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Title: A Secret Service: Being Strange Tales of a Nihilist
Author: Le Queux, William
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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STRANGE TALES OF A NIHILIST ***



[Illustration: “I rushed wildly up and endeavoured to stop the horrible
punishment.”

    _A Secret Service._]                                 [_Page 33_
]



                            A SECRET SERVICE

                                  BEING
                       STRANGE TALES OF A NIHILIST

                                   BY
                            WILLIAM LE QUEUX
                                AUTHOR OF
       “_Zoraida_,” “_The Great War in England in 1897_,” “_Guilty
     Bonds_,” “_Stolen Souls_,” “_The Temptress_,” “_Devil’s Dice_,”
                                  _&c._

                            _SECOND EDITION_

                                 London:
                        Ward, Lock & Co., Limited
                  Warwick House, Salisbury Square, E.C.
                         New York and Melbourne
                                  1896

                         [_All rights reserved_]



PREFACE.


While writing for _The Times_ a series of articles dealing with the
Russian Revolutionary movement and the condition of political exiles
in Siberia, I became acquainted with the original of Anton Prèhznev.
Strange as his stories chronicled in these pages may appear, there
are nevertheless in London at the present moment many refugees from
the Tzar’s empire who could relate facts of an even more startling
character. Tzaricide is unfortunately as popular in Russia as it ever
was, and the so-called Nihilists have, since the accession of Nicholas
II., relinquished none of their activity. There was but little genuine
mourning for Alexander III., and the feigned national affliction was
speedily succeeded by joyful anticipations of a new and prosperous
era. But Russia has already found that her golden hopes have faded.
The powerful, unscrupulous officials surrounding the young sovereign,
prompted by those evil principles that made Russia under Alexander III.
a blot upon European civilisation, have, by painting in lurid colours
a rude and ungrateful nation whom to govern is now his thankless task,
quickly succeeded in crushing any projected reforms. Thus the despairing
nation continues to writhe under the oppression of corrupt officials,
and those who dare lift their voices in protest are arrested and hurried
without trial to far Siberia. The land is inundated with the swelling
flood of the people’s sorrow as rivers in spring, abundant with water,
overflow the fields, and it will always be as long as an irresponsible,
cruel, and despotic autocracy holds and directs her destinies.

The Tzar knows little of the horrors committed in his name. He has never
been inside the tenth pavilion in Warsaw Citadel, where starving people
have, times without number, been knouted to death. He knows nothing of
the dark underground dungeons overrun with vermin in the Peter-Paul
Fortress; he has never breathed their fœtid, poisoned atmosphere. Even
when he crossed Siberia the officials who surrounded him took every
precaution to prevent him from witnessing the troops of wretched,
shivering humanity trudging through trackless snows and driven to their
gloomy tombs with knouts and butt-ends. Revolutionists are the creation
of circumstances, of the general discontent of the people, of the
striving of Russia after a new social framework. Discontent only grows
the more when it is repressed. For this reason the places of slain and
imprisoned Revolutionists are constantly taken by individuals who come
forth from among the people in ever-increasing numbers, and who are still
more embittered, still more energetic. Truly the Imperial Autocracy is
tottering towards its doom.

By a special order issued from the Press Bureau at St. Petersburg copies
of this book are prohibited from entering the Russian Empire, while, not
content with the formal interdiction of my novel, “Guilty Bonds,” which
deals with a political conspiracy, the Russian Government has also sent
one of its emissaries to my house in London to inform me of the fact.
This, I believe, is a personal attention received by no other English
author. The methods of the agents of the Russian Secret Police in London
and the measures taken by the Revolutionists to repress their activity
will probably be a revelation to English readers, some of whom will
doubtless recognise a few of the following chapters as having appeared
in my “Strange Tales of a Nihilist,” now out of print. That I have been
compelled to bestow fictitious names upon the actors in these dramas, add
and suppress certain incidents, and change the scene in more than one
instance, is obvious; nevertheless, I anticipate that many will recognise
in Anton Prèhznev’s stories solutions of more than one sensational
mystery that has startled Europe.

                                                        WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



CONTENTS.


    CHAP.                                PAGE

       I. WHY I BECAME A NIHILIST          11

      II. ON TRACKLESS SNOWS               35

     III. MY FRIEND, THE PRINCESS          56

      IV. THE BURLESQUE OF DEATH           77

       V. SOPHIE ZAGAROVNA’S SECRET        99

      VI. BY A VANISHED HAND              117

     VII. A ROMANCE OF THE STEPPE         139

    VIII. THE VELVET PAW                  151

      IX. THE JUDAS-KISS                  172

       X. AN IMPERIAL SUGAR PLUM          192

      XI. THE CONFESSION OF VASSILII      212

     XII. FALSE ZERO                      231

    XIII. THE FATE OF THE TRAITOR         250

     XIV. AN IKON OATH                    271

      XV. THE TZAR’S SPY                  294



A SECRET SERVICE.

BEING STRANGE TALES OF A NIHILIST.



CHAPTER I.

WHY I BECAME A NIHILIST.


Brief forewords are necessary to this record of an adventurous life.

At the outset it is my earnest desire to disabuse the minds of English
readers that the Narodnaya Volya, or the Party of Freedom, are mere
murder leagues. Unfortunately, English writers, unacquainted with Russian
life, ignorant of the true objects of the organisation, or of its inner
working, and only recognising its far-reaching influence, have surrounded
Nihilism with a glamour and mystery that would be highly amusing to us
were it not for the fact that their sensational and sanguinary narratives
injure our cause. So little does the average Englishman know of the
conditions of life under the Tzar, that any argument in favour of
Nihilism would be useless and wearisome, therefore I leave him to decide
for himself, after reading the exciting episodes of a strange career,
whether Autocracy or Freedom is to be preferred.

I, Anton Prèhznev, subject of the Tzar, now in exile in England, hereby
make free and full confession of my secret alliance with the so-called
and mis-called Nihilist Party. We, who are struggling to effect a change
for the better in the internal and economical condition of the Russian
people, look with envy upon every Englishman, at the same time regarding
him as a brother. To overthrow the dynasty by murder is not our object,
although, alas! human life has been sacrificed, as my narrative will
show. We desire peace; and while staying our hand and refraining from
dealing the blows that are at this moment in our power to strike at the
Imperial Autocracy, we are living in the expectation that the flood of
popular indignation will sweep off the face of the Russian soil the
bureaucracy, the _tchinovniks_, and the present ruinous and shameful
system of organised robbery and tyranny, and create something better than
the existing brutality and corruption that has plunged so many millions
in abject misery.

Prior to narrating the exciting incidents of my career, it will be
necessary, in order that it should be rightly understood why I lifted a
hand against the rule of the Tzar, Alexander III., or his successor the
Tzar Nicholas, to describe the tragic events which led to the overflow of
my indignation against tyranny, and caused my subsequent alliance with
the Brothers of Freedom.

Few English readers rightly understand the claims of the Russian
Revolutionists, therefore it will be well to make an explanation, and I
cannot do better than quote from the secretly printed manifesto issued
by the Narodnoe Pravo (“Popular Right”) Party. This manifesto, which was
recently circulated widely by clandestine means throughout the Russian
Empire, and even in Siberia, points out in forcible language that Russia
must now determine her further destinies, and consider the question of
political freedom. It proceeds as follows:—

“As there is not, and cannot be, a hope that the Government will
willingly enter upon the path indicated, there is but one course
remaining to the people, to oppose by the force of organised public
opinion the inertness of the Government and the narrow dynastic interests
of the autocracy. The Narodnoe Pravo has in view the creation of this
force. In the opinion of the Party popular right includes in itself alike
the conception of the right of the people to political freedom, and the
conception of its right to secure its material needs upon the basis of
national production. The Party considers the guarantees of this right to
be:—Representative government on the basis of universal suffrage; freedom
of religious belief; independence of the Courts of Justice; freedom
of the Press; freedom of meeting and association; inviolability of the
individual, and of his rights as a man.

“Thus understanding popular right, the Party sets itself the task of
uniting all the oppositional elements of the country, and of organising
an active force which should, with all the spiritual and material means
at its disposal, attain the overthrow of autocracy, and secure to every
one the rights of a citizen and a man.”

I commenced life under a disadvantage, for I am a Jew.

In Russia the law declares all Hebrews to be “aliens whose several rights
are regulated by special ordinances,” and my race is regarded as a pariah
caste in consequence. The memory of my earlier years it is unnecessary
to recall. My father, Isaac Prèhznev, was a well-known operator on the
Bourse in Petersburg, and he and my mother moved in good society. Our
house in the Isàkievskaya was well known to people with long-sounding
titles and long pedigrees, and, as children, my sister Mascha and I had
made a practice of standing upon the stairs on Thursday nights, watching
the arrival of the uniformed and much-decorated men and handsome ladies
who attended the receptions which my parents gave weekly during the
season.

Mascha, three years my junior, was petted by the guests and servants none
the less than I had been, for we were a pair of over-indulged children,
and lived a life of uninterrupted happiness.

At last I arrived at an age when departure from home became compulsory,
and one eventful day I bade farewell to those I loved and was drafted to
Vologda to perform my military service. From a life of luxurious ease to
a soldier’s existence in the barren district around Lake Kubinskoi was
by no means a pleasurable change, especially as, according to law, no
Jew can rise to the rank of officer, although he is bound to serve in
the rank and file like all other Russians. Nevertheless, I endured the
wearying monotony of eternal drill, receiving occasional letters that
came from my distant home like brief rays of sunshine upon my otherwise
dark, unhappy life. Suddenly, when I had been at Vologda about two
years, they ceased. Several times I wrote, but received no answer. I
telegraphed, but with the same result. I wrote to relatives in Petersburg
inquiring the cause of my parents’ strange silence, yet even these
letters remained unanswered.

Unable to obtain leave of absence, the days passed slowly, and I grew
sorely puzzled at the mystery.

Imagine my feelings when one morning a comrade, who had had a _Novoë
Vremya_ sent to him, handed me the newspaper and pointing to a line,
asked—

“Is he any relation of yours?”

I looked eagerly where he indicated. My heart stood still, and the paper
fell from my nerveless grasp.

It was an announcement to the effect that “Isaac Prèhznev, Jew, of the
Isàkievskaya, St. Petersburg,” had formed one of the convoy of prisoners
exiled by administrative process to Siberia during the past week!

Ignorant of the whereabouts of my mother and sister, and apprehensive
regarding their future, I was refused leave and forced to continue my
military service until the day arrived when I was free to return and seek
them.

To preserve the continuity of this narrative, events must here be
described which were afterwards related to me by Mascha.

From some unknown cause my unfortunate father had fallen into disfavour
with the Tzar, although nothing was known of it until one night, during
the progress of a ball at home, half-a-dozen men from the _Okhrannoë
Otdelenïe_,[1] entered and arrested him. A fortnight later he was sent,
without trial, to the mines of the Trans-Baikal, all he possessed was
confiscated by the Government, and my mother and sister turned into the
streets to starve.

Our relations were poor and could do little to assist them; therefore, in
order to hide their poverty, Mascha and her mother went to Mstislavl, a
small sleepy town in the Government of Moghilev, where for nearly a year
they earned a precarious livelihood by doing needlework and making lace.
But the year was disastrous to Russia, for a terrible famine spread over
the land, and, alas! for my unfortunate family, its effects were keenly
felt in Moghilev. At the time I arrived at Petersburg in search of them,
they had no work and were starving.

Stretched upon a straw mattress in the corner of a cold, bare room in a
wretched _isba_, lay my mother, her thin, haggard face, protruding cheek
bones, and sunken eyes showing unmistakably that death was at hand.

Mascha stood, pale and motionless, looking sorrowfully down upon her.
In the grey light of the brief autumn day the dismal place presented a
woeful aspect, being almost devoid of furniture, the round discoloured
stove having gone out several days ago. Notwithstanding her plain shabby
dress, it was certain that Mascha was beautiful; all Mstislavl, if called
upon, would bear witness to this fact. About eighteen years of age, she
was tall, slender, graceful, with beautifully rounded throat and arms,
fair wavy hair drawn back upon her brow, a dazzling complexion, and eyes
of clear child-like blue. When she smiled her charms were enhanced by an
expression of indescribable simplicity and frankness.

At this moment, however, she presented a sad picture, for her hair had
fallen dishevelled about her handsome face, and her eyes were red with
weeping. As her mother tossed wearily upon her pallet, moaning in pain,
Mascha fell upon her knees and kissed the cold, drawn face.

“Are you suffering much, mother dearest?” she asked, tenderly, smoothing
away the dark hair from the clammy forehead.

“Yes—I—I’m sinking fast, my child,” she replied in a faint, hoarse voice.
“I shall leave you very soon, Mascha, and you will be alone, with no
other protector except God, to whose mercy I confide you. Trust in Him
in the hours of affliction or misfortune, and by His infinite power He
will guide your footsteps and protect you from all harm.” She paused, and
added, “Though you may be scoffed at and persecuted by Orthodox Russians,
never forget that you are one of God’s chosen, and while resenting
insult, always refrain from revenge.”

“I can’t bear to hear you talk like this,” cried my sister, bursting into
tears. “You must not—you shall not die!” Springing suddenly to her feet,
she stifled her sobs, and said, “You sha’n’t starve! I’ll save you, even
if compelled to beg bread from the Gentiles. I shall not be long, and I
will bring you food.”

With these words, she threw a cloak around her shoulders, and opening the
door, disappeared; while her mother closed her wearied eyes and prayed
earnestly for succour.

Through the old uncleanly Ghetto—the quarter in which Jews were suffered
to reside—Mascha wandered aimlessly, wondering where she could discover
a person generous enough to give her a morsel of bread. She knew it was
useless to ask for food of the people of her own faith, for they were
all in terrible distress. Owing to the failure of the harvest for two
consecutive seasons food was so scarce in Western Russia, that in many
places the peasants were subsisting on grass and roots, while hundreds
were dying daily of sheer starvation. But worst of all, the feeling
against the Jews had become greatly embittered, from the fact that the
moujiks, in their ignorant fanaticism, had been taught to believe by the
village _popes_ that the Hebrews had brought the famine upon the land.
Hence Jew-baiting had become rife. Unfortunate Israelites were cuffed and
assaulted in the open streets, and were unable to obtain redress, and in
dozens of towns in Little and Central Russia the Ghettos had been looted
and afterwards burned.

In these anti-Semitic excesses Jews were treated worse than dogs, often
ruthlessly murdered without a hand being stretched forth to save them,
while women were outraged in sight of their children, and there were
committed diabolical atrocities that had raised the indignation of every
European nation. Murder and pillage ran riot through the Tzar’s domains,
side by side with the grim spectre Famine, that had spread starvation and
death through the great Empire from the White Sea to the Caucasus.

The Ghetto at Mstislavl was the oldest quarter of the little town,
consisting of one dark, evil-smelling street, into which the sun never
seemed to shine. The black wooden houses, with numerous poles projecting
from the windows, further increased the darkness of the narrow lane. From
end to end Mascha walked through it, but found no one who could render
her assistance. The place seemed deserted, the houses were all closed;
the usually noisy colony seemed hushed by death.

Leaving the Jews’ quarter, she made her way through the town and entered
the market-place, where a little business was still being carried on.
Groups of moujiks in their dirty sheepskins were standing about idly,
their thin, pinched faces showing that they, too, were feeling the effect
of the dearth of food. While wandering along, engrossed in her own sad
thoughts, Mascha chanced to look up, and her eyes fell upon a buxom young
woman, who held a large piece of bread in her hand, from which she was
feeding a great black dog.

The thought flashed across her mind that she must get food by some means,
and save her mother’s life. Without a moment’s reflection, she stifled
her pride, and rushing wildly across to where the woman stood, begged for
a portion of the bread.

“You!—Give bread to you!” cried the woman, with a harsh, brutal laugh.
“Hebrews are dogs, but this”—and she pointed to the animal at her
feet—“this is a Christian dog, and I would rather feed him than you.”

“For my mother’s sake!” implored Mascha. “She’s dying!”

“Bah! If she dies it will be one Jewess the less. Your people are our
curse. Go home and die too!”

And the woman spat upon her contemptuously, and turning her back upon the
supplicant, continued feeding the dog.

Mascha, crestfallen and dejected, was walking slowly away when she
suddenly felt a heavy hand upon her shoulder.

“Now, girl; what do you want here?” inquired a rough, coarse voice.

Glancing up quickly, she recognised the sinister features and shifty
feline eyes of Ivan Osnavitsch, the _ispravnik_.[2]

“I want bread; my mother is starving,” she replied.

“Starving? Like all the other dogs that infest the Ghetto kennels, eh?
Well, you’ve no right to beg of Christians. The law of the Mir forbids
it, and I ought to take you to prison as a vagabond. If you want food
you should go to the Governor. His Excellency has received relief for
distribution, and if you call upon him he may probably give you some.
Tell him that I sent you.”

“Oh, thank you,” she replied, gratefully; “I’ll go at once.”

Turning, she directed her steps hurriedly towards the palace of the
Government, about a mile from the town on the Lubkovo road, while the
_ispravnik_ laughed, muttering as he watched her retreating figure: “His
Excellency is a connoisseur of pretty faces. He will thank me for sending
her.”

Feeling that not a moment was to be lost, Mascha walked quickly along the
muddy highway, that ran through a bare, barren country, beside the sedgy
bank of the swiftly-flowing Soj.

Only by repute was General Martianoff, the Governor of Mstislavl, known
to her. She knew that by the inhabitants of the Ghetto he was dreaded as
a cruel, drunken, and depraved official, and she had heard the Rabbi warn
them against breaking any of the thousand tyrannical laws which comprise
the _Swod_, or penal code. A Russian District Governor is locally as
much of an autocrat as his Imperial Master, the Tzar. He can do exactly
what he pleases with the poor, cringing wretches over whom he is given
authority. He can condemn Jew or Gentile to prison without trial; he can
order any one who displeases him to be knouted, and with his colleague,
the _ispravnik_, and his myrmidons, can enforce inhuman tortures not a
whit the less terrible than those of the Spanish Inquisition.

General Martianoff, an average specimen of the _nachalniki_, ruled
his district with the knout, and hating Jews, considered death without
torture too good for them. He had even ordered unoffending Hebrews to be
flogged because their children omitted to doff their caps to Government
officials whom they met in the streets!

It was of this harsh, inhuman Governor that my poor, trusting sister,
famished and desperate, sought aid for her dying mother.

The General was lazily smoking a cigar and reading the _Novosti_ in his
own well-furnished room, when a man-servant entered, and, after saluting,
said, “A young girl desires to see your Excellency. I told her you could
not give audience to any one.”

“Idiot! Why did you send her away?”

“She was only a Jewess, your Excellency. But she is still here. She’s the
daughter of the financier Prèhznev, of Petersburg, who was sent to the
mines.”

“Prèhznev!” repeated the General, in surprise. “Ah! Show her in—and—and
see we are not disturbed, Ivanovitch—you understand.”

“Yes, your Excellency.” And the man saluted and disappeared.

In a few seconds Mascha, pale and trembling, advanced timidly into the
room. The Governor was standing near the door when she entered, and as he
closed it after her he pushed the small brass bolt into its socket. Then
he turned sharply, and asked—

“Well, girl, what do you want?”

“Your Excellency,” said Mascha, bowing with that fawning humility which
every Hebrew is bound to show towards Government officials, “I have been
sent by our good _ispravnik_, Ivan Osnavitsch.”

“Very kind of him to select beauty for me and send it to my door, I’m
sure,” remarked the General, under his breath.

Continuing, Mascha briefly explained that she and her mother were
starving, and that her parent was dying of sheer want.

“But you are a Jewess,” he said sternly. “The relief which my Imperial
Master has entrusted me to distribute is only for Orthodox Russians.”

“Have pity; have mercy upon us,” she cried earnestly. “I know that I, a
Jewess, have no right to ask a favour of your Excellency, but my dear
mother is dying!”

“I cannot prevent that, my pretty one,” he said more kindly, stroking her
fair, dishevelled hair.

With a quick movement he placed his arm around her waist, and grasping
her tightly, pressed her against his breast, adding, “Come, I must have a
kiss!”

Before she could evade him, she felt his hot breath upon her face, and
his lips pressed her soft, dimpled cheek. Trembling with fear and flushed
with indignation, she struggled and succeeded in freeing herself from his
hateful clutches. But she did not upbraid him, although her face became
more woeful than before.

Frowning, he regarded her with an expression of displeasure, saying: “The
wife and child of a political exile classed among dangerous Nihilists can
expect no relief from His Majesty’s private purse.”

“It is to your sympathy that I appeal,” Mascha exclaimed imploringly.
“Although my people and yours are of different creed, we all adore the
same Father, our Tzar.”

“And Isaac Prèhznev was sent to Siberia by _étape_ for conspiring against
his life! Curious adoration, eh?”

“It’s false!” she cried hotly. “He was wrongly accused; denounced by
some unknown enemy, and sent straight to Irkutsk without any chance of
defence.”

“Ha! ha! my pretty champion. So that is the way you speak of the justice
of His Majesty! Your words betray you: they show that you, too, have
become imbued with the revolutionary teaching of the propaganda.”

Mascha saw she had been trapped. In a moment she knew that he suspected
her of Nihilistic tendencies.

Martianoff noticed her alarm, and said: “You need not fear. I don’t
intend that you should share your father’s fate. You are too pretty for
that.”

“Have you decided to give me food?” she demanded, her brows knit in
displeasure.

His coarse, sensual features again relaxed into a leering smile, as he
suddenly flung his arm around her neck. Bending, he placed his lips close
to her ear, and whispered some words.

“No! no!” she cried wildly. “God protect me!” And she struggled to free
herself from his hateful embrace.

“You refuse?” he said, in a stern, harsh voice.

“I would rather die than agree to such terms,” she replied, her eyes
flashing with indignation.

“Very well,” he snarled, as he thrust her from him impatiently. “Go back
to your hovel and die, you daughter of a dog. Begone!”

“But your Excellency—I——”

“No more words,” he thundered, adding a curse. “Go! or I’ll fling you
out.”

Staggering to the door, sorrowful and crestfallen, she drew back the bolt
and went out, her eyes half-blinded by tears.

The moment she had gone, the General touched a gong, at the same time
muttering: “The dainty, obstinate little bird must be brought to her
senses. She must be put into a cage and tamed.”

“Ivanovitch,” he said aloud, addressing his servant. “That Jewess is a
Nihilist. Order Osnavitsch to have her closely watched.”

Then he viciously bit the end off another cigar, and taking up the paper,
resumed his reading.

Mascha, after leaving the Palace of the Governor, had wandered about for
several hours in search of some one who would give her bread; but all
her efforts were futile, and when she returned to the Ghetto she had
found that her mother had passed away.

With the moonlight full upon her she was kneeling beside the body, her
face buried in the ragged covering, and sobbing as if her heart would
break. Unable to restrain her flood of emotion, she did not notice the
cautious opening of the door, or the entrance of a tall, dark figure that
crept noiselessly up behind her and stood in the shadow watching, and
listening to her murmurings.

“It’s cruel,” she said aloud, suddenly drawing a long breath and
clenching her teeth in despair. “To the Tzar is due the dire misfortune
that has fallen upon our house. He has taken our money and cast us forth
to die like dogs! It is he—the Tzar—the murderer!—who is responsible for
my mother’s death. He is a vampire who lives on the blood of such as us.”
Raising her white, tear-stained face and looking up to the bright moon,
she cried despairingly: “What can I do? My father exiled, my mother dead,
Anton on military service, and I am left alone—alone!” she added, in a
half-fearful whisper, “to seek revenge!”

“Very pretty sentiments indeed,” remarked a gruff, harsh voice.

Springing to her feet, she confronted General Martianoff.

“You!” she gasped. “Why—why do you come here?”

“To see you, my pretty one,” he replied, throwing off his great
sable-lined _shuba_. He endeavoured to place his arm around her waist,
but she drew back quickly.

“And you have followed me here,” she said, in a tone full of reproach
and disgust; “here, into the room where my mother lies dead, in order to
continue your hateful attentions—to insult me before her corpse!”

“Ho! ho!” he exclaimed, annoyed. “Then you have not reconsidered your
decision?”

“No,” she replied firmly. “Have I not already told you that I prefer
death?”

He argued with her, flattered her, laughing all the time at her
indignation, and treating it with flippancy. Suddenly she turned upon him
with angry passion, saying: “I desire none of your detestable caresses.
It is such heartless officials as you who curse our country, who carry
out the ukases of the Autocrat with fiendish delight, and who are the
catspaws of the Persecutor of our race. What mercy ought I to expect
from you, General Martianoff, who sent Anna Ivanovna to the mines merely
because she displeased you, and who condemned Paul Souvaroff to solitary
confinement in Petropaulovsk for no offence except that he endeavoured to
save a defenceless woman from your merciless clutches. It is——”

“Silence! Wench!” he thundered.

“I will not be hushed when you insult me! You talk of love—you—whose
dissolute habits are as well-known as the yellow ticket of shame you
would thrust upon us Jewesses. I begged bread from you, and you refused.
See! there is the result!” and she pointed to where the body lay.

His face had grown livid, and rushing towards her, he grasped her roughly
by the shoulder. “I have not come here on a fool’s errand,” he said
fiercely; “I don’t intend that you shall evade me—you understand?”

“Let me go!” she demanded, struggling to get free. “Help! help!” she
cried.

“Silence! Curse you!” he growled, striking her a heavy blow upon the
mouth. Although stunned for a few moments she continued to struggle
desperately.

Suddenly he lifted her from her feet and tried to drag her by sheer force
to the door leading to the room beyond. She saw his intention, and for
several minutes fought fiercely with a renewed strength of which she had
not believed herself capable.

Presently, in the heat of the struggle, something heavy fell from his
pocket. She stooped and snatched it up. At that moment she felt her
strength failing, and exerted every muscle.

“Will you let me go?” she shrieked, her lips cut and swollen by the cruel
blow he had dealt her.

“No, I will not,” he replied, with an imprecation.

As he uttered the words something bright glittered in her hand. He
grasped her arm, endeavouring to gain possession of it, but was too late.

There was a flash, a loud report, and General Martianoff staggered back
against the wall with an agonised cry.

“You—you’ve shot me!” he gasped hoarsely, and then sank upon a chair,
inert and helpless, with blood streaming from a wound in his shoulder.

Mascha, in desperation, had resorted to the last extremity in defence of
her honour.

That night was an eventful one in Mstislavl.

The ignorant moujiks, encouraged by the officials of the Government,
had heaped every indignity possible upon the Jews, and the anti-Semitic
feeling reached a climax when it became known that a Jewess had attempted
to assassinate the Governor.

Led by a wild-haired local agitator, a mob of a thousand persons
proceeded to the Ghetto and carried out a frightful work of destruction.
They surged down the narrow street, and after entering the houses and
treating the inmates with shocking brutality, looted and set fire to
their homes. The enraged rioters wrecked the Synagogue and killed the
Rabbi, shouting, “Clear out the rats’ nest! Kill them all!” Screams of
pain mingled with wild yells of triumph, and through the long night the
Ghetto was a veritable Pandemonium.

The scene was terrible. The street ran with blood. Many Jewish women fell
victims to the brutal lust and frantic frenzy of the mob, and were so
barbarously maltreated that eleven succumbed, while a dozen men were shot
or stabbed.

Before dawn the Ghetto had been totally destroyed and its unfortunate
inhabitants, having lost everything they had, were compelled to seek
shelter in the forest on the Kritchev road, where many afterwards died of
exposure and starvation.

General Martianoff lost no time in wreaking vengeance upon my hapless
sister. She had been arrested and taken to prison immediately after
firing the shot, and he had condemned her to receive fifty lashes of the
knout. Such a sentence was tantamount to death, for punishment by the
knout is so barbarous a torture that few strong men could survive so many
strokes. Yet whippings were of everyday occurrence in the Tzar’s empire,
and even women are not spared by the officials.

It was about ten o’clock on the following morning when Mascha emerged
from the grimy portals of the prison, and under a strong escort walked
across the market-place to the temporary platform that had been erected.
A great crowd had assembled to witness the chastisement of “the pretty
Jewess,” and as she mounted the steps, with pale, determined face, they
greeted her with fierce yells of triumph.

She looked round upon the sea of upturned countenances contemptuously.

On the platform there had been set up a square wooden frame.
Unceremoniously, the brutal moujiks, who assisted the executioner,
grasped her with their coarse, dirty hands and tore off her clothing,
exposing her bare, white back down to the waist.

The mob roared with approbation when they saw this preparation. A few
moments later she was forced upon the black frame, and her wrists and
ankles secured so tightly that the tension almost caused dislocation of
the joints. Then the executioner, whose duty it was to carry out the
sentence, seized the knout—a number of triangular thongs of leather fixed
into a short whip handle—and looked round for the signal to commence. As
he did so, General Martianoff, with his shoulder bandaged, made his way
through the expectant crowd, and shouted—

“Come, get to work. Don’t spare her, but keep the death-blow till last.”

Hushed and open-mouthed, the spectators awaited the result of the first
blow.

The executioner receded, swung the terrible torture instrument over his
head, and giving it a peculiar twist, brought it down upon the victim’s
back with a sound like a pistol-shot.

The cruel thongs cut their way into the flesh and the blood gushed
forth. Time after time the blows fell monotonously, until the quivering
flesh was beaten to a pulp, and both victim and executioner were covered
with blood.

Such was the scene of fiendish brutality that met my gaze on my arrival
at Mstislavl, after having traced my mother and sister from Petersburg.

I was making my way through the shouting populace when, out of mere
curiosity, I glanced at the face of the unfortunate girl, and recognised
her.

Was it surprising that I rushed wildly up and endeavoured to stop the
horrible punishment? So suddenly did it all happen, however, that I
remember very little about it, except that in my wrathful indignation I
cursed the Tzar’s myrmidons, and struck in the face the inhuman Governor
who attempted to throw me from the platform. Thinking that I was Mascha’s
lover, and enraged at the blow, he thereupon ordered me to receive thirty
lashes.

I saw them carry away the insensible, mutilated form of my poor sister.
Then they tied me to the frame.

I felt the thongs cut into my back like knives. Once! Twice! Thrice! The
pain became excruciating. My head reeled, and a moment later all became
blank.

When I regained consciousness I found myself in the prison hospital with
warders rubbing salt into my wounds. I asked after Mascha, and was
informed that she was still alive, and recovering.

One morning, while exercising in the prison yard, I saw her for a few
brief moments, and she told me the story I have narrated.

Two days later my warder announced that we had both been condemned by
General Martianoff as assisting in the dissemination of revolutionary
propaganda, and sentenced to hard labour for life in the Siberian mines!

Then I made a solemn vow of revenge, and from that moment became a
Nihilist.


FOOTNOTES

[1] “Security Section” of the Secret Police.

[2] Chief of police.



CHAPTER II.

ON TRACKLESS SNOWS.


During six weary months I had been kept in solitary confinement in
a small, cold, ill-lit cell in the Fortress of Peter and Paul at
Petersburg, whither I had been transferred from Mstislavl. Dispirited by
solitude, weakened by lack of exercise, and ill through want of proper
medical attention, I began to fear that the confinement would cause my
reason to give way; therefore it was with a feeling of relief that one
day I greeted the announcement of my warder that we were to start for
Siberia on the morrow.

A detailed description of the frightful hardships of my long and terrible
journey would fill a volume, but it is only my intention to outline them
briefly.

With a hundred other men and women of all ages we left the grim fortress
at midnight, a sorry, smileless band, whose clanking chains formed an
ominous accompaniment to the loud shouts and cracking of whips of our
Cossack escorts. We were each attired in grey kaftan, strong knee-boots,
and sheepskin bonnet. Our breasts bore a metal plate with a number, while
strapped over our shoulders was the rug, the mess tin, and the wooden
spoon that comprised our travelling kit.

With ankles fettered by long heavy chains held to the waist by means
of a rope, we were fastened together in gangs and passed out upon the
Chudova road on the first stage of the weary tramp to that bourne whence
few exiles return. The rumbling of the springless carts in the rear,
for those who might fall ill on the way, awoke the echoes of the silent
thoroughfares, and following us were several Cossacks who with lanterns
carefully examined the road over which we had passed, in order that no
letter should be dropped clandestinely.

The night was wet and stormy as our weird, dismal procession passed
through the slumbering city and out upon the broad highway on its journey
eastward to the Ourals. Our wet clothes clung to us as we walked;
the icy wind that blew across the wide open plain chilled our bones.
Nevertheless, we plodded doggedly onward in silence, for conversation
had been forbidden, and those who had spoken had felt the heavy thongs
of the escort’s knout. The settled look of despair, and the sighs that
frequently escaped my fellow-exiles, plainly showed what were their
feelings at being banished from their native land.

Since the day I had seen Mascha in the prison-yard I had heard nothing of
her. A thousand times I had wondered what had been her fate; yet now,
in my despair, I had relinquished all hope of seeing her again. Indeed,
irreparable ruin had descended upon myself and my family so swiftly, that
already I had grown callous as to my ultimate fate.

Without trial, I had been sentenced by the Provincial Governor of
Moghilev, upon the report of General Martianoff, to hard labour for
life. Such, alas! was my punishment for endeavouring to rescue my poor
defenceless sister from the inhuman wrath of the dissolute representative
of the Tzar! I was well aware that for the Russian political convict
is reserved a death by slow torture to which any other means of ending
life is preferable. The silver mines in the terrible district beyond
Lake Baikal are the tombs of political suspects. The Government is
well aware that the conditions under which convicts work at Kara,
Nerchinsk, Pokrovski, and the other distant mining settlements to which
“politicals” are sent, are such as to cause death in from five to seven
years. With that refinement of cruelty for which the Government has
earned an unenviable notoriety, it has abolished the death sentence and
substituted one more torturing in that distant land where God is high
and the Tzar is far away. The prisons and _étapes_ of Siberia are foul,
insanitary, half-ruined wooden structures where human beings perish like
flies. Typhoid, diphtheria, and other epidemic diseases prevail there
constantly, and infect all who have the misfortune to be huddled into
the awful places. The grievously sick, for want of attendance, wallow on
the floor in the midst of filth, and their clothes rot on their bodies;
while so over-crowded are these pestilential _kameras_ by persons of all
ages and both sexes, that for those who are not fever-stricken there is
neither room to sit nor lie.

The exiles who are consigned underground are convicts of the worst type,
and political offenders of the best. The murderer for his villainy, the
intelligent honest Muscovite who expresses Liberal opinions—not a whit
more revolutionary than the ideas of English Radicals—are deemed equally
worthy of slow, agonising death.

Having reached Chudova, we were conveyed by train to Nijni Novgorod, and
there placed in a sort of cage on board a large barge, and taken down the
Volga and up the Kama to Perm, whence we took train to Ekaterinbourg, a
town of considerable proportions beyond the Ourals.

Here our weary journey on foot across Siberia commenced, and long before
the Asiatic frontier was reached, the paucity of human habitations, the
barrenness of the soil, and the increasing bleakness of the climate, had
had their effect upon even the hardiest among us. But we still pushed
onward, ill, hungry, footsore.

I well remember the day we crossed the frontier, and bade farewell to our
native land.

Already we had walked three hundred versts from Ekaterinbourg, along the
Great Post Road, at that season covered by a deep snow, and only marked
by the long straight line of black telegraph posts and wires. Away, as
far as the eye could reach, nothing was visible but the broad plain of
dazzling whiteness, and the grey, snow-laden sky, when suddenly we came
to a tall, square, brick-built obelisk, bearing on one side the arms of
the European province of Perm, and on the other those of the Asiatic
province of Tobolsk. It was the boundary-post of that great lonely
prison-land, Siberia.

No other boundary-mark in the world has witnessed so much human
suffering, or, according to Mr. George Kennan, has been passed by such
a multitude of heart-broken people. As it is situated about half-way
between the last European and the first Siberian _étape_, the captain
allowed our convoy to halt for rest, and for a last farewell to home and
country. The Russian peasant, even when a criminal, is patriotic, and
deeply attached to his native land; and there was a heart-rending scene
when our wearied band stopped before the crumbling obelisk. Some gave
way to wild hysterical grief; some comforted the weeping; others knelt
and pressed their faces to the loved soil of their native land, and
collected a little earth to take with them into exile, while a few of the
women, pale, tragic figures in their black-hooded cloaks, pressed their
thin, pale lips to the European side of the cold brick pillar, kissing
good-bye to all it symbolised.

The officer commanding our escort, who had been smoking a cigarette, and
looking with calm indifference upon this touching scene, suddenly shouted
the stern order, “_Stroisa!_” (“Form Ranks”), and at the word “March,” a
few moments later, we crossed ourselves, and with a confused jingling of
chains and leg-fetters, moved slowly away, past the boundary post, into
Siberia.

Day after day, week after week, hungry, cold, and fatigued, we trudged
across the bleak, snow-covered steppes, until life became so burdensome
that we longed for death.

Sometimes we passed the night in an insanitary _étape_ in one of the
wretched little villages along the road, but often we camped out in the
open, and, after our meagre ration of soup, wrapped our rugs around us,
and slept upon the ground around the fire we had lit. The hardships
of the long, monotonous marches were bad enough for men to bear, but
the women—who numbered about twenty, including several of noble birth,
condemned to the mines as Nihilist conspirators—fared worst of all.

One of them, Madame Marie Koutowzow, was a young widow I had met in
Petersburg society. She told me that she had incurred the special
animosity of a _tschinovnik_, or Government official, by refusing to
marry him, and he, anxious to avenge himself, had caused her arrest, and
had heaped up the hardships which might hurry her out of life. Death had
released three of these delicately nurtured ladies from their misery, and
we had buried them, without coffin or religious ceremony, ere we reached
Tobolsk.

When at length we arrived at the latter town, we were lodged in the great
convict prison, and allowed to rest for two days, after which we resumed
our journey eastward to Tomsk, arriving there three weeks later, with our
clothing in rags, and almost shoeless.

Although our experiences had been terrible enough during our forced
marches, the most horrible of all was our sojourn at the perisilni at
Tomsk—the prison where exiles remain until their fate is decided upon by
the authorities. The horrors of this den of vileness were indescribable.
The _kamera_, or public cell, into which we were driven like cattle, was
a long low room, ill-ventilated, and disgustingly dirty. Already there
were fully fifty convicts in it, and the smell of humanity that greeted
us as the great iron door was opened I shall never forget. When I looked
around and noted the dreadful groups, ragged, unkempt, unwashed, some
lying on the sloping wooden shelves which formed the common beds, others
crouching on the filthy floor, I shuddered with horror, and was appalled.

Amid this filth disease was rife. No fewer than four men and two women
were at that moment dying of typhoid, while the body of a girl who had
succumbed was lying unheeded in a corner. No notice whatever was taken
of invalids by the officials, and I afterwards learnt that this room,
originally intended as an infirmary, had been converted into a common
cell for the accommodation of the ever-increasing crowds of exiles,
12,000 of which pass through the prison annually.

Coarse brown bread and tschi were our two articles of diet. The former
was flung to us as to dogs, and owing to the rations never being
sufficient to satisfy all, a fierce fight for a morsel of food invariably
resulted. Ravenously hungry men struggled with one another to secure
bread for their wives and children who had voluntarily accompanied them
into exile, while friendless females, too ill to move, were left in
corners to die.

It was hardly surprising that Marie Koutowzow, a refined and delicate
woman, should become infected by the fever that was raging. Very soon she
grew too ill to participate in the daily fight for food, and I obtained
her rations for her. Lying upon one of the plank beds at the further end
of the _kamera_, she bore the ravages of the disease bravely, praying
that death might release her. Her desire was fulfilled, for six days
after she had been attacked the malady proved fatal.

For three whole days the body was allowed to remain in that crowded
den of filth. None dare complain. We knew too well that the reward
for pointing out the fact to the officials would be an unceremonious
knouting, for in Siberia the lash is used at the slightest provocation.

In the same ragged dress that I had worn during my three months’ tramp
from European Russia, and which was insufficient to protect me from the
intense cold, I was taken from this Dantean _kamera_ at dawn one day and
chained to a large gang of convicts. Then I learned that my sentence was
subterranean hard labour at Kara, the most terrible mines in the whole of
Siberia!

To the exiles who had been my companions from St. Petersburg I bade
farewell, and as one of a convoy of criminals of the most dangerous
class, I left the forwarding-prison and wearily dragged my chains across
the endless snow-covered steppes, _en route_ for the dreaded district
beyond Irkutsk. The thought that each step took me nearer to my living
tomb rendered me desperate. Why should I, innocent of crime, be tortured
to death in the same manner as murderers and hardened criminals?

I resolved to endeavour to escape. It was a mad project, I admit,
for there was but little chance of crossing the wastes of snow which
stretched away three thousand miles before civilisation could be reached.
Nevertheless I determined to risk all. If I died in the snow, or starved,
it would end my miserable existence, and prevent further tortures being
heaped upon me.

In this frame of mind hope returned, and I walked on day after day,
watching for a chance to carry my hazardous design into effect. After
leaving Krasnoyarsk the chains that bound us to one another were removed,
and we were allowed to walk in groups. One day while trudging along the
road leading to Irkutsk we halted at a post-station. The weather being
intensely cold, the captain commanding the Cossacks sometimes allowed
those of us who had money to purchase _vodka_. On this occasion, however,
when we knocked at the door, our summons remained unanswered. It was
evident that the two men placed in charge of the low log house had
gone to visit their neighbours, the nearest of whom were twenty versts
distant; so after a further endeavour to open the door, we were compelled
to resume our weary tramp. About ten versts farther on we encamped for
the night on the border of a gloomy pine forest. This was the first
occasion we had slept near anything that might act as cover, therefore
I resolved, when my comrades were asleep, to slip past the sentries,
and make a dash for liberty. Tying my leg chain tighter to my waist to
prevent it jingling, I threw myself down after eating my evening ration,
and waited with breathless impatience. The minutes seemed hours, until at
last the camp became hushed in slumber; then I carefully rose, while the
Cossack sentry’s back was turned, and plunged swiftly and silently into
the great, dismal forest.

It was an exciting moment. Every second I expected to hear the hue
and cry raised, but as I gradually increased the distance between my
captors and myself, it seemed as though my escape remained undiscovered.
For an hour I walked in a straight line through the trees, and at
length I doubled, in the hope of finding the post-road I had left. My
anticipations were realised, and during the remainder of the long, dark
Siberian night I sped along as fast as my tired legs would carry me over
the road we had travelled on the previous day.

The almost insurmountable obstacles to my escape never entered my head,
so elated was I at the prospect of freedom.

Dawn came, and the weak, yellow rays of the sun were struggling forth,
when by chance I turned and looked behind me.

What I saw caused me breathless terror and dismay. In the distance,
looking like three black ants on the snowy horizon, were a trio of
mounted Cossacks riding at full gallop.

It was evident they had seen me!

I looked round for some means of concealment, but there was none. In the
distance, about a verst away, I saw the deserted post-house we had passed
on the day previous. Without knowing what impelled me, I started running
as hard as I could in that direction; but as I glanced round from time
to time I saw the Cossacks were fast gaining upon me.

They shouted to me to stop, but I took no heed. Some superhuman strength
seemed to possess me, and I ran swiftly and lightly over the snow towards
the house. Gradually they drew nearer, and then I heard the report of a
rifle, but finding myself unhurt, I redoubled my pace.

As the triumphant yells of the galloping Cossacks broke upon my ears, I
gained the rear of the house and halted for a moment to discover some
safe retreat.

There was none. The doors were fastened as they had been on the day
before. Not a moment was to be lost, for already I heard the thud of the
horses’ hoofs upon the snow. I had to choose between a brief life of
horrible torture that would follow my recapture, and instant death! I
chose the latter.

Glancing round wildly, I sought means of suicide. As I did so the yelling
soldiers, with revolvers drawn, came tearing round the side of the house.

“Surrender! or we’ll fire!” they cried.

I looked determinedly into their faces. It was a case of life or death,
and they were driving me to the latter.

Before they could anticipate my intention or level their weapons at me, I
made a dash for a deep well, situate about twenty yards distant, shouting
in my despair—

“I’ll kill myself rather than go back!”

A moment later I had jumped headlong into it.

How long I remained in a state of semi-consciousness I had no idea. I
remember lying silent and motionless listening to the voices of the
soldiers above, and scarce daring to breathe.

“See!” cried one, “it’s useless to get him out. His neck is broken or he
could never be crushed into a heap like that.”

The second man suggested that I might be merely stunned, but the third
exclaimed—

“He’s dead enough, poor devil. Why should we trouble ourselves to take
him out? Leave that work for the post-house keeper when he returns.”

“He was no fool either,” observed the first man grimly. “I should kill
myself if I had the same choice.”

Although the second man did not persist in his demand for my extrication,
he fired his revolver down the well, afterwards remounting and riding
slowly back with his companions.

When I thought they had departed I rose, and to my intense delight found
myself uninjured. The well being frozen, the ice was covered with a thick
layer of snow, and this had considerably diminished the concussion of my
fall. The Cossack’s bullet had not struck me, and beyond a bruise on my
elbow I was none the worse for my reckless leap.

At this moment I discovered that the chain used to draw up water was
unwound from the windlass and suspended close to my hand. With an
exclamation of joy I grasped it, and after ascertaining that it was fast
at the top, quickly clambered to the surface and in a few moments again
stood before the post-house.

Then the thought suggested itself that if I could effect an entrance I
might discover food and clothing, for it was impossible for me to go far
in a convict’s dress with a yellow diamond upon the back, without being
rearrested. I tried both doors, but they were securely fastened. After a
search, however, I came across a long piece of iron in an outhouse, and
with it contrived to wrench off the latch of a window-shutter. Afterwards
I broke open the double windows and clambered in. The one large room
facing the road was a bare-boarded, dirty apartment, and, like all
Siberian post-houses, devoid of any furniture beyond a plain deal table,
a couple of rush-bottomed chairs, and a bench. In the centre stood a
large, round stove, while on the wall was a badly executed picture of the
Virgin. There was some food upon the table, and the room bore evidence of
recent occupation.

As I passed into the sleeping apartment beyond, I started and drew back
in alarm, for lying upon the unclean straw mattress, fully dressed, and
covered with a heavy fur overcoat, lay a man. His face was turned from
me, but after a moment’s hesitation I shook him gently by the shoulder.
He did not stir.

I placed my hand upon his face, but drew it back instantly, for its
contact thrilled me. It was icy cold! The man was dead!

As I realised the truth, my eyes fell upon a piece of paper lying upon
the chair beside him. Taking it up, I read the following words written in
pencil in a feeble, shaky hand—

“_I shall die before you can return with medical aid. I order you in the
name of the Tzar to send on the despatches by a trusty messenger. You
will be repaid.—IVAN DRUKOVITCH._”

On searching the body I found the dispatches referred to secreted in the
money-belt around his waist. There were three official letters, secured
by the Imperial seal, and addressed to General Sergius Okoulow, Governor
of the District of Kolymsk, the Arctic exile settlement in the Province
of Yakoutsk. With the letters I found about 500 roubles in notes, and a
passport which declared the bearer to be “Ivan Drukovitch, messenger in
the service of His Imperial Majesty the Tzar, on official business to the
Governor of Kolymsk.”

It did not take me long to decide what course to adopt. Divesting myself
of my rags—which I put in the stove and set fire to—I attired myself in
the dead man’s uniform, strapped the money-belt with its contents around
my waist, together with a revolver, and destroyed the note the dead man
had written. After a brief search I discovered a file among the tools
belonging to the post-house keeper, and in half an hour had succeeded in
freeing my ankles of the galling fetters. Getting out of the window, I
went to the stable, where I found the courier’s horse, and having saddled
it mounted and rode away in the direction the convoy had taken.

Fortunately, my head had not been shaved, as is usual with criminals
entering upon the life sentence. The transformation from convict to
Imperial messenger was complete. My official dress, with its brass
double-headed eagle on the cap, was an effectual disguise. The wide
collar of my riding-coat was turned up, and just as it was growing dusk I
overtook the convoy. As I saluted the officers they responded, and I rode
past, inwardly chuckling, and soon left the sorry band of malefactors far
behind.

Mine was a terribly lonely and monotonous journey. Instead of following
the road to Irkutsk, I rode due north until I came to the mighty Lena,
afterwards travelling along its bank a distance of 700 English miles,
until I reached Yakoutsk. Remaining there for a couple of days, I again
bade farewell to all human companionship, and set out for the terrible
regions within the Arctic circle.

From the first I had recognised that it would be useless to attempt to
return to Petersburg by recrossing the Ourals, for the passport was
endorsed with dates so recent that if I presented it at the European
frontier it would be at once discovered that I had not had time to
travel to Kolymsk. This, combined with various other reasons, caused me
to assume the _rôle_ of courier and deliver the Tzar’s dispatches to the
person to whom they were addressed.

It is needless to refer in detail to my journey of 2,500 versts from
Yakoutsk across the great uninhabited desert and over the moss-covered
_tundras_, or Arctic swamps, to the most northerly exile settlement.
Lonely and weary, I sometimes rode for three and four days without
reaching a post-house or seeing a single human being, and frequently I
was in a half-starved, half-frozen condition. Time passed, and I kept no
count of it. My thoughts were only of eventual freedom. Having destroyed
the note left by the dying man, together with my convict’s rags, I knew
the post-house keeper would be puzzled at finding the corpse had been
plundered, and as there was no telegraph to Yakoutsk, I was confident
that I should not be forestalled by the news of the courier’s death.

After an incessant journey, lasting two months, I arrived at Sredne
Kolmysk, a small town of log huts situate at a point far beyond the
Arctic circle, where the deep river Ankudine flows into the Kolyma.
The houses, scattered about in disorder, are inhabited by Cossacks,
Mieshchany, Yakouts, and exiles. The highest erection is a log church,
and the only curiosity a small wooden tower, crooked with age, which
stands within the church enclosure, and was built by the conquerors of
the country as a protection from raids of hostile tribes. The condition
of the unfortunate exiles there was terrible, even for Siberia. In that
land, where winter commences in August and lasts till May, and where the
temperature varies from nine degrees above freezing-point to thirteen
degrees below, man is utterly powerless. Only a handful of wretched
savages inhabit the fearful region, having been driven to outer darkness
by the tribes with more vitality and energy.

It takes about eighteen months to reach this extremity of the habitable
globe, and by introducing, as a part of the penal system, exile to
the Arctic zone, the Russian Government has overstepped even its
broad allowance of iniquity. This hamlet is a penitentiary colony for
political exiles, whose punishment is purposely aggravated by physical
suffering, and who are compelled to exist in a perpetual state of famine
in dwellings that are simply wretched huts built of upright beams, with
rafters laid across and covered with layers of earth. From the Government
store musty rye flour is eked out to them at intervals, and for the rest,
they subsist upon what fish they can catch in the river.

I was not long in discovering General Okoulow’s residence, and, acting as
Imperial messenger, delivered the dispatches in as ceremonious a manner
as I could. As I had anticipated, they contained several pardons, and
when this became known in the little colony I was _fêted_ and treated
with every courtesy and kindness. Although such a reception was pleasant
after the wearying monotony of the Verkho-yansk Desert, yet I was anxious
for an opportunity to shake the snow of Siberia from my feet. Having
waited several days while the Governor was preparing his reports for
Petersburg, I one morning made a request—not without trepidation, I
admit—that he should endorse my passport so as to enable me to go on a
brief visit to a brother in Petropaulovsk before returning to Russia. To
my joy, the accommodating Governor saw no objection to this course, and
with a light heart I set out at dawn on the following day towards the
Stanovoi mountains.

Crossing them, I rode onwards for four weeks through the wild grey
mountains until my jaded horse sank and died of sheer exhaustion. Being
compelled to perform the remainder of the terrible journey on foot, I
walked by slow, weary stages across the great lone land, where nothing
marked my route except the sun, and the country being totally uninhabited
I had to eat grass and willow-leaves for sustenance. Suddenly, however,
at the close of a dull, stormy day, I had the satisfaction of seeing, for
the first time, the broad, grey waters of the Pacific stretching away to
a limitless horizon.

Even when I had arrived at Petropaulovsk I had by no means eluded the
police. The journey to Kolymsk I had undertaken because I recognised
how extremely dangerous it would have been to travel to the coast with
a passport which distinctly stated my route and destination. The police
at Siberian ports are ever-watchful for escaping convicts, but in my
eagerness for freedom it never occurred to me that information would be
telegraphed to that extreme corner of the empire of the theft of the dead
man’s papers. This carelessness nearly resulted in disaster.

It was late one afternoon when I descended the hill at the entrance
to the town, and passed along the quay. In doing so I noticed a ship
anchored about a mile distant. Of a fisherman I casually inquired
what the vessel was, and when she would sail. He replied that it was
a Canadian sealer, and that it would sail on the morrow. During the
remainder of the day I wandered about the dirty, wretched town in search
of some means of escape. I had only twenty roubles left, but with these I
intended to bribe some foreign sailor to let me embark as a stowaway.

When it had grown dark and I was looking about for lodging for the
night, I discovered, to my dismay, that I was being closely watched by a
police spy. In order to allay suspicion, I sought the police bureau, and
entering boldly, presented my passport. The _ispravnik_ chanced to be
there, and when he glanced at it a curious smile passed over his features.

“The Imperial courier, Ivan Drukovitch, is dead,” he said, looking at me
searchingly. “Consider yourself arrested!”

I waited for no more. Ere he had uttered the last sentence I had dashed
out of the door and down the street. Half-a-dozen policemen were
instantly in full cry after me, but in desperation I was determined not
to be apprehended just as I was within an ace of securing my freedom.
Exerting every muscle, I ran up and down the narrow streets until I
suddenly found myself upon the quay. In the glimmering starlight my eyes
caught sight of a moored boat. Without a moment’s hesitation I jumped
into it and cut the cord that held it. Before my pursuers could gain the
water-side the swift current had taken the boat down beside some great
piles and I was effectually hidden in the darkness.

It was an intensely exciting moment.

I heard the hurrying footsteps pass close to where I was concealed, and
listened to them receding in the distance. Then I breathed again. Taking
the oars, and dreading lest I should be discovered, I pulled swiftly
across the bay to the moored ship I had noticed in the afternoon.

The captain, a genial, kind-hearted man, took compassion upon me when I
had related my story, and a few hours later I had the gratification of
watching the twinkling lights of Petropaulovsk disappear at the stern.

Three weeks later I landed at Victoria, Vancouver, and after a short
residence there was provided with funds by our Organisation, and left for
England.



CHAPTER III.

MY FRIEND, THE PRINCESS.


The majority of Londoners are unaware that the headquarters of the most
powerful secret organisation in the world exist in their midst. The
unsuspecting persons who pass up and down a certain eminently respectable
thoroughfare in a north-west suburb, would be somewhat surprised if they
knew that in one of these houses the Executive Committee of the Russian
Revolutionists holds daily council and matures the plots which from time
to time startle Europe.

The thoroughfare, which, for obvious reasons, I shall designate as
Oakleigh Gardens, is formed of large, old-fashioned, detached houses
which stand somewhat back, with gardens in front. It is lined on each
side by fine old elms, and the residences are for the most part built
of red brick, with those square, white-framed, unornamented windows of
the Georgian era. The house in question is hidden from the quiet road
by a high wall in which is a heavy wooden door, but inside one finds a
well-kept flower garden and a roomy old house which bears an unmistakable
air of wealth and prosperity. Here exiles, whose escape from Siberia
Fortune has favoured, find an asylum.

In this house I took up my abode when I arrived in London. Smarting under
the terrible punishment to which I had been unjustly subjected, I had
long ago taken the oath, and thereby fettered myself body and soul to the
Party. I was determined to revenge myself upon the oppressors who had
starved my mother, knouted my sister, and sent my father to the mines,
although all had been perfectly innocent of any crime. Thus, from a
devil-may-care recruit I had developed into an ardent revolutionist whose
sole ambition was to assist in the struggle for freedom, and who was
prepared to go to any length in order to accomplish the object towards
which the Organisation was striving.

From an early age I had been taught English and French, being now able
to speak both languages almost as fluently as my own. This knowledge
I found of the utmost service, inasmuch as I had been selected by the
Executive to perform certain special duties of secret service. They did
not hide the fact that the work would require considerable courage and
tact, and that my life might sometimes be at stake. But I was fearlessly
enthusiastic.

After a six months’ residence in Oakleigh Gardens, during which time I
gained a knowledge of London life and made myself acquainted with the
majority of those devoted to our Cause resident in the metropolis, the
first matter was placed in my hands.

A few months previously, Ivan Grigorovitch, one of our Party, had
been chosen to convey some instructions to the Petersburg centre.
As he was well known to the Secret Police, he disguised himself as
a French commercial traveller, and with a French passport journeyed
from Marseilles to Odessa by steamer, intending to proceed thence
to Petersburg, the ordinary route from London being considered too
dangerous. His intentions, however, were frustrated, inasmuch as the
Odessa police, who had been apprised of his advent, arrested him
immediately on landing. A disaster resulted, for the papers found upon
him were compromising, the plot was discovered, and wholesale arrests
were made in Petersburg in consequence.

Twenty-three persons of both sexes were tried in secret, and, according
to the _Novosti_, the evidence given against them by Princess Kochkaryòv
caused life sentences to be passed upon each of them.

From facts that came to our knowledge, it was evident that some one who
had learned our secret had divulged it to the police, therefore the five
men forming the Nihilist Executive Committee—who must be known here as
Paul Pétroff, Alexander Grinevitch, Nicolas Tersinski, Isaac Bounakoff,
and Dmitri Irteneff—sat in council and condemned the Princess to death.

We cast dice, and it fell to me to carry out the sentence!

The cool, flippant manner in which my fellow-conspirators spoke of murder
awed me. They noticed my scruples and pointed out that the woman had, by
giving false evidence, been instrumental in the deportation of more than
twenty innocent persons, therefore she must die. As I had taken an oath
to carry out all commands of the Executive under penalty of death, I was
compelled to obey.

I had not far to search for Madame the Princess, for she was residing
temporarily in London, having taken a furnished flat at Albert Hall
Mansions, overlooking Hyde Park.

In the stalls at the Avenue Theatre I first obtained an uninterrupted
view of her. She was seated next to me, a fair form in a black evening
dress that revealed her delicate chest and arms, with a gleaming diamond
necklet around her white throat. Her age was about twenty-four, and her
perfect oval face had a shade of sadness upon it, notwithstanding the
great languishing violet eyes, and the tender winning mouth, while her
auburn hair had been deftly coiled, and was fastened with a diamond star
that flashed and sparkled with a thousand fires. In short, I thought her
the most lovely woman I had ever seen.

And I was plotting to kill her!

I gazed into her face, entranced by her marvellous beauty. Toying with
her Watteau fan, she turned her eyes full upon me, and the faintest flush
suffused her cheek; then she made pretence of reading her programme, and
afterwards became interested in the performance. When I went out to smoke
during the _entr’acte_ I passed her, and in doing so uttered an apology
in Russian, to which she responded in the same language, with a kindly
smile.

According to information I had obtained, she was the wife of Prince
Kochkaryòv, a noble in the third degree, some twenty years her senior.
Their marriage had been fraught with much unhappiness, and after a year
they agreed to separate. Since that time the Prince had remained at
his gloomy old palace near Markovka, in Little Russia, while his wife,
accompanied by an old man-servant and her maid, had resided for brief
periods in Petersburg, Paris, and London.

Since her arrival in England it was apparent that she was fulfilling some
mission as a Russian Government agent, yet the suspicion she excited in
some quarters in no way hindered her from obtaining social influence, and
she dispensed hospitality to a very select circle. She went everywhere,
and her daily doings were chronicled in the personal columns of the
newspapers. I had been watching her for several days, and on this evening
had followed her to the theatre in order, if possible, to become
acquainted with her.

When the curtain descended and we rose to leave I turned, and said to her
politely in Russian—

“You are alone, Madame. Will you permit me to find your carriage?”

“Thanks, you are very kind,” she said in English, with a pretty
hesitating accent. “My man has buff livery.”

“And the name, Madame?”

“The Princess Kochkaryòv,” she replied, adding, “We are compatriots, are
we not, m’sieur?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling. “It is always pleasant to meet Russians in a
foreign land,” at the same time handing her a card which gave my name as
Vladimir Mordvinoff and my address at a suite of furnished chambers I
rented in Shaftesbury Avenue.

A few moments later I handed her into her carriage, and as she thanked me
and drove away, I walked, morose and thoughtful, up Northumberland Avenue
towards my rooms.

During the week that followed we met several times. She showed herself in
no way averse to my companionship, for she told me that she was always
at home on Thursdays and would be pleased to see me. This invitation I
accepted, and thus I became a frequent visitor.

One afternoon I had called and lingered. The guests had departed.

In the fading light of the summer’s evening I was sitting with her in
her pretty drawing-room that overlooked the dusty trees. As she lolled
gracefully against the window the last ray of sunlight fell upon her, and
she looked daintily bewitching.

I admit that I loved her madly, passionately. Overwhelmed by the
contemplation of her beauty, enchanted by the magic of her voice, which
made the sweetest music out of the merest phrases, I thought of nought
but her, and was only happy when at her side. Yet when I remembered the
difference in our social position, and her marriage with the Prince, I
was almost beside myself with despair; I knew that mine was an adoration
that could only end in unhappiness.

Involuntarily my hand touched my pocket and struck something hard. I drew
it away in horror. What terrible irony of fate! The woman I loved dearer
than life was doomed to die by my hand!

She had been gazing dreamily out of the window, when suddenly with a
mischievous smile she exclaimed—

“You are very silent, m’sieur.”

I scarcely know what prompted me, but, jumping up quickly, and grasping
her tiny, bejewelled hand, I raised it to my lips and in English poured
forth a declaration of my love.

She trembled. Her breath came and went in short, quick gasps, but she did
not attempt to arrest the flood of passionate words that escaped me. Ere
I had concluded, my heart was filled with joy, for I saw my passion was
reciprocated.

Vainly striving to overcome her emotion, she exclaimed excitedly—

“I—I was unprepared—I did not think you loved me, Vladimir. Do you doubt
I care for you? Have you not seen it? _Mon Dieu!_ my married life has
been only a grim and dismal tragedy. I loved no man until I met you!”

“Do you really think sometimes of me, Princess?” I asked, scarcely
believing the truth.

“To you I am Irene,” she said in pretty broken English. “All my life has
been wasted hitherto. You have asked me; I have give you answer. I love
only you. Some day you will know me better. Now, you know me only for the
mad passion I bear for you. But yourself shall make satisfy of my past,
my truth, my honour, and—and I shall get—what you call—divorce from the
Prince, and we two will marry—eh? Of you I ask not one single question.
You are my lover, the only man for whom I have affection, and—and in
return I am your serf.”

She buried her flushed face upon my shoulder and sobbed.

Taking her in my arms, I swore to her everlasting constancy. All my heart
was in the declaration. In the glamour of that hour we were reckless and
egotistical as most lovers, heedless of the shadow that was growing up
behind the sunshine of our happy vows of undying affection. When she
grew calm, she looked up searchingly into my eyes and said: “You cannot
understand me. You do not know the bitterness of my life.”

“No, Irene. Tell me about yourself,” I said.

Hesitatingly she seated herself in a wicker chair, and motioned me to a
seat at her side.

“No, no,” I said, laughing. “At your feet, Princess; always at your
feet,” and, casting myself upon a low footstool, I took her hand in mine.

“My life has been wasted,” she said mournfully. “My mother was French;
my father an Imperial Councillor of Russia. My earlier life was passed
at Moscow, and afterwards at the Court at Petersburg. I was forced by
my father to marry the Prince, who, as you are well aware, is rich and
powerful. But, _ma foi!_ from the first he treated me cruelly. Within six
months of our marriage he commenced to ill-use me brutally; indeed, I
bear upon my body the scars of his violence. The world was _débonnaire_
while I was _triste_ and downcast, for I found he had a _liaison_ with a
French _danseuse_. I bore his insults and blows until I was in fear of my
life; then I came here.”

“How could he be so cruel?” I cried in indignation.

“Ah, I have not told all, Vladimir,” she said with a sorrowful sigh.
“The Prince plotted with his friend, Stepán Nekhlindoff, in order to
obtain a divorce, but I thwarted their vile scheme. Nekhlindoff tried to
compromise me, but I repelled his advances, for although I have so far
abandoned my marriage vow as to love you while I am still wedded, I have
done nothing by which my husband can obtain the freedom he seeks. Since I
left Markovka I have wandered about, to Paris, Vienna, Brussels, with no
protection against the dishonourable conspiracy. I grew tired of life—I—”

“You have a friend in me,” I interrupted.

“Ah, yes, my love,” she exclaimed, stroking my hair tenderly, and bending
to kiss me. “Though I have been in the midst of luxury and gaiety, my
life has been very dark and dreary. But happiness has now returned.”

“It gives me joy to hear you speak like this, Irene,” I said. “Nothing
will, I hope, occur to part us, or cause our love to be less stronger
than it is at this moment.”

“What can?” she asked quickly, raising her eyebrows. “We trust one
another. I have money enough for both. What more?”

The horrible thought that the knife in my pocket must sooner or later be
plunged into her heart flashed across my mind, causing me to shudder.

“No,” I replied with a feigned, hollow laugh, “I—it is only a foolish
fancy on my part. My joy seems almost too perfect to be lasting.”

“I am yours; you are mine,” she said passionately. “We shall marry and
live together always as happy as we are to-day.”

Twilight had faded, and it had grown almost dark. I had risen and was
standing beside her chair, bending and kissing her soft cheek, when
suddenly the door opened and the maid entered to light the lamps.

“Pardon, Madame,” exclaimed the girl, starting back, “I thought you had
gone out.”

“No, Nina, I shall not go out to-night,” said her mistress. “Tell cook
that M’sieur Mordvinoff will remain and dine.”

When the maid had lit the lamps and departed, I returned to where the
Princess sat, and noticed how her face had changed. Instead of the cold,
haughty expression usual to her, her flushed countenance beamed with
tender, womanly love, an expression that was supremely fascinating. As I
stood admiring her, a morbid fancy crept over me. Why should I not take
her life now she was in the zenith of her happiness? It would be better
so, I argued; better than allowing her passion to develop and overwhelm
me.

I was too well aware that the violation of my oath would mean death to
me as well as to her, and as I stood behind her chair I placed my hand
upon the hilt of the knife in my pocket and half drew it from its sheath.
But I could not bring myself to commit the crime. Drawing a long breath,
I pushed the keen blade into its leather case with a firm determination
to overcome my thoughts, and again seating myself upon the stool at her
feet, continued talking of our plans for the future.

A fortnight later I was summoned before a council meeting of the
Executive.

“We understand,” exclaimed Pétroff, the President of the Council, “that
you hesitate to carry out the sentence of death upon the Princess
Kochkaryòv. Why?”

I glanced round at the pale, determined faces of the five desperate
revolutionists who were sitting at a table in the well-furnished
dining-room in Oakleigh Gardens.

“I—I want time,” I stammered.

“Time! You have already had three months. We are well aware that you
admire her; but she must not escape. Remember the oath you took upon this
knife,” and he pointed to a long bright dagger that lay unsheathed on the
table before him. “The Executive have decided that the traitress must
die. If she escapes, you will pay the penalty. We trust in you.”

In a frenzy of mad despair I walked the London streets one day a week
later, seeking some means by which to avert the death of the woman I
loved. The decree of the Executive was irrevocable. Their terrible
far-reaching vengeance is known throughout the world, and it is their
proud boast that of those whom they have condemned to death, not one has
ever escaped.

After wandering aimlessly for many hours, my footsteps led me
involuntarily to Albert Hall Mansions.

It was late in the evening, somewhere about ten o’clock, when the old
servant Ivan admitted me. As I entered the drawing-room she did not
at first observe my presence, and I stood for a few moments watching
her. She wore a dainty evening gown of cream relieved by amber ribbons,
and was reclining in an armchair, reading a novel. The mellow light of
the shaded lamp fell upon her fair head pillowed on the satin cushion,
and her whole attitude was one of peace and repose. Between her dainty
fingers she held a cigarette.

Suddenly my movement startled her.

“Ah! Vladimir! _Quel plaisir!_” she cried, tossing aside her book and
rising to bid me welcome. “All day I have expected you.”

After kissing her upturned face I sank into a chair without a word.

“What ails you?” she asked, starting up in alarm, noticing my pale
countenance and mud-bespattered clothes. “You—you are ill. Tell me.”

“It’s nothing,” I assured her, striving to smile. “A slight faintness,
that’s all.”

Accepting the explanation, she re-seated herself and we commenced to
chat. Of what we said I have no recollection. I know that when she lifted
my hand to her lips I drew it away as if I had been stung. She was
caressing the hand that was so soon to take her life! The thought was
horrifying, and she was at a loss to understand the meaning of my action.

“You are not well to-night, Vladimir,” she said half-reproachfully.

“No, no, Irene,” I replied, “I’m well enough in health. It is the
knowledge of our love that troubles me.”

“Of our love?”

I cast her hand aside, and jumping to my feet, paced the room in
desperation. She clutched my arm, entreating me to tell her the cause of
my agitation. Suddenly I stopped before her.

“Princess,” I whispered hoarsely, grasping her slim, white wrist, “hear
me! I am base, ignoble: I have deceived you!”

“What! You love me not—you——”

“I love you better than life. I would do anything to save you, yet, by a
devilish conspiracy of circumstances I am compelled to kill you!”

“Kill me!” she gasped in Russian. “God! You are an imbecile—mad!”

Her face blanched; she tottered and almost fell.

“Yes, I was mad,” I said bitterly. “Mad to love you when I knew that I
must kill you. I am a Nihilist!”

“A Nihilist!”

“Yes. By your evidence some members of our Organisation have been sent to
Siberia, and the sentence the Executive has passed upon you is death.”

“Ah!” she cried wildly. “My God! It is the statement in the _Novosti_!
Listen, Vladimir!” Pausing to gain breath, she shuddered at the sight
of the long knife that I had drawn and held in my hand. “It was a vile
lie concocted by my husband in order that the Nihilist vengeance should
fall upon me. When Stepán Nekhlindoff’s plot failed he resorted to
this scheme, and got some journalist he knew to insert the libellous
statement, well knowing that I should not escape death.”

“Is the allegation untrue, then?” I asked, amazed.

“Yes. I swear it is. At the time of the trial I was at Odessa with the
Archduchess Paul, and was perfectly ignorant of everything until I saw
the paragraph. I wrote contradicting it, but they did not publish my
letter. It was the Prince who desired that the Organisation should remove
me and leave him free.”

“I accept your explanation, Princess,” I said. “Yet how am I to save you?
By my oath I am bound to obey the mandate of our Circle and encompass
your death.”

“I am innocent, Vladimir. Am I compelled to die?” she asked, glancing
apprehensively at the knife that flashed so ominously in the lamplight.
“Can I not have time—time to prepare for death?”

“How long?”

“Three days, or more. I—I shall not try to escape. I swear.”

“Very well,” I replied in a low voice. “It is agreed. Three days.” And
bidding her a strained, sorrowful farewell, I left her.

At eight o’clock on the evening of the third day the door of the flat was
flung open by Ivan in response to my summons.

“Is the Princess at home?” I asked of the grave-faced old man.

“Alas, m’sieur,” he replied in a grief-stricken voice, “Madame is dead.”

“Dead!” I gasped. “When did she die?”

“She—she has been murdered!” he exclaimed in an awed tone. “I discovered
her body two hours ago. The doctor and police are now in her room.”

I rushed along the hall to the apartment in which I heard low voices. It
was a large, well-furnished bedchamber dimly illuminated by two candles.
Upon a couch near the window lay the body of the Princess wrapped in a
white Cashmere shawl, the breast of which was only slightly stained with
blood.

Heedless of the doctor and two police inspectors who were conversing
together, I went over to the body and gazed upon it.

What I saw amazed me. I staggered, yet by presence of mind managed to
conceal my agitation.

The fair, handsome face of the Princess had been slashed with the knife
in the form of a cross, and the mutilation gave it a terribly ghastly
appearance.

Something bright in the hands of one of the police officers attracted my
attention. He was examining it by the light of the candles as I peered
over his shoulder.

It was a dagger which, in an instant, I recognised as mine!

I felt in my pocket. The sheath was there but the weapon had gone! I was
aghast in horror and amazement. I had been forestalled, and the Princess
had been murdered with the knife stolen from me!

The officer, after questioning me, took my assumed name and address,
explaining that I should be required at the inquest.

In reply to my inquiries, Ivan told me that the Princess, intending to
leave for Paris on the morrow, had sent on Nina, her maid, in advance to
secure her rooms. At five o’clock, while in the dining-room, he heard the
outer door slam, and concluded that his mistress had gone out. Two hours
later he entered the bedroom and discovered the crime.

The Executive sat on the following evening and I attended to make
my report. It was a mere formality, for the papers were full of the
mysterious crime.

“Princess Kochkaryòv is removed,” I said, briefly, when interrogated by
Pétroff.

“Thanks to the assistance of Dmitri,” he added grimly.

“Irteneff!” I repeated, glancing at the dark, middle-aged man indicated,
who sat with his elbows leaning upon the table.

“Yes,” the man said, laughing, “I knew how difficult it is to assassinate
the woman one loves, so I assisted you.”

At the inquest I identified the body, and Ivan related his brief story.
Twice the inquiry was adjourned, and subsequently a verdict was returned
that the Princess had been murdered by “some person or persons unknown.”
The Prince was communicated with by telegraph, but he took no notice, and
at the funeral Ivan and myself were the only mourners.

The police could discover no clue to the assassin, and thus another was
added to London’s long list of unfathomable mysteries.

One day, about six weeks after the funeral, I received a hurried note
from Ivan, asking me to meet him at half-past seven that evening under
the railway bridge adjoining the Charing Cross Station of the Underground
Railway.

Thinking that he might have something of importance to tell me, I kept
the appointment. The road which runs under the bridge is not too well
lit, and the spot is rather quiet about that hour.

Big Ben had just boomed the half-hour, when I felt a slight pressure on
my arm, and heard my Christian name uttered.

Turning quickly, I confronted a female figure enveloped in a travelling
cloak, and wearing a soft felt hat and a veil through which the features
were recognisable in the lamplight.

It was the Princess Kochkaryòv!

“Irene!” I cried, “is it really you?”

“Yes. I am no apparition,” she replied, with a laugh. “But I must not be
seen. Let us walk this way.”

In a few moments we were strolling under the trees on the Embankment.

“It was quite simple,” she said, in reply to my eager questions. “I
always was a little inventative. You remember that on the night you told
me of my doom you found me alone reading? Well, that night Nina was ill,
and I had been attending her. I did not call a doctor, as I had no idea
that she suffered from a weak heart. She died, poor girl, shortly before
five o’clock on the afternoon you had promised to return. Then a thought
occurred to me that, as her hair was the same colour as my own, I might
pass off her body as mine. I took Ivan into my confidence, telling him of
the attempt which would be made upon my life——”

“You did not mention my name?” I asked anxiously.

“Of course not. After I had dressed the body in one of my own wraps, we
carried it to my room and placed it upon the couch. Nina was about my
build, therefore I attired myself in her clothes, and taking the most
valuable of my jewels, left at once for Paris. Meanwhile Ivan remained.
From what he has told me it appears that he watched and saw a middle-aged
man enter the flat by means of a latch-key. After searching several rooms
he went into my bedroom. There the man saw a female form which he thought
was myself, and stabbed it to the heart. All this occurred within half an
hour of Nina’s death.”

“And it was the mutilation of the face that prevented me from discovering
that it was Nina,” I remarked.

“Exactly. Yet no crime has been committed, and I have escaped.”

“Wonderful!” I exclaimed, astounded at the curious combination of
circumstances.

“The Prince thinks me dead; therefore I am a free woman,” she said,
as we walked up Villiers Street. “I am no longer Princess, but Madame
Valakhina. I still love you, Vladimir, but I can see it is useless, for
if we met often the Nihilists would discover how they have been tricked.
I must therefore leave you. To-night I go to Brussels and afterwards to
Yvoir, on the Meuse, where I have taken a villa. Ivan is there already.
When you can safely leave London, come to me.”

We had ascended the steps and entered the Charing Cross terminus. The
hands of the great clock pointed to twenty-five minutes past eight.

“See,” she added, “I must go to the carriage. The train leaves at
eight-thirty.”

We walked along the platform, and she entered an empty first-class
compartment, in which a porter had already arranged her wraps.

When the man had taken his tip and departed, I said—

“Farewell, Irene.” My heart was too full to say more.

“No, no, Vladimir. Not farewell,” she sobbed, her large violet eyes wet
with tears. “_Au revoir._ We shall meet again—some day.”

And, as the Continental train moved slowly out of the station, she kissed
her tiny hand to me, again murmuring—

“_Au revoir!_ I owe my life to you.”



CHAPTER IV.

THE BURLESQUE OF DEATH.


The Secret Police attached to the Russian Embassy in London are
ever-watchful and untiring in their efforts to discover the plans and
movements of our Party. It is, therefore, our constant endeavour to lead
them upon false scents and direct their attention to quarters in direct
opposition to that in which we are working.

No monarch possesses such a prodigious organisation of police spies and
_agents provocateurs_ as the Tzar. His emissaries are in every European
city, and it must be admitted that for cunning and astuteness they are
unequalled. Attached to each Embassy is the _Okhrannoë Otdelenïe_,
consisting of some twenty or thirty detectives, whose duty it is to
closely watch political suspects and forward elaborate reports of their
movements to General Sekerzhinski, chief of the department at Petersburg.

The stratagems practised by these agents and their insolence are
unbounded. In smaller States, such as Bulgaria, Roumania, Switzerland,
and Italy, both law and political decency are violated, and these men
act as if they were in a Russian provincial town. No one in the Balkan
Peninsular doubts that the two Bulgarians who attempted to assassinate
Mantoff, the Prefect of Rustchuk, when he was so imprudent as to go
to Bucharest, were the tools of Yakobson, then third secretary of the
Russian Embassy in Roumania. Again, it was proved that they offered
people bribes to clandestinely introduce implements for false coining
into the lodgings of a well-known literary man, the Russian refugee,
Cass-Dobrogeanu. In dozens of cases attempts have been made—often
successfully—to introduce bombs and explosives into the houses of Russian
suspects abroad in order that they may be accused and imprisoned, thus
removing their revolutionary influence. After a recent trial in Paris
where six men were condemned to long terms of imprisonment for having
dynamite in their possession, it was proved most conclusively that into
the houses of four of them the explosive had been introduced by persons
bribed by a provocating agent of the Tzar’s Government!

It is also well known in our Circle that in the beginning of the last
decade Colonel Soudeikin, the then chief of spies and provocating agents
in Petersburg, proposed to his principal confidential agent—afterwards
his murderer—Degayeff, in order to strengthen his reputation in
revolutionary circles, that he should murder an unimportant fellow-spy,
P⸺, first exposing him to the revolutionists. “Of course,” remarked
Soudeikin, “it is hard on him, but what can one do? You must gain their
confidence in some way, and in any case P⸺ will never be good for
anything.” Indeed, the man referred to was already suspected of being a
spy, and all the revolutionists were on their guard against him.

At such a level of morality the prospect of a “paying job” is sufficient
to inspire the agents of the Russian “State police” with a spirit of
boundless enterprise. The advantage thus gained by the Russian Government
is enormous; provocation is the surest way to give false impressions
about the Russian patriots and to terrorise foreign public opinion to the
detriment of the liberation movement.

Recently the foreign branch of the “higher police” has been strengthened
and re-modelled. In London the section now works independently. Paris
has been constituted the centre from which operations in other towns
are superintended; then come university towns, such as Montpellier,
Zurich, and Berne, and the towns specially frequented by Russians, as
Nice and Mentone. From Paris “flying brigades” of spies and provocators
are sent out to places where “special activity” is required. The staff
of employees in the French capital has within the past year been
“renewed,” and their numbers greatly augmented. As an instance, no
fewer than twelve new agents were sent from Russia immediately after the
assassination of General Seliverstroff in Paris.

More attention is bestowed upon London than elsewhere, because it has
become known that many of the foremost of the so-called Terrorists reside
in the English metropolis. The satellites of the “Security Section,”
however, baffled by the watchfulness of our own spies, are unable to make
much progress with their inquiries owing to the traps we lay for them.
Indeed, finding their activity counteracted, they have now founded in
London a kind of Russian institution, which by its artistic and literary
attractions induces Russians living in the metropolis to visit it; the
aim being to facilitate the obtaining of information and the choice of
future victims for provocation. Members of the Party are, however, too
wary to visit it.

At the time the events related in this chapter occurred, the Executive
had resolved upon decisive action.

As a protest against the increasing tyranny of the late Tzar Alexander,
it had been decided that a grand _coup_ should be made at the Winter
Palace at Petersburg, where two members of our Organisation were engaged
as trusted servants in the Imperial household. News of the plot was
conveyed secretly to the various Circles on the Continent, while we in
London set about arranging the various details.

To Nicolas Tersinski, who lived in Heygate Street, Walworth, was the work
of manufacturing a dynamite clock entrusted. He had been a locksmith in
Warsaw and was skilled in mechanical contrivances. It was he who made the
bombs which wrecked the Imperial train near Grodno, and the machines that
had caused several other “outrages” were due to his ingenuity.

While these preparations were in progress, it was of course highly
essential that our secret should be strictly guarded and that our
ubiquitous enemies, the police spies, should entertain no suspicion of
our intentions. Nevertheless, we were one day amazed and startled to
discover that the “Security Section” had suddenly grown more active than
usual, and that there were unmistakable signs that they had gained some
knowledge of the conspiracy.

The Executive held a hurried meeting to consider the best means of
averting their espionage. I was still living expensively as a young man
about town, and as I rarely visited the house in Oakleigh Gardens, my
connection with the revolutionists was unknown to the police. For this
reason I was chosen, together with Grinevitch, to assist in the work
of “shadowing” the spies in order that Pétroff and the committee might
complete their plans and get the machine safely to Petersburg.

The work was exciting and somewhat risky; but it suited my adventurous
spirit. The daring with which our Organisation acted inspired me with
confidence, and I went fearlessly about attired in various garbs,
tracking the minions of the Tzar into all sorts of queer corners of
London. They were indefatigable; but, owing to our headquarters being
temporarily abandoned, they were entirely off the scent. It was my object
to further puzzle them, and, assisted by half a dozen other members of
the Party, I think I succeeded.

Meanwhile the clock was being completed and the plans for the _coup_
elaborated.

While sitting one evening at a small table in the Café Royal in Regent
Street, smoking, sipping kummel, and lazily scanning the _Petit Journal_,
a word in guttural Russian addressed to the waiter caused me to glance
across to a tall dark man in evening dress, who had seated himself
alone and unnoticed at the other side of the table opposite me. A
momentary glance was sufficient for me to recognise in him the original
of a photograph that had been given me and pointed out as Guibaud, the
renowned French detective, who had recently been placed at the head of
the “Security Section” in London.

He was lighting his cigar and flashing a fine diamond upon his finger,
when I suddenly asked him for the lighted match for my cigarette. By that
means I opened a commonplace conversation, and I quickly felt confident
that he had no suspicion that I was a Terrorist. After spending nearly
an hour together, and drinking at each other’s expense, we strolled to
Oxford Circus, where we parted, not, however, before we had exchanged
cards, he giving me one with the name “Jules Guibaud,” while upon mine
was inscribed the words “Pierre Noirel—National Liberal Club.” He told
me that he was a glove merchant in the Rue de la Paix, while I made him
believe that I was a young Belgian of independent means living in England
for the purpose of acquiring the language.

On leaving him, I jumped into an omnibus going in the direction of the
Marble Arch; but as soon as the conveyance had travelled about five
hundred yards, I alighted and followed the astute chief spy, who was then
retracing his steps down Regent Street. Eventually I discovered that he
resided in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, and from that evening I haunted
him like a shadow, in order to obtain an insight into his methods. I
quickly ascertained how closely day and night the prominent members of
our Circle were being watched, not only by the Russian police, but by
detectives from Scotland Yard, whose aid they had invoked. Guibaud and I
met on several occasions, and always as friends.

One afternoon when I called at the house of Isaac Bounakoff in Aspland
Grove, Hackney, to which our headquarters had been temporarily
transferred, Pétroff made a statement that caused me considerable
amazement and dismay. Notwithstanding our precautions, the spies had
discovered Tersinski’s house in Walworth, and were watching it. Isaac
had recognised one of the “Security Section” men standing at the corner
of the street. He had completed the machine, and was anxious to remove it
to a place of safety before search was made by the English police. It was
imperative that the incriminating object should be got out of the house
without delay, and after some discussion the task of removing it devolved
upon me, Grinevitch volunteering to assist.

Returning at once to my chambers, I contrived, by the aid of a grey wig
and the contents of my “make-up” box, to assume the appearance of an
elderly man. Attiring myself in a seedy suit, I donned an apron, which
I rolled up around my waist, so that when, an hour later, I alighted
from an omnibus in the Walworth Road, I presented the appearance of a
respectable mechanic. It was now quite dark, and as I turned down the
quiet street I met an ill-clad man sauntering up and down, smoking a
short, clay pipe. The light of a street lamp fell upon features which I
recognised as those of Guibaud! He gave me a sharp, inquiring glance, but
was unsuspicious; therefore I walked on until I came before Tersinski’s
house—an eight-roomed dwelling, with area and basement of the usual South
London type. Then I looked round suddenly, and seeing the spy’s back
turned, darted up the steps leading to the front door, and swiftly let
myself in with the latch-key.

The unfamiliar interior was pitch dark, and I was afraid to strike a
match lest the detective’s attention might be attracted. Groping my way
carefully up the stairs, I ascended to Tersinski’s workshop on the top
floor, where he had told me I should find the box.

After a few moments’ search I found it standing under a bench near the
window. Handling it with the utmost care—for it was already charged with
a sufficient quantity of dynamite to wreck the whole street—I drew it
forth and found it had the appearance of a small, black, tin deed box,
with handles at each end, while upon the side the name “F. Evans, Esq.,”
had been painted in white capitals.

I was just bending to lift it from the ground, when I was startled at
feeling myself seized from behind.

“Ah! You are my prisoner!” cried a voice, which, in a moment, I
recognised as that of Guibaud, who had evidently followed me into the
house.

At first both my arms seemed pinioned, but not for long. In a few seconds
I had recovered my breath, wrested my right arm free, and drawn my
revolver.

It flashed across my mind that we were alone, and that it was imperative
I should overpower him.

“Let me go, curse you!” I cried in French. “I give you warning that if
you don’t I’ll fire into that box and blow you to the devil!”

“Do it,” he replied. “You would die too. I arrest you for the manufacture
of explosives.”

“Don’t make too sure of your prey,” I said, at the same time taking him
off his guard, and freeing myself by dint of a great effort.

In the dim uncertain light, I saw something lying upon the bench, and
snatched it up. It was a hammer.

“_Sacré_,” hissed Guibaud, “you shall not escape now I have caught you in
the act,” and his dark form darted forward.

I was only just in time. Raising the hammer, I brought it down with a
crushing blow upon his skull.

Uttering a loud cry of pain, he reeled backwards and fell.

Without a moment’s hesitation I cast the hammer aside, thrust the
revolver into my pocket, and grasping the box, dashed downstairs to the
street door.

At that moment I heard a man passing outside, whistling a music-hall air.
It was Grinevitch; I knew that no one was watching outside. Opening the
door, I carried the box down the steps and hurried quickly away in the
opposite direction to that by which I had approached. Walking down Deacon
Street, in order to return to the Walworth Road, I was surprised to find
so many police constables, for fully a dozen passed me. Nevertheless, I
was unmolested, and on gaining the main thoroughfare hailed a passing
hansom, and placing the box on the seat beside me, drove to my chambers.

I had not been joined by Grinevitch as I had arranged, and supposed that
he had remained behind to ascertain the cause of the sudden arrival of
the police.

It was well that I left the house as quickly as I did, for I afterwards
learnt that a raid was made upon the place almost immediately. But beyond
finding three rooms full of furniture, some locksmith’s tools, and the
chief spy lying insensible, their vigilance was unrewarded.

A week later Guibaud had recovered from the blow I had dealt him, and
I was again “shadowing” him. He was walking along the Strand, in the
direction of Trafalgar Square, when I passed him and appeared to suddenly
recognise him. After a few minutes’ conversation I found he was going
into Oxford Street, therefore I proposed that he should accompany me
along Shaftesbury Avenue, and call at my chambers for a whisky and soda,
an arrangement to which he made no objection.

Soon afterwards he sat before my sitting-room fire admiring the artistic
decorations of my little flat, while I stood upon the hearthrug smoking
a cigarette, watching him with anxious expectation. He was foolishly
unsuspicious, or he would not have drunk the liquor I offered him.

Almost immediately after emptying his glass he became dazed.

“I—I don’t know how it is—but—I feel strangely unwell,” he exclaimed,
with an attempt to laugh, at the same time drawing his hand across his
brow. “_Dieu!_—my head is swimming—I—I——”

And after struggling to rise, he fell back in the armchair unconscious.

Unbuttoning his coat, I quickly abstracted the contents of his pockets.

There were only several letters and a well-worn pocket-book. Carefully
examining the entries in the latter, I found they consisted of the
names, addresses, and descriptions of various Russian refugees. Some of
the names had a cross against them, evidently denoting that they were
revolutionists. In the cover of the book was a letter on thin foreign
paper, which had been carefully preserved. Eagerly reading through the
communication, I discovered that the writer had betrayed our secret, and
gave a detailed outline of the conspiracy.

It was written in Russian by a person who gave his address at 88, Rue
Royale, Dieppe, and signed with the initials “P. P.” But the caligraphy
was unmistakable, for I had had a number of communications in that
handwriting, which I recognised as that of Antìp Patrovski, a prominent
member of the Paris Circle. A number of members of that branch of the
Organisation had recently been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment,
and now, from the letter I had discovered, it was clear that this
traitor to our Cause was in the pay of the Secret Police. Taking a
pencil and paper, I scribbled out a copy of the evidence of Patrovski’s
treachery.

It was his death-warrant!

After I had made myself acquainted with the contents of the other
letters, I replaced them all in the pockets of the insensible man, and
then endeavoured to restore him to consciousness.

When at last he opened his eyes and roused himself, I treated the matter
jocularly, attributing the result to the strength of the whisky combined
with the heat of the room. Almost the first thing he did was to feel
in his breast pocket. Finding both pocket-book and letters safe, his
suspicions were apparently allayed, and after drinking a little brandy he
pulled himself together and took a cab home.

Little did he dream that within half a dozen yards of where he had been
seated was the dynamite clock which I had taken from under his very
nose, and for which the police of London, Paris, and Berlin were busily
searching.

Next day I reported Patrovski’s treachery to the Executive, and sentence
was passed.

A week later news was received from Petersburg that all arrangements
there had been perfected. An emissary from the Russian capital was to
travel to Brussels and there receive the clock from the Executive. Every
port of departure for the Continent was, however, being carefully
watched by the police, and passengers by the various mail trains were
closely scrutinised at the London termini. Even had they not been
watched, the ordinary routes would have been useless, for the Customs
examination at any foreign port would have been fatal to our project. The
exact size of the box had been sent to Petersburg, and arrangements had
been made for smuggling it across the German and Russian frontiers.

At length, after much discussion, the Executive resolved that as the box
was in my possession, I should undertake the handing of it over to the
representative from Russia.

Owing to the spies at London stations, I was compelled to leave the
beaten track. On the day following the final decision, I placed the box
in a small portmanteau, together with some wearing apparel, and, calling
a cab, drove to Croydon, thence taking train to the quaint old town of
Deal. As there is no service of boats to the Continent from the sleepy
little place, I felt secure, and took up my quarters at the “Ship,” an
old-fashioned inn opposite the beach, frequented mainly by fishermen.

On the afternoon following my arrival, I was seated in the dingy little
bar-parlour scanning a limp, beer-stained newspaper three days old, when
an elderly toiler of the sea entered.

“Arf’noon, sir. Fresh breeze outside,” was his greeting in a deep, hoarse
voice.

I acquiesced, and as he seated himself in the window-bench and ordered
his rum of the ruddy-faced waiting-maid, I commenced to chat. From his
conversation I learnt that he was the owner of a small smack, and that he
and his three companions were going to “have a turn around the Goodwins
at midnight.” When, with a landsman’s ignorance, I asked whether the
fishermen of those parts were on good terms with the coastguard, he
winked knowingly and remarked—

“There’s a good deal wot comes ashore here as don’t pay duty, you bet.”

This remark gave me confidence in my man.

“Look here,” I said in a low tone, after we had been discussing the
various modes of evading the Customs dues. “The fact is, I’ve got
something that I don’t want to pay duty upon. How much do you want to run
me over to Belgium to-night—eh?”

The man looked keenly at me, and his features relaxed into a curious
smile. Removing the long clay pipe from his lips, he gazed thoughtfully
into his glass.

“Where do you want to land?” he asked.

“Anywhere that’s safe. My bag contains jewels—their description is in the
hands of the police—you understand?”

“Stolen,” he muttered, nodding his head. “I’ve done the same thing afore
for gents,” and he took a deliberate pull at his pipe. “Wenduyne ’ud
be the best place to run into. Nobody about; and you could take the
dilly-gance to Blankenberghe and then go by train direct to Brussels.”

“Very well; how much?”

“Twenty poun’.”

I tried to convince him that the sum asked was too much, but he argued
that it was “a contraband job,” and that there were three of his mates to
be paid out of it.

At last I consented.

“All right,” he said, “we’ll start at seven and land you afore daybreak.”

The evening was dark and stormy, but at the hour appointed I managed to
get the portmanteau out of the inn unobserved, and met him on the beach.
Quickly assuming the oilskin and sou’-wester he handed me, I jumped into
a small boat with the four men—about as rough-looking a quartette as one
could imagine—and a quarter of an hour later we boarded the smack that
lay at anchor some distance from the shore.

We lost no time in preparing to start, and soon hoisted sail, let go our
moorings, and set our bows around the Goodwins in the direction of the
Belgian coast. Gradually the weather grew more boisterous, and our boat
laboured heavily through the rolling seas until midnight, when the storm
abated.

The men were on deck managing the craft, while I, with the portmanteau
under the bench near me, sat alone in the corner of the narrow, dirty
little cabin, smoking and reading a newspaper by the uncertain light of a
swinging oil lamp. The motion of the boat must, I think, have lulled me
to sleep, for I was suddenly awakened by hearing whispering near me.

The lamp had gone out and I was in total darkness.

I listened, feeling convinced that I had heard subdued voices.

Suddenly hoarse, ominous words broke upon my ear.

“Garn. Don’t be a fool, Ned. He’s got jewels in the bag wot he’s stole.
There ain’t no reason why we shouldn’t share.”

It was the voice of the skipper.

“Hush! You’ll wake him,” exclaimed another voice.

“If he stirs, darn him, we’ll chuck him overboard, like we did the other
cove, that’s all.”

I sat breathless, hesitating to move. It was plain that the men were a
gang of unscrupulous villains who intended to rob me.

While I was reflecting upon my position, I heard the portmanteau being
dragged from under the seat where I had placed it. I knew I must act.

“Well, what do you want with my bag, pray?” I cried, jumping to my feet.

“Lie still, won’t you,” replied the skipper’s gruff voice; “we’re going
to have our pick o’ the stones, and if you utter a word we’ll put you
over where you can’t walk home.”

“Oh, indeed,” I shouted, drawing my revolver and standing erect and
resolute. “Although I can’t see you, you devils, the first one who
touches my bag is a dead man.”

A blow was immediately aimed at me, but fortunately it fell upon my left
arm. At that moment one of the men struck a light, and I found that all
four were in the little cabin with me.

The skipper, who had a life-preserver in his hand, noticed my revolver
and hesitated.

“Twenty poun’ ain’t enough,” he said fiercely, “so me and my mates mean
to have some of your jewellery.”

As these words fell from his lips, one of the men, a tall, burly fellow,
in a dirty yellow oilskin, grasped the handle of the portmanteau as if to
carry it upon deck.

“We want no jaw,” exclaimed the skipper. “Say a word, and we’ll drown you
like a rat.”

“Put that down,” I shouted to the man. “If you don’t, I’ll fire.”

But he laughed mockingly.

Pointing the pistol over his head, I pulled the trigger. The bullet
whizzed past his ear, and smashed the little square mirror that was
hanging up behind where he was standing. The man dropped the bag, and
drawing a knife, was in the act of rushing upon me, but one of his
companions held him back.

“No,” cried the fellow who had grasped his arm. “Give him one more
chance of life. If he hands over the bag to us, we’ll guarantee to land
him at Wenduyne.”

“I sha’n’t give it up,” I replied in anger. “In the first place, you
cowardly brutes have been caught in your own trap. There are no jewels
inside, but stuff that you’d rather not have on board this craft. All
that’s inside is dynamite!”

“Dynamite!” ejaculated the men, in alarm.

“Yes,” I replied. “Now, listen! You mistook your man. I’m not an
absconding thief, as you thought; but, nevertheless, I mean that you
shall take me to Wenduyne, and what’s more, land me there before sunrise.
If you don’t, my mission will be useless. I’m tired of life, and if you
fail to fulfil your contract, I shall touch the spring inside, and it
will send us all to kingdom come. Now, you infernal cut-throats, do as
you please. I shall remain here, and if you value your lives, you’ll
carry out the agreement for which I’ve paid you.”

Then I unlocked the portmanteau, and showed them the box concealed inside.

My fierce, determined attitude cowed them. Like beaten dogs, they
returned on deck without scarcely uttering a word.

The announcement that I had such a quantity of explosive had its effect,
for, just as dawn was spreading, I was put ashore in a small boat upon
a lonely part of the beach, about three miles north of Wenduyne, and
directed to the road down which the diligence to Blankenberghe would
pass.

That afternoon I took my seat in the mail train for the Belgian capital.

At the dinner hour on the same day I had taken my place at the _table
d’hôte_ at the Hôtel de l’Europe at Brussels, when a tall, handsome
woman entered, and bowing stiffly, took a vacant chair opposite me.
She was about thirty-five, and dressed with taste and elegance. Her
dark, piercing eyes looked into mine inquiringly for a moment, while I
gazed steadily at her. Then, to my surprise, she gave the sign of our
Organisation. Immediately I gave the countersign, and glanced at her
reassuringly.

During the meal we carried on a commonplace conversation in French, and
when it had ended we rose to separate. As we were passing out of the
_salle à manger_, she whispered to me in Russian—

“My room is number 64. Meet me there in half an hour.”

I obeyed, and entered her private sitting-room unobserved. From the
breast of her dress she drew forth her credential, a letter signed by the
chief of the Petersburg Circle. As my room was in the same corridor, I
experienced no difficulty in secretly conveying the box from my apartment
to hers, and opening her dressing-case, she placed the clock in the side
which had been specially constructed to receive it.

We sat talking for some time, she telling me of the progress of the
propaganda in the Venice of the North, and explaining how, on the
occasion of the festival of the Knights of St. George at the Winter
Palace, the _coup_ was to be made.

“I have been here four days,” she said, in reply to a question. “Early
to-morrow morning I must leave on the return journey. I have now only
five days, for it is imperative I should be back in time.”

“Well,” said I, rising to take my leave, “the Executive send you
greeting, Madame, and wish you _bon voyage_. May this forthcoming blow to
Autocracy prove decisive.”

“_Merci, m’sieur_,” she replied. “I am utterly devoted to the Cause.” And
we grasped hands.

Next morning, when I went down to breakfast, I learned that Madame had
already left—for Ostend they believed. After eating my meal I returned
to my room, and was astonished to observe a well-dressed man emerging. A
moment later I met Guibaud face to face.

“Why, my dear fellow,” he exclaimed, “they told me you were not up, so I
came to make an early call. Well, what are you doing over here? A little
love affair, eh?”

“No, I’ve just run over to see a couple of old chums. I was at college
here, you know.”

“Ah, of course,” he said thoughtfully. “I remember, you told me. Well,
I’m going down to get something to eat. Come into the _salle à manger_
presently, will you? We’ll spend the day together.”

I replied in the affirmative, and left him.

Entering my room, I at once discovered that my portmanteau had been
opened, and its contents turned over.

But the vigilance of the great detective had been frustrated, for he had
arrived a couple of hours too late.

At evening, six days later, I was walking down Pall Mall when a newsboy
held a paper under my nose suddenly, crying, “’Ere y’are, sir. Extra
spe-shall! Attempt to murder the Tzar! Spe-shall!”

I purchased a copy, and read the brief telegram regarding the explosion
at the Imperial Palace. The Salle Blanche, and the adjoining State
apartments, had been wrecked, and although no lives had been lost,
several persons had been injured. We regarded the plot as successful,
for once more, without the sacrifice of human life, we had terrified
his Imperial Majesty, and showed him that, notwithstanding his rigorous
measures, Nihilism was still active.

In the same journal, under the heading, “A Paris Mystery,” was the report
of the discovery of a body in the Seine, and from the description I knew
it was that of the traitor Patrovski.



CHAPTER V.

SOPHIE ZAGAROVNA’S SECRET.


On the kerb in the Strand, opposite the entrance to the Gaiety Theatre, I
was, one wet winter’s night, selling newspapers.

Ill-clad and unwashed, I lounged about with the cab touts who were
waiting for the conclusion of the performance, and although for the past
hour I had shouted the contents of the papers under my arm, I had only
sold three copies. The dirty ragged rabble from the slums off Drury Lane
eyed me with askance as a new hand, little suspecting that I was acting
the part of detective.

I was engaged in watching one of my compatriots who had recently arrived
in England, and whom the Party regarded with suspicion. Ostensibly he was
the agent of a firm of merchants in Moscow, but from secret information
we had received from the Circle in that city, we shrewdly suspected that
his real mission was that of agent of Secret Police. Owing to his failure
to discover the authors of the plot at the Winter Palace, Guibaud had
been summarily dismissed from the service, and we believed that this
man who called himself Albert Jacolliot was his successor. The vigilant
observation which for the past fortnight I had kept upon him went to show
conclusively that he was in London on some secret errand.

Assuming all sorts of disguises, I had watched him continuously since the
first hour we had received warning that he was near us, and under the
pretence of selling newspapers, I was now awaiting his reappearance so
that I might follow him.

Whilst standing on the kerb, wet and uncomfortable, gazing wistfully into
the warm, brilliantly-lit vestibule, a tall, beautiful girl descended the
broad flight of stairs. She was in evening dress, with a pink opera-cloak
around her shoulders, and a black lace shawl over her head. Slight and
delicate, she had large brown lustrous eyes, wavy hair, a firm mouth, and
a nose that was just tip-tilted enough to give the face an expression of
piquancy.

Several touts rushed up to her, crying, “Keb or kerrige, lady?” But she
took no heed. Standing at the entrance for a moment she looked anxiously
up and down, and then espied me.

Drawing her cloak closer around her, she walked across to where I stood.

“Paper, lady?” I asked. “_Globe_, _Echo_, _Star_?”

“Give me anything you like, Anton Prèhznev,” she replied in Russian,
at the same time uttering a pass-word that is known to the Russian
Revolutionary Party throughout the world.

I stood for a moment amazed. Noticing my surprise, she exclaimed in a low
tone, “Give me a paper.”

I gave her one, and in return she handed me a penny and a piece of paper
folded small.

“An order from the Executive—conceal it,” she said, and turning quickly,
entered a hansom that was standing near and drove away.

Presently, when no one was watching, I walked up Catherine Street and
opened the note under a street lamp.

The contents were brief, but to the point.

“The bearer is Sophie Zagarovna. Call upon her at 11 a.m. to-morrow at
76, The Terrace, Richmond, and render all assistance possible.—PAUL
PÉTROFF.”

Sophie Zagarovna! I knew her by reputation and had been anxious to
meet her, for she was one of the most daring of the Zurich Nihilists.
The boldness and success of her plots had more than once caused them
to be a source of comment throughout the world. It was she who, alone
and unaided, entrapped General Yagodkin, Chief of the Moscow Police,
and shot him dead because of the wholesale arrests of innocent persons
which he made after the attempt to wreck the Winter Palace. For the past
three years she had lived in Zurich, where she had been the idol of the
students. Young, refined, and eminently beautiful, she was queen of that
centre of learning, and the Russians and Germans studying at the colleges
vied with one another to secure her smiles. She knew well the advantages
of beauty, and influenced her young admirers to join the Party,
afterwards prevailing upon them to go to Russia and perform various risky
missions.

In more than one instance a young man, madly in love with her and
enthusiastic in the cause of freedom, had journeyed to the land of his
birth determined to strike a blow against Tzardom in order to secure her
favour, yet, alas! the result has been fatal—either death, or the mines.
Vain, and fond of admiration, she had numbers worshipping at her shrine,
yet through all the breath of scandal had never touched her. Indeed, so
intensely bent was she upon her purpose, that her heart appeared steeled
against love, and she treated those who paid her court with queenly
reserve. Of her parentage or real name nothing was known except that she
took the oath in Petersburg and afterwards went to Switzerland, where she
speedily developed into one of the most fearless of Terrorists.

I returned to the theatre-entrance after reading the order from Pétroff.
I saw my man emerge, and followed him to the Westminster Palace Hotel,
where he was staying.

Punctually at the time appointed, I was ushered into a pretty
sitting-room at Richmond, the windows of which commanded a broad view of
the Terrace Gardens and the picturesque valley of the Thames. In a few
moments Sophie Zagarovna entered, and greeting me with a winning smile
and pleasant words, sat down and commenced to chat.

“I am here, in England, upon a secret mission from our Circle,” she said
in Russian, replying to my inquiries. “The Executive have recommended you
as one who can assist me. It is for our Cause, but its true object must
not be known just yet. You must understand that it is not because you are
distrusted, but because there are spies in the very walls. Will you help
me?”

“For the Cause—yes,” I replied.

“Then listen. For the future I shall be known as Sophie Kalatenka,
daughter of the late General Kalatenka, Governor of Smolensk, and you are
my brother Ivan. We shall both change our residence and live at a West
End boarding-house, where the other boarders will know us as brother and
sister.”

“Yes,” I said, puzzled.

“You wonder why?” she added, arching her brows and laughing. “Well, you
will see. No one knows you at the Embassy, do they?”

“No.”

“Then leave all to me, and we shall succeed.”

I remained and lunched with her, spending a very pleasant couple of hours
discussing the prospects of the revolutionary programme, and criticising
its weak points. Then I took leave of her, promising to meet her in
London on the morrow.

Two months later we were one night guests at a grand ball given at the
Russian Embassy, Chesham House.

I had assumed the character of the handsome girl’s brother, and we had
taken up our quarters at an expensive boarding-house at South Kensington.
By means unknown to me Sophie had procured invitations for us both, and
it was about ten o’clock when we alighted from our hired carriage, and
shortly afterwards entered the fine ball-room. The uniforms of the men
added brilliancy to the gay scene, but among the women there was not one
so beautiful as my “sister,” who, attired in a dress of pale heliotrope,
looked fresh and fair as a spring flower.

Soon we were parted, and for the first hour I only caught occasional
glimpses of her as she waltzed with various partners. Her flushed face
betokened pleasure, and she laughed merrily at me over her partner’s
shoulder.

Later in the evening, when I grew tired of dancing, I sought the quietude
of the conservatory, which led out from an adjoining room. Casting myself
upon a seat behind a great palm, where I was completely hidden from view,
I gave myself up to reflection, vaguely wondering what was the nature of
Sophie’s secret mission.

Once, when she had been left alone for a moment during an interval, I sat
beside her, and asked how she was enjoying herself.

“Very much,” she replied in a low whisper behind her fan. “If a tragedy
occurs to-night, you need not be surprised.”

This warning puzzled me.

Suddenly, words broke on my ear. I was not alone, as I had imagined. As I
listened I heard a man’s short, derisive laugh as he replied to an eager
question put by a woman.

I recognised the tones of the latter as those of Sophie.

“Then you are not afraid of these murderous Nihilists?” she was asking.
“Are they not dreadful people?”

“Bah!” he replied confidently. “We are fully able to cope with such scum.
Siberia is large enough to hold them all, and before long we shall stamp
out the spirit of revolt from among the scoundrels. I myself have sent
dozens of Nihilists to the mines, and for that reason my life has been
threatened.”

“And you are not afraid of their vengeance?” she inquired.

“Scarcely,” he replied, laughing. “The cowardly idiots dare not touch me.”

“But they are fearless,” she observed. “Their emissaries are everywhere.
They might kill you!”

“They are perfectly at liberty to do their worst,” he replied grimly.
“But why talk of such a subject, when all here are so gay? You look
charming!”

“Thanks for the compliment,” she said. “But to hear about Nihilists
always interests me. I suppose you sometimes discover plots, do you not?”

“Yes, very often,” he answered. “Indeed, I am causing investigations to
be made now, at Moscow, and have obtained information which implicates
between thirty and forty persons. I shall be returning to Russia in about
a fortnight, and as the life of the Tzar must be protected, I shall
give orders for the arrest and transportation of the whole batch of
conspirators. But surely one so happy as yourself ought not to trouble
your head about such things,” he added, laughing.

Then I heard him utter words of love, and the sound of a kiss fell upon
my ear.

Presently, when he had declared his affection, and she had admitted in
faltering tones that she loved him, they rose and passed out into the
ball-room. I followed them unobserved.

The man upon whose arm she leaned, radiant and content, was Captain
Feodor Matvyèich, a tall fellow of thirty-five, with a well-shaped head,
and in whose fiery grey eyes there lurked a joyous twinkle, which told
of a right merry nature within. He was the very incarnation of robust,
mirthful manhood, and I knew that during the brief period he had been in
England he had been exceedingly popular among the attachés. I had no
idea, however, that he was the Chief of the Secret Police of Moscow, and
that he was in London endeavouring to elucidate some mystery connected
with the plot he had discovered.

When, shortly before the dawn, Sophie and I were driving home, I remarked
that the Captain was a pleasant fellow, in order to cause her to talk of
him.

But with a pre-occupied air she merely answered, “Yes, charming.” Then
she turned our conversation into a different channel.

A few days later Matvyèich called, and I was introduced by Sophie as her
brother. Soon he became a constant visitor, and we three frequently dined
and afterwards went to places of amusement together.

As time went on it was plain that Sophie’s love for him increased, while
on his part he adored her, sending her boxes of choice flowers daily, and
making her several costly presents of jewellery. I became more puzzled as
to the object of her mission by an event which occurred about three weeks
later. I had been out during the day, and returned about seven o’clock.
As I passed the door of our sitting-room I noticed that it was ajar, and
pushing it open, entered noiselessly.

Sophie, who did not notice my entrance, stood facing the fire, bending
and examining intently something she held in her hand.

Creeping up behind her, and peeping over her shoulder, I saw, to my
surprise, that she held in her hand a morocco case, containing a pretty
ornament, evidently intended for the adornment of the hair. It was in the
shape of a rapier, the tapering blade being of steel, while the hilt was
set with diamonds.

Intending to frighten her, I suddenly grasped her wrist, and snatched the
ornament from its bed of crimson satin.

“_Dieu!_” she cried, “I—I didn’t know you were here, Anton. You startled
me!”

“What a pretty pin,” I remarked. “Where did you get it from?”

“It is mine,” she replied.

At that moment I made pretence of lunging at her with it, when she shrank
back with expressions of fear and repugnance that amazed me.

“Is it sharp?” I inquired, feeling the point with my thumb.

“_Gran’ Dieu!_ what would you do? You will kill yourself!” she cried in
alarm.

“What do you mean?” I asked, as she wrested the pin from my fingers.

“I mean that a puncture with this would prove fatal,” she said in a low,
serious tone. “You understand?”

“Is it poisoned, then?”

She nodded her head, and, holding the pin nearer the shaded lamp, showed
that for about an inch from the point it was discoloured by some black
substance.

“Why do you carry about such a dangerous weapon?”

“Cannot you guess?” she asked hoarsely, at the same time unbuttoning the
breast of her dress, and drawing forth a letter, which she handed me.
Then she sank into a chair, and covering her face with her small white
hands, burst into tears.

The letter was in Russian. It acknowledged receipt of the facts regarding
Feodor Matvyèich, and stated that the death sentence had been passed upon
him. Appended was the warrant of the Moscow Circle, ordering her to kill
him.

In a moment the object of her secret mission was plain.

“And you love him, Sophie?” I said in a low tone.

“Yes,” she sobbed. “I came here to discover how he intended to act on
his return to Moscow. I have betrayed him, and the Circle have passed
sentence. In spite of myself, I have grown to love him, and must save
him. But how can I? To warn him would be to place the whole Circle in
danger, besides bringing the vengeance of the Party upon myself.”

Jumping up, she paced the room excitedly, while I stood watching her
sorrowfully, unable to give advice or render assistance.

As I stood, meditative and silent, a servant entered with a card. She
glanced at it, drew a long breath, and exclaimed, “Captain Matvyèich!
Show him up!”

Closing the little morocco case with a snap, she put it quickly into the
pocket of her dress, and replaced the letter in her breast. Scarcely had
she rebuttoned her bodice, when Feodor entered, and she went forward to
meet him with a smile and an expression of glad welcome. He grasped her
hand—the hand that was ordered to deal the death-blow!

Then he greeted me, and we seated ourselves before the fire.

“Well,” he said, after we had been conversing for several minutes, “this
is my last visit here.”

“Are you going away?” asked Sophie, in dismay.

“Yes, dearest, I start for Moscow to-morrow. I have some important work
to perform, and have come to-night to wish you farewell.”

“So soon?” she said sorrowfully. “When will you return?”

“Perhaps never. I only came here to endeavour to discover a woman whose
Christian name was the same as your own.”

“What did you want with her?”

“To arrest her, and demand her extradition. It was she who killed my
predecessor—General Yagodkin.”

“Ah, I remember,” I said. “She escaped from Russia.”

“Yes, she’s a most dangerous Nihilist, and many recent plots have been
due to her inventative genius. If I find her she will go to the gallows.”

“Oh, don’t talk of such horrors, Feodor!” exclaimed Sophie, who had
turned somewhat pale, and involuntarily shuddered. “How cold it is! I
must go and get a shawl.”

And she rose and went out.

For nearly half an hour she was absent, while Matvyèich and I smoked,
drank our whiskys and sodas, and chatted. Then she returned, and together
we wished him farewell and _bon voyage_.

Several weeks passed. Sophie and I, by means of false passports, had
journeyed to Moscow. She had decided to run all risks in warning her
lover of his impending danger, and had persuaded me to accompany her, in
order to allay suspicion. We had taken up our quarters at the Hôtel de
Dresde, and frequented the boulevards and summer gardens daily, in order
to meet him alone, for we dare not call at the Bureau of Police.

By means only known to the members of our Party we were quickly
introduced into the circle of official society, in order that Sophie
might complete her mission. One evening we accepted an invitation to dine
at the house of a wealthy merchant who lived in the Bolshoi Dmietriefka,
having previously ascertained that Feodor Matvyèich was also to be a
guest.

His surprise and pleasure were unbounded when we met prior to going
in to dinner. Sophie looked bewitching and brilliant in a well-fitting
evening gown, with her hair dressed in Grecian fashion; but one thing
caused me alarm. She wore in her hair the poisoned ornament.

The dinner party was a large one, and Matvyèich sat between myself and
my “sister.” Over the meal we chatted merrily, she explaining how, owing
to financial business connected with her late father’s estate, she had
been compelled to travel to Russia. After we had joined the ladies in
the drawing-room I saw her in earnest conversation with him, and noticed
that they presently walked together into an adjoining room, which was
unoccupied. From her movements and agitated manner I surmised that
the time had come when she intended to warn him, therefore I followed
noiselessly, and overheard their conversation.

“Well, _ma chère_, what is this great secret of yours?” he asked, smiling
and balancing himself upon the edge of the table.

“Hush!” she whispered. “Some one may hear us. If they did, it would be
fatal.”

“What do you mean? Why all this mystery?”

“I mean that you are condemned to die!”

“To die?”

“Yes. You will die in the same manner as General Yagodkin. The Nihilists
have condemned you.”

“Tell me—how do you know?” he asked, breathlessly excited, and pale with
alarm.

“Hush!” she urged. “Speak lower. I—I know you love me, Feodor. I have not
forgotten your words when in London. You asked me to be your wife; but,
alas! I can never be more to you than what I am—a friend—although we love
one another so well.”

Her voice faltered as she spoke; the last words of the sentence were
almost lost in choking sobs.

“And why?” he asked, slipping his arm around her waist and drawing her
head down upon his gold-braided uniform coat.

She shuddered, gently disengaging herself from his embrace.

“Listen,” she said, in a hoarse, fierce whisper. “I have journeyed here,
to Moscow, on purpose to warn you of your danger. I leave to-night, and
you will never again see me. I am here at great risk, for my life would
be taken by the Terrorists if they knew I had given you warning; whereas,
if the Bureau of the Third Section knew of my presence on Russian soil,
they would undoubtedly arrest me.”

“Who, then, are you?” asked the Captain, in surprise.

“You know me, surely?” she answered, with a harsh, strained laugh.

At that moment I heard voices behind me, and, turning quickly, saw three
police officers in uniform at the door.

“There she is!” cried one. “I recognise her.”

“Yes; let us enter.”

Brushing past me, the men unceremoniously burst into the room.

“What means this intrusion?” demanded Matvyèich fiercely.

The men saluted, but before they could explain a grey-headed man in
ordinary dress pushed forward, and, walking up to my “sister,” exclaimed—

“Sophie Zagarovna! I arrest you for murder, by order of our Imperial
Master, the Tzar!”

“_Dieu!_” cried the Chief of Secret Police.

“Sophie Zagarovna! You—you must be mistaken.”

“Tseklinski!” gasped Sophie, deathly pale, shrinking from the man who had
addressed her. “It is you! By Heaven! then we meet, and—and you are the
victor! Once I spared your life as I have spared Feodor’s, and this is
how you repay me—by arrest! I love Feodor, but I know there is no hope of
happiness now I have fallen into your clutches.”

“You have deceived me,” cried Matvyèich, angry and bewildered at this
revelation. “I have loved and trusted a murderess!”

“I—I have risked my life to save you,” she said wildly. “Kiss me once—for
the last time,” she implored.

He flung her from him with an expression of disgust, coupled with an
oath.

“You—you cast me aside!” she cried, in dismay. “Then I care nothing for
my future.” Addressing Tseklinski, whom I recognised as the renowned
and expert Petersburg detective, she shrieked, “When you were my
lover I protected you; and through me you escaped the plot for your
assassination. Now you arrest me for murder, merely because I removed a
tyrant whose inhuman delight was to send innocent persons to Kara——”

“Enough, jade!” cried Tseklinski, his face flushed with rage. “We have
sought for you long enough, and if Captain Matvyèich is weak enough to be
tricked and fooled by you, I am not.”

Turning to the officers, he added—

“Arrest her, and take her to the Bureau at once.”

The men advanced to obey their chief’s command, but ere they could lay a
finger upon her she had staggered backward, and had fallen fainting upon
the floor.

They stooped to raise her, but a look of horror overspread their
countenances as one of them removed his hand from the back of her head
and found blood upon it.

Tseklinski bent, gazed into her face, placed his hand upon her heart, and
listened intently.

“Dead!” he exclaimed, in a tone of awe.

I rushed forward to ascertain the truth. In a moment it flashed upon me.
The pin she had worn in her hair had, by the force of the fall, been
driven into her scalp, and the deadly Obeah poison upon the point had
caused almost instant death.

It was a strange vagary of Fate. The harmless-looking weapon with which
she had originally intended to assassinate the newly-appointed Chief of
Police had caused her own death. Yet even that was preferable to the
punishment that awaited her had she lived.

For a brief moment only I glanced upon the blanched, handsome features,
then hurried from the house. Before midnight I had left Moscow, and was
on my way back to London.



CHAPTER VI.

BY A VANISHED HAND.


I met Felix Karelin in a rather curious manner. I had been visiting two
refugees, Dobroslavin and Bolomez, who lived in Little Alie Street,
Whitechapel, and about six o’clock one July evening was walking along
Leman Street towards Aldgate Station, intending to take train to the West
End. As I turned the corner into Commercial Road, an aged, decrepit,
blind man accidentally stumbled against me. Bent, haggard, and attired in
a ragged frock-coat, green with age, wearing a battered silk hat, the nap
of which had long ago disappeared, he looked unutterably miserable and
melancholy.

Halting, and tapping with his stick, he exclaimed in broken English: “I
beg your pardon, sir.”

He was moving onward when I caught him by the arm. There was an accent in
his voice that I recognised.

“What nationality are you?” I asked in Russian.

In the same language he replied that he was a native of Petersburg, and
an escaped political exile.

“A political!” I repeated, in surprise, as all escaped revolutionists in
London were well known to us, and many received money regularly from our
fund.

“Yes,” he said; “I escaped from the Algachi silver mines a year ago. But
you are Russian also.”

I replied in the affirmative. He at once urged me to accompany him to
his lodgings, where we could talk. “It is only in Briton’s Court, St.
George’s Road, not far from here,” he urged.

Feeling a sudden interest in the old man, I acceded to his request,
and he led me up and down several narrow, squalid streets, with which
he was evidently well acquainted. At length we turned down a dirty,
evil-smelling court, and he stopped before a small house at the further
end. He opened the door with a latch-key, and I followed him upstairs.

When we entered his sitting-room on the upper floor I was astonished to
find it bright and comfortably furnished. One would never have expected
such a clean, cosy room in a house of that character, situate as it was
in one of the lowest quarters of the metropolis. Crimson damask curtains
hung from a neat gilt cornice; in the centre of the room was a round
table, upon which tea was laid, and seated at the window, reclining in
a cane rocking-chair, was a pretty fair-haired girl of about sixteen
reading a novel.

Rising as we entered, she glanced shyly at me.

“Elyòna, I’ve brought a friend, one of our compatriots, whose name,
however, I have not the pleasure of knowing.”

“Ivan Lipatkin,” I replied, uttering the first name that crossed my mind.
I considered it politic to conceal my identity until I knew more about
him.

His daughter smiled, shook hands, and welcomed me.

“You are more comfortable here than in Algachi,” I said, glancing around.

“Yes,” he replied. “Although I am blind and helpless, I am not exactly
destitute.”

We took tea together, and were quite a merry trio. Elyòna Karelin was
charming, and her father’s conversation was that of an educated and
cultured man.

After I had given him a fictitious account of myself, he told me his
story. He was a lapidary in Petersburg, and had been thrice arrested
and confined in one of the bomb-proof casemates of the Prison of
Petropaulovsk, because it was alleged that his freedom was “prejudicial
to public order.” On the last occasion of his arrest he was condemned
to hard labour for life, and sent across Siberia to the dreaded mining
district beyond Irkutsk. His daughter went into voluntary exile with him,
and they remained at Algachi four years. At length, aided by a Cossack
officer who took compassion on the decrepit old man and his devoted
child, Karelin succeeded in escaping. He then became a _brodyag_, or
escaped convict who wanders about the country subsisting upon what he
can beg or steal, but always travelling towards the west. In this way
he managed to walk nearly a thousand miles towards the Ourals, when by
good chance he fell in with a train of freight sleighs going to Nijni
Novgorod fair. One of the drivers had fallen ill and died, therefore he
disguised himself in the dead man’s clothes and took his place, having
first, however, succeeded, with the help of some of the other men, in
filing away his leg-irons. His clothes with the yellow diamond upon them
he buried in a snowdrift, and with the dead man’s passport was allowed to
pass safely back to Europe, after an absence of nearly five years.

Soon after his arrival, however, he was stricken down by fever, and lost
his eyesight. In Kazan he was joined by Elyòna, who had followed him.
Afterwards they came to England.

The story of the daughter’s earnest affection was a touching one, and
as the old man related it tears fell from his sightless eyes. The whole
narrative was intensely interesting to me, inasmuch as his description
of the terrible hardships of deportation by road, of life in the filthy,
insanitary _étapes_, and the horrors of the Tomsk _perisilni_, were all
well known and vivid in my own recollection. It was evident that the poor
old man had been subjected to the same inhuman brutality that had wrecked
so many thousand lives, and none could sympathise with him more sincerely
than myself.

Without giving him any idea that I also had been exiled to the Great
Prison Land, I questioned him upon various points, and his replies,
one and all, were those of a man who had suffered in the same manner.
Besides, his head had been shaved, for upon one side his white locks were
thin, while on the other they grew thickly, and were of an iron grey.

“What can I do?” he asked mournfully, when he had concluded his story.
“The money I have will not last me much longer. I must seek work.”

“But you are blind!” I exclaimed, looking into his dull, bleared, stony
eyes.

“Yes; nevertheless I can still do my work. One can feel to cut and polish
gems better than using the keenest eyesight. For three months prior to
coming here I was employed at the Roeterseiland factory at Amsterdam. Do
you know any one in London who wants a workman?”

I was silent. I happened to know a wealthy Jew diamond merchant,
Goldberg by name, who lived in that dingy thoroughfare which contains
more wealth, perhaps, than the whole of the rest of London—Hatton Garden.

“Ah! you do not speak,” he said entreatingly, laying his thin hand upon
my arm. “If you do know any one, give me an introduction to them, and as
a Russian and a brother, I shall thank you.”

“Yes, do,” urged Elyòna, jumping to her feet and placing her arm
affectionately around her father’s neck. “He must do some work, or we
shall starve.”

I hesitated, reflected upon the curious fact that this man, being an
escaped “political,” was not included in our list. It was useless to give
him the Nihilist sign, for he could not see.

“Well,” I said presently, “I know one gentleman, a dealer in gems, who
frequently employs lapidaries. If you like I’ll speak to him to-morrow.”

Both father and daughter thanked me effusively, and I took a leaf from
my pocket-book and wrote Goldberg’s name and address, at the same time
promising to call personally and interest myself on his behalf.

Soon afterwards I bade them farewell, and walked homeward through the
city in a very meditative frame of mind.

Within a week of my first meeting with Karelin, he was engaged by
Goldberg, who found him an excellent workman. The delicate sense of
touch that he had developed caused him to exercise far greater care over
his work than the ordinary lapidary, and Goldberg expressed a belief that
the old man was the best diamond polisher in London.

I was glad I had been enabled to render the blind man a service, while
on his part he continually overwhelmed me with heartfelt gratitude. We
met frequently, and although I refrained from explaining my connection
with the Revolutionary Party, I introduced him to several minor Members
of Parliament and other persons who were advocates of Russian freedom,
and who made the National Liberal Club their headquarters. The old blind
man and his daughter were invited to numbers of houses, and much sympathy
was shown them. Elyòna was petted by the ladies, and her father appeared
never tired of describing the terrors of administrative exile.

Once or twice he lectured; on the first occasion at the National Liberal
Club, and afterwards at various halls in the metropolis. The title of his
lecture was “My Life in Siberia,” and great crowds assembled to hear him,
while the newspapers reported his observations and criticisms at unusual
length.

Although he had been exiled as “a dangerous political,” he denied that he
had ever entertained revolutionary ideas, and expressed his disagreement
with the propaganda of the Nihilists. By reason of that expression I
refrained from admitting that I was a Terrorist. Of course I had reported
to the Executive, and my instructions were to watch him narrowly and
penetrate the mystery enveloping his past.

At this period it chanced that we were unusually active with our
propaganda, especially in Poland, and the Government viewed their
futile efforts to suppress the circulation of revolutionary literature
with increasing alarm. They were aware that the majority of the books,
pamphlets, and manifestoes came from England, yet they were utterly
unable to discover the means by which they evaded the censorship.

One noteworthy document which was being circulated by hundreds of
thousands throughout the length and breadth of the Russian Empire was the
new programme of the Executive Committee.

“By fundamental conviction we are Socialists and Democrats,” was the
translation of the opening sentence. Then it proceeded as follows: “We
are satisfied that only through socialistic principles can the human race
acquire liberty, equality, and fraternity; secure the full and harmonious
development of the individual as well as the material prosperity of all;
and thus make progress. The welfare of the people and the will of the
people are our two most sacred and most inseparable principles.” The
document went on to criticise severely the condition of the country
under the Tzar Alexander III., and pointed out that in view of the stated
aim of the Party its operations might be classified under the heads of
propaganda, destructive activity, the organisation of secret societies,
and the organisation of the revolution.

Clause 2, headed “Destructive and Terroristic Activity,” was perhaps the
one most calculated to inspire the Tzar and his Government with feelings
of insecurity and fear. The intentions of the Party were expressed boldly
in the following terms: “Terroristic activity consists in the destruction
of the most harmful persons in the Government, the protection of the
Party from spies, and the punishment of official lawlessness and violence
in all the more prominent and important cases in which such lawlessness
and violence are manifested. The aim of such activity is to break down
the prestige of Governmental power, to furnish continuous proof of the
possibility of carrying on a contest against the Government, to raise in
that way the revolutionary spirit of the people, and inspire belief in
the practicability of revolution, and, finally, to form a body suited and
accustomed to warfare.”

So active were the police that it had been impossible to establish a
secret press in Russia with any degree of safety; hence it was that Boris
Dobroslavin and Isaac Bolomez, two working printers of Warsaw, had come
to London for the purpose of printing revolutionary literature, which
was afterwards smuggled across the Russian frontier.

The house in which they had established themselves was one of those
small, old-fashioned, grimy private dwellings of the usual type found in
the East End, and in the back parlour they had fitted up a hand-press,
while in an upstairs room they did the work of composing in Russian type
which they had brought from Poland.

Here the manifestoes and pamphlets issued by the Executive were printed,
and by means only known to our Organisation conveyed into Russia and
Siberia to be circulated secretly. For nearly a year the dissemination of
Terrorist literature had been going on, and we were gradually flooding
the Empire with documents advocating freedom.

Dobroslavin and Bolomez were pleasant, easy-going fellows, and one
day while walking with Karelin in the Whitechapel Road I met them and
introduced him. They had previously heard me speak of the blind exile,
and were at once interested in him, inviting him to their house. During
the weeks that followed we four often spent evenings together at Little
Alie Street, although it must be remembered that no intimation was ever
given to Karelin of the nature of the business that was carried on there,
or was he ever shown into the work-rooms.

Elyòna sometimes accompanied her father, and on those occasions would
sing some of those old Polish love-songs that touch the heart of the
exiled patriotic Russian. She possessed a pretty contralto voice, and
generally accompanied herself upon an old mandoline, which she played
with considerable skill.

One evening an incident occurred that puzzled me greatly. We had been
chatting together in the front sitting-room, and Boris and Isaac had
left the room in order to consult in private upon a note they had
just received from the Executive. Karelin and myself were sitting in
armchairs on either side of the fireplace, when I noticed that on a
table, immediately behind my companion, there lay a half-printed copy
of a sixteen-page pamphlet entitled “To-morrow,” which, couched in
inflammatory language, had been so largely circulated as to cause the
greatest consternation among members of the “Third Section,” who were
utterly at a loss to discover who was primarily responsible for the
multiplication of this severe and ruthless criticism of the Imperial
Autocrat.

As I sat watching the old man’s expressionless face I could not help
reflecting that it was a rash proceeding to allow such a document to lie
about openly. Yet I remembered that the old man was blind and could not
possibly ascertain the nature of the printed paper. Just at that moment
Bolomez put his head inside the door and called me into the next room to
join in their conference.

When, five minutes later, I returned to the sitting-room, Karelin was
still in the attitude in which I had left him, but the pamphlet was no
longer there!

Its disappearance surprised me, for it seemed quite as impossible that
any one had entered the room and taken it during my brief absence as that
the blind man had discovered it. It was upon my tongue to remark upon it,
but I hesitated, perceiving that to refer to it might whet the old man’s
curiosity and arouse his suspicions.

Nevertheless, the disappearance of the pamphlet was a mystery, and I
determined upon finding out whether he had purloined it, and if so, the
object of the theft.

A few days later I called upon Goldberg. His house was at the end of that
long row of gloomy second-rate-looking residences, with deep basements
and flights of stone steps leading to the front doors, which line one
side of Hatton Garden. There was nothing in the exterior to attract the
attention of any enterprising burglar, with the exception, perhaps, of
the iron bars which protected the windows in the area, and even the
shining brass plate bore simply the name, “F. Goldberg,” without any
indication of his business. Inside, in the room used as office, the
feature one would have expected to find—namely, a great green-painted
iron safe with enormous handles and hinges—was absent. The room was
nothing more than a comfortable library with well-filled bookcases around
the walls.

When I entered Goldberg was busy writing letters. Rising, he grasped my
hand, and, greeting me warmly, bade me be seated in the client’s chair.

“You would like to see your blind _protégé_ at work, eh?” he said, when
we had been chatting some time. “Well, you shall. He’s a marvellous
workman. See, here’s a stone he finished this morning;” and taking from
a drawer in his writing-table a tiny round cardboard box, he removed the
lid and handed it to me. Lying in its bed of pink cotton wool was an
enormous yellow diamond, which flashed and gleamed in the ray of sunlight
that strayed into the room.

“How much is it worth?” I inquired.

“My price is a thousand pounds,” he replied. “That particular one,
however, has been ordered by a jeweller, and is to form the centre of an
ornament which, in a few weeks’ time, will be presented by a bridegroom
to his bride.”

“I should like to see Karelin at work,” I said.

My friend acquiesced willingly, and took me upstairs to a small back
room, where the old man was seated. He was busily engaged “cleaving”
a rough diamond by means of another sharp-edged gem. In order that he
should not be aware of my presence, I did not speak. His master addressed
some words to him regarding his work, which the old lapidary answered
without turning his sightless eyes towards us. The careful and accurate
manner in which he worked was little short of marvellous, for he stopped
every few moments to feel with the tip of his forefinger the precise
dimensions of the incision he was making in the stone.

My object in seeing him at work was twofold. The first was to watch the
movement of his face, but I found that it wore the blank, expressionless
look of a blind man. The second was to make an investigation. His coat
was hanging upon a nail behind the door, and holding up my finger to my
friend as an indication of secrecy, I crossed noiselessly to the garment,
and placing my hand in the breast-pocket, abstracted its contents.

A momentary glance was sufficient to detect the object which I sought,
for, folded in half and lying among a number of letters and bills, was
the missing copy of the revolutionary pamphlet.

I pushed the papers back hurriedly, and with Goldberg left the old man’s
workshop. I was sorely puzzled to know what the blind man wanted with a
document of that description, and after replying evasively to Goldberg’s
questions, I bade him farewell, and left.

One evening I visited the house in Little Alie Street and found
Dobroslavin, Bolomez, and Karelin smoking together in the dingy little
sitting-room. We sat gossiping for an hour, when the old man knocked the
ashes from his pipe, and rising, said, “I must be going now. I promised
Elyòna to return early. She will be so lonely, poor child.”

The tender manner in which he spoke of her touched me, and I reflected
upon her dull and lonely life, for she was unable to speak English, and
had no friends.

“I will see you home,” I said, and presently we set out and walked
together to his humble abode. Elyòna was sitting as usual, bright and
cheerful, ready to welcome him. She jumped to her feet, kissed him
affectionately, ran to get his slippers, and bestowed upon him various
little attentions which showed how great was the affection between father
and daughter.

After remaining chatting with her for half an hour, I returned to
Little Alie Street, but judge my astonishment when I found that a
crowd had assembled outside the house. Hastily inquiring the nature of
the disturbance, I was informed by a lad that a police inspector had
entered the place. Such intelligence naturally caused me a good deal of
consternation, but I remembered that it was no offence against English
law to print Russian pamphlets.

I resolved to put on a bold front and enter the premises.

As I was forcing my way through the crowd to the door, the latter opened,
and I saw Dobroslavin and Bolomez in the custody of several constables.

“For what am I arrested?” I heard Bolomez ask in his broken English.

“You’ve already been told,” the constable replied. “Come, you’d best go
quietly.”

Neither of my two fellow-conspirators saw me, for I was standing among
the crowd of Whitechapel rabble; but as soon as they started to walk I
followed them to the Leman Street Police Station—famed in the history of
London crime as the headquarters of the police when searching for “Jack
the Ripper.” On arrival I hesitated whether to follow them into the
station, but at length decided not to do so, lest I might run unnecessary
risks and be identified as a too-frequent visitor at the house that had
just been raided.

Having in vain attempted to ascertain the exact nature of the offence
with which Dobroslavin and Bolomez were charged, I hurried away to
Aldgate and went by rail to Edgware Road, taking a cab thence to Oakleigh
Gardens in order to report our misfortune to the Executive.

With feelings of intense anxiety I sat in the Thames Police Court on the
following morning, awaiting the two prisoners to be brought before the
magistrate. Presently, after the usual applications for summonses and the
hearing of night charges, my two compatriots were placed in the dock.

“Boris Dobroslavin and Isaac Bolomez, you are charged with having forged
Russian banknotes in your possession, and further, with manufacturing
them at No. 132, Little Alie Street,” exclaimed the clerk of the court.

Forged notes! Impossible, I thought. The press was used for no other
purpose than for printing revolutionary literature. The evidence,
however, was extraordinary. As I sat listening to it I could scarce
believe my ears.

The first witness was a police inspector, who made the following
statement: “A warrant to search the premises, 132, Little Alie Street,
was given into my hands, and last night I went there with other officers.
In answer to a knock, the prisoner Bolomez opened the door, and we at
once searched the place. In the back room on the ground floor we found
a printing-press and printers’ materials, together with a very large
number of pamphlets and circulars in Russian. On searching the front
sitting-room, I found concealed under the cushion of the sofa four
engraved copper plates, which have been used for printing Russian notes
of the value of one and five roubles. In a drawer, in the same room,
I found the bundles of forged notes I produce. They are all new, and
represent a sum of 18,000 roubles. Two small tins of blue and yellow
lithographic ink I found concealed behind a sideboard. I then caused both
prisoners to be arrested.”

In reply to the magistrate, the officer said that a very large number
of forged Russian notes were in circulation, and the Russian Finance
Department had obtained information showing that they were being printed
in London. A heavy reward had been offered, but although the London
police had been endeavouring to trace the offenders, they had not
succeeded until the present occasion.

The other evidence was corroborative. I was dumb with amazement, and the
two prisoners seemed too much astonished at hearing the extraordinary
charge against them to make any effort to cross-examine the witnesses. At
length the case was remanded, and I left the court.

That day the Executive held a meeting to discuss the situation, but no
solution of the mystery was forthcoming; even the solicitor we employed
to defend entertained little hope of being able to make a satisfactory
defence in the face of such undeniable evidence.

For three days following the arrest of Boris and Isaac, and the seizure
of our press, I was too busy to call on Karelin, but I expected that he
had heard of the reports in the papers, with the sensational headlines,
“Clever Capture of Banknote Forgers: Thousands of False Notes.” On
the fourth morning, about nine o’clock, I chanced to be walking along
Farringdon Road, when it suddenly occurred to me to call at Goldberg’s,
and tell the old lapidary how narrowly he had escaped arrest.

When the lad admitted me I met his master talking excitedly with two men
in the hall.

“It’s a most clever robbery,” I heard one of the men say. “The thief was
evidently an expert.”

“Robbery!” I echoed. “What’s the matter, Goldberg?”

“My safe has been ransacked!” he cried wildly. “See, here!” and he pulled
me into his private room.

Bookcases completely lined the walls, but one of these was false,
containing only the backs of books behind a glass door. On pressing a
spring it opened, revealing a great safe imbedded in the wall, and large
enough for a man to enter. Both doors now stood open, and the place was
in great confusion. The drawers in the safe had been sacked, the little
boxes that had contained cut and uncut gems had been emptied and cast
aside, while papers had been tossed carelessly upon the floor.

“What does this mean?” I asked, amazed.

“It means that I have lost every gem I possessed. They were worth twenty
thousand pounds, and included the great yellow diamond which Karelin cut
so beautifully. The burglars, whoever they were, gained admittance by the
area window after filing away three of the bars.”

One of the detectives remarked that it was strange Karelin had not come
to work as usual that morning, and at his request I accompanied him in a
cab to Briton’s Court.

My knock at the door was answered by an obese, slatternly woman, who, in
reply to my question, said—

“Mr. Karelin’s gone away.”

“Gone!” I gasped.

“Yes, he came ’ome yesterday about five o’clock, and an ’our afterwards
left with his daughter. They took a small box with them, and said they
would probably be absent a month or so.”

“He is the thief,” the detective briefly remarked, turning to me.

We searched his rooms, but found nothing to show the direction of his
flight. I then accompanied the officer to Leman Street Police Station,
where I gave a detailed description of the fugitive and his daughter,
which was wired to every police station in the metropolitan area. An
hour later information was telegraphed to the ports of departure for the
Continent, together with a description of the stolen gems. As, however,
weeks passed without tidings of him, it was evident that he and his
affectionate daughter had succeeded in getting out of England with their
booty.

The celebrated case of forging Russian notes, tried at the Old Bailey,
is no doubt still remembered by many readers. The evidence for the
prosecution was conclusive, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty,”
and Dobroslavin and Bolomez were each sentenced to seven years’ penal
servitude.

Subsequent inquiries made by our Party, together with an incident that
occurred at Amsterdam, revealed some remarkable facts. Six months after
the two innocent men had been sentenced we unravelled the mystery
surrounding Karelin, and discovered that he was a genuine escaped exile,
but not a “political.” On the contrary, he was accredited by the Russian
police as the most expert diamond thief in the whole empire, and for
robbing a jeweller in Kovno he had been sent to Siberia with a yellow
diamond upon his back. For many years he had had an affection of the
eyes, but his blindness was only feigned, and the girl Elyòna was not his
daughter, but a clever accomplice.

After his escape from the mines he entered the Russian Secret Service
as spy. The Government, viewing with alarm the increasing flood of
revolutionary literature emanating from England, saw that the only way
to stop it was to get the men who were responsible imprisoned for a term
of years. With this object the _agent provocateur_ we knew as Karelin
assumed the character of a blind lapidary, obtained an entrance to the
house in Little Alie Street, and, when his plans were ripe, secreted the
plates and forged notes in the room, first, however, giving anonymous
warning to the Metropolitan Police. The result was that two innocent
men were convicted, and placed where they could do nothing to annoy the
Government of Russia.

Although Dobroslavin and Bolomez are still at Portland, Karelin met with
his deserts. He did not escape our vigilance, for our Party found him in
Amsterdam some months afterwards endeavouring to sell the great yellow
diamond that he had polished. He was arrested, extradited to England,
and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, while about half of Goldberg’s
property was recovered.

No trace, however, has yet been discovered of the charming Elyòna.



CHAPTER VII.

A ROMANCE OF THE STEPPE.


Our final glasses had been clinked; Mademoiselle had crossed herself
devoutly before the _ikon_ hanging over the door of the dingy old
post-house at Uziansk, at the foot of the Ourals; and in a few moments
our sleigh-bells were jingling merrily, and our runners hissing over the
frozen snow, as the pretty Russian and myself sped along in the bright
moonlight on our journey of over two thousand miles into Siberia. I was
on my way to the little town of Lebiázhia, on a secret mission, and was
travelling, as usual, with a false passport.

At the last moment I had been asked by my old friend, Paul Cherniávski,
lieutenant in the Tzar’s Dragoons, to allow a friend of his to travel
with me to Irkutsk; and having consented, I had discovered, to my
surprise, that his friend—who was introduced to me only a quarter of an
hour before as Mademoiselle Mariána Néstoff—was an exceedingly handsome,
dark-eyed young lady of about twenty-two.

Who she was I had no idea, and Paul did not enlighten me. He was the
best of good fellows, but in Petersburg he had always had a reputation
among the fair sex; and one or two of his little affairs of the heart had
afforded subjects for gossip, notably the coupling of his name with that
of La Belle Estelle—a little French circus-rider, about whom he fought a
duel.

But our adieux had been said; he had grumbled at being quartered in that
out-of-the-world village; and soon my fair charge and I were out upon
the open, snow-covered steppe, where the telegraph poles and verst-posts
ran in a long black line to the horizon; and for a couple of hours the
horses, eager for a spin, galloped steadily, taking us along swift as the
wind.

“Why are you going to Irkutsk?” I asked, after chatting for a long time
with my pretty travelling companion, who, under her rich furs, had
nestled warmly at my side, and was smoking a cigarette.

“You will pardon me, M’sieur, if I do not answer that question,” she
replied in musical French, moving uneasily. Then she whispered into my
ear, “It—it is a secret!”

We were silent. I drew up the collar of my heavy coat and sat silent and
puzzled; while upon my fair companion the rhythmic jingle of the bells
and gliding motion of the sleigh must have had a soothing effect, for
very soon she closed her great lustrous eyes, and her head gradually
pillowed itself upon my shoulder. She fell fast asleep, and I drew her
soft otter hood across her white cheek to prevent frost-bite.

She was evidently tired out, for through the long night she slept
soundly, now and then murmuring low words that I could not catch. Her
beauty had enchanted me; the mystery surrounding her added to the intense
interest I felt in her. Even when, cramped by remaining in the same
position so as to allow her head to rest comfortably, my arm stole gently
around her waist and drew her towards me, she did not wake. Indeed, she
remained oblivious to her surroundings until, just as the wintry dawn was
spreading, Ivan, our driver, pulled up at the post-house of the little
village of Rytsaieva, having accomplished our first stage.

Then, on opening her eyes and finding herself in my embrace, she blushed
deeply, apologised for being such an uninteresting companion, and,
shivering, alighted and entered the small log-built house.

During that day and the following night we remained at the post-house.
Then each day passed much as its predecessor. While the light lasted we
sped onward, putting up each night at the wretchedly dirty post-houses,
at last crossing the frontier at Zverinogolovsk and entering that dreaded
prison-land, Siberia. Gaining the Great Post-Road, we continued upon it
day after day, week after week, over the barren snow-covered country
through Ishim, Omsk, and Kolivan, until we reached Tomsk, one thousand
miles from our starting-point. Mariána was an enigma, and, even before we
had been companions a week, I found myself admiring her. Yet the mystery
surrounding her was most tantalising. Though apparently a provincial, she
spoke of people in the highest circle in Petersburg in a manner which
showed them to be intimate friends, for many of the people about whom she
gossiped so pleasantly were my own acquaintances.

At times I was inclined to regard her as a pure-minded girl whose safety
had been entrusted to me by Paul; yet, when I remembered that his life
had been one of joys without sorrow and loves without a morrow, I felt
more inclined to suspect her to be a handsome adventuress.

Time after time we passed convicts dragging their leg-irons onward;
men and women with hope left far beyond the Ourals, and with looks of
unutterable despair upon their care-lined brows, were trudging wearily
through the snow with footsteps hastened by the terrible knout wielded by
fierce, brutal Cossacks.

Mariána, as she gazed with pitying looks at the miserable, smileless
bands, would sigh heavily and lapse into deep thought. Once only when,
just as we were passing, a Cossack’s whip fell heavily upon the shoulders
of a young woman who seemed very weak and ill, the sight moved her to
angrily declare that the Russian penal code was a blot on the progress of
modern civilisation.

“Such thoughts are best left unuttered here, Mademoiselle,” I said. “To
recklessly criticise his Majesty’s actions is a serious matter.”

“I care nothing for that,” she answered defiantly. “If you knew half as
much of the injustice, the bribery, and corruption that exist all over
the empire as I do, you would find it difficult to restrain your tongue.”

She spoke earnestly in French, so that Ivan, the driver, could not
understand; and the vehemence of her words showed her to be suffering
from some injustice. I was amazed at her violent denunciation. Suddenly a
thought occurred to me, and bending, I whispered into her ear.

“So Mademoiselle is a _Nihilist_?”

She started, turning pale. With trembling fingers she clutched my arm and
gasped—

“Who—who told you? Have I betrayed my secret?”

“Words are an index to one’s convictions,” I replied briefly, smiling.
“Now that I know that you are working for the Cause, surely I may know
why you are going to Irkutsk.”

“Ah,” she cried, terribly agitated. “Do not let us discuss it. The driver
may understand, and—and it would mean _death_!”

“Your secret is quite safe with me, Mariána,” I said, reassuringly,
taking her gloved hand in mine, and I uttered one word that gave her
confidence.

“I—I do trust you,” she replied, in a low, faltering voice. “Ah! You do
not know my past!” And her breast heaved and fell in a long, deep-drawn
sigh.

“May I not know it? Are the recollections so very bitter?”

“Bitter!” she cried. “It is a story of wretched duplicity and dishonour.
If you knew all you would hate me; therefore it is best that I should
keep my secret hidden, and when we part you will perhaps sometimes
remember me with kindly thoughts.”

“But tell me one thing,” I demanded anxiously. “Is Paul Cherniávski your
protector?”

She held her breath, and as she looked at me I saw tears welling in her
bright eyes.

“Yes,” she faltered. “He—he is my only friend.”

The silence that ensued was long and painful. The truth, as far as it
went, was out, and I felt angry with myself.

That night, having halted at the lonely post-house of Artinsk, we sat in
the uncleanly common-room, and Mariána, as usual, served tea to Ivan and
myself from the _samovar_. As she handed the driver his cup I noticed
that his hand trembled and he looked at her with a strange, almost
demoniacal expression of hatred. In a moment, however, it had passed; yet
throughout the evening, while Mariána and I smoked our cigarettes and
chatted to the old post-house keeper and his wife, the sole occupants, I
pondered over it, and at night little sleep came to my eyes.

Was there some secret between them, or had he understood Mariána’s
confession?

Rising early, I went out into the clear, crisp air to smoke and think. It
was a lonely place, sixty miles to the nearest village. When I returned
I found the post-house keeper speechless with terror, and at once
apprehended that some strange event had occurred. Judge my amazement and
horror, however, when he half dragged me to a room where I saw Ivan, the
driver, lying upon his truckle bed fully dressed. He had been stabbed to
the heart!

Mariána, who came from her room a moment later, was horrified, though
she declared that she was too much upset to enter to view the murdered
man’s corpse. Pale, nervous, and haggard, she whispered in French a wish
to get away as quickly as possible, and so agitated did she become when
I announced my intention of going on to Irkutsk, four hundred versts
distant, to inform the police, that suspicions were at once aroused in my
mind.

I noticed, too, a deep scratch across her delicate wrist. How did she get
it? Her actions were strange, and she was so anxious to get away from the
scene of the crime that I at last became convinced of her guilt.

My fair travelling companion was a murderess!

We arrived in the Siberian city of Irkutsk one afternoon in December, and
took tea at the post-house. Before we had finished our meal Mariána, who,
though very pale, looked undeniably beautiful in a dress richly trimmed
with otter, suddenly disappeared.

“Has any one seen the lady who arrived with me?” I asked presently of the
men who were warming themselves around the stove.

“Yes,” replied a man who had just entered, and was shaking the snow from
his sheepskin. “I saw her entering the Governor’s Palace.” Then he added,
with a wink, “His Excellency has an eye for feminine beauty—he has.”

I waited for no more. Struggling into my _shuba_, I crammed my cap on my
head and hurried to the Palace, only a few hundred yards away. Of the
sentry at the gate I learned that a lady had called upon his Excellency,
and been admitted. After a short conversation with a flunkey, the man
pocketed one hundred roubles as a bribe, and I was conducted through the
great handsomely-furnished residence of the representative of the Tzar,
and shown into a small anteroom, shut off from another apartment by heavy
plush curtains.

As I entered I heard voices in the adjoining room.

“So you have come, my little one,” a man’s gruff voice exclaimed.

“Yes—at last,” was the reply. The words were Mariána’s.

Peeping through the curtains I found I could observe all that went on in
the luxuriant gaudy apartment. Before the glowing fire a tall, elderly
man, in the white uniform of the Imperial Guard, with his breast covered
with orders, was standing; and near him Mariána, pale, erect and queenly.

“I have come, General Korolénko, to free myself from the hateful toils
you cast about me three years ago, when you were Chief of the Third
Section of Police in Petersburg,” she said, regarding him steadily. “I
was a Nihilist, and you, taking advantage of my youth and inexperience,
gave me a choice of alternatives. You ordered me to the mines, and then
gave me a chance of regaining my liberty and of saving my brother’s
honour by becoming one of your contemptible spies. I agreed. For three
years I have been your puppet. I have acted my ignominious, dishonourable
part in Petersburg society, and been the means of sending dozens of
unoffending persons to their terrible doom—to rot in the dungeons under
the Neva, or toil in the dark silver mines of the Trans-Baikal—while you,
the ex-Chief of Secret Police, live here in luxury and pose before your
Imperial Master as the great detector of conspiracies!”

“And what of that?” he cried angrily. “Is my conduct to be criticised by
a mere chit of a girl? Remember, you are an agent of the Third Section
charged with the protection of the person of his Majesty, and as such you
will remain. If not, recollect you are now in Siberia, and I have merely
to sign this order here and you will go to hard labour at the mines
for the remainder of your life, where my Cossacks will soon teach you
obedience. So go, jade, and don’t let me hear or see any more of you,”
and he stretched forth his hand to ring the bell.

“Hear me out!” she cried hoarsely. “I intend to change my despicable mode
of life. I tell you that you must sign this paper releasing me from our
secret compact and give me complete immunity from arrest,” and she drew a
paper from her breast. “Otherwise I shall take——”

“Oh! You use threats—eh? Well, my dear, and what can you do, pray?” he
asked with a sneer.

“Once you held me in your power,” she continued angrily. “Now the tables
are turned. Refuse, and I shall send to his Majesty proofs, together with
the signed confession, of the miserable coward who in Petersburg one
night struck Marie Smirnitskaya dead!”

The General started, and his face blanched.

“How—how do you know?” he gasped.

“The confession is signed by you! Perhaps you forget that we, the
Nihilists, tracked you down, compelled you to confess, and spared your
life in consequence. Besides, have I not had another instance of your
murderous villainy only last week at Artinsk, where one of your hired
assassins brutally did our driver, Ivan, to death, because he knew the
identity of the murderer of Marie Smirnitskaya!”

“You—you lie!” he cried, livid with rage. “You—you would wreck my life,
and bring me to the mines! But, _diable_, you shall not!” he hissed,
drawing a revolver and advancing towards her. “You—you too shall die!”

In a second I parted the curtains and sprang upon him. I was not a moment
too soon, for he fired, and the bullet sped over Mariána’s head, smashing
one of the great mirrors.

Wrenching the weapon from his grasp, I covered him.

“The safety of this lady has been entrusted to me, sir,” I said. “I have
overheard all that has transpired, and as soon as you sign the document
we will withdraw. Until then, we shall remain.”

He turned upon me, threatening to have me arrested; but I laughed,
informing him that I was an official of the Tzar, holding his Majesty’s
personal passport, therefore he had no power to detain me. For nearly
half an hour he endeavoured to evade appending his signature, but at last
he did so, and we left, Mariána telling him that if she were arrested as
a Nihilist her brother would see that his confession was sent immediately
to the Tzar.

“Who is your brother?” I asked, at last, as we slowly walked together
down the frozen road.

“My brother and protector is your friend, Paul Cherniávski,” she answered.

“Paul—your brother!” I cried, half beside myself with delight. “Then I
have no longer any hesitation in asking you to become my wife.”

Before we again entered the bare smoke-blackened post-house she had given
her promise.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE VELVET PAW.


On leaving Petersburg I had been compelled to part from Mariána Néstoff,
nevertheless she wrote me weekly letters full of tenderness. Six months
after my return to London an exciting and extraordinary adventure befel
me.

One foggy December evening I had entered an empty second-class carriage
at the Temple Station of the Metropolitan District Railway, when I was
followed by a tall girl, neatly attired in black, who seated herself
in a corner opposite me. I noticed she was fairly good-looking, about
twenty years of age, with auburn hair, clear blue eyes, and well-moulded
features; then, after a furtive glance, I took up my newspaper and
commenced reading.

Scarcely had the train moved off, however, when I felt a light touch upon
my arm, and heard a musical voice utter my name with true Russian accent.

“I confess you have the advantage of me,” I said, surprised.

“Yes, possibly,” she replied, in Russian. “When last we met it was in
Petersburg. But we never spoke.”

“In Petersburg! You are Russian, then?”

She nodded, adding a word by which I knew at once that she was a Nihilist.

“You are a friend,” she continued earnestly; “Jakovleff has told me so.
Moreover, I have read your articles in the English magazines, in which
you exposed the vile treachery of the Secret Police, described the prison
horrors, and told the English public the truth about our oppressed
people. You have rendered our cause great assistance, and,” she added,
looking frankly into my face, “I—I wonder whether I, personally, might
count upon your aid!”

“What is the nature of your difficulty?” I asked, rather interested.

“Well,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation, “I expect my brother
to join me at South Kensington. If you will accompany us home, I will
explain all to you. I am in great peril—how great you cannot imagine.
Indeed, if you refuse your assistance, I shall probably lose my life.”

“What do you mean?” I asked in consternation. “Is your life threatened?”

“Hush!” she cried. “Although we are strangers, nevertheless our common
Cause, the freedom of Russia, unites us.” Then, noticing how perplexed
I was over her strangely sensational announcement, she said quickly,
“Pray pardon my omission. I ought to have told you my name—Axinïa
Pankrátiévna.”

By her manner and conversation I saw she was a political enthusiast,
and suspected that she was in England for some reason connected with
the operations of the Circle. My curiosity having now been thoroughly
aroused, I told her I would do whatever lay in my power to help her.

On alighting at South Kensington, we failed to meet her brother as she
expected; but, notwithstanding the fog, we walked together a considerable
distance through several quiet thoroughfares, until we came to a large,
old-fashioned house, standing in a square.

An elderly man-servant opened the door, and after I had divested myself
of my overcoat I was ushered into a small drawing-room, while my fair
hostess ascended the stairs.

The moment I entered the house I experienced a vague feeling of regret
that I had accepted her invitation. There was something about the place
I did not like. The room was dimly lit by one pink-shaded lamp, the
furniture had a frowsy, faded appearance, and there was an odour of
pastilles that was sickening.

For fully ten minutes I had been patiently awaiting the mysterious
Axinïa’s reappearance, when suddenly I experienced a strange dizziness,
and at the same time a terrible pain shot across my forehead.

A fit of coughing seized me—my breath came and went in short, quick
gasps, and I felt myself choking.

Rising, I walked quickly across the room, and then discovered something
that increased my suspicions. Everything was thickly coated with dust.
The place had evidently not been used for years!

Halting before the fireplace, and glancing at the fire burning clear and
bright, I discovered, to my horror and dismay, that it was of charcoal!

Then it suddenly dawned upon me that I had been entrapped into a lethal
chamber!

Rushing to the door I tried to open it, but it was securely fastened;
every crevice had been stopped up from the outside! I went to the window,
but, on drawing aside the curtains, found that the heavy shutters were
held in position by a padlocked bar! The chimney, too, had been closed by
an iron plate, which I could not remove.

I was being asphyxiated!

Stirring the fire, I endeavoured to subdue it, but it only burned more
brightly! Unable to breathe on account of the poisonous fumes, and
feeling my strength fast failing, I tied my handkerchief across my mouth
and nose. Then, taking up a heavy fender, I commenced a frantic but
unsuccessful endeavour to batter down the door.

In mad despair I rushed from side to side of the apartment, shouting
for help, but I could hear no sound, and my voice seemed so hollow and
hoarse that I doubted whether it could be heard even outside in the hall.

The objects around me were slowly fading from my gaze. Seconds seemed
hours. I remember hearing a sound as if something heavy had fallen in the
room above. Confused voices whispered about me, and I have a distinct
recollection of strange, ominous words.

A heavy weight seemed to press upon my brain; my palsied limbs failed to
support me, and I fell backward upon the dust-encrusted carpet.

Then all became an utter blank.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gradually I regained consciousness. Awakening as if from some terrible
nightmare, I opened my eyes and gazed wonderingly around.

The gray light of the wintry dawn showed that the room, small and
unfamiliar, was evidently used for lumber. Half-reclining in an old and
rickety armchair, I felt some cold object in my right hand, and found
it was a revolver, some of the chambers being loaded. My hand, too, was
covered with blood that had dried.

Staggering to my feet, and noticing that a half-open door communicated
with the adjoining apartment, I walked across and entered a small,
shabbily furnished sitting-room. The sight that met my gaze filled me
with horror and amazement.

Stretched upon the floor lay the woman Axinïa Pankrátiévna.

I touched the face! Its contact thrilled me; it was icy cold. Around her
was a pool of blood, and on examination I discovered she had a bullet
wound in the region of the heart, and that the breast of her dress was
singed, showing that the weapon had been discharged close against her.

A horrible thought took possession of me. I still held the revolver in my
hand, and blood was upon my fingers! Was not this circumstantial evidence
that I had been guilty of murder?

For several moments I stood in hesitation, my eyes fixed upon the ghastly
face of the corpse. At length I turned, made my way downstairs, and,
after inspecting the various apartments and finding the place empty,
stole out at the front door.

So suspicious were the circumstances in which I had discovered myself
that I refrained from giving information to the police, and resolved to
keep my secret and watch the newspapers, in order to see what sensation
would be caused when the body of my mysterious hostess was discovered.

Having noted the number of the house, and ascertained that it was in
Onslow Square, I found my way into Brompton Road, and turned my footsteps
in the direction of Gray’s Inn, where I at that time had chambers.

On arrival home I found I had lost my latch-key, and had therefore to
seek the assistance of a locksmith before I could enter. An additional
surprise was in store for me, for when I walked into my sitting-room,
I discovered that burglars had effected an entrance during the night
and ransacked the place. Every drawer in my writing-table had been
turned out, and the contents investigated in a methodical manner, after
which the thieves had apparently inspected a chest of drawers, a nest
of pigeon-holes, several trunks, and one or two cupboards. The carpets
had been disturbed, and every nook or corner where anything might be
concealed had been turned out.

Evidently the thieves had sought for something of value they believed
I had in my possession, and were disappointed; for, as far as I could
discover, they had stolen nothing. My first impulse was to send for the
police, but on reflection I resolved to remain silent on this matter also.

The days passed, but no announcement of the discovery of the body
appeared in the papers.

There was a possibility of something belonging to me being found in the
house by the police. My pockets had been almost emptied on that night;
but whether the contents had fallen out or been abstracted I was unable
to determine. It was, however, certain that clues to my identity were
not wanting, and I confess that the fearful suspicion that I was the
actual murderer caused me constant and terrible anxiety. Inquiries
I made regarding the house revealed that it belonged to a well-known
baronet, who was abroad in the diplomatic service; that it had been to
let furnished, but that for nearly five years it had remained unoccupied.

With the object of recovering anything which might serve as evidence
against me, I called upon the house-agent, and, representing myself as a
likely tenant, obtained the key. The afternoon was wet and gloomy when I
revisited the place. Being alone, I felt rather unnerved as I ascended
the wide, old-fashioned stairs to the chamber of death; but when I
entered the inner room I found, to my amazement, that the body was not
there! It had mysteriously disappeared!

All traces of the crime had been carefully obliterated. Even the portion
of threadbare carpet that had been stained with blood had been cut out,
revealing the dust-covered boards. The other apartments were just as I
had left them, and in the drawing-room—where, by unknown means, I had
so narrowly escaped death—the ashes of the charcoal still remained. A
streak of grey light that came in over the top of the shutters enabled me
to inspect the room, and, although I failed to find any of the missing
contents of my pockets, I saw that the dust that lay thickly upon a
little rosewood table had been disturbed. There was a small mark—the
perfect imprint of a woman’s hand.

All endeavours to solve the mystery were in vain. I had been the victim
of an extraordinary plot; but the fact of my friendliness towards the
Revolutionists made its object appear the more incomprehensible.

One gloomy day I was sitting before the fire in my bachelor den, lazily
enjoying my pipe and a novel, when there came a heavy knock at the outer
door, and a boy handed me a telegram.

Tearing it open, I read words that caused me to utter a cry of dismay.
They were—

“Mariána Néstoff arrested. She left Petersburg by _étape_ for Siberia
yesterday.—JAKOVLEFF.”

“Arrested!” I cried aloud. What, I wondered, could be her crime? She
had evidently fallen into the drag-net of the Russian police as a
“political,” otherwise Jakovleff would not have telegraphed.

The horrors of the journey on foot thousands of versts beyond the Ourals,
the privations, the brutality of Cossack escorts, and the terrible
existence in the mines to which political exiles are doomed, shut out
from the light of hope or mercy, all occurred to me. A dozen times I
re-read the telegram, pacing the room in anxiety and despair; then I
resolved to leave that night for Petersburg, obtain a permit to travel in
Siberia, and endeavour to save her. There was no time to be lost, for it
was already three o’clock and I should be compelled to draw money from
the bank.

My only thought was of Mariána. How bitterly I regretted having left
her in Russia, and reproached myself for not having warned her against
associating too closely with those suspected of holding pronounced
political views. For myself I cared nothing; being prepared to run any
risk in order to rescue her from the terrible fate.

I had taken out a large portmanteau, and was busy thrusting into it some
things I should require on my journey, when I was startled by another
loud rat-tat. On opening the door a tall, fair-haired woman entered.
She was well dressed; wearing a small, close-fitting bonnet, and a
fashionable cape trimmed with costly fur. At first I did not recognise
her; but when she had passed through into my sitting-room and lifted her
veil, I saw with astonishment that the young and handsome face was that
of Agraféna Teréshkevna, a wealthy woman whom I had known in Petersburg
as an active member and generous supporter of the Nihilists.

“It is with much pleasure that I meet you again, m’sieur,” she exclaimed
in Russian, smiling, and extending her hand. “Since you left us I have
often thought of you,” she added, seating herself as if quite at home.
Then, glancing round, she said, “Ugh! What an untidy room! You want a
wife to keep things straight.”

Although I assured her how greatly I appreciated the honour she had
done me by calling, I was no means pleased at her visit. Though but
twenty-four years of age, she had already been a widow two years. At
twenty, in order to secure a set of diamonds and a position, she had
bound herself to an aged merchant king, who, two years later, died
suddenly of heart disease. After a brief period of mourning she became
one of the leaders of fashion in the Russian capital, and the brilliant
entertainments she gave at her great house in the Nevski were attended
by the smartest set. At her _salon_ I was always a welcome guest, and it
was the remembrance of certain mild flirtations that now caused me some
little uneasiness.

“My rooms are certainly rather untidy,” I said mechanically. “But I am
preparing to start on a long journey.”

“To where?”

“To Siberia.”

“_Dieu!_ Are you going there voluntarily?” she inquired, shuddering.

“Yes.”

“For what reason?”

“To seek a dear friend.”

“A woman, I presume?” she asked, with an ill-disguised sneer.

“Yes, Madame, it is a woman.”

“And her name is Mariána Néstoff, eh?” she asked slowly, watching my face.

“You are right. But how did you know?”

“I heard of her arrest. It is the common talk of Petersburg. The police
made a raid at one of the meetings, and captured twenty of our comrades.
Some explosives were found in Mariána’s room, and she has been sent to
Sredne Kolymsk.”

“My God!” I cried. “Why, that is beyond the Arctic Circle—the worst
region in all Siberia!”

She nodded, sighing slightly. “It must indeed be a terrible blow to you,”
she said.

“I—I love her,” I said hoarsely.

“Yes, yes, I understand. But do not take it to heart so much, Anton,”
she urged. “Mariána has been unfortunate; but for what reason should you
sacrifice your own liberty? You are known by the police as a Nihilist;
therefore, if you go to Siberia, you are almost certain to be detained
there. Besides, even if you found her, you would be unable to secure her
liberty.”

“No; I must do my best,” I replied.

“Do not run such an unnecessary risk,” she exclaimed, rising suddenly,
and coming behind my chair in an endeavour to console me. “You remember
that once you told me you cared for me?”

“What—what do you mean?” I cried wildly.

“I mean—I mean that I love you, Anton!”

“Love me!” I stammered, in amazement.

“Yes,” she said earnestly. “You know how passionately I have loved you,
yet this is the first time I have admitted it. Surely you are not blind?
Since I first saw you I have thought of no other man. It is you—you
only—that I care for.”

“But I——”

“Say the word,” she implored. “Tell me that you will cast aside that
pink-and-white, ill-bred doll, whose prettiness is already fading, and
I, Agraféna Teréshkevna, am ready to become your wife as soon as the
marriage formalities can be arranged.”

I shook my head.

“Think!” she urged. “I have wealth, position, and—and men say I have
beauty. I am at your feet. See...!”

And, casting herself upon her knees, she lifted my hand to her lips,
covering it with passionate kisses.

“Madame,” I said, withdrawing my hand firmly, “this interview is painful.
The _tête-à-tête_ we had some months ago amused us; it had a savour
of romance, but I did not dream that you had taken my foolish words
seriously. Let us part, and forget all that has passed between us to-day.”

For a moment she was pale and mute, her hands clenched, her body rigid
as marble. Then, struggling to her feet, she gave vent to a sudden
passionate outburst, tearing the furs from her throat.

“You cast me aside!” she cried. “You!—who declared your affection for
me—prefer that red-faced, uncouth furrier’s wench! So! We shall see!”

“Pray calm yourself,” I exclaimed.

“Calm myself! _Davolno_, Anton Prèhznev! Have I not been befooled? This
latest idol of yours has gone to Siberia, and you will follow! Good! When
you are toiling in the gloom of the lead-mines beyond Irkutsk you will
perhaps remember that you forsook the woman who loves you better than her
life—that she whom you insulted was Agraféna Teréshkevna.”

With a momentary glance at the mirror over the mantel-shelf she
rearranged her bonnet. Then, mortified and affronted, she bowed stiffly,
swept past me, and disappeared, slamming the door after her.

Six weary, anxious weeks passed.

Under a grey, lowering sky, a boundless, snow-covered plain stretched far
away into the mist.

It was already sixteen days since my driver and myself had left
Ekaterinbourg—the last Russian town—and a fortnight since we had gained
the great Siberian post road. With three horses, which we changed at
the post-stations, we had travelled almost night and day; yet I did not
experience fatigue, for the expectation of finding Mariána sustained me.

Sitting back in the sleigh, wrapped in a heavy otter _shuba_, and half
buried under thick rugs, painful thoughts were produced within me by
the loneliness and gloom as the last rays of the short wintry day were
fading amidst the icy vapours. The snorting of the horses, the jingling
of the bells on the wooden arch over their heads, and the hissing of
the sleigh-runners, combined to produce a noise that was indescribably
irritating and monotonous.

I had already visited Tiumen, where there is a great exile-forwarding
prison, through which all persons condemned to banishment, colonisation,
or penal servitude have to pass. On inquiry at the _Prikaz o Silnikh_, or
Chief Bureau of Exile Administration, I had learnt that Mariána had left
a week before with a convoy of _katorzhniki_ (hard-labour convicts) on
foot for Tomsk. With the object of overtaking them, I was now travelling
incessantly. The thought that she, innocent of crime, was compelled to
mix with murderers, robbers, and common criminals, sharing the same
filth, enduring the terrible hardships of the march, and living in the
same _entourage_ in the vile, fever-infected _étapes_, goaded me almost
to madness.

It grew quite dark, and the icy wind blew in fierce, sharp gusts, while
the snow, which commenced to fall thickly, beat into my face.

“How far is the next station?” I asked, in Russian, of the driver.

“Two versts, your High Nobility,” he replied.

“Very well,” I said, “let us hasten. We must remain there to-night, I
suppose.”

As I paid him to drive me with all possible speed and without resting,
he had not grumbled at being compelled to travel during the night, but
my decision apparently proved gratifying to him, for he whipped up his
horses, and within half an hour I was thawing myself before the great
stove in the log-built post-house of Abatskaya, distant two thousand
miles from Petersburg. Early on the following morning we were again on
the road, continuing throughout the day. In the dull afternoon, soon
after we had changed horses at Kalmakova, and were speeding across the
great undulating plain towards Omsk, the driver turned suddenly, and,
pointing with his whip to a distant hill, exclaimed excitedly—

“See! there they are!”

Jumping to my feet, and straining my eyes eagerly in the direction
indicated, I descried what appeared to be a black, winding streak
disappearing over the brow of the hill.

“Perhaps, after all, it may be only a train of freight sleighs,” I said.

“No! I can see the Cossacks’ bayonets,” he replied; for his practised
eyes could detect objects on the snow-covered plains where I could see
nothing.

For an hour we travelled at increased speed, until we gradually overtook
the convoy. My thoughts went back to the ever-to-be-remembered days when
I was a “political.” Trudging wearily onward through the deep snow, they
were a sorry band. The men wore flat caps on their half-shaven heads,
long grey overcoats with diamond-shaped patches of black or yellow on
the back, and leg-fetters that filled the air with an ominous clinking.
The women, too, wore coarse and ragged clothes of grey homespun, with
woollen squares tied tightly over their heads, while in the rear of the
sad procession were several _telegas_ filled with the sick.

Driving on past the party, we came up to the captain of the Cossack
escort. Jumping eagerly from the sleigh, I saluted him, telling him whom
I sought, and at the same time handing him an official paper bearing the
seal of the Minister of the Interior.

Opening it, he shouted an order to halt, and at that moment a ragged,
unkempt-looking woman rushed towards me and flung her arms wildly about
my neck. So tightly was the kerchief bound over her head for protection
from the icy blast, that it was only on second glance that I recognised
Mariána. She shed tears of joy.

“What’s this?” exclaimed the officer, carefully examining the document.
“An order from the Ministry for the immediate release of the convict
Mariána Néstoff?”

“Yes,” I said. “Here are my identification papers.”

“An order for my release, Anton?” she cried. “How did you obtain it?”

“It was simple, darling,” I replied, caressing her tenderly. “General
Korolénko now occupies a high position in the Ministry of the Interior
in Petersburg. In exchange for his written confession of the mysterious
death of Marie Smirnitskaya I obtained the document by which you are
released, and I have brought it personally in order to take you back
again to civilisation and happiness.”

We conversed with the officer for a few minutes. Then he turned to
her and said, “Death is preferable to the life to which you had been
consigned. You are indeed fortunate to obtain release, and you both have
my best wishes for your future welfare.”

Wishing me _bon voyage_, he shouted the order to march, and a moment
later the envious, despairing band of exiles moved slowly onward towards
their doom.

As we drove back together in the direction of Kalmakova I asked her about
her arrest. What she related astounded me.

“The spy who denounced me to the police was Madame Teréshkevna. There are
claws beneath the velvet paw,” she said.

“Agraféna Teréshkevna!” I cried. “I thought she was a member of the
Circle?”

“Yes. But it has since been ascertained that she is also in the pay of
the Secret Police, and that she gives her brilliant entertainments in
order to seek victims against whom to give information.”

As she went on to describe the circumstances of her arrest, and the
horrors of her imprisonment in the Fortress, I sat silently listening,
and wondering whether I should ever solve the mysteries connected with my
adventure in Onslow Square.

The solution came in a curious manner about six months afterwards.
Mariána and I, whose marriage was now publicly announced, had taken
up our residence in London, and were frequently the guests of the
Revolutionary refugees. At the house of one of these I met an elderly man
who was introduced as Ivan Ivanovitch, which was, of course, an assumed
name. It was he who explained the conspiracy against me.

“The Third Section received orders to suppress you,” he said. “It was
hinted to an _agent provocateur_ that your death would be gratifying, and
Axinïa—who for some time had acted as maid to Agraféna Teréshkevna—aided
by an adventurer named Goltmann, who assumed the part of ‘flunkey,’
formed a plot to kill you. We, however, were determined to frustrate
their designs, and, assisted by Paul Maiefski, I kept a close watch upon
them. We saw the girl Axinïa induce you to go to the house in Onslow
Square, a key of which she had obtained, and where she had prepared a
very ingenious death-trap. Madame was in the house at the time, as well
as Goltmann, and the object was first to murder you, and secondly to
secure the contents of your pockets, which they suspected contained
letters from ‘politicals.’ Soon after you had been admitted Maiefski
and I entered through a window, afterwards unlocking the door of the
drawing-room and dragging you out of the suffocating fumes. There were
sounds of quarrelling upstairs, and we took you up with us. The high
words between Madame and her maid prevented us from being heard, and,
leaving you insensible on the landing, we entered the room unobserved.
The women were quarrelling about you, when Axinïa uttered some insulting
words to Madame, and the latter, without more ado, drew a revolver from
her pocket and shot the girl dead.

“It was then we appeared. Madame, startled at finding her crime had been
witnessed, gave vent to a loud shriek, whereupon Goltmann decamped,
taking with him your latch-key and a number of letters, including one
from Mariána Néstoff, for he had rifled your pockets the moment we had
left you.”

“Then that accounts for my rooms being ransacked on that night!” I
exclaimed.

“Yes,” he continued. “The letters and papers were forwarded by Madame to
Petersburg, with the result that Mariána and the others were arrested.
It was no doubt one of the chief objects of the plot to get Mariána
exiled, because Madame herself loved you; but when she participated in
the conspiracy she did not intend that you should die, and it was over
this that the fatal quarrel arose. In order to make you believe you had
committed the murder, she placed the revolver in your hand, and on the
following day, fearing detection, she and Goltmann removed the body
secretly. The whole motive of the plot, it seems, was the fact that she
loved you, and desired to get Mariána out of the way.”

“And where is Madame now?” I asked.

“In Brussels. The Executive have sentenced her to death as a spy.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A fortnight later the newspapers contained a telegram from Brussels
headed, “Mysterious Death of a Russian Lady.” It stated that the body of
the wealthy and beautiful Madame Teréshkevna, of St. Petersburg, had been
found floating in the Meuse near Namur.



CHAPTER IX.

THE JUDAS-KISS.


Bah! How I detest tuberoses! Their odour is gruesome. There is death in
their breath.

How overpowering the scent is! How it clings to the nostrils and stirs
the memory!

Shall I never be able to forget? Shall I never succeed in drawing the
veil? Tuberoses and—

Phew! Where did that whiff of chloroform come from? Is it my imagination
playing me tricks, or is that man at my side a surgeon, fresh from some
murderous horrible operation? They are all alike, those doctors, licensed
to butcher.

Tuberoses and chloroform! Chloroform and tuberoses! Faugh! they go well
together. The grim spectre breathes the one and wears the other.

I suppose it is remorse. How horrible remorse is! Bearing you down,
gripping you by the throat and strangling you until your brain whirls,
your senses are dulled, and you see all over again the scenes you desire
most to forget.

It is a couple of years since, yet how fearfully vivid it all is!

That pallid face, whiter than the white pillow; the closed eyes, the
ashen-brown hair!

By Heaven! I see it all before me even now. A hideous reality. The
_dénouement_ of a terrible drama in our struggle for freedom.

Mine was a delicate mission. My readers will probably remember that
about two years ago a new Russian literary and social star appeared in
the London firmament, in the person of Madame Vera Kovalski. Her sudden
appearance in English society, and her ostentatious parade of wealth
aroused our suspicions that she was an agent of the Russian Government,
a surmise which was quickly confirmed, for one morning we saw in certain
London daily newspapers a long letter signed by her in defence of Russian
bureaucracy, and eulogising the humane Tzar for his paternal interest in
the millions who called him “father.”

From that day she was the object of vigilant watchfulness. Communications
with the various Circles in Russia elicited nothing regarding her past,
until one day the Executive received a letter from the Kiev centre,
informing us that the woman who called herself Kovalski was the young
wife of Colonel Paul Krivenko, chief of police of that town. Her husband,
with his grey-coated myrmidons, had for a long time past endeavoured
to stamp out the revolutionary movement among the students at the
University, but although dozens of innocent persons had been arrested
and sent without trial to Verkhni Udinsk and Yakoutsk, he had, up to the
present, been unable to discover any members of the Circle proper.

His wife had earned an unenviable reputation by giving information which
led to the arrest of a dozen unfortunate students, who were brought
before the special court at Petersburg. Evidently fearing to return to
Kiev, she had afterwards mysteriously disappeared.

The portrait—taken from a lady’s newspaper—which we had sent, had been
identified, and the communication warned us that she was in England for
the purpose of espionage.

Such were the circumstances in which I was entrusted with the discovery
of her object in visiting London, and the extent of her knowledge of our
movements. Matters were again ripe for a further attempt to overthrow
the Imperial power, and the Executive had in preparation an elaborate
and desperate plot which seemed likely to be as successful as that
which—unfortunately for Russia—removed Alexander II.; providing the
astute members of the “Third Section” could be baffled and led upon a
wrong scent. It was highly desirable that we should know what Madame
Vera was really doing, and with whom she was in communication in Russia;
therefore it devolved upon me to watch her.

At frequent intervals signed articles and letters from her pen were
appearing in the press in defence of the Imperial Autocrat, and
endeavouring to prove, by relating personal narratives, that the prison
horrors of Siberia as revealed by George Kennan and other travellers
existed merely in the imagination. She even went so far as to assert that
“the condition of the much-talked-of forwarding prison at Tomsk would do
credit to any London hospital.”

This paid defender of Russian tyranny was but one of a number, each of
whom has flourished in London society for a season or so and disappeared
as mysteriously as they came. Some have succeeded in performing the
secret services for which they were sent out from Petersburg, while upon
others has fallen a relentless vengeance.

In order that my connection with the revolutionist colony in Oakleigh
Gardens should not be discovered, I never visited them there. We had
another place of meeting when I desired a conference. Indeed, I had found
it necessary to remove my quarters from Shaftesbury Avenue to Dane’s
Inn, that queer grimy abode of bachelors situate off Wych Street—the
oldest and quaintest thoroughfare in London—under the shadow of the Law
Courts. There, in chambers, I led the rollicking life of a Bohemian of
independent means, had artists, authors, and actors, for my friends, and
was known to them as Pierre Delorme. Speaking French fluently, I had no
difficulty in disguising my nationality, and assuming the _rôle_ of a
subject of the French Republic.

The Rectory of the sleepy little Northamptonshire village of
Kingsthorpe was a spacious old Jacobean house, hidden by ivy, with
red, lichen-covered roofs, tall chimneys, and diamond-paned, mullioned
windows. Standing back from the broad, white highway, a large,
old-fashioned, flower-garden lay in front, while at the rear an orchard
and well-kept lawn sloped down to the picturesque river Nene. The
Reverend George Farrar, the rector, was a rubicund, happy-looking man,
a true type of the port-drinking, fox-hunting British parson, and with
his wife and two handsome daughters, was popular with all throughout
his rural parish, from the Earl at the Hall down to the most humble and
impecunious cottager. Though he hunted with the Fitzwilliam Pack, and
could handle a cue with dexterity acquired by long practice, nevertheless
there was no cant about him, and he was both pious and charitable.

It was at Kingsthorpe that Madame Kovalski was visiting during August,
she having met the Farrars frequently in London and dispensed to them
the hospitality of her house in Lexham Gardens, Kensington. By dint of a
little artful manœuvring and the exertions of a mutual friend, I also had
contrived to make the acquaintance of the warm-hearted old rector, and
had responded to his cordial invitation to spend a fortnight at “Sleepy
Hollow,” as he called it.

There were several other guests, but my attention was devoted to Madame
Vera, with whom I very soon became on terms of pleasant friendship.

We were idling away one hot afternoon together in a punt up a romantic
and picturesque backwater of the Nene. Behind us the ground rose, covered
thickly with beeches and hawthorn. A small weir, with a few eel baskets
of brown osier, closed in the creek. The water was still, and around us
masses of white water-lily studded the surface with silver stars. Beneath
the deep emerald leaves, perch and dace darted from time to time, or
lazily sucked in some drowning moth or wandering fly.

The atmosphere was stifling in the sun, yet beneath the protecting willow
to which I had chained the punt there was a pleasant soothing breeze that
kept the gnats away and made the afternoon quite enjoyable.

Vera looked ravishing. I had no idea that the woman upon whom I had to
keep observation was so young and beautiful. Her broad white hat, set
back on her shapely head, threw out her copper hair and deep-blue eyes.
The olive silk that clung round her firm shoulders and waist outlined
the broad curve of her limbs and fell in soft draperies about her little
feet. The lace sleeves through which her white arms showed were a pretty
idea, but far too tempting for a bachelor. I had found her not averse to
flirtation, otherwise I should not have spoken as I did.

“Vera, you are a pretty woman!” I said; “yours are the longest
eye-lashes, I think, I ever saw! Your complexion is simply faultless,
while the crisp little curls of brown around your forehead take a copper
hue in the warm sun I have never yet seen out of Titian.”

“Why do you flatter me so?” she asked, laughing and puckering up her rosy
lips.

She was lolling upon the cushions at the end of the punt, having flung
down her novel heedlessly.

“I suppose I may be permitted to admire you,” I said, smiling. “Parisians
are connoisseurs of beauty. You do not want to read? Then talk to me.
Shall I tell you your voice is as sweet as a carillon of silvery chimes?
That your presence is as graceful and bewitching as the vision of an
houri? Well, I won’t be idiotic, but as sensible as a man can be when he
has for companion the most charming woman in England.”

“How ridiculously you talk!” she exclaimed, with a merry mischievous
smile. “Remember, I’ve been married two years—and my husband—I——”

“You are not devoted to him, Vera.”

“How—how did you know?” she asked, starting. “Who told you?”

“No one. But why deny it?”

“I do not deny it. Indeed, I have tried to be good to him, Pierre, but he
is almost double my age; so cold, so careless, and I hear so many awful
stories of his dissipated habits that it is quite impossible to love him.
We are, therefore, best apart.”

“Poor Vera! I fear your life is not a happy one if we knew all.”

“Ah, no, alas!” she sighed. “I’ll tell you something of it and you can
judge, Pierre. Indeed, I am lonely and wretched.”

She did not speak for some minutes; but her head changed its position
from the cushion where it lay, and by some aberration of mind rested
itself lightly upon my shoulder. There was really no harm. She did not
know it.

There was such a sweet odour of stephanotis wafted across my senses that
I looked at the copper halo on my arm and wondered if it was not some
rare orchid or tropical moss that had fallen there. She had turned her
head away, and her hand was playing with the water-lily leaves waving
gently in the stream.

Her skin was like alabaster. Little curls formed arabesques over the
nape of her neck; and her ear, pink and transparent, tempted me to
whisper into it words of passionate love. There is no situation in the
human drama so interesting as a _tête-à-tête_ with a pretty woman; and
when that woman is married, with a grievance against her husband, the
_tête-à-tête_ is all the more attractive.

She told me a sad story, how she had been forced to marry Colonel
Kovalski, but she did not mention that his real name was Krivenko, or
that he was an officer of Imperial Police. She merely told me that he
held an important official position, and that, having discovered his
unfaithfulness, she had left him and come to England, where she had no
enemies to gloat over her unhappiness.

A tear stole down her cheek as she related her narrative, and a sob
escaped her.

“Do not think of it, Vera,” I said, endeavouring to console her. “Think
of the charming afternoon. Look at that gorgeous butterfly that hovers
over the stream; look at its wings, now brown, now purple, with its
orange tips and blue eyes, staring like Psyche at her discovered Cupid.”

“Ah, yes,” she replied, with a heavy sigh; “but you, a Frenchman, cannot
understand one’s social position in Russia.”

“Tell me,” I exclaimed with sudden interest; “I have heard and read so
much of Nihilism that my curiosity has been aroused, and I’m always eager
to improve my knowledge.”

“Nihilism!” she repeated in surprise. “Why do you ask me about it? How
can I know anything about conspirators?”

“But every Russian has a knowledge of the Terrorists.”

“Yes, they are everywhere,” she admitted. “And, indeed, I don’t wonder.
Wrong a man, deny him all redress, exile him if he complains, gag him if
he cries out, strike him in the face if he struggles, and at last he will
stab and throw bombs. In the light of facts recently brought to light,
Terrorism ceases to be an unnatural or inexplicable phenomenon. Our
Government manufactures murderers.”

“Are you, then, in favour of the Revolutionists?” I asked, greatly
surprised at this expression of opinion in such direct contrast to the
views set forth in her various articles.

“A Russian never dares to publicly express his or her political
convictions. As for me—well, I have ceased to trouble my head about them.
In a sense, I am an exile.”

What an admirable actress she was; yet how charming! I had not been
thinking of her as an accomplished spy, but as a woman who yearned
for sympathy and affection. As the sun declined, the river grew more
tranquil, and the cawing of the rooks, as they went to bed, told that day
was drawing to a close.

She offered me a cigarette from her case, and taking one herself,
lit them both with the air of an inveterate smoker. What could be
more delicious? A balmy breeze, full of the odour of meadow-sweet, a
bewitching woman by one’s side, with nothing absolutely to do but admire
her eyes and lips, while she discoursed with logical clearness upon the
struggle of the Russian people against the iron rule of the Great White
Tzar.

“I’ve heard of your articles,” I said, after she had been describing
incidents in connection with the expulsion of the Jews from Odessa.

“Ah, I write sometimes,” she replied. “It is a pleasant and profitable
amusement; yet one does not always express one’s real political opinions
when writing for the press.” And she laughed lightly. “Had you lived in
Russia you would recognise the extreme danger of commenting adversely
upon the Government or criticising its administrative exile system.”

Our conversation was interrupted by the clock of Kingsthorpe Church
striking six. Half-past was the dinner hour at the Rectory, therefore I
unloosened the moorings, and, taking up the pole, pushed the punt lazily
homeward, chatting to my fair freight, expressing the enjoyment her
companionship afforded me, and amusing her with tittle-tattle until we
stepped ashore on the Rectory lawn.

But before we had left our secluded little backwater I had kissed her,
and in return received a fierce and fond caress.

I had imprinted a Judas-kiss upon her lips!

Next morning at breakfast I was sitting beside her. We had just finished
the meal when the servant entered with letters. Beside her plate the maid
placed two missives, one a tiny note with a superscription in a feminine
hand; but the appearance of the other was a revelation to me. It lay
for a moment unheeded, and by a quick, sidelong glance I saw that the
large, square envelope bore the official frank stamp and double-headed
eagle of the Ministry of the Interior at Petersburg. When she noticed
it she hurriedly folded it in half and thrust it into her pocket without
examining its contents.

That evening, when we joined the ladies in the drawing-room after dinner,
I noticed she was not with them. Leaving the room, I inquired of one of
the maids, and learnt that the fair diplomat, wearing her cloak and hat,
had been seen to cross the lawn in the direction of the river’s bank.

Some influence impelled me to follow. The summer’s night was still and
starlight; scarcely a leaf stirred, and the quiet was only broken by
the distant rushing of the weir. Passing out by a gate at the side of
the lawn, I walked along a by-path that ran through the meadows by the
water’s edge. Large alders grew beside the stream, and in their shadow I
advanced noiselessly over the grass.

Suddenly I heard voices, and halted to listen. I recognised hers! She was
speaking in Russian.

“Tell me. What’s to be done?” she was asking.

“Act as before,” replied a man’s voice in the same language. “You
received your instructions from the Ministry to-day.”

“They might have spared themselves the trouble, for I have already
completed my investigations.”

“You have!” cried the man. “What is the plot? Explain it to me.”

“I have not yet made out my report,” she replied coldly. “Besides, I am
in the employ of the Ministry, not in yours.”

“Ah! my dear Madame, pardon me if I have given offence. It was out of
sheer curiosity that I asked.”

“Curiosity of a kind that would ruin me, eh? You would sell the secret
to General Gresser, and claim the reward; but I am as wary as yourself,
m’sieur.”

“I beg Madame’s pardon—she speaks too harshly. Indeed, your secret would
be quite safe——”

“As safe as when, by your devilish ingenuity, you learnt of the
conspiracy I had unearthed in Paris, and telegraphed it in detail to
Petersburg as the result of your own vigilance. On that occasion who was
rewarded?—who was decorated by the Emperor? Why, you! As for me, I——”

“But you are my wife. What does it matter?”

“Wife—bah!” she replied, in intense disgust. “We have parted, and you
have no claim whatever upon me. By what right, pray, have you followed
me here? Cannot I carry out this hateful work without your detestable
companionship?”

“But I assist you,” he urged. “Besides, I—I sometimes think, Vera, that
we might accomplish much better work if we combined our efforts.”

“With you—never,” she replied angrily. “It is true that I married you,
but we have never lived together—and never shall.”

“Do you forget that I once saved you from death?”

“Was not that a husband’s duty?” she asked, adding, “I cannot stay
longer; my hostess will miss me.”

“But you shall remain and hear my proposal. I intend that you shall
return to Russia, and live with me.”

“Indeed? Then I may at once tell you, Paul Krivenko, that I hate you;
that I would rather die than be your cat’s-paw,” and she laughed
scornfully.

“You!—you speak like that to me!” he cried in rage. “I—I’ll kill you!”

“Bah! do your worst,” she exclaimed defiantly.

“Not another word,” he hissed, adding a foul oath. “You’ll explain the
whole of this conspiracy you have discovered, or—or I’ll wring your white
neck, and fling you into the river here. Now, you have your choice.”

There were sounds of a scuffle, and I heard Vera cry hoarsely, “Let me
go! You hurt my throat—you coward! Help, for God’s sake!”

Creeping from my hiding-place, I peered round the clump of hawthorns,
and in the faint light beheld Madame struggling with her husband. He
was about fifty years of age, foppishly dressed, and wore his moustache
waxed. I could discern that his eyes were unusually close together, his
features were small, except his mouth, which was wide, his lips thin, the
effect being vulpine. By repute I knew Colonel Krivenko as one of the
most cunning bloodhounds connected with the “Third Section.” He was a
master of his craft, and, characteristic of the mercenary spy all over
the world, he was true to nobody, not even to his employers, not even
to his hatreds, for he had accepted service both for and against the
Nihilists, both for and against his Imperial Master, the Tzar.

I saw he was bending over his young wife. He had clutched her by the
throat, and was forcing her upon her knees, at the same time uttering
terrible imprecations, and demanding to be informed of the result of her
secret investigations.

Just as I had turned, intending to retreat to my place of concealment,
having gained knowledge that would put the Executive on its guard, I
heard Krivenko give vent to a fierce guttural oath.

Then a woman’s shrill cry rang out in the still air, followed by a great
splash.

Returning quickly, I looked cautiously behind the bush, but neither
the man nor woman were there. Upon the surface of the water were great
eddying rings, momentarily growing larger, plainly showing that the dark
stream had closed over some heavy body. I gazed for a few moments at the
circling rings, not knowing how to act. Nothing appeared on the surface,
and the waters gradually resumed their tranquillity.

Then I searched the bank, behind trees and bushes, and in every nook, but
could discover no one.

Shuddering, I retraced my steps to the Rectory, and joined the ladies in
the drawing-room.

Days passed, but Vera Kovalski did not return. Her mysterious
disappearance caused a great sensation in Kingsthorpe and the
neighbourhood. Although telegrams were despatched in all directions, no
tidings could be gleaned of her. The strange affair cast a gloom over
the usually merry household, for every one appeared to have forebodings
that some unknown catastrophe had occurred, and the guests, feeling the
solemnity irksome, departed, an example I quickly followed.

Before I left the Rectory, however, I examined the whole of Madame’s
belongings, in the hope of finding something which might serve as a clue
to the discovery of the “conspiracy” about which she had spoken. But the
search was futile.

On returning to London I informed the Executive of the occurrence, a
council was held, at which it was decided that every agency possessed by
our Party should be requisitioned, in order to discover whether either
Colonel Krivenko or his wife were really still alive. For the success of
our plot—which was a bold venture, involving the partial destruction of
the Castle of Schlusselburg and the release of the political prisoners
confined there—it was of supreme importance that we should know if Madame
Kovalski still lived, and if so, the extent of her knowledge.

Descriptions and photographs, circulated among our members, both in
England and on the Continent, failed to elicit any clue.

With Dmitri Irteneff as companion, I was ever vigilant in the London
streets for many weeks, hoping to meet her, while Grinevitch continually
kept Madame’s house in Lexham Gardens, Kensington, under observation. We
have such a perfect method of tracing those who incur our displeasure
that, when once the order is issued by the Executive, escape is hopeless.

Colonel Krivenko’s body had already been found floating in the Nene
near Peterborough, and having satisfied ourselves that his wife had not
returned to her friends in London, we directed our attention to other
quarters, and continued our search through many weeks.

A heavy, thick mist was blowing on the gale which swept fiercely in gusts
down the English Channel. The yellow light of the November afternoon had
already begun to dwindle. No sun had shone on the dreary Sussex coast
that day. The tide was out, and the wide, wet sands stretched from the
cliffs to the selvage of white foam that flickered in the grey light far
off, where the waves broke in hissing spray.

In this tempestuous afternoon Irteneff and I were walking along the top
of the cliffs between Eastbourne and Beachy Head. Suddenly, as we rounded
a point, we saw below a single human being on the level foreshore. At
first it was merely a speck, traversing the sand along the margin of
the wind-whitened sea. We waited for its approach, and as it drew nearer
Dmitri took a small binocular from his pocket. Having focused it upon the
moving object, he quickly handed it to me, exclaiming briefly—

“At last! We have found her!”

I looked eagerly, and saw the form of a woman walking with her head bent
against the roaring wind. I recognised the figure and gait as that of
Vera Kovalski!

As she moved along towards Eastbourne, we retraced our steps, and
followed her to the Queen’s Hotel, where Irteneff, on inquiry, found she
had been staying for nearly a month under the name of Mrs. Axford, and
also that on several occasions gentlemen had called upon her.

Two hours later I had transferred my abode from the Cavendish to the
Queen’s, and having duly installed myself in a room in the same corridor
as Madame, I resolved to act promptly.

I did not go down to dinner, but waited till she returned. I heard her
close her door; then placing a small phial in my vest pocket, and taking
a clean handkerchief from my bag, stole along the corridor and entered
her sitting-room without knocking.

She had flung herself upon a couch, but started up on my entrance.

“Ah, my dear Madame,” I commenced, as I closed the door behind me. “So I
have found you at last!”

“Found me!” she cried in alarm, springing to her feet. “What do you mean
by entering my room in this manner? I know who you are—that your real
name is Anton Prèhznev, and that you are a Nihilist. I’ll ring for the
servants!”

And she made a dash forward. I was compelled to act without hesitation.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” I said, determinedly. As I uttered
the words I took out the tiny phial and emptied the contents upon the
handkerchief, which a moment later I held firmly over her nose and mouth.

In a few seconds, and with only a long sigh, she fell back into my arms,
an inert and helpless burden.

Placing her upon the couch, I entered her bedroom and searched her trunk
and dressing-case. In the latter I discovered some letters from the
Ministry of the Interior and some photographs, all of which I crushed
into my pockets. While doing so, a thought crossed my mind that she would
probably conceal about her person the more important documents.

When I re-entered the sitting-room she was lying just as I had left her.
I placed my hand in the bodice of her gown, and as I did so a spray of
tuberoses fell to the floor. Feeling crisp paper inside her bodice, I
drew it forth. It was an envelope, the contents of which I immediately
examined.

I discovered that it was the report for which I had been searching.
Breathless with excitement, I read it through from beginning to end. Our
plot was completely exposed! Moreover, it gave names and descriptions of
the Executive and prominent members resident in London, myself included.

When I had devoured the contents, I placed it carefully in my pocket,
afterwards turning to cast a farewell glance at her. With alarm I noticed
that in the few minutes during which I had been reading an ashen pallor
had overspread her countenance. I laid my hand softly upon her breast.

The heart had ceased to beat! Then the terrible truth dawned upon me. I
had administered an overdose! Vera Kovalski was dead, and I had murdered
her!

For a moment my senses reeled, so overcome was I by the mingled odours
of chloroform and tuberoses. But I managed to recover myself and creep
noiselessly out.

Is there any wonder why I have never since been able to endure the
combined sickly scents of chloroform and tuberoses.

I can smell them now! Faugh!



CHAPTER X.

AN IMPERIAL SUGAR PLUM.


The incident at Borki, when the train in which the Tzar Alexander and
Tzarina were travelling was wrecked and partially burned, will no doubt
be remembered by the majority of readers. Although generally attributed
to a Nihilist plot, the perpetrators of the outrage have never been
discovered. It is true that thirty-seven persons of both sexes were
arrested at Kirsanoff and Atkarsk and sent to the Kadainski silver mine
in Eastern Siberia as a “precautionary measure,” but all were innocent,
and notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of the Russian “Security
Section,” aided by the police of the whole of Europe, the matter has
always been regarded as a mystery.

Now, for the first time, I have resolved to explain the manner in which
that attempt was made, the cause of its failure, and the means employed
by the conspirators to effect their escape.

Foreign critics—those in the pay of the Russian Government—frequently
stigmatise Nihilists as frenzied enthusiasts who seek to reform society
and reconstitute their country by the aid of dynamite and bombshells.
Nevertheless, although the means employed may, perhaps, appear
reprehensible, yet the majority of patriotic Englishmen are in sympathy
with the cause of Russian freedom. Have we not had many examples thrust
upon us of the tyranny and callousness of the late Tzar? When the Lord
Mayor, representing the City of London, petitioned his Imperial Majesty
regarding the inhuman treatment of Jews, what answer did he receive? The
representative of English liberty was snubbed; the petition was returned
with a curt reply that Russian Jews did not concern the Lord Mayor. Such
an illustration of Muscovite despotism should be borne in mind by those
who look upon Nihilists as murderers.

Our object is to free our beloved country from the terrible yoke. In the
great sorrow-stricken land, tens of thousands of our countrymen groan
beneath the curse of infamous laws and the burden of unjust taxation.
The young Tzar on his throne is powerless, his myrmidons who surround
him keep their grip upon the desolated country, and no man can breathe
with absolute freedom. The police are infamous spies who will sell a
man’s life for a few kopecks; the magistracy is corrupt, and justice a
burlesque. Poverty, misery, and starvation are rampant, and happiness
is unknown, beneath the crushing weight of this monstrous form of
despotism. The so-called Nihilists desire to free their country from this
curse, and would do it by peaceable means, and without bloodshed, were it
possible. But it is not, and therefore the Executive are compelled to be
merciless, and are determined to strike enemies of Russia without pity or
remorse.

To sweep the Autocrat from his throne, to break his power, to destroy
the corrupt ministers and infamous advisers by whom he is surrounded,
to bring enlightenment, peace, and freedom to millions of honest,
God-fearing men, women, and children in Russia, are the objects and aims
of those who are so frequently designated as murderers.

Yet the work goes on, silently, steadily, deadly. Each day brings the
power of the Tzar’s nearer its disastrous termination; each day increases
the hopes of those thousands of “political suspects” buried alive in
Siberian snow-drifts; each night brings us nearer the dawn of a bright
and prosperous day.

Already my readers have learnt the reason I, Anton Prèhznev, loyal
soldier of his Imperial Majesty, became transformed into a revolutionist.
My case is but one of many thousands. In Russia, one must be either a
flunkey or a Nihilist, and most persons prefer to work for the cause of
freedom.

It was in a small room over a dingy and uninviting-looking _café_ in
Gerrard Street, Soho—to which our headquarters had been transferred, in
order to elude the vigilance of the spies of the Embassy—that there was
arranged one of the most bold and terrible plots since the assassination
of Alexander II.

The meeting was held hurriedly at midnight, and I attended. Paul
Pétroff—who had that day returned from Petersburg—presided, and
Tersinski, Irteneff, Grinevitch, and Bounakoff were present.

“Brothers,” exclaimed Pétroff, after we had seated ourselves and
transacted some preliminary business, “our time has arrived. By the
exercise of due caution we shall be enabled to strike a blow that will
paralyse Europe, and remove the Tyrant and his underlings. Shall we do
so?”

“Yes,” we replied, with one accord.

“Now that the lips of that traitress, Vera Kovalski, are sealed, we are
free to act,” he continued. “The _Zemliá i Vólia_ (”Land and Liberty“)
group in Petersburg have supplied us with information. The Tzar and
Tzarina will leave the Winter Palace this day fortnight for Astrakhan.”

He took from the papers at his elbow a large map of Russia, upon which
was marked in red the route by which the Imperial party were to travel.
It showed that they would go by way of Moscow, Riazan, Tambov, Atkarsk,
to Saratov, and thence by steamer down the Volga.

“You observe, brothers,” he said, “the train will pass over several
unimportant branch lines. It is suggested by the Circle in Petersburg
that a disaster should occur on one of these, as they will not be so
closely watched as the trunk lines.”

“What kind of a disaster?” I asked.

Pétroff ran his fingers through his long, dark hair, and fixed his
searching eyes upon me.

“We have yet to decide,” he replied. “Besides, as it would be extremely
dangerous for any member of the Petersburg group to undertake the
attempt, one of us will be compelled to put the plans into execution,
receiving assistance, of course, from our brothers in the capital.”

“There are many ways of causing a disaster,” observed Tersinski. “A
charge of dynamite under the metals, as at Moscow, might prove effective.”

“Or destroy a bridge, as we did at Elizabethgrad,” suggested Bounakoff.

“And wreck the pilot engine only,” remarked the President. “No, neither
will do. The only way it can be done effectually is from the train
itself.”

“But how?” asked Grinevitch, who had been sitting thoughtful and silent.

Pétroff then entered into a minute explanation, producing plans of the
various lines that he had brought from Petersburg, together with a sketch
of the Imperial train, and a list of the suite and ministers who would,
in all probability, travel by it. We sat together until the small hours
of the morning, and at length arranged every detail.

Then came the momentous question as to who should be deputed to carry
out the project. It was at first suggested that Grinevitch should be
entrusted with the mission, but eventually we decided to cast lots as
usual. We threw dice, and Fate decreed that the choice should fall upon
me.

       *       *       *       *       *

A September night. The rain was falling at intervals from bars of
ragged, fleecy cloud, and the lights of Petersburg cast long, uncertain
reflections upon the bosom of the dark Neva. The clock of the Izaak
Church had long ago struck the hour of one; the theatres were emptied,
and the last _café_ had been closed.

The rain plashed gloomily upon the pavement of the Nevski Prospekt as I
trudged onward. I was making my way to friends who would assist me in my
mission. Only half an hour before I had arrived from England, but I was
no stranger to the city, although some years had elapsed since I had last
walked its broad streets.

Already the rain had soaked through my thick travelling ulster, my teeth
were chattering, my limbs ached from being cooped up in a close railway
carriage for five days, and I felt generally depressed and uncomfortable.
As I was passing the Hôtel de l’Europe my attention was arrested by the
quick passage of a figure through the light shed by a street lamp—a
short man, whose head was sunk between his shoulders, with sharp features
and small keen eyes—who glanced sharply at me and passed rapidly on.

I thought nothing of the occurrence at the time, because I was fearless.
My passport was perfectly legitimate, stating that my name was
Alexandrovitch Charushin, Russian subject, born at Odessa, and living
in Munich; that my calling was that of _chef_, and, further, that I had
returned to Petersburg in search of employment. So completely was I
disguised by the removal of my beard and moustache, and the application
of theatrical “make up,” that even the spies of the London division of
the Secret Police would pass me by unnoticed. Therefore I felt confident
of security.

Presently I turned from the Nevski into a dingy by-street, and having
walked through to the farther end, halted before a confectioner’s, and
rang the private bell.

My handbag was heavy, and I set it down until I should be admitted.

In a few moments the door opened mysteriously, and on my entrance was
quickly closed again, leaving me in darkness.

“Welcome, friend, to Petersburg,” said a man’s voice in a low tone. “Walk
forward, and upstairs.”

I obeyed, and on gaining the landing entered a small sitting-room. The
two occupants—a man and a woman—rose to greet me.

“At last,” exclaimed the young fellow, who subsequently introduced
himself as Ivan Liustig, medical student. “You must be hungry. Mascha,
here, will get you something to eat.”

I turned to glance at his companion. Our eyes met. Our voices mingled in
a cry of joy. I had at last found my sister Mascha!

In the hour that followed we both related briefly our adventures. She had
grown older, more matronly, yet still more beautiful than when I had last
seen her writhing under the terrible torture of the knout in the open
market-place of Mstislavl. As I felt the soothing touch of her hands, and
looked into the deep-blue eyes, I saw fathomed there a wealth of love,
and patience, and pity.

Sitting at table with Liustig and Boris Soliviof—the proprietor of the
confectioner’s shop, who had admitted me—I watched Mascha’s face as she
chatted and drew tea from the shining samovar. In repose, its expression
was one of infinite gentleness; yet in a moment, at a word regarding the
revolutionary movement, it would change: the rosy, child-like lips would
meet, the fair cheeks glow, the delicate nostrils dilate, and the eyes
would flame with an enthusiasm begotten of wrong and long suffering.

She described to me her life since that day when we last met at
Mstislavl; how she had been kept in prison for three years, two of which
were spent in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, merely because she was
suspected of political enthusiasm. She was never brought to trial; but,
after the long years of solitude in damp, mouldy cells, during which
her health was shattered, she contracted typhoid fever, and was set
at liberty. Since that time she had allied herself with the _Zemliá i
Vólia_, and had been considered one of the most daring members of the
group. She earned her living by fur-sewing, and was engaged to be married
to Ivan Liustig.

My real name had never transpired in connection with the work of the
Executive, therefore she had all these years believed that I was still in
exile in Siberia, where she had heard our father had died while chained
to his wheel-barrow in the Nerchinsk mine.

I was relating how I escaped, when the opening of the street-door by a
latch-key, and flying footsteps on the stairs startled us. The handle of
the door was turned, and a thin, dark-haired young man dashed into the
room. He must have sped quickly, for he put his hand to his side, and
with difficulty gasped—

“Quick! They are searching. The police are already on their way here!”
Then turning to me, said, “Hide! hide, for your life!”

Mascha wrung her hands, crying, “Fly! fly, Anton! They must not discover
you! Fly!”

I was making blindly for the door, when Liustig’s voice arrested me.

“No—no time; they will meet you—you must hide!”

“Where can I?” And I looked round the room in dismay.

“The window—it is dark.” Mascha spoke, pointing upwards. The man who had
warned us had already disappeared.

My sister saw my hesitation. The window was high in the wall, and I could
not reach it.

“Take the bag with you. Jump on my shoulders,” gasped Liustig, turning
his back and lowering his body.

Something of their anxious energy was lent to me in that supreme moment.
I sprang with agility upon the proffered shoulders—I opened the window,
and with a rush of cold wind came to me the measured tramp of the police
on the stairs.

As I crawled outside and closed the window after me, the fury of the
storm was such that I felt it would sweep me from my insecure retreat. I
clutched the window-frame—my feet were on a sloping roof, which seemed to
move away under them. In my desperation I felt disposed to let myself go,
for the precious bag I had brought up seemed to drag me down. In a few
moments, however, I had found a secure resting-place for it, and, moving
cautiously sideways, discovered a projection, upon which I obtained a
firm grip. Thus, by bending forward, I was enabled to see into the room,
myself unseen.

One cup had been hidden, and Mascha sat by the stove with a book in her
hand. Her eyes were turned to the door as if in startled surprise. The
picture she thus presented, with the two men calmly smoking cigarettes,
was tranquil, innocent, and natural.

Next second five police officers burst into the room. Liustig’s manner
was perfect. His eyebrows were raised, and he looked astonishment
personified. Soliviof had gone to the door, and with a polite gesture of
the hand, seemed to invite the intruders to enter, search, and examine
anything they liked.

There was an expression of mystification upon the faces of all the
officers as their glances travelled round the room. Mascha had risen
to her feet, and stood with proud uplifted head in mute protest at the
unseemly interruption. The _ispravnik_ stepped forward in front of
Soliviof, and holding him with stern eye, evidently questioned him.
Although I strained every nerve to hear what was being said, the howling
of the wind prevented me distinguishing a single word. I could only guess
what was transpiring by a close observation of the dumb show.

Soliviof fixed steady unflinching eyes upon his examiner, and gave prompt
replies, which apparently satisfied him. Liustig was submitted to the
same cross-examination, but with perfect coolness leaned against the
wall, smoking his cigarette with a half-amused air. Then came Mascha’s
turn. She bore herself like an outraged queen. I saw that her manner
impressed the officer, who, when handing back her “permit to reside,”
bowed courteously. But Russian officers are mostly impressionable, and
this _ispravnik_ would go through the same insipid polite formalities
were he conducting my sister to the scaffold.

Mascha sat down and was silent, but watched every movement of the men,
who, inactive during the examination, now received orders to prosecute a
search.

They left no corner, probable or improbable, uninvestigated; and whilst
they were busy a sudden panic of dread seized me that before they went
one of them might think of the roof.

I drew my body up until I lay pressed flat and close to the side of the
dormer window. Just as I had done so, the window opened, and a head
appeared defined distinctly against the sky. The eyes pierced the gloom
in my direction, but only for an instant. I scarcely dared to breathe.

“There’s nobody up here,” I heard him exclaim to his companions, then
slowly the head disappeared.

I remained undiscovered, and the officers proceeded to other rooms to
prosecute their search for incriminating papers, of which they found none.

At last I heard their heavy tramp below in the silent street. It grew
gradually fainter, until it died away in the distance. Then I breathed
a prayer of thanksgiving, and, grasping my bag, descended into the
room. We all four uttered mutual congratulations upon having had such
an excellent escape, and at once set about preparing to retire for the
remainder of the night. Liustig, however, remained up in order to give
the alarm, should we again be surprised.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Pashol!”

The engine of the Imperial train whistled loudly, the lines of
blue-coated soldiers upon the platform saluted and cheered, and the
long saloon cars glided slowly out of the great station on their way
to Moscow. Five of the carriages were occupied by the royal party and
suite—which included the Ministers of Finance and the Interior, as well
as General Bieli of the Secret Police—while the sixth, which was next the
engine, was the travelling kitchen. Among the servants in this latter
were Liustig and myself.

How I came to be enrolled in the Imperial service matters little. With
our Organisation everything is possible. It is sufficient to say that two
of the _chef’s_ assistants were taken ill—perhaps purposely for aught I
know—and that, at the last moment, Soliviof supplied us to fill their
places. In the car with us was an officer of the “Security Section,”
disguised as a waiter; therefore my companion and myself were compelled
to exercise the utmost caution.

Hour after hour we travelled across that great flat tract of country
between the Valdai Hills and the Volga. But our pace was slow, and such
were the extraordinary precautions taken, that the whole distance between
St. Petersburg and Moscow was lined by troops, who seemed to sustain a
continuous cheer as we passed. Arriving at Moscow in the evening, we did
not break the journey, but continued over the Tambov line through Central
Russia.

It was about two o’clock in the morning. The upper servants had retired
to the sleeping compartments in order to snatch an hour’s repose, and
there were only two others beside Liustig and myself in the kitchen. I
had occasion to carry some wine through to the Imperial dining-car, and
was met at the door by the waiter-detective; nevertheless, I managed to
obtain a glimpse of the interior. I saw that the Tzarina had gone to her
private saloon, and that his Majesty was seated with two officers of his
suite, calmly smoking and laughing over his wine.

Returning to my small compartment at the extreme end of the kitchen-car,
I resumed my work of scouring pans, when suddenly Liustig, with white,
scared face, entered, closing the door quickly after him.

“By heaven! we’re lost!” he gasped, in a hoarse, frightened whisper.
“Some one has placed it on end!”

“How long ago?” I asked, startled at the position, which I at once
recognised as extremely critical.

“I don’t know. Perhaps a quarter of an hour.”

Without hesitation I opened the door, and, affecting carelessness,
passed to the centre of the car, where there was a cupboard in which
were stored our provisions. On looking inside, I saw on the lower
shelf an object which I had conveyed from London. It was certainly not
suspicious-looking; merely a small-sized loaf of white sugar, the conical
top of which had during the day been broken off and used, while part of
its original blue paper wrapping still remained.

During the whole of the journey I had exercised the greatest caution that
it should be kept in a horizontal position; but one of the servants,
probably noticing it rolling backwards and forwards with the oscillation
of the train, had set it on end in a corner of the cupboard. Stooping, I
was about to replace it in its original position, when my fingers came in
contact with some sticky liquid.

I saw it was too late! Closing the cupboard, I quickly rejoined Ivan.

“Well,” he whispered, “what can we do?”

“Nothing,” I replied breathlessly. “We have but one chance.”

“What’s that?”

“To leap for life.”

“From the train?”

I nodded, peering through the window into the darkness, and suddenly
recognising a station through which we passed a moment later. “We are
about eighteen versts from Borki, and close to the spot that had been
arranged. If you remain here, you know what fate awaits you,” I added,
noticing his hesitation.

The door was open, and the two men in the kitchen beyond were smoking
cigarettes and drinking _vodka_.

“Come,” I said aloud, so that they should overhear. “We are nearing
Borki, I think. Let’s go outside and see. I once lived close by when I
was a youth.”

He followed me. As we stepped out upon the platform at the end of the car
and adjoining the engine, I undid the latch of the little iron gate.

Our pace had quickened, and we were travelling through the wide open
country in the teeth of a fierce storm of rain and wind.

“Follow me,” I said briefly, and without glancing round, sprang out upon
the line.

I have a dim recollection of sustaining a severe blow on the top of the
skull. Then all was oblivion.

On regaining consciousness, I found myself lying upon a grassy bank near
the line, with Liustig bending over me. Day was just dawning.

“Come, pull yourself together, Prèhznev,” he urged; “we must fly, or we
shall be discovered.”

Staggering to my feet, I rubbed my eyes, and then remembered the exciting
events of the past few hours.

“The train! Where is it?” I inquired.

“How should I know?” he asked. “I leapt after you and it went on—to the
devil most probably.” And he grinned. “But we’ve ourselves to look after
now,” he continued. “See! our brothers of Tambov have not forgotten us!”
and he pointed to a heap of clothes that lay upon the ground.

“You have found them, then?”

“Yes, they were concealed in the shed yonder. We took our leave of our
Imperial Master just at the right spot.”

While he was speaking, he commenced to divest himself of his clothes,
afterwards attiring himself in the worn and ragged dress of a moujik,
finally enveloping himself in a _polushuba_, or outer garment of
sheepskin, an example which I quickly followed. This completed, we burned
our passports, and making up our clothes into a bundle, put several heavy
stones in with them and sank them in a stream near by.

From servants of the Tzar’s household we were transformed into two poor
peasants whose passports, signed by the Zemski Natchalnik, allowed us to
leave our Mir and emigrate abroad in search of employment.

During the whole day we tramped along the white road that led across a
barren desolate steppe, subsequently arriving at Arkadak, a quaint rural
town, where we were sheltered for the night by the village _pope_, who
was a member of our Organisation. Facilities for our escape had been
well arranged by the Tambov Circle, for on our departure on the following
morning we found a country cart awaiting us at a lonely part of the road,
and in it we were driven along the Koper valley and through the fertile
country of the Don Cossacks to Filinovskaia, a small station on the
Tzaritzin-Lipetsk railway.

This being one of the trunk lines, running right across the Empire, we
were enabled to travel direct to Dunabürg, thence to Vilna, afterwards
crossing the frontier at Wirballen and reaching Königsberg, where we at
once took passages as emigrants for England.

A dozen times during our adventurous journey to the frontier suspicious
police officers examined our passports, but they were always found in
order, and we were allowed to proceed.

On our way we purchased the _Moscow Gazette_, the _Donskoi Pchela_, and
other newspapers in order to ascertain whether the Imperial travellers
had arrived at their destination, but none of the journals mentioned the
Tzar’s journey. The reason of this was, as we afterwards discovered, that
all references to the affair were forbidden by the censorship.

Fatigued and nauseated by the foulness of the steerage, we at length
arrived in London.

Sitting in an easy-chair in the bright, comfortable dining-room at
the house in Oakleigh Gardens I first learnt of the result of the
attempt. Pétroff handed me a copy of the _Times_, pointing to a brief
report in the top corner of the page. It was a telegram from its Moscow
correspondent, headed “Terrible Disaster in Russia: Narrow Escape of the
Imperial Family,” and ran as follows:—

“A terrible catastrophe is reported from Borki. The Imperial train, with
the Tzar, Tzarina, and suite, which left St. Petersburg for Saratov, has
been totally wrecked and partially burned. The royal party had a most
miraculous escape, for nineteen persons in the train were killed, and
two of the servants are missing. It is evident that an explosion of some
kind occurred, for all the carriages were completely shattered, and a
deep wide hole was made in the permanent way, which could not possibly
have been caused by the train leaving the rails. Full details have not
yet transpired, as an order has been issued prohibiting the publication
of any information. It is stated, however, that all the Imperial servants
have been placed under arrest pending an inquiry.”

We had been within an ace of success.

Perhaps never had an explosion been more cleverly concealed as on that
occasion. The loaf of sugar was so innocent-looking that the Tzar and
his family had actually eaten some of it! Inside, however, was a most
ingenious contrivance—if it is admissible to admire mechanical genius
in the construction of such machines. It consisted of a small American
clock attached to two glass tubes containing liquid explosives of the
most powerful description, the component parts of which, however, it is
unnecessary to describe. The delicate machinery was so arranged that,
providing the sugar loaf remained in a horizontal position after being
set, twenty-four hours must elapse before the tubes were broken and the
liquids allowed to come into contact with one another. If, however, it
was placed on end, the clock in question would only run for a quarter of
an hour, when the tubes would be broken, and a terrific explosion ensue.

This arrangement had been made so that, in the event of our inability
to enter the Imperial service, we might smuggle it into the kitchen
along with the provisions, in which case a quarter of an hour after the
departure of the train it would have been wrecked.

The failure of what was one of the most daring attempts upon the life of
the Tzar could only be explained by the machine standing in an upright
position, as, had it exploded horizontally, it would have destroyed
everything near its own level, and none of the Imperial family would have
escaped.

As it was, it exploded in a downward direction, making the great hole in
the railway track, and causing the loss of nineteen lives, a result which
no one more deeply deplored than we did ourselves.



CHAPTER XI.

THE CONFESSION OF VASSILII.


I met Vassilii Poklévski at the post-house at Durnovskaia, a small
village a few miles from Astrakhan. He had been recommended to me as a
steady, intelligent _yamstchik_ (driver) of superior education to the
average Muscovite, and he would, I was assured, serve me faithfully and
well on the long journey I had been compelled to undertake. I therefore
engaged him. Outwardly, he was a rough, uncouth-looking fellow with
unkempt grey hair and unshorn beard, but very soon I ascertained that he
was well read, and that he spoke French quite fluently.

We set out together in a rather rickety _telega_ drawn by a pair of
shaggy horses I had purchased, and for a fortnight had travelled along
the post-road that follows the Volga. To inquiries as to where he had
picked up his knowledge of literature and languages Vassilii always gave
evasive replies, and although I knew he was an ardent supporter of the
Cause, I began to suspect that his past was enveloped in some mystery, a
surmise which proved correct.

At Nijni Novgorod we encountered the first snow, and exchanged our
_telega_ for a sleigh. One afternoon, just as twilight was setting
in, we were crossing the wide snow-covered steppe which stretched out
on one side from Veliki Usting as far as the eye could reach towards
Vondokurskoi, in Vologda Province, while on the other was a dense forest
of tall gloomy pines, rendered picturesque by the hoar-frost upon the
branches. Vassilii was wrapped in his sheepskin until only his eyes and
moustache were visible, while I, enveloped in my heavy fur-coat, sat back
in the sleigh ruminating.

The drive was weary, monotonous, and comfortless. In those parts of the
road sheltered by trees the coating of snow was absent, but the ground
was covered with ice. The runners of my sleigh would grind over the bare
patches, and the ragged-coated little horses would flounder about on the
frozen surface, while Vassilii would crack his long-thonged whip and yell
imprecations at the horses, at the ground, at the snow because it was not
there, and at the devil as the author of all his troubles.

He had driven about fifteen versts from the little town of Nikolskoi
towards Gorodezkoi, when suddenly we came upon the ruins of a good-sized
house that had evidently been burned down a considerable time before, as
ivy had thickly overgrown part of the bare blackened walls. It stood
near the road, overlooking the frozen river, while at the rear was a
cluster of wooden _isbas_, which I afterwards learnt formed the village
of Nagorskoie. The ruin came into view as we rounded a bend in the road,
and I was startled at the effect it had upon Vassilii.

He turned, looked at the black crumbling walls for a moment, then,
crossing himself and uttering a brief exhortation to the Virgin, gathered
up his reins. “_Shiväi! shiväi!_” (“Faster! faster!”) he cried to his
horses, and as he brought the long thongs of his whip into play we
redoubled our pace and quickly left the dilapidated building far behind.

I did not seek any explanation just then, but a couple of hours later,
when we were sitting together in the post-house at Gorodezkoi, where we
had put up for the night, I referred to the incident.

The bare room had that air of discomfort characteristic of the Russian
post-station. A table, a few chairs, and a large round stove comprised
the furniture, while upon the walls hung a cheap portrait of his Majesty
the Tzar and a badly executed picture of the Virgin. A steaming _samovar_
stood on the table between us, for we were taking tea and cigarettes
after our meal, and conversing in French so that the inquisitive keeper
of the place should not understand what we said.

When I mentioned the ruined house and his apparent desire to get away
from it, Vassilii drew a long breath, passed his hand across his eyes,
and gazed up to the _ikon_ hanging opposite. His _papiroska_ trembled a
little in his lean brown hand, and he began in a voice that had a strange
quiver in it.

“You noticed that woman—the one with fair hair and pale complexion—who
came in for a letter just now? I spoke to her. There was such a
remarkable resemblance that I could not refrain from asking her a
question—and yet how foolish!

“I am not an old man, scarcely sixty, nevertheless I might have seen a
century of things in the years that have passed since I last sat in this
post-station. I feel as though I have utterly wasted my life; still I do
not know that I regret that the sweets came first, all at once, and the
dregs afterwards. Why not? One may at least sit and rail at the present,
though he envy his neighbours.

“You know nothing of the tragedy that has overshadowed my life? No. Then
I will tell you. See! I wear the ribbon of St. Andrew in my buttonhole.
It is worn, and the colours have faded. The Tzar bestowed it upon me
for bravery in the Crimea. Bravery! Bah! it was not valour but sheer
recklessness, because I had no desire to live longer.

“The story is a queer one, and still more queer perhaps that it should be
I who tell it.

“In that house the ruins of which we passed this afternoon I once lived
with my father, Count Alexander Nechaieff. My mother died soon after my
birth, and all my earlier days were passed in that great gloomy old place
without any companions of my own age. My father, the _barin_ of that
wretched little village of Nagorskoie, owned many serfs. He was cruel,
harsh, unjust, and hard-hearted, and the peasants regarded him with
terror. This part of Vologda is, you see, flat and exposed; the soil is
poor, the population sparse, and the long winter is always more severe
than away in Petersburg. The consequence of this was that the inhabitants
of Nagorskoie had become wild and embittered, for my father’s exactions
had reduced his serfs to the direst poverty; the _isbas_ were devoid of
all but absolute necessities, the fields neglected, and the wretched
_moujiks_ starving. In the majority of the cottages the stove had gone
out owing to lack of fuel, and the _samovar_ disused because there was no
tea. The poverty was worse than in previous years, and the peasantry were
driven to despair.

“One day, in the bitterest season of that merciless winter, my father
and I were sitting before the stove in the dining-room, smoking our
_papiroski_ after our mid-day meal. I was then only twenty, having just
returned from my studies at Moscow. The room in which we sat was cosy
and well furnished, for my father, arrogant and selfish, denied himself
no luxury, and led a life of idleness and ease, spending half his time at
Petersburg, and the remainder at Nagorskoie.

“Suddenly Artem Makaroff, my father’s secretary, entered. I had always
disliked him, for he was an oleaginous, soft-spoken man whose ugly face
always wore a sinister expression. Addressing my father, he said—

“‘_Barin_, some of the people desire to see you. They are waiting
outside.’

“‘To see me!’ asked my father, in surprise. ‘What do they want?’

“‘They refuse to tell me, _barin_. They say they must see you personally.’

“‘Oh! very well!’ cried my father, rising angrily and standing with his
back to the stove. ‘If there is any grumbling or sign of disaffection,
I’ll teach them a lesson. Let them enter.’

“Artem retired, and a few moments later the _starosta_ came in,
accompanied by about a dozen half-starved, shivering _moujiks_ with
white, haggard faces and ragged sheepskins.

“‘Well!’ exclaimed my father, scanning them with angry eye. ‘What does
this mean, pray? What right have you to come here in a body?’

“‘Have pity, _barin_,’ implored the elder, bending himself almost double.
‘We have come to beg mercy of you, to cast ourselves upon your sympathy.’

“‘What for?’

“‘We are starving, our cattle are dying, our homes have been denuded of
almost everything, and—and we cannot pay your rent, your High Nobility.
We have come to beg you to allow us time.’

“The serfs held their tattered caps in their hands and fidgeted uneasily
while their _starosta_ was speaking. There was a look of intense anxiety
upon their pinched faces, for they had been driven to the last extremity.

“‘It is your duty to pay me,’ replied my father impatiently. ‘If you do
not I shall treat it as insubordination. You know what that means.’

“‘_Batiushka!_’ exclaimed the white-haired old man whose head was bowed.
‘We cannot pay just yet, even if our Father the Tzar came himself and
demanded the tax.’

“‘Silence!’ thundered my father. ‘You shall pay it. I’ll hear no excuses,
you understand. It must be paid within a week from to-day—every kopeck.’

“The _starosta_ shook his head sorrowfully, saying—

“‘Your High Nobility, it is impossible. We have no money, and we have
nothing that we can sell.’

“‘No more words!’ my father cried. ‘I’ll not be dictated to. You have
nothing that you can sell, have you? Very well. I give you one week in
which to find the money.’

“‘Have you no pity, _barin_?’ implored the old man.

“My father smiled sarcastically. ‘Begone! You know my decision,’ he said
coldly, and, lighting a fresh cigarette, turned his back upon them.

“Broken-hearted and despairing, the starving _moujiks_ filed slowly out
of the warm, well-furnished room, and with revenge in their souls sought
their own cheerless homes. I endeavoured to mediate on behalf of the poor
wretches, but to my supplications my father turned a deaf ear. ‘No, I’ll
teach the brutes a lesson,’ he said.

“He kept his word, for within a week the knout fell heavily upon the
backs of some of the defaulters. These arbitrary acts nearly caused a
revolt, but this was rapidly suppressed by my father, who caused the
ringleaders, together with the _starosta_ to receive publicly two hundred
lashes, as a warning to all who tried to oppose his authority.

“The weeks passed, the snow disappeared, and spring came.

“My favourite spot was at the bottom of the lower garden, on a little
bridge that was thrown over a small swamp. The view was extremely
restricted, but very melancholy and pleasing. There was a small pond
with overgrown banks, directly behind it was the dense pine forest, and
drooping over the pond was an ancient birch clinging to the damp bank
with its thick roots, and swaying its curling branches over the unruffled
surface of the pool, which gave back the reflection of the drooping
boughs and surrounding greenery.

“Seated one afternoon upon an old stump I was smoking, enjoying the
bright sunshine and calm solitude, when suddenly I discovered an
intruder. Leaning on the railing of the little bridge, with her profile
towards me, and looking down into the water, was a young girl. She had
evidently forgotten herself, and had no thought that she was being
observed. Her large eyes were full of intent observation, of deep clear
thought, her pose was unaffected, yet hers was the most beautiful face I
had ever seen.

“A tall, graceful figure, well set off by her picturesque peasant dress,
tiny hands, delicate and white, a clear, fresh complexion, deep violet
eyes with long black lashes, wavy auburn hair, and small white teeth just
visible between a pair of lips that seemed made alone for kisses, while
her features had that sweet, half-sad expression that is the birth-gift
of every Russian woman, rich or poor.

“I rose, and advancing, greeted her. She blushed deeply and appeared
confused. Very soon, however, we were chatting in friendly manner, and
she told me her name was Natiónka, and that she was the daughter of old
Savischnoff, one of my father’s serfs.

“After an hour’s pleasant gossip I walked with her to her home, a small,
lonely cottage in the heart of the forest, five versts along the road to
Seniki. Had she been of noble birth she could not have treated me with
more queenly reserve, and before I bade her good-bye we had arranged to
meet on the morrow.

“From that time I waited for her daily in a secluded part of the
forest, into which no one ever penetrated. As you may well guess I fell
violently in love with her, even though she was but the daughter of a
poor wood-cutter. We kept our secret, meeting clandestinely with only the
chattering birds in the trees above as witnesses. As a token of affection
I had given her a small heart-shaped locket of blue malachite set round
with diamonds and containing my miniature. This she wore concealed in the
breast of her dress.

“So four months passed—bright months, sunny months. I adored her with all
my being, and she, in return, loved me passionately.”

Vassilii tossed his dead cigarette away, and passed his hand again
wearily over his eyes, brushing away what appeared suspiciously like a
tear. Sighing heavily, as if the recollection of Natiónka stirred sad and
painful memories, he murmured an apology. Then he went on, talking to
himself rather than to me.

“I summoned courage at last to go to old Savischnoff. His _isba_ was
poorly furnished but clean, and the _ikon_ was over the door—always a
good sign. When we were alone I told him how I loved his daughter, and
the effect of the announcement was almost magical.

“‘What! You love her? You love Natiónka?’ the old man gasped in a fierce
whisper. ‘No, no, you must not,’ he urged. ‘What would the _barin_ say?
If he knew, he would kill my child.’

“I laughed at his consternation. ‘Have no fear,’ I said. ‘I shall marry
her, and as my wife she will be under my protection.’

“‘No. A thousand times, no!’ he declared. ‘Think! It would bring ruin and
death upon us.’

“‘Bah! Leave it all to me,’ I said. I was young, madly impetuous, and
Natiónka was my idol. Little did I imagine that the drama would have such
a _dénouement_.

“Our wedding took place on a day in bright autumn. I told the Count
that I had grown tired of Nagorskoie, and intended to go to Nijni for
a change. To this he raised no objection, and I set out alone with a
_tarantass_. Twelve versts along the road I found Natiónka awaiting me,
and we drove together to the village _pope_ at Dinkova, who, according
to previous arrangement, made us man and wife. Then we travelled on to
Nijni, and after three weeks’ absence returned to Nagorskoie. We were
still bound to keep our marriage secret, therefore Natiónka went home and
we both led the same lives as before, spending whole days together in
the solitude of the great pine forest, happy in each other’s love.

“She was charming. But, alas! how brief a paradise was ours.

“Standing one evening at our favourite spot in the wood, with my wife
clasped to my breast, I was uttering words of passionate affection and
tenderness.

“‘I want you to assume your proper position,’ I said. ‘Yet I confess,
Natiónka, that I dare not tell my father.’

“‘No, do not tell him,’ she urged earnestly. ‘For the present let us
remain as we are. If your father knew he would separate us. He would send
me to another serf-owner, as he did Anna Ivanovna, Marya Zadlewski, and
the others.’

“‘Fear not, little one,’ I replied reassuringly. ‘He dare not send you
away now you are my wife.’

“‘Could you not take me to Petersburg or Moscow, where we could live
together unknown?’ she suggested. ‘You have enough money to do that,
haven’t you?’

“‘Yes, dearest. But unfortunately you are still a serf. If you left the
estate he could have you arrested. He even has the right by law to exile
you to Siberia for desertion. This latter course he would certainly adopt
if he knew we were wedded.’

“‘Ah! You are right,’ she replied sorrowfully. ‘I never thought of that.’

“At that moment we were startled at hearing the cracking of dried twigs,
apparently broken by footsteps. Holding our breath we listened.

“‘A wolf perhaps!’ exclaimed Natiónka in alarm.

“I drew my revolver and waited.

“‘No!’ I exclaimed aloud, as I caught a glimpse of a figure moving
stealthily among the trunks of the trees. ‘Not a wolf, but a more
dangerous animal, Artem Makaroff, my father’s agent!’

“It was evident that he had followed us, listened to our conversation,
and overheard the declaration I had made regarding our marriage! I felt
certain that sooner or later he would betray us.

“On my return home that night the Count was unusually gracious towards
me, and, after watching him narrowly, I came to the conclusion that Artem
had not informed him of the incident. In the course of the evening,
however, my father’s habitual moroseness returned, and he sat smoking and
thinking. Suddenly he grew confidential, and said—

“‘Vassilii, will you do me a favour? I am in a financial difficulty, and
I want you to take a letter to our friend Mikhailovitch, at Vasilova, and
bring back the money he will give you.’

“‘Very well,’ I replied. ‘When shall I start?’

“‘At daybreak. You must be in Vasilova by the day after to-morrow,
otherwise he will have departed for Petersburg.’

“I announced my readiness to go, and he wrote the letter. At dawn I
set out on horseback for Mikhailovitch’s, distant two days’ journey by
road. Unsuspicious of any double dealing, I had not told Natiónka of my
departure, for as I should only be absent four days I knew she would not
feel any uneasiness.

“It was not before noon that the suspicion crossed my mind that I had
been sent on the errand for an ulterior purpose. Try how I would I could
not get rid of the thought that I had left Natiónka unprotected. Indeed,
a strange presage of evil seemed to possess me, forcing me at last to
turn and ride with all speed back to Nagorskoie. The afterglow was in
the sky when I spurred my horse into the village. Something unusual had
evidently happened, for all the inhabitants had collected in the tiny
market-place.

“As I dismounted and turned the corner into the open space a shrill
scream broke upon my ear. Looking round upon the white, scared faces of
the assembled _moujiks_, I saw that the cause of the commotion was a
public knouting.

“Elbowing my way to the centre of the throng, I reached the
whipping-post, where a scene of inhuman brutality met my eyes, causing
the spirit of murder to enter my soul.

“Stretched face downwards was the form of a woman, whose wrists and
ankles were bound tightly to an inclined wooden frame. Her back was
covered with blood, the flesh having been cut into strips by the thongs
of the terrible knout, which, wielded by a brawny brutal servant of
my father’s, was falling with monotonous regularity upon the victim.
The Count, with folded arms, stood near, watching the torture with
undisguised satisfaction.

“At first I could not see the face of the unfortunate girl, but a few
seconds later I recognised the colour of the hair and the distorted
features. It was Natiónka!

“Rushing forward with a wild cry I flung myself upon the man who was
administering the horrible punishment. I was young and athletic, and
succeeded in arresting the blow that was falling, an action which was
regarded with approval by the crowd of indignant but trembling serfs.

“‘You have no right here,’ cried the Count, white with rage. ‘Return to
the house at once!’

“‘What is the meaning of this?’ I demanded fiercely. ‘What has she done?’

“‘It is no business of yours. The wench is insubordinate; to-morrow she
starts for Siberia.’

“‘She will not. She is my wife,’ I cried.

“‘I am well aware of that,’ he answered coldly. Then, turning to the
grinning brute who had been interrupted, he added, ‘Ivan, give her the
death-blow.’

“I knew that if the knout fell it would prove fatal. The death-blow
seldom fails to despatch the victim. Springing towards him I endeavoured
to arrest the stroke.

“But too late! The heavy leaden-weighted thongs struck the insensible
girl with a noise like a pistol-shot.

“Turning upon my father I cursed him. But he merely laughed, and,
lighting a fresh cigarette, affected to treat my angry passion with utter
indifference.

“With my pocket-knife I severed the cords that bound my hapless wife to
the reeking frame, and, lifting her off, held her in my arms.

“I kissed her ashen, blood-smeared face, and eagerly placed my hand upon
her breast.

“There was no movement. She was dead!

“When I withdrew my hand the little blue malachite heart fell to the
ground. It had been broken in half by the pressure of the body against
the frame.

“Lifting my face to heaven, I swore that the murder of the woman I loved
should be avenged.

“But my father only laughed sarcastically. ‘Bah! you’re but a lad,’ he
said contemptuously, as he turned away. ‘And, after all, death under the
knout is preferable to work in the mines.’”

Vassilii was silent and thoughtful. Then, with a muttered imprecation, he
ground his teeth, and his lean hands clenched tightly.

Several minutes passed before he resumed.

“Yes, my father caused my wife to be murdered. The wretched peasants, who
were compelled by their master to witness his brutality, were ripe for
revolt, this inhuman act having aroused their fiercest indignation and
hatred.

“Insane with grief, I wandered alone in the forest, but on the night
of the second day, when I sought food and shelter at old Savischnoff’s
_isba_, I was surprised to find a dozen determined-looking men assembled
there. Without hesitation they boldly informed me that it was their
intention to proceed to the _Barin’s_ house and avenge Natiónka’s death.
Heedless of consequences I assumed the leadership of the band. In the
dead of night we broke into the house, and three of us crept stealthily
upstairs to where the Count lay sleeping. When I struck a match he sprang
up in alarm, but I clutched him tightly by the throat.

“Recognising me, and noticing the long keen knife in my hand, he gasped——

“‘Mercy, Vassilii! Surely you would not kill me?’

“‘What mercy did you extend to her?’ I cried. ‘Why, none. You murdered
her.’ At that moment I seemed possessed of fiendish strength, and in my
mad demoniacal grasp he was absolutely powerless.

“Laughing at his entreaties, I raised the weapon and plunged it deep into
his heart.

“Then, appalled by my horrible crime, I stole out of the room and left
the house with the murderous band; not, however, before they had set
fire to the place in order to destroy the evidence of the murder.

“Before the sun rose I was already on my journey south, and the house
was a pile of smouldering ruins. For weeks I, a conscience-stricken
parricide, rode onward until I reached the Caspian shore. Assuming the
name of Vassilii Poklévski I obtained employment as a post-driver at
Durnovskaia, where I have lived ever since. The police subsequently
discovered that my father had been murdered, and searched diligently
for the assassin, but it never occurred to them that he had adopted the
disguise of a Volga _yamstchik_.

“So the years have passed. I have never visited the spot where I
committed my crime until to-day, lest I should betray myself.

“Poor Natiónka! Is it surprising that I am sad to-night? Is it surprising
that I am a revolutionist? One memento only I possess of her—the blue
heart. See! here it is. Broken! An emblem of her own tragic end.”

Vassilii handed me the two halves of the malachite ornament, which he had
taken from a small, well-worn bag of chamois leather. I saw how costly
the locket must have been when new, for the diamonds set around the edge
were large and of the first water. When, after examining the broken
portions, I handed them back to him, he sighed, and carefully replaced
them in his pocket. Then rising, he wished me “Good-night” in a strained,
harsh voice, and sought his room.

Next day we continued our journey to Onega.



CHAPTER XII.

FALSE ZERO.


A bright July evening, a white dusty Italian road, and a fugitive from
justice mounted upon a stout pony, with an outfit consisting of a
well-filled canvas valise and a revolver.

The police were searching for me, and in consequence I had a few weeks
before escaped from England, and set out upon a wandering journey
eastward across Europe. I was in Emilia, lonely, tired, and dispirited,
having left Piacenza at early morning and ridden on throughout the
scorching day. It had, however, grown cooler, for which I was thankful.
The wind had risen, blowing softly from mountain and from sea across the
plains, through the pines of Pavia, and across the oak forests at the
base of the Apennines.

Now and then a puff of blue wood-smoke rose through the branches from
charcoal-burners’ cabins; now and then some great magnolia flower
shivered its rosy needles upon me as I passed beneath the trees; far away
below the _Ave Maria_ was chiming from the church towers in the plain;
above, low rain clouds, fretted and edged with amber, floated near the
sun; over all the day was of that wondrous hue which is like the soft
violet blue of the iris, and is clear yet mystical, as children’s eyes
when they wake from dreams of angels.

As I road slowly up the long mountain road, I was overtaken by a
horseman, who, light-hearted and happy, was singing to himself staves of
contadini choruses. He rode up beside me with a genial, “_Buona sera,
signore_.”

He was a fine-looking man of about thirty, with a dark, pointed beard
and waxed moustaches. We rode on together up the hill, and fell into
conversation. He inquired where I was from, and my destination, to which
I replied that I was travelling for pleasure. He told me that he was a
vine-grower living in Marengo, and that he was returning from a business
visit to Cremona. When we stopped for water at a roadside spring, he
asked me to carry a small pair of saddlebags, as his horse was tired out.
I complied cheerfully, and we pushed on up the steep road. Arrived at the
top, he took a cross-road, remarking that he believed we should reach the
_albergo_ of Padrone Vincenti before the moon rose.

I found him a pleasant, entertaining Italian, and being, no doubt,
conceited, imagined that he found me the same. It was dusk when we rode
up to a ruined villa, high upon the mountain-side—vast, crumbling,
desolate. It was one of those old villas, of which there are hundreds
in Italy, standing on their pale olive slopes. Those who are strange to
them see only the peeling plaster, the discoloured stone, the desolate
courts, the grass-grown flags, the broken statues, the straying, unkempt
vines, the look of utter loneliness and decay. But those who know them
well, love them and learn otherwise; learn the infinite charm of the
silent halls, of the endless echoing corridors, of the wide, frescoed,
wind-swept, and sun-bathed chambers, and of the shadowy logge where the
roseglow of the oleander burns in the dimness of the arches, and the
lizards bask in the sunlight.

It was charmingly situated. The old place had once belonged to a great
family, but was now half-ruined; the few rooms remaining intact having
been transformed into an inn.

As we rode up to the porch, a slender girl of about seventeen, with
big black eyes, and dark hair coiled tightly, fastened with a Genoese
filigree pin, came running round the corner of the house. She looked as
wild as the goats on the mountain-side, and my first thought was, “What a
beauty she will some day be!” I raised my wide-brimmed sun hat, and asked
if we could obtain accommodation for the night.

“I don’t know,” she said shortly. “But I will ask father,” and she darted
into the house.

A moment later an old man made his appearance, rubbing his hands and
smiling benignly. “How are you, signori?” he asked in his _patois_. “Want
to stop? Very well. Here, Ninetta, call Giovanni to take the horses.”

I had just dismounted, and started to remove the saddlebags, when a
glance at my travelling companion checked me. He was gazing down the road
and listening intently. I saw an anxious look overspread his face. The
next moment he stuck spurs into his horse, and, without a word galloped
down the road in the opposite direction in the gathering gloom.

Surprised and alarmed, I sprang into the saddle, and, as the sound of
horses approaching at a rapid rate greeted my ears, I started off down
the road after my late companion. My first thought was that brigands were
upon us.

Glancing back, I saw a number of horsemen riding furiously down upon me.
I heard loud oaths in Italian, and orders to halt. Without heeding them,
I spurred on, and drawing my revolver, determined to sell my life as
dearly as possible. The next moment a volley of shots rang out, and my
horse stumbled and fell.

Before I could rise I was surrounded by three gendarmes and a rough crowd
of men, nearly all of whom were half mad with drink and excitement. Cries
of joy were heard on all sides, and a dozen hands seized me in no gentle
grasp.

“What do you want?” I cried.

“We want you,” replied one of the gendarmes, stepping forward, “Your
name is Anton Prèhznev!”

My heart stood still. The police had tracked me!

“Well, and if it is? What then?” I asked.

“We arrest you for murder and conspiracy!”

His words gave my arms a demoniacal strength. In a moment I had freed
myself, and scarcely knowing why I did so, I quickly pointed my revolver
at a man who attempted to recapture me, and pulled the trigger.

There was a bright flash, a report, and the man fell back into the arms
of one of his companions.

Cries of “Kill him!” “Shoot him!” “Hang him!” were heard on all sides,
while I stood, revolver in hand, ready to defend myself.

“Let’s take him back to old Vincenti’s and hear what he’s got to say,”
said a tall man, who seemed to be leader.

This proposition met with general disfavour, especially from one
officious man, the leader of the band of brigands who had resolved to
assist the gendarmes in my capture, who produced a long pair of reins,
and leading the way to a spreading oak-tree that stood near, exclaimed,
“Here’s a good limb. Come, fetch him along.”

But the tall man demurred and had his way. “If he can’t give a proper
account of himself, we’ll make short work of him,” he said.

I attempted to explain, but a pistol was held at my head with a
peremptory command to be silent. My arms were then bound, and I was
marched back to the half-ruined villa and placed in one corner of the
common room of the inn.

The crowd demanded wine, which was served by Vincenti. The girl Ninetta
stood at the door looking at me curiously, and I thought rather
pityingly. My trial then began. It was brief and to the point. They had
received my description from both the English and Russian police, and
by the latter a large reward had been offered for my capture. They had
tracked me thus far, and by the random shot I had fired I had mortally
wounded one of their companions.

Without admitting that I was the man they were looking for, I made
up a fictitious story, declaring my innocence. It was listened to
incredulously by most of them, but among a few I thought I saw looks that
encouraged me, and I wound up with an impromptu appeal for life which I
felt must touch them. I was doomed to bitter disappointment, when the man
who had been so officiously anxious to hang me at once, rose, remarking
with a harsh laugh: “No, no, you can’t deceive us in that way. Come on.
Let’s hang him!”

Several rose, and with loud, deep, voluble oaths supported the
suggestion. My blood ran cold as I realised my imminent peril. These
rough fellows from Piacenza felt perfectly justified in hanging me to the
nearest tree, seeing that I had shot one of their number. What could I
do? I gazed from one to the other like a hunted animal.

“Surely you would not hang a man without evidence,” I cried. “I can show
you letters to prove who I am.”

The tall man, whom they called Luigi, stepped up and unbound my
hands. I drew forth a note I received while in Paris. It contained a
_carte-de-visite_ of my sister Mascha, which fell to the floor as I drew
out the letter. Luigi picked it up.

“It is my sister’s picture,” I cried. “Here, read the letter any of you.
It will prove that I am an honest man.”

Luigi gazed earnestly at the picture. “_Dio mio!_ she’s a beauty!” he
remarked.

The picture was passed round, but opinions were freely expressed that she
was not my sister at all. Ninetta crowded in among the men and asked to
see the photograph. Luigi handed it to her, jocosely remarking that he
would marry her when she grew to be as handsome as that.

She quietly replied: “He speaks the truth!” and gazed intently on the
photograph. “I’ll swear that’s his sister,” she added presently.

“I’m inclined to think so, too,” remarked Luigi. “I think we’d better
wait and take him back to Piacenza.”

At this there was a dissenting murmur, which grew so strong that my
courage failed again. Suddenly Luigi turned to the crowd and cried. “Let
us give him a chance. I’ll play him at dominoes. If he loses we’ll end
his troubles. What do you say?”

“Capital idea. Let him be tried by his skill with the ivories!” cried
one of the men, and the scheme seemed to tickle the fancy of the crowd.
They evidently had confidence in Luigi’s ability to play dominoes.
Unfortunately it was a game of which I knew nothing, and I told them so.

Ninetta was still standing beside Luigi. “Let me play for him,” she said
eagerly. “Luck is always with me.”

“Yes, let her play,” cried the men, evidently amused at the novelty of
the thing, and also sure that the old Italian’s superior skill would
win. “Yes, let Ninetta play for him. Give her your money,” they said,
addressing me.

I looked at the girl curiously. Her big dark eyes were glittering with
excitement, but she was cool and self-possessed. Taking out my purse
which contained my wealth, about £70 in fifty lire notes, I handed it to
her.

The dominoes were produced, and in a few moments she and Luigi were
seated opposite each other, and the game began.

It was a weird scene, and I had the odd feeling that I was simply a
spectator and in no way concerned. I remember wishing for paints that I
might transfer it to canvas. What a picture it would make! The quaint,
old-fashioned, frescoed room; the smoky lamps shedding a sickly light
upon the eager group around the table. I could see the face of Ninetta,
and knew that in all probability my life hung upon her skill.

She played in silence, except when she shuffled the clicking dominoes
underneath her small sun-tanned hands. It was an even game for a while,
until the old Italian began to win, and her pile of notes steadily
diminished. She played coolly on, despite the comments of the crowd. She
was down to her last note when the luck turned in her favour. She won
steadily, gathering back the notes, until Luigi had scarcely any left. He
began to turn up his dominoes cautiously, having evidently no desire to
be beaten by a girl.

I watched Ninetta’s face closely for some sign of excitement, but none
was visible. She was thoroughly self-possessed, and the fact that she
held my life in her hands had no outward effect upon her. Fortune
favoured Luigi again, and they were soon about even. The men who crowded
around the table grew impatient. “_Siete un figurino, Luigi! Sta a
voi giuocare._ Bah! you’re afraid of her! you don’t bet,” and like
expressions were heard, while the others encouraged my little champion.
Her father came to where she sat, and patting her upon the shoulder,
remarked, “Ninetta was always a lucky girl.”

They commenced to play, and it was the man’s shuffle. The betting was
high. Ninetta glanced at her dominoes in an uncertain way, and then at
the few limp notes at her elbow. She had thirty lire less than he. The
excitement was intense. For a moment only heavy breathing could be
heard; then the bright-eyed girl laughed nervously and pushed the whole
of the notes into the pool.

Her opponent threw in the rest of his money, breaking into a discordant
laugh.

“It’s the last game,” he said, glancing over at me. “Sorry for you, but
you can prepare for death. Well, what have you got, Ninetta?”

She quietly turned up the double-six, and one by one exhibited dominoes
of high denomination. He struck the table a blow that made the ivories
jingle. “_Dio! Domino!_ Luck is always on your side; I’d have staked my
last couple of _soldi_ that I held a winning hand, but the double-six was
too much for me! Come, comrades, let’s have some wine and drink to my bad
luck!”

He led the way to the small bar at the end of the room, followed by the
crowd and the gendarmes, now appearing in the best of humours. Ninetta
calmly swept up the notes, crushed them into my purse and handed it to
me, remarking laconically, “You’d better take this and get over the
Apennines to Vernazza, where you can get a passage on board a steamer.”

“I don’t want it all,” I exclaimed. “Only what is mine.”

“Keep it all. It’s yours. They’ve killed your horse,” and before I could
say anything further, my fair protector had left the room.

My first impulse was to put as much distance as possible between myself
and the uncouth crowd, but on reflection I remembered that there was
no other house for miles, that I knew nothing of the country, and if
I started out on foot I was liable to be attacked by the thieves who
infested the district. I therefore put on a bold front and asked old
Vincenti to give me a lodging for the night. He picked up a guttering
candle, called Ninetta, and told her to show me upstairs. We entered a
large chamber that had evidently once been the ball-room of the villa.
There were several beds in it, and on a table beside one she placed the
candle, and was about to leave when I detained her.

“Ninetta, I have not thanked you for what you have done for me to-night.
My life is not worth much, but I should have hated to give it up in such
a manner. Is there nothing I can do to show my gratitude?”

She laughed in an embarrassed manner. “Why, it wasn’t anything. I like to
play; I’d have done it for anybody.”

“I’m sure of that; but is there nothing I can do for you?”

She hesitated a moment. “No,” she replied, “there is nothing you can do
now. Some day, perhaps, I shall be glad of your assistance.”

“You will always find me your willing servant,” I replied fervently.

I grasped her hand warmly, and she wished me a merry “_Buona notte_.”

I did not see her about the house next morning. The fierce party of the
night before had left. I inquired for Ninetta, but was informed that
she had gone off early to attend to her goats on the mountain-side. The
old Tuscan woman who acted as cook provided me with a hearty breakfast,
and presently a peasant’s cart halted on its way to Vernazza. Arranging
with the driver to give me a lift, I mounted beside him with a feeling of
inexpressible relief. Half an hour later, as we rounded a curve in the
mountain road, we came face to face with Ninetta. She was mounted on a
mule, and galloped rapidly past, her hair streaming in the wind. I had
only time to raise my hat in response to a smile of recognition, when she
passed, as I then thought, out of my life for ever.

Two days afterwards I arrived at Leghorn, and, taking a passage on board
a steamer bound for New York, bade farewell to the sunny garden of
Europe, which, I felt convinced, was a decidedly dangerous place wherein
to sojourn, having regard to the curious circumstances of my capture and
release.

After two years of aimless wandering and hiding from the police I again
trod Italian soil. Even in far-off Manitoba intelligence had reached me
of punishments imposed upon the gendarmes who had acted so leniently
towards me. Two years, however, is a long time, and having a mission to
execute for our Cause in Italy—my personal appearance being so altered as
to be unrecognisable—I returned.

The long, bright day had drawn to a close. The west was a blaze of gold
against which the ilex and the acacia were black as funeral plumes, while
in the quaint, crooked streets of ancient Nervi people were moving,
enjoying the _bel fresco_ after the burden of the scorching day.

The sun glowed and sank beyond the calm, sparkling Mediterranean, and in
the tender violet hues of the east the moon rose. Crimson clouds drifted
against the azure, and were reflected as in a mirror on the broad Gulf of
Genoa. San Giovanni’s tower stood out clear against the yellow sky, and
its bells chimed solemnly.

As the hour wore on, evening fell. Boats glided over the glassy sea; on
the hills the cypresses were black against the faint gold that lingered
in the west, and there was an odour of carnations and acacias everywhere.
Noiseless footsteps came and went. People passed softly in shadow. The
moonlight was sweet and clear upon the ancient tower and time-worn
stones; in the stillness the little torrents made sad rushing sounds as
they plashed towards the sea. Across the moss-grown piazza an old monk
walked slowly and thoughtfully.

Leaving the _osteria_ where I had taken up a temporary abode, I strolled
through the quaint little half-deserted town, and out upon the road which
ran by the sea-shore towards old Savona. Engrossed in my own thoughts, I
had been standing watching the shadows chase the sun-rays on the dusky
purple sides of the Apennines, and the fireflies dancing away their brief
lives among the boughs of the magnolias and over the fields of maize.

A cigarette between my lips, I was heedless of where I walked. As I
passed a row of small cottages, and emerged upon the broad Corniche
Road, the strains of mandolines played by happy, light-hearted fishermen
greeted my ears, accompanied by snatches of peasant songs.

I am not a fatalist, neither have I any spiritualistic tendencies,
but there are times when I am half inclined to believe in a distinct
power—magnetic, if you will.

I think I must have slept, as I have only the most vague recollection of
my promenade.

When I became fully aware of things around me, I found myself sitting
in an armchair, with my chin resting upon my hands. There was a dim,
indistinct consciousness of realising that a storm had occurred—that I
had seen a light and knocked timidly at a cottage door.

A young woman in peasant costume, and very beautiful, was sitting beside
me. I glanced slowly round the humble interior. We were alone. Little
by little I remembered. It was she who had opened the door and bade me
welcome.

Though sad, her face pleased me. Were it not for her light breathing I
should think she was of wax.

I cannot tell what air of recognition I found in her voice and manner.
Instantly, however, I remembered a half-forgotten period, like a queer
dream; a name was upon my lips, but I could not utter it. I stammered a
question.

“Well, well,” she said, amused; “they tell me I have altered; yet—why,
don’t you remember Ninetta?”

“Ninetta! Do you remember when last we met?” I asked earnestly.

“Yes,” she murmured; “but do not speak of it. Such memories are painful.”

“If to you, none the less to me, Ninetta,” I replied, looking into her
sad, wan face.

Her lips quivered, and tears stole down her cheeks.

During a whole hour it was nothing but expressions of surprise and
vague regret. To the depth of our beings we felt the voice of these
recollections. We were speaking of them, when suddenly she withdrew her
hand, and a red flush mounted to her forehead.

“But you soon forgot me when you went away,” she said reproachfully. “And
I have never ceased to think of you. It was strange, playing a game of
dominoes for your life, wasn’t it?”

I rose and gazed at her. She was seated, her eyes riveted on the dying
embers of the fire, her cheek resting upon her hand, appearing to have
forgotten my presence. There was nothing awkward in the long silence
that followed. We both felt too deeply for idle words. As we contemplated
our past, the wind whistled without, the thunder pealed, and the rain
fell furiously.

“Ah!” she exclaimed at last, looking up at me seriously, “I am foolish to
speak so, now that I am married.”

“Married!” I gasped in astonishment, at the same time noticing the ring
upon her finger. “I thought this cottage was your father’s—that you kept
house for him.”

There was a brief silence. Then she spoke. Her voice made me tremble,
careless ingrate that I was. She uttered the words without moving, as
though giving utterance to the thought that possessed her. For an hour I
remained talking to her, then went forth again into the darkness.

The morning was chill and dull as I again walked along the beach-road
until I came to the door of the cottage. I had spent a restless night;
her misery tortured me, and despite her entreaty, I was now on my way to
proffer assistance. With trepidation I approached the door of the humble
abode, and knocked.

No one stirred. Everything seemed strangely silent.

A moment later I noticed the door was unlatched. Pushing it open, I
entered, at the same time uttering her name.

As I stepped into the neat, well-kept room I at first saw nothing, but
on glancing round the opposite side of the table my eyes encountered a
sight that thrilled me with horror.

Stretched on the floor lay Ninetta, partially dressed, the pale morning
light falling across her calm, upturned features. Falling on my knees, I
touched her face with my hand. It was cold as marble. She was dead!

In her breast a knife was buried up to the hilt, and from the cruel wound
the blood had oozed, forming a dark pool beside her.

My recollection of the events immediately following this ghastly
discovery is but faint. I have a hazy belief that my mind became
unhinged; that I left the place without informing any one of the tragedy,
then walking many miles through woods and vineyards, I reached Ovada,
whence I took train for Turin.

The one thing most vivid in my mind was the terrible look of blank
despair in the glazed eyes.

I have never forgotten it.

One dusty autumn day I was wandering in quaint, old-world Genoa, that
city which the bright-eyed, laughing Ligurians love to call “La Superba.”
It was in festá, and all the ladder-like streets were ablaze with flags,
and the many-coloured façades of the old sea-palaces glowed in the fervid
noon-heat reflected by the sapphire water. It was the hour of the siesta.
The blazing sun beat down mercilessly upon the white streets; the shops
were closed, and behind green jalousies the Genoese were taking their
noon-day rest.

Pétroff was with me. Together we walked on the shady side of the deserted
Via Roma, and having crossed the Piazza ’Nunziata, were passing the
Palazzo di Giustizia, when a knot of persons talking excitedly attracted
our attention.

A conversation we overheard between two soldiers aroused our curiosity
as to a case in progress in the Criminal Court, and glad to seek shelter
from the heat, we entered. As the soldier opened the swing-door of the
cool, dimly lit court, I slipped inside with my companion. The judge had
risen, and was standing solemn and statuesque. Above him hung a great
gilt crucifix. He was uttering words in Italian, that caused a sensation
it was impossible to mistake.

“Prisoner Lorenzo Bertini,” he said, addressing the wild-eyed looking man
who stood in fetters before him, “in this Court of Justice of His Majesty
the King you have been found guilty of wilfully murdering your wife
Ninetta, at Nervi. I therefore condemn you to death, and in the name of
the Almighty I call upon you to repent!”

I held my breath, and fixed my gaze upon the unhappy man.

In a few seconds I had sufficiently recovered to inquire of a young
priest who stood beside me the nature of the tragedy. The condemned man,
he told me, had confessed that the motive of his crime was jealousy.
He was intoxicated, and having discovered his wife kissing a stranger
who had visited her in his absence, he had entered the house and
deliberately stabbed her to the heart.

A sickening sensation crept over me. I pleaded that the intense heat
had brought on faintness, and we retraced our steps to our hotel. That
evening we left Genoa, and a fortnight later I read in the _Secolo_ that
Lorenzo Bertini had paid the penalty of his crime.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE FATE OF THE TRAITOR.


Pale yellow sunset had poured out its cold half-light upon the roofs, and
gradually in the depths of the London streets everything grew grey and
dim. In the clear deep blue the first star was already shining. Objects
began to assume a disordered aspect, and melt away in the darkness.
The city, worn out with the vanity of the day, had become calm, as if
gathering strength to pass the evening in the same vanity and turmoil.

Already the lights of the street lamps in Oakleigh Gardens were springing
up, forming long, straight lines, as I drew down the blind and flung
myself into the inviting armchair before the cheerful fire. Taking from
the table an open letter written in cipher, I read it through by the
flickering firelight. It was addressed to Pétroff, and ran as follows:—

“Nicolas Kassatkin, who will arrive in London on Tuesday next, is a
trusted and valued member of our Circle at Novgorod. He has been twice
imprisoned, first at Petropaulovsk, and secondly at Schlusselburg, whence
he has escaped. We are sending him to you because we are confident that
he can be of assistance. He is daring, enthusiastic, and speaks several
languages. Being in possession of a private income, he will not need
any financial help from the Executive. He will be the bearer of a note
to you.—Signed, on behalf of the Novgorod Brothers of Freedom—SOLOMON
GOLDSTEIN, ALEXANDER ROSTOVTZEFF.”

I replaced it upon the table, and leaning back in the chair, smoked
reflectively.

Having called to consult the Executive on some urgent business, Pétroff
had asked me to remain and welcome the newcomer. By repute I knew him as
a fearless Revolutionist, who had taken an active part in several plots
which had for their object the removal of corrupt officials, and had been
more or less successful.

I was plunged in reverie, induced perhaps by the dim, uncertain light of
the fire and the soothing properties of nicotine, when a loud ring at the
hall-bell aroused me. Almost immediately afterwards I heard the voices of
Pétroff, Tersinski, and Grinevitch welcoming the stranger in Russian, and
a few moments later they entered and introduced him to me.

We shook hands cordially, and as Grinevitch lit the gas I saw that the
stranger was a man of medium height, and about thirty years of age.
His face was of a rather low type. He had deep-set, grey eyes, with a
fixed stare, a large, fair moustache, prominent cheek bones, and fair,
lank, unkempt hair, while his deeply-furrowed brow spoke mutely of
long imprisonment and infinite pain and suffering. Removing his heavy
travelling-coat, he seated himself before the fire to thaw, at the same
time taking a letter from his pocket and handing it to Paul Pétroff.

Presently we sat down to dinner together, and during the meal Kassatkin
showed himself to be an entertaining companion and vivacious talker.
I sat next him, and he told us of the progress of the revolutionary
movement in Novgorod, declaring that there were unmistakable signs of
general upheaval, of an awakening of the public spirit, of patriotism,
and of opposition, foreshadowing a coming struggle. He was bitter in his
condemnation of the dark deeds of the Tzar’s officials, and expressed an
opinion that if Russia could tell something approaching to the full truth
about what was going on within her boundaries—the crimes committed in
darkness, the malversations practised, the real state of the exchequer,
the desperate tricks of the financiers—it would inflict upon the
Autocracy a more severe blow than many conspiracies could strike.

“Tell us of your escape,” I said, after he had related the story of his
arrest and imprisonment for carrying on propaganda among the soldiers of
the Novgorod garrison.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, his face brightening. “It has been a terrible
experience, but I was driven to desperation.” Turning to Pétroff he said:
“You know the frightful horrors of Schlusselburg—the cold wet cells below
the water?”

“I have, alas! much cause to remember them,” Paul answered, with a heavy
sigh. “My wife, whom I loved so well, was imprisoned there at the same
time as myself. The solitary confinement and the horrors of her cell
drove her hopelessly insane. She is now an inmate of the criminal asylum
at Krasnoje Selo.”

“Madness is the fate of the majority of prisoners there,” said Kassatkin.
“In my case the many months of absolute silence and lack of exercise
drove me into a state bordering on insanity. In order to check the
imbecility that was slowly but surely taking possession of me, I used to
pace my damp, dark cell and compose verses. For days, weeks, months, I
had no other occupation than the composition of poems, which I afterwards
committed to memory, having no writing materials. This was the only
mental employment I had, and, although I grew strangely lightheaded,
yet my self-imposed tasks prevented my mind becoming totally unhinged.
An opportunity for escape presented itself in a most unexpected manner.
A large batch of ‘common law’ prisoners had been sent from Petersburg,
and the prison being already over-crowded, I was removed from my cell
and confined in a room in the fire-tower. It thus happened that I was
locked up in an ordinary room, with a window looking upon the bridge. It
was rather high, but it was near the waterpipe running along the wall
outside, and there was a slanting roof of the lower storey which could
be utilised for the descent. I could not lose such an opportunity, and,
in the dead of night, I opened the window and descended upon the bridge
connecting the prison with the bank, congratulating myself upon a happy
escape.”

“Were you discovered?” I asked.

“Yes, almost immediately. By ill-luck a sentry noticed me and gave the
alarm. It was an exciting moment as I made a dash for the forest and
disappeared among the trees. Half-a-dozen soldiers pursued me, but only
for a short distance, and apparently considering that they had a poor
chance of capturing a fugitive in a forest, they returned to the prison
for assistance. I concealed myself and waited. Presently about twenty
mounted soldiers galloped past along the forest road. When they were out
of sight I left my hiding-place and walked on. My position was, however,
critical, therefore I returned to the Neva, as I could not lose my way
beside the river. I soon came to the water’s edge. By the opposite bank
were some islands and something like a lake or arm of the river, near
which I could see what in the fog appeared to be masts. Close beside me
on the bank sat a group of fishermen, and a little way off an old man was
doing something to a boat. Having two or three roubles in my pocket, I
went up and asked the old man to ferry me across the river. He consented,
but asked in a conversational way why I wanted to go across. Remembering
the masts, I replied that I had to go on board a schooner that lay in the
distance. The old man looked at me suspiciously.

“He asked who I was, and I told him that I was a working-man from
Tichvin. The old man put on a very suspicious air and began a minute
interrogation. I was at my wits’ end, and ready to make a dash for it;
but that was out of the question: the fishermen were close by and would
have caught me in five minutes. I resolved to take the bull by the horns,
so I told the man that I had simply made up the former story, and that,
in reality, I was an escaped political prisoner seeking a hiding-place.
When the old man had asked me numerous other questions, he said: ‘Well,
I won’t ferry you across myself, but I’ll tell my boy to. He’ll land you
on the island, and you can stop there until to-morrow night. You’re all
right so far. Only, look here, don’t you go telling anybody that you
have to go to your schooner. In my young days there used to be plenty of
schooners there, but for thirty years past there hasn’t been one near the
place.’

“The old man then called a young fisherman, and told him to row me across
to the island. On parting from the man who ferried me, I started to
explore the place, which I found to be very marshy. The morning broke wet
and cheerless, and I spent the day in a disused hut. When evening set in,
it became too cold for me to spend the night shelterless, and as I was
suffering severely from hunger, I wandered up and down the swampy forest
looking for a village. By the time I succeeded in finding one it was
quite dark. I knocked at a cottage door, but the people would not let me
in. I went to a second and third cottage, but with no success. Finally I
lost my temper, and addressing an obdurate householder, asked him where
the _starosta_ lived.

“The peasant directed me to the _starosta’s_ cottage, and then slammed
his door. I tapped at the door of the residence indicated, and it was
opened by a woman. When I asked for the official I was in search of, she
replied, ‘I am the _starosta_. What do you want?’ It appeared that she
really was the _starosta_. The office was filled by all the peasants
in the village in turn; and she, being an independent householder,
took her turn like the men. I rattled off a wild story, how I had come
for a holiday from Petersburg with some friends; how they had become
intoxicated, and, for a practical joke, had returned home, leaving me
alone on the island. The female _starosta_ evinced the warmest sympathy
with my misfortune, gave me supper, and allowed me to pass the night in
her cottage.

“Next morning I hired a boat, arrived safely in Petersburg, and found my
friends, who hid me for some time, while the police scoured the roads and
country around Schlusselburg, and searched all the houses that appeared
to them suspicious. When the excitement died down, I travelled as an
ordinary passenger to the frontier, and have now arrived here.”

That evening I took Kassatkin to live with me at my chambers, and
found him a pleasant, easy-going fellow, whose shrewdness proved most
valuable to me in the various matters upon which I was from time to time
engaged. We went about a good deal, and made many friends. I had always
been considered a fair amateur actor, and was prevailed upon to join a
well-known dramatic club which gave frequent performances at Kensington
Town Hall.

Many of my friends belonged to the club, and I found the rehearsals a
pleasant and amusing recreation, inasmuch as the people with whom I was
brought into contact were useful to me in a variety of ways. They knew I
was a foreigner, but believed me to be French, little suspecting that I
was a Nihilist.

One evening there had been a dress-rehearsal of a new comedy which we
were about to produce for copyright purposes. I was cast for the part of
an affected English curate, one of the chief characters in the piece.

The rehearsal passed off satisfactorily, and it was nearly midnight
when I left the hall and started on my walk homeward. I had a good
hour’s tramp through the West End before me; but, as the night was clear
and warm, I enjoyed the prospect rather than otherwise. As I walked
along Kensington Gore there was scarce a sound in the street, save the
occasional tread of a policeman, or the hurried footfall of the belated
pleasure-seeker, breaking the stillness of the night suddenly, and then
dying away in a succession of faint echoes.

Had any friend met me I should scarcely have been recognised, from the
fact that I was still in clerical attire, having dressed myself at
home to avoid trouble. I wore a long black coat of orthodox cut, black
unmentionables, a clerical collar, a soft, wide-brimmed hat, and was
effectually disguised, though I thought nothing of the circumstances at
the time, having frequently worn my stage clothes out of doors.

I had walked for perhaps half an hour in silent contemplation, when
I suddenly became aware that I had taken a wrong turning and that my
footsteps had involuntarily carried me into that patrician of Kensington
thoroughfares, Cromwell Road.

At that moment I was passing a large, handsome-looking house, the outward
appearance of which had an unmistakable air of wealth. The other houses
were in darkness, but several of the windows of this one were brilliantly
lit.

Suddenly I heard something that caused me to pause. It sounded like a
long, shrill scream.

A moment later the door was opened by a man-servant, who ran hurriedly
down the steps. As he confronted me he stopped short, and peering into my
face, said—

“Sir, would you have the kindness to step inside for a few minutes. His
lordship sent me to look for a gentleman, and it is fortunate I found one
so near.”

“A gentleman!” I exclaimed, astonished. “But I——”

“His lordship’s daughter is dying, sir, and he told me to get the first
gentleman I could find.”

The man led the way up the steps, and, dumbfounded by the sudden manner
in which I had been accosted, I followed.

He ushered me into a small but very elegantly furnished room, and then
went to find his master. Just at that moment I heard the footsteps of
two other men, who apparently entered from the street and walked down
the hall to the room adjoining the one in which I was. I had hardly
time to look about me, when the servant returned, accompanied by a
strange-looking old man. He was well dressed, but seemed out of place
in the clothes he wore. Small and thin, he had snow-white hair, sunken
cheeks, and eyes in which shone a peculiar lustre. The manner in which
he advanced to greet me was strange, for he seemed to glide noiselessly
across the room. His face was colourless, and would have seemed almost
devoid of life had it not been for his restless, glittering eyes.

“His lordship,” explained the servant.

I bowed, and the man retired. For a moment the old gentleman’s eyes
shifted and roved, then he fixed my gaze with them, and said slowly, in a
squeaky voice—

“I have a theory that everything may be purchased; that every man has his
price. Do you agree with me?”

I was surprised. I shrank from him, and despised and hated him.

“Most things can undoubtedly be bought; but not everything,” I replied.

He smiled sadly.

“Of course, neither life nor intellect can be purchased; but the securing
of any service from any person capable of performing it is merely a
question of money.”

I nodded approbation of this remark, wondering what service he needed at
my hands.

“I am quite at my wits’ end, and I require a small service from you,” he
said suddenly, as a look of blank, unutterable despair swept over his
face. He looked wearied and despondent; I pitied him.

“If I can render you that service I shall be pleased,” I replied.

His face brightened; the haggard expression vanished.

“Thank you,” he said. “It is perhaps a strange request, still I can find
many men who will be only too eager to accept my offer.”

“But I am not——”

“Never mind,” he interrupted; “allow me to explain. I am the Earl of
Wansford.”

I gave vent to an ejaculation of surprise, for the Earl was a well-known
figure in the diplomatic world, and until three years ago had been
British Ambassador to Russia. He smiled as he noticed my astonishment,
and continued—

“I have but one daughter, who, alas! is dying. The physicians say hers is
a hopeless case, and I desire that her last moments shall be made happy.”

“Ah! you want me to attend at the bedside and minister words of
consolation. I am sorry I cannot——”

“No,” he snarled, “she is religious enough, and does not require you in
that capacity.”

“But surely a dying person, whether prepared for the next world or not,
should see a clergyman!” I said.

“True; but Muriel is insane,” he replied. “You remember what I said a
minute ago, that it is only a question of money to any man?”

“What!”

“Why, marriage.”

I was puzzled. I could not comprehend his meaning.

“But what do you want of me?” I asked.

“A trifling service. You can perform it now; but if you refuse, you will
always regret.”

“Tell me what it is, and I will give my answer.”

“It is this. Some time ago—perhaps about three years—while we were
living in St. Petersburg, I became ill, and was obliged to go to the
South of France. During my absence my daughter met a Russian for whom
she conceived a violent fancy. Since I returned and brought her home to
England, she has done nothing but mope and mourn for him, with the result
that her intellect is impaired.”

“But will not the man marry her?” I asked, interested in the romance.

“He disappeared mysteriously, and although I have made the most strenuous
efforts to trace him, he cannot be found. Of course she would marry him
if she could; but her mental faculties are so weak that she would marry
any one else and believe it to be him. But here’s the point——”

He felt in his pocket, and producing a wallet, took from it a roll of
clean crisp Bank of England notes. He counted twenty of them, each for
one hundred pounds, and held them towards me.

“These are yours,” he said slowly, “if you will consent to be my
daughter’s husband!”

The strange proposal caused me to gasp. Two thousand pounds! Did ever
temptation stand in man’s path in a more alluring guise? I had but
little money of my own, and with this sum I could do many things.

Here was a dying girl whose passage to the grave would be rendered
brighter by my marrying her; who would die in a few days, or weeks at
most, and know no difference. Nobody need be aware of this strange
midnight adventure, or the manner in which I had been bought. I hesitated.

“I give you my word that none know of her insanity except myself, and
that she is upon her death-bed,” said my tempter.

Still I paused. I was wondering what could be the Earl’s ulterior motive.
Besides, I had no desire to enter the ranks of Benedicts.

“Come, decide. I have a clergyman ready and a licence. Some one shall
make my darling’s last moments happy. Is not the money enough? Well,
here’s another thousand. Will you accept it?”

I summoned courage, and drawing a long breath, stretched forth my hand
and grasped the notes, which I thrust hastily into my pocket.

I had sold myself. I had offered myself as a sacrifice to Mammon, as
others had done. My purchaser opened the door, and called softly, “It’s
all right.”

“Is it?” asked the clergyman who entered. “You are, I understand, the
affianced husband of Lady Muriel?” he asked, addressing me.

“Yes,” I replied. Was it not true? Had I not three thousand pounds in my
pocket as evidence of the fact?

“Come,” said the old man impatiently, as he led the way upstairs to a
large bedroom on the first floor, where the light was so dim that I could
hardly more than distinguish the shape of the bed and the form of some
one closely covered up in it. The footman, who had accosted me in the
street, entered behind us, and we took our places at the bedside.

Gradually, as my eyes grew accustomed to the semi-darkness, I could see
that my future wife was lying upon her side, and with her face turned
from me.

“Take her hand,” commanded the man to whom I had sold myself.

I obeyed.

“Proceed with the ceremony.”

The clergyman droned off the service by heart with the characteristic
nasal intonation. Probably I faltered a little at the responses, but my
dying bride never hesitated. Though her voice was low as distant music,
her every word was prompt and clear.

I gave the _alias_ I frequently used, Vladimir Mordvinoff, and when I
uttered the name I fancied that she started.

“_Mojnoli?_” she gasped in a strange half-whisper, but she did not turn
to look at me. It was evident, however, that she spoke Russian.

The ceremony concluded, we were pronounced man and wife; I was the
husband of a girl who was insane, and whose face I had never looked upon!

Was ever there a stranger marriage? The thin wasted fingers that lay
in my grasp were cold. A strange sense of guilt crept over me when I
remembered that I had bound myself irrevocably to her, deceiving her
during her last moments upon earth.

“Come,” exclaimed his lordship. “Let us go downstairs and sign the
necessary documents.”

We all descended to the library, where the register was filled up and
the signatures affixed, the clergyman handing me the certificate with a
murmur of congratulation. A bottle of champagne was produced, and we each
drank a glass, after which I was allowed to return to the room alone to
make the acquaintance of my wife.

I entered on tiptoe, almost breathlessly, and paused for a moment beside
the bed, trying to speak. At first my mouth refused to utter a sound.
What could I say? Suddenly the Nihilist pass-word flashed across my
mind, and I uttered it. It’s effect was almost magical. Struggling, she
endeavoured to rise, but could only support herself upon her elbow, at
the same time giving me the secret countersign.

I was anxious to see her countenance, so I turned up the gas, afterwards
bending down to look upon her. It was a pretty, delicate face, but cut
and swollen as if by savage blows, discoloured and disfigured, a blanched
face in which were obvious signs of insanity!

When our eyes met she started, scrutinised me closely, and uttered a
shrill scream of joy.

I recognised her instantly. While I was living in Petersburg several
years before, she had been admitted to our Circle. She gave the name
of Muriel Radford, but beyond the fact that she was English and that
she apparently had plenty of money at her disposal, we knew nothing of
her. At the meetings of the Circle we often met and had many a pleasant
_tête-à-tête_. I had admired her and more than once was tempted to
declare my love, but I refrained from doing so until too late, for
suddenly, one snowy night in midwinter, I was compelled to fly from the
Russian capital. Since then I had neither seen nor heard of her.

Now I had discovered her under these extraordinary circumstances.

She kissed me fondly, passionately, and I was about to explain our
strange marriage, when the terrible light of insanity in her eyes caused
me to hesitate. Of what use was it to speak? She did not understand.

Taking a small bunch of keys from under her lace-edged pillow, she handed
them to me, saying—

“Go to that cabinet over there and unlock the second drawer. In the
right-hand corner you will find a packet. Bring it here and open it.”

I did as I was commanded, and brought to the bedside a small packet of
letters secured with crimson ribbon. As I untied the knot a cabinet
photograph fell out upon the bed. I picked it up and looked at it.

It was a picture of myself!

“How did you obtain this?” I asked eagerly.

“I have never ceased to think of you,” she replied. “I prevailed upon
one of your friends in Petersburg to give me the picture. But there is
another photograph there. Take it out and look at it.”

Searching among the papers, I found the picture she indicated.

When I turned it face upwards in the gaslight it almost fell from my
grasp, for I recognised it as a portrait of my companion with whom I
shared chambers.

“Do you know Kassatkin?” I asked, in astonishment.

“Yes, I do,” she said, and raising herself upon her elbow, she continued
earnestly: “Listen, Anton! You are now my husband, although I know I am
dying. Nothing can save me, and I shall not live to inflict upon that
cursed spy the punishment he deserves. I know——”

“Is he a spy?” I interrupted breathlessly.

“Yes. When you had left Petersburg they admitted him into the Circle,
believing him to be trustworthy. Soon afterwards, however, the police
arrested nearly the whole of the members, and had I not been the
daughter of the British ambassador I should have been arrested also.
Inquiries I afterwards made proved conclusively that Paramòn Markoff—or
Nicolas Kassatkin, as he calls himself—was an officer of Secret Police;
that he was admitted to the Circle by means of forged introductions, and
that through his instrumentality over one hundred members of our Cause
were exiled.”

“But what proof have you?” I asked excitedly, remembering how much
Kassatkin knew of the conspiracy we were forming.

“The papers you hold in your hand will prove what I allege,” she replied.
Then she continued wildly: “Find the spy. Let death be his reward for
ingenuity and double-dealing. Kill him! Promise me! Do not let him send
to Siberia other innocent supporters of the Cause!” Clutching my hand,
she added, “Tell me that you will avenge the deaths of the men and women
who fell victims to his treachery. Promise me!”

“I promise,” I replied. “If he is a spy he shall die.”

“Ah! At last he will receive his well-merited punishment. And he had the
audacity to love me!” She uttered the words feebly, sinking wearily back
upon her pillow.

Her face had changed, becoming paler and more drawn. She did not move,
and I stood watching, not knowing what to do. The excitement had proved
too much for her. Suddenly she opened her eyes, and whispered my name.
Then she gave vent to a long, deep-drawn sigh, shuddered, and lay
strangely still.

I knew then that my wife had passed away!

I was kissing her pale lips and closing the glazing eyes, when the
footman entered hurriedly, and whispered that I was required in the
library at once. He dashed downstairs, and I followed. On going into the
room a sight met my gaze which I shall never forget, for, lying stretched
upon the couch was his lordship, writhing in the horrible agonies of
death from poisoning. A small bottle standing upon the table and a broken
champagne glass had but one tale to tell.

He had taken his own life!

The clergyman was kneeling by his side, but in a few moments the old Earl
gave a final sigh, and ere I had realised it, he passed to the land that
lies beyond human ken.

I learned from the doctor who attended that the Earl of Wansford had,
since relinquishing his post at Petersburg, showed signs of madness.
During a fit of insanity, a year before, he had struck down his daughter,
inflicting such injuries that she had been an invalid ever since. Her
mind, too, became unhinged. It was supposed that, seized by sudden
remorse, his lordship had imbibed the fatal draught.

Morning was breaking, cold and grey, as I ascended the stairs to
my chambers. Opening the door with my latch-key, I entered the
sitting-room. The lamp was still burning, and there were evidences that
Kassatkin had not returned.

Upon the table was a note addressed to me.

I tore it open, and read as follows:—

“In the matter upon which we were engaged last week I have made an
important discovery, which necessitates me leaving for the Continent
to-night. Will let you know shortly where I am.”

It suddenly crossed my mind that, having ascertained the details of the
plot we were preparing, he had left for Petersburg to give information to
the police.

That morning I placed the papers my dead wife had given me before the
Executive, and the same evening Tersinski and I, having discovered the
route the spy had taken, were on our way to the Continent, following the
man upon whom the sentence of our Order had been passed.

A week later the special edition of the _Pall Mall Gazette_ contained the
following among its general foreign news:—

“Reuter’s Cologne correspondent reports that a mysterious murder has
created considerable sensation in Germany. Yesterday the body of a man
was discovered floating in the Rhine, near Bonn, and on being taken from
the water it was found that the man had been stabbed to the heart. From
papers found upon him, it appears that the name of the murdered man was
Nicolas Kassatkin, a Russian, who has recently been living in London.”



CHAPTER XIV.

AN IKON OATH.


Ivan Liustig was not like any one else. His friends of the Petersburg
Circle were conscious of some lack of foundation beneath the graceful
superstructure of his character. But they did not array themselves, as
his critics, against him. They smiled at him, but they loved him.

Since he had escaped with me after the wrecking of the Tzar’s train near
Borki, he had returned to Russia, whither I had also gone with Bounakoff
upon a secret quest.

When, in Petersburg, I heard of him as investigating psychical phenomena
as encoiled in psychology, it seemed another versatile phase at which
again to smile. For Ivan, who was an enthusiastic medical student, was
sure to have, here, as elsewhere, some exceptional experiences; was sure
to pour out the recital of the same in due time to his chosen associates
with a fulness of picturesque detail that shed a new light on all the
question involved. But when it appeared that it was not psychical
research in the abstract, but a feminine psychist in the concrete that
held Ivan in thrall, there was an altered feeling inducing a graver view.

“I hope all this we hear is an airy joke,” I said to him one day after a
meeting of the Circle. He honoured me, as his elder, with some deference
in his friendship; and the quality of the latter sentiment had been
exceptionally warm between us since our journey together in the Imperial
train.

He looked at me steadily with his handsome blue eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“You must know well enough. They say that you are spending all your
leisure with some shady female, who, at one and the same time, expounds
spirits, magnetic psychology, and exploits the pockets of the credulous.”

To my surprise he turned very pale.

“Were you not one of my best friends, Anton, I’d knock you down for that.”

“By the Virgin, you’re lost!” I cried.

I was about to turn away on my heel, but he drew me back. His anger had
been appeased.

“Don’t mind me,” he said in his tractable, normal tone. “But don’t
join the herd of fools who won’t understand. I looked for sympathy and
comprehension from you. You can’t judge till you know her—till you know
this wonderful—most wonderful woman.”

“I daresay,” I assented dryly. “Who, however, and what is she?”

“She is half Russian, half German, and wholly a citizen of the world.”

“Ah! I know the type—”

“You know nothing!” he exclaimed, flushing angrily. “But”—he shrugged his
shoulders—“the prejudices of the world count for—what? Nothing at all.
The curse of the Philistine is his Philistinism.”

“Very well. Forget what I have said. I approach the Russo-German in the
properly reverential spirit to apprehend the phenomena. They say she is
young and pretty. And what, especially, does she do?”

“You may see, some day.” His gaze grew bright, soft, and vague, as one
who catches a glimpse of the floating garments of supernatural mysteries.
“Ah! she is wonderful. She is charming!”

It was shortly after this that I obtained an introduction to Ivan
Liustig’s goddess. She lived in the Vosseressenski quarter, on the third
floor of a tall house, but with a degree of relative elegance that argued
either some personal means or a thriving trade. I had expected to see
an electric, opalescent person, with rouged face and a Cleopatra manner
calculated to enmesh the unwary. I met instead a little blonde woman with
great eyes, soft as black pearls and limpid as a brook. I had understood
from Ivan that she had been married and widowed. But with her loops of
flaxen braid tied deftly with ribbon, she looked no more matured than a
schoolgirl. Her dress, from head to foot, was tasteful and pleasing, but
of the simplest. And she had a way, after she had greeted you, of sitting
upon the edge of chairs and sofas and listening in grave-eyed confidence
that made you think of some precocious child forced, through the loss
of its natural protectors, to face the blackness of an unfamiliar world
alone. She was introduced as Wanda Waluiski.

“Your friend tells me that you are interested in psychical phenomena,”
she said to me, after a few moments. “But I fear I can show you nothing
much to-night. The conditions do not seem favourable, somehow.”

I made a murmur of regret.

“Are these things dependent on atmospheric conditions?”

“To a certain degree. But other obstacles step in—opposing mental
attitudes and currents.” She passed her hands over her eyes as she spoke,
as if to rid herself of some invisible oppression.

“A common charlatan, after all,” said I to myself. “She sees I am
sceptical of the validity of her claims and that prevents the full
operation of the trickery.”

Ivan ardently assured her that it was of no moment; that we would return
another day. Wanda was silent for an instant, and I had begun to think
her manner at least peculiar, when she turned her eyes full upon me.

“I ought not to let you come here again,” was her extraordinary remark.
“I have been warned this moment, I was warned the moment you entered the
roam that unhappiness must come to me through you. But one’s earthly fate
cannot be fought against. My forbidding you to come here would not delay
or turn aside the onward march of events.”

“I assure you I have no wish to inflict an unwelcome presence upon you,”
I hastened to explain.

“No—no.” Her pale, child-like face was overspread with a strange air of
weariness. “All we can do is of no use. Come. Come when you choose.”

When we were in the street Ivan broke out in apologies, urging that I
should not feel myself insulted.

“I do not feel insulted,” I said. “In fact, I find Madame Waluiski much
more interesting than I expected.”

And this was truth. If she were an impostor, an adventuress, I had been
impressed with the fact that she was one clever enough to be worthy of
study. But again, how doubt a personality apparently so unlike that of a
trickster, a face so transparent, a whole being so unusual, so ingenuous?

I knew not what to think.

       *       *       *       *       *

The scene was, perhaps, one of the most picturesque in Petersburg. After
the dust and heat of the August day Mascha, Bounakoff, and myself were
sitting at dinner in the beautiful Gardens of Catherinenhoff. With the
sunset a cool wind had sprung up from the Neva, rendering Andrejeff’s
Restaurant an exceedingly pleasant retreat under the clear sky and
brilliant stars. At one of the small _al fresco_ tables we were in the
full enjoyment of our meal. It was a band night, and those who have
visited the Russian capital know how upon such occasions the Gardens are
illuminated and the tables filled by a fashionable throng of men and
women.

Ivan was sitting at the next table, and we had invited him to join
us, but as he had already finished his dinner he was waiting until we
commenced to smoke.

Those of my readers who have refreshed themselves at Andrejeff’s will
remember that one of the tables is placed against a large trellis
covered with tangled masses of creepers, which screens it from the gaze
of passers-by, and makes it a very cosy nook. It was here that Ivan sat
alone, contemplatively smoking a cigarette and sipping from the glass
of port beside him, while at our table we chaffed and laughed merrily
together. Conversation was general, and the hearty laughter and gay tones
of French voices mingled with the guttural exclamations of the Tzar’s
subjects as they walked under the linden trees beside the lake, while
ever and anon a burst of military music reached us from over the water.

As I sat watching the crowd of promenaders two figures that passed
engaged my attention. Why, I cannot tell. One was that of a lady,
apparently about forty years of age, good-looking, well-preserved, and
attired fashionably in a black jet-trimmed evening dress, with a lace
mantilla over her head. Alone, she walked past slowly and deliberately,
at the same time casting a searching glance in our direction. In the
dim half-light I could see she was undeniably handsome, but in a few
moments she had passed out of my sight, and I, joining in my companions’
conversation, forgot her.

The other figure which followed some minutes later was that of Wanda
Waluiski.

A few minutes later a lad, son of the _dvornik_ at Ivan’s lodging,
brought him some letters, being accompanied by his sister, a bright
little girl of ten. The student complimented the child on the way she was
dressed, patted her upon the cheek, and gave her some grapes, rewarding
the lad with a few kopecks. Then the girl laughed pleasantly, displaying
an even row of white teeth, afterwards making a dignified little bow, and
turning away with her brother.

They had scarcely gone when we were startled by a terrible cry.

Turning quickly, we saw that Ivan had risen from his chair, his face
flushed and distorted. One hand grasped his wine-glass, while the other
clutched convulsively at his throat, for he was choking.

Staggering a few uneven steps towards us, he stumbled. The glass fell
from his nerveless fingers, and was shattered. We sat speechless in
surprise and alarm.

His face became blanched in a moment, and he passed his hand across his
agonised brow.

“Ah!—Heaven!” he gasped with great effort. “You fellows—my wine!—can’t
you see?—I—I’m poisoned!”

With one accord we sprang to our feet and rushed towards him, but before
we could stretch forth our hands he had staggered forward with a loud cry
and fallen heavily upon the gravel.

Our endeavours to raise him were useless.

“Let me alone!” he shouted hoarsely. “The poison—was put into my
glass—through the trellis! You cannot save me. Ah! I—I’m dying! The
cowards have killed me!”

I knelt and raised his head upon my arm.

“Don’t touch me!” he cried. “Can’t you let me die?” Writhing in paroxysms
of intense pain, his face livid, his body horribly distorted, he ground
his teeth and foamed at the mouth.

The sight was awful; yet we were utterly powerless.

A violent trembling suddenly shook his whole frame, and his palsied limbs
stretched themselves out rigidly in the final struggle for existence.

Then he gasped. The breath left his body, and he lay pale and motionless
under the starlight. Ivan Liustig was dead!

So quickly had all this happened, that scarcely any one had been
attracted. As we lifted the body and carried it tenderly into the
restaurant the strains of the “_Boje Zara chrani_,” floating over the
lake, formed a jarring, incongruous dirge to our silent, sorrowful
_cortège_.

A doctor was quickly procured, but as soon as he touched him he removed
his hat respectfully, and pronounced him beyond human aid. I handed him
the pieces of broken glass which I had picked from the gravelled walk. He
smelt them, and finding a drop of wine remaining, dipped the tip of his
little finger into it, and placed it upon his tongue.

“Strychnine,” he remarked. “Without a doubt.”

Reverently they covered the body with a tablecloth, and it was
subsequently conveyed away.

It is unnecessary to refer in detail to the events that immediately
followed. That Ivan had been murdered in the most cowardly and secret
manner possible was plain, but the identity of the person who had
placed the poison in the glass from the opposite side of the trellis
was a mystery. The police quickly apprehended the _dvornik’s_ son and
daughter, both of whom were submitted to a searching cross-examination.
There was such an utter absence of motive, however, and so plain and
straightforward were their answers, that the officials were quickly
convinced of their innocence.

But I had my own suspicions. Later that night I took a _drosky_ to the
Vosseressenski quarter and sought the dead man’s idol, intending to break
the news to her, and closely observe the manner in which she received it.

Wanda Waluiski, when I entered, was sitting alone, dressed in semi-loose
drapery of white, that made her child-like figure seem only the more
youthful under the light of the bright lamp. Her eyes met mine instantly
as I came in, and their gaze had a fulness of significance I could not
fathom. I offered her my hand.

“I never shake the hand of any one,” she observed gently, not moving her
own. “It induces loss of power in psychic sensitives.”

I was looking into her weirdly delicate visage, with its large eyes
whose expression was so haunting, and a certain thrill of quickened zest
suddenly replaced the sensation of repugnance in my mind.

“I have come to break bad news to you,” I said gently.

“I know,” she replied. “I—I am aware that Ivan is dead.”

“Who told you?” I asked quickly, but my inquiry was not answered.

At that moment the door was flung open unceremoniously, and two police
officers entered.

“Wanda Waluiski,” exclaimed the elder of the two, advancing towards her,
“I arrest you, in the name of our Father the Tzar, for the murder of one
Ivan Liustig!”

“For murder!” she gasped, half-rising from her chair. “I—I am innocent!”

“Upon whose information do you make the arrest?” I asked.

The officer referred to the paper in his hand, and replied: “One Mascha
Prèhznev alleges that this woman placed the poison in the victim’s glass.”

“My sister!” I exclaimed involuntarily.

“Ah!” said Wanda, who had risen and stood stern and haggard before me. “I
told you on the first occasion you visited me that unhappiness must come
to me through you.” Turning quickly towards the gilded _ikon_ upon the
wall, she crossed herself reverently, murmuring, “Before Heaven, I swear
I am innocent!”

Then she took up her fur-lined cloak lying upon the couch, and throwing
it about her shoulders, drew the hood over her head and announced her
readiness to accompany the officers. As they were about to descend the
stairs two police spies in civilian dress entered and received orders
to search the place. I remained behind in order to ascertain what was
discovered, but after an hour’s investigation they had to acknowledge the
absence of any clue.

During the time they were rummaging in holes and corners I chanced to
take up a photograph album, and was looking casually through it when my
eyes fell upon a cabinet portrait of a well-preserved, handsomely attired
woman, evidently moving in fashionable society.

In a moment I recognised it as the counterfeit presentment of the woman
I had seen strolling in the Catherinenhoff Gardens almost immediately
before I had noticed Wanda! I closed the album and kept the discovery to
myself. Within an hour I saw Mascha, and asked her upon what grounds she
had given the information that had led to the mysterious Wanda’s arrest.

“She loved Ivan and was my rival,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders.
“I saw her emerge from behind the trellis. That is all the proof I have.”

I pointed out that the allegations were of so serious a character that,
in all probability, Wanda would be kept in prison while the matter was
being investigated, which would certainly be several months, perhaps
years.

“But she stole him from me,” my sister replied, with flashing eyes. “She
will now have to prove her innocence.”

I could see that Mascha was revengeful, and that all argument was useless.

The murder created a good deal of sensation in Petersburg; and, as I had
anticipated, Wanda was confined in the grim fortress of Peter and Paul.
Days, weeks, months passed, but she was not brought before the Court—the
police were still investigating. At length, after nearly seven months
had gone by, the case was brought to trial, and the accused was acquitted.

Strange how Fate directs our course through life. It was about a year
afterwards. I had returned to London, and drifting into journalistic
work, was representing a certain daily newspaper, that shall be nameless,
in the gallery of the House of Commons. I had a reason for entering
journalism, but that has nothing to do with the present story.

The hour was midnight. The Speaker had ordered a division upon an
important question affecting Ireland, and honourable members, stretching
themselves, had risen wearily and were strolling out to vote. Many of
my _confrères_ had flung down their pens and made for the Press bar;
but I was busy. The debate had been almost historical, for, in answer
to the objections of the Opposition, Mr. Balfour had made a brilliant
and telling reply, therefore I was unfortunately compelled to continue
writing, and that at express speed.

The _frou-frou_ of silk, mingled with frivolous feminine laughter, caused
me to look upward. The ladies’ gallery is over that devoted to the Press,
and somewhat in the rear, being irreverently termed the “gridiron,”
because feminine beauty is hidden from the curious gaze of honourable
members by ornamental iron-work. From the side seats, however, we
obtained a good view of the fair ones who came to hear their husbands,
fathers, and lovers descant upon their country’s ills, and as I glanced
up, I saw two faces behind the iron bars peering down upon the half-empty
benches.

One was that of an elderly white-haired lady, evidently a patrician. The
other was younger, and her features struck me as strangely familiar.
Where could I have seen her before? I tried to think, but, with
tantalising contrariness, my memory refused to answer. Yet I felt a
curious desire to remember who she was. It was almost like a presage of
evil.

I looked again. Her eyes met mine in a cold, haughty stare, but in a
second I had recollected her. She was the woman I had noticed in the
Catherinenhoff Gardens!

My pen almost fell from my grasp.

Although I felt positive I had not mistaken the face, yet I admit the
identification was so sudden that I found myself doubting whether it was
really the woman I had seen in the dimly illuminated grounds.

“Campbell,” I said, beckoning one of the attendants, “there’s a lady
upstairs with blue birds in her hat. Don’t notice her for a moment, but
look up presently and tell me if you know who she is.”

“Very well, sir,” he replied with a significant smile, arranging his gilt
chain of office over his glossy shirt-front, and strolling away along the
gallery.

Returning in a few moments, he bent over me and exclaimed, “That lady,
sir.”

“Yes,” I said anxiously.

“She’s Mrs. Elworthy, wife of the Member for North-west Huntingdon. She’s
well known in society, and comes as regularly when her husband speaks as
Mrs. Gladstone does.”

“Mrs. Elworthy!” I ejaculated. “Ah, thanks,” I added.

Remarking that I was welcome to the information, Campbell walked away.

Mrs. Elworthy! My thoughts were only of her. I knew her by reputation as
a leader of fashion; the centre of a dashing set. She joked pleasantly
with her elder companion, uttering a low, musical laugh. The diamonds on
her slim wrist sparkled as the daintily gloved hand grasped the iron-work.

I was watching that hand surreptitiously, when a strange thought occurred
to me. I wondered whether it was the same that had reached through the
creeper-covered trellis in Petersburg two years before!

But as these grave thoughts took possession of me, the “House” filled,
the tellers advanced to the table, and the result of the division was
declared.

I went out to hand it to my telegraphist in the lobby. When I returned
the object of my thoughts had gone. It was certainly a curious
coincidence that we should thus meet, yet what proof had I that she was
a murderess? Nothing beyond a strange, fitful fancy.

In a handsome drawing-room in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, where the
wintry twilight filtered through pale-blue silk curtains, I was, about
two months later, sitting alone with Mrs. Elworthy.

Through a friend of the family I had succeeded in obtaining an
introduction to her, and now regularly received cards for all her
little festivities. Both she and her husband welcomed me warmly
whenever I called, and very soon I found myself one of a very pleasant,
if extravagant set. I made, however, two discoveries of a somewhat
remarkable character. Firstly, that Mrs. Elworthy was a Russian, and,
secondly, that the fascinating girl I had known as Wanda Waluiski was
living with her, and was, in reality, her daughter!

On this particular afternoon I had remained behind after the other
visitors had departed, and was chatting with Mrs. Elworthy, who, with all
a woman’s cunning, had chosen a _vieux rose_ tea-gown, which, falling in
artistic folds, gave sculptural relief to her almost angular outline.

For a woman, she was unusually conversant with political questions, and
I had purposely turned our discussion upon the prevalence of famine in
Russia.

“Were you ever in Petersburg?” I asked, glancing at her suddenly.

She gazed at me inquiringly, and the smile died from her face.

“No,” she replied quickly. “I came from Odessa. I have never been to the
capital. But of course you have.”

“Yes,” I said reflectively. “Unfortunately, however, my last visit was
marred by a very sad occurrence.”

“What was it?” she asked, lounging languidly in her chair.

“The murder of my friend Ivan Liustig,” I replied calmly, gazing straight
into her eyes.

The announcement did not produce the effect I had intended. She stirred
uneasily, but merely raised her eyebrows and uttered a low exclamation of
horror.

“The poor fellow was poisoned,” I continued, at the same time drawing my
wallet from my pocket. “Here is his photograph,” I added, handing her a
_carte de visite_.

She looked calmly at the pictured face.

“Very sad—very sad indeed,” she remarked. “And was the murderer caught?”

She kept her eyes upon the photograph as she asked the question.

“Murderess,” I said, in as unconcerned a tone as I could.

“A woman, then?”

“Yes, and, moreover, I have traced the assassin.”

She looked up sharply into my face. Her handsome features presented a
strange haggard appearance, and she toyed nervously with her rings.

“Why—what—what do you mean?” she gasped.

“Disguise is useless, Mrs. Elworthy,” I said sternly, as I rose to my
feet. “I mean I can prove that you poisoned Ivan Liustig!”

She started from her chair and glared at me.

“You—you say this! You insult me, sir—in my own house—brand me a
murderess! I’ll call the servants and have you shown out instantly,” she
cried angrily, at the same time making a motion as if to ring the bell.

I stayed her hand.

“No, madame,” I said, “you will do nothing of the kind. Your daughter
has probably not told you that I was present when she was arrested on
suspicion. Since then your guilt has been proved, and it is useless to
deny it. The bottle still containing a portion of the poison sold to you
by Wagner, the chemist in the Nevski, is here,” I continued, taking it
from my pocket and holding it before her eyes. “Besides, a Russian lad is
now in London who actually saw you pour it into Ivan’s glass!”

“He lies—I—I—never was in Petersburg in my life! I never knew Ivan——”

The proud, handsome woman, now pale to the lips, stopped suddenly. Her
tongue refused to articulate; she reeled, clutched at the table for
support, but, tottering back, fell heavily to the floor. Ringing for the
servants, I told them that their mistress had fainted. Then hurrying on
my coat, I crammed my hat upon my head, and left the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lazily smoking before the fire in my chambers a fortnight afterwards,
with my feet upon the fender, I had given myself up to reflection. My
reverie was somewhat puzzling, for, truth to tell, I was in love, and
the object of my affection was none other than Wanda Elworthy. Her
face smiled down upon me from a cabinet photograph that stood upon the
mantel-shelf; yet, as the smoke curled before it, I could not help
thinking how much it resembled that of her unhappy mother.

Suddenly my meditations were interrupted by a loud rat-tat at the door.
Opening it, I was surprised to discover a lady, who passed me without a
word, and entered my sitting-room.

Closing the door I followed her, and found it was Mrs. Elworthy.

“Good afternoon,” I said, halting before the fire, with my hands behind
my back. “I confess I’m puzzled, madam, as to the object of this call.”

Frowning slightly, she tapped the floor impatiently with her shapely foot.

“My object is to come to terms with you.”

“Then you admit your guilt?” I remarked, amazed.

“It is useless, I suppose, to deny it. You have discovered my secret, and
I am prepared to pay the price you name.”

Her features were pale and set—a haggard face almost statuesque.

“Pardon me, madam,” I replied warmly; “I decline to accept gold as a
bribe to conceal the murder of my friend.”

“You misunderstand me. I have no intention of offering you money.”

“Then what request have you to make, pray?” I asked, looking fixedly at
her.

“You know the original of that photograph behind you?” she exclaimed in a
harsh, strained voice, pointing at it.

“I do.”

“It has come to my knowledge that you love her.”

I nodded, but did not speak.

“Then the object of my visit is to make a compact with you. It is this:
If you will marry Wanda within three months from to-day she shall have a
dowry of twenty thousand pounds.”

We were both silent for a moment. Then I said—

“Which proposal means that you are prepared to sacrifice your daughter
for the preservation of your own secret, eh?”

She did reply, but bowed her head in humiliation.

“Madam,” I said severely, “I admit I love Wanda, but your proposition is
absolutely loathsome.”

“Think—think—she cares for you! Besides, if you had money you would no
longer be compelled to work for an existence.”

“Impossible,” I replied decisively.

“Ah, don’t say that!” she cried hoarsely, as, with a sudden impulse,
she threw herself upon her knees before me. “See! I implore you for
mercy. God knows I have tried to atone and do my duty, but I yielded to
temptation, and this is my punishment!”

Drawing a long breath, she burst into tears.

“You—you do not know all, Anton Prèhznev, or you would find the
circumstances extenuating,” she sobbed bitterly. “I—I confess it was I
who poisoned Ivan! He—he was my son!”

“Your son?”

“Yes. I—I’m a vile wretch; as degraded as the woman who walks the
pavement. I killed my son! For twenty years he was ignorant of his
parentage, but, alas! he discovered the secret of his dishonourable
birth. As the living evidence of my shame he declared he would denounce
me—I, who had supplied him with money and secretly guided his career.
When he knew I was his mother he loathed me; he cursed me for my sin! His
hatred stung me; he threatened to expose me to my husband. Moreover, he
fell in love with my lawful daughter, Wanda, then studying in Petersburg!
What was I to do?”

She paused. Her hands were clasped; her agonised face was uplifted in
supplication.

“Ah! do not shrink from me!” she cried. “Have mercy, for here, before
Heaven, I swear I am penitent! Exposure meant ruin. Death only could rid
me of the terrible Nemesis. I went to Petersburg—followed him—and—and—you
know the rest. I—his mother—murdered him!”

Her chin rested upon her breast; her white lips moved again, but no sound
came from them.

“Madam,” I said at length, taking her hand and assisting her to rise,
“this interview is painful to us both, let us end it.”

“Will you not spare me? will you not be merciful and accept my offer?”
she implored.

“I cannot. I pity you, and hope forgiveness may be yours.”

“You will not accept the dowry?”

I shook my head.

She turned slowly, and, blinded by tears, tottered out, closing the door
gently after her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The newspapers of the following evening contained a sensational item of
news, headed “Suicide of an M.P.’s wife.” It ran as follows:—

“Mrs. Elworthy, wife of Mr. Harold Elworthy, M.P., of Brook Street,
Grosvenor Square, was discovered dead in her dressing-room this morning.
A small bottle containing arsenic was found at her side, together with
a letter which leaves no doubt that she committed suicide. The contents
of the letter have not been made public, but it is rumoured that the
confession is of a very remarkable character.”

An inquest was held, and a verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane”
returned. Immediately following this came the announcement that the
member for North-west Huntingdon had accepted the stewardship of the
Chiltern Hundreds and gone abroad, accompanied by his daughter Wanda.
They have never returned.



CHAPTER XV.

THE TZAR’S SPY.


A chaos of terrible recollections bewilders me. I have the sense of
having trodden a stony highway during long years, but have now taken my
last step for the present in the blood-spotted pathway to Revolution.

The windows at the rear of the Château de Trélatête, a quaint old-world
place, near the high road from St. Germain to Paris, look out upon a
wide, well-kept lawn, flanked by dark yew hedges, and backed by the
winding Seine, on the opposite bank of which a sparsely timbered slope
leads up to a small farm. Zigzag up this slope runs a path—probably it
has so run for centuries, for at the foot of it is a ford across a small
stream—which in spring is almost invisible, but in autumn is brown and
rutty.

Two men strolled down this path one September evening not long ago.
One, a young fellow under thirty, fair-haired and pink-cheeked, was
something of a fop, while the other was a tall man, about fifty-five,
of military bearing, with a pair of keen eyes, sharply cut features,
and hair and moustache turning grey. Attired in a rather shabby velvet
coat and gaiters, he looked like a gamekeeper, but was, in fact, General
Martianoff, late Governor of Mstislavl, and now Chief of the Russian
Secret Police in Paris.

“I really can’t make you out, Gaston,” he said, as they sighted the
Château; and, shifting his gun to the other shoulder, he took occasion to
glance searchingly at his companion. “How confoundedly glum you are!”

The younger man laughed, but not very merrily, and there was a touch of
sullenness in his tone as he answered—

“How absurd! A man cannot be always grinning.”

“No; but _pâté de foie gras_ is not man’s ordinary meat,” retorted the
General imperturbably. “My dear Guéneau.”

“Well?” said the other snappishly.

“You are in a mess; that is my opinion! Now, take my advice, and make a
clean breast of the matter. You have some tie or other which weighs upon
your mind and of which we are ignorant.”

The young man turned his face to his companion, and General Martianoff,
albeit a very cool personage, was taken aback by the change which anger
or some other emotion had worked in it. Even Gaston Guéneau’s voice was
altered.

“And what if I have?” he asked hoarsely, stopping short so suddenly that
the pair confronted one another. “What if I have, m’sieur?”

The chief spy twirled his moustache thoughtfully.

“Well,” he said, outwardly unmoved, “you must break it—get rid of it.
That is all, Guéneau.”

“And if I am unable?”

“Unwilling, you mean.”

“No, cannot, cannot!” declared the younger man with vehemence.

“But you must. You hear! you must! Otherwise it will be your ruin.”

“Bah! Don’t talk like that. Come with me to the Château?”

“No!” answered the General violently. And without more, without a word of
farewell, he turned his back and strode away through the long grass to a
point half a mile higher up the river, where a wooden bridge gave access
to the station of Le Pecq, whence he returned to Paris.

I had followed the pair, and overheard their conversation.

The news that M. Lozé, the Préfect of Paris Police, had called and
had a prolonged interview with the Tzar’s spy had caused considerable
excitement in the Revolutionist settlement at La Glacière. It was
anticipated that the General and the Préfect were putting their
heads together for the purpose of getting the worst-noted of the
refugees entrapped by the Russian police. In order, therefore, to
watch Martianoff’s movements closely, I had been sent to Paris with
instructions to ascertain, if possible, who were the suspected persons
and what system of espionage was being adopted.

Was it surprising that upon this brutal agent of his Imperial Majesty,
who had wrecked the careers of my sister and myself, I kept a watchful
eye? He was a ferret in human shape, and with the dozen Russian
detectives under him, he had a keen scent for Revolutionists and
criminating circumstances. Since his resignation from the governorship of
Mstislavl he had graduated at the Bureau of Secret Police in Petersburg.

He lived in the Boulevard Haussmann, at the corner of the Avenue de
Messine, where he occupied an _entresol_ which looked out into the
courtyard, leading the life of a man with an adequate income. He only had
two saddle horses, with a groom of all-work brought by him from Russia,
and he contented himself with a hired brougham. He breakfasted in his
rooms, dined at the fashionable restaurants, showed himself in the Bois
of an afternoon, at theatrical first-nights, knew all Paris—the “_tout
Paris_” of the Boulevard—and was received in a very exclusive set. Yet he
had few intimate friends, he seldom received his habitual acquaintances
at his rooms, and often absented himself for several days without saying
where he was going.

His concierge revered him, and never expressed astonishment when he saw
rather seedy-looking people climb the stairs leading to the apartments
of this rich and respectable tenant. General Martianoff made a show
of philanthropy, and, according to the hall-porter, his reputation
as a charitable gentleman exposed him to the visits of needy-looking
individuals.

I did not return to Paris by the same train as the spy, but lingered in
order to make inquiries regarding the companion he had so unceremoniously
quitted. With that object I remained at a small _estaminet_ on the road
which runs through the Bois de Vésinet to Montesson, chatting to an old
wood-cutter, and eliciting some facts regarding the Guéneau family.
The Château belonged to Count Jules Guéneau, a wealthy old gentleman,
who, according to the wood-cutter’s statement, had held important
Government offices under the Empire, but who was now on the verge of
senile imbecility, and lived in seclusion with his son Gaston. The latter
had travelled a great deal, and had quite recently settled down at the
Château, at the old Count’s request.

The sun had set, and it was growing dusk as I left the _estaminet_. I
had just emerged from the wood and turned into the high-road when I
perceived, about a hundred paces from me, a figure rapidly approaching.
I slipped behind a tree and watched its progress. It was that of a tall,
slender girl, exquisitely graceful, with rounded throat and arms, her
dark, wavy hair drawn back from her brow, a flawless complexion, and
handsome brown eyes. As she passed I recognised her as Natalya Lebedeff,
daughter of a prominent member of our Organisation, who, about four years
before, had fled from Russia and taken refuge in Paris, where he now kept
a tobacconist’s in the Rue d’Amsterdam, close to the St. Lazare terminus.

The road that she followed was bordered with oak-trees and quickset
hedges. I walked after her cautiously, for I was curious to know what had
brought her to St. Germain.

After making several turns, the road sloped gently towards a stone bridge
thrown across the small stream. Close by was a hamlet built upon the
side of a hill, and surrounded by walnut-trees, while the green waters,
bubbling over the pebbles that formed its bed, rushed onwards towards the
Seine.

Upon the bridge stood Gaston, and she moved directly towards him.

When they met she did not take the hand he offered. Withdrawing it
quickly, he said, “You are right, Natalya, I am a villain!” The words
seemed to come from his inmost heart. Then he continued, “Spurn me from
you, as I deserve. I scarcely expected that you would come from Paris to
keep the appointment. Here are the papers; do what you please with them.”

As he finished speaking she shook her head.

“I have forgiven all,” the girl said. Eagerly seizing the papers, and
folding them small, she placed them in the pocket of her dress.

She shivered slightly as they walked together. The path they entered
followed the course of the stream and led down to the river. They were
silent, absorbed in thought. One seemed filled with grief, remorse, and
expectation; the other felt her destiny weighing heavily upon her, and
thought she heard within the woods the agitated beating of a heart which
was kept in motion only by its fears.

From my hiding-place I watched them disappear in the fast-falling gloom;
then I turned and hurried to Le Pecq, where I arrived just in time to
catch a train for Paris.

An hour later, while walking down the Rue de Monceau on my way to my
unpretentious hotel in the Rue de Lisbonne, I passed General Martianoff.
He was in evening dress, and walking away from the house in which he
lived, evidently on his way to dine.

Then a thought suddenly occurred to me, and, after a moment’s hesitation,
I turned down the Avenue de Messine to the corner house on the boulevard.

Ascending the stairs unnoticed by the sleepy concierge, I knocked at the
door of the General’s apartments. Replying to my inquiry in Russian, the
man-servant, a thin, cadaverous-looking fellow, informed me that his
Excellency was out, and his return was uncertain.

“But I have to see him upon official business,” I said, at the same time
slipping a ten-franc piece into his ready palm. “Show me to his room, and
I will wait.”

Conducting me along the hall, he showed me into a large well-furnished
room, the two windows of which looked out upon the boulevard. The heavy
curtains were drawn, a large brass lamp burned brightly under a shade of
crimson silk, and the spacious saddle-bag armchairs gave the apartment an
air of cosiness. It was half library, half sitting-room, and the littered
writing-table that stood in a recess near the fireplace showed that the
ex-Governor had considerable correspondence.

It was to ascertain the nature of his communications that I had ventured
into the spy’s sanctum. When the servant had withdrawn and closed the
door, I immediately commenced my investigations. Rapidly glancing at
the open letters and memoranda, I saw they related to various persons
suspected of Nihilism, resident in Paris.

Presently I took up a large folded blue paper and opened it. The document
revealed how closely Russian suspects were being watched. It was the
report of a Secret Police agent who had been told off to keep observation
upon Israel Lebedeff, the father of Natalya. In order that my readers
may fully understand the manner in which the “Security Section” carries
out its system of espionage, I give the following copy of the printed
questions:—

    IMPERIAL POLICE DEPARTMENT.

    THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO BE FILLED IN WEEKLY:—

    1. What is the Christian name, paternal name, and family name
    of the person under observation?

    2. Where is his (or her) residence? In what district, street,
    and house? What is the number of the room? How many rooms?

    3. Where did you first see him, and under what circumstances?
    Has he seen you?

    4. How long has he resided at his present address? Whence did
    he come? Give particulars of his last place of residence.

    5. Does he live alone, or with some one? In the latter case
    with whom? State particulars of such person.

    6. Has he any servants? If so, what are their names? If not,
    who looks after his room, or rooms? What things has he in
    his rooms? To whom is his dirty linen sent? State name and
    residence of his laundress?

    7. Does he have his meals at home, or elsewhere? In the latter
    case, where?

    8. Does he visit any library, and if so, which one? State what
    books he has borrowed in the course of the week.

    9. At what o’clock does he leave his rooms, and when does he
    return?

    10. How does he spend his time at home?

    11. Has he a wife, or children? If the latter, how many?

    12. Is he paying attention to any woman? If so, who is she and
    where does she live? Where do they meet?

    13. Who has visited him in the course of the week? At what
    times? a.m. or p.m.?

    14. Has any one (male or female) spent the night in his rooms?
    If so, what person or persons? Their residence?

    15. Has he ever been in a state of intoxication?

    16. Does he receive letters or papers from Russia?

    17. What hour is best for his arrest?

All these questions were answered with a minuteness of detail that was
astounding, the document being signed by the officer of surveillance,
and countersigned by General Martianoff. Absorbed in the perusal of the
report, I did not notice the presence of the servant, who had entered
stealthily, and suddenly stood before me, causing me to start and replace
the paper hurriedly.

“Anton Prèhznev,” he said, “you had better leave before the General
returns.”

“You know me?” I gasped in bewilderment.

For answer he smiled, and gave me the sign of our Order.

“How came you in the spy’s service?” I asked. “What is your name?”

“I’m Paul Shiryàlov. The General engaged me as his servant when he
visited Petersburg last year.”

“You know the contents of the papers brought here by the spies?”

“I make copies of them all and forward them to the Petersburg Circle.”

“Has Lebedeff been warned?”

“Yes. He has sold his business, and is arranging to leave Paris for
London.”

“And what of Natalya, his daughter?”

“Hark!—the General has returned. Quick!”

He almost dragged me through a door which led into an adjoining room,
whence I passed out upon the staircase.

I hurried downstairs, and a few moments afterwards was walking along the
Rue de la Pepinière towards my hotel.

       *       *       *       *       *

A loud knocking at the door of my bedroom and a voice demanding
admittance aroused me.

When I unlocked the door, Paramòn Pouzàtov, a refugee, rushed in.

“They have arrested Lebedeff!” he exclaimed breathlessly. “Last night
four _sergents de ville_ went to the house, searched, and discovered
some bombs in course of manufacture and some literature from the secret
press. He was arrested and taken to the Prefecture.”

“But he was warned in time to escape,” I said.

“Yes, but he is now in their grip.”

“Where is Natalya?”

“She went out yesterday afternoon, and has not yet returned.”

“Very well,” I said. “But we must secure his release at all hazards.”

Paramòn seated himself and chatted to me while I dressed. It puzzled me
that the Paris police should have found explosives on the tobacconist’s
premises, especially after the ample warning that Shiryàlov had given.

Several days passed. Lebedeff was detained for inquiries, and nothing had
been heard of Natalya. Although our Organisation exerted every effort to
trace the girl, no clue to her whereabouts could be discovered. She had
mysteriously disappeared, and we were seriously handicapped in our search
by the fact that it was not considered wise policy to inquire of Gaston
Guéneau, as he evidently had some secret understanding with General
Martianoff.

One morning, a fortnight after Lebedeff’s arrest, I was present at the
Correctional Court of the Seine, when he was charged with being in the
possession of explosives, contrary to the Code. Evidence was given by
several detectives, while Martianoff, disguised as an honest-looking
workman, stood at the rear of the Court watching the proceedings.

When the evidence regarding the bombs was complete the Public Prosecutor
made an application. He stated that the prisoner had been identified by
police agents from Petersburg as one who was “wanted” in that city in
connection with the laying of a mine of dynamite under the Norwinski
Strasse, in order to make an attempt upon the life of the Tzar. Further
evidence was then given by an _attaché_ of the Russian Embassy and two
agents of the Secret Police, the prisoner eventually being formally
committed for extradition to Russia.

I left the court with a conviction that the escape of my compatriot was
hopeless, and that Siberian hard labour would inevitably be his sentence.

While walking along the Boulevard des Italiens, immersed in my own
thoughts, Paramòn Pouzàtov accosted me, and dragged me into a quiet café.

“Look,” he exclaimed in a low tone, producing from his pocket a soiled
and crumpled copy of that day’s _Gaulois_; “Read that!” and he pointed to
a paragraph.

The few lines were as follows:—

“Last night a bargeman, named Hovelacque, while steering his craft on
the Seine near Croissy, noticed a dark object floating in the water.
He grappled it with his boat-hook, and when he drew it on board was
horrified to find that it was the body of a well-dressed young girl.
Nothing was found upon her whereby her identity could be established, and
the body was conveyed to the Morgue.”

“Well?” I said, interrogatively, after I had read it.

“Do you think it can be Natalya Lebedeff?”

“Ah!” I ejaculated, suddenly recollecting her mysterious disappearance.
“We will go to the Morgue and ascertain.”

We at once left the Boulevard and proceeded to the house of the dead
behind Notre Dame.

It needed not a second glance at the rigid body lying upon its cold slate
slab to tell that Pouzàtov’s surmise was correct. The body was that of
the pretty Natalya. Instantly my thoughts reverted to Gaston Guéneau.
Could he be her murderer?

Half an hour afterwards I called at General Martianoff’s, when Shiryàlov
handed me secretly a sheet of paper folded small, which I quickly
transferred to my pocket. It was a detailed account of the movements of
the Chief of Secret Police during the last twenty-four hours.

At midnight the prominent members of the Circle of Paris met at a house
in La Glacière. I produced reports and papers which conclusively showed
that General Martianoff was the head of the Russian spies in the French
capital, and Shiryàlov, who also attended, made a statement. The
manner in which Lebedeff had been watched, arrested, and sent back to
Petersburg had aroused the ire and hatred of every man present, and it
was unanimously agreed that the ex-Governor of Mstislavl, being a sworn
enemy of Russian freedom, should be sentenced to death.

The president of the Tribunal then took a number of pieces of paper,
and upon one sketched roughly the death-emblem of our Order. The papers
were then folded carefully, placed in a box, and every man drew one. The
drawing was carried on in silence. The one to whose lot it fell to strike
the fatal blow made no sign, and none in that assembly were aware who had
been selected to carry out the sentence. Silence is always preserved in
such cases in order to ensure absolute secrecy, and to give the murderer
a better chance of evading the police.

That night, as Shiryàlov and I were returning to Paris together, I
noticed he appeared thoughtful and morose, and asked the reason.

“I must leave the General’s service to-morrow,” he replied. “There is an
urgent reason that I should do so.”

“Could I not apply for the situation?” I suggested, as a scheme suddenly
entered my mind.

“Yes, why not?” he said, brightening. “You could then continue watching.”

“Very well,” I replied. “Give notice to-night, and I will apply at
mid-day to-morrow. I already have a recommendation as a valet and
trustworthy servant,” I added, laughing.

“Who from?”

“A Captain of Cossacks with whom I travelled a few years ago.”

Then he smiled and once more assumed his usual gaiety.

A week afterwards I was duly installed as valet to the General, while
Shiryàlov had been engaged as messenger to the Franco-Russian Club in the
Rue Royale. My work was not particularly heavy, for the chief _mouchard_
was out for greater part of each day, which gave me opportunities for
investigating and making copies of the reports of espionage that arrived
daily from male and female secret agents.

One morning, about three weeks after the meeting of the Circle at
La Glacière, I chanced to take up a paper, and my eyes fell upon a
telegram from Petersburg, stating that Israel Lebedeff had been tried by
court-martial, found guilty of an attempt upon the life of the Emperor,
and had been sentenced to hard labour for life in Siberia.

Soon afterwards the door bell rang, and I admitted a short, stout,
shabbily attired Frenchman, who, without addressing me, walked straight
through to the room in which the General was sitting, closing the door
after him.

The fact that he had a newspaper in his hand aroused my curiosity, and
by placing my ear at the keyhole I was enabled to catch part of the
conversation.

“Ah! So they found him guilty, eh?” I heard the General exclaim. “Well,
we shall be commended by his Majesty for our shrewdness.”

“Shrewdness!” observed the visitor, with a hollow laugh. “True, we may
call it so, but _entre nous_, I do not like the aspect affairs might
assume if all the facts were known.”

“What do you mean? One Nihilist, more or less, surely cannot matter!”

“The arrest was made at the cost of the girl Natalya’s life.”

“She committed suicide,” replied the Tzar’s agent quickly. “And what is
more, her body has been buried without identification.”

“She did not commit suicide,” said the detective calmly. “She was
murdered!”

“How are you aware of that?”

“The spies of the Secret Police are everywhere. One was present when she
was flung into the river—it was I.”

“Hush! speak lower,” urged the General. “My servant might overhear.”
Then he added: “Listen, and I will prove to you that our action was
justifiable. Gaston Guéneau, who was an _attaché_ at Petersburg, and
whose father owns the Château, was likely to be of service to Russia, and
for that reason I carefully courted his companionship. I was not long in
discovering that he entertained Nihilistic views, and that he was an old
friend of Lebedeff’s. Gaston and Natalya, although not lovers, frequently
met clandestinely in the interests of the revolutionary movement.
Natalya, by some unaccountable means, discovered that I was connected
with the Imperial Police, and on informing Gaston, prevailed upon him to
steal some papers relating to our investigations regarding her father.
He called upon me one day, and I was incautious enough to leave him here
alone for a few moments, during which time he purloined a most important
letter, one, that if ever produced, would be most damning evidence
against us, and probably cause our expulsion from France. It exposed our
little plot against Lebedeff, and explained the manner in which the bombs
were to be introduced into his house. Of course, you quite understand
that the Bureau at Petersburg was growing impatient, and we were bound to
arrest some one.”

“One Nihilist is as good as another, providing you can fasten a
conspiracy upon him, eh?” remarked the visitor with sarcasm.

“Just so,” continued Martianoff. “When I found the letter was missing, I
had strict watch kept upon both Guéneau and the girl, by which means I
discovered that he handed her the papers without reading them himself,
for she had asked him not to do so. It was clear that, when she read
them, she would place her father upon his guard, and there was also
a possibility of us being caught like rats in a trap. Hence it was
imperative, both for the success of our plans and the prestige of the
Imperial Police, that we should secure her silence. There was but one way
to do this—death! I returned to St. Germain that night——”

“I know the rest,” interrupted the spy; “I followed you, thinking you
might require assistance. You met the girl on the river bank, after she
had left Gaston, and having taken the papers from her pocket, gripped her
by the throat and threw her into the river.”

“Bah! she was only a Jewess,” said Martianoff unconcernedly. “Had she
escaped she would have probably taken the papers to one of the Socialist
Deputies, an interpellation would have been made in the Chamber, and the
letter produced. With what result? Disaster, disgrace, and public opinion
so strong against us that we should be compelled to quit France.”

“Instead of which we shall receive commendation, and perhaps decoration,
from the Tzar,” observed the Frenchman. “Ah! you were right, M’sieur le
Général. You are always right. His Majesty should, indeed, be gratified
at possessing such a diplomatic agent as yourself. The murder shall not
be mentioned again between us.”

At that moment there were sounds as of some one walking across the room,
therefore I left the door abruptly and consequently heard no more.

After the departure of the stout Frenchman I was sent to deliver a
letter in the Avenue de l’Opéra, and after an absence of half an hour
returned and continued my work in my own room.

Scarcely had I resumed when the door-bell again rang. Opening it, I was
confronted by Paul Shiryàlov, who held a letter in his hand.

“An invitation to a ball at the Franco-Russian Club; to be delivered
personally,” he whispered significantly, as he passed me and entered the
General’s room unannounced. There was nothing unusual in this, for he
frequently brought messages, therefore I returned to my work of dusting
books.

A moment later, however, I heard a low exclamation of surprise, followed
by a peculiar noise as if some heavy article had fallen upon the floor,
and I saw Shiryàlov, with pale, affrighted face, hurrying out.

I rushed into Martianoff’s room to ascertain what had happened, but at
first saw nothing unusual. On the opposite side of the writing-table,
however, a horrifying sight met my gaze.

Lying upon the rug before the fireplace was the General. Blood was upon
his hands, and a brief examination showed that he had been shot in the
breast with a revolver. He was still breathing, and as I lifted his head
upon my arm he gasped the one word in Russian, “Revenge!”

The respiration immediately became fainter, and in a few seconds he died.

The chief spy had been assassinated. His papers were in disorder, and
the fact that a bureau had been broken open showed that the murderer had
searched for something he particularly desired.

I quickly summoned medical aid, and was afterwards closely examined by
the _juge d’instruction_, but as I kept Shiryàlov’s identity a secret,
and could throw no light upon the mysterious crime, I was set at liberty.

The tragedy created a great sensation throughout Paris, especially when
it became known that General Martianoff, who was popular in society and
supposed to be a retired officer possessed of ample means, was in reality
Chief of the French Section of Secret Police. The funeral took place at
Père Lachaise a week afterwards, but neither the _mouchards_ of M. Goron
nor the spies of the Tzar discovered the murderer.

Information by some means, however, reached the police that Shiryàlov had
not returned to the club in the Rue Royale. He was at once suspected,
especially when it was discovered that immediately after the murder
he had left for Brussels. But the far-reaching influence of Nihilism
had already been set in motion, and although the police of Europe were
watching for the fugitive, yet they were baffled at every turn. He
moved from place to place with an alacrity almost incredible. Secret
information we received showed that after leaving Paris he fled to Namur,
thence to Brussels, Antwerp, London, Palermo, Malta, and Gibraltar.
While at the latter place he became despondent, and a fiasco nearly
resulted. So rapidly had he travelled that the money collected for him
in Geneva and London did not reach him, consequently he found himself at
the “Rock” penniless and starving. In this condition he was walking the
streets and had determined to give himself up to the English authorities,
when a delegate from the Paris Circle found him, and supplied him with
funds, by which he was enabled to sail for America.

For several months nothing further was heard of him, although a member of
the La Glacière colony, who was connected with the Havas Press Agency,
from time to time circulated reports as to the movements of the fugitive,
in order to place the police on false scents.

One morning, however, the papers published what appeared to be an
authentic account of Shiryàlov’s suicide, which had taken place in a
remote village in Texas. The pistol with which he had shot himself bore
the name of a well-known Paris politician, who was known to have aided
the criminal in his flight. Photographs that were afterwards forwarded
to France were those of Shiryàlov. Moreover, some of the lists of
Revolutionists resident in the French capital, which were abstracted
from the spy’s bureau, were found upon the body, together with a written
confession of the crime.

No doubt was therefore entertained by the police as to the suicide’s
identity, and the search for the assassin was consequently relinquished.

       *       *       *       *       *

One winter’s afternoon several months afterwards, I was sitting at home,
in London, when I received an unexpected visit from Mascha.

“Congratulate me, Anton,” she said gaily, after we had exchanged warm
greetings. “I have married!”

“Married!” I ejaculated.

“Yes, our wedding took place in Paris yesterday. Although you know my
husband by sight, you have never spoken to him.”

“What’s his name?”

“Gaston Guéneau.”

“The son of Count Jules Guéneau?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes,” she replied, laughing. “I knew him when he was an _attaché_ at the
French Embassy at Petersburg, and although after poor Ivan’s death we
became engaged, we resolved to keep the matter a secret. He joined our
Circle, but his revolutionary tendency was discovered by the police, and
he was recalled to France. In one of his letters he told me that he had
become friendly with a General Martianoff. Knowing that our enemy, the
ex-Governor of Mstislavl, was in the service of the ‘Third Section,’ I
suspected that he was being drawn into the cleverly-woven web. Therefore
I proceeded to Paris in order to keep watch upon the spy, and warn
Gaston against him. I had no idea that you were engaged in the same
matter, or that you had discovered who murdered Natalya Lebedeff until
one day, quite recently, when they were talking of it at a meeting at La
Glacière.”

“But you were aware that Shiryàlov had killed the General?”

“Ah! there, even you are mistaken,” she said, with a smile. “Paul was
innocent.”

“How can that be?” I asked. “I was present when he entered the room, and
when he left the house after the assassination.”

“Exactly. But although he sought the spy intending to carry out the
sentence of death that had been passed, he did not commit the deed.
It was through me that the tyrant of Mstislavl was killed. On the
night previous to the tragedy I was with Paramòn Pouzàtov who, as you
know, was one of my admirers. I related to him the story of my life at
Mstislavl, and the brutal treatment you and I had received at the hands
of Martianoff. My description of his brutality, coupled with the vile
conspiracy against Lebedeff, so incensed him that he swore he would
remove the Tzar’s chief spy with his own hand. I did not regard his
words seriously, but on the following morning, while I was waiting in
the Boulevard in order to follow Martianoff when he emerged from his
house, he approached me. He was wild-looking and haggard-eyed. ‘I have
killed him!’ he whispered, at the same time handing me some papers. Then
he hurried along the Boulevard and was quickly lost to view. The next I
heard was that Shiryàlov was suspected.”

“But Paul fled to America.”

“True. But only in order to baffle the police. He has not committed
suicide, for I have here a letter which he wrote from New York to my
husband only a week ago.”

I took the note and read it. There was no doubt it was from him, for I
recognised the handwriting.

Subsequent inquiries I made fully confirmed Mascha’s solution of the
mystery. It had fallen to Paul Shiryàlov’s lot to encompass the death of
General Martianoff, but prompted by vengeance Pouzàtov—one of the most
desperate of the Terrorists—had entered the room and assassinated the
Chief of Secret Police while I was absent delivering the letter in the
Avenue de l’Opéra.

After Shiryàlov had made good his escape, and Pouzàtov considered himself
secure, he pressed Mascha to marry him. But she refused, and kept her
promise to Gaston.

Count Guéneau having died, she now lives happily at the Château with her
husband. Both are still enthusiastic and sanguine as to the ultimate
success of the struggle for freedom, and being possessed of an ample
fortune, contribute generously to the Revolutionary Fund.

The Terrorists are now pausing. They believe that the ravages caused by
recent famines in Russia can never be repaired. The vast Empire of the
Tzar has now no alternative but to resign herself and gradually sink to
the position of a decaying power like Turkey, or to throw open her gates
to European progress, that goes hand in hand with freedom. At present
there is no corner in the Russian Empire where the _moujik_ is not
moaning. In the fields and along the highways, in prisons and dungeons,
at the mines in shackles of iron, by the side of hayricks and empty
barns, under the waggons and on the steppes, the air is everywhere filled
with groaning—groaning in hovels, cursing even the sunlight, groaning
before the palaces of justice, and buffeted at the entrance of garish
mansions, groaning alike in town and village, the wretched _moujik_ is
even ready to rise and strike a desperate blow for liberty. Sounds of woe
float over the mighty Russian rivers from Archangel to the Caspian. They
call it a song, the chant of the _bourlaki_ (workmen) dragging the boats
along, but alas! it is the sorrowful dirge of an endless agony.

Until the new era dawns—as it certainly must ere long—the Great White
Terror will continue its deadly combat with the cruel and despotic
Autocracy; its Damoclean force becoming even stronger and more
irresistible, until it brings another disaster upon the House of the
Romanoffs that will startle the world. Then a time will follow like that
under Ivan the Terrible. When the day will come no man knows; but none
the less sooner or later—and perhaps the time is not far distant—the
people will shake their limbs, and Russia will tremble to her very
foundations. The people who vainly awaited liberation at the hands of
their rulers will then free themselves. They will demand an eye for an
eye, a tooth for a tooth. The sins of the past will be visited on the
guilty with all the horrors to which the oppressed in time past have been
subjected by them. Then the Polish revolution will be mere child’s play
in comparison with the great drama on the day of vengeance, and that such
a day will surely come is inevitable.

The Russian people will judge who insulted them, who mistrusted them, who
enslaved them, who spilt their blood. They will act in the manner of the
French nation, and amid the ruins of wrecked palaces and the _débris_ of
a fallen dynasty, the condemned torturers will cry for mercy. The burning
scene at Moscow will be repeated on a larger scale, not for the purpose
of killing French soldiery, but of serving as a beacon fire to proclaim
to Russians the Day of Redemption.


UNWIN BROTHERS, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON.



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