Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Moscow - A Story of the French Invasion of 1812
Author: Whishaw, Fred, 1854-1934
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 "Moscow - A Story of the French Invasion of 1812" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



                                       MOSCOW

                       A STORY OF THE FRENCH INVASION OF 1812

                                   BY FRED WHISHAW

     AUTHOR OF "LOVERS AT FAULT," "THE TIGER OF MUSCOVY," "A GRAND
     DUKE OF RUSSIA," ETC.

     LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
     39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
     NEW YORK AND BOMBAY
     1905



MOSCOW.



CHAPTER I.


With a great jangling of sleigh-bells and much shouting from his
driver, who addressed the three horses by every epithet both endearing
and abusive that his vocabulary could provide, Count Maximof drove
into the yard of his nearest neighbour, the Boyar Demidof. The visit
was expected, for Maximof had sent a messenger to give warning of his
approach and to notify the boyar of the object of his coming. The Count
was accompanied by his wife, Avdotia, and his son, a child of ten
years, as well as by the priest of the district who had been picked up
_en route_ at his own village. The child Alexander, commonly called
Sasha, sat by the driver, a young serf of surly appearance and manners,
while the three elders occupied--as best they could--the cushioned seat
behind. This was designed to hold two with moderate comfort, so that
the two outside passengers now fared indifferently, but the middle one,
who was the Count, was comfortable enough.

Demidof, with his wife, met the party at the threshold of his house,
greeting them with voluble and exaggerated expressions of welcome, after
the manner of Russian hosts of his day, which was about one hundred
years ago.

"You see I have brought him," said Maximof; "make your bow, Sasha, and
ask after the health of your _nevyesta_ (bride)."

Sasha advanced shyly. "I hope Mademoiselle Vera Danilovna is well?" he
said, glibly enough.

"She is well and waiting anxiously to embrace her fiancé," said Demidof,
laughing. "Go into the salon on the right and you will find her--what?
You have a present for her--a doll--that is delightful; she will love
you from the very beginning. That is the door."

Sasha disappeared in the direction indicated.

"The notary is here," continued Demidof. "We can complete the legal
part of the matter immediately; after which you, Father Nicholas, shall
perform your share of the ceremony."

Parents, priest and notary now proceeded to the business of the
occasion, which was the betrothal of Alexander Maximof, aged ten,
to Vera Demidof, who numbered seven summers, and the signing of the
contract of betrothal. When this latter document had been read over and
approved and signed by all present, the two persons chiefly concerned in
the matter were summoned for the religious ceremony; little Vera came
hugging her doll, while Sasha was arrayed in a tiny Lancer uniform, the
gift of his bride-to-be.

The priest recited certain prayers and injunctions to which the
principals paid scant attention; and, the ceremony ended, all sat down
to dinner. At this function there were many servants, serfs of the
estate, to wait upon the feasters; the food was good and plentiful,
but badly cooked, the wine plentiful also, but indifferent, and the
plates and dishes were filthy. Civilisation had not as yet reached a
high standard in the Russia of that day, when, even in the best houses,
though the furniture might be gorgeously gilt, it stood in dust and
dirt; where men- and women-servants slept in the passages which were
not aired during the day; where there were no arrangements for personal
ablutions, and ventilation and sanitation were arts as yet undiscovered
and undreamed of.

The two mothers gushed over their children, who chattered and
played together quite unconcerned to think of the serious nature of
the function in which they had this day taken a chief part. It was
a beautiful thing, Countess Maximof observed, to see innocent love
actually in the birth, as at this moment. The fathers drank heavily and
made boisterous jokes at which all present laughed aloud, including the
servants and his reverence the priest, who drank as hard as any and gave
no sign of displeasure when the humour of the two manor-lords surpassed
in its vulgarity even the wide margin which, in those days of much
breadth in such matters, was considered permissible.

More than once Demidof rose to chastise some unfortunate serf who had in
some manner displeased him. Neither of the gentlemen hesitated to use
language towards the servants, whether male or female, too outrageous to
be imagined, far less quoted, applying names and epithets of the most
unsavoury and insulting nature.

"You are too kind and gentle with your fellows," said Maximof, who was,
even in those dark days of tyrannous and brutal manor-lords, a noted
bully towards his serfs, and was hated by them in consequence even more
bitterly than he himself was aware. "You should send that clumsy devil
to me for a week, I'd train him for you."

The clumsy devil referred to had spilt wine over his master's arm and
had received a clout over his head for his carelessness. He now stood
lamenting audibly by the sideboard.

"You may have the fool," laughed Demidof, "for five roubles, and train
him or bury him as you please."

"Oh no, no, Barin, God forbid," cried the wretched man sinking upon his
knees, "it is unlawful to sell me away from the land."

"Good--I take him--send him over to-morrow!" Maximof hiccoughed, totally
unconcerned by the fellow's blubbering and entreaties, to which his own
master paid no more attention than the Count did.

When dinner was over the afternoon was well spent and it was time to
set out upon the twenty-mile drive which separated the houses of the
two boyars. The children were made to kiss one another at parting,
a demonstration to which the lady strongly objected though without
assigning a reason until after her future lord's departure, when she
explained to her mother's superstitious horror, but to her father's
boisterous amusement, that she hated him.

"He kicked me and hit me," she said, showing certain marks upon her
limbs, "because I was tired of playing at soldiers with him and wanted
to hug my doll. Don't invite him here again, mother!"

"But he belongs to you, my dove, you must love him, he is yours and you
are his," cried the horrified parent.

"Then I'll spill wine over him and he shall sell me for five roubles,
as father sold Gregory just now!" said the child. Whereat the mother
crossed herself and muttered a prayer and the boyar laughed boisterously.

Meanwhile the Maximof family sped homewards through the gloom of the
early winter evening. The cold had a sobering influence both upon the
boyar himself and upon the priest, who was with difficulty aroused from
torpor, however, when his village was reached and the time came to drop
him at his own house.

The driver, Kiril, had found friends at Demidof's house anxious to
entertain him in return for his dismal accounts of the cruelties and
abominations practised by his boyar upon the serfs of his estate.

"We are dogs, no better," he had told them; "you may thank God,
brothers, that you are not in our place."

"Go on and tell us all about it," said one, plying Kiril with more
drink. Kiril had many a tale to tell at the price of a drink for each
recital, and when true stories failed him he employed his inventive
powers.

"You, Gregory, had better hang yourself rather than come our way,"
said he, addressing the man sold in a fit of rage by Demidof at the
dinner-table.

"There is no need," said Gregory. "My master is not a fool when he is
sober; he knows two things, one that he cannot sell me away from the
land and the other that I am worth more than five roubles to him. He
will remember these two things when he has slept, and I shall not go."

"Good; so be it; remain and be happy! What in the devil's name does your
master think of to mate his child with the whelp of a wolf? Like father
like son; one day he will eat her."

"In twelve years much may happen. Drink, friend, and tell us more of
the doings of your master, who must indeed be a very child of Satan, if
all you say is true."

"It is true. Listen now how he knouted Masha, the herdsman's daughter;
some lords have respect for the weakness of a woman, but he has none."

Kiril was still narrating and still drinking when summoned to put in the
horses and start homewards. By this time he was far from sober.

On the way home he slept peacefully, the clever little horses knowing
the road homewards and keeping faultlessly to the track.

The priest had been left at his house and there remained but four or
five miles to drive when the astute little animals suddenly shied with
one accord, sending the sledge skidding across the road and bringing it
up violently enough against a pine-tree.

Maximof was rudely awakened from his sleep. His wife uttered a cry of
alarm, the boyar swore loudly and thumped Kiril on the back. Young Sasha
cried out incoherently and pointed among the trees on the right.

Kiril's head was sunk upon his breast; he snored in a drunken stupor and
took no notice of the Barin's blows, which did not want for energy.

"See, father, wolves!" cried Sasha excitedly. "I have seen six, there is
a seventh--oh--eight--nine!"

Maximof looked about. "It is true," he said, "they follow us."

"Husband, is there danger? Whip up the horses, Kiril!"

"Kiril is drunk and useless, he will not wake," replied the Count; "I
will try other means." He took the whip and stood up to belabour the
wretched sleeper about the neck, face and shoulders.

Kiril awoke with a roar of pain and drunken rage; he turned in his seat
and struck savagely at his master, swearing horrible oaths.

"Sit down and hold the reins, you fool," shouted Maximof. "There is a
pack of wolves at our heels."

There was something in the Barin's aspect at this moment that gave the
drunken man pause. It was not the thought of the wolves, for he never
glanced at them. He ceased to swear and rave and sat down obediently
to drive. Five minutes later the fellow was asleep again, the reins
dangling. By this time the wolves had grown more daring; several
had left the cover of the forest and followed the sledge in the open
moonlight, going at a hand-gallop, grey and lank and weird enough to
see. There were still two miles to go. A gaunt beast suddenly sprang out
at the off horse, causing both animals to shy violently across the road.

Sasha uttered a cry of terror; the Countess caught her husbands arm;
Kiril half awoke and joggled the reins.

"The wolves will attack us before we reach home. We are lost, husband,"
said the Countess.

"Take the reins from Kiril, Sasha," said Maximof, standing up. The
boy obeyed, taking the reins from the sleeper's nerveless hands. Then
Maximof suddenly caught Kiril by the waist and pulled him backwards. The
Count was a large and powerful man, the other was a wisp in his arms.
Kiril awoke and struggled. He caught the box-board with his heels, but
Maximof kicked them free. Kiril struck at him and cursed, but feeling
himself being forced over the side of the sledge he clutched with his
hands and held on.

"Husband, what are you doing?--the wolves--the wolves!" shrieked the
Countess. But her husband replied laughing that there were many trees,
the fool could climb one if he was not too drunk. "Take the butt of the
whip and strike his hands," he added, but his wife only shrieked and
clung feebly to his arm.

Maximof forced one of the hands away and contrived by a united effort of
arms, legs and body to expel the wretched Kiril from the sledge. But the
other hand clung desperately for a moment as the man was dragged along.
Maximof kicked it free.

There was a shriek, and in the moonlight each wolf seemed to make for
one point in the road. Then came a scrimmage and a tumult of snarling
and fighting, and now the sledge was out of sight and hearing. It went
on its way without further pursuit, save for one or two stragglers who
soon found that their comrades had chosen the wiser course, and went
back in hopes of being in time for a share of such good things as the
gods had provided.

That night an old hag from the village came to the mansion to inquire
for her son Kiril. From the servants she learned no certain thing,
but each had suggestions to make as to Kiril's non-arrival. The story
of Sasha's nurse was grimly suggestive. When going to bed Sasha had
shown off his new Lancer uniform, and, being in a boastful mood, had
volunteered the information that he had held the reins while father and
Kiril were fighting.

"Why did they fight?" asked the nurse, but Sasha had suddenly remembered
that his mother had bidden him remain silent as to this episode, and he
replied that he did not know. "Kiril was drunk," he said, "I know that."

Presently the hag found her way into the presence of her manor-lord and
accused him, shrieking, of the murder of her son.

"To the wolves you threw him," she cried, "deny it if you can!"

Maximof laughed; he rang the bell and bade his servants take her to the
flog room and see that she had her full twenty strokes.

"They that throw to the wolves shall to the wolves be thrown!" shrieked
the woman as she was removed; but Maximof laughed and bade the servants
add five strokes. Presently he rang again in order to ask whether his
orders had been obeyed.

"To the letter, Barin," said the trembling serf; "twenty-five strokes;
after her punishment, being unable to walk, she was carried away to the
village."

"Good," said Maximof; "if any serf repeats the words she has spoken this
night, he shall receive a double punishment."

As a matter of fact the hag had been allowed to go unknouted. "It is
enough to have lost your son," her pitying fellow serfs had told her;
"go quickly and remain lying and groaning to-morrow, in case the steward
calls to make sure."

"Those that throw to the wolves shall themselves feel the teeth of
the wolves," murmured the old hag as she took her departure, and the
saying was repeated broadcast among the villagers next day, in spite
of the manor-lord's threats, for this old hag had some reputation as a
_znaharka_, or wise woman, and her curses and blessings were matters of
considerable interest to the peasantry around.



CHAPTER II.


Maximof employed an agent to do the dirty work of the estate; he rarely
came personally in contact with his people and scarcely knew the names
of any of them. Kakin, the agent, was no better liked by the peasants;
he was a bully, and rarely failed to improve when he could upon the
severity of his master's measures towards them. A week after the events
above recorded Barin and agent sat together in the estate office over
the weekly consultation, when the question of the intended marriage of a
serf came up for discussion, a man of the name of Ivan Patkin.

"He may marry whom he pleases in his own village," said the Count. "Who
is the woman?"

"Timothy Drugof's daughter Olga, in this village," said Kakin; "Ivan of
course lives at Drevno." This was a village within the boundaries of
Maximof's estate, but seven miles at least from the manor-village of
Toxova, in which Olga lived with her father.

"Tell the fool to marry a woman in Drevno or remain a bachelor," said
the Count; "you know very well and so do the peasants that I will have
no intermarrying amongst the villages."

"I will stop the proceedings then. I told the fellow of your objection,
but he was impertinent--I will not tell you what he said."

"You should have given him the knout; do I pay you wages to sit and
listen while my peasants use improper language towards their Barin?"

"I gave him the knout; but he is, as you may know, a sulky devil, and,
instead of doing him good, the flogging caused him to abuse and threaten
me to my face; I was somewhat afraid of the man; he is not one to meet
alone in the forest on a dark night."

"Afraid of a serf? You forget, my friend, that by the admission you may
endanger your position; for if you show yourself useless to me we must
part. My authority must be absolute and you are my representative. As
for this marriage," the Count ended, "I do not desire that Olga should
leave this village--she is useful at the manor-house."

"I will do my best," said the agent. He did not mention that Ivan Patkin
and his friends at Toxova had practically turned him out of the village
with contemptuous words and threats directed not only against himself
but also against the Count; nor that the peasants had interfered at the
very beginning of Ivan's flogging and had rescued him by force.

"Tell the Barin to interfere with Ivan's marriage if he dares!" one of
the peasants had said. "We would deprive him of no rights; we both are
and remain his serfs and live upon his land; he loses nothing if one of
us goes from one village to another!"

The agent's way of "doing his best" in this matter was discreet. Knowing
that the day fixed for Ivan's wedding was the following Saturday at
Drevno, this being Thursday, he contrived to be absent for two days in a
distant part of the estate; so that when a deputation of peasants from
Drevno came over to fetch the bride early on Saturday morning, he was
not in the village to prevent them.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the Barin would have been unaware
in such a case of the disobedience of his people; but it so happened
that the girl Olga was required that day at the manor-house in order to
act as substitute for one of the servants, who fell ill. Thus Olga's
absence was remarked and commented upon and Maximof himself happened to
be at hand and heard the fact mentioned.

"Where is the wench then?" he asked.

The woman who had been into the village to fetch Olga replied that the
peasants had told her it was Olga's wedding-day and she had gone to
Drevno to be married.

"What?" roared the outraged Barin; "married?--to whom?"

"To a peasant in that village," replied the trembling messenger, "one
Ivan Patkin."

"Where is Kakin--why has he allowed the wench to go?" asked the Count,
almost speechless with rage. Then he remembered that the agent was away
collecting fines and duties in other villages.

"Let Kiril put the horses to," he roared; "I will go myself."

Some one tremblingly reminded the lord that Kiril was dead.

"Some other fellow then," he roared.

Maximof took his knout, an ugly leathern whip of many tails, and paid
a visit--while waiting for his sledge--to the parents of Olga, who
protested with tears that the agent had never told them of the Barin's
desire that Olga should not be married out of her own village.

"As if we should dare to disobey the Barin's will," they cried. "It is
not even as though we had wished the wench married there; naturally we
would rather keep her in Toxova, near ourselves--but go she would!"

Maximof laid about him freely with his knout; he spared neither age nor
sex, and the cries which arose from the household included those of
Olga's grandparents as well as her parents, and of the children small
and large. All wept and scolded in a body when the Barin had departed,
blaming one another and the agent and the Barin himself, but principally
Olga, for bringing this trouble upon them.

"There is Peter Kuzmin in this village," they cried, "who would have had
her; but no, nothing would do but to marry Ivan Patkin, who is a devil,
not a man! If the Barin fetches her back, she shall marry Peter without
delay. Are we all to suffer again for her sins?"

Meanwhile the village of Drevno was _en fête_. The bride and bridegroom
drove hither and thither, from house to house, receiving congratulations
and presents, and drink flowed freely. The wedding ceremony would take
place early in the afternoon, if the priest condescended to turn up in
time. He was not one to put himself out, however, for a mere marriage
of serfs. Maidens walked about the village singing the dirges and
melancholy songs which are or used to be a recognised prelude to the
marriage of one of their companions. In these songs all the possible
sorrows and troubles of matrimony are reviewed, and the poor bride is
reminded again and again that she is plunging into a bottomless sea of
woe and would have done far better to keep out of the married state.

In some cases the bride accompanies this cheerful band, taking part
with the maidens in foretelling her own troubles by singing the solo
verses, which consist of a repetition of the dismal prophecies with her
own acquiescence thrown in. But Olga preferred to drive around with
Ivan of whom she was extremely fond; for this--strange to say--was a
love-match, a rare thing indeed in those days and among the serfs, whose
marriages were usually arranged for them by their manor-lord with a view
to the particular needs of any portion of his estate in the matter of
population.

Olga was merry this day and happy. She knew very well that there might
be trouble; that the Barin would be displeased and would cause old
Kakin to threaten all manner of pains and penalties. But in Drevno the
peasants were not afraid of Kakin; they knew well enough that he dared
not fulfil his threats, and that he would prefer to report to his master
that certain floggings had been inflicted than actually inflict them.
As for the Barin himself, he rarely came to the village. The people of
Toxova lived, as it were, under his eye; but at Drevno it was different,
and the peasants consequently enjoyed a certain measure of independence,
won for themselves and by themselves out of Kakin, the agent, whom they
had successfully intimidated.

Even the Barin, Olga knew, could not unmarry her, once the church had
performed the rite; neither could he separate husband and wife, though
he might compel Ivan to transfer himself to Toxova.

It was a quarter to two when the Barin came swinging into the village
at a hand-gallop, his three-horsed sledge--or _troika_--travelling at
a splendid pace over the hard snow road. The wedding was to take place
at two and Olga was now being dressed by her maidens at the house of
Ivan's parents. The melancholy songs were in full chant; the bride and
chorus were all, as the occasion demanded, in tears; every girl wailing
and sobbing and singing as they decked their companion for the solemn
rite.

Count Maximof drove straight to the Starost's house; this was the
elected chief-peasant of the village, and the Barin put up his trap
here, leaving with Gavril, the driver, a message for the Starost that if
he were too late and the marriage should have taken place against his
wishes and commands, the entire population should be not only fined but
flogged also.

The Starost sent over for Ivan Patkin, the bridegroom, and communicated
to him the disturbing news: the Barin had arrived to stop the wedding.
The Starost was a sturdy independent man, like the rest of the Drevno
villagers; he was entirely on Ivan's side in the matter.

"But the Barin is the Barin," he observed, "and the priest will obey
him. He has gone straight to Father Michael's. What is to be done?"

Ivan Patkin stood and cursed and fingered the axe which hung at his
belt. He was anxious to marry Olga, to whom he was sincerely attached.
This fatal-looking hitch at the last moment was maddening. His eyes
seemed to grow red in a sudden access of rage and of hatred for the
Barin.

"I will kill the devil," he said. "The old men tell us that the peasants
of the next estate rose against their Barin, who oppressed them, and
slew him, and that the Tsaritsa Catherine closed her eyes. Let us do the
same."

"No," said the Starost; "that is going too far, Ivan. The Tsar Paul is
not like his mother and the laws are different also. Disappear in the
forest with Olga, if you will, and be married to-morrow, or to-night
after the Barin has gone. You will be knouted, no doubt, and fined, but
you will have Olga."

Ivan was too wild with rage to argue quietly. "I see there is no help
to be got from you," he said, and he withdrew hastily to take counsel
with others. On his way through the village he met the Barin himself
returning from his visit to the priest whom he had abused and threatened
and browbeaten until the unfortunate cleric began to fear that the
furious man would end by knouting him, but Maximof dared not raise his
hand to beat the priest, though his fingers itched to flog some one. It
was at this moment that he met Ivan.

Ivan, though furious, nevertheless removed his cap upon encountering
his master. The peasant in him was too strong. Away from the Barin he
would have told himself that he would not only not salute the Count if
he should meet him, but that he would fall upon him and strangle the
tyrant. In the Barin's presence he was cowed and his independence and
courage vanished, though not his hatred.

"Who are you?" said the angry Count.

"Ivan Patkin," replied the man.

Then the Barin fell upon him, raining abuses and curses and knout-blows;
and in a moment the wretched peasant was upon his knees blubbering
and beseeching, rage in his heart, but in his veins the craven blood
distilled by generations of oppression.

"Come to Toxova for a flogging once a month for a year," said the Barin,
panting with his exertions; "and when you come Olga shall come also. I
will show you both, and the rest of the village too, that I am to be
obeyed. As for marrying, you shall marry the oldest hag in your own
village, since you will have a wife."

Count Maximof felt somewhat relieved, but he continued his walk to the
house wherein the bride had been dressed for her marriage. He found her
alone, deserted by her maidens--who had fled from the wrath to come--and
he flogged her without pity and without regard for her shrieks and her
appeals for mercy.

Then, his anger somewhat appeased, he repaired to his estate office and
bade them bring him tea, sending a message to Gavril, the driver, that
he would return as soon as the horses should be sufficiently rested.
Olga might return in his sledge, he added, with fine generosity; she
deserved to be made to walk through the forest night or no night, but he
would let her drive in mercy.



CHAPTER III.


The horses had brought their master to Drevno at a hand-gallop, and
required some little time for resting. It was half-past four before
the _troika_ drove up to the door, and quite dark. Olga sat huddled up
on the box-seat beside the driver and she was still crying, her body
heaving at regular intervals with deep-drawn sobs.

The Barin, having been obliged to wait for more than two hours in the
close, hot room which served as his agent's office, was sleepy; he
settled himself comfortably in the sledge, well wrapped in furs, and
presently dozed off. Soon he was snoring loudly.

"Olga," the driver whispered, "don't be startled and make a noise--I am
Ivan."

Olga did start, and that violently; she would have cried out, too, but
Ivan placed a great gloved hand upon her mouth and prevented her.

"Ivan, he will awake and recognise thee, and we shall be knouted as we
sit," she whispered presently, when he had removed his hand. "Why did
you come, and where is Gavril?"

"Gavril lies drunk in the Starost's stable; he has had more than his
share of the wedding _vodka_; I made him drunk in order to take his
place. And I have come because--do not be a fool and cry out--because
the devil behind us has lived long enough; as it has not been our
wedding-day it shall be his death-day."

"Ivan, you dare not--you must not. He is a devil, as you say, but to
murder him would do us no good. The Tsar's officers would come and take
you from me and carry you away to Siberia, and what should I do then?"

"Bah! they must catch us first. We have these horses. We will drive all
night by the roads, so as to leave no track, and we will come to the
village of Ostrof, where I have relatives; they will take us in."

"And then?" said Olga, trembling so that she could scarcely speak.

"Their Barin will not ask questions; he will have us registered as his
own and there is an end."

"But he must know why we have fled from our own Barin; he will ask and
require to be satisfied."

"We will say that he was a devil and beat us, and that we would bear
with him no longer."

"Do not shed blood, Ivan," said Olga. "I should fear you all my life
long."

"Bah! to slay such vermin is to do God's service; do not be a timid
fool, Olga; we cannot live without one another; is not that a certain
thing?"

"That is certain; but I would rather love you without fearing you----"
Olga's speech was interrupted at this moment by the sudden shying of the
shaft horse, a movement which caused her to grab the narrow board on
which she sat and Ivan to collide violently against her, so that both
nearly toppled out of the sledge. It caused the Barin to awake suddenly,
also, and to launch at Ivan's head a string of curses and abuse.

Ivan remained silent, rather than apologise in the cringing phraseology
of Gavril, for he did not wish to be recognised at present.

But the Barin's drowsiness was not yet slept off, and in a minute or two
he was fast asleep again, and snoring.

"Olga, do you know what the horse shied at?" whispered Ivan.

"No," said the girl; "unless it was a shadow in the moonlight."

"Keep a guard upon your lips and I will tell you; it was a wolf. At this
moment I can count five, taking both sides of the road; watch between
the trees a hundred paces from the road; you will see them creep from
shadow to shadow, keeping pace with us."

"Holy Mother of God!" exclaimed Olga, piously crossing herself; "yes--I
see them--Lord have mercy upon us. I cannot forget Kiril who died but a
week ago!"

"Do not fear," said Ivan; "these wolves may yet prove to be our best
friends."

Olga pondered in silence over this enigmatical utterance of Ivan's.
She concluded at length that he must have meant it would be dangerous
to stop in order to murder the Barin, as he had threatened to do, and
that therefore the wolves must be regarded as good friends having thus
prevented the intended crime. The discovery gave Olga much comfort.

"The wolves are more and more," said Ivan presently, "and they come in
closer and closer to the road. There are at least a score, or it may be
thirty; doubtless it is Kiril's pack."

"Lord save us!" ejaculated Olga.

"Bah! if there were three hundred there would be no danger behind these
good horses--I would race the brutes from now until daylight!" said
Ivan. "There is nothing to fear, Olga, only hold tightly to your seat."

Olga shuddered, but did as she was bidden. The wolves, as Ivan said,
increased every moment in numbers and in audacity. They made no sound,
but they cantered nearer on each side of the road, but twenty paces from
the sledge, while others followed behind. The three horses, harnessed
abreast, snorted with terror; they laid back their ears and dragged the
light sledge at a hand-gallop. Ivan was a practised whip--every Russian
peasant is--and controlled the pace at his desire. The Barin slept
heavily on.

"How many there are, and how bold they grow!" whispered Olga. "Are you
sure we are safe, Ivan?"

"Only hold on tightly," said Ivan hoarsely. A moment later he added:--

"Now, especially, hold on very tightly, Olga, with both hands; there is
a bit of rough road here, and we may jolt."

Almost at the instant the off runner of the sledge struck the stem of a
pine-tree which stood at the very edge of the road. The vehicle lurched
heavily, glided perilously for a moment on one runner, then righted
itself. The frightened horses started away at full gallop.

Olga, in spite of having clutched her seat with both hands, was thrown
sidelong against Ivan, who grabbed her with his left arm, while with
his right leg he touched and shoved off from the ground; this it was
that righted the sledge. As the horses dashed forward both Ivan and Olga
jolted back into their places, Olga shrieking with terror, but gripping
the board upon which she sat so tightly as to be perfectly secure. Ivan
sat still, looking neither to right nor left. He seemed to employ all
his energies in getting the horses once more under control. They had
travelled thus, at lightning speed, for two hundred yards, a distance
which was covered in a quarter of a minute, before a shriek from behind
caused Olga to cease, suddenly, her own screaming and look round.

"The Barin--the Barin!" she cried. "He has fallen out, Ivan!--stop the
horses--we must save him!"

"Stop them who can--do not speak foolishness, Olga; you see that I am
pulling with all my strength!"

Olga kept silence. There followed a second scream from behind; then a
cry that seemed to be broken off in the middle.

Ivan took off his boots and threw them in the road. "Do the same, Olga,"
he said.

Olga obeyed, but half understanding. A few wolves were still following
the sledge, but most had remained behind.

"Throw your coat also," said Ivan, "and your head kerchief!"

All these garments were afterwards found by the horrified persons who
went out to look for the Barin, together with the heels of the Count's
boots, and a few shreds of his clothes. Olga's boots and Ivan's were in
pieces and partly eaten, and her coat and red cotton headkerchief were
in shreds.

"This is where the Barin fell out," said the searchers; "the two others
clung to the sledge a little longer, it appears, before being thrown out
and pulled to pieces. It is horrible!"

But many of the peasants in Maximof's villages were of opinion that
the Barin's fate was well deserved. He had been a tyrant and oppressor
of the poor. "It is the finger of God!" they said. Why two innocent
peasants should have been sacrificed at the same time was a puzzling
factor in the matter. As for the sledge it was duly brought back by the
three hungry horses next day.

"Dear Lord, look at them!" said the peasants at Toxova; "they have run
half a hundred miles--chased by wolves throughout the night, only think
of it! And the sledge empty behind them--bah! it is horrible!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The new master at Ostrof asked no questions. He registered Ivan and Olga
by the names they chose to give him. Two new serfs were a godsend not to
be despised. It was as though some one had paid in an unexpected sum to
his credit at the banker's!

And the reputation of the old hag at Maximof's manor-village increased
wonderfully from this day. Her blessing upon crops, marriages and so
forth doubled at once in value; while as for her curses, why, from this
time onward until she died, if she but launched a malediction, the
victim might as well go and hang himself for all the pleasure life would
afford him until the wise woman was pleased to withdraw it.



CHAPTER IV.


For many a year after the tragic death of his father the new manor-lord,
little Sasha Maximof, would not be induced to live at the estate. He
was afraid of the woods, wherein for ever lurked, according to his
morbid fancy, hoardes of ravening wolves intent upon his destruction;
he was afraid of his serfs, a feeling originated and fostered by his
mother, who was herself afraid of them, well knowing the hatred they
had borne towards her husband and fearing lest their malice should be
extended towards his child. She desired no more than Sasha to live in
the country. The property was placed in the hands of a steward--somewhat
more merciful than deposed Kakin--who contrived to extract a fat living
for the widow and her son by exploiting their unfortunate serfs to the
utmost limit permitted by the law. The Countess lived with Sasha in St.
Petersburg where he saw little or nothing of his "betrothed" for two or
three years, after which little Vera Demidof was sent to Paris to be
educated in a French school. Vera's aunt, Demidof's sister, had been
married to the French Minister at the Court of the Emperor Paul, after
whose tragic end he had left the country and returned to Paris, taking
with him his Russian wife. Demidof was proud of his French relations and
was glad enough to allow his child to receive her education under such
promising auspices.

At the age of sixteen Vera returned to St. Petersburg quite prepared to
find her countrymen and women little better than barbarians as she had
been taught by the elegant Parisian folk to believe them.

"Bears, _chérie_, you will find them, every one," her French relations
assured her; "they have no manners and no education, how should they?
and your fiancé, he will be a bear like the rest, you will run from him,
run back to France; we shall find you a fiancé who is not a bear!"

"Bear or no bear, we are pledged to one another and there will be
no running away from him!" said Vera. Whereat her French relatives
shrugged their shoulders and said, "This betrothal of babes, what does
it signify? It was a very pretty game for children, but a thing to be
forgotten when the doll is put away and the skirts are lengthened."

"In Russia they think differently," Vera replied. "My mother looks upon
the betrothal as binding, I know. The law and the Church both would have
something to say before the contract could be broken."

"Well, let us see first what he is like; if he should be an impossible,
without doubt both the Church and the law will listen to reason. What,
are two people to be bound to one another for life if they desire it
not? God forbid!"

"Maybe we shall both desire it when we meet, who knows?" Vera laughed.
"We are talking in the dark, since Sasha and I have not met for many
years. But if each is repulsive to the other the contract may perhaps be
set aside, by mutual agreement."

"That is sensible," said Vera's aunt; "the danger is lest he shall be
attracted by you, while you feel no counter-attraction for him, or _vice
versâ_."

"I will keep a guard upon my heart, aunt," laughed Vera.

The first meeting, after many years, between the young people took place
soon after this conversation at the annual reception of the corps
of cadets in St. Petersburg. This corps consisted of members of the
_petite noblesse_--the boyarin families of Russia, destined for military
service in the more aristocratic regiments. The Emperor Paul, shocked
by the methods of his mother, Catherine the Great, in the matter of
distribution of commissions to the sons of her boyars, had instituted
this corps of cadets as a much-needed measure of reform, and indeed the
step was taken not a moment too soon for the good of the country.

As the great Catherine's system of distributing commissions to the
members of that class of her subjects which seems to have been her
_enfant gâté_, the _petite noblesse_, is somewhat unique, I will ask
permission to digress for a moment in order to give the reader some idea
of her method and of the abuses to which it gradually led.

The thing developed gradually and attained the height of absurdity only
when the Empress was an old woman.

Commissions in the Guards were at this time regarded as gifts from
the sovereign to her faithful boyars and claimable by every boyar, if
he so desired, for the benefit of his children. They were issued on
demand, and were not, at first, applied for until the youth destined
to enjoy the privilege had reached a time of life when a commission
in the army might fairly be given to him; but since the officers of
the Guards received liberal pay and were treated with marked kindness
and indulgence by the sovereign, it occurred to certain boyars that it
would be a pity to waste several years of the best part of the lives of
their sons, years which might be spent so profitably in drawing pay and
accumulating seniority in the Guards. Therefore certain aspiring parents
applied for commissions for their sons at the age of fifteen; and--no
objection being made--it soon became the custom to issue commissions to
lads of this age.

Gradually the limit of age decreased. First commissions were demanded
for boys of twelve, and obtained; then the age dropped to ten, then to
eight, to six, to three. No duties were required of all these young
officers, who were not even obliged to draw their own pay; their fathers
were permitted to do this for them. But promotion proceeded in each case
with regularity, and soon it was a common thing to see a promising young
officer of seven years toddling at his mothers side in the epaulettes
of a captain of the Guards.

But the matter did not end here. It now became the fashion to apply
for commissions for male children as soon as born. Lieutenants were
to be seen carried about in their nurses' arms and captains rode in
perambulators, while majors and colonels of ten and twelve strutted
about the streets, to the pride and no small profit of their happy
parents. One would suppose that the comedy had at this point reached the
very limit of absurdity; but this was not so.

It occurred to some ingenious boyar about to enter into the delights and
responsibilities of wedlock to apply for commissions for a son or two
in advance. If his marriage should be blessed with offspring--well; if
not, well also; for no one would be likely to inquire into the matter as
long as the old Empress lived, and the pay of two or three officers of
the Guards--non-existent, certainly, but steadily rising in rank for all
that--would be a comfortable addition to the income of his parents that
might have been.

This was the millennium of Catherine's _enfants gâtés_, the boyars, and
it came to an end with her death and the accession of Paul, who had long
watched the scandal from his retreat at Gatchina and watched it with
helpless displeasure and anger. Paul was a strict disciplinarian and the
sight of the degradation of the Guards maddened him. One of his first
acts after his accession was to hold a review of the corps, a review
at which every officer was compelled to be present or to hand in his
resignation.

That must indeed have been the weirdest parade upon record. Officers in
arms, officers in perambulators, officers clinging to their mothers'
skirts; shy and self-conscious majors of ten wandering helplessly about
the Champs de Mars, colonels of twelve and fourteen asking one another
to which regiment they belonged, and the stern, angry Emperor surveying
the motley scene as the executioner eyes his victim before dealing the
fatal stroke which is to end him once and for all.

In spite of his anger, the Tsar Paul displayed some humour upon this
occasion, perhaps with the intention of impressing upon all witnesses
the absurdity of the prevailing state of affairs. Every officer was
called upon to take his proper place with his own battalion, and to obey
the words of command presently issued by the few remaining veterans of
the various regiments.

Naturally the parade began and ended in confusion; a wild medley of
nursemaids and perambulators, of crying children and bewildered boys;
all officers who were unable to perform the duties expected of them were
called upon to resign their commissions, and with this historic review
the millennium of Catherine's baby-guards came to a timely end.

Young Sasha Maximof, Vera's betrothed, had been duly enrolled, like
most of his fellows of boyar rank, among Catherine's officers of the
sinecure regiments, but his mother, unlike many of the parents of those
young warriors, had taken neither fright nor offence at the action
of the Emperor Paul, but like a sensible woman had entered her son's
name as a cadet in the newly organised institution for the education
of youths desirous of entering the army as _bona-fide_ officers. Sasha
had been but six years old at the time of the catastrophe, and had then
enjoyed the rank and pay of a captain. He had, of course, resigned his
commission, but had rejoined as a cadet of the Imperial Corps upon
reaching the age of fourteen. He was now nineteen and one of the seniors
of the establishment--a nice-looking youth of medium height and good
appearance. If one may use a modern expression to describe Sasha's
attitude towards life at this time, he may be said to have "fancied
himself" to a very considerable extent; he was, indeed, a fair example
of the Russian youth of his day, when over the uncouth and bearlike
manners of the old Muscovite type was gradually stealing the veneer of
Western civilisation.

Sasha Maximof was a lady's man; he was generally liked and admired by
the women, and knew it. He had already been through several _affaires du
coeur_, and if he ever recollected the fact that he was a betrothed
man, it is probable that he thought lightly of the matter, regarding
the whole question as one of expediency. The dower to be had with his
fiancée was a handsome one, he knew; but there were plenty of good
dowers available for a man like himself; he might eventually decide to
regard his engagement as binding--it depended upon the girl; mediocrity
would not suit him.

"It will be a wonder, or rather _she_ will have to be one," he remarked
one day when his mother, observing his attitude towards some damsel
whom he was accustomed to meet in society, casually reminded him of the
existing contract to which he was a party. "She will have to be a wonder
if that silly betrothal is to come to anything!"



CHAPTER V.


Little sixteen-year-old Vera Demidof looked very well in her stylish
Parisian clothes. She was a pretty girl of true Russian type, and,
Russian like, was an adept in the art of keeping up a constant flow of
light talk, half in her native language and half in French, a fashion
in polite society then as now. Vera was with her mother, and with them
stood or moved about among the crowd of visitors at the annual function
of the corps of cadets a young cousin, one Constantine Demidof, a
youthful member of the corps.

"Tell me the notables," said Vera, "especially the military ones,
but don't expect me to admire any of our poor Russians after the
smart-looking French officers! As for your cadets--bah!--you are bigger
than the French, perhaps, but clumsier; and your manners compared with
theirs--the cadets here, I mean--oh! you are bears, my friend, and they
are angels. Imagine, Constantine, _mon ami_, I have spoken to Ney--the
bravest of the brave--only think of it; and one day the Emperor
himself, beautiful man, smiled upon me."

"Oh, come," said Constantine, "if you speak of emperors and beautiful
men, your Napoleon is a mere tub-man, and not to be named in comparison
with our Emperor. You have not yet seen Alexander? A very different
person from his unbeautiful father Paul, wait and see, he will be here
in five minutes. Your Sasha Maximof is to receive a prize at his hands,
lucky Sasha!"

"Sasha a prize--oh, I am glad!" exclaimed Vera--"and for what?"

"For fencing; he is the best fencer of all here; see, he is still busy
with that girl, his latest craze; in charity we will hope that he has
not yet seen you."

"If he did, I think he would not recognise me; he does not know I am
here and it is five years since we met. Presently you shall go and bring
him to me, but not yet. Tell me, Constantine, is Sasha liked here?"

Constantine glanced at his cousin; he caught her eye and smiled.

"Some people like him, I suppose," he said.

"Of whom Constantine Demidof is evidently not one," said Vera, laughing
merrily. "Why not, my friend?"

"How should I? I scarcely know him, he is two years senior to me here,
and that means much."

"I see. I should say, to look at him, that he has a good opinion of
himself."

"Oh, he certainly has that," Constantine laughed. "He is thought
good-looking, you know, and the girls flatter him, I suppose."

"Nevertheless his clothes fit very badly. In Parisian clothes he might
look well, yes, he is not bad; you shall bring him to me, presently, but
do not say who I am; you shall say that there is a lady who desires to
have him presented to her."

At this moment the Emperor Alexander entered the room, preceded by an
aide-de-camp, who first cleared the space about the doorway in order
that his Majesty might enter with effect, which he certainly did.

The Emperor was a splendid-looking man, tall and straight as a pine
stem, and handsome withal; there was perhaps but a single man in all
Russia who was his superior in manly bearing and in stately presence,
and that was his younger brother and successor, Nicholas, who had not
his equal in Europe.

"Oh, he is splendid!" murmured Vera Demidof, gazing in wonder and
admiration--"what a man! Oh, the sight of him makes me proud to be
Russian after all!"

"Ha! it is good to hear you praise something which is not French. Your
'little Corporal' would look but a poor creature beside him, come, admit
it!"

"Bah! one thinks of something else than inches when one sees Napoleon;
nevertheless in the Tsar Alexander God has made a very fine man; they
speak well of him in Paris as a wise ruler."

The Emperor now made a short speech to the cadets, after which he
distributed the prizes, saying a word or two of praise or encouragement
to each successful candidate. Sasha Maximof returned to his place,
flushed and self-conscious, holding the sword of honour which the Tsar
had presented to him with a word of approbation.

"How proud he looks!" said Vera; "I am glad he has won it and that he
has been a success here."

Afterwards, when the Tsar and his suite had departed, she sent young
Constantine to fetch Sasha to her side, in order that she might renew
her acquaintance with him.

"Don't say who it is," she called after him as he moved away, somewhat
unwillingly, to obey her behest. Constantine adored his cousin and would
far rather have had her to himself.

"A lady wishes to have me presented?" said Sasha, frowning slightly.
"Well, I'll come presently; I am busy entertaining another lady, as you
perceive;--stop, which is she?"

Constantine pointed Vera out.

"What, that child?" exclaimed Maximof. "Tell her I have no time to talk
to children."

"She isn't a child, and it's not likely I will give such a message,"
said Constantine angrily. "If you knew----" he paused.

"Well--what?"

"If you knew who she is," stammered Constantine, "you'd go to her."

"Why, is she anybody very particular?" asked the other, devoting a
second and more interested glance in Vera's direction.

"You can only learn all about her by becoming personally acquainted with
her," said the younger lad. "She _is_ somebody rather particular."

"Well, I'll come, if I can, later; there are so many who want to speak
to one on an occasion like this."

Sasha Maximof's companion had listened with amusement to this
conversation; she, too, had glanced at Vera and had recognised her
instantly, for the circumstances of the betrothal of these two were a
matter of common knowledge.

"I see you are looking at the young lady who desires my acquaintance,"
said Sasha, when Constantine had departed; "do you happen to know who
she is?"

"Do you seriously mean to say that you do not?" asked the girl, laughing.

"I'm afraid I cannot recall her name, though I believe I have seen the
face somewhere; one does not take special notice of children; I cannot
imagine why she should be any one in particular, as that little fool
declared. Of course one knows every one who _is_ any body! Well, who is
she?"

"First tell me, do you consider her pretty?"

"Passable--but of course a mere child; she may improve and may go the
other way. She's Russian, of course?"

"Certainly, but has been absent from Russia for five years. Her clothes
are of the last French mode--she has French relations--have I shed light
liberally enough to illuminate your intelligence?"

"She is Vera Demidof, you mean; I did not know she had returned. Well,
she has come too soon, she is a child, I will say neither yes nor no to
her until I can judge of her when full grown." Sasha flushed and looked
aggrieved. His companion laughed.

"You are not a very ardent fiancé," she said. "Remember, it is your duty
to love her; she will expect to be greeted radiantly, to hear words of
endearment, delight at her unexpected return, and so forth; compose your
features, my friend, you are frowning; look pleased, ardent, full of
affection, and so go and do your duty."

"You speak foolishly; it is not for _you_ to bid me perform this
foolery, you who know that my heart contains but one image. You must be
aware that my betrothal is a mere farce, a thing to be shaken off as
easily as assumed. I shall speak to the girl--courtesy demands it, but I
shall pretend no affection."

"Poor child, she will be heart-broken; see how lovingly she gazes at you
even now!"

Sasha looked, but Vera's gaze did not strike him as being aptly
described by the word "loving"; on the contrary, though she turned her
head when she observed that she was watched, he was in time to surprise
what appeared to him to be an indignant rather than a languishing
expression.

As a matter of fact Vera was very angry indeed. Constantine had returned
to her shy and shamefaced.

"Well--is he coming? What did he say?" she had asked.

"His vanity is terrible," said Constantine, "and his manners are even
worse."

"How--what do you mean--does he recognise me and refuse to renew our
acquaintance?"

"Oh no, he did not suspect who you were. He said you were a mere child
and hinted that he had no time to waste upon children."

"Children!" repeated Vera indignantly; "and I in my seventeenth year!
Bah--he has, as you say, no manners. So he has refused to be presented."

"Not quite that! 'I will come, if I can, later,' he said; I think he is
much absorbed, at present, by the lady at his side; it is a different
one, with him, every month."

"I will wait for half an hour, and then, if he comes not, you shall
take me away, Constantine," said Vera; and though the lad at her side
protested against her doing Maximof so much honour, she insisted upon
staying.

Presently, however, seeing that Sasha showed signs of crossing the room
in order to approach her, she said quickly:--

"See, Constantine, now he comes; when it is quite clear that his
intention is to speak to me, I will rise and you shall give me your hand
to escort me away!"

"Good," exclaimed her cousin delightedly. "Yes, that's the way he should
be treated--see, he is approaching--come!"

The two young cousins rose and passed down the room, almost meeting
Sasha Maximof, who stopped, obviously expecting them to do the same.
"Demidof," he said, "be so kind as to present me to your friend."

Vera passed on, taking no notice whatever. Constantine looked round,
over his shoulder.

"You will have to wait now, my friend, until she is a little older," he
said, and Vera pinched his arm with delight.

"Bravo, cousin," she said, "that was splendid."

"It was rather daring," said Constantine, somewhat ruefully, "to a
senior cadet; I don't know what will happen to me."

Sasha returned to his charmer, who, unfortunately, had witnessed his
discomfiture.

"You've met your match, my friend!" she laughed; "she's decidedly
pretty, too, when one sees her closely."

"She's an impudent little minx at any rate," said Sasha, laughing also,
though somewhat artificially, and at the same time flushing hotly; he
was not used to rebuffs from the fair sex. "By such conduct--revealing
a tendency to bad manners--she commits _felo de se_ as regards--well--a
certain object she has in view."

On the way home Vera, following up some train of thought, remarked to
her cousin that it was a pity Sasha Maximof was so good-looking; to
which Constantine replied that he did not see much to admire in the
fellow.



CHAPTER VI.


The Boyar Demidof, though not by profession a diplomat, had procured
for himself an appointment as Attaché to the Embassy in Paris, in order
to be near his daughter as well as his married sister. Vera's presence
in St. Petersburg was in the nature of a flying visit. She would return
with her mother to Paris in a month or two.

During that period she saw little of Sasha Maximof. He called upon the
Demidofs once or twice, but was obviously but little attracted by Vera,
whom he treated as a child, and from whom he did not attempt to conceal
the fact that he had on hand more than one _affaire de coeur_ and
that he thought but little, if anything, of the contract entered into
by their respective fathers when both of the principal parties were too
young to understand the nature of the proceedings.

Vera began by treating Sasha with much hauteur, desiring to punish him
for his indifference; but when it became clear to her that he cared
nothing whether she bore herself haughtily or kindly, and was, indeed,
very little interested in her, she began, with the inconsistency of
human nature, to realise that whether she would have it so or no her
interest in him grew, and with it the recognition that the young man was
undoubtedly very good-looking and had a certain attractiveness about
him. Before Vera returned to Paris Sasha Maximof had quite made up his
mind that he was far too good to waste himself upon the commonplace
little person his father had seen fit, without consulting his wishes,
to select for his partner in life. He intended to do much better. The
Countess, his mother, was inclined to agree with him. He consulted her
upon the question as to whether a contract of marriage so made was
binding or not.

"If both parties desire to annul it," the Countess thought, "surely no
one would compel them to hold to it."

"The question is," said Sasha, "_will_ the girl agree to annul it? The
match is a good one, from her point of view; I don't suppose there's
much harm done yet, in a personal way, I mean, for we have scarcely met
and I certainly have not gone out of my way to be in any way attractive
to her."

"Go and see the girl and talk it over with her," suggested the Countess,
and this advice Sasha presently followed.

He called upon Vera and plunged quickly into the business on hand,
though he began somewhat diffidently, for, though in speaking with
his mother he had taken for granted that the girl could scarcely have
fallen in love with him yet, Sasha, in the secret realms of his inner
consciousness, was by no means so assured of the matter; indeed, he
was strongly of opinion that no girl could see him and pass entirely
unscathed through the ordeal.

Somewhat to his disgust he could detect no sign of regret or
disappointment in Vera's attitude; on the contrary, he was not at all
sure that she was not as anxious as himself to be relieved from the
foolish obligation imposed upon both of them as children.

"I never could understand what was the object of our honoured fathers in
making so foolish an arrangement," said Sasha; "my idea is that living
down in the wilds as they did, they were so put to it for amusement that
they invented this as a pastime; it would be interesting, they thought,
to watch our affection bud and blossom and so on; but of course, as
you know, my father died and neither my mother nor I ever lived in
the country again, while you went to Paris. Of course if we had met
constantly, living close to one another, and never seeing any one else,
it might have been different."

Vera suddenly burst out laughing at this point.

"You mean that if neither of us had ever met any other young people
besides our two selves we might one day have come to like one another?
Believe me, Alexander Petrovitch, I am far from being so conceited as to
suppose you could ever have learned to admire me. Is this, then, your
theory: that if, for instance, a man and a woman were thrown together
upon a desert island, they would be bound eventually to fall in love
with one another? On the contrary, I should think they would soon be
wearied to death by one another's society."

"I did not mean that at all," said Sasha, flushing rather angrily,
for it occurred to him that his _amour propre_ was in some way being
attacked. "I meant that if we had seen more of one another than we have,
it might have been quite a different matter. You might have liked me,
which I see is not now the case, and of course I might have fallen in
love with you."

"Which also is certainly not the case as any one might perceive,"
laughed Vera.

"I am not pretending that it is; I could not very well."

"For after all I am a mere child," she said.

"I see you cannot forgive me that expression. Why should it offend you?
You are not fully grown up. However, I apologise for using it if you
dislike it. Well now, I think I have made my meaning clear; I do not
love you--indeed, I may tell you that I have fallen in love elsewhere,
for which you can scarcely blame me, since you have never given me the
opportunity to lose my heart where our revered parents desired that it
should be lost; and of course the same may be said of you; you have had
no opportunity of learning to like me."

"For which I certainly ought to be most grateful," said Vera, "under
the circumstances. How terrible if one of us had fallen in love and
the other not! If it had been I, I must have sacrificed my heart's
happiness, for of course I could not well have admitted the pathetic
truth. You would have gone away and never known!"

"Well, at any rate, we are fortunately quite agreed upon the subject,"
replied Sasha, who was not enjoying the conversation and wished it
over. "And since we _are_ agreed that the betrothal was a mistake and
that we shall both be happier if we annul the agreement and go upon
our respective ways in life in pursuit of our respective ideals of
happiness, I now suggest to you that the foolish document be torn up."

"By all means," said Vera; "tear it up, if you have it."

"Yes, I have it. I am sorry, Vera, that things should have turned out as
they have; neither of us is to blame. As I said before, if we had seen
more of one another----"

"It would have been an exceedingly dangerous thing for _me_, is that
what you would imply?" asked Vera, laughing.

The girl looked so handsome as she said the words, her eyes aflame and
a heightened colour lending a wonderful charm to her somewhat pallid
Russian complexion, that Sasha stared for a moment in surprise before he
answered.

"It might have been dangerous for either of us," he said; "for though
you _are_ only a child, you are a very pretty one."

Vera curtsied pertly and laughed. "In every way the document is a
horribly dangerous thing then," she said; "destroy it by all means,
Alexander Petrovitch. You will now have a free hand with the lady whose
name you have not mentioned. How relieved she will be to hear that I
have given you a certificate of discharge."

"As to that," replied Sasha, flushing, "every one who knows of our
betrothal laughs at it. Two persons thus bound, they say, would be sure
to loathe one another long before the time came to marry, simply because
they _are_ bound."

"But we agreed just now that if we had seen more of one another, each
would probably have found the other irresistible," Vera laughed; "let
us hold to this pleasant conclusion, it is more flattering to both of
us than the other. We will leave it at this, that I might have stood
well in your regard, one day, but for the fact that another lady stands
better, having supplanted me in time. As for yourself, except for my
good fortune in being a mere child, I must, of course, have lost my
heart at first sight, this, I understand, being the usual fate of my
sex."

"You are pleased to jest, Mademoiselle Vera," said Sasha, uncertain
whether to feel elated or angry. "It is time I departed; until the
contract is destroyed we are still betrothed; may I kiss your hand?"

"The betrothal ended at the moment of mutual agreement. Farewell,
Alexander Petrovitch, and a happy ending to your courtship."

"That girl will grow up into a lovely woman," thought Sasha as he strode
away; "but what a little tigress she looked more than once. She is angry
with me for wishing to annul the contract."

"I don't see why it should be actually destroyed," he reflected later,
fingering the document. "Why not keep it in case of accidents? A year
or two hence I may be heart free, and she may be uncommonly handsome--I
think the paper may remain for the present."

He put it back in his desk and sat thinking.

"The little devil was laughing at me all along," he said presently; "it
was pique, simply pique. She'll be a pretty woman, that's certain!"

As for Vera, she felt forlorn and unhappy. She was not in the least in
love, but for better or worse she had been accustomed lifelong to look
upon this man as her husband-to-be, and now the air-castle had fallen in
ruins. There was a sudden gap, an empty space in her life, and she felt
lonely and deserted.

She actually cried over the matter and this did her a world of good.
"He's certainly good-looking," was the conclusion she now arrived at;
"but, as Constantine said, his vanity is terrible. I don't think I could
have borne it!"



CHAPTER VII.


A well-known establishment in a suburb of Paris, in the early part
of last century, was the fencing-school of old Pierre Dupré, _maître
d'armes_ and retired Major in the French army. Old Pierre was growing
somewhat old for the personal exercise of his art, but he could still
superintend the practice of his pupils, who fenced with his assistants,
and give such advice as they could receive from no other swordsman in
all Paris.

Of assistants he had four, one a fine young fellow named Karl Havet, the
second an equally excellent exponent of the beautiful art he taught,
one Georges Maux. The other two helpers were, strange to say, females,
strapping fine girls, both, and splendid swordswomen, old Pierre's
daughters.

How it befel that his girls had become such adepts in their father's
profession, and why, are matters easily explained.

It had been the greatest grief to the old man and a bitter grievance
against destiny when, at the birth of his first child, he learned that
he was the father of a girl. When the second and last child made its
appearance and proved, like its sister, to be of the wrong sex, he was
in despair. He had longed for a son to train in the use of arms which he
should wield in his country's honour.

"Bring them up as boys," some one suggested, "they are fine girls both
of them, and would make splendid boys."

From the moment that this idea took root in his mind, old Pierre found
consolation. He adopted the suggestion _in toto_. The girls, while still
young children, were dressed as boys, taught as boys, treated as boys,
and perhaps almost, though not quite, loved as boys. From the earliest
day upon which their little hands could hold and manipulate a rapier, he
taught them to fence, and now--at the age of nineteen and twenty--the
girls--Louise and Marie--could hold their own with almost any swordsman
in Paris.

Though no longer dressed in male attire, old Pierre's daughters still
wore garments as nearly allied to the fashion of those worn by men
as was consistent with propriety. The girls looked as like men as
handsome girls could look; they associated entirely with men, talked
and thought like men, were men to all practical purposes, excepting in
one particular: their women's hearts remained to them. One, Marie, was
engaged to marry young Karl Havet, to whom she was devotedly attached,
much to the chagrin of her father, who regretted Marie's "weakness" as
a sad falling away from the state of grace to which his daughter had
attained. To have been brought up as a man and to have reached the point
of perfection, or near it, in the most manly of all exercises, and then
to exhibit the weakness of a silly woman by falling in love--"Bah!"
said old Pierre, in speaking of it to his friends, "it is sad--it is
cruel--it is incredible!"

Nevertheless, the evil existed and must be recognised and put up with.
The pair were engaged and within a month they would marry.

As for the second daughter, Louise, her father's favourite, his pride
and joy--for not only was she a little taller, a little stronger, a
little more skilful with the rapier than her sister, but also possessed
the crowning glory, in his eyes, of a deep contralto speaking-voice,
which added a point to her score of manly virtues--Louise, too, though
Pierre guessed it not, had fallen a victim to the universal weakness of
womankind; she, too, had lost her heart to a man. Louise did not tell
her father this; she did not even tell Marie, her sister; it is probable
that she did not whisper it even to her own heart of hearts, and yet she
knew well that it was so: she was in love.

After all, it was no wonder that she should have become attracted by
one or other of the many handsome and manly youths who came either to
learn to fence or to practise the art, already learned, by engaging
in a set-to with one of Pierre's accomplished daughters. Louise was
acquainted with half a hundred of the most attractive young officers
in Paris. Nearly every one of Napoleon's marshals had visited Pierre's
establishment, nay, even the Emperor himself had been there and had
laughed and applauded the skill of the two _demoiselles d'armes_. He had
spoken to Louise and praised her to her face which was nearer the sky
than his own by four inches at least.

Yet never, until a certain afternoon in this very year of 1812, had
Louise been conscious of the quickening of her pulses in response to
the instincts of womanhood; for though assuredly there were many of
the gilded youths of her acquaintance who had wasted upon her the
eloquence of the eye, of the whispering lips, of the tightened hand--all
these things had left Louise as they found her, calm and unmoved, and
wondering, maybe, at the foolishness of men who could waste time upon
such silly matters as love-making and love-talking.

The fatal afternoon was that upon which young Baron Henri d'Estreville
first visited the fencing establishment in order to see for himself the
skill of the two girls with whose fame as swordswomen all Paris was
ringing.

The Baron was himself a first-class swordsman, but in fencing a bout
with Louise he distinctly had the worst of it, a fact which he was
himself the first to admit.

This was a good-looking youth, merry and debonair, an officer in a
Lancer regiment and the first cousin of one with whom we are already
acquainted, Vera Demidof. He spoke with Louise both before and after the
fencing match, and for some reason or another he took her fancy as no
other man had done. D'Estreville was no exception to the rule of young
men of his age. Louise was a woman, young and handsome, and of course
the Baron employed against her all the artillery he possessed. Louise
had thought this sort of thing only silly in others; but the whispered
words, the meaning looks, the pressure of the hand appeared very
charming when these measures were employed by her new friend.

The Baron said he would come again.

"You beat me handsomely to-day," he laughed, "but next time I intend to
turn the tables; ah, Mademoiselle, it was not the rapier that overthrew
me to-day, but the light of your eye, the beauty of your face----"

To his bosom friend and constant companion, Paul de Tourelle, the Baron
said, "You must come down to Pierre Dupré's fencing establishment and
see those girls of his fence. Also you should see Louise's eyes and
complexion--by all that's bewitching, they are splendid! You shall admit
it! As for her fencing----"

Young Paul de Tourelle laughed. "Yes, you shall take me to see them," he
said; "I am anxious to know whether their skill is really so great as
it is said to be by their admirers. As for her eyes and the rest of it,
that sort of thing is not likely to have much effect upon me just now,
for reasons well known to you."

"Poor Paul! nevertheless come and see; when a man is so hard hit as you
seem to be this time, to gaze upon something equally attractive may do
him good, just as a change of air is beneficial to a sick man."

"Equally attractive! beware what you say, my friend; such words savour
of disrespect towards--some one; there is no one equally attractive, and
cannot be; you speak of impossibilities."

"I retract the words," said the Baron, laughing; "we will say that here
is a personality displaying remarkable attractions, falling short,
however, of the highest. Joking apart, she is a splendid woman, strong
as a man, handsome as one of the Graces, and she fences--well--even the
great exponent Paul de Tourelle must look to his laurels if he measures
swords with her."

"_Âme de mon Épée!_ is it so?" exclaimed Paul, flushing; Paul was
acknowledged to be one of the finest, if not the very first swordsman in
France. "That is a thing which I cannot afford to have said of any man,
still less of any woman. I will come and see, my friend, and if she is
willing we will try a bout."

"She will be willing; fencing is the breath of life to her; but
seriously, if you fear that your reputation might suffer by defeat, you
must do your best, Paul; she is a supreme mistress of the art."

"Fear not; I will remember to be careful!" laughed the other.

When the Baron visited the establishment of old Pierre on the following
day he found the fair Louise somewhat inclined to avoid him, or at any
rate less disposed to play the _bon camarade_ than on the previous
occasion. This attitude was the direct result of a conversation between
old Pierre and his daughter Marie.

"I am no longer the black sheep, _mon père_," said Marie, laughing.
"This day Louise has also shown that she is a woman."

"What mean you?" asked the old man, looking up startled from his
occupation.

"Hitherto Louise has been with our visitors as a man among men; this
day, in the presence of Monsieur le Baron, she has behaved as a woman in
the presence of the man who is her soul's affinity."

"I'll not believe it of her," said old Pierre angrily; "because _you_
have been a fool, Marie, and proved yourself no wiser than other silly
women, you would have me believe that Louise can be equally foolish. I
will speak to Louise; she shall belie your accusation."

Louise did belie it, but with blushing and much confusion. Possibly her
father's words were the first intimation to her heart that it was no
longer fancy-free.

The conversation left her very thoughtful, however, and very silent;
and when the Baron arrived with De Tourelle and other friends on the
following day, he found her--as has been said--somewhat inclined to give
him the cold shoulder.



CHAPTER VIII.


At D'Estreville's second visit to old Pierre Dupré's he was accompanied
by Paul de Tourelle and by Vera Demidof, now a beautiful girl of
nineteen. The Baron was proud of his pretty cousin, between whom and his
friend Paul a considerable friendship had lately sprung up.

In so far as De Tourelle was concerned, his sentiments towards Vera
differed, as he had found to his surprise, from those he had ever
experienced before this time towards any member of the fair sex. Up to
the day upon which he had first made acquaintance with Vera Demidof,
Paul had looked upon women as toys created for the delectation and
amusement of mankind; he was always glad to play with them, to have
his pleasure in their society, but not to take them seriously. He had
always found young women in his own class charmed to meet him upon his
own ground; to excurse with him as far as he was pleased to go into the
pleasant glades of love-making, but to take him no more seriously than
he chose to be taken.

With Vera it was otherwise. From the first he was aware that here was a
creature of a different make, a more attractive toy than any he had yet
set himself to play with, and, withal, one which, somehow, was extremely
difficult to handle. Paul found that he was unable to have his way with
this little Russian; she was unlike the French girls he was accustomed
to; she took life more seriously, moved more cautiously, maintained an
attitude of "stand-offishness" which at first puzzled him very much and
perhaps exasperated him, but which he presently began to admire and
respect.

"You'll have to be careful, my friend," Henri d'Estreville had told
Paul, early in his acquaintance with Vera, before De Tourelle realised
that his heart was in danger; "Vera is not like our French girls; not
only is she far more serious-minded, but also she is a fiancée, after a
fashion."

"A fiancée?" exclaimed Paul, laughing boisterously--"Mademoiselle
Demidof fiancée? To whom? You rave, man!"

"No, it is true; she is betrothed; observe that I added 'after a
fashion'. She was betrothed to some Russian bear as a child."

"Bah! as a child! and the bear a child also? She has never mentioned to
me this young bear of hers. You speak foolishly, Henri, _mon cher_; such
things are not done."

"Ask her for yourself," Henri laughed. "For the matter of that, fall in
love with my cousin, if you like. I would rather she mated with a good
Frenchman than with a--what do you call them--a Moujik of Russia."

Paul did not, however, ask Vera as to her betrothal. He treated the
matter with sufficient contempt to forget all about it. As to the second
half of Henri's advice, however, he followed it to the letter, and fell
so completely in love with Vera Demidof that he was himself astonished,
for he had always boasted that to fall in love was not in his line, and
was, indeed, a mistake he would never commit, since it was his pride to
be a soldier of the French Army, and he possessed ambitions which he
could not afford to thwart by indulgence in such foolishness as love.

Moreover, Paul not only fell in love but confessed the fact to Vera at
the earliest opportunity.

Vera Demidof had listened during the last year or two to some half a
dozen similar confessions from the gilded youth of Paris. She was,
indeed, the object of much admiration in the gay city. But whereas
Vera had listened and simply thanked each aspirant for his flattering
declaration, regretting that she was unable to respond in the manner he
would prefer, she gave Paul de Tourelle a piece of information which she
had withheld from the rest.

"I must not listen to such things," she said, "for I am already a
fiancée."

Paul suddenly remembered that he had been informed a month or two before
that this was so.

"Betrothed as a child to a Russian child whom you may never see again,"
said Paul; "I have heard the story. For God's sake, Mademoiselle, do not
allow so foolish a matter to stand between us."

"Monsieur takes too much for granted," said Vera coldly. "There is much
that stands between Monsieur and myself besides my betrothal."

"You cannot pretend that you desire to regard that betrothal as binding,
Mademoiselle; the idea is preposterous."

"I pretend nothing, Monsieur. I say that, being betrothed, I must not
permit myself to listen to protestations such as you have just made."

Beyond this point Paul was unable, at his first attack, to push his
advance. On subsequent occasions he showed more discretion, and took
nothing for granted. He did not retire from his position as suitor, but
betook himself to graduate for her love, a matter which he had at first
supposed was to be had for the asking.

By this time the two were great friends. Vera made no secret of her
partiality for De Tourelle, whom she liked very much better than any
other youth of his standing; but on the rare occasions when Paul hinted
that friendship was pleasant but lacked finality, Vera would shake her
head and remind him that she was a fiancée.

"There are dark clouds on the horizon," said Paul on one occasion; "our
little Corporal threatens to fasten his fingers about the throat of
your big Emperor; we shall soon be _en route_ for Moscow. Be sure that
I shall seek out your fiancé; it shall be my first act upon reaching
Moscow. Is your fiancé soldier or bourgeois?"

"A soldier and a splendid fencer!" said Vera, looking out of the window
and far away.

"Good," said Paul; "I would rather fight a man than kill a sheep."

"I think you will never come to Moscow, and I pray God you may not,"
said Vera; "that would be a disaster indeed."

"I promise you it should be a disaster for your fiancé," said Paul;
but it is probable that she heard nothing of what he said; her mind
was entirely absorbed by this new and overwhelming idea: that Napoleon
threatened Moscow--the holy city of her own race. "It is not a real
danger?" she asked.

"What, this that your fiancé must run? Indeed, it is a very real danger."

"No, no--this war you speak of--this horrible quarrel of the two
nations."

"They say that Napoleon has almost made up his mind; already the
conscription is in full swing; Russia may yield, of course; if she does
not, Moscow will be a French city by this time next year."

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed Vera, hiding her eyes in her two hands. "The
French must wade through a sea of Russian blood before Moscow is
reached--it is horrible, Monsieur, this thought of yours."

"I did not invent it, Mademoiselle Vera; all the world will tell you
that politics are to-day looking very darkly."

This was true enough. Vera questioned her father presently upon the
subject, and learned many things which caused her the greatest anxiety,
for Vera was a patriotic Russian, and was well aware that war with
France must end disastrously for her beloved country. She was French
enough to feel that to be arrayed against the terrible Napoleon was to
court certain defeat, so tremendous was the Emperor's reputation among
his own people.

With regard to private affairs, when Vera had explained to Paul that
she was already a fiancée and must therefore refuse to listen to
protestations of love, she had spoken the truth.

Only lately Alexander Maximof had written to her. Maximof had heard
wonderful reports from Paris of Vera's beauty and charm, and had
congratulated himself that he had had the good sense to keep the
contract of betrothal intact. It had only now occurred to him, however,
that he had either neglected or forgotten to inform Vera that he had not
destroyed the document, as agreed upon at their last interview, three
years ago. Hence his letter to Paris at this time.

"I forgot to inform you," Maximof wrote, "that upon inquiry at the
notary's office, I learned to my surprise that our contract of betrothal
could not be destroyed excepting in presence of and by sworn consent
of both parties. This may of course merely amount to a formality to be
gone through at your next visit to Russia, which visit is likely to take
place sooner than you had intended, if political prophets speak truly;
for the horizon is dark indeed, and in case of a rupture between the
Tsar and the Emperor, your father would doubtless leave Paris together
with the Ambassador Kurakin. May I add, that I look forward with
particular interest to our next meeting. We have never met as adults,
and if all we hear with regard to the beautiful Vera Demidof be true,
I may yet have cause to rejoice that our parents were longer-sighted
than I at least had supposed. I may say, further, that my heart is
disengaged. I have eschewed the follies of cadetdom...."

Vera laughed when she received this letter. The fact that her betrothal
was still uncancelled did not at that time weigh upon her in the least.
As, however, her friendship with Paul de Tourelle increased, it began
to occur to her that circumstances might possibly arise which would
cause her to regret that Alexander Maximof had not torn up their silly
contract, as he had agreed to do. Paul de Tourelle had not greatly
appealed to Vera's fancy at first acquaintance; she had disapproved
of his self-assurance, his confident manner; but Paul had improved of
late in these respects, and she had come to see beneath the veneer of
mannerism a manliness and strength which she admired.



CHAPTER IX.


Vera went to old Pierre Dupré's fencing establishment with her cousin,
Henri d'Estreville. She was anxious to see these two young women of whom
Paris talked, though she felt that the exhibition of their skill would
probably displease her. In this respect she soon found that she was
mistaken. Old Dupré's pride in his daughters amused her, and the girls
themselves, especially Louise, greatly attracted her.

Paul de Tourelle undertook to fence a bout with Marie, the eldest girl,
an undertaking which he found considerably less of a walk over than he
had expected. He held his own, certainly, but was obliged to put forth
more effort into his work than he had expected to be called upon to
display. At the call of time he was a point or two to the good, but
he ended, surprised and a little mortified that he should have been
compelled to extend himself in order to obtain this result.

During the bout with her sister Louise sat beside Vera and conversed
with her, while the Baron, who glanced constantly in her direction,
stood with Dupré and his assistants at the edge of the arena. Louise
displayed no shyness; indeed she plied Vera with questions some of which
Vera found rather embarrassing. Many of them referred to the Baron,
whose name Louise mentioned with a certain hesitation. He was a soldier?
and had fought in the wars with the Emperor? He must be a favourite with
men--and, oh yes, this undoubtedly, with the ladies!

And Mademoiselle herself, she moved in the great world--ah, it must be
pleasant to have the entrée there! Mademoiselle was doubtless fiancée?
Vera admitted, laughing, that this was so and yet not so, a reply which
puzzled her companion not a little.

Louise reflected. "Ah, Mademoiselle," she said, "perhaps I have solved
the conundrum--Mademoiselle is betrothed to her cousin, Monsieur le
Baron; but betrothals to cousins, as all the world knows, are not to be
accounted as serious contracts; they are made for the convenience of
both, but are not intended to be regarded seriously?" Louise gazed so
intently in Vera's eyes as she put forward this suggestion that Vera
was too surprised to laugh as she had at first felt inclined to do.

"My cousin?" she said; "_Mon Dieu_, no; the Baron is not of the kind to
take the trouble to be fiancé for considerations of convenience."

"The Baron is not then betrothed to Mademoiselle?" murmured Louise, and
presently she began to speak of the fencing, no longer interested--as
it appeared to Vera--in the conundrum with regard to Mademoiselle's
betrothal.

Which very naïve conversation went to convince Vera that howsoever
gifted the fair Louise might be in the manly attribute of fencing, there
was still much of the woman remaining in her composition. She watched
Louise somewhat carefully after this, anxious to learn more as to her
interest in Henri's affairs, when it was easy to perceive that though
obviously avoiding the Baron, doubtless for reasons of her own, the
girl's eyes constantly turned in the direction of her cousin.

"Poor little Louise!" thought Vera. "Henri of all people!"

Afterwards she sought an opportunity to add a word of warning.

"My cousin D'Estreville, to whom you suspected me of being engaged," she
said, laughing, "is not one I would trust with my heart. He is the same
to all women, implying much but meaning nothing. He is _par excellence_
a soldier. Women are--for him--toys to be played with in time of peace.
Henri is not one to bind himself; he takes his amusement where he finds
it."

"All men that I have seen are like that," said Louise unexpectedly; "yet
I believe that it comes to each man once in his life to take a woman
seriously."

"Come, Louise," old Pierre called out at this point, "Monsieur has
kindly consented to exhibit to us a second time his wonderful skill with
the foils; you will find Louise a fair exponent, Monsieur, though she
has never yet measured swords with one of your exceptional gifts."

"If she is as clever as her sister," said Paul gallantly, "she must be
skilful indeed. I offer you my compliments upon your daughters, Monsieur
Dupré, they are indeed a credit to their teacher."

"Ah, Monsieur, if they were but of the sex!" cried old Pierre; "but
there--it is not their fault--I have bewailed it all their lives, but it
is not their fault."

Paul, in his bout with Louise, was at first amused to find that he
was getting the worst of it. Presently, as she added point to point,
his amusement turned to disgust and presently he grew a little angry.
When Paul reached this stage, in a fencing bout, he generally became
invincible; and during the latter portion of the set-to his score
rapidly improved. Nevertheless, when time was called it was found that
Louise had won upon a point. Old Dupré clapped his hands in unfeigned
delight, apologising immediately after for his rudeness.

"I also crave permission to applaud," said Paul; "Mademoiselle is
magnificent. Several times she took me unawares in a manner that I
thought impossible of any swordsman in Paris. If Mademoiselle is not
tired, I should be grateful to try conclusions once more when she is
rested; while she rests there are one or two points in our bout which I
should like to think over."

"Oh--ah!" cried old Pierre delighted. "Monsieur refers I think to the
_feint flanconnade_--the _feint flanconnade Dupré_ we call it; it is a
trick of my invention, Monsieur; twice I observed she scored by it! yes,
it is subtle, Monsieur, and found by my daughters and by our pupils to
be most exceptionally successful. It is a compliment that Monsieur takes
notice of these little things."

"It is owing to these 'little things' that I find myself vanquished
by Mademoiselle," Paul laughed good-naturedly. "I will consider these
points for five minutes with Mademoiselle's permission."

During the interval old Dupré conversed with Vera Demidof, explaining to
her how hard it had been for a parent longing for boys to find himself
saddled with girls; how his daughters had, however, done their very best
to atone for the "mischance" by growing up--as he had thought--superior
to the weaknesses of their sex; and how he had been rudely brought up by
the horrible discovery that Marie had fallen in love with his assistant
and desired to marry him forthwith.

"Imagine my grief, Mademoiselle," old Pierre mourned; "so promising
a swordswoman, so great a help and comfort to me, and pouff! she is
married and her usefulness is gone! All that is man in her is gone also!"

Vera could not help laughing.

"You still have Louise!" she said, doing her best to say something
comforting.

"Bah! she has seen her sister's deterioration and she will follow her
example; it is infectious, like measles! already I perceive----"

What old Pierre was about to say remained uncertain, for at this moment
Henri d'Estreville joined the group.

"There is war in the air, Dupré, have you heard?" he said. "The
conscription papers are out. Young Havet had better be quick and get his
wedding over or he may find himself in Moscow before he realises that he
is a soldier."

"Ah--would to Heaven they had taken him before this foolery began!"
said old Pierre. "Now I know not what is best; the evil is done; I do
not approve of Marie's foolishness, yet I would not have her heart
broken--for imagine, Monsieur le Baron, so false has become her estimate
of the proportions that she would rather marry this young man than see
him enrolled among the heroes of his country. Surely the object of love
is the happiness and the well-being of the beloved? Compare then: to be
a soldier of the Grande Armée, or to sit at home to lose manhood in the
endearments of a foolish woman! Yet, knowing of the conscription, she
would marry him to-morrow."

Old Pierre was almost in tears, so deeply did he feel the bitterness
of the blow. That his daughters were women, was bad enough. That they
should at length show a desire to behave as women was a grievance indeed!

"Be comforted, Monsieur," said Henri, smiling, "Havet is not yet chosen;
if he should be so presently, allow me to suggest the very simplest
solution of the difficulty. Let Mademoiselle Marie enlist also, thus no
hearts shall be broken, and the Emperor gains a soldier better, I'll be
bound, worth the having than half the six hundred thousand he intends to
raise, if report speaks truly."

"Monsieur le Baron is pleased to jest," said Pierre; "yet it is true
that Marie would make a good soldier; it is but three years, Monsieur,
since my daughters exchanged the convenient garb of our sex for the
foolish habiliments of that to which unfortunately they belong."

"So I have heard," said the Baron, "otherwise I should not have
presumed, Monsieur, to make the suggestion which was not, be assured,
altogether a jest."

"Was it not, Monsieur?" exclaimed Pierre, looking thoughtful. "Why then
I will mention it to Marie; there is no knowing how the suggestion
may strike her; assuredly she would pass as well for a man as the
majority of the silly, half-grown youths that the conscription will
catch. _Splendeur des Cieux_, Monsieur, it is a good idea. The glory of
having, after all, a child of my own to serve with the colours! It is an
ambition which I resigned with tears at the birth of my little Louise!"

"See, your little Louise, who is quite as big as our friend Paul," the
Baron laughed, "is about to play her second bout with my redoubtable
De Tourelle. Try again your _feint flanconnade Dupré_, Mademoiselle
Louise; only be prepared this time for a subtle riposte! When Monsieur
de Tourelle has devoted five minutes to the consideration of his play,
be sure the time has not been wasted!"

Louise blushed and lowered her eyes when spoken to by the Baron, a
circumstance which more than one pair of eyes observed.

"Louise has several subtle tricks with which Monsieur may not yet be
acquainted," said old Pierre, flushed now and excited with the prospect
of a second exhibition of his daughter's splendid skill. "Though I am
the first to admit that she has found more than her match, for once, in
Monsieur de Tourelle."

Paul's five minutes had not been wasted, as he quickly showed. For
though Louise made a great bid for victory and was, indeed, never more
than a point or two behind, De Tourelle was a trifle the better, and
ending with a beautifully executed "time in octave" finished the leader
by two points.

"I shall consider seriously your suggestion, Monsieur," said old Pierre
at parting with Henri d'Estreville; "the more I think of it the more I
perceive that if only Marie would think well of the matter there is much
to commend it."

"But you would lose two capable assistants, Monsieur le Major, as well
as the comfort of a daughter's presence," said Henri, somewhat ashamed
of having set the old man yelping upon so foolish a scent.

"Bah! all the world will be at the war, there will be few to take
fencing lessons for the while. Louise and the other younker will suffice
for all the pupils we shall get in war-time! Monsieur le Baron will
himself be absent among the rest, I doubt not?"

"_Mon Dieu_, let us hope so!" Henri laughed. "Where else? _Eh bien, au
revoir_, Monsieur, and _au revoir_, maybe, to Mademoiselle Marie in
Moscow." Henri departed, laughing merrily. Louise had turned away with
her flushed face a shade or two the paler for Henri's last speech,
therefore she did not catch the amorous look which the Baron thought fit
to send in her direction as he quitted the arena.



CHAPTER X.


During the next few weeks Paris and all France pursued but one topic
of conversation. The Emperor's anger with Russia: would it end in war?
Napoleon's threat--he had made it several times--that he would march
into Moscow, was it spoken in seriousness or in bombast? For this was an
undertaking before which even the heart of Napoleon might quail.

Apparently the Emperor Alexander of Russia felt little fear that the
menacing attitude of his great rival must be regarded seriously, for
he budged not an inch from the position he had taken up in the several
matters at issue between them.

Alexander had several legitimate grievances against the French Dictator.
In the matter of his sister, the Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna, he
considered that he had been slighted; for Napoleon had displayed too
obvious a readiness to end the negotiations for his marriage with the
Russian Princess, and this savoured of a lack of respect towards her
Imperial brother's Throne and person.

In the matter of Oldenburg, too, Napoleon had grievously offended. The
Grand Duchy of Oldenburg, though not precisely a portion of the Russian
Empire, dwelt under the protection of the Tsar; his own sister Catherine
was married to the reigning Duke, yet France had lately annexed the
little State, whose sovereign, with his Imperial wife, had been forced
to take shelter in St. Petersburg. In addition to these semi-personal
matters, there was an open sore in Poland; and again, the arbitrary
demands of the Dictator that trade with England should be boycotted by
the Continent generally, stuck obstinately in the gullet of the sturdy
Russian Tsar, whose merchants knew where lay the best market for their
hemp, their hides, their tallow and wheat.

There was stir and excitement at the Embassies. Kurakin, the Ambassador
in Paris, and Demidof, Vera's father, his principal secretary, were busy
from morning to night, interviewing, explaining, bargaining, smoothing
and glossing the sturdy obstinacy of their own sovereign, which, while
they pretended professionally to deplore it, they secretly admired and
applauded.

Tchernishef, the Ambassador Extraordinary of the Tsar, arrived and
was received in private audience by Napoleon. He brought with him the
offer of certain concessions with regard to Oldenburg in exchange for
counter-concessions in Poland. But the Dictator was obdurate; he would
have surrender, not traffic.

"Not a mill, not a village of Poland will I give your master," said he;
"tell him so; it is my last word."

It was Alexander's last word also, and seeing that his great opponent
intended war, the Tsar began to make his preparations for defence.

The ambassadors in Paris and their secretaries and attachés packed up
their traps and held themselves ready for departure.

To Vera the whole matter was a source of unmitigated grief. In common
with every patriotic Russian of the day, her soul revolted against the
wanton injustice of Napoleon, and swelled in a suddenly awakened passion
of patriotic love and enthusiasm for her own country. Napoleon and his
Grand Army were of course invincible; Russia must suffer defeat, ruin
maybe; the lives of her sons must go out in rivers of innocent blood.

"It is cruel and horrible," Vera cried, speaking of all this with her
cousins the D'Estrevilles; "horrible because utterly useless and unjust.
Does your Emperor think he will reach Moscow?"

"Our Emperor goes just as far as his word, Vera," said Henri. "Do not
deceive yourself. If Napoleon has said that he will march to Moscow, to
Moscow he will march, and neither man nor devil shall prevent him."

"You leave God out of the question," Vera raved; "but He, too, must be
reckoned with, even by a Napoleon. Be sure, Henri, that this wicked
campaign will not be permitted to prosper. You shall see."

"_Au revoir, ma belle_," laughed Henri. "We shall meet in Moscow."

"I would rather never see you again, cousin, than meet you there," cried
Vera; "and that is truth!"

"What, and the same of Paul de Tourelle?" said Henri, still laughing;
"fie, Vera, you show yourself in new colours to-day!"

Vera flushed crimson and turned away. She took no notice of the allusion
to Paul, but a moment later she answered the latter part of Henri's
banter.

"If I show myself in new colours it is the more shame for me. These
are the colours I should always have worn; to-day, at least, if never
before, I am all a Russian; I am none the less so because I happen to
have French cousins. Henceforth, I shall be ashamed to own that there
are folks of my flesh and blood who are content to serve this tyrant."

"I think none the worse of you for your patriotism," said Henri
good-naturedly, seeing that the girl was much distressed. "But neither
should you think ill of us who are also patriots from the other side
of the hedge. Political aspects depend upon the point of view. You are
excited. You will see all this differently when you think matters over
in cold blood."

If Vera had been less miserable she would scarcely have spoken to
Henri as she did, but Henri was a good-natured person and made
allowances. He guessed the mingled emotions stirring in Vera's heart
at this moment, for Vera had always been a good Russian, taking the
part of her countrymen in the many bantering arguments in which the
family frequently indulged at the expense of Russian bears, autocrats,
barbarous moujiks, knouts, serfs and kindred matters. In such arguments
Vera had often, to the delight of Henri and her other cousins, almost
lost herself in indignant defence of her countrymen. Now, he knew, great
fires of patriotic fervour must be ablaze within her, since the picture
before her mind's eye was not that of an equal war in which either side
might gain the advantage, but of a helpless, or semi-helpless, State,
over which stood the gigantic figure of conquering Napoleon, a drawn
sword in his hand, ready to shed the life-blood of her beloved nation.
And in addition to this trouble, and aggravating it twofold, Henri fully
believed, there was Paul.

Henri had quite made up his mind, much to his own gratification, for he
was fond of his cousin and Paul was his chief friend, that these two
were in love with one another. He had endeavoured, though vainly, to
assure Paul that this was so.

"Any fool can see it," he had said; "cheer up, man; Vera is a ripe
fruit, ready to fall into your mouth when you open it to ask her."

"I have asked her several times," said Paul; "you know that. She used to
say she is engaged to some Russian."

"Oh, that old fable!" Henri laughed. "Well, has she dropped it lately?"

"She has not mentioned it, certainly, of late, but----"

"Very well then. It was a very good excuse while she wanted one. My
argument is that she requires an excuse no longer. Ask her again before
the Ambassadors leave Paris."

Paul accepted this advice. He generally resented advice, and hated to be
preached at and interfered with, but he was always ready to take more
from his friend than from any one else.

"I have come to say farewell, Mademoiselle," he said, calling at the
half-dismantled embassy. "It is time you allowed me to know how I stand
with you. That I love you with all my heart you are well aware."

"Monsieur--alas! It is not the moment to discuss such things. Let us try
to part in friendship. If matters had been otherwise, I know not but
that in time I might possibly have answered differently; as it is----"
Vera paused.

"You are referring, doubtless, to your contract of affiance.
Mademoiselle Vera, let me assure you that such a contract----"

"Bah! This is not a moment for deceptions, Monsieur; be sure that
contract or no contract, I shall marry no one against my will."

"So far good, Mademoiselle Vera. To what, then, do you refer? With one
hand you seem to give me hope; with the other you take it away again.
What is between us, Mademoiselle? I am rich, I love you as I have never
loved woman. Is not this enough for you? What stands between us?"

"Perhaps everything and perhaps nothing," said Vera with a great sigh.
"You say you love me; God forgive me, for I know well that I ought to
reject your love, yet I hesitate to reject it."

"Why then," exclaimed Paul joyously--he was about to take her to his
arms, but Vera waved him away. "Why, what do you mean, Vera?" he
continued impatiently. "Why must God forgive you because I love you? I
am not a leper; you will easily be forgiven! Explain--you madden me."

"Can you not understand, Monsieur? See, I allow you to say 'I love
you'--yet you are the enemy of my country; what will be said of me if it
is known that I have done this shameful thing? To have submitted to be
loved by one who is about to invade the land of my fathers----"

"Well--but--Mademoiselle, for God's sake let us understand one another,"
cried Paul, "Here stand I, professing to love you. Am I not to be loved
again because I am a soldier of Napoleon? As soon I might say that I
must not love a subject of Alexander. Your patriotism is delightful; I
love you the better for it, but your conclusion is ridiculous."

"What would you have, Paul? I do not know my own mind. I like you; it is
possible that one day I may be able to say that I love you. I am young;
I am not yet sure what is love and what is 'like'. Is it not enough?"

"No, a thousand times no! I must possess you--hold you--caress
you--release you only when the last moment arrives, under promise that
when we meet in Moscow----"

This was an unfortunate remark on Paul's part. Vera fired up instantly,
receding a step or two from him, for Paul had approached and held her
tenderly by the elbows, ready to take her to his arms if permitted to do
so.

"When we meet in Moscow?" she cried. "God send that may never be, never,
never! Sooner I would never see you again than meet you, as you suggest,
in Moscow. Do you think I do not realise what you mean by meeting in
Moscow? I tell you, Paul, God forbid that I meet you there!"

Paul recoiled a little, abashed. "I apologise, Mademoiselle," he said;
"of course I should not have permitted myself to use so foolish an
expression. When the war is over, I should have said."

"When the war is over, love may begin or may not," Vera replied. "This
is not the time to speak of love. I will not shame myself a second time.
Go, Paul--I am a traitor to have said what I said--forget it--farewell!"

"I swear I will never forget it," said Paul. "You are cruel, Vera; I do
not understand your attitude; you are not like a woman!"

"I am a Russian; my heart bleeds for my country which lies under the
shadow of Napoleon and his Grand Army, of which you are a member. It is
hateful of me to have spoken of love with a French soldier. Go, Paul, I
entreat you." She held out her hand, Paul bent over and kissed it. Then
he left the room without a word.



CHAPTER XI.


At the Palais d'armes of old Pierre Dupré there was excitement. Both
Karl Havet, Marie's fiancé, and young Maux, the second assistant,
had received their conscription notices; both had been drawn; unless
physically unfit or unsound, both men must serve in Napoleon's new and
greatest army.

Maux was in excellent spirits. Being a splendidly built young fellow,
lithe and strong as a leopard, there was no doubt whatever as to his
fitness.

"I shall come back a sergeant, Monsieur," he said; "you shall see; it
may even be that I shall gain a commission in the field--such things
have happened before now!"

Old Pierre nodded approvingly. "You are going forth in the proper
spirit, my son," he said; then he glanced sadly at Karl Havet, who sat
with Marie conversing dejectedly over his conscription notice, and
sighed. "Would it were the same there!" he added.

Louise fired up and spoke.

"You are not fair to them, father," she said. "You have no sympathy for
the natural feelings. They were to be married in a month; they love one
another; it is hard for them. If you were generous you would furnish a
substitute for Karl."

"_Mon Dieu_, Louise, is it you that talk thus, _you_?" exclaimed the old
man; "then indeed I do not recognise my own child. A substitute, when
the Emperor has called him to arms? Shame!"

"It will break Marie's heart, be sure of that; she has been a good
daughter to you, father; it is due to her that you should assist her
in this emergency. Karl has no money to pay for a substitute--you have
plenty. Let him stay a while at least with his wife. Be sure this will
not be the last war; so long as the Emperor lives and Europe is not yet
a province of France, there will be wars and wars. It is not right that
they should be separated."

"Bah--you speak foolishly, like a woman; you disappoint me, Louise, you
that have ever shown a spirit above that of a woman. As for separation,
if Marie is so foolish as to depend upon the presence of a lover for
her happiness, why should they be separated? Let her go also!"

"Father, what do you mean?" said Louise, gazing blankly at the old man;
"do you rave?"

"On the contrary, never was I more serious. Marie is as good a man as
the best; she lacks but the pantaloons--_eh bien_! There are many fools
under conscription orders who will be glad of a substitute. Let her go
to the war with her Karl, since they dread separation; she will be the
happier and the richer too, for she will touch the money of some coward
or fool who is ready to pay for his own dishonour--_voilà tout_!"

"And you, father, could your mind rest in peace if your child were
exposed thus to the risks of war?"

Old Pierre started from his seat with an exclamation of impatience.

"_Sapristi_, Louise my child, you grow more foolish each minute! Do
you not know that it is the one grievance of my life that I have no
sons to fight for France? If I had a son and he went forth to battle,
think you I should sit at home to weep in anguish of anxiety until he
returned safely to the fireside? God forbid; I should thank Him daily,
each minute, that I, too, had been found worthy to provide one soldier
for France. Why then should I feel differently if I possessed a daughter
who, thanks to her own fine spirit and to the training I have given her,
had risen superior to the weakness of her sex and gone forth as a man to
do a man's work in the world? I should thank God all the more--yes, and
I should love my child the more, more by a hundred times."

Louise was silent. Now that her father explained his view of the matter
she recognised that it was, after all, perfectly consistent with his
character that he should think thus. That any one else should think the
same way, however, was quite a different matter. Marie, for instance,
would probably consider the idea a ridiculous one; her fiancé, Karl,
was certain to laugh the suggestion to scorn, and yet Louise, to her
surprise, found that she herself had listened to her father's words
without the impatient amazement which so wild a proposal might have
aroused in her. To her mind, trained as she had been, the idea of a
woman assuming the dress of a man and enlisting as a man in the army of
her country was neither absolutely new nor absolutely impossible. Louise
knew, almost by heart, the story of Mademoiselle de Maupin, who had
done this very thing a century ago; her career was a favourite theme of
old Pierre's, who had drummed it into the ears of his daughters since
they were children. Certainly if any woman could imitate Mademoiselle de
Maupin with success, it was Marie. But Marie was in love and about to
be married; she possessed no longer the manly spirit which would render
such a thing possible, and Karl would certainly reject the idea.

"Suggest to them your scheme, father," she said; "but I warn you that
they will not receive it seriously."

Marie flushed a little when the strange idea was mentioned to her; then
she laughed and asked Karl what he thought of it.

"It is madness," said Karl, glancing indignantly at old Pierre. "That
a man who loves a woman, whether as father or lover, should be willing
to submit her to the shame and the thousand risks involved in such a
scheme, is madness and worse. Thank God, I am not so selfish, Marie.
Rather a million times, I will go alone."

Old Pierre shrugged his shoulders. "As you like," he said. "It is my
misfortune. What other reply should I expect from a man who goes out
unwillingly to serve his country?"

"As for that," said Karl boldly, "if I possessed money I should
certainly procure a substitute; having none, I must go; it is hard,
Marie, but--_que faire_? it is necessity that drives us apart."

Marie burst into tears and the unfortunate lovers left the room together.

"Bah!" said old Pierre, not untouched by his daughter's sorrow. "It is
a misfortune--it is a disaster; see, Louise, how this foolish weakness
called 'love' spoils not only a splendid woman, but a good man also.
Karl is not a coward, and yet----"

"No--Karl is no coward, and Marie still less," said Louise, perfectly
miserable. "Father, let a substitute be found--it is hard for them! You
do not grudge the money, that I know!"

"My daughter, I would spend the money ten times to have Karl go
willingly; to keep him at home, I will not spend it once; what, pay for
the dishonour of one who would marry my child? God forbid!" Old Pierre
left the room.

"It is an _impasse_" he exclaimed at the door. "I am sorry this has
happened; but in honour there is only one course."

An hour later Louise still sat where the rest had left her. Soon after
her father's departure an idea had occurred to her--an idea which
evidently interested and absorbed her so fully that for a whole hour
she sat motionless, thinking deeply, with set mouth and flushed face.
The opening of the door startled her, and she looked up to see Henri
d'Estreville entering the room, a sight which added a still deeper wave
of colour to the flush of excitement which already darkened her cheek.

"Mademoiselle Louise," said Henri, "I have come to bid you farewell."

"Yes, farewell," murmured Louise, "I knew you would be going."

"I am happy to know that Mademoiselle has devoted a thought to me;
it is right that it should be so, for indeed I have many for you,
Mademoiselle."

"You go to the war," Louise murmured, speaking as though in a dream; "so
should all brave men go; oh, Monsieur, it is grand to be a man, to take
a great part in the affairs of life; to move and live and fight, while
others remain at home to weep and think with folded hands. To which army
corps is Monsieur attached?"

"To that of Ney," said Henri, puzzled by the mood of Louise. Evidently
he had surprised her in a moment of unusual softness. Henri had thought,
more than once, that the attitude of Louise towards himself indicated a
certain partiality. To-day he was almost certain of it.

"Ah, Ney! glorious, splendid Ney, Bravest of the brave! Then I may
picture you, Monsieur, as for ever in the thick of the fighting; I shall
think of you, Monsieur, be sure; will you also think of me?"

"Assuredly, Louise."

"And how?"

"As of one who, perhaps, sits and waits until a--a certain young soldier
returns to repeat to her, as now from his very heart he tells her, that
in absence it was her image----"

"Oh, Monsieur," Louise laughed, "not so! sits and waits! Yes, perhaps;
but not in spirit! In spirit, Monsieur, I, too, shall be with Ney,
fighting with him and with you the battles of my country; suffering
hardships, wounds, death maybe, God knows; think of me thus!"

"Yes, I will think thus of you, Mademoiselle; and when I return----"

"Oh, Monsieur, 'sufficient for the day is the evil'. How know you that
you will return, or if you return that you will find me?"

"I shall return, Louise; I have no presentiment that evil lies before
me; certainly I shall return, and as for finding you, that is a matter
of course."

"What if you do not seek me, Monsieur? or if, when you seek me, you do
not find me?"

"To the first I reply that I shall desire you, Louise, as the miner
longs for light and air; why should I not find you? I will ask you to
wait for my return, Mademoiselle!"

"Yes, I will wait for you, Monsieur, if I am alive."

"Then farewell, Mademoiselle; in that hope I shall live." Henri drew her
to him. "Upon your lips," he said, "I seal my promise to return." Louise
did not resist.

"It is true that I love you, Monsieur," she said; "I that never thought
to love a man!"

"By the Saints," Henri murmured, as he hastened away, "that is an easier
conquest than I expected. Moreover, she is splendid. It is certain," he
reflected five minutes later, "that I have never been nearer to falling
in love than at this moment--be careful, Henri."

"When I return," his thoughts ran presently, "there will be some
pleasant hours to spend in tilling this virgin soil--_tiens_! I wish I
was not going so soon!"

Then Henri d'Estreville proceeded with his farewell visits, which
included affecting leave-takings with several ladies of his acquaintance.

Louise sat dreaming for half an hour. Then she rose with flushed face.

"Of course," she muttered, "it is the only way, and what better could
there be? I will do it at once."

When the household of Pierre Dupré sat down to dinner, Louise was
absent. The rest, with the exception of young Maux, were silent and
depressed. When Louise came in her eyes shone brightly, her cheeks
were flushed, and she smiled with some embarrassment as she laid by
her sister's plate a folded paper. Marie took it up and glanced at it.
Suddenly she uttered an exclamation.

"What is it--what have you done, Louise?" she cried. "It is a demission,
Karl, in your name, in respect of a substitute 'Michel Prevost'. Louise,
did my father--oh, where did you raise the money, sister?--Oh, Karl,
see, she has saved us--she has saved us!"

"What mean you?" exclaimed old Pierre. "What have you done, Louise? You
have paid for a substitute for Karl? By all the gods, child, I will not
have it; it is an outrage; I will----"

"Father, let me speak," said Louise; "it is very simple. I have no
money; I have paid no one. The conscript room is crowded with busy
people--one has but to go up in turn to the sergeant, answer a question
or two and pass on. 'Who are you?' 'Michel Prevost.' 'Conscript or
substitute?' 'Substitute for Karl Havet.' 'Height?' 'Five feet seven.'
'Health?' 'Perfect'--scribble, scribble; a paper is handed you--'Drill
yard at seven to-morrow--pass on!' and it is done."

"What do you mean, Louise?" exclaimed Havet, starting from his seat.
"You have not----"

"Do you not understand," cried Marie, laughing hysterically, "it is
Louise herself who has----"

"Yes," said Louise, "that is it, Marie; I am Michel Prevost."

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed old Pierre; "is it so indeed, Louise?"

"It is so, father; I am Private Michel Prevost; you shall have your
desire at last; by my own will I am going forth. I shall be in good
company, my father, for my regiment is attached to the _corps d'armée_
of Marshal Ney himself; hear you that? I shall fight under his colours,
the Bravest of the brave. Are you satisfied, father, have I done well?
And you, Marie, are you satisfied?"

"Sister, you cannot, you shall not; it is ridiculous--you jest!" cried
Marie.

"God forbid. I do not jest! Let no one dare thwart me by revealing my
secret"--Louise looked round with smiling face but blazing eye--"You,
Karl, or you, Georges, for I swear I will split with my rapier him who
so does! I am a soldier of Ney's army, remember that, _mes amis_!"
Louise ended with a loud laugh; she saluted the company military fashion
and left the room.

For a moment a silence fell upon all present, then old Pierre's voice
was heard repeating the "Nunc Dimittis" in Latin.



CHAPTER XII.


Neither argument nor entreaty availed to shake the determination of
Louise. Her father was entirely on her side, enthusiastically backing
and applauding her resolve. Marie and her fiancé, though at first
shocked that Louise should thus sacrifice herself for their sake, soon
realised that the sacrifice only played a part in the comedy.

"Do you not see a second reason?" Marie asked Karl one day. "It has
occurred to me that she has another motive besides that of serving us.
Louise, too, is in love. I suspected it, now I know it. I accidentally
saw her parting with the Baron d'Estreville; they kissed, _mon ami_;
imagine Louise kissed by a man; that reveals an extraordinary state of
affairs. Well, the Baron has already gone to the war. Louise, poor soul,
cannot bear to be parted; _eh bien_! she will go also; perhaps, she
tells herself, she will see him from time to time, at any rate she will
be near him."

"_Sapristi_, it may be as you say," said Karl; "If so I am glad of it.
Then we can allow her to go with minds more at rest."

However this may have been, Louise attended the conscript drill for
a month with the rest, and assuredly Michel Prevost there acquitted
himself as well as any recruit upon the ground. Accustomed to male
attire, which she had worn for some seventeen out of the full tally
of the years of her life, she betrayed no awkwardness, whether in
plain clothes or in uniform. Accustomed no less to every athletic
exercise which went towards the training of the young men of her day,
she satisfied the drill sergeant as easily as the most active of her
companions, not one of whom ever showed the slightest suspicion as to
her sex.

At the end of the month the somewhat raw company of young soldiers,
of whom Louise was one, marched through Paris and away; a month later
on and they had joined the ranks of Napoleon's ill-fated army. This
army consisted of 356,000 Frenchmen, and a heterogeneous collection of
322,000 foreign troops, consisting of Belgians, Dutch, Hanoverians,
Italians, Spaniards, Austrians, Prussians, Bavarians, Hessians, men of
Frankfort, of Wurtemberg and of Mecklenburg, Poles and others. It was
called by the Russians "The Army of Twenty Nations".

Napoleon himself was at Kovno, with about 200,000 troops commanded by
Marshals Davoust, Oudinot, Ney, Bessières and Murat. But the detachment
of which the conscript Michel Prevost was a member did not join the
mighty host until the river Niemen had been crossed, and the dogs of war
set at the heels of Alexander and his men.

To oppose his great rival the Tsar had, at this moment, but 150,000
troops, under Generals Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, though 200,000
men were elsewhere disposed, to be called up when required. Besides
these troops, the Tsar could count upon some 80,000 Cossacks already
enrolled and equipped. Beyond and above all these, too, he could rely
upon the nation to provide, in the moment of need, an almost unlimited
supply of raw material, ready to fight and die with the best in defence
of their beloved country.

Meanwhile Vera had returned, with the rest of the Embassy, to St.
Petersburg, and here, within a very few days, she received a visit from
Countess Maximof, Sasha's mother, a middle-aged dame of typical Russian
appearance and manners: kindly, gushing, voluble in a mixture of Russian
and French, used indiscriminately as the words happened to occur to her.

"But, my dear, you are charming, exquisite!" she exclaimed, standing
before the girl in an attitude of rapt admiration. "We had heard that
you had grown up very beautiful, but this! who would have believed it?
And my Sasha absent and unable to see you!"

"Is Alexander Petrovitch away then?" asked Vera, embarrassed by the good
lady's compliments and wishing the visit over almost before it was begun.

"Alas--he is gone to this cruel war, _chérie_, where else? All that
is best and most precious of our manhood has gone, and Sasha with the
rest. Oh, this Napoleon of yours--though indeed he is no more yours than
ours--there is no good thing to be said of him; he is Beelzebub, the
prince of the devils!"

"I do not defend him," said Vera. "Why should I? I am as good a Russian
as the best."

"See how ill-natured people are! It is said that you so love the French
people that you no longer have a thought for your own folks; some even
said that you would remain in Paris throughout the war!"

"It is false and very stupid also. Of course I love the French people.
We have no quarrel with them, Madame, but with one man only; him whom we
must all hold accursed for bringing this wicked war upon us!"

"It is true, it is true, _dooshá moyá_! It is the ogre of Europe who
would eat up our children, not the people of France. Kiss me, _chérie_,
you are beautiful like a morning in summer! Alas! how proud Sasha would
have been of you, of his sweet fiancée, could he but have seen you!"

"Oh, Madame, Alexander Petrovitch is better employed!" said Vera weakly.

"You will scarcely believe how he looked forward to seeing you,
_chérie_; assuredly he has not forgotten his precious claims to your
heart's preference!"

Vera laughed quite unaffectedly.

"Oh, Madame, be sure that, no more than I, would he desire to remember
those claims, if we had met! You speak of ancient history which is
recalled only with a smile!"

"_Dooshá tui moyá_," exclaimed the Countess, throwing up her hands, "do
you realise what you say? The dear Tsar himself would be disappointed
to hear your words."

Vera laughed outright.

"The Tsar! What in the world has the Tsar to do with the matter, Madame?"

"_Chérie_, you do not understand. I am a _Dame de la Cour_; I am
privileged to enjoy many opportunities of conversing with his Majesty.
His Majesty is well acquainted with all the circumstances of this
romantic betrothal of Sasha and yourself. My dear son is personally
known to the Tsar, who has deigned to express himself as much interested
in his career. His Majesty was, I may say, charmed to hear of the
betrothal; for listen, _ma mie_; it has reached even those august ears
that Mademoiselle Vera Demidof is well known to be one of the beauties
of Paris. Ah, Mademoiselle, I can see by your blushes that you are
surprised and charmed by this news! Shall I tell you more? The dear
Tsar, it is but a month ago, was pleased to pat my Sasha upon the
shoulder--'Hold your own, good boy!' said he, and the Tsar laughed most
graciously; 'I hear we have a Russian outwork in Paris; see that the
Frenchmen are kept out of it!'"

"Madame, I am stupid at guessing conundrums," said Vera, blushing.

"_Dooshá moyá_, the riddle is a very easy one. The Tsar is well pleased
that so sweet a flower as our Russian Rose of Paris should be plucked
by none but a Russian. 'Let no French lover come between you!' said his
Majesty, in effect. Truly, as I have said, he would be disappointed
indeed if you and Sasha should not come together as Destiny intended
that you should."

"Oh, Madame, who can tell what are the intentions of Destiny? If the
Tsar be pleased to jest in a matter which does not concern him, let him
jest. It is quite likely that Alexander Petrovitch, when he sees me,
will think the Tsar's jest but a poor one."

"A thousand times no, _chérie_! He will love you at sight. Already he
is prepared to lose his heart; it is a heart worth winning! There are
many who would give the world in exchange for it! Yet I whisper to you,
_dooshinka_, this secret--he waits but to learn that you have escaped
scatheless from Paris!"

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed Vera, laughing. "Did he think the Frenchmen
would begin the war by murdering poor little me?"

"Fie, fie, little hypocrite!" said the Countess, tapping Vera
affectionately with her fan. "Well, well, Sasha shall tell you all these
things for himself! I am only a poor old woman, but Sasha will return
from the war, one day, and such matters will sound differently from his
lips. We shall see what Destiny has to say then!"

"Yes, let us leave it so, Madame," said Vera; "for after all, we have
not yet seen one another!"



CHAPTER XIII.


The beginning of the war dragged. There was little fighting, for the
Russian generals adopted the policy of retiring constantly before the
enemy's advance, apparently afraid to stand their ground, but actually
luring him intentionally onward, deeper and deeper, into the immense
spaces of the interior. By these tactics a constantly diminishing French
force opposed a Russian army whose numbers augmented daily in spite of
the leakage resulting from illness and small engagements.

In one of the earlier battles young Sasha Maximof received a bullet in
the left arm, and being incapacitated for a while from active service
was employed by the general to carry to Moscow the latest manifesto of
the Tsar, and to superintend the raising of reinforcements demanded in
that document by his Majesty.

The manifesto was as follows:--

     "TO OUR ANCIENT CITY AND METROPOLIS OF MOSCOW:

     "The Enemy, with unparalleled perfidy and a force equal to
     his boundless ambition, has entered the frontiers of Russia. His
     design is the ruin of our country. The Russian armies burn to throw
     themselves upon his battalions....

     "Necessity commands that we should assemble a new force in the
     interior to support that which is now face to face with the enemy.
     To collect this new army we now address ourself to the Ancient
     Capital of our Ancestors: to Moscow, the sovereign city of all the
     Russians....

     "The security of our Holy Church, the safety of the Throne of
     the Tsars, the independence of the Ancient Muscovite Empire all
     demand that the object of this appeal be regarded by our subjects
     as a Sacred Decree....

     "The ills which this treacherous invader has prepared for us
     shall fall upon his own head. Europe, delivered from vassalage,
     shall celebrate the name of Russia!

     "ALEXANDER.

     "GIVEN AT OUR CAMP AT POLOTSK, 6, 7, 1812."

The Countess Maximof presently received a letter from a relative in
Moscow. "Come quickly," her cousin wrote; "you are the favoured of
fortune; Sasha has arrived, slightly wounded--do not be afraid, it
is a mere bagatelle, a bullet scratch in the left arm; he is busy
recruiting--a very important billet, my dear, and the appointment is the
highest compliment to so young a man! Sasha is too busy to write, but he
begs me to say that he hopes to see you here, and also--if she is with
you--Vera Demidof, who has of course returned from Paris." The Countess
went straight to Vera with her letter.

"You will come, _chérie_--do not refuse--give him this pleasure; only
think, he is wounded; one of the first to bleed for our dear Russia; he
is wounded and will soon go back to the front--you will not refuse his
request."

"Oh, I will come," Vera laughed, "if only to prove to you, Madame, that
Alexander Petrovitch and myself shall need but one interview to assure
ourselves that neither is anxious to be bound by the foolish betrothal
of a dozen years ago!"

"Well, we shall see, we shall see; meanwhile you will come, and that
is good. We shall travel in my own Dormese; in three days we shall be
in Moscow. We shall not journey by night, for I would have you look
your sweetest when Sasha sees you; poor lad, he will not be at his
best--wounded and perhaps ill with fever; you will remember that when
you see him!"

"I will remember that he has already bled for Russia, that will mean
more for me than the colour of his cheeks," said Vera.

"That is a wise saying, _chérie_; good, I like it; yes, remember that he
is a good Russian."

Vera was not long in Moscow before Sasha Maximof presented himself. He
came with his arm in a sling, pale and looking many years older than
when Vera last saw him. His face was certainly a handsome one, and
much of its present pallor was lost in the blush which spread over his
features as he took Vera's hand and bent over it.

"My mother did not exaggerate," he said, gazing at the girl with
undisguised admiration. "I thought--three years ago, is it?--that you
would grow into a handsome girl, but by the Saints, Vera, I did not
anticipate--this!"

"So you have 'eschewed the follies of cadetdom,'" laughed Vera, quoting
Sasha's late letter to her in Paris. "What does that mean, pray?"

"You quote imperfectly," Sasha blushed again. "I wrote, 'my heart is
disengaged, and I have eschewed the follies of cadetdom'. You must know
what I mean by the follies of my cadet-period, for assuredly there could
scarcely have existed upon this earth a more objectionable person than I
was in those days."

"You had, if I remember rightly," said Vera, "a very fair opinion of
yourself; you refused to know me because I was too young."

"I am prepared to make amends," Sasha laughed. "Please do all your
fault-finding at once, in order that my repentance may be complete. I
know I was a conceited young cub and treated you abominably. What is
your next grievance?"

"A very much more serious one. Your memory is so good that you will not
have forgotten a certain conversation when we parted three years ago."

"I think I remember every word of it; I have often thought of it."

"Is that so?" asked Vera in surprise. "Why?"

"Honestly, because you looked so pretty that day and showed so much
spirit that I was surprised into liking you better than I thought. I
realised this afterwards. I suppose I am a person of strong imagination,
because from time to time, recalling that interview, I have felt that
sense of 'like' almost deepen into 'love'."

"Oh!" Vera laughed; "but that could only have been after your heart
became disengaged; do not forget, _mon ami_, that when we parted your
heart was far from being disengaged."

"I thought so; but one makes mistakes about such things. At any rate I
got over that--that foolish business. Am I forgiven all these juvenile
sins?"

"But there is nothing in the last confession which concerns me. What
have I to forgive in the circumstance that you were once in love with
some one unknown, and 'got over it'?"

Sasha winced.

"Of course that was nothing to you," he said.

"Absolutely. But with regard to that same conversation, I have a
grievance and a serious one, as I hinted before. We came to an
agreement, I remember, with regard to a certain foolish contract entered
into by our parents on our behalf. You were to destroy it, by mutual
consent. You did not do so, as I learned for the first time but a few
months ago."

"Honestly, Vera, the notary said it could not be destroyed but in the
presence of, and by sworn consent of, both. The priests, too, declare
that the sanction of the metropolitan is necessary."

"You should not have asked them. You had undertaken to tear up the
foolish thing. That would have sufficed for us. Why did you ask advice?"

"I see that you will have the whole truth. I stupidly thought that by
retaining the contract I retained also a kind of hold upon you. Of
course, on reconsideration----"

"Yes, of course that is nonsense. I will tell you, my friend, that
contract or no contract, I should never dream of marrying any man
against my own will and desire. Your action makes no difference, but it
was foolish and not quite honest. It is better that we should understand
one another from the beginning."

"Yes, that is true. Will you do me a kindness, Vera? You say that it is
better that we should understand one another. It might save me much pain
if you were to tell me now, before it is quite too late, whether you
have left Paris as heart free as you entered it?"

Vera flushed crimson.

"By what right am I thus catechised?" she asked angrily. "Is it by
virtue of the contract you so dishonestly retained? or do you consider
that I am bound to give you my confidence because you have been so good
as to lay bare your heart for my entertainment? Neither is a sufficient
reason, sir."

"You are very hard on me, Vera," Maximof sighed. "What you have implied
might have been conveyed to me less harshly. Well, thank you for
letting me know what I wished to know." He paused. "With regard to our
intercourse here in Moscow, I shall be very busy and--well, I may as
well speak to you frankly while I am about it, I fancy it would be too
dangerous for me to see much of you. Good-bye--oh, as to this thing----"

Sasha produced a pocket-book and took from it an oldish paper. "At any
rate you shall be worried no longer by the whim of our parents!" He
opened the door of the stove and threw the betrothal contract within;
then he lit a match and applied it to an edge of the document which was
soon in flames.

"So ends a foolish comedy that might have developed into a pretty
romance!" said Maximof, laughing bitterly. "Farewell, Vera Danilovna. I
wish to God you had not lived these three years in Paris!" At the door
he turned and spoke again.

"Of course I don't blame you, but it's hard on me that you should have
grown so--so maddeningly pretty." Maximof repeated his loud laugh and
departed.

Vera sighed. "I ought to have known you before, my friend," she thought;
"before--before Paul! But after all, the gulf between Paul and me is
wide enough!"



CHAPTER XIV.


The war was in full swing, victory favouring the French troops, for the
most part, though occasionally she would hearten the defending Russians
with a smile or two of encouragement. Louise, with her fellow recruits,
had joined Ney's army corps. Already she had been present in several
minor engagements and had even received a slight flesh wound in the left
hand. The army surgeon attending her had remarked upon the smallness
of her hand. "It might be a woman's!" he said with a laugh. "There's
nothing here to keep you out of the fun," he added; "get back to the
colours as soon as you please."

The Russian General, Barclay de Tolly, was throughout unwilling to
expose his troops to the risk of battle. He was no coward. In the face
of much patriotic opposition from his fellow generals and the nation
at large, he adhered to his own tactics, which were to lure the enemy
constantly forward, striking only when a blow could be dealt with
effect. The peasantry, patriots to a man, beseeched their general
to bid them set fire to their standing crops, to their very homes
and granaries, that the enemy might find but a desolate waste in his
advance. Thousands of villages were so destroyed, their inhabitants
preferring to wander homeless and hungry into the woods rather than
allow the enemy to profit, even for a night, by the use of their
property.

Michel Prevost, as Louise was called among her fellows, was soon a
favourite in her regiment. No one had the slightest suspicion that
she was anything but what she pretended to be, a young conscript like
thousands of others who went to swell the Grande Armée. Occasionally
remarks would be made--jokes as to her complexion, which was fair for
a man's; her slight though well-knit figure, her modesty, her obvious
dislike for coarse topics of conversation, but though occasionally a man
might declare with a laugh that Michel was as much woman as man, barring
his fencing, which was second to none, no one dreamed that in saying
such a thing he was nearer the truth than he knew.

Never a day passed but Louise looked anxiously for the Baron
d'Estreville. He belonged, she knew, to a fashionable light cavalry
regiment, and this regiment she saw more than once, in the distance;
but during the first month of her campaigning she never succeeded in
catching a glimpse of her friend, an unkind arrangement of destiny which
caused Louise to sigh daily.

Then came a day of stress and battle.

Barclay de Tolly had decided to vary, for once, his tactics by staying
for a day his retrograde movement. If attacked and beaten, he could
immediately recommence his slow retreat upon Moscow. Should he prove
victorious--which he scarcely expected--it might be possible to
inflict a blow upon Napoleon which, at this crisis, would be fatal to
his further advance. Barclay decided upon this stand in deference to
the complaints of his army. The result was disastrous, and involved,
besides the loss of thousands of men, the burning and destruction of the
splendid old city of Smolensk, on the Dnieper, into which stronghold he
had thrown himself in his desperate attempt to stay the advance of the
French.

Napoleon made the remark that the blazing town "reminded him of Naples
during an eruption of Vesuvius".

During this day of fighting Louise suffered a shock, for she not only
saw Henri close at hand for the first time during the campaign, but
almost at the moment of recognising him, as he rode by at the head
of his troop of Hussars, saw him also struck by a shot and knocked
senseless from his saddle.

Her own regiment was at the moment rushing forward with cheers to
assault a house held by marksmen of the enemy, whose shots from the
windows had been a serious annoyance for an hour or more, and acting
upon the inspiration of the moment Louise fell forward upon her face,
as though struck by a bullet. She saw her comrades go forward shouting,
laughing, cursing, leaving a man here and half a dozen there; she saw
Henri's Hussars ride on also; then she rose and ran to the spot where
she had seen the Baron fall.

Henri was unconscious but alive. She bathed his temples with tepid fluid
from her own water-bottle. A bullet, she now saw, had passed through his
left shoulder. She ripped the tunic and tore away the shirt and washed
the wound. It bled fiercely, but she was able to stop the bleeding by
means of a tight bandage.

Henri opened his eyes presently and half sat up, using his right arm
and hand to prop himself. He looked around, listened to the cannonading,
the shouting and turmoil a mile away, and glanced, eventually, at
Louise, who was still busy over her bandage.

Henri stared at her face, saying nothing; Louise employed herself
busily, collecting composure for the trying ordeal through which she now
expected to have to pass.

"You are very kind to attend to my wound, _mon ami_," said Henri, at
last. "Who are you?"

"Michel Prevost, Monsieur le Capitaine," Louise replied, saluting; "I
saw you struck down, and fearing that you might bleed to death if left
alone, I stopped to bind your shoulder. You will recover, please God;
the bullet has missed the vital parts."

"It is curious. I seem to know your face, yet I think I have not seen
you before. Are you a Parisian?"

"Certainly, Monsieur, but only a conscript; it is not likely that you
should have seen me before."

"Perhaps not--yet your face seems familiar. Are you wounded?"

"No, mon Capitaine. I have no excuse to stay, now that your wants are
for the moment attended to. With your permission, I will follow my
companions, or I shall get myself shot for a skulker."

"I will speak for you. Stay a while here, my friend; or, still better,
help me, if you will, to the small house yonder, which our cannonballs
have half demolished. This wound of mine may be more serious than you
suppose--I feel very faint. It is cold here and very damp. Is it dark or
do my eyes----"

The Baron suddenly fainted, falling back into his companion's arms with
a groan. Within one hundred yards stood the half-demolished house to
which Henri had made reference. Louise laid the wounded man carefully
upon the grass and hastened to see whether any assistance was to be had.
The house was of stone, the only habitation left standing within half a
mile, for the wooden cottages which had surrounded it were burned to the
ground, every one. This had been a village, she concluded, standing a
mile or two from the town of Smolensk, now blazing in the distance. The
house was empty. It had been, to judge from its appearance, the village
shop or store. The upper portion had been destroyed by a cannon-ball,
but the ground floor still stood. Searching hastily among the débris
left by the owners on the approach of the French troops, Louise found a
bottle of vodka, three parts empty. With this treasure-trove she flew
back to her patient.

Henri opened his eyes when she had poured a quantity of the stuff down
his throat.

"You again?" he said. "What is it--did I faint?"

"There is a wheel-barrow in the yard of the house yonder," said Louise;
"can I leave you for a moment while I fetch it? If you are strong enough
to bear moving, it would be better to take you under shelter. It is
raining and miserable here. The night will be wet and cold."

"By the Saints, you are a good soul--what did you say your name
was--Michel? Yes, fetch the wheel-barrow, my friend. Strong enough or
not, I will make the journey, with your assistance."

Louise fetched the wheel-barrow. With many groans Henri contrived to
seat himself in the conveyance, and Louise wheeled him very carefully
into port. She improvised a bed out of a pile of hay which she found in
the stable behind and soon Henri lay in comparative comfort.

His wound seemed to be serious, though not dangerous, unless
complications should set in; but being young and very healthy there
was little danger that anything in the nature of mortification would
supervene. The wounded man and his companion were not long left in
undisturbed possession of their sanctuary, however, for before long
a surgeon and his assistants, following in the steps of the fighting
contingent, and finding a score of wounded men in the vicinity of
Henri's house, brought in as many as could be accommodated in the place,
which now became a pandemonium of groaning, swearing, raving and dying
men. Two other sufferers were brought into Henri's room, a circumstance
which did not please his nurse; but there was no help for it and the men
remained.

Henri d'Estreville was seen and treated by the doctor.

"You'll be all right," he said; "though you'd have bled to death but for
this young fellow--your servant, doubtless. I shall leave an assistant
in charge of the household; I must be off; by the Saints, his Majesty
gives us poor fellows work enough. Up at Smolensk, they say, it is like
the shambles."

One poor fellow died during the night and was removed by Louise. The
other lay groaning and raving in delirium, too far gone to take notice
of any one or anything.

All night Henri, too, raved in delirium, suffering from high fever.
Louise sat on the ground beside him, her back to the wall, weary to
death but sleeping never a wink. Towards morning Henri was quieter,
but could not sleep. He was inclined to talk, and treated Louise to a
long account of his adventures in love, some of which caused the poor
girl--who knew little of such things--to blush from neck to temples,
though Henri was unaware of the fact, owing to the darkness.

"Every one of these affairs," said Henri, "has left me without a mark. I
had begun to think that Nature, in her wisdom, had omitted to provide me
with a heart, well knowing that such a possession is as much a trouble
as a comfort to its owner; yet now, in my old age--imagine, Michel, I
am twenty-five, no less!--I have begun to fear that after all she has
treated me no better than my fellows. Not only have I found, of late,
that I possess a heart, but no sooner was it found than I have lost
it--so, at least, I fear!"

"It is possible, I suppose, that I shall die of this wound," Henri
continued presently.

"God forbid!" muttered his companion.

"Oh, agreed! I am not anxious to die," Henri laughed; "still, it is
possible, for, be assured, Michel, I have felt very ill this night;
certainly I have been nearer death than has been my lot before to-day.
Who can tell how the malady will go--which turn it will take. This girl,
I spoke of; if I should die, Michel, you shall take a message to her.
_Sapristi_--it is an odd thing, that I who have exchanged vows with a
hundred women should now remember with affection but one, and she the
most artless of them all and doubtless the most virtuous. You will carry
a message for this one, Michel, promise me--it is only in case of my
death--come!"

"I promise," murmured Louise.

"Good--perhaps I shall live, in which case keep my secret, lest by that
time I should think differently. But supposing that I should die, go
to the Palais d'armes of old Pierre Dupré, there ask for his daughter
Louise--remember their names--you shall take a note of them presently,
and tell her that in dying Baron Henri d'Estreville remembered her with
tenderness; of all his vows of love he remembered those only that he
made to her, which vows, say, he would certainly have kept if he should
have remained in the same mind when he returned."

Louise suddenly broke in upon Henri's message with a merry laugh.

"I will leave out the last sentence, it will not sound so well as the
rest," she said. "If you had lived, I will say, you might have been
faithful to her. That you died loving her fairly well."

"Ah, you mock me!" said Henri. "No, I am serious. It is wonderful, but I
remember that little simple one with true affection. To her lips I send
a loving kiss, the pledge of my love."

"Shall I carry your very kiss to her?" said Louise; "if--if it would be
a comfort to you, I will do so."

"Ah, rascal! I think I have roused your interest in my pretty one--well,
if I die I care very little what happens; yes, take her my very
kiss--bend over and receive it from me. It is a strange thing, Michel,
but there is something in your face which reminds me of my Louise; in
kissing you thus I can almost fancy it is she--I would to God it were!"

"Ah, you rave again!" murmured Louise.



CHAPTER XV.


On the following morning Louise, busy over some service on Henri's
behalf, heard herself hailed by a wounded man, lying in the larger room
of the house now in use as a temporary hospital. This was a sergeant
in her own regiment, a rough-tongued veteran, keen in war, strict for
discipline, a terror to the young conscripts of the regiment.

"Hi, you, Prevost, what the devil do you here?" he cried. "You don't
seem to be wounded? May the devil claim all shirkers; why are you not
with the colours?"

"I was engaged last night in tending an officer who was sorely wounded,"
said Louise; "I am no shirker."

"To Hell with your tending; I know what that means: the desire to be out
of the line of fire combined with the hope of a _pourboire_; away with
you and report yourself to Sergeant Villeboeuf by midday."

"But the officer----" Louise hesitated.

"Bah--he is no excuse; Monsieur the under bone-sawer," continued the
fellow, addressing the doctor's assistant busy operating at his elbow,
"see to this officer this shirker speaks of."

"I have seen him," said the man; "he may come through or he may not, but
in any case we desire no loafers in hospital, the space is too confined
already."

"I am ordered to leave you, mon Capitaine," said Louise, entering
Henri's room; "I pray God you may recover; farewell, Monsieur; I will
remember your message."

"Yes--if I die, only!" said Henri; "not if I come through this and the
rest of the war. I feel sick enough to-day--I wish they would leave you,
_mon ami_, to look after me."

"They will not, they call me shirker for remaining only one night! Do
not----" Louise was about to say "do not forget me," but she thought
better of it and altered the sentence to "do not fail to get well".

"Not I--if it depends upon me--_au revoir, mon ami_, let us say, at
Moscow!"

Louise left the little house with a heavy heart. "For God's sake keep
an eye upon Monsieur le Capitaine," she said at parting to the little
_feldscher_, or under-surgeon, who replied with a laugh:--

"_Tiens_, my friend, you are wonderfully anxious about the young man;
one would think you were a woman!"

There was no _arrière pensée_ about the remark, but poor Louise went
away blushing terribly and very angry with herself for allowing herself
to yield to so feminine a weakness.

Would the Baron survive? That was the question which throbbed for an
answer with every beat of her heart. If he survived and remembered the
love which he professed to have felt for the daughter of the old _maître
d'armes_, oh! thought Louise, how heavenly a place the dull earth would
become.

If he should not survive--well, let the first Russian bullet find its
home in her heart, for all she would care to live on! And yet, Louise
felt, even without Henri life was a thousand times more beautiful
now that she had certain sweet memories to draw upon. "The most Holy
Spirit," she reflected, "must have inspired him with that message--oh!
to think that I, of all others, should have been chosen for its
recipient: a message to myself, delivered into my keeping for my
comfort--an inspiration in truth and indeed!"

Meanwhile the army of Napoleon, constantly dwindling, advanced daily
farther and farther into the interior of Russia. Napoleon felt that he
was being enticed forward, but there was no thought of retreating. On
the contrary, successes were achieved daily, though great events were
rare. The policy of the Russian commanders was still that of retreat,
laying waste the country as they went. The faithful peasants aided and
abetted them. Every man proved himself a patriot. "Only let us know the
right moment," they declared, "and every hut in the village shall burn
to the ground, every acre of corn shall be destroyed before the detested
foreigner arrives to eat the fruit of our labours."

From the beginning of the campaign to the present time--two months and
a half--Napoleon had lost by illness and battle 150,000 men; the Grand
Army was melting away before his eyes. He now did all that was possible,
by ordering up large reinforcements, to fill the voids.

But meanwhile the Russian troops, unaware that the continuous retreating
movement was a part of the deliberate policy of their leaders, grew
more and more discontented both with Bagration and Barclay de Tolly,
generals who had, nevertheless, done passing well with the troops
entrusted to them.

And seeing that the feeling of discontent was daily spreading, and
the more quickly since the fall and destruction of Smolensk, the Tsar
Alexander now united both his armies under the supreme command of
Kootoozof.

This new appointment aroused enthusiasm. Kootoozof had no intention of
altering the policy of his lieutenants. He knew, none better, that every
step gained with much pain and difficulty, by the French armies, must
presently be retraced with tenfold and hundredfold more difficulty, and
pains unimaginable. The Don Cossacks were already being recruited in
preparation for the French retreat; the militia, raised in response to
the manifesto of the Tsar, would be ready for work in a month or two;
great things were preparing for the discomfiture of the little Corporal
and his men--the rod was in pickle--let them advance by all means toward
Moscow!

But when old Kootoozof passed his troops in review, he repeated a
hundred times for their edification words of encouragement and patriotic
appreciation.

"Holy Mother!" he would ejaculate; "what soldiers! With troops such as
these success is sure! We shall beat the French, my children--only wait
and see!" And again, "With such soldiers we shall not retreat for long!"

Kootoozof halted his army at Borodino: 120,000 men, all told; and here,
early in the morning of the 7th of September, the great Russian army
confessed and communicated and were blessed by the priests with Holy
Water. During the morning an eagle hovered for a few moments over the
head of old Kootoozof, until frightened away by the shouts of enthusiasm
by which the soldiers saluted the happy omen. The battle raged all day
with varying success, the French capturing the redoubts, losing them
again, and again recapturing these and other outworks. The Russians
slowly retreated and were not pursued. Both sides claimed the victory,
and both lost enormously; but whereas the losses of the French were at
this stage irreparable, those of the Russian army were comparatively of
small consequence.

Then Kootoozof held a great council of his generals, whereat some voted
for a final battle in defence of Moscow, some argued that there were
greater issues at stake than the safety of the ancient capital which,
after all, was "only a city like another". Kootoozof, however, reserved
the final decision for himself, having, probably, long since made up
his mind as to what should be done. He marched his army through the
suburbs of Moscow, and presently spent the month during which Napoleon's
soldiers occupied the Holy City in so disposing his forces that not
only was the road to St. Petersburg blocked by a constantly growing
army, but access to the richer provinces of the Empire was also barred;
while hordes of Cossacks lay in wait along the line of retreat which,
so soon as Moscow should be found no longer tenable, would, Kootoozof
calculated, inevitably present itself as the last resource for the
invading forces. In a word, Napoleon should be practically blockaded in
Moscow.

But meanwhile, on the 14th September, the advance guard of the French
army entered the city. Through the streets of the White Town and of
China Town (known, respectively, as Biélui Gorod and Kitai Gorod) they
marched, singing joyful songs. Then pillage began and continued until
Napoleon himself arrived within the city walls.

But the personal entry of Napoleon into Moscow had been delayed.
The Emperor had remained at the barrier leading to the Smolensky
Road, awaiting the usual ceremonies which, he was determined, should
precede his triumphal entry into the city. His Majesty expected humble
deputations, servile invitations, sham rejoicings. He was accustomed to
see the authorities of the place arrive to lay at his feet the keys of
the conquered city, but here no one came, nothing of the sort happened.
All seemed commotion in Moscow, but the afternoon arrived and still no
deputation was to be seen leaving the city. Napoleon grew angry and sent
a Polish General of his staff to hurry the movements of the authorities.
This gentleman returned at night with the astonishing information that
no authorities were to be found. Moscow was practically deserted; there
were a few private residents scattered here and there, but palaces,
public offices, the house of the Governor-General were all empty; not a
functionary remained in Moscow.

The Emperor was furious and perhaps a little dismayed. He slept that
night without the walls, and on the following day entered the city in
sullen silence--no beating of drums, no music, no church bells greeted
his arrival. As a writer of the times expresses it: "His feelings when
viewing the accomplishment of this long anticipated enterprise must have
resembled those of Satan at the destruction of Paradise. The fiend was
received with hisses by his damned crew."

It is said that as he rode up to the Borovitsky Gate one Russian, an
old soldier, decrepit and tottering, barred the Emperor's passage, and
was struck down by the Guards surrounding his Majesty. Then Napoleon
proceeded to the Kremlin and took up his abode in the ancient habitation
of the Tsars, a home which he was not destined to occupy for many days.



CHAPTER XVI.


Meanwhile Count Rostopchin, ex-Governor of Moscow, had had a difficult
task to perform. General Kootoozof, making no secret of his intention
of abandoning Moscow, unless the stand at Borodino should meet with
unexpected success, had promised the Count three days notice before
the French should be free to enter the city; but Rostopchin received
warning only twenty-four hours before the arrival of the first batch
of foreign soldiers. During those four and twenty hours much was
done. The archives, with many treasures from churches and palaces
were removed to a neighbouring city. The arsenals were thrown open in
order that whosoever desired might arm himself. The prisons were also
opened, the fire-engines were removed or destroyed; the greater part
of the population crowded out of the city, taking with them--as far as
possible--their possessions. Only a few enthusiasts remained, patriotic
souls or religious fanatics who would not leave the Holy City of Russia
to the licence of the invaders.

Thus Napoleon found a deserted Moscow, deserted by all but a grim
remnant of resolute, desperate, Russia-loving, foreigner-hating patriots.

Among them was Vera Demidof, whose motives for remaining were, however,
decidedly mixed.

During the months of anxiety preceding the arrival, first of the Russian
army and afterwards of the French, Vera had shown herself one of the
most patriotic of Russian women. She had been surprised by her own
fierce patriotic passion. She had gone daily among the people, inflaming
their minds against the foreigners, helping--like many of the ladies
in Moscow--to enrol every man of fighting age and capacity among the
_drujina_ or militia, which had started into being in response to the
manifesto of the Tsar. She remained behind when the great majority of
the population left in the hope that she might even yet find work to do
for Russia's sake. She was a member of a patriotic guild, formed at this
time to watch and to protect the beloved city, given over into the hands
of her enemies.

If any one had told Vera that she had remained in Moscow partly at
least in the hope of seeing a Frenchman, one Paul de Tourelle; of
assuring herself that he was alive and well and that he still loved her,
perhaps she would have admitted the first portion of the indictment,
but certainly not the last. Vera was, as a matter of fact, anxious to
see Paul, if possible, but for a different reason. Whether he loved her
or not was, at this moment of patriotic fervour, a matter of supreme
indifference to her, for, indeed, she more than suspected that she had
altogether lost that partiality for the young Frenchman which she had
believed to be a preliminary to love; perhaps her patriotic hatred
of the invaders of her country had scotched all private feelings for
individual French persons; perhaps there were other reasons. At any rate
Vera was anxious to see the man in order to make sure of herself; it
was just as well, she thought, to know one's own heart. In any case she
would be a patriot first. If she found that she still preserved some
affection for this man, it might be a comfort to her wounded patriotic
spirit to offer her private feelings a living sacrifice. At least she
could do that much for Russia, if there was little else a woman could
do.

On the day of the evacuation of Moscow Vera, sitting at her window and
watching the turmoil and movement of the people in the streets below,
heard the footsteps of someone running rapidly down the road. She
recognised Sasha Maximof, who entered the house panting and excited.

"Vera, what is the meaning of this?" he said; Sasha was greatly
agitated--"I hear you are determined to remain in Moscow--have you
thought of the dangers from lawless French soldiers, the uselessness,
the----"

Vera laughed. "Dear Sasha," she said, "give me time to say 'thank God
you are alive and safe'; remember that I have not seen you since July
and now it is September, and we have heard nothing of you!" Vera was,
as a matter of fact, more relieved and grateful on this account than
she quite realised; she had worried much on Sasha's behalf, chiefly--as
she had assured herself--because of the anxiety of his mother, who had
received no news of her son, but largely also on her own account, for
at his last visit to Moscow she had learned, and made no secret of the
fact, that young Maximof was an immensely improved person, and that she
really quite liked and admired him.

"As for remaining in Moscow, I think I can take care of myself; I speak
French so easily, you see, that I shall pass as a Frenchwoman in case of
need; for the rest, I am not at all afraid, and I belong, moreover, to
the patriotic guild and am bound to watch for opportunities to serve our
beloved Russia."

"There can be none, Vera, believe me, that a woman can safely employ.
For God's sake be persuaded to leave the city."

Vera shook her head.

"No, Sasha, I am not to be persuaded. I shall be safe. I am well armed,
and these two faithful old servants who have chosen to stay with me are
armed also; we shall have soft answers for any who may come to pillage,
but--as you know--this street is too far from the centre of the city to
be in much danger of pillaging parties. However this is foolish talk.
Even if there were danger, ten times more than you suppose, I should
still remain in Moscow."

"I do not like to think, and yet it has been suggested to me," said
Sasha, flushing, "that though you are known to be both patriotic and
fearless, there may be other reasons for your desire to remain in town.
You have many friends among the French; possibly you are anxious to see
or hear of them, to know that all is well with them."

"Yes, that may be true," said Vera, looking Sasha full in the eyes. "One
may feel an interest in personal friends even though they fight in the
ranks of the enemy."

"Of course," Sasha hesitated, "you will understand, Vera, that in saying
this I had no _arrière pensée_; I mean, I was not hinting that you
should tell me anything that is--is not my business."

"Yes, I understand," said Vera. "There is nothing to tell. I am
interested to know whether--certain people--are alive; but that is not
my only reason for remaining in Moscow. Where are you quartered?"

"With Barclay de Tolly's command. I shall not be far away--send for me,
Vera, if you should need advice or assistance; I wish to God I could
stay, but of course I cannot leave the colours."

"We have horses in the stables and arms in the house and--and God will
protect His people, Sasha; the taking of Moscow is not the end of the
campaign; we shall see what we shall see. Yes, I wish also that you were
with us; but you are doing your duty as I believe I am doing mine. No
one can do more than that!"

"No; well, I must go, Vera. I wonder whether we shall ever meet again;
there are many dangers still in store for both of us; our fate lies in
God's keeping. Before I go I will say that whether we live or whether we
die, I know now that you are the only woman in the world for me. I shall
pray daily for your welfare, and that your love, wherever it may be
given, may in the end make for your lasting happiness. May I kiss your
hand?"

Vera gave her hand and Sasha bowed over it; she kissed his forehead,
Russian fashion, and he her hand.

"We will--we will think only of Russia now, Sasha," she said; "there
will be time to talk of other things when her trouble is over."

Afterwards Vera went into the city to watch, from a safe corner,
the entrance of the French soldiers. She saw Paul de Tourelle march
in with his regiment, and she recognised also Henri d'Estreville,
her own cousin, who rode in with his troop of lancers, looking very
pale and ill. Paul seemed well and sound and rode with all that air
of aristocratic _hauteur_ which was natural to this undoubtedly
splendid-looking youth. Vera made a close examination of her feelings
as she watched him and found that the dominating sentiment seemed to
be one of anger that he, too, should be among these detested ranks of
the successful enemies of her country and of indignation that he should
assume so swaggering an air. Still, she was glad that he was alive and
well, and admitted to herself that he looked handsome enough.

When she safely reached her house, late in the afternoon, a great
surprise was in store for her.

Sasha Maximof met her in the entrance hall, having opened the door for
her. He was in plain clothes; the first time since her childhood that
she had ever seen him out of uniform. Sasha smiled radiantly.

"Thank God you are safe!" he exclaimed. "Vera, what a risk you have run
in going out into the streets!"

Vera flushed with joy to see him and even laughed aloud in pure relief
and contentment, though she made a show of attributing her mirth to his
appearance.

"Sasha!" she cried--"you in plain clothes--oh, how funny!--explain, what
is the meaning of this metamorphosis?"

"I have got leave of absence," he replied, "on the plea of protecting
ladies of my family; I can stay a while; I shall be in the house if you
will permit me, Vera, and I will join your patriotic league. Look--is
that some of your work?" He led Vera to a window and pointed towards
the commercial portion of the city; a thick smoke rose from the quarter
indicated. "Our friends have begun early!" Sasha laughed exultingly. "Is
it Rostopchin's agents, think you, or the patriots?"

"The patriots," Vera replied. "We shall burn all Moscow, Sasha, it is
the principal part of our programme. I told you the campaign is not yet
over. How long will the troops occupy a burning city? A week? Two weeks?
And then comes Kootoozof's opportunity; Platof and his Cossacks; the
Drujina of Moscow, and all you good regulars; you shall fall upon them
like terriers upon the rats. Now do you understand why we of the league
must remain in Moscow?"

"I see--I see!" said Sasha, trembling with excitement. "Yes! there is
work to be done in the city, you are right, Vera; but it is not woman's
work; it is work for desperate men, Vera, not for fair girls."

"My friend, the men are occupied in sharpening their swords, in
drilling, in preparing for the running of the rats when the haystack is
burned. We have no men in Moscow, excepting the old and the infirm."

"Oh, I am glad I came, I am glad I came!" said Sasha, his teeth
chattering with the agitation of the moment.



CHAPTER XVII.


Late that same evening Vera had cause to reiterate Sasha's exclamation
that it was well he had come to Moscow.

At ten o'clock there came a loud knocking at the door, and Sasha,
peeping out of an upper window, descried a group of three or four
persons, French officers as he judged from their talk.

Maximof armed himself with pistol and dagger and placed the two old
servants in the entrance hall with orders to keep the visitors covered
with their muskets, but not to fire unless specially told to do so. Vera
awaited developments in a room adjoining the hall, armed and perfectly
composed.

Then Maximof opened the barred door. Three young French officers entered
and closed the door behind them. They laughed to see the two old men
standing with musket to shoulder.

"Tell them to lower their weapons," said the spokesman in French,
addressing Sasha; "I do not speak your infernal language; we mean no
harm but only seek information."

"Let me first understand your errand," said Sasha in his best French.
"The men will not hurt you except at a word from me."

"Well, then, is this the quarter of Moscow known as the Sloboda?" said
the officer. "We are in search of the ladies of the French Theatrical
Company, old friends of ours in Paris, who, we are told, dwell in this
quarter of the city. Maybe you can direct us. You are, I conclude, a
foreigner, or you would be with the army--what we have left of it."

"This is the Sloboda, but I know nothing about your actresses," began
Sasha, but to his horror Vera suddenly made her appearance in the hall,
coming to the door of the room in which she had stationed herself. The
hall was lighted with but a single oil lamp hung over the front door, so
that faces were seen but indistinctly.

"It may be that I can enlighten Monsieur," said Vera; "I overheard his
request for information. The Governor-General caused the removal of the
entire French company three days ago, considering this advisable with a
view to their safety. They are not in Moscow."

"_Sapristi!_" exclaimed the young French officer, who had acted as
spokesman; "that is a voice that I know, though it is too dark to
distinguish faces. Is it possible that I address Mademoiselle Vera
Demidof?" He took a step forward. Sasha instantly barred the way.

"Back, Monsieur," he said. "There is no admittance excepting at
Mademoiselle's orders."

Vera had started at the sound of the officer's voice. "Sasha, it is Paul
de Tourelle," she said; "there is nothing to fear, let him enter."

"What, and these others also?" asked Sasha.

"I will answer for their good behaviour, Monsieur," said Paul. "Perhaps
Mademoiselle will accord me the honour of a few moments conversation
while these gentlemen rest themselves in the hall."

"Yes, I will speak with you--come in here!" Vera indicated the room
which she had quitted a moment before. Maximof took his stand at the
door. He waved his hand to the two old servants. "_Rebyáta_," he said,
"you can lower your muskets but remain here." The two young Frenchmen
stood at the stove to warm themselves. Sasha heard their conversation,
which they took no pains to conceal from his ears.

"Our little Paul has found a friend it seems," said one, laughing; "he
is indeed a wonderful man for the ladies. This will console him for
Clotilde's absence."

"Curses upon the Governor-General, he might at least have left us the
ladies of the Comédie Française!" said the other. "I had looked forward
to seeing my little Jeanne. Maybe the Russian wench was lying, for
reasons of her own."

"Beware what you say here, Monsieur," said Sasha angrily, "or your
friend may find you no longer waiting when he comes forth."

"Pardon, a thousand pardons, Monsieur; I forgot that you spoke our
language," said the officer politely; "do me the favour to regard my
foolish words as unsaid."

The conversation was conducted in whispers from this point and Sasha
heard no more of it.

Meanwhile Paul de Tourelle, so soon as the door was closed behind him,
had made as though he would take Vera's hand and draw her to him, but
she waved him away.

"Do not touch me, Monsieur," she said. "I have admitted you only for
the purpose of making it clear to you that there can at present be no
communication between us. I must regard you as an enemy."

"But, Mademoiselle!" exclaimed Paul, "what is this you say? In Paris we
spoke of love; I hasten to Moscow, whither you have gone before me; I
find you unexpectedly, and you tell me that I have come in vain. Did I
not say that I would meet you in Moscow?"

"And did not I reply that I would rather never see you again than meet
you in Moscow? No, Monsieur. I have no heart for love, no thought to
spare for such matters, for my whole being is at present absorbed in the
sorrows of my dear country. I am glad that I have seen you, since I am
now assured of your safety but----

"Come, let me be thankful for the smallest of mercies!" Paul laughed
bitterly. "At any rate Mademoiselle is relieved to hear that I am not
yet buried beneath the soil of her dear country. We are very far from
the point, however, which we discussed, Mademoiselle, in Paris. At
that time we spoke of love; now it is sufficient for you that I am
alive--_parbleu!_ you are liberal with your favours."

"Monsieur, I will wish you good-night. This conversation can serve no
good end. It is true that in Paris you spoke of love; as for me, I spoke
of a liking which one day might ripen into love; that day has not yet
arrived, Monsieur; at this moment I am inclined to think that it can
never dawn; I unsay all that I said in Paris, which you will remember
was not much."

Paul burst into loud laughter which had, however, no merriment in it.
"I think I understand, Mademoiselle," he said; "the young gentleman
who prefers to act as your doorkeeper rather than take his share in
withstanding the enemies of your country: he is perhaps the fiancé of
whom we once spoke, or maybe a nearer friend----"

"Monsieur, I have wished you good-night."

"Oh, but pardon, Mademoiselle, I have not yet finished that which I have
to say; perhaps Mademoiselle would prefer if I continued and finished
with Monsieur her friend. The matter may be settled without many words."

Vera's face paled a little, but she spoke resolutely. "If Monsieur is
wise," she said, "he will not quarrel with Monsieur le Comte Maximof,
who is at present acting as my protector in this city of many perils;
the servants would not wait to fire their muskets if voices were raised
or threats used. Be wise, Monsieur de Tourelle, and take your departure
in peace. You have no quarrel with my friend, and none, I trust, with
myself."

"Oh, as to yourself, Mademoiselle, I am not deceived; I shall hope to
find compensation elsewhere for Mademoiselle's unkindness. But for the
other matter, that, with your kind permission, shall be as I choose to
decide." Paul bowed and made his exit.

Apparently the decision was for peace. He called to his companions to
come away.

"_Au revoir_, Monsieur," he said to Maximof, at whom he now gazed very
fixedly, as though he would make a note of his features; "I have no
doubt we shall meet again shortly."

"With all my heart," said Sasha, bowing; "for I shall then request
Monsieur to repeat certain words he thought proper to address to me, but
now----"

"Monsieur shall have the words repeated," replied Paul, laughing; "come,
my friends."

"You did not tell us, Paul, that Moscow contained other objects of
familiar interest to you besides Clotilde," his companions observed as
the door closed behind the trio and was fastened by Maximof. "She seemed
_gentile_; may we be introduced perhaps?"

"Bah--you would not thank me. They are sour, these Russian women. This
one has been in Paris, and is, at least, civilised; but she would visit
upon each of you the sin of his Majesty who has declared war upon her
country."

"Patriotism is a virtue, I do not dislike that in her; when the war is
over you shall make us known to this lady of spirit, Paul," said the
other.

"When the war is over," replied Paul, shrugging his shoulders and
laughing, "I may want her myself. Remember, both of you, the face
of that Russian in plain clothes, and if you should see him about
the streets, inform me of it; I have a little bill to settle with my
gentleman."

"What, a case of poaching upon preserved ground?" One of Paul's friends
laughed, and the other remarked: "Poor little Russian if it comes to
accounts with our little Paul de Tourelle! He had better have remained
with the army!"



CHAPTER XVIII.


Early in the morning two days after Paul's visit to the Demidof mansion
in the Sloboda quarter, a man came and knocked the house up. He asked to
see Vera and explained his mission thus:--

"The French Emperor," he said, "is established in the Kremlin, in the
dwelling of our Tsars; there is a meeting at ten in the house in the
Tverskoy to decide what is best to be done".

Both Vera and Sasha Maximof attended that meeting, when it was decided
that terrible as such a thing must appear to every good and patriotic
Russian, the Kremlin Palace itself must be ignited or blown up. Better
destroy than allow it to be defiled by the presence of these foreigners,
with the antichrist himself at their head!

Volunteers were called for to attempt the dangerous enterprise. To
Vera's joy and pride Sasha was one of the first to give in his name,
and was chosen with a dozen others to evolve a scheme and put it into
practice without delay.

"I am proud of you," she whispered; "it is a dangerous venture; if I
were a man I should be with you."

"Yes, I am sure of that," Sasha laughed.

He was grave enough, however, when the time came to go forth upon his
mission. The Kremlin was full of French guards and the attempt to be
made by himself and his companions was perilous in the extreme.

"Promise me you will leave Moscow if anything should happen to me," he
said at parting from Vera. "You must see that it is not safe for you
here; the town already burns on all sides, I do not see that you can do
any further good by remaining; the French rats will soon be obliged to
bolt."

"Yes, I think that is so; I promise to be very discreet; the work has
certainly gone well forward these two days. But do not speak as though
you would not return, dear Sasha, for you, too, will be discreet and
careful. Run no needless risks; your enterprise may be performed in
safety, promise me you will be careful."

"If I thought," Sasha faltered, "that it was of consequence to you
whether I lived or died, I would be careful indeed."

"But, _mon ami_, it is of the greatest consequence to me; are you not
my protector here in Moscow? Are you not, too, one of our patriots and
engaged even now upon a scheme which all Russia shall one day speak of
and applaud?"

"Yes--but apart from that--_personally_, I mean, Vera; if only I might
take with me the knowledge that you cared even a little for me, I would
go to the gates of hell and return safely."

"Dear Sasha, I like you very much--far better than I used to like you. I
suppose one would always be interested in a person who had once been her
fiancé."

"Yes, yes, but----"

"But you have been so specially kind and attentive to me that--that you
must really return, Sasha; I--I insist."

"Say that it matters to you personally, Vera, and by all the blessed
Saints not all the soldiers of Napoleon shall prevent my returning."

"Oh, boaster," said Vera, attempting to withdraw her hand, which he had
captured and was now covering with kisses; "I will say no more than
this, 'please return safely'!"

Sasha Maximof went out, presently, upon his dangerous errand, and Vera
was surprised to find how anxiously she awaited his return. She waited
two hours, three, four, and then could bear the strain no longer. She
had watched the sky in the direction of the Kremlin, but had not been
able to discern that smoke rose from that particular quarter, though in
almost every other direction the heavens were obscured by lurid clouds
of black vapour, increasing evidence of the activity of the patriotic
league.

When four hours had passed and there was still no news of Sasha, Vera
could bear her anxiety no longer, and sallied forth to see whether she
could hear from others any news of the Kremlin enterprise. She visited
one or two of her friends in the Sloboda, but no one had yet received
any news.

Then she ventured into the portion of the city which was actually
occupied by French troops, and even penetrated close to the outer wall
of the Kremlin enclosure itself.

A dozen times she was accosted by soldiers, none too politely, but in
each case Vera successfully eluded her impudent admirers and proceeded
upon her way, pursued by remarks which, if she had attended to or even
heard them, would have caused her cheeks to flush; but her mind was
fully occupied and she heard nothing.

Close to the Great Arch of the Kremlin she was startled to hear the
sound of shots many times repeated. She hesitated before entering the
Kremlin enclosure; dared she penetrate thus into the very heart of the
occupied quarters?

A group of Russians, old men mostly, hawkers of lemon drinks and of
_prianniki_, or biscuits, presently came hurrying out into the street,
chattering and crossing themselves, a few French soldiers chasing them
through the archway out of the Kremlin.

"_Bóje moy_, it is horrible!" she heard an old man exclaim; "I shall
dream of it!"

Vera accosted him. "What is it, father? What has happened?" she asked.

"What has happened?" said the old fellow crossing himself and looking
round to see whether the French soldiers listened, "Why, murder has
happened; the shedding of good Russian blood; butchery I call it! Did
you not hear the shots? A dozen of them, all shot down one after
another by these most damnable foreigners! As if they have not shed
blood enough already, Russian blood too, which is the holiest of all and
the best!"

"Yes, but whose blood is this you speak of? who has been shot?" asked
Vera, her heart feeling like lead.

"Why, Russians; good patriotic fellows who had done nothing worse than
attempt to burn down the great palace with the French Tsar inside
it--would to God they had succeeded! Well, they were caught and shot, a
dozen or more of them."

"All shot--every one of them?" Vera asked faintly. "Are you sure that
all were shot?"

"Every single one--I saw it done; that's what I say, that I shall dream
of it; I called the French soldiers shameful names, but they do not
understand Russian, though they turned us all out for booing at them; it
is a mercy we too were not shot; yet who could stand and see the murder
done without protesting? Why, what ails you, _dooshá tui moyá_? One
would think your sweetheart had been among these butchered men."

Vera said nothing but turned away with dry eyes and a steady lip. Within
her breast, however, her heart lay dead-cold and heavy as lead.

"I wish I had been among them," the thought came a hundred times into
her brain. "Why was I not among them, at his side?"

"Yes, that would have been far better--to have died at his side!"

Vera heard the sound of horses' hoofs behind her, but took no notice.
Some one shouted, and she stepped automatically out of the roadway upon
the raised wooden pavement at the side.

"That is a French dress," she heard a man say, and seemed to recognise
the voice, but her thoughts were far away. "How came she here?--ask
her, General." Vera half awoke from her dream of misery and looked up;
Napoleon was at her elbow on horseback, with his suite in attendance.
She was about to make the reverence which her familiarity with the Court
in Paris prompted her to offer automatically at sight of the sovereign;
but she bethought herself and left the curtsy half made.

"Who is it--I know the face," said Napoleon; "who are you, _mon enfant_,
and what do you here? Have I not seen you in Paris?"

"Sire, it is the daughter of the Secretary of the Russian Embassy,"
explained an aide-de-camp; "Mademoiselle Demidof."

"Of course," said Napoleon, smiling benignly; "pardon me, Mademoiselle,
I took you for a French lady and wondered at your presence here; may I
add that so fair a face courts danger in Moscow at the present moment?"

Vera had stood still, gazing with set face from one man to the other as
each spoke. Her heart swelled with indignation and hatred. This was the
very arch-enemy himself; the fiend in man's likeness who had brought
ruin upon her country and upon this holy city.

"Shall I then be shot down in cold blood as your Majesty has just
slaughtered a body of my poor countrymen?" she said suddenly.

"_Morbleu!_" exclaimed Napoleon, glancing angrily at the girl. He paused
a moment, then laughed, shrugged his shoulders and rode on.

"She is mad, Sire, patriot-mad!" Vera heard some one say, and the
Emperor's reply reached her ears: "She has nevertheless a fine spirit".

Vera hastened homewards. She forgot the incident of her encounter with
Napoleon; she took no notice of the hundreds of compliments, impudent
observations and rude jests thrown at her by scores of French soldiers
as she passed; Sasha Maximof was dead: this was her only thought;
it absorbed her entire being; was it--she asked herself--really so
all-important to her that this man was dead? She had not yet learned
to love him; it must surely be a mere sentimental regret, this black
heavy weight upon her heart; a sentimental regret that one who had once
been nominally her fiancé had suddenly met his death; her heart had
not received its death-wound--oh no! this was but a passing feeling
of sympathy and sorrow; it would disappear; the shock of the sudden
catastrophe had unnerved her.

Nevertheless when Vera had lain for an hour upon her bed, assuring
herself that after all this calamity was not really a disaster, for her,
of the first magnitude, she suddenly realised that nothing in the world
could have mattered more to her than the death of this man; and turning
her face to the wall she wept as though her heart were indeed broken.



CHAPTER XIX.


Vera heard a banging at the front door--a sound which might have
startled and even frightened her at another moment, but she was so
full of her new grief that she scarcely noticed it; she felt as though
nothing mattered; that she did not care what happened.

Then old Michael, one of the two servants who had remained in the house
when the rest left Moscow, knocked at her door and put his head into the
room.

"_Golôobushka moyá_," he said, "do not be frightened, a disaster
has happened; the young Graf Maximof----" he paused; Vera laughed
hysterically.

"Yes, yes, go on; he has been shot--he is dead--they have brought his
body; you may tell me all, Michael."

"Oh, _liubeemaya_, not so bad as that; but he is hurt."

"What do you say--he is not dead?" cried Vera; she sprang from the bed
upon which she lay. "Is he dying, is he mortally wounded, tell me
quickly, has Stepan gone for a doctor?"

"But I did not say matters were so bad as that!" exclaimed old Michael,
startled by her agitation. "The Count has, I think, been fighting--there
is a rag bound round his wrist which is covered with blood and he is
pale and faint, but----"

"But is he not shot--I thought--stop, Michael--go down and say that
I will come immediately--I am not quite ready--I think I have been
dreaming--do not tell the Count what I have said."

Old Michael went downstairs muttering and crossing himself. His beloved
mistress could not be well if she dreamed in this fashion by daylight;
what did it mean?

Vera dashed water upon her eyes and smoothed her ruffled hair; she stood
a moment before her ikon and prayed; her eyes were bright and her cheeks
flushed; the expression of utter misery had left her face.

She found Sasha sitting dejected and pale, his arm bound up with a cloth
which, as Michael said, was soaked in blood.

"What has happened--what is the matter? Are you hurt, Sasha?" she asked,
assuming her usual air of composure, though her heart beat wildly with
a variety of emotions.

"Vera, I am disgraced--doubly disgraced. We failed in our attempt--all
my poor companions are dead--shot--I almost wish I had died with them--I
feel dishonoured--shamed; see, I cannot look you in the face."

Vera leaned over and kissed his forehead; he looked up gratefully but
said nothing.

"I am sure you are not dishonoured," she murmured softly; "let me first
attend to your arm, and then you shall tell me all."

"I will tell you as you bind me," he said, and began at once.

"We carried out the first part of our scheme successfully; we got into
the stables and set fire to straw and rubbish, but the smoke frightened
the horses and there was a great commotion. We were found and dragged
out by soldiers. Several young officers, quartered in the Kremlin,
ran up and we were all pulled about and insulted. Among the officers
were two of those who came to this house. 'Look here,' said one, on
recognising me, 'look, Paul, here is your acquaintance of the other
evening;' whereupon the impertinent one whom you interviewed alone
that day saw me also. He called up half a dozen fellows and bade them
take me to his quarters. Of course I struggled, but I soon saw it was
useless and went with them. Afterwards I heard that the Emperor suddenly
appeared upon the scene and asked what had happened and who were these
men, meaning my late companions. When he was told he frowned and twisted
his nose and called them canaille and bade the soldiers shoot them down,
then and there, for which butchery I trust he may be tortured in eternal
fires.

"As for me, I was taken to a house in the Kremlin in which your friend
is quartered, and thither he came, presently, and found me awaiting his
pleasure, which, it seemed, was to answer to him at the sword's point
for my presumption in posing as your protector in Moscow; at any rate,
I could learn no other reason for his particular animosity against me.
You may believe that I was charmed to meet his wishes even though he had
not assured me, which he did many times, that I might thank my stars
I had not been left by him with my fellow conspirators; for it seems
Napoleon had himself condemned them to instant death, giving the order,
so your French friend said, carelessly over his left shoulder as though
the talk were of drowning so many rats. Well, we fought, and there is
my disgrace, for though I thought I could fence, the fellow had me at
his mercy with many French tricks which I had never seen. Doubtless he
could have ended me several times over, but he forbore. I am ashamed and
disgraced, Vera, I have come home beaten like a dog that slinks into his
kennel after a thrashing. There is excuse for me, but I do not claim
it--strange, foreign swords to fight with, the shock of my companions'
deaths, the uncertainty whether, if I fell savagely upon the man and
bore him down by sheer stress, I should not injure a dear heart at home
which perhaps held his life as a precious thing."

Vera laughed hysterically.

"Who knows," she cried, "perhaps the same generous consideration held
his hand also!"

"Ah, you mock me; well, beaten and disgraced I am, and it is useless to
conceal the truth. Yes, he withheld his hand, he could have given me the
point a dozen times while I never touched him, not once. There is worse
behind. He made me promise, under threat to send me back to his master
to share the fate of my fellows, that I would give you a detestable
message. Please do not blame me, Vera, I cannot help it, for the
promise was given. Before giving it I fell upon him furiously, and it
was thus I received this wound in my sword-arm, which incapacitated me.
I was to say that he returned to you a spoilt lover, but perhaps good
enough for one who could not tell a man from a moujik."

Vera's eyes flashed and her bosom heaved. "Is that all?" she asked.

"Not quite. I must say all he bade me tell you. Tell her, he said, that
next time man meets moujik matters will end less happily for the moujik;
she had better send him out of Moscow, there is less danger for him
without than within the walls."

"If you had killed him for that speech, I could not have blamed you, my
friend," answered Vera. "When I see him I will tell him something."

"I could then no longer even attempt to kill him," said Sasha, blushing
hotly, "for I was helpless; we had finished fighting, and I was worsted.
I thought it better to bear the disgrace of telling you this than to go
back to the Red Plain in order to be shot in cold blood by Napoleon's
men. I have not done with him. With God's help I will one day give
him _quid_ for his _quo_. Until I shall have done this I can enjoy no
self-respect. With my own sword I may do better, though he has the
devil's own skill." Vera considered a while, then she spoke.

"I think we will go out of Moscow; there is no longer any reason to stay
here. The smoke hangs over the city in every direction; already there is
more fire than all Napoleon's men can extinguish; within a fortnight the
rats must make their bolt."

"We have done something, certainly, but it is not yet time to go--not
for me; for you it is different; go, in God's name, Vera; I will do your
work and mine. In the face of this man's insult I cannot leave Moscow."

"Yes--that is true; you cannot; we will stay, then, Sasha; I do not
doubt that we shall find work to our hands. Do not search out this man,
however; leave your quarrel in God's hands. Promise me you will not be
rash, Sasha."

"Ah, I see you think that I have no chance against him; yet I am not a
fool with the rapier, Vera, my own weapon, mind you, not his. I shall
have a chance, though I admit he is very clever. If he were as clever as
the prince of all the devils I must meet him."

"He is the best fencer in Paris, _mon ami_. What matters is your safety;
oh, do not mistake me--do you think I shall esteem you less and him
more because he is a little cleverer than you with tricks of the sword?"
Vera laughed quite merrily. "Oh, what children men are to think so much
of so small a matter," she continued; "you are not disgraced in my eyes,
Sasha; I thank God for two things, the first that it occurred to Paul to
vent his spite upon both of us by pricking you with his sword instead
of allowing you to be shot down by the guard, and the second that his
conceit was so great that he preferred sending you back with a bombastic
message to giving you a fatal wound."

"Tell me truly, Vera, is this Paul he to whom you gave your heart in
Paris; for Gods sake, tell me truly?"

"I do not think I gave my heart in Paris. Perhaps I fancied that my
heart was in danger where no danger existed. He is the man who caused me
thus to search my feelings--well, I have searched them."

"And the result?" Sasha murmured.

"The result is that I can thank God I do not love a Frenchman, one of
Russia's enemies."

"Then I thank God also humbly and sincerely. You know well what I would
have of you, if I could. You treat me now as a brother, you are kindness
itself, but I hunger for more; I will wait more patiently now that I am
assured that at any rate your heart is free."

"When I love I promise that I will love a Russian," Vera smiled.
"Promise me in return that you will not run foolish risks in order to
prove to me how cleverly your hand and eye work together in sword play.
There are greater issues at stake for us Russians than the nursing of
private petty vanities. The noblest of men may yet be the clumsiest.
Russia requires all the manhood of all her sons, my friend. Come,
promise me!"

"Well, I promise then," muttered Sasha, "though your words are not
flattering to my vanity. I wish you could have added," he sighed, "that
you wanted me alive for your own sake, as well as for Russia's."

"Oh, I will say that," she laughed. "I certainly want you alive. Sasha,"
she added suddenly, her eyes softening wonderfully, though her voice was
full of laughter, "I see that you are still far from having eschewed the
follies of cadetdom; you are as vain as ever, _mon ami_, and as blind
to--to the true proportion of things."

Sasha Maximof looked puzzled and shook his head, failing to understand
the meaning of Vera's last utterance.



CHAPTER XX.


During these first few days of the French occupation Moscow became a
very pandemonium of pillage and violence, of smoke and fire, of orgies
and of cruelties too horrible to relate. The churches and cathedrals
were robbed and desecrated without distinction. Marshal Davoust could
find no more appropriate place for his bedroom than the sanctuary,
the very "Holy of Holies" of a cathedral, wherein he slept, guarded
by a sentinel at each of the two royal doors which gave entrance to
this hallowed spot. Horses were stabled in the churches. Furnaces and
melting-pots were to be seen outside each of Moscow's most venerable
cathedrals, where gold and silver vessels, the frames of costly ikons,
ornaments, even the golden decorations of the vestments of the priests
were melted down and fought over.

Soldiers on "leave of absence," which meant that they had received, each
in turn, licence for a season of plundering, spent every hour of their
leisure in pillage and violence, declaring--if interfered with--that the
Emperor had promised them the treasures of Moscow.

The fires, meanwhile, raged on almost unnoticed. They broke out first
close to the Foundling Hospital, then the Gostinnoy Dvor, the great
market of the city, blazed up, and smoke rose almost simultaneously from
a dozen different quarters. After two or three days a marshal was told
off by Napoleon to quell the conflagration, but it was a week before
Mortier's efforts produced any effect upon the flames. The Kitai Gorod
was a sea of flames and the Kremlin itself was in danger; the Church of
the Trinity caught fire and had to be destroyed by Napoleon's guard. The
Emperor fled to the Palace of Petrofsky, accompanied by his staff, by
the King of Naples and several marshals.

Napoleon at this time grew nervous and irritable. He sent repeated
messages to the Tsar Alexander professing the warmest personal regard
and his willingness to conclude terms of peace, but the Tsar treated his
overtures with silent contempt.

Many of the inhabitants of Moscow, those who had remained behind at the
general exodus, preferring to live in the suburban quarters or to hide
in cellars rather than abandon altogether their beloved city, by this
time scarcely dared venture into the streets; for Napoleon's soldiers,
having finished looting the houses and churches, had now turned their
particular attention to robbery of the person. Men and women were held
up and robbed in the open streets.

Vera, engaged from time to time upon the work of the patriotic league
to which she belonged, was obliged to walk hither and thither, even in
the streets most infested by French soldiers. For the first few days
she had not been actually interfered with, a circumstance for which she
was indebted partly to her aristocratic appearance and partly to her
knowledge of the French language.

But there arrived a day when her immunity came to an end. During the
morning her cousin D'Estreville called. He had overtaken his regiment
at the gates of Moscow, following the main army as soon as he was able
to ride. He was looking pale and worn, a shadow of his former self, and
having discovered Vera's address he lost no time in paying her a visit,
though he scarcely expected to find her in Moscow.

Vera was overjoyed to see him alive.

"I thought I saw your regiment march in, and even fancied that I
made you out among the rest," she said, "though you were scarcely
recognisable. You have been wounded or ill--which?"

Henri gave an account of his mishap. Then he asked why Vera had remained
in the deserted city--a question to which she gave an evasive answer.
Lastly he inquired whether she had seen Paul. Vera blushed.

"Oblige me, dear Henri, by mentioning his name no more," she said; "I
have seen him, yes. He came to our portion of the town in search of some
lady friends attached to the French theatrical company which existed
here before the occupation. I--I think I was mistaken in Monsieur de
Tourelle, Henri. At any rate I do not wish to see him or to speak to him
again."

Henri whistled. "If your dislike to him is patriotic," he laughed, "I
suppose I too am not a welcome visitor."

"Well, to be truthful, now I am assured of your safety, I would rather
forget we are cousins until after the war," said Vera. Henri laughed.

"You don't know what the occupation of Moscow means for us Russians,"
she added. "Your people have defiled and robbed our holy places,
destroyed our homes, ruined and wasted our country at the whim of a vile
man who will reap no benefit from his wickedness. What does he propose
to do, think you, _mon ami_? Because Moscow is occupied, do you suppose
we Russians are done with?"

"It is only the beginning of our advance, _ma cousine_; do not flatter
yourself with false hopes. If Moscow grows too hot for us, we shall
march to St. Petersburg and Napoleon shall be crowned Tsar at St.
Isaac's."

"We shall not agree, my friend. For the rest, do not visit me here--it
is better not. If we were to argue constantly, I should soon forget that
the same blood flows in our veins and I should learn to hate you as at
this moment I hate every Frenchman."

Nevertheless the cousins parted friends, though Henri quite agreed that
at present it would be better if they did not meet.

Vera walked in the outskirts of the city one afternoon, glad of the
calls of some duty which justified the risk of venturing into the fresh
air, when she observed a notable episode. An old Russian priest, one of
the staff of the Cathedral of the Assumption, driven out of his senses
by the persecutions and desecrations which he had witnessed in his
beloved city and church, marched alone through the streets carrying a
large ikon in his arms and shouting aloud denunciations and menaces
against the disturbers of the peace of Holy Russia.

"Thy Holy Temple," he raved, "have they defiled and made Jerusalem a
heap of stones--slay them, oh Lord, and scatter them! Shall Thy enemies
triumph for ever?" And again:--

"The time shall come when every man who slayeth one of them shall
believe that he doeth God service!"

Up the road came half a dozen rowdy French soldiers "on leave of
absence". They stood and listened to the priest's raving for a moment,
understanding nothing; then one knocked the old man down with a buffet,
rolling him in the mud, while the ikon fell to the ground. Instantly
there was a rowdy battle for possession of the image, which was quickly
pulled in pieces, each piece being carefully scrutinised for precious
stones or metal.

"Bah! we might have spared ourselves the trouble--it is brass--the whole
thing is not worth fifty centimes!" exclaimed one man, looking angrily
at the old priest, sitting dazed and bruised in the mud, mumbling and
holding his head.

"How dare you carry a brass ikon, deluding honest persons into the
belief that it is a thing of value?" asked another soldier; he kicked
the old man viciously; the priest gave a howl of pain. This was more
than Vera could stand.

"_Miserables!_" she exclaimed, "are you not ashamed of attacking an old
man, and a priest? A curse will fall upon such as you."

"Let it fall, _ma mie_; see, _mes enfants_," the fellow continued, "what
I have found--a French woman and a pretty one--are you one of the French
actresses, _chérie_?" The soldier leered and tried to put his arm about
her waist. Vera angrily pushed him away.

"Come, come, come!" said the fellow, who was half drunk, "you must not
look crossly upon your compatriots--you and I are both good French
people, let us be happy together."

"Thank God I am a Russian," said Vera. "If you touch me again you shall
find that I can sting!"

"A Russian? Oho! Listen, _mes enfants_, she is a Russian! Then,
_chérie_, you shall give us each six roubles and six kisses--see, I have
spoken, it is an edict! Is it not so, my friends?"

The men crowded round Vera, whose heart sank a little. She placed her
back against the wall of the house, however, close to which she stood,
and felt within the folds of her mantle for the pistol, without which
and a sharp dagger she never left the house at this time.

"See," she cried, "I said that I could sting--who will offer to touch me
now. I swear that I will shoot if----"

One of the men by a sudden movement knocked the pistol from her hand;
a second later he had his arms about her neck and was in the act of
drawing the girl close to him. Suddenly he recoiled with an oath, pale,
scowling, grabbing at the upper part of his left arm. Vera laughed.

"I told you I should sting!" she said.

"The little devil has stabbed me!" exclaimed the man, whose sleeve
was covered with blood where it had touched his shoulder. "You little
serpent, for this----" The laughter of his comrades drowned the rest of
his threat.

Two French sub-officers now suddenly appeared upon the scene, one of
them knocked the threatener aside.

"Stop it, canaille!" he cried. "Have you not read the placards of the
Emperor? The inhabitants are no longer to be robbed and ravaged; they
have suffered enough."

"Placards or no placards, Emperor or no Emperor, and corporals or no
corporals," shouted the principal offender, "I shall not bear this
affront, my friend! Brothers, we will have our roubles and our kisses.
Hold this little fool while I exact my own share; then each shall have
his turn!"

But the two sergeants placed themselves between Vera and her
persecutors. One picked up her pistol and handed it to her. The young
Frenchman who had first spoken drew his sword.

"_Mes enfants_," he said, "I recommend you to disappear. Three of you I
know by name--let them go first--Rénet, Judic and Meyer; go, my friends,
if you are wise. These others I shall deal with."

The three men named quickly disappeared. It was true that the Emperor
had--none too soon--placarded the city with stringent orders that the
reign of bloodshed and violence should cease, under severe penalties.
The other three men, after preserving their threatening attitude for a
few moments, began to look over their shoulders in the direction taken
by their retreating comrades; presently with a muttered curse or two and
many scowls they turned and followed them.



CHAPTER XXI.


Vera now had leisure to examine her protectors more closely; one was
a dapper little corporal who made eyes at her as she looked at him.
She quickly withdrew her gaze and fixed it upon the other, a handsome,
dark-eyed and eyelashed sergeant of a line regiment. This man had been
the spokesman. Vera started slightly as she looked at him.

"_Mon Dieu!_" she exclaimed, "what an extraordinary likeness! I beg a
thousand pardons, Monsieur; it is very rude of me; my first expression
should have been one of grateful thanks. You have preserved me,
Monsieur, from persecution, I am indeed grateful."

The young sergeant bowed.

"Mademoiselle does us too much honour," he replied. "Rochefort, _mon
cher_, if you will excuse me, I will see this lady to her home, it is
not right that you should walk alone in the city, Mademoiselle, at
present." The little corporal made a grimace.

"Rascal!" he whispered, "you always come in for the good things!"
He took his departure, however, after bestowing upon Vera his most
fascinating smile together with a low bow and a ferocious wink of the
left eye.

Vera gazed at her companion, examining him from head to foot as he
watched his comrade depart. The sergeant turned when he had seen the
other safely to the end of the street.

"I see," said Vera, "that it is to an old acquaintance that I am
indebted for this great service. I thank you heartily. But is the French
Emperor so badly off for men to march against our poor Russia that he
must needs enrol women as soldiers, Mademoiselle Louise?"

The sergeant blushed scarlet. "For God's sake be careful of your words,
Mademoiselle," he said. "Of course it is unknown that I am I. You are
the first who has guessed it. I entreat you to keep my secret."

"That of course. In Heaven's name, why have you done it? May I know
this?"

"It is easily told, Mademoiselle, to you, who I do not doubt will
appreciate my motives and forgive me." Louise narrated to her companion
the story of the conscription, of young Havet's trouble and her sister
Marie's; "therefore I became his substitute," she ended, "_et voilà
tout_!"

"Is it really all, Mademoiselle Louise?" said Vera. "I confess that I
fancied there might be another motive for your conduct." Louise walked
silently for a little while.

"It is true that I love him," she murmured at length; "yes,
Mademoiselle, with all my heart of hearts. I could not bear to be so far
from him."

Vera laughed. "_Mon Dieu_, Louise, you are a wonderful person! It is
sad, however, that you should have staked your happiness upon my cousin,
who is----"

"Not dead, Mademoiselle--for God's sake dare not to tell me he is dead?"

"Dead? Oh no, not that, I saw him but yesterday and spoke to him."

"You did, Mademoiselle--here, in Moscow? Oh, thank God--thank God!
Mademoiselle, I have been in terror and tribulation about him; I left
him near Smolensk, badly wounded in the shoulder, I was driven from him
to join the colours and knew not whether he lived or died."

"Yes, he lives and is well, though he looks like a dead man or near it.
So he knows you are with the army. Beware, Louise, you are playing a
dangerous game. My cousin will not respect one who thus follows him and
avows her love. Moreover, your conduct----"

"Mademoiselle--pardon--he does not know it. Thank God, I am more
modest than you suppose! Also he has avowed his love for me--he did
so before leaving Paris; still, I have not revealed myself, lest he
should disapprove of my action. I am not--not the kind that Mademoiselle
supposes."

"Forgive me, Louise; I meant my warning to be very friendly. I am
rejoiced to hear what you have said. As to his vows of love, however,
do not trust him too much. I know my cousin so well. He has loved many
times."

"Mademoiselle, I also know this, and more besides. At Smolensk, as he
lay tossing in fever, a wonderful thing happened; not knowing that I was
I, the Baron narrated to me many of his past love affairs, declaring
at the last that he remembered only one of those for whom he had felt
affection, and that one was, said he, the daughter of Pierre Dupré,
_maître d'armes_; imagine, Mademoiselle, my happiness to hear this from
him, and to receive a message from his lips to be carried to this Louise
Dupré in case of his death."

Louise was flushed and her eyes were bright with love-light. Vera looked
at her companion and laughed merrily.

"I certainly think it the most promising of Henri's love affairs that I
have yet heard of," she said; "if I see Henri again----"

"Oh, Mademoiselle, for Heaven's sake keep my secret; what would he
think--he might say angry words--he might----"

"No, no, your secret is safe; I was going to say--I will ask him to tell
me of his sickness at Smolensk; perhaps he will confide to me the tale
you have just told me; that would prove that he did not suspect you to
be yourself."

"Oh, Mademoiselle, I am sure he did not, or he would not have told me
all that he did of--of other matters," Louise blushed; and Vera laughed
and said that perhaps that was so.

"At any rate I should keep your secret," she added, "even if I saw
my cousin again, which is unlikely. I cannot associate, you see,
with Russia's enemies, even though they be personal friends or near
relations. There are those who would blame me much for walking with
yourself in this way, if they were to see us together. We must not meet
again in Moscow. I see you have had promotion; you wear a sergeant's
stripes; doubtless for some service done to your Emperor at the expense
of my poor country."

"At Borodino; the service was small enough and not worth narrating. I
have learnt, Mademoiselle, that war is detestable, and the taking of
life a most terrible thing; I shall shed no more blood, if I can help
it."

"This is the most unjust and infernal of wars," said Vera; "all wars
are abominable, but this is the worst and wickedest. Farewell, Louise,
and thank you for your timely service; this is my street and that is
my house. I hope that some day, if happier times should come, we may
perhaps be cousins."

"Oh, Mademoiselle, may that day dawn indeed--and soon!" Louise raised
Vera's hand to her lips and departed with a salute.

Unfortunately Sasha Maximof, looking out from a window for Vera's
return, saw this little demonstration, and the sight depressed and
angered him.

"I see," he said, as Vera entered, "that you have discovered another
acquaintance among the French, and, as it seems, another admirer."

"Ah, in this case the admiration is truly mutual," Vera replied gravely,
though with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you know, Sasha, _mon ami_, that
though, speaking generally, I hate all French soldiers, at this time, I
am so greatly indebted to this one and love him so well----"

"_Love_ him?" Sasha echoed miserably. "Oh! then this _is_ the one."

"Yes, this is the one; our friendship is great, but perhaps one day it
will be greater; he has this day avowed to me----" Vera paused. Sasha
continued her sentence--"His passion, I suppose. You have not accepted
him, Vera--a Frenchman? Did you not tell me you would only marry a
Russian?"

"Did I? I had forgotten. Well, we shall see. What was I saying?--Oh,
this dear, adorable soldier. He has avowed to me, _mon ami_, that he
hopes one day to become a near relation."

"Vera!" gasped Sasha, "are you mocking me?"

"On the contrary, I am confiding to you a great secret which I forbid
you to disclose to any living soul. This dear Frenchman, who has this
day done me a great service of which I will tell you presently and for
which I should like to show my gratitude in a fervent kiss----"

"Vera!" Sasha gasped.

"Do not interrupt me, _mon ami_; this dear Frenchman is, in fact, _not_
a Frenchman nor a Russian; he is not, indeed, a man of any nationality
whatever--but a woman masquerading as a man, and all for love of my
cousin Henri d'Estreville. Think of it!"

Vera exploded in a fit of merry laughter, to which the expression in
Sasha's face soon added an extra note of mirth. The laughing did her
good, for indeed there had been little of late to promote mirth in this
unhappy city of Moscow.

Afterwards there were explanations and apologies, and if Sasha Maximof
contrived to gather another grain of encouragement for his hopes, this
was not more, perhaps, than was intended.



CHAPTER XXII.


Destiny soon made it impossible that Vera Demidof should meet again
either her cousin D'Estreville or Louise Dupré, for both presently left
Moscow with their regiments in order to engage the armies of Kootoozof
without the city walls, for the doings of the Russian Commander-in-Chief
rendered Napoleon anxious and disquieted.

Moscow was becoming uninhabitable, for food was scarce and the Russian
forces were so strategically disposed as to cut off the city from
communication with the grain- and meat-producing provinces. Moreover,
though the weather was still moderately warm, the frost would begin in
a month or so, and under wintry conditions life in this latitude would
become unpleasant if not impossible.

Napoleon's state of mind at this time, as evidenced by his appearance
and conduct, has been described by a Russian eye-witness as unnerved
and anxious. He walked with a quick, uneven tread, having abandoned
his usual calm and regular movements. He looked constantly about him,
fidgetted continually, frowned, tweaked his nose and stood to think,
dragged his gloves on and off again, or took one out of his pocket
and rolled it into a ball and, still in deep thought, put it into the
other pocket, repeating the process many times. Meanwhile the generals
standing behind him stood like statues, not daring to move. He grew
irritable and performed many acts of needless and wanton cruelty. He
issued numerous "bulletins" to his army, full of elusive promises
and rose-coloured announcements of his "intentions". He made foolish
speeches upon the subject of Peter the Great, courted the Tartars, but
failed to convince them, issued proclamations to the Russian people,
pointing out the advantages of rebellion, to all of which the sturdy
Russians remained blind, and up to the last moment concealed his
intention of abandoning Moscow.

This abandonment of the old city took place, as all the world knows, in
October, and was preceded by an abortive attempt to blow up the Kremlin.
The attempt was entrusted to Marshal Mortier, who--whether designedly or
by miscalculation--entirely failed in his object, though he used nearly
one hundred tons of explosives in mining the palaces and cathedrals and
outer walls of the historic fortress.

The French soldiers indulged in a final and universal campaign of
outrage and robbery just before quitting the city, and this time Vera
was obliged to abandon her house, which was pillaged like the rest, and
to fly for her life. Sasha Maximof had before this been recalled to his
duties with his regiment, and had left Vera with a sore heart, having
failed to persuade her to leave Moscow and go to St. Petersburg where
she would find most of her friends and relatives.

"I shall wait to see the end of the drama," Vera said, "unless I am
menaced with serious danger. So far, I have run but little risk."

The behaviour of the French troops at the end of their month in Moscow
seems to have been almost more ruffianly than at the beginning. Houses
and property of all sorts were ruthlessly destroyed, both within the
city and in the suburbs. Occasionally they would come upon notices
nailed to the outer gates of some boyar's residence, setting forth
that rather than abandon his property to be desecrated by French hands
the owner had himself destroyed every atom that he had been unable
to remove. Here is an example: a letter affixed to the gate of his
palace by no less a person than Rostopchin, Governor of Moscow, who
thus addressed those who approached his home, intent upon looting and
destruction:--

     "For eight years I found my pleasure in embellishing this
     country retreat. I lived here in perfect happiness, within the
     bosom of my family; and those around me largely partook of my
     felicity. But you approach and lo! the peasantry of this domain,
     to the number of 1,720 human beings, have fled far away. As for my
     house, it is burnt to the ground! We abandon all, we consume all,
     that neither ourselves nor our habitations may be polluted by your
     presence.

     "Frenchmen, I left at the mercy of your avarice two of my
     houses in Moscow full of furniture and valuables to the amount of
     half a million of roubles. Here, you will find nothing but ashes.

     "(Signed) FEDOR, COUNT ROSTOPCHIN."

No sooner did the news reach the Russian Commander-in-Chief, old
Kootoozof, that Moscow had been abandoned by the invaders, than he
issued the following address to his army and the Empire generally:--

     "ORDER ISSUED TO THE ARMIES, 31ST OCTOBER.

     "The following Declaration is given for the Instruction of all
     the Troops under my Command:--

     "At the moment in which the enemy entered Moscow he beheld
     the destruction of those preposterous hopes by which he had been
     flattered; he expected to find there Plenty and Peace, and on
     the contrary he saw himself devoid of every necessary of life.
     Harassed by the fatigue of continued marches; exhausted for want
     of provisions; wearied and tormented by ever active soldiers who
     intercept his slender reinforcements; losing, without the honour
     of battle, thousands of his troops, cut off by our provincial
     detachments, he found no prospect before him but the vengeance
     of an armed nation, threatening annihilation to the whole of his
     army. In every Russian he beheld a hero, equally disdainful and
     abhorrent of his deceitful promises; in every state of the empire
     he met an additional and insurmountable rampart opposed to his
     strongest efforts. After sustaining incalculable losses by the
     attacks of our brave troops, he recognised at last the madness
     of his expectations, that the foundations of the empire would be
     shaken by his occupation of Moscow. Nothing remained for him but a
     precipitate flight; the resolution was no sooner taken than it was
     executed; he has departed, abandoning nearly the whole of his sick
     to the mercy of an outraged people, and leaving Moscow on the 11th
     of this month completely evacuated.

     "The horrible excesses which he committed while in that city
     are already well known, and have left an inexhaustible sentiment
     of vengeance in the depths of every Russian heart; but I have
     to add, that his impotent rage exercised itself in the savage
     attempt to destroy a part of the Kremlin, where, however, by a
     signal interposition of Divine Providence, the sacred temples and
     cathedrals have been saved.

     "Let us then hasten to pursue this impious enemy, while other
     Russian armies, once more occupying Lithuania, act in concert with
     us for his destruction! Already do we behold him in full flight,
     abandoning his baggage, burning his war carriages, and reluctantly
     separating himself from those treasures, which his profane hands
     had torn from the very altars of God. Already starvation and famine
     threaten Napoleon with disaster; behind him arise the murmurs
     of his troops like the roar of threatening waters. While these
     appalling sounds attend the retreat of the French, in the ears
     of the Russians resounds the voice of their magnanimous monarch.
     Listen, soldiers! while he thus addresses you! 'Extinguish the
     flames of Moscow in the blood of our invaders!' Russians, let us
     obey this solemn command! Our outraged country, appeased by this
     just vengeance, will then retire satisfied from the field of war,
     and behind the line of her extensive frontiers, will take her
     august station between Peace and Glory!

     "Russian warriors! God is our Leader!

     (Signed) MARSHAL PRINCE GOLENISHCHEFF KOOTOOZOF,

     "_General-in-Chief of all the Armies_."



CHAPTER XXIII.


To give any kind of description of the horrors of the retreat of the
Grande Armée is very far from the intention of the writer of this
history; the theme is both unpleasant and threadbare. An incident or two
will suffice.

Louise, marching with her regiment, which formed a portion of Marshal
Ney's command, walked with her companions into an ambush of desperate
Cossacks, who rode tumultuously into the midst of the French ranks from
the shelter of a belt of pine forest, freely dealing death and wounds
before they were driven back by their spirited opponents. Louise was
knocked down by a small Cossack pony and trodden upon by more than
one of its companions, the great majority of which, however, adroitly
avoided stepping upon her; for the little Cossack horse hates to plant
his foot upon a recumbent human form and displays marvellous ingenuity
in avoiding so sacrilegious an act.

Louise lay a while unconscious. When she recovered her senses and sat up
her companions had already moved forward and were out of sight, all but
the grim lines of dead men and a few wounded fellows who sat or lay and
conversed.

"_Sapristi!_" said Louise, "I don't think I am very badly hurt. Can you
stand and walk, any of you? I have a mind to move on."

Most of those about her replied that they preferred to remain and
chance being picked up by the ambulances. "The Marshal himself is still
behind," one said; "he will make dispositions for us."

One or two attempted to stand and move forward with Louise, but soon
found that the exertion was too much for them. Louise hastened forward
alone. Her head ached terribly and she felt pain in her breast,
doubtless the result of being trodden upon or kicked by a passing horse.
For the rest she was unwounded.

For a mile she trudged forward, hoping to catch sight of the regiment.
This she presently did, but hurrying onward, in order to gain ground
upon them, she suddenly became aware that her head swam; she reeled,
went on a few paces and sat down.

"I cannot," she muttered; "I am fainting."

There was a deserted village close at hand, and Louise presently
contrived to struggle onward as far as the nearest hut, which she
entered. The single room was dirty and smoky, the air foetid and
horrible, but Louise felt that she had reached paradise; she was cold
and ill and miserable; she sank upon the floor with her back to the
stove, which was still warm, and prepared to sleep.

"It is a risk, I know," she told herself, "for the peasants may return
at any moment, but I must sleep or die. Mercy of Heaven, what a pain is
in my breast!" She tore open her military tunic and bared her bosom; it
was badly bruised but not actually wounded. "It is nothing. _Mon Dieu_,
I must sleep this moment," Louise murmured.

Automatically pulling together the clothes which she had torn apart the
weary girl fell fast asleep with the task half accomplished.

Half an hour later a dozen peasants and some women crept back to the
village, having hidden themselves at the approach of the French soldiers
in the early afternoon. It was now dusk. A man and a woman entered the
hut in which Louise lay, the man entering first.

He started back upon seeing the French soldier asleep, turning towards
his wife with finger to lip.

"See," he whispered, "what lies at the stove! God is good to us--here is
an accursed Frenchman delivered into our hands! He has a rifle, a sword,
a uniform and possibly money in his pocket!" The fellow fumbled with the
axe which hung at his girdle.

"He has touched none of our things--the village has not been destroyed
or pillaged; spare the poor wretch, God will requite us," said the
woman, who gazed not without admiration at the handsome sleeping face.

"_Vzdor!_ nonsense! God will, on the contrary, punish us if we allow to
escape one of the invaders of Holy Russia. How do we know this fellow
has not helped to rob a church or to assault a woman, or to desecrate
the Holy Place in one of God's own houses? He comes from Moscow, where,
it is said, many such detestable acts were done!"

"Well, have your will, but let me first go out of sight," said the
woman, "for I am afraid of bloodshed."

A moment later the moujik rushed out of the hut to his wife, who stood
and shivered without in the cold rain which was half snow.

"Masha!" he cried, "come and see; it is a woman!"

"_Vzdor_--it cannot be; it is a soldier; you have not struck?"

"Not yet--I was startled and held my hand; there is some mystery here,
it is certainly a woman."

Masha entered the hut and stole softly towards the stove. Louise lay
breathing peacefully, her bosom, half bared, rising and falling in the
measured cadence of quiet slumber.

"Yes, it is a woman. You shall not strike, Mishka; there is certainly
mystery here; probably it is some poor soul who strives to escape more
safely by donning the uniform of a French soldier of which she has
robbed a dead man by the way. She may be a Russian maiden who has sought
her wounded lover upon the battlefield."

"My God, it may be as you say. We will let her lie. Who knows she may be
rich and will reward us. Here is her wallet, I will see if it contains
money."

The wallet contained a few silver pieces, which Mishka quickly
transferred to his own pocket. Then he added wood to the stove and the
pair ate their supper. Louise slept peacefully through it. Presently
both man and woman lay down to sleep.

"The warning bell will soon wake us if we must clear out again," Mishka
had said; "or shall one of us watch a while and afterwards the other?"

"God forbid!" exclaimed Masha, yawning; "last night there was no sleep
and the night before but an hour or two; I am tired to death."

Soon after midnight Louise awoke at the sound of running feet without.
She started up and looked about, but could see nothing in the darkness.
Some one came to the door and called out "Dmitry Vannkof--Mishka--awake
and come to the door, I have news for you".

"_Mon Dieu!_" thought Louise. "Perhaps I had better be substitute
for Dmitry Vannkof, whoever he may be, and attend to this visitor;
it is dark and I should not be seen." She was about to rise and go
to the door, when the unseen visitor continued to shout and to knock
impatiently with some hard object, probably an axe; Louise remembered
that though she had picked up much Russian during the campaign, she
was not a sufficiently good scholar to carry on a conversation without
suspicion and discovery. She therefore lay still.

"Mishka, curse you, are you drunk or dead?" roared the unseen one.

To the horror and surprise of Louise some one shuffled close beside
her on the floor, and a woman's voice said aloud: "Mishka, we are
called--awake--_séchasse idyóm, soodar_! (we're just coming, sir!)".

Mishka grunted and awoke with imprecations. "What is it?" he shouted;
"are we never to be allowed to sleep again? Who's there?"

"It is I, the Starost; the Hetman of the Mojaisk Cossacks is in the
village; we are to assemble at four in Toozof's field, bringing
pitchforks and pickaxes. There is to be an _oblava_ (battue). It is said
that the best general of all these accursed cut-throats is to pass at
daybreak; he is sleeping at Biéloy; he is to be ambushed with all his
guard; we shall not have lived in vain if we succeed in this; we shall
be three thousand Cossacks and the moujiks of twelve villages; be ready
at four and thank God meanwhile for all His mercies."

The man departed.

"By the Saints!" exclaimed Mishka, yawning; "if one were not so deadly
sleepy that would be good news. See, Masha, what we will do. I will
sleep until four, while you wake; when I have departed you shall sleep,
if you will, for a score of hours!" Masha agreed to this arrangement,
and within a minute his snoring was sonorous proof that her goodman had
wasted none of his time.

Louise lay and listened to Masha's yawning and half-uttered exclamations
of weariness. Why had these people not despatched her at sight? Had
they entered in the dark and failed to detect her? The thing was a
mystery. She felt refreshed and her head scarcely ached; Biéloy was,
she remembered, but a league away, towards Moscow. So far as she had
understood the Starost's words, it was Marshal Ney and his guards who
were to be ambushed. "I shall warn them, of course," she reflected; "but
there is no need to disturb them too soon, for Heaven knows every man of
us requires all the sleep he can get."

Poor Masha gaped and muttered for an hour; then she snored at intervals
in concert with her husband; then she fell asleep in earnest and this
time very soundly.

"Poor soul!" thought Louise; "let her sleep! We shall have one pitchfork
the less to contend with!"

Long before four o'clock she was afoot and on the way to Biéloy, having
left the worthy moujik and his wife snoring in peaceful harmony.

She reached Biéloy, a large village or _selo_, which means the principal
of a group of villages, containing the church and perhaps a shop or two.
The place was occupied by French soldiers. A picket was placed upon the
road half a mile from Biéloy and the soldiers sat and talked and laughed
over their fire. They challenged Louise, who showed herself in the
firelight and explained her errand.

"That is well," laughed a man. "I thought you must have fallen in love
with some Russian wench in Moscow and were returning to her embraces.
This we should have been obliged to prevent. Love is good when time and
opportunity serve. Think of the women of Paris, _mon brave_, they wait
for you and for me!" Louise laughed also.

"You will allow me to carry my news to the Marshal?" she said.

"_Sapristi!_ While the Marshal sleeps? My friend, cannot this danger
wait until we are all refreshed and fit to contend with it?"

"It will wait until marching time," said Louise; "especially if you will
give me food meanwhile."

"There is food to-day, and you shall share it; also there is a drink
called _kvass_, which I think the devil invented for the confusion of
human stomachs; you shall taste it and suffer pain, as I have done; what
matter! we are brought into the world to suffer and to enjoy. To-morrow
we may starve; but one day we shall reach Paris!"

At daybreak the village was astir. Marshal Ney himself rode out in the
midst of his guards and Louise was brought before him, for she had
refused to tell her tale except to his ears.

"I may as well have the advantage of my luck, if any advantage there
be!" she had told herself.

Ney listened, frowning.

"You are in luck, _mon brave_," he said. "What is your name?"

"Michel Prevost, Excellence."

"Good; you are a sergeant, I see; call yourself a lieutenant; do you
know this place the fellow referred to--the place of ambush?"

"I was myself ambushed there yesterday with my regiment, Excellence; it
is well adapted for a surprise."

"Good; you shall be guide; the surprise this time shall be to the
Cossacks and your friends with the pitchforks. If you guide us cleverly
you shall call yourself captain, though, _entre nous_, I think most of
us are more likely to need our titles for paradise than for Paris!"

On this occasion the Cossacks were caught napping and Louise came out of
her adventure with the epaulettes of a captain, which Ney bestowed upon
her with his own hands.



CHAPTER XXIV.


The rear-guard of the Grand Army fared worse and worse as the days
and weeks passed, its numbers diminished until there remained but a
straggling remnant which crept into Vilna, only to be chased out again
within a few hours of their arrival there. Louise, in her captain's
epaulettes, was still alive and well, though thin and haggard almost
beyond recognition for want of good food and rest.

At Vilna she came across several officers of Henri d'Estreville's Lancer
regiment, and these she questioned--in terror for their reply--in hopes
of news of her friend, who was not with them.

"D'Estreville?" cried one of them, laughing grimly. "Where is he, you
ask? I should say that depends, for those who believe in a future
existence, upon his past life. Henri was the best of _bons camarades_,
but it may be that good comradeship is a quality which is not highly
valued by those who will make up our accounts!"

"Do you mean," poor Louise murmured, "that he has actually died; did
you see him die, or was he merely wounded? If so, where has he remained?"

"My friend," said the other, "I did not see him struck down; I know
nothing of him. In these days, one thanks God if one is alive at sundown
and not buried by these accursed Russian snows, with a thrice-damned
Cossack bullet to keep one company. There is no time for friendship and
philanthropy and so on."

"He is my dearest friend," Louise murmured; "if only I knew where he had
fallen, I would return."

"_Mon ami_, hell is behind us, in the shape of Platof and Chechakof and
their most damnable Cossacks. You would find it even more impossible to
go backward than forward. Your friend may be alive and well for aught I
know. Can either of you give this gentleman any information?"

"Who is it he wants--one of ours?" asked a second officer who sat by the
stove almost too exhausted to eat the mess of stewed horseflesh which
had been set before him.

Louise mentioned Henri's name.

"I saw him alive in the forest of Gusinof," said the man; "that is where
Platof ambushed us and we got finally separated. He may be a prisoner,
or of course Platof's devils may have cut him to pieces; he would not
be the only one that died in that accursed wood, not by two thousand!
That was the most detestable night I ever spent. Go and look for him
in the forest, my friend, if your affection will carry you to so great
a length. Good Lord! It is a thing David would have refused to do for
Jonathan!" The weary man laughed and filled his mouth with the savoury
horseflesh.

"If you are wise," he added, with his mouth still half full, "you will
get to Paris the best and quickest way you can, and hope that your
friend will find his way there also! _Sapristi_, it is not likely
that either he or you or any of us will get much farther than this.
Listen--is that the Cossacks already? Curse them, I must sleep or go
mad!"

Fagged, dazed, starved, desperate, the unfortunate rear-guard, led
by their indomitable chief, straggled forward. Dogged by hordes of
pitiless Cossacks they contrived eventually to reach the river Niemen,
and to cross into safety, the last survivors of Napoleon's army; their
miserable story is well known and need not be recapitulated.

Louise seemed to bear a charmed life. Though, believing that Henri
d'Estreville was among the large majority of the Grande Armée lying
beneath the snows of Russia, she would gladly have remained, like her
lover, among the ten who stayed behind rather than be the one who
escaped--for of Napoleon's half million of men scarcely a tithe returned
to their homes--yet Louise saw her companions fall around her and never
a bullet touched her or a sword or a spear grazed her.

"You and I are wonders, Prevost," said her colonel. "Are we preserved
for great military careers, think you? _Nom d'un Maréchal_, I think
I could be another Ney if I had the opportunity! _Sapristi_, he is
splendid!"

"As for me, I have done with war," Louise sighed. "My days of fighting
are over."

"Why, you are but a lad--a conscript of 1812; the year is only now
ending and you wear a captain's epaulettes! Nonsense, my son, go home
and rest and dream of glory; you will tell a different tale when you
have recovered."

Then Louise walked one day into her father's salon while the old man,
with Marie, sat and listened as young Havet read out Napoleon's latest
bulletin. The Emperor had been in Paris for some little while, having
deserted his army, and was already busy with his new project of raising
300,000 men, in order to regain the prestige he had undoubtedly lost in
the disastrous Moscow campaign.

"Stop, Havet, who is this that enters without knocking?" exclaimed
old Dupré angrily; his temper had not improved of late, owing to the
reverses of the French arms and the absence of news of Louise, as
to whose safety neither his heart nor his conscience was at rest.
Marie uttered a cry of delight. "Father, it is Louise!" she screamed.
"Louise--sister. Oh, how thin, how worn, how----"

The sisters embraced one another warmly; old Dupré held his daughter to
his heart, endeavouring, after his manner, to suppress every sign of
emotion. His arms came in contact with her epaulettes. "Why," he cried,
"Marie, Havet, see what is here, the epaulettes of an officer; Louise,
you have won promotion--glory--is it not so?"

"I received a commission; what glory can any one claim--on our side--and
such a war! There must be officers, nine in ten were killed; do not talk
of the war, my father; are you well?"

The old man gazed at his daughter in pride and exultation.

"Listen to her modesty--no glory, says she; a little conscript returns
a captain, and no glory! Hola, there, Havet, order food and wine. _Mon
Dieu_, Louise, you have seen adversity, you are thin and in rags,
to-morrow you shall have new uniform!--the Emperor already assembles a
new army to chastise these Cossacks. _Mort de ma vie_, my daughter, you
shall die a marshal, I swear it!"

Louise did not think it necessary to chill the old man's happiness by
telling him that to-morrow she would return to the ordinary costume
of her sex; that she was sick of man's attire and of war and all that
appertained to the profession of arms; that she was, indeed, weary of
life itself and longed to be where Henri d'Estreville was, at rest among
the frozen pine-trees in some snow-covered Russian forest.

The evening proved a painful one for Louise, who did her best, however,
to maintain a cheerful demeanour, while her father--to whom this was,
perhaps, the happiest hour of his life--held forth upon his favourite
theme of glory and honour and a marshal's baton in store for Louise,
and so forth. Young Havet was to take part in the coming war; if
possible he should enlist in Michel Prevost's regiment (the old man
laughed heartily as he pronounced the name!), and perhaps Louise would
do her best to assist him in his military career.

When the trying evening was over and Louise parted with her sister for
the night, Marie took her aside.

"You are depressed, sister, what ails you?" she said. "Oh, I can see
plainly that all is not well. Are you ill in body?"

"I am worn and weary, sister; yes, I am depressed; who would not be,
that has seen the sights that I have seen since Moscow?"

"Ah--ah! You are not so much in love with war as father would have you?"

"In love with war--bah! It is devil's work, Marie, unsuccessful war, at
any rate."

"Tell me, sister, have you seen Henri d'Estreville, is he well?"

Louise flushed and caught at the chair back. "Yes, I have seen him many
times. I know not whether I shall see him again. Who can tell who has
returned and who not? Nine in each ten have remained."

"Oh, sister, and you love him--is it not so?"

"Love--bah! One has other things to think of than love when one is
running in front of the Cossack sabres. Let us talk no more of the war,
sister, nor yet of love; let me thank _le bon Dieu_ that I have done
both with one and the other; I would rest and rest and again rest."

"Poor Louise," said Marie, kissing her; "poor Louise!"

Afterwards she added, speaking of this to her husband, that Louise
must indeed have supped her fill of horrors since even love had been
forgotten in the tumults and terrors of war.

Louise submitted to be presented with a new uniform, which her father
bought for her the very next day. She would rather have donned her
woman's skirt, but for several reasons she consented to figure a while
at least as Michel Prevost. One of these was the distaste she felt in
her present condition of weakness and utter fatigue of mind and body
for any sort of argument or discussion with her father. Another was
an irresistible desire to move among those who had returned from the
war, in order that she might gather any information there might be with
regard to the fate of Henri.

Louise had not altogether despaired of him. Soldiers and officers still
dribbled daily into Paris, emaciated, tattered, half-alive; men who had
somehow lagged, through wounds or illness, and had contrived to escape
the countless dangers which assailed them in their solitary retreat
through a hostile country. Why should not Henri have escaped, like
others? She would allow herself to hope a little; just a very little.

And about a month after her own arrival a wonderful day dawned for her.
Seated at a restaurant close to a table at which sat four officers of
Henri's regiment, Louise suddenly caught the sound of his name.

"That makes seven alive," some one was saying; "one better than we
thought. Certainly no one could have supposed that D'Estreville would
reappear. His has been, I think, the narrowest escape of all. His
trials have depressed even his spirit. Have any of you ever seen Henri
depressed? He will be here, presently, you shall judge for yourselves.
_Sapristi!_ he has left his gaiety with all Ney's guns in the Niemen.
Seven officers out of forty----"

Flushed, giddy, almost swooning for joy, Louise stumbled out of the
restaurant. "I will return immediately," she told the astonished waiter.



CHAPTER XXV.


If any one had informed Henri d'Estreville on the morning when,
departing for the war, he took a somewhat affectionate farewell of
Louise Dupré, that his strange sensation of particular tenderness for
the girl would not only prove an abiding sensation, but would actually
develop into something remarkably like the tender passion itself, and
that without any further communication, meanwhile, with the object of
his affection, he would have laughed the idea to scorn.

It was not in accordance with Henri's temperament that his heart should
linger over soft recollections of charms which his eyes no longer
beheld. If Chloe were absent, Phyllis, who was present, would fill her
place excellently well. No woman had as yet proved herself essential to
him. He took his pleasure from the society of the other sex where and
when he found it, and this sufficed.

But somehow the memory of Louise had lingered. Perhaps the combination
of certain womanly qualities with her splendid skill and courage in
manly exercises had impressed him. Certainly he had not forgotten her
magnificent eyes, he often recalled these when his recollection of her
other features had faded. Louise had made no secret of her preference
for Henri over every other man of her acquaintance. That alone, however,
would not have greatly attracted the Baron, for he was a favourite with
the sex, and Louise was not the first who had been simple enough to lay
bare to him her heart of hearts.

"I am a fool," thought Henri; "but there is no doubt that I wish to
see her. Perhaps the best medicine for my sickness will be to do so as
soon as possible. Probably the first glance will disenchant me. I have
somehow, and most foolishly, so embellished my recollections of her that
I am remembering an ideality! The reality will soon set me right again!"

Thus it was that one morning as old Pierre sat with his daughter Marie,
Louise being absent with Karl Havet, a servant announced the Baron Henri
d'Estreville.

"Who is he?" said old Pierre, frowning; "I do not remember to have had a
pupil of that name!"

"Ask the Baron to wait a moment in the salon," said Marie. "Do you
not remember, father?" she continued, laughing, when the servant had
disappeared. "This is a very beautiful young man, and in one respect at
least, unique as well."

"Unique?" repeated Dupré; "and how so?"

"In that he is the only male being who ever succeeded in causing our
Louise an extra pulse-beat or two. Have you forgotten how she nearly
lost her heart, and how distressed you were, just before her departure
for the war?"

"_Sapristi_--I remember the fool. What has he come for, think you?"

"To seek Louise, doubtless. He will find that she is none the softer
for her warfaring. I am not sorry she is from home, however, the sight
of him might not be good for her, _mon père_. It would be a pity if her
career were spoiled for the sake of a Henri d'Estreville, who, they say,
is not too trustworthy."

"Oho!" said old Pierre; "is it so? He shall know that there is no longer
a Louise Dupré to listen to his philandering."

This attitude did not bode well for Monsieur le Baron, who awaited
Louise in the salon, more agitated than he would have believed possible.

"Monsieur will doubtless remember me," he explained; "it was I who
brought Monsieur Paul de Tourelle, the only fencer--it is said--at whose
hands Mademoiselle Louise was ever worsted."

"Ah, his was a fine hand with the foils!" said Pierre. "Yes, I remember
well. Ha ha! in the first bout she scored twice with the _feint
flanconnade Dupré_--a trick new to him and most successful; but after
consideration he thought out a counter which was clever; I remember
well. Does Monsieur le Baron come now as a pupil? Let me see, have we
already enjoyed the honour of instructing Monsieur le Baron?"

"Monsieur, I have lately returned from the war; I have heard enough of
the clash of swords to last me handsomely until the Emperor enters upon
a new enterprise and one, let us hope, of better omen. I have come to
pay my respects to a friend for whom I entertain feelings of the highest
respect--it is Mademoiselle your daughter."

"Ah--Marie; she is within; I will tell her." Old Dupré shuffled off as
though to fetch Marie.

"Pardon, Monsieur," said Henri, blushing; the old man was very dense.
"You have another daughter; it is Mademoiselle Louise I mean!"

"Louise!" exclaimed Dupré, throwing up his hands; "Monsieur le Baron has
not then heard that Louise is dead?"

"_Grand Dieu_, Monsieur, what are you saying?" exclaimed Henri; his
cheek grew suddenly pale; his knees seemed to tremble beneath him; he
had risen to his feet, but he sat down again hurriedly.

"She is dead, Monsieur; Louise is dead; she has ceased to exist; do I
not express myself with sufficient clearness?"

"Monsieur will pardon my emotion--I had not heard," murmured Henri
scarcely audibly. "My God, it is incredible; it is horrible; and I have
so looked forward--Monsieur, how long since did this most lamentable
event happen?"

"Nearly a year, Monsieur. I fail to remember that Monsieur's
acquaintance with my daughter was particularly intimate."

"Monsieur Dupré," said Henri, finding his voice, "I did not mention the
circumstance when I was here in May last for the reason that I had not
then myself realised it; but it is nevertheless the truth that, short
as was my acquaintance with Mademoiselle Louise, it was long enough to
convince me that my heart had in Mademoiselle found its intimate, its
complement, that in a word I loved Mademoiselle and must lay at her feet
my life, my happiness. Monsieur, I was presumptuous enough to think that
your daughter was not indifferent to me; her young heart had never, I
believe, been assailed; I had the greatest hopes that she would listen
favourably to my suit--we should, perhaps, have enjoyed wedded bliss;
and I return to be informed by you that she is dead."

"Monsieur le Baron will forgive me," said old Dupré, "but those who
know me are well aware that such matters as Monsieur speaks of meet
with no sympathetic response from my side. It is my grievance against
Destiny, Monsieur, that my children should have been females; Monsieur
had not heard this? It is the truth. Consequently, having brought up my
daughters as men and taught them the highest skill in manly exercises
and to value such attainments more highly than the usual avocations of
women, I have ever observed with repugnance any indications of a falling
away of either of the girls towards the ordinary womanly foolishness of
a desire for love and courtship and such things. Which being the case,
Monsieur, I can only reply to your rhapsodical utterances by saying
that I thank Heaven Louise ceased to exist in time. I would not have had
her exposed to such a declaration as you intended, I suppose, to make to
her this day, for ten times the inducements Monsieur could offer."

Henri was silent. The old man's lack of sympathy mattered very little
beside the greater fact: the fact of the death of Louise, which Henri
felt to be a disaster of the first magnitude; too great, indeed, to be
altogether realised so suddenly. Here was a grievance against Destiny,
indeed! For once in his life the Baron had come very near to falling
honestly in love, and this was the result; it was too appalling, too
unfortunate for belief.

"Mademoiselle must have died soon after I left for the war," he
murmured. "Was she long ill, Monsieur?"

"Louise died at the beginning of the war, Monsieur; she ceased to exist,
I remember, on the day of the conscription in this _quartier_; her end
was sudden; there was no illness."

"She did not, I suppose, leave messages for friends; words of
remembrance and so forth--there was not time, perhaps?"

"Doubtless there was neither time nor inclination, Monsieur. Louise was
happily but little disposed towards those follies of womankind to which
I have made allusion."

"Pardon, Monsieur, I had reason to hope that in my own case Mademoiselle
Louise had made an exception."

"Not so, Monsieur; believe me, you are mistaken."

"I think not, Monsieur. I may tell you, since Mademoiselle is dead and I
break no confidence, that she had even confessed her love for me."

"Then, _Sapristi_, Monsieur le Baron, I repeat ten thousand times,"
cried old Pierre, banging the table with his fist, "that I thank Heaven
my daughter ceased to exist before your return from the war. Monsieur
le Baron will now understand my sentiments in this matter and will,
I trust, for the future retain inviolate the secret he has been good
enough to share with me."

Henri bowed and prepared to depart. The man was obviously crazy.
Probably the death of Louise had overbalanced his reason. Henri
remembered that he had heard long ago of his eccentricity with regard to
his daughters and their sex.

"Monsieur will pardon my intrusion," he said politely; "he may rest
assured that the secret made over to him shall henceforward remain
inviolate in my breast."

When old Pierre returned to his daughter his face betrayed that he was
in the best of spirits. He entered the room laughing and swearing round
oaths.

"_Âme de mon Épée!_" he exclaimed; "I think we shall have no more visits
from this suitor. The devil! He would have carried Louise from under
our noses if we and she had been fools enough to let him. Thanks be to
Heaven that Louise--if ever for a moment she wavered, as you seem to
suppose--quickly recovered her balance. It was your example, Marie, fool
that you made of yourself!" Marie laughed.

"You will sing a different song, my father," she said, "when you have a
houseful of little grandsons to educate in the art of the sword. What
did you tell the Baron?"

"The old tale--the same which we have told others, that Louise died
long since. She 'ceased to exist,' that was my expression. _Sapristi_,
it is the truth! Louise ceased to exist when Michel Prevost came into
existence--is it not so? Ha! so it is!"



CHAPTER XXVI.


Henri d'Estreville sat at his midday meal at the restaurant specially
frequented by the officers of his regiment. He wore the aspect of one
who is more than ordinarily depressed. He was pale and distrait and
neglected the food which had been placed before him.

Several acquaintances entered the room and saluted him as they passed,
but he took no notice of them.

"What ails D'Estreville?" men asked one another. "Is it cards or a
woman?"

Among others there entered presently Michel Prevost, who was known to
very few, having but lately qualified for the right to sit at meals with
the class of men mostly frequenting this eating-house and others of its
kind.

Michel looked round and saw Henri d'Estreville. His face flushed and
then paled. He sat down on the nearest seat to gather breath and
strength. Michel had almost despaired of his friend since the terrible
day at Vilna, when the remnant of Ney's division, tattered and
war-worn, had marched into the town like men returning from the grave;
when he had looked and inquired for Henri among the rest and found him
not. Even when he had heard it said, this very morning, that the Baron
had reappeared, he had scarcely dared to believe it. For five minutes he
sat still, not daring to move or speak. At last he rose from his seat,
and advancing from behind came up and touched the Baron's shoulder.

"So you, too, have reached home in safety, _mon ami_!" he said. "You
have returned from the grave indeed! Do you not know that we mourned
you for dead? Allow me to share your table? I am a little shy of these
super-aristocratic persons in times of peace; in the field the devil may
care how many airs they put on; but here it is different. My commission
feels new and strange to me; I am afraid at every moment that some one
will say 'What right have you here? go out!'" Michel talked quickly, to
conceal his agitation. Henri looked up and gave Michel his hand, smiling.

"Yes, I found my way home somehow," he said; "yet for all the joy I feel
in living I wish to God I had stayed beneath the Russian snows."

Michel gazed at his friend in amazement.

"Why--what mean you--what has happened?" he asked.

"Michel, _mon ami_, you have been a good friend to me; you will
sympathise; it will do me good to tell you; listen. Have I your
permission to bore you with my tale of woe?"

"Yes--speak--who knows, I may be able to counsel you, give you
relief----"

"No, it is impossible. Listen, my friend. You may remember our first
meeting, when I lay wounded at Smolensk, I spoke confidentially--you
will call it raving, I daresay--the subject, women; I confessed many
things foolish and wicked; I spoke of one pure sentiment; of the love,
strange and unfamiliar, because pure and disinterested, that I cherished
for a very simple, very charming maiden whose name----"

"Was Mathilde--was it not?--or Louise; one of the daughters of a _maître
d'armes_."

"Yes; Louise; you professed to know her--to have heard of her, at
any rate. Well, let that pass then. It is strange, my friend, but my
affection in that quarter has not vanished after the fashion of the
wretched sentiment I have hitherto felt for other women, which has
evaporated when the object is absent. On the contrary, it has increased
in absence. I returned home to Paris inclined, certainly, to love the
girl even more than I loved her at parting; a wonderful thing for me,
Michel, _mon brave_, and very remarkable." Henri smiled ruefully at his
friend.

"Continue," said Michel, whose face looked pale, perhaps in sympathy
with that of his companion.

"Well, I return. I go, almost the first available moment, to see
my charming one. I enter the house, my heart glowing with love and
sweet anticipation. I am received by her father, who is cold, polite,
long-winded, unsympathetic. I ask for Louise----" Henri paused; his
fingers tapped upon the table; his voice had grown suddenly hoarse;
there was actually moisture in his eyes.

"Continue," murmured Michel, who wondered what was coming, for all this
was a surprise to him, neither Dupré nor Marie having breathed a word of
the visit of Baron Henri.

"I ask for Louise," D'Estreville continued. "She is dead."

"Dead?" exclaimed Michel, suddenly rising to his feet and pushing back
his chair with a clatter. "Who said so? Why dead? What mean you?"

Michel was never so grateful to destiny as at this moment, for he was
able to ease his feelings by an exhibition of genuine surprise. But for
that he must soon have burst into tears.

"Simply that she is dead. It is true, my friend. 'She is dead,' said her
parent, and 'since it appears you come as a lover and would have stolen
from me my daughter who should be above such feminine foolishness as
love and marriage, I add my thanks to the Highest that she has ceased
to exist in time'--these are the very words of her father, whose throat
I could have pinched with satisfaction. What say you, _mon ami_, have I
the right to be distressed? By all the Saints, Michel, it is too cruel a
trick of Destiny. I could have loved this girl. God knows, I might even
have married her. Never before have I felt so fondly disposed towards a
woman, never so virtuous. I believe this was true love, my friend, or
the beginning of it."

"_Nom de la Guerre!_" exclaimed Michel. "And she is dead, say you--the
father himself declared it?"

"I have said so. 'She ceased to exist'--that was his odd manner of
expressing it; 'she ceased to exist on the day of conscription'; it is
odd how the crazy old man dates naturally from that day; he is mad upon
men; he loves only men, honours men, thinks men; women are nothing to
him. You would suppose he would be affected in speaking of the death of
his daughter; but no! It seemed that her loss is nothing to him. Why?
because she was not a man."

To Henri's surprise and displeasure Michel at this point suddenly burst
into a roar of laughter. He looked up frowning.

"I beg ten thousand pardons," cried Michel, half choking; "I am not
wanting in sympathy, _mon ami_; but in truth the attitude and words of
this old man are very comical. Forgive me, Baron, I was very rude."

"Enough. I would laugh also if I had the heart. Certainly the old man is
a lunatic. Tell me, Michel; what shall I do? What is going on? I shall
die of ennui if I sit and nurse my grief, as now. Thanks to Heaven that
you have arrived; it may be that the Saints sent you for my salvation,
as before at Smolensk. Come, suggest. I must be made amused; must laugh.
I must see movement of men and women."

"Ha! you are not so overwhelmed by your grief, I see, that you cannot
feel the desire for amusement. That is a good sign, Baron; you will soon
recover, I prophesy."

"A good sign, say you? There is no question of recovery. You are far
from the truth, my friend. It is distraction that I need. I do not yet
ask to be cured, that would be impossible."

"That depends! The rapidity of the healing depends upon the severity or
otherwise of the wound. Yours is, I take it, but a shallow slash."

"Michel, you wound me again by these words. I need distraction; but that
does not imply that I am not almost heart-broken, which I verily believe
that I am. You, who have never been in love, are unable to appreciate
the anguish of having loved and lost."

"Thanks be to Heaven I have never yet loved woman in that foolish
manner," said Michel. "You are right, my friend. Tell me, is it worth
while to love when an accident, such as this from which you now suffer,
may in an instant turn love to misery? Is there any woman in this world
for whose sake it is worth while to break one's heart?"

"I thought the same but a short while since. You are young, Michel; do
not boast. One day you too will love."

"_Absit omen!_" laughed the other. "I say that there is no woman worth
loving; worth, that is, breaking one's heart over, in case she should
prove unfaithful, or die or what not."

"And I say that one such, at least, there has been. Do not speak so
positively, Michel, my friend, of matters in which you are altogether
ignorant."

"Well, have it your own way; but I swear that I, for one, shall never
love a woman."

"I am sorry that my grief has had so deterrent an effect upon you,"
Henri sighed, "though I will not say that I am surprised; for indeed,
now that I have lost her before she was won, I wish with all my heart I
had never seen her. Like you, I am tempted to swear that I shall never
give my heart of hearts to another woman."

"Oh, oh!" laughed Michel. "That is not easily believed; for they say
that once a heart has become susceptible to womankind there is no more
controlling its vagaries. Be sure, my friend, that we shall find you
falling in love, and maybe far more seriously than before, with the
first fair lady you see."

Henri looked reproachfully at his friend.

"Let us talk of other things," he said; "it is too early as yet to make
of love a jesting matter; my heart is sorer than you think, Michel, or
perhaps you would speak more sympathetically. Remember that my grief is
as yet very green."

"Forgive me," said Michel, a softer look stealing into his eyes. "I will
jest no more. Come, we will walk in the streets of Paris; _Sapristi!_ it
is better than Moscow, ha?"



CHAPTER XXVII.


Napoleon and his Grand Army had been starved out of Moscow; they had
made their futile attempt to destroy the Kremlin, they had delivered
their last savage onslaught upon the inhabitants, lighted the last
fire, desecrated the last church, exploded the last mine, insulted the
last woman; they had manoeuvred in the direction of St. Petersburg
and of the rich Volga provinces in order to cover the movements of the
main force, and finally they had thrown to the winds all subterfuge and
frankly made off with all speed towards the frontier and France, leaving
behind them a city of smoke and of fire, of starvation, of desertion and
of the dead. Within the cathedrals was the stench of stabled horses,
with all the filth attendant thereon. Dead bodies of men and women,
of horses and dogs, lay about the streets unremoved. Scarcely a house
within a twelve-mile radius of the centre of the city but was wholly or
partially burned, pillaged, and its contents pulled hither and thither
and destroyed.

Scarcely had the last Frenchman left the place to its silence and
emptiness when back into this city of death and destruction began to
creep, cautiously, at first, but presently to crowd into each gate that
gave access within the walls, a dense mob of her banished inhabitants,
each anxious to make his way to the quarter of the city in which his
home had existed a month ago. Would it be found standing now? Of the
Lares and Penates left behind in the terror and stress of sudden
departure, would anything be left to him?

The great majority found their houses burned. Those whose four walls
were still standing found their homes sacked and looted, their
possessions ruthlessly destroyed and themselves ruined.

From end to end of Moscow a wail of despair arose and continued day
long, for in the city proper, out of 6,000 wooden houses 4,500 were
burned down, while of the 2,500 brick dwellings which had existed before
the fires, only 500 now remained standing.

But meanwhile the last of the retiring French were leaving the city by
the Borovitsky Gate, and here, at the very first opportunity, began
the stupendous anguish of their terrible retreat. For from the first
they marched from ambush to ambush, from disaster to disaster, through
miseries of frost and hunger and sleeplessness and unceasing attack in
flank and rear. Truly the avenging of Moscow began from her very gates.

Vera Demidof came with the rest of the returning fugitives into Moscow,
came--like thousands of others--to find that the house in the Sloboda
had been looted and wrecked, though the fire had not reached it. Vera
had hurried back to Moscow, however, not from any anxiety as to the
family mansion or its contents, she came because she had ascertained
from Sasha Maximof that his regiment was to be one of those which should
first engage the retreating French beyond the walls of Moscow.

"Just to hurry them up and see them safely off the premises," Sasha had
laughingly expressed it but yesterday, paying her a hurried visit at the
village to which she had retired on leaving Moscow.

Indeed, as the crowds of Muscovites entered the city at one side, the
roar of cannon from the opposite end of the town, beyond the Borovitsky
Gate, gave grim evidence that the Frenchmen were not being permitted to
march away in peace and impunity.

"If you should be wounded outside Moscow, send me word," Vera had
said at parting. She felt depressed and inclined to expect disaster,
though she was not one to indulge weakly and without resistance in
presentiments; Vera's healthy intelligence was accustomed to look upon
such things as foolishness.

"Why do you expect me to get hurt?" Sasha had laughed. "When my time
comes I shall die, but I do not think that is yet, Vera. There is
something I am determined to achieve before I finish with life--can you
guess what it is?"

Vera did not attempt to guess. "You are always getting hurt," she
laughed. "Send me word by a soldier if you are clumsy enough to stand in
the way of a French bullet." Vera laughed though she spoke with a full
heart.

In consequence of this conversation, Sasha actually wrote Vera's address
upon a slip of paper which he gave to a trooper in his regiment, bidding
him keep an eye upon him and ride back to Moscow quickly, if he should
fall, in order to tell the lady named in the written address of what
had occurred. When, later in the day, Sasha's regiment received orders
to charge from their cover a body of French foot-guards, the trooper to
whose care Sasha had entrusted his slip of paper and who rode close at
Sasha's stirrup saw a notable sight.

In the mélée he heard a French officer call gaily to the Count Maximof:--

"Hi," he cried, "_mon ami_, Maximof, here am I, let us finish that old
matter".

Sasha had turned his horse, and with an exclamation made straight for
the Frenchman, at whom he lunged and struck with his sabre. But the
Frenchman skilfully dodged his blows, and watching his opportunity
planted a thrust of his bayonet which entered the Count's body and
tumbled him off his horse senseless.

"Aha!" the Frenchman cried, "that was more than I meant; what will the
fair Vera say!" Almost at the same moment a Russian trooper rode this
French officer down, and the messenger himself dealt him a whack with
his sword that half severed his left arm at the shoulder.

After this the stress of battle separated the trooper from these two
fallen men, but when the fight was done and the Frenchmen had gone
forward, pursued by the Russian mounted men, the trooper, whose name was
Markof, returned to the spot to see how the Count fared. Here he found
the Frenchman actually giving Maximof a drink from his flask, talking to
him the while in French and laughing; Maximof's eyes were open, but he
breathed with difficulty.

Markof spoke to him, saying he would now ride back to the address given
upon his paper, which name and address he read aloud in order to make
sure he had it right.

"Ah, ah!" said the Frenchman, "Vera Demidof--good--go back and tell
her, my friend, that there are two who wish to see her before they die.
_Sapristi_, we are in luck, Maximof, both of us!"

At this the Count smiled, but said nothing, being apparently very weak.
Presently he shut his eyes and swooned.

"Go, my friend, I will keep him alive till she comes," said the
Frenchman, and away went Markof upon his mission.

Vera received the messenger, pale but dry-eyed and resolute.

"He is alive?" she asked. Markof nodded.

"When I left," he said; "but he is bad, lady; do not expect too much. A
Frenchman sits by his side, wounded also, who has undertaken to keep him
alive with brandy until you come. They seem to know one another."

Vera looked puzzled for a minute, then her face brightened.

"I am ready," she said, "and my droshka is ready, we will go at once."

Markof led the way to the spot in which Sasha had fallen. Amid the dead
and dying around they found Paul de Tourelle dozing, but Sasha had
disappeared. Paul opened his eyes at the sound of their voices.

"Ah! the fair Vera," he said; "I am glad I have lived long enough to see
you; I am desolate, Mademoiselle, by reason of your treatment of me, yet
I forgive you. Your friend Maximof has been taken by Russian peasants to
the village yonder; me they left, after bestowing a great whack upon my
head with a bludgeon--Maximof is alive; he----" Paul's head drooped and
he closed his eyes. He had spoken gaily, but his voice came faintly and
in gasps.

"Markof, my friend, go to the village and find the Count Maximof,"
said Vera. "I will come very soon. See that I am shown the right house
without delay when I arrive."

Vera took the flask which lay at Paul's feet; she administered a drop or
two of its contents to the swooning man. He opened his eyes and smiled.

"This is the irony of fate, Mademoiselle Vera--two splendid lovers, and
both to lie dying. I am glad to see you again. _Mon Dieu_, how I loved
you in Paris! I have never yet loved faithfully, but in you I thought I
had at length found my destiny."

"Monsieur, can I ease your pain, is there anything I can do for you?"
said Vera.

"_Ma mie_, I am past praying for; tell me, were you near loving me
in Paris? _Sapristi_, but for this war I believe we should have come
together. You are lucky, Mademoiselle, to have escaped me. I am not
one of the constant ones. Perhaps Maximof is different, he is slow and
stolid and perhaps faithful, not like us Frenchmen--we are like the
bubbles in champagne--we come and go--I pray that Maximof may live."
Paul's head drooped again and his eyes closed. Vera thought he was dead.
She bent and kissed his forehead, preparing to depart. De Tourelle
opened his eyes again.

"Was that a kiss?" he murmured. "Ah, I was right--you might have loved
me, but for my ill-fortune when you overheard me ask for Clotilde--ha
ha! do you remember? That was accursed bad luck, indeed! To go to the
house of the beautiful, the chaste Vera Demidof, not knowing it was
hers, and to ask for Clotilde!"

Paul spoke very faintly; his words came slowly and more slowly.

"Was it a kiss, or did I dream?" he murmured. "Mademoiselle, I--I did my
best to protect Maximof as he lay here--it was for your sake--will you
reward me with a kiss? I shall not live to tell of you."

Vera bent and put her lips to his forehead. Paul smiled.

"It is paradise," he murmured. "I die content."

They were his last words. Vera waited a moment or two, then she knelt
and prayed, made over the dead man the sign of the cross and departed.

In the village she found a peasant awaiting her. "This is the way,
lady," he said, in the obsequious manner of the moujik who expects
largess. "It was I that found and brought in the gentleman. Lord, he is
handsome--and heavy also!"

Vera gave the man money. "Is he alive--is he alive?" she said--"speak
quickly!"

"Alive? Lord, yes!" said the moujik, "doing well. We have found a
doctor for him and we have not ceased to pray--assuredly he will live,
Barishnya!"

The moujik returned to the battlefield, where he spent the night
reaping a glorious harvest, with other vultures of his kidney, from the
unfortunate dead and dying.

Vera entered the hut.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Marie Havet, _née_ Dupré, was much surprised and somewhat concerned
on the evening of the day upon which Louise had found, to her almost
uncontrollable joy and relief, that Henri was still alive and in Paris
when her sister, looking very grave and with signs of tears and past
agitation upon her face, drew her aside for a conversation, which, said
Louise, must be held absolutely in private. Marie's conscience instantly
smote her. She was going to be scolded for saying nothing about the
Baron's visit.

"Marie," Louise began, "you may have observed that I returned from
the war depressed, not joyous and elated as one returning home after
many perils and who has received certain honours and rewards might be
expected to be. Did it never occur to you and to my father that this was
so?"

"It occurred to both of us, sister, that you were naturally depressed,
that your career of success and glory should be already over and that
you must return to the ordinary dull routine of home and of the sex to
which you belong."

"You were mistaken in the reason, sister. I am tired to death of my
uniform, and of masquerading as a man. I shall thank God to be a woman
once more as the Seigneur created me. But that is another matter. My
depression was due to reasons very different. You may remember to have
seen here a certain Baron Henri d'Estreville."

Marie flushed and sat down. Her scolding was coming, then; Louise had
somehow heard of the Baron's visit. This was a matter Louise would not
easily forgive.

"Yes, I remember him. He came with Monsieur de Tourelle, the finest
fencer in Paris, who nevertheless was unable to have the better of our
little Louise."

"Bah!--let that pass. With this D'Estreville I fell in love, Marie--why,
there is no reason to look surprised. We are women both, you and I; you
were not ashamed to love and to marry, why should not I have loved?"

"It is true--it is true," Marie murmured.

"More strange is the fact that the Baron should have returned my love;
the darling of Paris, he had been called, Marie; every woman adored
him; yet he condescended to feel for me a different sentiment, a pure
and deep affection such as no other woman had hitherto inspired in him;
imagine it, Marie!"

"Dear Louise, it does not surprise me," said Marie, touched.

"Me, it surprises--delights--transforms. By this circumstance I have
been made to see clearly how poor a thing it is that a woman should
desire to masquerade as a man; so clearly that now--even though my
love-dream is over--I must return to my own sex. I shall never see Henri
again, Marie; he lies buried beneath the snows of Russia; I am widowed
before I am a wife."

"Louise, what are you saying? Do you imply that D'Estreville is dead,
that he died in the war? that----"

"Alas, there is little doubt. Why look you so, Marie? You have not heard
otherwise--alas! that is impossible--can you wonder that I returned
dejected from the war?"

"Poor Louise!" said Marie, and stopped to think very earnestly. Here was
a very difficult question set for her decision. Louise knew nothing,
after all, of Henri's visit; was not even aware that he was alive. Would
it be better to leave her in ignorance, for her career's sake, or for
her heart's sake tell her the good news? There was no doubt as to which
alternative old Dupré would choose were he to be asked for his opinion.
Marie was proud of her sister's career as a soldier and honestly sorry
that it should end, thus, at its beginning. The Emperor would see to it
that a new war should follow quickly upon the disastrous campaign just
ended; Louise would have plenty of opportunity to rise.

But Louise seemed to have wearied of "masquerading"; she desired to be
a woman once more; she had become transformed by love. Would this phase
pass and ambition for a soldier's glory dawn again at the first bugle
call?

"You will forget your sorrow, maybe," she ventured, "when the trumpet
sounds for a new war, which will be soon enough; you will desire to
return where glory awaits you."

"Not so, sister; I have done with glory; it is love that I want. I will
tell you a secret; when I became substitute for Karl it was indeed in
part for your sake, that you might be spared the pain of separation;
but there was another motive besides, for I desired to go where Henri
went--ah! I deceived you, Marie; forgive me; it is a devilish thing
when sisters deceive one another!"

Marie felt very uncomfortable.

"Sometimes it is not possible--for the sake of others to tell the whole
truth," she stammered. "We both have my father to consider, Louise. You
could not well have confessed to him this other motive."

"No, you are wrong; it is cowardly to deceive thus; it would have been
better if I had braved my father from the first, as you did, sister; you
were braver than I and more honest; you made no pretence in the matter
of your love for Karl; I think it is not in your nature to deceive. If
Henri had lived I should have married him, Marie, and you should have
assisted me to persuade my father to forgive me." Louise looked keenly
at her sister; Marie felt her eyes penetrate to her very soul.

"Louise, you kill me with these words, say not another one, it is
needless. I am on your side, sister. It is true that we withheld the
truth from you--oh yes, I perceive that you know all; like my father, I
was proud of your success and thought only of your career, also--before
Heaven I thought and hoped you had forgotten Henri; if it is not so and
you still love him----"

"Yes, I still love him, Marie--what would you have, does one forget love
so quickly? I would exchange all the military glory in the world for
one kiss from his lips. My father is mad and you were mad, sister; do
you think Henri could be alive and in Paris and I not know? You shall
help me to prepare my father's mind, Marie, for whether he approves or
disapproves, I must go my own way in this matter!"

"But I deceived you, Louise--am I forgiven?" cried Marie, ashamed and
distressed to realise how poor a part she had played in this comedy.

Louise took her sister in her arms and kissed her--the first embrace
these two had exchanged for many a year. "There," she laughed; "you see
how true it is that I am a woman again; as for forgiving--bah!--there
is a great deal of my father's madness in you, sister; in your heart
of hearts you are as anxious as he for my career and as disappointed
as he will be that I have so fallen away from your high ideals as to
have fallen in love. Be comforted, Marie--you deceived me with the best
motives, no harm has come of it, and you have confessed in time to save
your soul and preserve my respect--_eh bien!_ all is well!"

Nevertheless Marie approached her father with considerable trepidation
when the moment came to speak of this matter of Louise; for Marie had
stipulated that, as punishment for her offence, the task should be left
to her.

"Father," she said, "we have been mistaken, you and I. We had hoped
and we believed that my sister Louise ceased to exist from the day of
conscription, but alas! I have discovered that Louise lives, it is
Michel Prevost who has ceased to exist."

"What mean you?" said the old man, frowning.

"It is this Baron d'Estreville, she has seen him, my father; it has been
as you feared. She has spoken to me of him. She loves him."

"_Sapristi!_ it is impossible! That any one should love a man more than
honour and glory and a career--_cent mille diables!_--it is impossible!"

"It is true--she is a woman, what would you have? it is better to
recognise the fact, father; it is not her fault. I too found that I was
a woman, and you forgave me."

"That was different. You were always a fool, Marie; but here was one
after my own heart, a woman, by misfortune of birth, but able to put
the best of men to shame. And a fine career well begun! We will argue
with her, Marie, she shall be wise. Stay--yes, that is better--I will
pick a quarrel with this fool, and call him out. _Sapristi!_ my old arm
is still strong enough to slice the rogue; let him but show his face
here once again--he shall be taught that----"

"It is useless, my father; Louise will have her own way; she is man
enough for that! What matters is that we have deceived the Baron and
that she will know it."

"_Mon Dieu_, let her know it--what then? Am I ashamed that I would
defend her from that which strikes at her true advantage? God forbid.
Let him know also or not know, what care I?"

"They have met and it is certain that she knows we have hidden the truth
from him."

"Good! let him know it also. If he is an honourable man he will not
sit still under so vile a deception. _Sapristi_, I have lied to him;
let him call me out!" Old Dupré laughed aloud, delighted with his own
astuteness. His eyes were aflame with the light of battle. "Thanks be to
Heaven!" he said, "I shall fight one more duel before I die!"

From this bellicose attitude Marie found herself quite unable to move
her father. On the contrary, he seemed so delighted with the situation
in which he now found himself that he would speak to her of little else
than this, and Marie found that she had, after all, rendered her sister
no more signal a service than to place within the category of possible
things that which assuredly neither of them would until this day have
contemplated as in any degree likely, a duel between old Dupré and the
lover of his daughter. Moreover, to the astonishment of his assistants,
old Pierre forthwith arrayed himself for the arena and practised his
fencing with each in turn until his limbs were so stiff with the
unwonted exercise that he could hold his foil no longer.

"_Mais_, Monsieur!" exclaimed Havet, perspiring with the exertion to
which the old man's unexpected activity had condemned him, "you are as
skilful and as nimble as a youth of thirty."

"Aha! you find me so? _Sapristi_, that is well, _mon ami_. After a few
days you will find me invincible, and that is well also, for, _entre
nous_, there is hope that I shall be called out. _Imaginez, mon enfant!_
another fight before I die! Truly, Heaven is kind to me!"

Old Pierre did not think Heaven quite so kind on the morrow, however,
when he discovered that his limbs were so stiff that he was unable to
get out of his bed. But this circumstance did not in the least affect
his spirit or quench the enthusiasm with which he looked forward to the
fight which he had now persuaded himself to regard as inevitable.



CHAPTER XXIX.


Michel Prevost met D'Estreville by appointment at a café. "There is no
one I can talk to about certain matters so readily as yourself," the
Baron had said, and Michel replied, laughing, "Oh, if you are going to
sigh and mourn over this little Dupré I think I will leave you to lament
alone!"

Nevertheless D'Estreville begged him to come, and he went.

The attitude of old Dupré had put Louise into a doubly awkward position.
"What shall I do, Marie--help me!" Louise had entreated her sister.
"Henri must be told that I am alive, that is certain; yet when he learns
that my father deceived him he will be so angry with my father that I do
not know what may happen."

"Bah!" said Marie, "he will be so happy to learn that you are alive,
that he will forget everything else. Moreover, he is not so foolish that
he would take my father seriously."

"But father takes _himself_ so seriously; he is determined to quarrel.
Moreover, when Henri learns that I am alive he must also learn that I
have masqueraded as a man, among men, and that is what I dare not tell
him. It is an _impasse_."

"As you have put it, it is an _impasse_. But why dare you not tell him?"

"I am ashamed. There was a tale told in Moscow of a young Russian woman
who had taken part in every battle in the campaign, her name was Nadejda
Doorova. The soldiers in my regiment said horrible things about her. It
is not likely that Henri would think well of my performance. It is not
every one who is like my father and yourself, who have his blood in your
veins."

"Bah! he will, as I say, be so thankful to find you alive that he will
forget all this. Shall I go to him, sister, and tell him your story?"

"Heaven forbid, do nothing; no one shall tell him my tale but I myself."

"Tell him of this Russian girl and see what he says to the story," Marie
suggested.

"But what if he disapproved of it and said something so cruel about her
that I dare not tell him afterwards of my own escapade? I wish now I had
not done it, Marie, indeed I do, except that your Karl was left to you
instead of being carried off to the war."

"If he loves you he will forgive ten times more," said Marie. "Go to
him boldly, sister, go as Michel Prevost; say, 'Here, mourn no more for
me, my friend, I am Louise and my old father is not to blame for the
deception, for obviously no person can be two persons at the same time,
and while I was Michel there could be no Louise. Now Michel has finished
and Louise steps once more into being.'"

Louise laughed. "It sounds very foolish," she said, "but something of
the kind must be done."

But when Michel Prevost found Henri d'Estreville at the rendezvous
appointed she had evolved no clear plan for his enlightenment.

Henri began to speak of his trouble almost immediately. The more he
thought about the matter, he said, the more amazed he was that a little
love affair should have so transformed him that he could think of
nothing else. "It is unlike me, therefore the experience is obviously a
peculiar one: ergo, I conclude that I was for once seriously in love;
which being so, what an atrocious trick fortune has played me. It is the
last time, my friend, that I shall look at a woman!"

Michel contrived to direct the subject of conversation to the career of
Nadejda Doorova, the Russian girl who had fought throughout the war as
a Cossack soldier. Henri had not heard of her and displayed but little
interest in her adventures.

"Bah!" he said, "she is an eccentric. It is the kind of thing old Pierre
Dupré would have liked his daughters to do; old Pierre is mad. A woman
must be wanting in modesty to unsex herself thus."

"Oh!" exclaimed Michel involuntarily; his heart sank. "Let us be just
to her," he murmured; "who knows, she may have had some good reason of
which we know nothing, this Nadejda; her lover, maybe, went to the war
and she could not bear to be parted."

"That would perhaps excuse her to a certain extent," said Henri wearily.
He was not in the least interested in the conversation.

In despair, Louise tried another tack. She had determined to come to an
understanding this day, nothing could be done without risk.

"D'Estreville--will you promise not to be angry if I make a
communication to you--it is about Louise Dupré?"

Henri was all attention in a moment.

"About Louise?" he repeated. "What can you have to say about her--and
why should I be angry? I wish you to talk of her."

"It may be different this time. I shall hope that you will not be angry.
You may have observed, my friend, that when you told me your story a few
days since I was greatly astounded to hear of her death, Louise Dupré's
death."

"Naturally, I hope you were shocked, if only for the sake of your
friend, who loved her."

"Monsieur, prepare yourself for a surprise greater than my own. You have
been deceived."

"Deceived?" Henri started from his chair. "How deceived, by whom?"

"Be calm, dear friend, and sit down. It is about Louise. I have come
this day to tell you the truth; Louise did not die as you were told."
Henri sat down suddenly; his face paled, then flushed.

"Stop--she did not die--is she then still alive? for God's sake speak
plainly, Michel."

"She is not dead."

"Then to what end was I deceived? For whose sake was I to be kept in
ignorance? Is it for yours, Michel? I remember that you said there was
no woman worth breaking one's heart over, if she should prove false or
die. What have you done, Michel--what have you done?"

"You rave, D'Estreville," said Louise, growing a little frightened.

"No, I am sane; I know what I say; did you not tell me you believed that
I was dead? Believing this you delivered my message to Louise and that
was the beginning. Since then the false wench has learned to prefer
Michel living to Henri dead--is it not so? Come, confess, Michel."

"You are very swift to find fault with the woman you profess to love,
Monsieur le Baron," said Louise, somewhat alarmed at the turn the
conversation had taken, yet indignant withal.

"Ah, you prevaricate! I have guessed rightly. So this is your friendship
for me, Monsieur Michel Prevost--a worthy friend in truth and indeed!"

"Monsieur le Baron jumps to conclusions," said Louise. "Moreover, seeing
that the message was to be delivered to the lady in case of your death,
and seeing that you were believed to be dead, should I be to blame even
though it were so as you have said?"

"Ha! you assured yourself very quickly of my decease; and she, too, by
all the Saints she has wasted no time!"

"Monsieur le Baron is so angry that he will not listen to reason. It is
easy for him to see this lady."

"Not I!" cried Henri; "I will see her no more."

"But what if you suspect her unjustly?"

"Then why was I deceived and told that she was dead? She was 'dead to
me,' that is the explanation. She is not dead to others--to you, for
instance, her new lover--oh Lord, Michel, a pretty messenger thou hast
been!"

"A worse than the Baron supposes," Michel laughed nervously, "for his
message was never delivered."

"What! though you believed me dead? Then indeed, my friend, you have
been little better than a traitor."

"It seems you are determined to quarrel with me, say what I will; if
I delivered the message it was in order to found a courtship of my
own upon it; if I did not I am a traitor. Nevertheless I will not
quarrel, my friend. It was not I that deceived you, remember, but I that
undeceived you. Was it not Monsieur Dupré who declared that his daughter
was dead? Then why am I to be quarrelled with?"

"Because, my friend, I believe you to have been a party to the
deception, for a certain end of your own which I have indicated."

"Then your wrath is expended upon wind, for I swear to you that though,
I confess, this lady is more to me than any woman in the world----"

"Aha! listen to him!" Henri raved.

"And though I am well aware that she is not wholly indifferent to my
virtues----"

"By Heaven, Michel, you are a bold man!" cried Henri, fingering his
sword hilt; "finish your sentence; I will judge whether our rapiers
shall settle this matter."

"Yet I would not marry the girl for all the wealth of India, nor she
me. Moreover, I promise that Louise shall confirm my words. Henri,
my friend, it is as her messenger I come this day. 'Bid him come to
me'--that is her message."

"If it be so, Michel," began the Baron, his face instantly relaxing,
"you shall bid me do penance for my suspicions; but if----"

"Nay, I weary of arguing, my friend; come to her quickly."



CHAPTER XXX.


Henri d'Estreville lost no time in complying with the request conveyed
in the message which Michel Prevost had brought him. He hastened to
present himself at old Dupré's establishment, where he knocked--in his
eagerness--with unnecessary vigour, rousing old Dupré from a nap as he
lay in bed, still a victim to the stiffness of his joints, brought about
by his practice with the foils in preparation for an imaginary duel.

Marie opened the door.

"_Mon Dieu!_ it is Monsieur le Baron!" she exclaimed, flushing.

"Yes, it is I," replied Henri; "I have found that on my last visit,
Madame, I was disgracefully deceived as to the pretended death of your
sister; I have come to see Mademoiselle Louise, and also to receive an
explanation of the deception to which I was made a victim."

"Monsieur, I will fetch Louise, let her explain," Marie murmured; "there
are circumstances which Louise will explain better than I; Monsieur
will understand and forgive."

"Good; I will see Louise--fetch her quickly."

Henri waited in the salon. He was strangely agitated. He did not half
comprehend all that Michel had said; for Michel's connection with Louise
seemed mysterious and incomprehensible; he professed to love Louise,
yet, he had declared, he did not desire to marry her. "Either the fellow
is mad," Henri reflected, "or he has discovered that Louise already
loves me, in which case she might have chosen another messenger! Soon
I shall know whether Louise indeed loves me. _Mon Dieu_, if she does
not, after all this, I know not what shall happen." Henri strode up and
down the room, scarcely able to contain his excitement, it was most
inconsiderate of Louise to keep him waiting so long--what did it mean?

"She adorns herself; that is what it means!" Henri reflected; "it is
only natural that she should desire to look her best; it is only what
every woman would do."

In this conjecture Henri was not far wrong.

Upstairs in old Dupré's bedroom there had been scarcely less excitement
than below in the salon.

"Well, who was it that knocked so loudly?" cried old Dupré, as Marie
presently appeared after opening the front door to admit the visitor.

"_Mon père_, do not be agitated, it is the Baron d'Estreville," said
Marie, hesitating.

"Ah--ah! I thought it! I knew it! and he has demanded satisfaction of
me, and awaits me below, is it not so?" The old man struggled to get out
of bed, but his daughters restrained him.

"Calm yourself, my father," said Marie; "he has not demanded
satisfaction. He has, however, discovered that Louise is still alive and
desires explanations of the deceit of which he was a victim."

"There! What said I? Was I not right? Let me rise--I _will_ rise, I
say, Marie; I am ready; the necessary explanations I shall give; he
shall have them at the rapier's point. Out of my way--thanks be to the
Seigneur that I shall yet fight another fight before I die!"

"My father, you cannot--you are stiff--it is impossible," Marie
protested; but the irate old man shook her off and sprang out of bed.
But the exertion gave him so agonising a twinge in all his muscles that
he uttered a cry of pain and collapsed in a sitting position upon his
bed.

"_Morbleu!_" he groaned, "it is anguish to move my limbs. What is to
be done? He shall postpone the meeting until I can walk. One week will
suffice. Go down--tell him so, Marie."

The old man almost wept for chagrin and disappointment.

"Nay, I dare not go," said Marie. "It is Louise that he would see, not
me; I fear his anger if I should appear and not Louise."

"Alas, Marie, that I should be the parent of a coward," Dupré groaned.
"Do you not see that it is inadvisable that Louise and this man should
meet? Have you forgotten the foolishness that he uttered concerning
your sister? Louise shall live to be a Marshal of France, yet this
fool would persuade her, if he could, to waste the glory of a career
in silly dreams of love--drag her down to the level of the sex from
which, by her splendid achievement, she has emancipated herself! Speak,
Louise--repudiate this folly--assert yourself!"

"_Mon père_, it may be that Louise, like myself, possesses the instincts
of a woman," said Marie, fighting on her sister's behalf; "be not hard
upon her; maybe----"

"Let me speak, Marie," said Louise. "_Mon père_, it is certain that
this Baron d'Estreville must be very angry with us all, and wishes to
fight. I have an idea. The Baron knows nothing of Michel Prevost, that
he and I are one. He is determined, it seems, to see me. Send me with
a message, that you will have no man but Prevost for a son-in-law, and
that if the Baron would aspire to claim your daughter, he must fight
this Michel Prevost for her. Now the Baron is but a poor fencer, and it
is certain that I, as Michel, would soon better him in a set-to with our
rapiers."

"_Parbleu!_" exclaimed old Dupré, "it is good--it is excellent!
_Sapristi_, my daughter, you are a genius in diplomacy as well as in
arms! Listen to her, Marie, and learn! And you would have set her down
to become this wretched fellow's drudge. _Mort de ma vie_, Louise, I
thank the Almighty that you are not as your sister would believe you to
be! Yes, yes, go down, _chérie_, and arrange this matter--it is good!
But stay, declare first that Marie has spoken nonsense--that you have
forgotten your woman's instincts--that glory and the career come first
in your estimation, that----"

"Father, at any rate I am not yet ready to be a woman; the time may
come, soon or late, I will make no promises. At present let it be as
I have said. The Baron is offended and would fight--_volontiers_! I am
ready; he shall fight Michel for Louise!"

Louise laughed gaily and ran from the room. She hastened to her own
chamber, where she quickly donned her own dress, the fencing costume
of old days when she still acted as her father's assistant. All this
occupied some time, and Henri's patience was almost exhausted when at
last she opened the door and presented herself before him.

D'Estreville caught the girl in his arms and covered her face with
kisses. Louise abandoned herself to his embraces, making no effort to
resist, and conscious of no desire to do so. On the contrary, she felt
in that precious moment that she wished for nothing better in this
world, no greater happiness, no more perfect peace than to belong body
and soul to this man. D'Estreville let her go presently.

"Thanks be to God, you love me then, after all," he murmured.

"Did you then doubt it?" she whispered.

"Louise, there have been doubts and mysteries; tell me, you are
acquainted with one Michel Prevost?"

Louise flushed. "I know Michel very, very, very well," she replied,
smiling.

"Come, explain--there is a mystery, but I think I have a clue! Confess,
you have a brother or a near relation--now that I see you, I am
impressed the more with the likeness between you and this good fellow!
If I am wrong, then who--in Heaven's name--is this Prevost whom you know
so well and who reminds me so strongly of you?"

"Not a brother--a relative, yes; he loves me, Henri--nay, do not
speak--he loves you also, _mon ami_; he would not have us parted,"
Louise laughed hysterically. "Do not fear, he shall never be dearer to
me than now, and that is not so dear as you, not by--oh, oh! so many
miles!"

"I see--I see! Good; I am content. They told me you were dead, my
beloved--imagine my despair. Why was I deceived?"

"My father will have no son-in-law but this Michel."

"_Peste!_ So I must be deceived and sent into the fires of the nether
regions!"

"My Henri, be calm and listen. My father sent me to you with a
suggestion; you are to fight for me with this Michel----" Henri
interrupted with a roar of laughter.

"Oh, oh! poor Michel! he is doomed! I shall fight like a fiend from
hell, if it is for you, _ma mie_; moreover, he is--you say--on our side!
What a foolish fight will this be!"

"Michel is a good fencer, he has few equals. What if he should slay
you, my beloved, for--if I remember rightly--you have not more than a
passable hand with the rapier."

"Bah! in such a cause I would overthrow even Louise herself," Henri
laughed; "but will Michel fight?"

"It--it shall be arranged; he shall slip and you shall disarm
him--neither shall be hurt." Louise blushed and became agitated. "Go
down, _chérie_, to the _salon d'armes_, you know it of old, and there
Michel shall meet you. Adieu, until--until Michel is overthrown."

Henri laughed and embraced the girl. "Adieu, then," he said, "until
then--bid Michel be quick!"

The _salon d'armes_ was empty when Henri entered it. He busied himself
in examining and testing the rapiers upon the walls. A sound presently
attracted his attention and he looked round.

Louise stood in the arena, rapier in hand; she wore her fencing dress;
her face was crimson with blushes; she seemed too agitated to speak.

"What is this, _chérie_, where is Michel Prevost?" asked Henri.

Louise replied, murmuring so softly that he could scarcely catch her
words.

"Michel is here," she whispered. "Oh, my beloved, are you so blind?
Michel is here, but his uniform he will never wear again; oh, Henri be
kind to me for the love of Heaven, for I am ashamed."



CHAPTER XXXI.


The terrible war of 1812 was over, and Russia had shaken herself free
of the last Frenchman. Already the Tsar Alexander had taken in hand
preparations for the terrible vengeance which was to be exacted from
his arch-enemy. Moscow was being rapidly rebuilt; the Russian workman,
equipped with axe alone, is able to do wonders in the matter of building
up a structure of wooden beams. In front of the Senate house was already
beginning to accumulate that immense collection of cannon captured from
or abandoned by the Grand Army, which may still be seen by visitors to
the Kremlin. Of these nearly 370 are French, 190 Austrian, 120 Prussian,
50 from the German States, over 100 Italian and some 35 to 40 Spanish,
Dutch and Polish; over 800 items of evidence to the anguish of the great
retreat.

The prevailing sense throughout Russia was that of profound devotional
gratitude to the God of Battles, not unmingled with a feeling of
jubilant pride in the nation's prowess, and of passionate affection
for the Tsar Alexander himself, whose courage and wisdom had shown
themselves pre-eminent qualities from first to last, and of respect and
admiration for those of his Generals, and for Count Rostopchin, Governor
of Moscow, who had distinguished themselves in the defence of their
beloved country.

Alexander himself was undoubtedly the hero of the hour. At the annual
reception of the cadet corps in St. Petersburg, a function to which the
reader of this history has been introduced on a former occasion, his
advent was awaited with the greatest excitement. A laurel crown was to
be laid at his feet by a deputation of beautiful women, of whom Vera
was one. "Bozhé Tsaryá Chranee," the National Anthem, was to be sung by
cadets and guests, as it had never been sung before; all the world was
on the tiptoe of expectation.

Vera moved across the room, supporting upon her arm a limping,
decrepit-looking figure, one of many who limped among the august company
present that day. Old Countess Maximof sat and watched them. She nudged
her nearest neighbour, a motherly old person dressed in gorgeous attire.

"See them--are they not a lovely pair?" she said. "It has taken me some
time to forgive Vera the impropriety of remaining in Moscow throughout
the trouble, but she has been so good to my Sasha that who could
have held out for ever?" The other gazed at Vera through her double
eyeglasses.

"Hah! remaining in Moscow! Many unkind things were said of her upon that
account, I remember. She had friends among the French officers--old
acquaintances in Paris--that was the chief indictment. That will all be
forgiven and forgotten. Yes, she is beautiful. Your son might have done
worse!"

Vera and Sasha talked and laughed together, they appeared to be
radiantly happy.

"It is only four years ago that we met here," Vera whispered, "and at
that time you were still a victim to the follies of cadetdom--do you
remember how----"

"Shall I never be forgiven that expression?" Sasha laughed.

"Oh, _droog moy_, let us remember it to our everlasting gaiety; let us
remember also how you had no leisure to be presented to your little
fiancée; she was too young and too ugly, and Mademoiselle Kornilof was
at the same time so fascinating; and oh, _mon Dieu_, the conceit of the
good-looking cadet whom poor I was obliged to adore from afar!"

"Ah, you did not adore me, that is not true, _dooshá moyá_; come,
confess that at that moment you detested me!"

"Perhaps I tried to think so; but there was a something deep down in my
heart that was certainly not hatred. It has lurked there ever since. If
you had shown a liking for me that day, it might never have existed,
but when you gave me the cold shoulder it came and with it a kind of
determination that you should repent in sackcloth and ashes; that you
should sue----"

"Little tyrant! you exacted a terrible revenge! Oh, the hours of misery
you have caused me, you and your French admirers."

"Ah! poor Paul!"

"Frankly, Vera, were you ever near to loving him?"

"Never so near as when he befriended you on the battlefield." Sasha's
fingers closed tightly over his companion's arm. He had never thought it
necessary to inform Vera that Paul had very nearly killed him before
befriending him, nor did Vera ever learn that it was he who had dealt
the blow which went so near to widowing her heart for ever.

Vera was much observed at this time. She was more beautiful than ever.
Sorrow and suffering had added something to her loveliness. Her story
was known to most of those present and rendered her an interesting
personality, for the Russian dearly loves a romantic tale. This
afternoon there were many lips that told of the baby-betrothal of these
two, of Vera's Parisian experiences, of her patriotism, of her finding
and nursing the Russian lover, her childhood's fiancé, and of his
triumph over all rivals, French and otherwise.

Even the Tsar, when at last he made his triumphal entry into the hall
and had received the laurel tribute prepared for him and listened to the
splendid soulful rendering of the National Anthem, presently noticed the
beautiful girl in constant attendance upon young Count Maximof, whom he
knew.

"Who is she?" he asked--"she is beautifully dressed--one would say she
was French--but her face is Russian, of our loveliest type."

"It is the daughter of Demidof, your Majesty's envoy at present at the
Court of Sweden," the Tsar was informed.

"What, the beautiful Russian maiden who was said to have inflamed the
hearts of half the youth of Paris?" the Tsar laughed. "Has she then
decided, at last, in favour of a Russian admirer?"

"Not only so, Sire, but of one who was betrothed to her in
childhood--perhaps your Majesty remembers the story. It was said that
they had agreed to annihilate the contract entered into, perhaps, in a
moment of conviviality by their respective fathers; but the end of the
story is most romantic; the lady sought and found her lover upon the
battlefield outside Moscow at the village of Pavlova; there she nursed
him back to life, and--at his request, for he believed himself to be
dying--actually married him as he lay gasping in a peasants hut."

"_Chort Vosmee!_" laughed the Tsar, "that is a good story; what, and
they have not disagreed, since he recovered? That kind of marriage might
prove a more serious matter than the foolish betrothal contract!"

"They seem good friends, Sire, if one may judge from appearances!" said
the other.

Afterwards Vera, to her astonishment and delight, though perhaps also
somewhat to her consternation, was informed by his aide-de-camp that the
Tsar would dance with her.

She went through the ordeal of that stately quadrille excellently well,
however, entertaining and delighting the Tsar with an account of how
Sasha had stolen a march upon her by persuading her to marry him as he
lay dying--which she did, she explained, to oblige a friend--afterwards
recovering when he certainly had no right to do so.

"You are caught now, Madame," said the Tsar; "will the caged bird beat
herself against the bars of her prison?"

"Your Majesty must ask me a year hence," Vera laughed; "at present I am
a new toy, and my jailer is content to play with me!" The Tsar laughed
again.

"By the Saints, Madame, if he should show signs of falling short in his
appreciation of his good fortune, you shall tell me and he shall be sent
to Siberia. Such a man would deserve his fate."

"It may be, your Majesty, that he married me out of patriotic motives in
order to prevent my falling into French hands."

"Good--good! it was a worthy act and shall be rewarded," said the Tsar,
smiling kindly. "Adieu, Madame; we shall meet again I trust."

On the following morning Vera received a beautiful present from his
Majesty: an order, the collar of St. Anne, commonly known in Russia as
"Annooshka na shay". The gold cross attached to the collar was inscribed
"For Patriotism".

Sasha at the same time obtained, what was at the moment the object of
every young Russian officer's ambition, a captain's commission in the
new regiment of Imperial Guards lately organised by his Majesty. Not
long after this Vera received a letter from Paris. It was brought by
hand by a Russian prisoner returning to his native country. The packet
contained a gilt-edged card, upon which was printed:--

     Mons. le Baron Henri d'Estreville.
    Madame la Baronne Henri d'Estreville
           (_née_ Louise Dupré).

To which was added, written in a woman's hand:--

     "En suite le Capitaine d'infanterie Michel Prevost, qui vous
     fait part, belle cousine, de sa mort."


THE ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY PRESS LIMITED





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Moscow - A Story of the French Invasion of 1812" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home