear, however, that he was either too
uncertain as to the result, or that he dreaded his fate, should she
consign him to the Outer Darkness, too much to put it into execution.
For this reason he had to submit to sharing her smiles with the
Spaniard, which, if only he could have understood it, was an excellent
thing for his patience, and a salutary trial for his character.

Meanwhile my wife looked on in despair.

"I thought it was all settled," she said pathetically, on one occasion,
"and now they are as far off as ever. Why on earth does that troublesome
man come between them?"

"Because he has quite as much right to be there as the other," I
answered. "If the Duke wants her, let him ask her, but that's just what
he won't do. The whole matter should have been settled by now."

"It's all very well for you to say that," she returned. "The poor boy
would have done it before Gertrude was taken ill, but that you opposed
him."

"And a very proper proceeding too," I answered. "Miss Trevor was under
my charge, and I was certainly not going to let any young man, doubtless
very desirable, but who had only known her two days, propose to her, get
sent about his business, render it impossible for our party to continue
together, and by so doing take all the pleasure out of our holiday."

"So it was only of yourself you were thinking?" she returned, with that
wonderful inconsistency that is such a marked trait in her character.
"Why do you urge him now to do it?"

"Because Miss Gertrude is no longer under my charge," I answered. "Her
father is here, and is able to look after her." Then an idea occurred to
me, and I acted upon it at once.

"When you come to think of it, my dear," I said, as if I had been
carefully considering the question, "why should the Don not make
Gertrude as good a husband as Glenbarth? He is rich, doubtless comes of
a very good family, and would certainly make a very presentable figure
in society."

She stared at me aghast.

"Well," she said in astonishment, "I must say that I think you are a
loyal friend. You know that the Duke has set his heart on marrying her,
and yet you are championing the cause of his rival. I should never have
thought it of you, Dick."

I hastened to assure her that I was not in earnest, but for a moment I
almost fancy she thought I was.

"If you are on the Duke's side I wonder that you encourage Don Martinos
to continue his visits," she went on, after the other matter had been
satisfactorily settled. "I cannot tell you how much I dislike him. I
feel that I would rather see Gertrude married to a crossing-sweeper than
to that man. How she can even tolerate him, I do not know. I find it
very difficult to do so."

"Poor Don," I said, "he does not appear to have made a very good
impression. In common justice I must admit that, so far as I am
concerned, he has been invariably extremely civil."

"Because he wants your interest. You are the head of the house."

"It is a pretty fiction--let it pass however."

She pretended not to notice my gibe.

"He is gambling away every halfpenny he possesses."

I regarded her with unfeigned astonishment. How could she have become
aware of this fact? I put the question to her.

"Some one connected with the hotel told my maid, Phillipa," she
answered. "They say he never returns to the hotel until between two and
three in the morning."

"He is not married," I retorted.

She vouchsafed no remark to this speech, but, bidding me keep my eyes
open, and beware lest there should be trouble between the two men, left
me to my own thoughts.

The warning she had given me was not a futile one, for it needed only
half an eye to see that Glenbarth and Martinos were desperately jealous
of one another. They eyed each other when they met as if, at any moment,
they were prepared to fly at each other's throats. Once the Duke's
behaviour was such as to warrant my speaking to him upon the subject
when we were alone together.

"My dear fellow," I said, "I must ask you to keep yourself in hand. I
don't like having to talk to you, but I have to remember that there are
ladies in the case."

"Then why on earth doesn't Martinos keep out of my way?" he asked
angrily. "You pitch into me for getting riled, but you don't see how
villainously rude he is to me. He contradicts me as often as he can,
and, for the rest of the time, treats me as if I were a child."

"In return you treat him as if he were an outsider, and had no right to
look at, much less to speak to, Miss Trevor. Nevertheless he is our
friend--or if he is not our friend, he has at least been introduced to
us by a friend. Now I have no desire that you should quarrel at all, but
if you must do so, let it be when you are alone together, and also when
you are out of the hotel."

I had no idea how literally my words were to be taken.

That night, according to a custom he had of late adopted, Martinos put
in an appearance after dinner, and brought his guitar with him. As he
bade us "good-evening" I looked at the Duke's face. It was pale and set
as if he had at last come to an understanding with himself. Presently
my wife and I sang a duet together, in a fashion that pointed very
plainly to the fact that our thoughts were elsewhere. Miss Trevor
thanked us in a tone that showed me that she also had given but small
attention to our performance. Then Gertrude sang a song of Tosti's very
prettily, and was rewarded with enthusiastic applause. After this the
Don was called upon to perform. He took up his guitar, and having tuned
it, struck a few chords and began to sing. Though I look back upon that
moment now with real pain, I must confess that I do not think I had ever
heard him sing better; the merry laughter of the song suited his voice
to perfection. It was plainly a comic ditty with some absurd imitations
of the farm-yard at the end of each verse. When he had finished, my wife
politely asked him to give us a translation of the words. Fate willed
that she should ask, I suppose, and also that he should answer it.

"It is a story of a foolish young man who loved a fair maid," he
replied, speaking with the utmost deliberation. "Unfortunately, however,
he was afraid to tell her of his love. He pined to be with her, yet,
whenever he was desirous of declaring his passion, his courage failed
him at the last moment, and he was compelled to talk of the most
commonplace things, such as the animals upon his father's farm. At last
she, tiring of such a laggard, sent him away in disgust to learn how to
woo. In the meantime she married a man who was better acquainted with
his business."

Whether the song was exactly as he described it, I am not in a position
to say; the fact, however, remains that at least four of our party saw
the insinuation and bitterly resented it. I saw the Duke's face flush
and then go pale. I thought for a moment that he was going to say
something, but he contented himself by picking up a book from the table
at his side, and glancing carelessly at it. I could guess, by the way
his hands gripped it, something of the storm that was raging in his
breast. My wife, meanwhile, had turned the conversation into another
channel by asking the Dean what he had thought of a certain old church
he had visited that morning. This gave a little relief, but not very
much. Ten minutes later the Don rose and bade us "good-night." With a
sneer on his face, he even extended his good wish to the Duke, who
bowed, but did not reply. When he had gone, my wife gave the signal for
a general dispersal, and Glenbarth and I were presently left in the
drawing-room alone. I half expected an immediate outburst, but to my
surprise he said nothing on the subject. I had no intention of
referring to it unless he did, and so the matter remained for the time
in abeyance. After a conversation on general topics, lasting perhaps a
quarter of an hour, we wished each other "good-night," and retired to
our respective rooms. When I entered my wife's room later, I was
prepared for the discussion which I knew was inevitable.

"What do you think of your friend now?" she asked, with a touch of
sarcasm thrown into the word "friend." "You of course heard how he
insulted the Duke?"

"I noticed that he did a very foolish thing, not only for his own
interests with us, but also for several other reasons. You may rely upon
it that if ever he had any chance with Gertrude----"

"He never had the remotest chance, I can promise you that," my wife
interrupted.

"I say if ever he had a chance with Gertrude, he has lost it now. Surely
that should satisfy you."

"It does not satisfy me that he should be rude to our guest at any time,
but I am particularly averse to his insulting him in our presence."

"You need not worry yourself," I said. "In all probability you will see
no more of him. I shall convey a hint to him upon the subject. It will
not be pleasant for Anstruther's sake."

"Mr. Anstruther should have known better than to have sent him to us,"
she replied. "There is one thing I am devoutly thankful for, and that is
that the Duke took it so beautifully. He might have been angry, and have
made a scene. Indeed I should not have blamed him, had he done so."

I did not ask her, for reasons of my own, whether she was sure that his
Grace of Glenbarth was not angry. I must confess that I was rendered
more uneasy by the quiet way he had taken it, than if he had burst into
an explosion. Concealed fires are invariably more dangerous than open
ones.

Next morning after breakfast, while we were smoking together in the
balcony, a note was brought to Glenbarth. He took it, opened it, and
when he had read the contents, thrust it hastily into his pocket.

"No answer," he said, as he lit a cigar, and I thought his hand trembled
a little as he put the match to it.

His face was certainly paler than usual, and there was a far-away look
in his eyes that showed me that it was not the canal or the houses
opposite that he was looking upon.

"There is something behind all this, and I must find out what it is," I
said to myself. "Surely he can't be going to make a fool of himself."

I knew, however, that my chance of getting anything satisfactory out of
him lay in saying nothing about the matter just then. I must play my
game in another fashion.

"What do you say if we run down to Rome next week?" I asked, after a
little pause. "My wife and Miss Trevor seem to think they would enjoy
it. There are lots of people we know there just now."

"I shall be very pleased," he answered, but with a visible effort.

At any other time he would have jumped eagerly at the suggestion.
Decidedly there was something wrong! At luncheon he was preoccupied, so
much so that I could see Miss Trevor wondered what was the matter. Had
she known the terrible suspicion that was growing in my own mind, I
wonder what she would have said, and also how she would have acted?

That afternoon the ladies resolved to remain at home, and the Dean
decided to stay with them. In consequence, the Duke and I went out
together. He was still as quiet as he had been in the morning, but as
yet I had not been able to screw up my courage to such a pitch as to be
able to put the question to him. Once, however, I asked the reason for
his quietness, and received the evasive reply "that he was not feeling
quite up to the mark that day."

This time I came a little nearer the point.

"You are not worrying about that wretched fellow's rudeness, I hope?" I
said, looking him fairly and squarely in the face.

"Not in the least," he answered. "Why should I be?"

"Well, because I know you are hot-tempered," I returned, rather puzzled
to find an explanation for him.

"Oh, I'll have it out with him at some time or another, I have no
doubt," he continued, and then changed the subject by referring to some
letters he had had from home that day.

When later we returned to the hotel for afternoon tea, we found the two
ladies eagerly awaiting our coming. From the moment that he entered the
room, Miss Trevor was graciousness itself to the young man. She smiled
upon him, and encouraged him, until he scarcely knew whether he was
standing upon his head or his heels. I fancy she was anxious to
compensate him for the Don's rudeness to him.

That evening we all complained of feeling tired, and accordingly went to
bed early. I was the latest of the party, and my own man had not left my
dressing-room more than a minute before he returned with the
information that the Duke's valet would be glad if he could have a few
words with me.

"Send him in," I said, and forthwith the man made his appearance.

"What is it, Henry?" I inquired. "Is your master not well?"

"I don't know what's wrong with his Grace, sir," the man replied. "I'm
very much frightened about him, and I thought I would come to you at
once."

"Why, what is the matter? He seemed well enough when I bade him
good-night, half-an-hour or so ago."

"It isn't that, sir. He's well enough in his body," said the man.
"There's something else behind it all. I know, sir, you won't mind my
coming to you. I didn't know what else to do."

"You had better tell me everything, then I shall know how to act. What
do you think is the reason of it?"

"Well, sir, it's like this," Henry went on. "His Grace has been very
quiet all day. He wrote a lot of letters this morning and put them in
his dispatch-box. 'I'll tell you what to do with them later, Henry,' he
said when he had finished. Well, I didn't think very much of that, but
when to-night he asked me what I had made up my mind to do with myself
if ever I should leave his service, and told me that he had put it down
in his will that I was to have five hundred pounds if he should die
before I left him, I began to think there was something the matter.
Well, sir, I took his things to-night, and was in the act of leaving the
room, when he called me back. 'I'm going out early for a swim in the sea
to-morrow morning,' he said, 'but I shan't say anything to Sir Richard
Hatteras about it, because I happen to know that he thinks the currents
about here are dangerous. Well, one never knows what may turn up,' he
goes on to say, 'and if, by any chance, Henry--though I hope such a
thing will not happen--I should be caught, and should not return, I want
you to give this letter to Sir Richard. But remember this, you are on no
account to touch it until mid-day. Do you understand?' I told him that I
did, but I was so frightened, sir, by what he said, that I made up my
mind to come and see you at once."

This was disturbing intelligence indeed. From what he said there could
be no doubt that the Don and Glenbarth contemplated fighting a duel. In
that case what was to be done? To attempt to reason with the Duke in his
present humour would be absurd, besides his honour was at stake, and,
though I am totally against duels, that counts for something.

"I am glad you told me this, Henry," I said, "for now I shall know how
to act. Don't worry about your master's safety. Leave him to me. He is
safe in my hands. He shall have his swim to-morrow morning, but I shall
take very good care that he is watched. You may go to bed with an easy
heart, and don't think about that letter. It will not be needed, for he
will come to no harm."

The man thanked me civilly and withdrew, considerably relieved in his
mind by his interview with me. Then I sat myself down to think the
matter out. What was I to do? Doubtless the Don was an experienced
duellist, while Glenbarth, though a very fair shot with a rifle or
fowling-piece, would have no chance against him with the pistol or the
sword. It was by no means an enviable position for a man to be placed
in, and I fully realized my responsibility in the matter. I felt that I
needed help, but to whom should I apply for it? The Dean would be worse
than useless; while to go to the Don and to ask him to sacrifice his
honour to our friendship for Glenbarth would be to run the risk of being
shown the door. Then I thought of Nikola, and made up my mind to go to
him at once. Since the Duke had spoken of leaving the hotel early in the
morning, there could be no doubt as to the hour of the meeting. In that
case there was no time to be lost. I thereupon went to explain matters
to my wife.

"I had a suspicion that this would happen," she said, when she had heard
me out. "Oh, Dick! you must stop it without fail. I should never forgive
myself if anything were to happen to him while he is our guest. Go to
Doctor Nikola at once and tell him everything, and implore him to help
us as he has helped us before."

Thus encouraged, I left her, and went back to my dressing-room to
complete my attire. This done I descended to the hall to endeavour to
obtain a gondola. Good fortune favoured me, for the American party who
had but lately arrived at the hotel, had just returned from the theatre.
I engaged the man who had brought them, and told him to take me to the
Palace Revecce with all possible speed.

"It's a late hour, Senor," he replied, "and I'd rather go anywhere than
to that house in the Rio del Consiglio."

"You will be well paid for your trouble and also for your fear," I
replied as I got into the boat.

Next moment we were on our way. A light was burning in Nikola's room as
we drew up at the palace steps. I bade the gondolier wait for me, and
to ensure his doing so, refused to pay him until my return. Then I rang
the bell, and was rewarded in a few minutes by hearing Nikola's
footsteps on the flag-stones of the courtyard. When the door opened he
was vastly surprised at seeing me; he soon recovered his equilibrium,
however. It took more than a small surprise to upset Nikola. He invited
me to enter.

"I hope there is nothing wrong," he said politely. "Otherwise how am I
to account for this late call?"

"Something is very wrong indeed," I said. "I have come to consult you,
and to ask for your assistance."

By this time he had reached his own room--that horrible room I
remembered so well.

"The fact of the matter is," I said, seating myself in the chair he
offered me as I spoke, "the Duke of Glenbarth and Don de Martinos have
arranged to fight a duel soon after daybreak."

"To fight a duel?" Nikola repeated. "So it has come to this, has it?
Well, what do you want me to do?"

"Surely it is needless for me to say," I replied. "I want you to help me
to stop it. You like the Duke, I know. Surely you will not allow that
brave young life to be sacrificed by that Spaniard?"

"From the way you speak it would appear that _you_ do not care for
Martinos?" Nikola replied.

"I frankly confess that I do not," I replied. "He was introduced to me
by a personal friend, but none of my party care very much for him. And
now this new affair only adds to our dislike. He insulted the Duke most
unwarrantably in my drawing-room last night, and this duel is the
result."

"Always the same, always the same," Nikola muttered to himself. "But the
end is coming, and his evil deeds will bear their own fruit." Then
turning to me, he said aloud--"Since you wish it, I will help you. Don
Josè is a magnificent shot, and he would place a bullet in the Duke's
anatomy wherever he might choose to receive it. The issue would never
for one moment be in doubt."

"But how do you know the Don is such a good shot?" I inquired with
considerable surprise, for until the moment that I had introduced them
to each other I had no idea that they had ever met.

"I know more about him than you think," he answered, fixing his
glittering eyes upon me. "But now to business. If they fight at daybreak
there is not much time to be lost."

He went to his writing-table at the other side of the room and wrote a
few lines on a sheet of note-paper. Placing it in an envelope he
inquired whether I had told my gondolier to wait. Upon my answering in
the affirmative, he left me and went down-stairs.

"What have you done?" I inquired when he returned.

"I have sent word to an agent I sometimes employ," he said. "He will
keep his eyes open. Now you had better get back to your hotel and to
bed. Sleep secure on my promise that the two men shall not fight. When
you are called, take the gondola you will find awaiting you outside the
hotel, and I will meet you at a certain place. Now let me wish you a
good-night."

He conducted me to the hall below and saw me into the gondola. Then
saying something to the gondolier that I did not catch, he bade me
adieu, and I returned to the hotel. Punctually at five o'clock I was
awakened by a tapping at my bedroom door. I dressed, donned a cloak, for
the morning was cold, and descended to the hall. The night watchman
informed me that a gondola was awaiting me at the steps, and conducted
me to it. Without a word I got in, and the little craft shot out into
the canal. We entered a narrow street on the other side, took two or
three turnings to right and left, and at last came to a standstill at
some steps that I had never noticed before. A tall figure, wrapped in a
black cloak, was awaiting us there. It was Nikola! Entering the gondola
he took his place at my side. Then once more we set off.

At the same moment, so Nikola informed me, Glenbarth was leaving the
hotel.



CHAPTER XI


When I had picked up Nikola we continued our voyage. Dawn was just
breaking, and Venice appeared very strange and uncanny in the weird
morning light. A cold wind was blowing in from the sea, and when I
experienced its sharpness, I could not help feeling thankful that I had
the foresight to bring my cloak.

"How do you know where the meeting is to take place?" I asked, after we
had been travelling a few minutes.

"Because, when I am unable to find things out for myself, I have agents
who can do it for me," he replied. "What would appear difficult, in
reality is very simple. To reach the place in question it would be
necessary for them to employ gondolas, and for the reason that, as you
are aware, there are not many plying in the streets of Venice at such an
early hour, it would be incumbent upon them to bespeak them beforehand.
A few inquiries among the gondoliers elicited the information I wanted.
That point satisfactorily settled, the rest was easy."

"And you think we shall be there in time to prevent the meeting?" I
asked.

"We shall be at the rendezvous before they are," he answered. "And I
have promised you they shall not fight."

Comforted by this reassuring news, I settled myself down to watch the
tortuous thoroughfares through which we were passing. Presently we
passed the church of St. Maria del Formosa, and later the Ducal Palace,
thence out into the commencement of the Grand Canal itself. It was then
that Nikola urged the gondoliers, for we had two, to greater speed.
Under their powerful strokes the light little craft sped over the smooth
bay, passed the island of St. Georgio Maggiore, and then turned almost
due south. Then I thought of Glenbarth, and wondered what his feelings
were at that moment. At last I began to have an inkling of our
destination. We were proceeding in the direction of the Lido, and it was
upon the sandy beach that separates the lagoons and Venice from the open
sea that the duel was to be fought. Presently we landed, and Nikola said
something to the gondoliers, who turned their craft and moved slowly
away. After walking along the sands for some distance, we hid ourselves
at a place where it was possible to see the strip of beach, while we
ourselves remained hidden.

"They will not be here before another ten minutes," said Nikola,
consulting his watch; "we had a good start of them."

Seating ourselves we awaited their arrival, and while we did so, Nikola
talked of the value set upon human life by the inhabitants of different
countries. No one was more competent to speak on such a subject than he,
for he had seen it in every clime and in every phase. He spoke with a
bitterness and a greater scorn for the petty vanities and aims of men
than I had ever noticed in him before. Suddenly he stopped, and looking
towards the left said--

"If I am not mistaken, the Duke of Glenbarth has arrived."

I looked in the direction indicated, and was able to descry the tall
figure of the Duke coming along the sands. A little later two other
persons made their appearance and followed him. One was undoubtedly the
Don, but who was the third? As they drew closer, I discovered that he
was unknown to me; not so to Nikola, however.

"Burmaceda," he said to himself, and there was an ugly sneer upon his
face.

The Duke bowed ceremoniously to the two men, and the stranger, having
returned his salute, knelt upon the sand, and proceeded to open a box
he had brought with him. From it he produced a pair of pistols which he
loaded with ostentatious care. This work finished, he took them by their
barrels and gave Glenbarth his choice. The Spaniard, I noticed, was
dressed entirely in black, not showing a particle of white; the Duke was
attired very much as usual. When each had taken a pistol, the stranger
measured the distance upon the sands and allotted them their respective
positions. By this time I was in such a fever of excitement that Nikola
laid his hand upon my arm to restrain me.

"Wait," he whispered. "Have I not pledged you my word that your friend
shall not be hurt? Do not interrupt them yet. I have my suspicions, and
am anxious to confirm them."

[Illustration: "'Put down your pistols,' said Nikola."]

I accordingly waited, but though it was only for a few seconds it seemed
to me an eternity. The two men were in position, and the stranger, I
gathered, was giving them their final instructions. They were to stand
with their faces turned from each other, and at the word of command were
to wheel round and fire. In a flash I saw what Nikola had in his mind.
The stranger was favouring the Don, for while Glenbarth would have
faithfully carried out his portion of the contract, the Spaniard did not
turn at all, a fact which his opponent was scarcely likely to become
aware of, seeing that he would in all probability have a bullet in his
heart before he would have had time to realize the trick that had been
played upon him. The stranger had raised his hand above his head, and
was about to give the signal, when Nikola sprang from beside me, and in
a loud voice called to them to "stop." I rose to my feet at the same
instant, and followed him across the sands to where the men stood.

"Put down your pistols, gentlemen," said Nikola in a voice that rang
like a trumpet-call. "I forbid the duel. Your Grace, the challenge comes
from you, I beg that you will apologize to Don Martinos for having sent
it."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," the Duke returned.

On learning this Nikola took him on one side and talked earnestly with
him for a few minutes. Then, still with his hand upon the other's arm,
he led him back to where we were standing.

"I express my regret for having challenged you," said Glenbarth, but
with no good grace.

"I thank you, your Grace," said Nikola. Then turning to the Don, he went
on--"And now, Don Martinos, I hope you will apologize to the Duke for
the insults that occasioned the challenge."

With an oath the Spaniard vowed that he was the last man to do anything
of the kind. He had never apologized to any man in his life, and he was
not going to do so now, with more to the same effect. Then Nikola fixed
his glittering eyes upon him. His voice, however, when he spoke was as
conciliatory as ever.

"To oblige _me_ you will do it," he said, and then drawing a little
closer to him he murmured something that we could not hear. The effect
upon the Don was magical. His face turned a leaden hue, and for a moment
I thought he would have fallen, but he recovered his self-possession
with an effort, and muttered the apology Nikola had demanded of him.

"I thank you, gentlemen," said Nikola. "Now, with your permission, we
will return to the city." Here he wheeled round upon the stranger, and
continued:--"This is not the first of these little affairs in which you
have played a part. You have been warned before, profit by it, for the
time may come when it will be too late. Remember Pietro Sallomi."

I do not know who Pietro Sallomi may have been, but I know that the mere
mention of his name was sufficient to take all the swagger out of the
stranger. He fell to pieces like a house of cards.

"Now, gentlemen, let us be moving," said Nikola, and taking the Don
with him he set off quickly in the direction of the spot where we had
disembarked from the gondola. I followed with the Duke.

"My dear boy," I said, as we walked along, "why on earth did you do it?
Is your life of so little value to yourself or to your friends, that you
try to throw it away in this reckless fashion?"

"I am the most miserable brute on the face of the earth," he replied. "I
think it would have been far better for me had I been shot back there."

"Look here, Glenbarth," I said with some anger, "if you talk nonsense in
this manner, I shall begin to think that you are not accountable for
your actions. What on earth have you to be so unhappy about?"

"You know very well," he answered gloomily.

"You are making yourself miserable because Miss Trevor will not marry
you," I said. "You have not asked her, how therefore can you tell?"

"But she seems to prefer Don Martinos," he went on.

"Fiddlesticks!" I answered. "I'm quite certain she hasn't thought of him
in that way. Now, I am going to talk plainly to you. I have made up my
mind that we leave to-day for Rome. We shall spend a fortnight there,
and you should have a fair opportunity of putting the question to Miss
Trevor. If you can't do it in that time, well, all I can say is, that
you are not the man I took you for. You must remember one thing,
however: I'll have no more of this nonsense. It's all very well for a
Spanish braggart to go swaggering about the world, endeavouring to put
bullets into inoffensive people, but it's not the thing for an English
gentleman."

"I'm sorry, Dick. Try to forgive me. You won't tell Lady Hatteras, will
you?"

"She knows it already," I answered. "I don't fancy you would get much
sympathy from her. Try for a moment to picture what their feelings would
have been--mine may be left out of the question--if you had been lying
dead on the beach yonder. Think of your relations at home. What would
they have said and thought? And for what?"

"Because he insulted me," Glenbarth replied. "Was I to put up with
that?"

"You should have treated him with the contempt he merited. But there, do
not let us discuss the matter any further. All's well that ends well;
and I don't think we shall see much more of the Don."

When we reached the gondolas Nikola took me aside.

"You had better return to the city with the Duke in one," he said; "I
will take the Don back in another."

"And what about the other fellow?" I inquired.

"Let him swim if he likes," said Nikola, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"By the way, I suppose you saw what took place back yonder?"

I nodded.

"Then say nothing about it," he replied. "Such matters are best kept to
one's self."

It was a very sober-minded and reflective young man that sat down to
breakfast with us that morning. My wife, seeing how matters stood, laid
herself out to be especially kind to him. So affable indeed was she,
that Miss Trevor regarded her with considerable surprise. During the
meal the journey to Rome was discussed, and it was decided that I should
telegraph for our old rooms, and that we should leave Venice at
half-past two. This arrangement was duly carried out, and nightfall saw
us well advanced on our journey to the capital. The journey is so well
known that I need not attempt to describe it here. Only one incident
struck me as remarkable about it. No sooner had we crossed the
railway-bridge that unites Venice with the mainland, than Miss Trevor's
lethargy, if I may so describe it, suddenly left her. She seemed to be
her old self instantly. It was as though she had at last thrown off the
load under which she had so long been staggering. She laughed and joked
with my wife, teased her father, and was even inclined to be flippant
with the head of the family. After the events of the morning the effect
upon the Duke was just what was wanted.

In due course we reached Rome, and installed ourselves at our old
quarters in the Piazza Barberini. From that moment the time we had
allowed ourselves sped by on lightning wings. We seemed scarcely to have
got there before it was time to go back to Venice. It was unfortunately
necessary for the Dean to return to England, at the end of our stay in
Rome, and though it was considerably out of his way, he proposed
journeying thither by way of Venice. The change had certainly done his
daughter good. She was quite her old self once more, and the listless,
preoccupied air that had taken such a hold upon her in Venice had
entirely disappeared.

"Make the most of the Eternal City," my wife announced at dinner on the
eve of our departure, "for to-morrow morning you will look your last
upon it. The dragon who has us in his power has issued his decree, and,
like the laws of the Medes and Persians, it changeth not."

"A dragon?" I answered. "You should say the family scapegoat! I protest
to you, my dear Dean, that it is most unfair. If it is some disagreeable
duty to be performed, then it is by my order; if it is something that
will bestow happiness upon another, then it is my lady that gets the
credit."

"A very proper arrangement," said my wife, "as I am sure the Dean will
agree with me."

"I agree with you in everything," replied the polite old gentleman.
"Could I do otherwise?"

"I appeal to the Duke, then. Is it your Grace's opinion that a husband
should of necessity take upon himself the properties of a dragon?"

Even that wretched young man would not stand by an old friend.

"I am not going to be drawn into an argument with you," he said. "If
Lady Hatteras calls you a dragon, then a dragon you must remain until
the end of the chapter, so far as I am concerned."

"Phyllis is always right," answered Miss Trevor unblushingly.

"I give in," I said in mock despair. "If you are all against me, I am
undone."

It was a beautiful moonlight night when we rose from dinner, and it was
arranged that our last evening in Rome should be spent in a visit to
the Colosseum. A carriage was immediately ordered, and when the ladies
had wrapped themselves up warmly we set off. To those unfortunate
individuals who have not had an opportunity of visiting that ancient
structure, I can only justify my incompetency by saying that it would be
well-nigh impossible to furnish a description that would give them an
adequate idea of the feeling of awe it inspires in one. By moonlight it
presents a picture that for solemn grandeur is, to my thinking, without
its equal in the world. Pompeii by moonlight suggests reflections. The
great square of St. Mark's in Venice seen by the same mellow light is a
sight never to be forgotten; but in my humble opinion the Colosseum
eclipses them all. We entered it and stood in the great ring looking up
at the tiers of seats, and recalling its Past. The Dean was profoundly
impressed, and spoke of the men who had given up their lives in
martyrdom within those great walls.

"How many of the crowd gathered here to witness the agony of the
tortured Christians," he said, "believed that the very religion which
they so heartily despised was destined to sway the world, and to see the
mighty Colosseum and the mightier Power that built it, a ruin? It is a
wonderful thought."

After the Dean's speech we crossed to a spot where a better view was
obtainable. It was only then that we discovered that the Duke and Miss
Trevor were not of our party. When, however, it was time to return they
emerged from the shadow and followed us out. Both were unusually silent,
and my wife, putting two and two together in her own fashion, came to
the conclusion that they had quarrelled. When, later on, the Duke and I
were alone together, and the ladies and the Dean had retired to their
respective rooms, I was about to take him to task when he stopped me.

"Dick, old man," he said with a solemnity that could not have been
greater had he been telling me of some great tragedy, "I want you to
give me your congratulations. Miss Trevor has consented to become my
wife."

I was so surprised that I scarcely knew what to do or say.

"Good gracious, man!--then why are you so downcast?" I replied. "I had
made up my mind that she had refused you!"

"I am far from being downcast," he said as solemnly as before. "I am the
happiest man in the world. Can't you understand how I feel? Somehow--now
that it is over, and I have won her--it seems so great a thing that it
almost overwhelms me. You don't know, Dick, how proud I am that she
should have taken me!"

"And so you ought to be," I said enthusiastically. "You'll have a
splendid wife, and I know you'll make a good husband."

"I don't deserve it, Dick," he continued in humiliating self-abasement.
"She is too good for me, much too good."

"I remember that I said the same thing myself," I replied. "Come to me
in five years' time and let me hear what you have to say then."

"Confound you," he answered; "why do you talk like that?"

"Because it's the way of the world, my lad," I answered. "But there,
you'll learn all for yourself soon enough. Now let me order a
whisky-and-potash for you, and then off you go to bed."

"A whisky-and-potash?" he cried, with horror depicted on his face. "Do
you think I'm going to drink whisky on the night that she has accepted
me? You must be mad."

"Well, have your own way," I answered. "For my own part, I have no such
scruples. I have been married too long."

I rang the bell, and, when my refreshment was brought to me, drank it
slowly, as became a philosopher.

It would appear that Miss Trevor had already told my wife, for I was
destined to listen to a considerable amount of information concerning
it before I was allowed to close my eyes that night.

"I always said that they were suited to each other," she observed. "She
will make an ideal Duchess, and I think he may consider himself a very
lucky fellow. What did he say about it?"

"He admitted that he was not nearly good enough for her."

"That was nice of him. And what did you say?"

"I told him to come to me in five years' time and let me hear what he
had to say then," I answered with a yawn.

I had an idea that I should get into trouble over that remark, and I was
not mistaken. I was told that it was an unfeeling thing to have said,
that it was not the sort of idea to put into a young man's head at such
a time, and that if every one had such a good wife as some other people
she could name, they would have reason to thank their good fortune.

"If I am not mistaken, you told me you were not good enough for me when
I accepted you," she retorted. "What do you say now?"

"Exactly what I said then," I answered diplomatically. "I am not good
enough for you. You should have married the Dean."

"Don't be absurd. The Dean is a dear old thing, but is old enough to be
my father."

"He will be Glenbarth's father-in-law directly," I said with a chuckle,
"and then that young man will have to drink his claret and listen to his
sermons. In consideration of that I will forgive him all his sins
against me."

Then I fell asleep, to dream that I was a rival of St. George chasing a
dragon over the seats of the Colosseum; to find, when I had run him to
earth, that he had assumed human shape, and was no other than my old
friend the Dean of Bedminster.

Next morning the young couple's behaviour at breakfast was
circumspection itself. The worthy old Dean ate his breakfast unconscious
of the shell that was to be dropped into his camp an hour later, while
my wife purred approval over the teapot. Meanwhile I wondered what
Nikola would have to say when he heard of the engagement. After the meal
was over we left the Duke and Dean together. Somehow, I don't think
Glenbarth was exactly at his ease, but when he reappeared half-an-hour
later and shook me by the hand, he vowed that the old gentleman was the
biggest trump in the world, and that I was the next. From this I
gathered that the matter had been satisfactorily settled, and that, so
far as parental consent was concerned, Miss Gertrude Trevor was likely
to become the Duchess of Glenbarth without any unnecessary delay.
Though there was not much time to spare before our train started, there
was still sufficient for the lovers to make a journey to the Piazza di
Trevi, where a magnificent diamond ring was purchased to celebrate the
engagement. A bracelet that would have made any woman's mouth water was
also dedicated to the same purpose. A memorial bracelet on the Etruscan
model was next purchased for my wife, and was handed to her later on by
her grateful friends.

"You did so much for us," said the Duke simply, when Miss Trevor made
the presentation.

My lady thereupon kissed Miss Trevor and thanked the Duke, while I
looked on in amazement.

"Come, now," I said, "I call that scarcely fair. Is the poor dragon to
receive nothing? I was under the impression that I had done more than
any one to bring about this happy result."

"You shall have our gratitude," Miss Trevor replied. "That would be so
nice, wouldn't it?"

"We'll see what the Duke says in five years," I answered, and with this
Parthian shot I left them.

Next morning we reached Venice. The journey had been a very pleasant
one, but I must say that I was not sorry when it was over. The picture
of two young lovers, gazing with devotion into each other's eyes hour
after hour, is apt to pall upon one. We had left Mestre behind us, and
were approaching the bridge I have described before as connecting Venice
with the mainland, when I noticed that Gertrude Trevor had suddenly
become silent and preoccupied. She had a headache, she declared to my
wife, but thought it would soon pass off. On reaching the
railway-station we chartered a barca to take us to our hotel. When we
reached it, Galaghetti was on the steps to receive us. His honest face
beamed with satisfaction, and the compliments he paid my wife when she
set foot upon the steps, were such as to cover her with confusion. I
directed my party to go up-stairs, and then drew the old man on one
side.

"Don Josè de Martinos?" I asked, knowing that it was sufficient merely
to mention his name.

"He is gone, my lord," Galaghetti replied. "Since he was a friend of
yours, I am sorry I could keep him no longer. Perhaps your lordship does
not know that he has gambled all his money away, and that he has not
even enough left to discharge his indebtedness to me."

"I certainly did not know it," I replied. "And I am sorry to hear it.
Where is he now?"

"I could not say," Galaghetti replied. "But doubtless I could find out
if your lordship desires to know."

"You need not do that," I answered. "I merely asked out of curiosity.
Don Martinos was no friend of mine."

Then, bidding him good-day, I made my way up-stairs, turning over in my
mind what I had heard. I was not at all surprised to hear that the Don
had come to grief, though I had not expected that the catastrophe would
happen in so short a time. It was satisfactory to know, however, that in
all probability he would never trouble us again.

That afternoon, according to custom, we spent an hour at Florian's
_café_. The Duke and Gertrude strolled up and down, while my wife drew
my attention to their happiness. I had on several occasions sang
Glenbarth's praises to the Dean, and as a result the old gentleman was
charmed with his future son-in-law, and seemed to think that the summit
of his ambition had been achieved. During our sojourn on the piazza I
kept my eyes open, for I was in hopes of seeing Nikola, but I saw
nothing of him. If I was not successful in that way, however, I was more
so in another. I had found a budget of letters awaiting me on my return
from Rome, and as two of them necessitated my sending telegrams to
England, I allowed the rest of the party to return to hotel by boat,
while I made my way to the telegraph-office. Having sent them off, I
walked on to the Rio del Barcaroli, engaged a gondola there, and was
about to step into it, when I became aware of a man watching me. He
proved to be none other than the Spaniard, Don Martinos, but so great
was the change in him that for a moment I scarcely recognized him.
Though only a fortnight had elapsed since I had last seen him, he had
shrunk to what was only a shadow of his former self. His face was of a
pasty, fishy whiteness, and his eyes had a light in them that I had not
seen there before. For the moment I thought he had been drinking, and
that his unnatural appearance was the result. Remembering his murderous
intention on the morning of the frustrated duel, I felt inclined not to
speak to him. My pity, however, got the better of me, and I bade him
good-day. He did not return my salutation, however, but looked at me as
if I were some one he had seen before, but could not remember where. I
then addressed him by name.

In reply he beckoned to me to follow him out of earshot of the
gondolier.

"I cannot remember your name," he said, gripping me by the arm, "but I
know that I have met you before. I cannot remember anything now
because--because----" Here he paused and put his hand to his forehead as
if he were in pain. I endeavoured to make him understand who I was, but
without success. He shook his head and looked at me, talking for a
moment in Italian, then in Spanish, with interludes of English. A more
pitiable condition for a man to get into could scarcely be imagined. At
last I tried him with a question I thought might have some effect upon
him.

"Have you met Doctor Nikola lately?" I inquired.

The effect it produced upon him was instantaneous. He shrunk from me as
if he had been struck, and, leaning against the wall of the house
behind him, trembled like an aspen leaf. For a man usually so
self-assertive--one might almost say so aggressive--here was a terrible
change. I was more than ever at a loss to account for it. He was the
last man I should have thought would have been taken in such a way.

"Don't tell him; you must not tell him, promise me that you will not do
so," he whispered in English. "He would punish me if he knew,
and--and----" Here he fell to whimpering like a child who feared
chastisement. It was not a pretty exhibition, and I was more shocked by
it than I can say. At this juncture I remembered the fact that he was
without means, and as my heart had been touched by his pathetic
condition, I was anxious to render him such assistance as was in my
power. For this reason I endeavoured to press a loan upon him, telling
him that he could repay me when things brightened.

"No, no," he answered, with a flash of his old spirit; then he added in
a whisper, "He would know of it!"

"Who would know of it?" I asked.

"Doctor Nikola," he answered. Then laying his hand upon my arm again,
and placing his mouth close to my ear as if he were anxious to make sure
that no one else should hear, he went on, "I would rather die of
starvation in the streets than fall into his hands. Look at me," he
continued, after a moment's pause. "Look what I am! I tell you he has
got me body and soul. I cannot escape from him. I have no will but his,
and he is killing me inch by inch. I have tried to escape, but it is
impossible. If I were on the other side of the world and he wanted me I
should be obliged to come." Then with another change as swift as thought
he began to defy Nikola, vowing that he _would_ go away, and that
nothing should ever induce him to see him again. But a moment later he
was back in his old condition once more.

"Farewell, Senor," he whispered. "I must be going. There is no time to
lose. He is awaiting me."

"But you have not told me where you are living now?"

"Cannot you guess?" he answered, still in the same curious voice. "My
home is the Palace Revecce in the Rio del Consiglio."

Here was surprise indeed! The Don had gone to live with Nikola. Was it
kindness that had induced the latter to take him in? If not, what were
his reasons for so doing?



CHAPTER XII


As may be supposed my meeting with the Don afforded me abundant food for
reflection. Was it true, as he had said, that in his hour of distress
Nikola had afforded him an asylum? and if so, why was the latter doing
so? I knew Nikola too well by this time to doubt that he had some good
and sufficient reason for his action. Lurking at the back of my mind was
a hideous suspicion that, although I tried my hardest not to think of
it, would not allow itself to be banished altogether. I could not but
remember the story Nikola had told me on that eventful evening
concerning his early life, and the chance remark he had let fall one day
that he knew more about the man, Don Martinos, than I supposed, only
tended to confirm it. If that were so, and he still cherished, as I had
not the least doubt he did--for Nikola was one who never forgave or
forgot,--the same undying hatred and desire for vengeance against his
old enemy, the son of his mother's betrayer, then there was--but here I
was compelled to stop. I could not go on. The death-like face of the
man I had just left rose before my mind's eye like an accusing angel,
whereupon I made a resolution that I would think no more of him nor
would I say anything to any member of our party concerning my meeting
with him that afternoon. It is superfluous to remark that the latter
resolve was more easily kept than the former.

The first dinner in Venice after our return was far from being a
success. Miss Gertrude's headache, instead of leaving her, had become so
bad that she was compelled to go forthwith to bed, leaving Glenbarth in
despair, and the rest of our party as low-spirited as possible. Next
morning she declared she was a little better, though she complained of
having passed a wretched night.

"I had such horrible dreams," she told my wife, "that when I woke up I
scarcely dared close my eyes again."

"I cannot remember quite what she said she dreamt," said Phyllis when
she told me the story; "but I know that it had something to do with
Doctor Nikola and his dreadful house, and that it frightened her
terribly."

The girl certainly looked pale and haggard, and not a bit like the happy
creature who had stepped into the train at Rome.

"Heaven grant that there is not more trouble ahead," I said to myself,
as I smoked my pipe and thought over the matter. "I am beginning to wish
we had not come to Venice at all. In that case we should not have seen
Nikola or the Don, Miss Trevor would not have been in this state, and I
should not have been haunted day and night with this horrible suspicion
of foul play."

It was no use, however, talking of what might or might not have
happened. It was sufficient that the things I have narrated _had_ come
to pass, and I must endeavour to derive what satisfaction I could from
the reflection that I had done all that was possible under the
circumstances.

On the day following our return to Venice, the Dean of Bedminster set
off for England. I fancy he was sorry to go, and of one thing I am quite
sure, and that was that we regretted losing him. It was arranged that,
as soon as we returned to England, we should pay him a visit at
Bedminster, and that the Duke should accompany us. Transparently honest
though he was in all things, I fancy the old gentleman had a touch of
vanity in his composition, and I could quite understand that he would be
anxious to show off his future son-in-law before the society of his
quiet cathedral town.

On the night following his departure, I had the most terrible dream I
have had in my life. Though some time has elapsed since then, I can
still recall the fright it gave me. My wife declares that she could see
the effect of it upon my face for more than a day afterwards. But this,
I think, is going a little too far. I am willing, however, to admit that
it made a very great impression upon me at the time--the more so for the
reason that it touched my thought, and I was quite at a loss to
understand it. It was night, I remember, and I had just entered the
Palace Revecce. I must have been invisible, for, though I stood in the
room with Nikola, he did not appear to be aware of my presence. As usual
he was at work upon some of his chemical experiments. Then I looked at
his face, and saw that it wore an expression that I had never seen there
before. I can describe it best by saying that it was one of absolute
cruelty, unrelieved by even the smallest gleam of pity. And yet it was
not cruelty in the accepted meaning of the word, so much as an
overwhelming desire to punish and avenge. I am quite aware, on reading
over what I have just written, that my inability to convey the exact
impression renders my meaning obscure. Yet I can do no more. It was a
look beyond the power of my pen to describe. Presently he put down the
glass he held in his hand, and looked up with his head a little on one
side, as if he were listening for some sound in the adjoining room.
There was a shuffling footstep in the corridor outside, and then the
door opened and there entered a figure so awful that I shrank back from
it appalled. It was Don Martinos, and yet it was not the Don. The face
and the height were perhaps the same, but the man himself was--oh, so
different. On seeing Nikola he shambled forward, rather than walked, and
dropped in a heap at his feet, clutching at his knees, and making a
feeble whining noise, not unlike that of an animal in pain.

"Get up," said Nikola sternly, and as he said it he pointed to a couch
on the further side of the room.

[Illustration: "He crawled upon the floor like a dog."]

The man went and stretched himself out upon it as if in obedience to
some unspoken command. Nikola followed him, and having exposed the
other's chest, took from the table what looked like a hypodermic
syringe, filled it from one of the graduated glasses upon the table, and
injected the contents beneath the prostrate man's skin. An immediate and
violent fit of trembling was the result, followed by awful contortions
of the face. Then suddenly he stiffened himself out and lay like one
dead. Taking his watch from his pocket Nikola made a careful note of the
time. So vivid was my dream that I can even remember hearing the
ticking of the watch. Minute after minute went by, until at last the Don
opened his eyes. Then I realized that the man was no longer a human
being, but an animal. He uttered horrible noises in his throat, that
were not unlike the short, sharp bark of a wolf, and when Nikola bade
him move he crawled upon the floor like a dog. After that he retreated
to a corner, where he crouched and glowered upon his master, as if he
were prepared at any moment to spring upon him and drag him down. As one
throws a bone to a dog so did Nikola toss him food. He devoured it
ravenously, as would a starving cur. There was foam at the corners of
his mouth, and the light of madness in his eyes. Nikola returned to the
table and began to pour some liquid into a glass. So busily occupied was
he, that he did not see the thing, I cannot call it a man, in the
corner, get on to his feet. He had taken up a small tube and was
stirring the contents of the glass with it, when the other was less than
a couple of feet from him. I tried to warn him of his danger, only to
find that I could not utter a word. Then the object sprang upon him and
clawed at his throat. He turned, and, a moment later, the madman was
lying, whining feebly, upon the floor, and Nikola was wiping the blood
from a scratch on the left-hand side of his throat. At that moment I
awoke to find myself sitting up in bed, with the perspiration streaming
down my face.

"I have had such an awful dream!" I said, in answer to my wife's
startled inquiry as to what was the matter. "I don't know that I have
ever been so frightened before."

"You are trembling now," said my wife. "Try not to think of it, dear.
Remember it was only a dream."

That it was something more than a mere dream I felt certain. It was so
complete and dovetailed so exactly with my horrible suspicions that I
could not altogether consign it to the realms of fancy. Fearing a
repetition if I attempted to go to sleep again, I switched on the
electric light and endeavoured to interest myself in a book, but it was
of no use. The face of the poor brute I had seen crouching in the corner
haunted me continually, and would not be dispelled. Never in my life
before had I been so thankful to see the dawn. At breakfast my wife
commented upon my dream. Miss Trevor, however, said nothing. She became
quieter and more distracted every day. Towards the evening Glenbarth
spoke to me concerning her.

"I don't know what to make of it all," he said anxiously. "She assures
me that she is perfectly well and happy, but seeing the condition she is
in, I can scarcely believe that. It is as much as I can do to get a word
out of her. If I didn't know that she loves me I should begin to imagine
that she regretted having promised to be my wife."

"I don't think you need be afraid of that," I answered. "One has only to
look at her face to see how deeply attached she is to you. The truth of
the whole matter is, my dear fellow, I have come to the conclusion that
we have had enough of Venice. Nikola is at the bottom of our troubles,
and the sooner we see the last of him the better it will be for all
parties concerned."

"Hear, hear, to that," he answered fervently. "Deeply grateful though I
am to him for what he did when Gertrude was ill, I can honestly say that
I never want to see him again."

At luncheon that day I accordingly broached the subject of our return to
England. It was received by my wife and the Duke with unfeigned
satisfaction, and by Miss Trevor with what appeared to be approval. It
struck me, however, that she did not seem so anxious to leave as I
expected she would be. This somewhat puzzled me, but I was not destined
to remain very long in ignorance of the reason.

That afternoon I happened to be left alone with her for some little
time. We talked for a while on a variety of topics, but I could see all
the time that there was something she was desirous of saying to me,
though she could not quite make up her mind how to commence. At last she
rose, and crossing the room took a chair by my side.

"Sir Richard, I am going to ask a favour of you," she said, with a
far-away look in her eyes.

"Let me assure you that it is granted before you ask it," I replied.
"Will you tell me what it is?"

"It may appear strange to you," she said, "but I have a conviction,
absurd, superstitious, or whatever you may term it, that some great
misfortune will befall me if I leave Venice just yet. I am not my own
mistress, and must stay. I want you to arrange it."

This was a nice sort of shell to have dropped into one's camp,
particularly at such a time and under such circumstances, and I scarcely
knew what reply to make.

"But what possible misfortune could befall you?" I asked.

"I cannot say," she replied. "I am only certain that I must remain for a
little while longer. You can have no idea what I have suffered lately.
Bear with me, Sir Richard." Here she lifted a face of piteous entreaty
to me, which I was powerless to resist, adding, "I implore you not to be
angry with me."

"Is it likely that I should be angry with you, Miss Gertrude?" I
replied. "Why should I be? If you really desire to remain for a little
longer there is nothing to prevent it. But you must not allow yourself
to become ill again. Believe me it is only your imagination that is
playing tricks with you."

"Ah! you do not know everything," she answered. "Every night I have such
terrible dreams that I have come to dread going to bed."

I thought of my own dream on the previous night, and could well
understand how she felt. After her last remark she was silent for some
moments. That there was something still to come, I could see, but what
it was I had no more idea than a child. At last she spoke.

"Sir Richard," she said, "would you mind very much if I were to ask you
a most important question? I scarcely like to do so, but I know that you
are my friend, and that you will give me good advice."

"I will endeavour to do so," I replied. "What is the question you wish
to ask me?"

"It is about my engagement," she replied. "You know how good and
unselfish the Duke is, and how truly he believes in me. I could not
bear to bring trouble upon him, but in love there should be no
secrets--nothing should be hidden one from the other. Yet I feel that I
am hiding so much--can you understand what I mean?"

"In a great measure," I answered, "but I should like to do so
thoroughly. Miss Gertrude, if I may hazard a guess, I should say that
you have been dreaming about Doctor Nikola again?"

"Yes," she answered after a moment's hesitation. "Absurd though it may
be, I can think of no one else. He weighs upon my spirits like lead, and
yet I know that I should be grateful to him for all he did for me when I
was so ill. But for him I should not be alive now."

"I am afraid that you have been allowing the thought of your recent
danger to lie too heavily upon your mind," I continued. "Remember that
this is the nineteenth century, and that there are no such things as you
think Nikola would have you believe."

"When I know that there are?" she asked, looking at me reproachfully.
"Ah, Sir Richard," she continued, "if you knew all that I do you would
pity me. But no one will ever know, and I cannot tell them. But one
thing is quite certain. I must stay in Venice for the present--happen
what may. Something tells me so, day and night. And when I think of the
Duke my heart well-nigh breaks for fear I should bring trouble upon
him."

I did my best to comfort her; promised that if she really desired to
remain in Venice I would arrange it for her, and by so doing committed
myself to a policy that I very well knew, when I came to consider it
later, was not expedient, and very far from being judicious. Regarded
seriously in a sober commonplace light, the whole affair seems too
absurd, and yet at the time nothing could possibly have been more real
or earnest. When she had heard me out, she thanked me very prettily for
the interest I had taken, and then with a little sigh, that went to my
heart, left the room. Later in the afternoon I broke the news to my
wife, and told her of the promise I had given Gertrude.

"But what does it all mean, Dick?" she asked, looking at me with
startled eyes. "What is it she fears will happen if she goes away from
Venice?"

"That is what I cannot get her to say," I replied. "Indeed I am not
altogether certain that she knows herself. It's a most perplexing
business, and I wish to goodness I had never had anything to do with it.
The better plan, I think, would be to humour her, keep her as cheerful
as we can, and when the proper time arrives, get her away from Venice
and home to England as quickly as we can."

My wife agreed with me on this point, and our course of action was
thereupon settled.

Later in the afternoon I made a resolution. My own suspicions concerning
the wretched Martinos were growing so intolerable that I could bear them
no longer. The memory of the dream I had had on the previous night was
never absent from my thoughts, and I felt that unless I could set
matters right once and for all, and convince myself that they were not
as I suspected with Anstruther's friend, I should be unable to close my
eyes when next I went to bed. For this reason I determined to set off to
the Palace Revecce at once, and to have an interview with Nikola in the
hope of being able to extort some information from him.

"Perhaps after all," I argued, "I am worrying myself unnecessarily.
There may be no connection between Martinos and that South American."

I determined, however, to set the matter at rest that afternoon.
Accordingly at four o'clock I made an excuse and departed for the Rio
del Consiglio.

It was a dark, cloudy afternoon, and the house, as I approached it,
looked drearier, if such a thing were possible, than I had ever seen
it. I disembarked from my gondola at the steps, and having bade the man
wait for me, which he did on the other side of the street, I rang the
bell. The same old servant whom I remembered having seen on a previous
occasion answered it, and informed me that his master was not at home,
but that he expected him every minute. I determined to wait for him and
ascended the stairs to his room. The windows were open, and from where I
stood I could watch the gondolier placidly eating his bread and onions
on the other side of the street. So far as I could see there was no
change in the room itself. The centre table as usual was littered with
papers and books, that near the window was covered with chemical
apparatus, while the old black cat was fast asleep upon the couch on the
other side. The oriental rug, described in another place, covered the
ominous trap-door so that no portion of it could be seen. I was still
standing at the window looking down upon the canal below, when the door
at the further end softly opened and a face looked in at me. Good
heavens! I can even now feel the horror which swept over me. It was the
countenance of Don Martinos, but so changed, even from what it had been
when I had seen him in the Rio del Barcaroli, that I scarcely recognized
it. It was like the face of an animal and of a madman, if such could be
combined. He looked at me and then withdrew, closing the door behind
him, only to re-open it a few moments later. Having apparently made sure
that I was alone, he crept in, and, crossing the room, approached me.
For a moment I was at a loss how to act. I was not afraid that the poor
wretch might do me any mischief, but my whole being shrank from him with
a physical revulsion beyond all description in words. I can understand
now something of the dislike my wife and the Duke declared they
entertained for him. On tip-toe, with his finger to his lips, as if to
enjoin silence, he crept towards me, muttering something in Spanish that
I could not understand; then in English he continued--

"Hush, Senor, cannot you see them?"

He pointed his hand in various directions as if he could see the figures
of men and women moving about the apartment. Once he bowed low as if to
some imaginary dignitary, drawing back at the same time, as if to permit
him to pass. Then turning to me he continued, "Do you know who that is?
No! Then I will tell you. Senor, that is the most noble Admiral Revecce,
the owner of this house."

Then for a short time he stood silent, picking feebly at his fingers and
regarding me ever and anon from the corner of his eye. Suddenly there
was a sharp quick step in the corridor outside, the handle of the door
turned, and Nikola entered the room. As his glance fell upon the
wretched being at my side a look not unlike that I had seen in my dream
flashed into his countenance. It was gone again, however, as suddenly as
it had come, and he was advancing to greet me with all his old
politeness. It was then that the folly of my errand was borne in upon
me. Even if my suspicions were correct what could I do, and what chance
could I hope to have of being able to induce Nikola to confide in me?
Meanwhile he had pointed to the door, and Martinos, trembling in every
limb, was slinking towards it like a whipped hound. At that moment I
made a discovery that I confess came near to depriving me of my presence
of mind altogether. You can judge of its value for yourself when I say,
that extending to the lobe of Nikola's left ear half-way down and across
his throat was a newly-made scar, just such an one, in fact, as would be
made by a hand with sharp finger-nails clutching at it. Could my dream
have been true, after all?

"I cannot tell you how delighted I am to see you, my dear Sir Richard,"
said Nikola as he seated himself. "I understood that you had returned to
Venice."

Having out-grown the desire to learn how Nikola had become aware of
anything, I merely agreed that we had returned, and then took the chair
he offered me.

When all the circumstances are taken into consideration, I really think
that that moment was certainly the most embarrassing of my life.
Nikola's eyes were fixed steadily upon mine, and I could see in them
what was almost an expression of malicious amusement. As usual he was
making capital out of my awkwardness, and as I knew that I could do no
good, I felt that there was nothing for it but for me to submit. Then
the miserable Spaniard's face rose before my mind's eye, and I felt that
I could not abandon him, without an effort, to what I knew would be his
fate. Nikola brought me up to the mark even quicker than I expected.

"It is very plain," he said, with a satirical smile playing round his
thin lips, "that you have come with the intention of saying something
important to me. What is it?"

At this I rose from my chair and went across the room to where he was
sitting. Placing my hand upon his shoulder I looked down into his face,
took courage, and began.

"Doctor Nikola," I said, "you and I have known each other for many years
now. We have seen some strange things together, one of us perhaps less
willingly than the other. But I venture to think, however, that we have
never stood on stranger or more dangerous ground than we do to-night."

"I am afraid I am scarcely able to follow your meaning," he replied.

I knew that this was not the case, but I was equally convinced that to
argue the question with him would be worse than useless.

"Do you remember the night on which you told me that story concerning
the woman who lived in this house, who was betrayed by the Spaniard, and
who died on that Spanish island?" I asked.

He rose hurriedly from his chair and went to the window. I heard him
catch his breath, and knew that I had moved him at last.

"What of it?" he inquired, turning on me sharply as he spoke.

"Only that I have come to see you concerning the _dénouement_ of that
story," I answered. "I have come because I cannot possibly stay away.
You have no idea how deeply I have been thinking over this matter. Do
you think I cannot see through it and read between the lines? You told
it to me because in some inscrutable fashion of your own you had become
aware that Don Martinos would bring a letter of introduction to me from
my friend Anstruther. Remember it was I who introduced him to you! Do
you think that I did not notice the expression that came into your face
whenever you looked at him? Later my suspicions were aroused. The Don
was a Spaniard, he was rich, and he had made the mistake of admitting
that while he had been in Chili he had never been in Equinata. You
persuaded me to bring him to this house, and here you obtained your
first influence over him."

"My dear Hatteras," said Nikola, "you are presupposing a great deal. And
you get beyond my depth. Don't you think it would be wiser if you were
to stick to plain facts?"

"My suppositions are stronger than my facts," I answered. "You laid
yourself out to meet him, and your influence over him became greater
every day. It could be seen in his face. He was fascinated, and could
not escape. Then he began to gamble, and found his money slipping
through his fingers like water through a sieve."

"You have come to the conclusion, then, that I am responsible for that
also?"

"I do not say that it was your doing exactly," I said, gathering courage
from the calmness of his manner and the attention he was giving me. "But
it fits in too well with the whole scheme to free you entirely from
responsibility. Then look at the change that began to come over the man
himself. His faculties were leaving him one by one, being wiped out,
just as a school-boy wipes his lesson from a slate. If he had been an
old man I should have said that it was the commencement of his second
childhood; but he is still a comparatively young man."

"You forget that while he had been gambling he had also been drinking
heavily. May not debauchery tell its own tale?"

"It is not debauchery that has brought about this terrible change. Who
knows that better than yourself? After the duel, which you
providentially prevented, we went to Rome for a fortnight. On the
afternoon of our return I met him near the telegraph-office. At first
glance I scarcely recognized him, so terrible was the change in his
appearance. If ever a poor wretch was on the verge of idiotcy he was
that one. Moreover, he informed me that he was living with you. Why
should the fact that he was so doing produce such a result? I cannot
say! I dare not try to understand it! But, for pity's sake, Nikola, by
all you hold dear I implore you to solve the riddle. Last night I had a
dream!"

"You are perhaps a believer in dreams?" he remarked very quietly, as if
the question scarcely interested him.

"This dream was of a description such as I have never had in my life
before," I answered, disregarding the sneer, and then told it to him,
increasing rather than lessening the abominable details. He heard me out
without moving a muscle of his face, and it was only when I had reached
the climax and paused that he spoke.

"This is a strange rigmarole you tell me," he said. "Fortunately you
confess that it was only a dream."

"Doctor Nikola," I cried, "it was more than a dream. To prove it, let me
ask you how you received that long scratch that shows upon your neck and
throat?"

I pointed my finger at it, but Nikola returned my gaze still without a
flicker of his eyelids.

"What if I do admit it?" he began. "What if your dream were correct?
What difference would it make?"

I looked at him in amazement. To tell the truth I was more astonished by
his admission of the correctness of my suspicions than I should have
been had he denied them altogether. As it was, I was too much overcome
to be able to answer him for a few moments.

"Come," he said, "answer my question. What if I do admit the truth of
all you say?"

"You confess then that the whole business has been one long scheme to
entrap this wretched man, and to get him into your power?"

"'Tis," he answered, still keeping his eyes fixed upon me. "You see I am
candid! Go on!"

My brain began to reel under the strain placed upon it. Since he had
owned to it, what was I to do? What could I say?

"Sir Richard Hatteras," said Nikola, approaching a little nearer to me,
resting one hand upon the table and speaking very impressively, "I
wonder if it has struck you that you are a brave man to come to me
to-day and to say this to me? In the whole circle of the men I know I
may declare with truth that I am not aware of one other who would do so
much. What is this man to you that you should befriend him? He would
have robbed you of your dearest friend without a second thought, as he
would rob you of your wife if the idea occurred to him. He is without
bowels of compassion; the blood of thousands stains his hands and cries
aloud for vengeance. He is a fugitive from justice, a thief, a liar, and
a traitor to the country he swore to govern as an honest man. On a
certain little island on the other side of the world there is a lonely
churchyard, and in that churchyard a still lonelier grave. In it lies
the body of a woman--my mother. In this very room that woman was
betrayed by his father. So in this room also shall that betrayal be
avenged. I have waited all my life; the opportunity has been long in
coming. Now, however, it has arrived, and I am decreed by Fate to be the
instrument of Vengeance!"

I am a tall man, but as he said this Nikola seemed to tower over me, his
face set hard as a rock, his eyes blazing like living coals, and his
voice trembling under the influence of his passion. Little by little I
was growing to think as he did, and to look upon Martinos as he saw him.

"But this cannot go--it cannot go on," I repeated, in a last feeble
protest against the horror of the thing. "Surely you could not find it
in your heart to treat a fellow-creature so?"

"He is no fellow-creature of yours or mine," Nikola retorted sternly, as
if he were rebuking a childish mistake. "Would you call the man who shot
down those innocent young men of Equinata, before their mothers' eyes, a
fellow-creature? Is it possible that the son of the man who so cruelly
wronged and betrayed the trusting woman he first saw in this room, who
led her across the seas to desert her, and to send her to her grave,
could be called a man? I will give you one more instance of his
barbarity."

So saying, he threw off the black velvet coat he was wearing, and
drawing up his right shirt-sleeve, bade me examine his arm. I saw that
from the shoulder to the elbow it was covered with the scars of old
wounds, strange white marks, in pairs, and each about half-an-inch long.

"Those scars," he went on, "were made by his orders, and with hot
pincers, when I was a boy. And as his negro servants made them he
laughed and taunted me with my mother's shame. No! No! This is no
man--rather a dangerous animal, that were best out of the way. It has
been told me that you and I shall only meet twice more. Let those
meetings lead you to think better of me. The time is not far distant
when I must leave the world! When that hour arrives there is a lonely
monastery in a range of eastern mountains, upon which no Englishman has
ever set his foot. Of that monastery I shall become an inmate. No one
outside its walls will ever look upon my face again. There I shall work
out my Destiny, and, if I have sinned, be sure I shall receive my
punishment at those hands that alone can bestow it. Now leave me!"

God help me for the coward I am, but the fact remains that I left him
without another word.



CHAPTER XIII


If I were offered my heart's desire in return for so doing, I could not
tell you how I got home after my interview with Nikola at the Palace
Revecce. I was unconscious of everything save that I had gone to
Nikola's house in the hope of being able to save the life of a man, whom
I had the best of reasons for hating, and that at the last moment I had
turned coward and fled the field. No humiliation could have been more
complete. Nikola had won a victory, and I knew it, and despaired of
retrieving it. On reaching the hotel I was about to disembark from my
gondola, when a voice hailed me from another craft, proceeding in the
direction I had come.

"Dick Hatteras, as I'm a sinner!" it cried. "Don't you know me, Dick?"

I turned to see a face I well remembered smiling at me from the gondola.
I immediately bade my own man put me out into the stream, which he did,
and presently the two gondolas lay side by side. The man who had hailed
me was none other than George Beckworth, a Queensland sugar-planter,
with whom I had been on terms of the most intimate friendship in bygone
days. And as there was a lady seated beside him, I derived the
impression that he had married since I had last seen him.

"This is indeed a surprise," he said, as we shook hands. "By the way,
let me introduce you to my wife, Dick." He said this with all the pride
of a newly-married man. "My dear, this is my old friend, Dick Hatteras,
of whom I have so often spoken to you. What are you doing in Venice,
Dick?"

"I have my wife and some friends travelling with me," I answered. "We
are staying at Galaghetti's hotel yonder. Cannot you and your wife dine
with us to-night?"

"Impossible, I am afraid," he answered. "We sail to-night in the P. and
O. boat. Won't you come and dine with us?"

"That is equally impossible," I replied. "We have friends with us. But I
should like to see something more of you before you go, and if you will
allow me I'll run down after dinner for a chat about old times."

"I shall be delighted," he answered. "Be sure that you do not forget
it."

Having assured him that I would not permit it to escape my memory, I
bade him "good-bye," and then returned to my hotel. A more fortunate
meeting could scarcely have occurred, for now I was furnished with an
excellent excuse for leaving my party, and for being alone for a time.
Once more I felt that I was a coward for not daring to face my
fellow-men. Under the circumstances, however, I knew that it was
impossible. I could no more have spent the evening listening to
Glenbarth's happy laughter than I could have jumped the Grand Canal. For
the time being the society of my fellow-creatures was absolutely
distasteful to me. On ascending to my rooms I discovered my wife and the
Duke in the drawing-room, and was informed by the latter that Miss
Trevor had again been compelled to retire to her room with a severe
headache.

"In that case I am afraid you will only be a small party for dinner," I
said. "I am going to ask you to excuse me. You have often heard me
speak, my dear, of George Beckworth, the Queensland sugar-planter, with
whom I used to be on such friendly terms in the old days?"

My wife admitted that she remembered hearing me speak of the gentleman
in question.

"Well, he is in Venice," I replied, "and he sails to-night by the P. and
O. boat for Colombo. As it is the last time I shall be likely to see
him for many years, I feel sure you will not mind my accepting his
invitation?"

"Of course not, if the Duke will excuse you," she said, and, when the
question was put to him, Glenbarth willingly consented to do so.

I accordingly went to my room to make my toilet. Then, having bade my
wife "good-bye," I chartered a gondola and ordered the man to row me to
the piazza of Saint Mark. Thence I set off for a walk through the city,
caring little in which way I went. It was growing dark by this time, and
I knew there was little chance of my being recognized, or of my
recognizing any one else. All the time, however, my memory was haunted
by the recollection of that room at the Palace Revecce, and of what was
in all probability going on in it. My gorge rose at the idea--all my
manhood revolted from it. A loathing of Nikola, such as I had never
known before, was succeeded by a deathly chill, as I realized how
impotent I was to avert the catastrophe. What could I do? To have
attempted to stay him in his course would have been worse than useless,
while to have appealed to the Authorities would only have had the effect
of putting myself in direct opposition to him, and who knew what would
happen then? I looked at it from another point of view. Why should I be
so anxious to interfere on the wretched Spaniard's behalf? I had seen
his murderous intention on the morning of the frustrated duel; I had
heard from Nikola of the assassination of those unfortunate lads in
Equinata; moreover, I was well aware that he was a thief, and also a
traitor to his country. Why should he not be punished as he deserved,
and why should not Nikola be his executioner? I endeavoured to convince
myself that this was only fit and proper retribution, but this argument
was no more successful than the last had been.

Arguing in this way I walked on and on, turning to right or left, just
as the fancy took me. Presently I found myself in a portion of the town
into which I had never hitherto penetrated. At the moment of which I am
about to write, I was standing in a narrow lane, paved with large
stones, having high dismal houses on either hand. Suddenly an old man
turned the corner and approached me. As he passed, I saw his face, and
recognized an individual to whom Nikola had spoken in the little church
on that memorable evening when he had taken us on a tour of inspection
through the city. He was visibly agitated, and was moreover in hot
haste. For some reason that I cannot explain, nor, I suppose, shall I
ever be able to do so, an intense desire to follow him took possession
of me. It must have been more than a desire, for I felt that I must go
with him whether I wished to or not. I accordingly dived into the house
after him, and followed him along the passage and up the rickety flight
of stairs that ascended from it. Having attained one floor we continued
our ascent; the sounds of voices reached us from the different rooms,
but we saw no one. On the second landing the old man paused before a
door, opened it very softly, and entered. I followed him, and looked
about me. It was a pathetic scene that met my eyes. The room was a poor
one, and scantily furnished. A rough table and a narrow bed were its
only furniture. On the latter a young man was lying, and kneeling on the
floor beside him, holding the thin hands in his own, was no less a
person than Doctor Nikola himself. I saw that he was aware of my
presence, but he took no more notice of me than if I had not existed.

"You called me too late, my poor Antonio," he said, addressing the old
man I had followed. "Nothing can save him now. He was dying when I
arrived."

On hearing this the old man fell on his knees beside the bed and burst
into a flood of weeping. Nikola placed his hand with a kindly gesture
upon the other's shoulder, and at the moment that he did so the man upon
the bed expired.

"Do not grieve for him, my friend," said Nikola. "Believe me, it was
hopeless from the first. He is better as it is."

Then, with all the gentleness of a woman, he proceeded to comfort the
old man, whose only son lay dead upon the bed. I knew no more of the
story than what I had seen, nor have I heard more of it since, but I had
been permitted to see another side of his character, and one which, in
the light of existing circumstances, was not to be denied. He had
scarcely finished his kindly offices before there was a heavy step
outside, and a black-browed priest entered the room. He looked from
Nikola to myself, and then at the dead man upon the bed.

"Farewell, my good Antonio," said Nikola. "Have no fear. Remember that
your future is my care."

Then, having said something in an undertone to the priest, he placed his
hand upon my arm and led me from the room. When we had left them he
murmured in a voice not unlike that in which he had addressed the old
man, "Hatteras, this is another lesson. Is it so difficult to learn?"

I do not pretend that I made any answer. We passed down the stairs
together, and, when we reached the street, stood for a moment at the
house-door.

"You will not be able to understand me," he said; "nevertheless, I tell
you that the end is brought nearer by that one scene. It will not be
long before it comes now. All things considered, I do not know that I
shall regret it."

Then, without another word, he strode away into the darkness, leaving me
to place what construction I pleased upon his last speech. For some
moments I stood where he had left me, pondering over his words, and then
set off in the direction I had come. As may be imagined, I felt even
less inclined than before for the happy, jovial party I knew I should
find on board the steamer, but I had given my promise, and could not get
out of it. When I reached the piazza of St. Mark once more I went to the
steps and hailed a gondola, telling the man to take me to the P. and O.
vessel then lying at anchor in the harbour. He did so, and I made my way
up the accommodation-ladder to the deck above, to find that the
passengers in the first saloon had just finished their dinner, and were
making their appearance on the promenade deck. I inquired of the steward
for Mr. Beckworth, and discovered him in the act of lighting a cigar at
the smoking-room door.

He greeted me effusively, and begged me to remain where I was while he
went in search of his wife. When she arrived, I found her to be a pretty
little woman, with big brown eyes, and a sympathetic manner. She was
good enough to say that she had heard such a lot concerning me from her
husband, and had always looked forward to making my acquaintance. I
accepted a cigar from Beckworth's case, and we then adjourned to the
smoking-room for a long talk together. When we had comfortably installed
ourselves, my friend's flow of conversation commenced, and I was made
aware of all the principal events that had occurred in Queensland since
my departure, was favoured with his opinion of England, which he had
never before visited, and was furnished with the details as to how he
had met his wife, and of the happy event with which their courtship had
been concluded.

"Altogether," he said, "taking one thing with another, I don't know that
you'd be able to find a much happier fellow in the world than I am at
this moment."

I said I was glad to hear it, and as I did so contrasted his breezy,
happy-go-lucky manner with those of certain other people I had been
brought in contact with that day. My interview with him must have done
me good, for I stayed on, and the hour was consequently late when I left
the ship. Indeed, it wanted only a few minutes of eleven o'clock as I
went down the accommodation-ladder to the gondola, which I had ordered
to come for me at ten.

"Galaghetti's hotel," I said to the man, "and as quickly as you can."

When I had bade my friends "good-bye" and left the ship, I felt
comparatively cheerful, but no sooner had the silence of Venice closed
in upon me again than all my old despondency returned to me. A
foreboding of coming misfortune settled upon me, and do what I would I
could not shake it off.

When I reached the hotel I found that my party had retired to rest. My
wife was sleeping quietly, and not feeling inclined for bed, and
dreading lest if I did go I might be assailed by more dreams of a
similar description to that I had had on the previous night, I resolved
to go back to the drawing-room and read there for a time. This plan I
carried into execution, and taking up a new book in which I was very
much interested, seated myself in an easy-chair and determined to peruse
it. I found some difficulty, however, in concentrating my attention upon
it. My thoughts continually reverted to my interview that afternoon with
Nikola, and also to the scene I had witnessed in the poorer quarter
after dark. I suppose eventually I must have fallen asleep, for I
remember nothing else until I awoke to find myself sitting up and
listening to a light step in the corridor outside. I looked at my watch
to discover that the time was exactly a quarter to one. In that case,
as we monopolized the whole of the corridor, who could it be? In order
to find out I went to the door, and softly opened it. A dim light was
always left in the passage throughout the night, and by it I was able to
see a tall and graceful figure, which I instantly recognized, making for
the secondary stairs at the further end. Now these stairs, so I had been
given to understand, led to another portion of the hotel into which I
had never penetrated. Why, therefore, Miss Trevor was using them at such
an hour, and, above all, dressed for going out, I could not for the life
of me determine. I could see that, if I was anxious to find out, I must
be quick; so, turning swiftly into the room again, I picked up my hat
and set off in pursuit. As the sequel will prove, it was, perhaps, as
well that I did so.

By the time I reached the top of the stairs she was at the bottom, and
was speeding along another passage to the right. At the end of this was
a door, the fastenings of which she undid, with an ease and assurance
that bewildered me. So certain was she of her whereabouts, and so easily
did she manipulate the heavy door, that I felt inclined to believe that
she must have used that passage many times before. At last she opened it
and passed out into the darkness, drawing it to after her. I had paused
to watch her; now I hastened on even faster than before, fearing that,
if I were not careful, I might lose her outside. Having passed the door
I found myself in a narrow lane, bounded on either side by high walls,
and some fifty or sixty yards in extent. The lane, in its turn, opened
into a small square, out of which led two or three other narrow streets.
She turned to the left and passed down one of these; I followed close
upon her heels. Of all the strange experiences to which our stay in
Venice had given rise, this was certainly one of the most remarkable.
That Gertrude Trevor, the honest English girl, the daughter of a
dignitary of the Church and a prospective bishop, should leave her hotel
in the middle of the night in order to wander about streets with which
she was most imperfectly acquainted, was a mystery I found difficult to
solve. When she had crossed a bridge, which spanned a small canal, she
once more turned to the left, passed along the footway before a
dilapidated palace, and then entered a narrow passage on the right. The
buildings hereabouts were all large, and, as a natural consequence, the
streets were so dark that I had some difficulty in keeping her in sight.
As a matter of fact she had stopped, and I was almost upon her before I
became aware of it. Even then she did not seem to realize my presence.
She was standing before a small door, which she was endeavouring to
push open. At last she succeeded, and without hesitation began to
descend some steps inside. Once more I took up the chase, though where
we were, and what we were going to do there, I had not the least idea.
The small yard in which we found ourselves was stone-paved, and for this
reason I wondered that she did not hear my footsteps. It is certain,
however, that she did not, for she made for a door I could just discern
on the opposite side to that by which we had entered, without turning
her head. It was at this point that I began to wish I had brought a
revolver or some weapon with me. When she was about to open the door I
have just mentioned, I called her softly by name, and implored her to
wait for me, but still she took no notice. Could she be a somnambulist?
I asked myself. But if this were so, why had she chosen this particular
house? Having passed the door we stood in a second and larger courtyard,
and it was then that the whole mystery became apparent to me. _The house
to which I had followed her was the Palace Revecce, and she was on her
way to Nikola!_ But for what reason? Was this a trick of Nikola's, or
had her terrible dreams taken such a hold upon her that she was not
responsible for her actions? Either alternative was bad enough. Pausing
for a moment in the courtyard beside the well, she turned quickly to
her right hand and began to ascend the stairs towards that awful room,
which, so far as I knew, she had never visited before. When she reached
it I scarcely knew how to act. Should I enter behind her and accuse
Nikola of having enticed her there, or should I wait outside and
overhear what transpired between them? At last I made up my mind to
adopt the latter course, and, when she had entered, I accordingly
remained outside and waited for her. Through the half-open door I could
see Nikola, stooping over what looked like a microscope at a side-table.
He looked up as Miss Trevor entered, and uttered a cry of surprise. As I
heard this a sigh of relief escaped me, for his action proved to me that
her visit had not been anticipated.

"Miss Trevor!" he said, moving forward to greet her, "what does this
mean? How did you get here?"

"I have come to you," she faltered, "because I could not remain away. I
have come to you that I may beg of you that wretched man's life. Doctor
Nikola, I implore you to spare him!"

"My dear young lady," said Nikola, with a softness in his voice that
reminded me of that I had heard in the death-chamber a few hours before,
"you cannot understand what you are doing. You must let me take you
back to your friends. You should not be here at this hour of the night."

"But I was bound to come--don't I tell you I could not remain away?
Spare him! Oh! for God's sake, spare him!"

"You do not know what you are asking. You are not yourself to-night."

"I only know that I am thinking of you," she answered. "You must not do
it! You are so great, so powerful, that you can afford to forgive. Take
my life rather than harm him. I will yield it gladly to save you from
this sin."

"To--save--me," I heard him mutter to himself. "She would save me!"

"God would never forgive," she continued, still in the same dreamy
voice.

He moved away from her, and from where I stood I could see how agitated
he was. For some moments she knelt, looking up at him, with arms
outstretched in supplication; then he said something to her in a low
voice, which I could not catch. Her answer, however, was plain to me.

"Yes, I have known it always in my dreams," she said.

"And knowing that, you would still wish me to pardon him?"

[Illustration: "She knelt, with arms outstretched, in supplication."]

"In the name of God I would urge you to do so," she answered. "The
safety of your soul depends upon it."

Once more Nikola turned away and paced the room.

"Are you aware that Sir Richard Hatteras was here on the same errand
this afternoon?" he asked.

"I know it," she replied, though how she could have done so I could not
conceive, nor have I been able to do so since.

"And does he know that you have come to me now asking me to forgive?"

"He knows it," she answered, as before. "He followed me here."

As she had never looked behind her, how had she known this also?

Then Nikola approached the door and threw it open.

"Come in, Hatteras," he said. "Your presence is discovered."

"For heaven's sake, Nikola, tell me what this means," I cried, seeing
that the girl did not turn towards me. "Is she asleep, or have you
brought your diabolical influence upon her?"

"She is not asleep, and yet she is not conscious of her actions," he
answered. "There is something in this that passes our philosophy. Had I
any idea that she contemplated such a thing, I would have used every
effort to prevent it. Miss Trevor, believe me, you must go home with
Sir Richard," he continued, tenderly raising the girl to her feet as he
spoke.

"I cannot go until you have sworn to forgive," was her reply.

"I must have time to think," he answered. "In the morning you will know
everything. Trust me until then, and remember always that while Nikola
lives he will be grateful."

Then he assisted me to conduct her down-stairs, and across the two
courtyards, to the little postern door through which we had entered the
palace.

"Have no fear for her," he said, addressing me. "She will go home as she
came. And in the morning she will remember nothing of what has
transpired."

Then taking her hand in his he raised it to his lips, and a moment later
had bade me farewell, and had vanished into the palace once more.

As I tracked her from the hotel, so I followed her back to it again. I
was none the less anxious, however. If only Nikola would abandon his
purpose, and release his enemy, her action and my anxiety would not be
in vain. But would he do so, and in the event of his doing this, would
his prophecy that Miss Trevor would, in the morning, remember nothing of
what had transpired, prove true?

Turning, twisting as before, we proceeded on our way. My chief fear was
that the door through which we had made our exit would be found to be
shut on our return. Happily, however, this did not prove to be the case.
I saw Miss Trevor enter, and then swiftly followed her. She hastened
down the passage, ascended the stairs, passed along the corridor, and
made her way to her own room. As soon as I had made certain that she was
safely there, I went on to my own dressing-room, and on entering my
wife's apartment had the good fortune to find her still asleep. I was
still more thankful in the morning when I discovered she had not missed
me, and being satisfied on this point, I decided to say nothing
whatsoever concerning our adventure.

Miss Trevor was the last to put in an appearance at breakfast, and, as
you may suppose, I scanned her face with some anxiety. She looked pale
and worn, but it was evident from her manner when she greeted me, that
she had not the least idea what she had done during the night. Nikola's
promise had proved to be true, and for that reason I was more determined
than ever to keep my information to myself. Events could not have turned
out more fortunately for all parties concerned.

Shortly after breakfast a letter was handed to me, and, glancing at the
writing, I saw that it was from Nikola. I was alone at the time of
receiving it, a fact for which I was grateful. I will leave you to
imagine with what impatience I opened it. It was short, and merely
contained a request that I would call at the Palace Revecce before noon
that day, if I could spare the hour. I decided to do so, and I reached
the palace twenty minutes or so before the appointed time. The old
servitor, who by this time had become familiar with my face, opened the
door and permitted me to enter. I inquired if Doctor Nikola were at
home, and to my surprise was informed that he was not.

"Perhaps your Excellency would like to see the other Senor?" the old man
asked, pointing up the stairs.

I was about to decline this invitation with all possible haste, when a
voice I recognized as that of the Don greeted me from the gallery above.

"Won't you come up-stairs, Sir Richard?" it said. "I have a letter for
you, from my friend, Doctor Nikola!"

I could scarcely believe the evidence of my eyes and ears, and when I
reached the room of which I had such terrible recollections, my surprise
was intensified rather than lessened. Martinos had undergone a complete
metamorphosis. In outward appearance he was no longer the same person,
who only the day before had filled me with such terrible repulsions. If
such a thing could be believed, he was more like his old self--as I had
first seen him.

"Where is Doctor Nikola?" I inquired, when I had looked round the room
and noticed the absence of the chemical paraphernalia, the multitude of
books, and the general change in it.

"He went away early this morning," the Don replied. "He left a letter
for you, and requested me to give it you as soon as you should call. I
have much pleasure in doing so now."

I took it and placed it almost mechanically in my pocket.

"Are you aware when he will return?" I asked.

"He will never do so," Martinos replied. "I heard the old man below
wailing this morning, because he had lost the best master he had ever
had."

"And you?"

"I am ruined, as you know," he said, without any reference to his
illness, "but the good doctor has been good enough to place twenty
thousand lira to my credit, and I shall go elsewhere and attempt to
double it."

He must have been much better, for he smiled in the old deceitful way as
he said this. Remembering what I knew of him, I turned from the man in
disgust, and bidding him good-day, left the room which I hoped never to
see again as long as I might live. In the courtyard I encountered the
old caretaker once more.

"So the Senor Nikola has gone away never to return?" I said.

"That is so, Senor," said the old man with a heavy sigh. "He has left me
a rich man, but I do not like to think that I shall never see him
again."

Sitting down upon the edge of the well I took from my pocket the letter
the Don had handed me.

     "Farewell, friend Hatteras," it began. "By the time you receive
     this I shall have left Venice, never more to set foot in it. We
     shall not meet again. I go to the Fate which claims me, and of
     which I told you. Think of me sometimes, and, if it be possible,
     with kindness,

     "NIKOLA."

I rose and moved towards the door, placing a gold piece in the old man's
hand as I passed him. Then, with a last look at the courtyard, I went
down the steps and took my place in the gondola, with a feeling of
sadness in my heart for the sad Destiny of the most wonderful man I had
ever known.



CHAPTER XIV


Next day, much to Galaghetti's sorrow, we suddenly brought our stay in
Venice to a conclusion, and set off for Paris. The Queen of the Adriatic
had lost her charm for us, and for once in our lives we were not sorry
to say good-bye to her. The train left the station, crossed the bridge
to the mainland, and was presently speeding on her way across Europe.
Ever since the morning Miss Trevor's spirits had been steadily
improving. She seemed to have become her old self in a few hours, and
Glenbarth's delight was beautiful to witness. He had been through a good
deal, poor fellow, and deserved some recompense for it. We had been
upwards of an hour upon our way, when my wife made a curious remark.

"Good gracious!" she said, "in our hurry to get away we have quite
forgotten to say good-bye to Doctor Nikola!"

I saw Miss Trevor give a little shudder.

"Do you know," she said, "I had such a curious dream about him last
night. I dreamt that I saw him standing in the courtyard of a great
building on a mountain-side. He was dressed in a strange sort of yellow
gown, not unlike that worn by the Buddhist priests, and was worn almost
to a shadow and looked very old. He approached me, and taking my hands,
said something that, in the commonplace light of day, doesn't seem to
have much sense in it. But I know it affected me very much at the time."

"What was it?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.

"It was this," she answered--"'_Remember that I have forgiven; it is for
you to forget._' What could he have meant?"

"Since it is only a dream, it is impossible to say," observed my wife,
and thus saved me the danger of attempting a solution.

To bring my long narrative to a conclusion I might say that the Duke and
Miss Trevor were married last May. They spent their honeymoon yachting
to the West Indies. Some one proposed that they should visit Venice;
indeed, the Earl of Sellingbourne, who had lately purchased the Palace
Revecce, and had furnished it, by the way, from the Tottenham Court
Road, placed it at their disposal. From what I have been told I gather
that he was somewhat ill-pleased because his offer was not accepted.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the wind howls round the house at night and the world seems very
lonely, I sometimes try to picture a monastery on a mountain-side, and
then, in my fancy, I see a yellow-robed, mysterious figure, whose dark,
searching eyes look into mine with a light that is no longer of this
world. To him I cry--

"FAREWELL, NIKOLA!"


THE END



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     FAREWELL, NIKOLA!

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