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Title: Exit a Dictator
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
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eBook No.: 1201791.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: April 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Exit a Dictator
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

*

First Printed October 1939

*

All the characters in this book are entirely imaginary and have no
relation to any living person.

*



CHAPTER ONE


On her first night out, the boat steamed full into the tail-end of a
storm, and there was no doubt about it that she developed a very marked
and uncomfortable roll. Neither was there any doubt about the result of
this unusual motion upon Nicolas Grodin, occupying Suite de Luxe Number
Seven. He became very violently seasick, to his own great discomfort and
to the mild annoyance of his fellow-traveller, Joseph Likinski, who acted
frequently as his secretary and at all times as his political confidant.
Nicolas Grodin, although he may have been a brave man under ordinary
circumstances, bore this affliction badly. He lay upon his bed uttering
moans of agony interspersed with outpourings of blasphemy in a language
which no one but his companion understood.

"He do seem bad, don't he?" the steward, whom the latter had summoned,
remarked. "I can't say that I know what he says but it sounds horrible."

Joseph Likinski coughed.

"Amongst other things," he confided, "he is demanding, a doctor. I
think," he added, opening the cabin door, "I had better go and fetch
him."...

The doctor had been called away for a moment and Likinski seated himself
in the consultant's chair and waited for him. He was a thin,
sallow-complexioned man of diminutive stature, who would have been
insignificant but for his somewhat prominent forehead, his keen,
ferret-like eyes, his thin lips and calculating mouth. As was his habit,
he spent the period of his waiting in taking keen note of his
surroundings. The doctor had evidently disappeared _in_ a hurry, for
his cupboard door stood open and three rows of drugs of various sorts
were displayed. Glancing at them idly at first, Likinski's long, scraggy
neck was suddenly extended. His under-lip fell. He leaned forward in his
chair. He stared at one particular bottle in the corner of the bottom
shelf and his little eyes danced with something which was almost
excitement.

"God!" he muttered. "It cannot be--"

He raised himself slowly to his feet and then sat down again. The doctor
had suddenly made his way from the inner room and was looking inquiringly
at him. He was a sandy-haired, middle-aged man with a pleasant voice but
tired lines around, his mouth and eyes.

"What can I do for you, sir?" he asked briefly.

"It is on behalf of my fellow-passenger--Nicolas Grodin--that I have
come," Likinski explained. "He is suffering violently from seasickness. I
wonder whether you could make me up a draught of some sort?"

"Certainly," the doctor answered. "I will give you something harmless
that will probably stop the vomiting at once."

He moved towards the cupboard. Likinski leaned a little forward in his
chair.

"You do not happen, I suppose, doctor," he inquired nervously, "to have
any of this marvellous new drug--_Texacon_--on board?"

The doctor turned suddenly around. He was obviously surprised.

"_Texacon_?" he repeated. "If I had any I shouldn't part with it.
What do you know about Texacon?"

"I have taken a medical degree," Likinski confided. "I spent some years
lately in the laboratory of an analytical chemist."

"Then you must know that you can't fool about with an undiluted drug like
that," was the doctor's curt comment.

"I should not dream of using it undiluted," Likinski replied. "I have a
medicine chest of my own on board and I should mix a drop or two of it
with some other drugs I possess."

"I have half a dozen remedies for seasickness here," the doctor said,
"and I will come and see your friend, if you like, but the small quantity
of _Texacon_ which I do possess does not belong to me and none of it
leaves this surgery. I will make you up something that will stop the
sickness and I will give you some drops to make him sleep which can be
taken at the same time."

"Very good, doctor, if you will not part with just a phial of the
_Texacon_," Likinski sighed.

"Not on your life, I won't," was the emphatic reply. "What country are
you from, might I ask, sir, that you know about that particular drug? I
should have said that there were only two laboratories in the world where
the real stuff could be found."

"It does not matter," Likinski answered. "Give me the draught, please,
and the drops. I will not worry you any more."

The doctor disappeared for a moment and returned with two small bottles.
He handed them over to his caller.

"Five drops is the limit, mind," he enjoined. "Repeat in a couple of
hours' time, if necessary. The draught you can give him at once. If he
goes to sleep after that, I shouldn't give him the drops."

"Number Seven de Luxe is the cabin," Likinski confided as he took his
leave. "My name is Joseph Likinski and my friend's is Nicolas Grodin."

The doctor nodded.

"I will come and see him if it is necessary," he promised.

Likinski made his way back to the cabin. He poured the draught down his
exhausted fellow-passenger's throat and was gratified to note a marked
improvement in the patient's condition within a few minutes.

"You feel better, Nicolas?" he asked.

"Yes, I am better," was the surly answer. "It is the worst turn I have
ever had, all the same. It is that rich food you make me eat."

Likinski smiled faintly.

"You area greedy old man," he said, "and if you were not feeling so badly
I would tell you a few things. As it is, I am not sure that your attack
was not rather a stroke of luck."

Nicolas Grodin's rejoinder, although in an obscure tongue, was obviously
blasphemous.

"Steady now," his companion checked him. "I will tell you why it was not
a bad thing that I had to go and see the doctor for you. Do you know what
he has got on his shelf there?"

"No--and I do not care."

"Yes, you do. He possesses a bottle half full of _Texacon_."

Then, for a moment, Nicolas Grodin forgot all about his seasickness.

"The drug Professor Kopoff discovered in Moscow and which we tried to get
in New York?" he asked eagerly.

"The same. It must have come from either that German laboratory or from
our own hospital. He has it all right and from what I could see, it seems
to be the real stuff."

Nicolas Grodin, who had now left off groaning, sat upright.

"Does he work alone--the doctor?"

"He does. The steerage and tourist class have two doctors of their own at
the other end of the ship."

Grodin rose to his feet, poured some brandy into a glass and drank it.

"I am better," he declared. "I feel fine, Joseph. A shock like this is
good for one sometimes. You know what we were planning to do with that
stuff if we could get hold of any in New York?"

"Do I not!"

"Did you ask for some of it?"

"I did, but the doctor was not having any nonsense. He seems to know what
he has got hold of and he would not part with a drop."

"Silly fellow," Grodin murmured.

"Yes, he is that," Likinski replied with an evil chuckle, "but of course
he did not understand and I was not likely to tell him. He is not parting
with any in the ordinary way. If he really knows about it he would be a
fool if he did. All the same, it is there in an unprotected cupboard,
without even a bolt on the door And to think that our Moscow friends keep
their little stock in a certain place we know of in the innermost of
three safes!"

Nicolas Grodin heaved a ponderous sigh.

"Moscow! That seems a long way away," he added wistfully.

"A city of unforgiving men," Likinski reflected. "Even now--I wonder,
Nicolas. They have secretly confirmed your appointment as Minister to the
Court of St. James's, but tell me--if you were recalled, if you were
summoned back for a conference with the great man--could you cross the
frontier and feel light-hearted, have no fear?"

Nicolas Grodin leaned over for the brandy flask, helped himself liberally
and drank. He brushed aside Likinski's question.

"I sleep now," he announced. "To-morrow we make plans. My stomach is
tired. Somehow or other we must get hold of that bottle of
_Texacon_. Alexander is on board alone, except for that Cossack
manservant of his. We shall never have a chance like this again, Joseph."

His companion left him, turning into his own inside cabin. Long before
he closed the communicating doors, Nicolas Grodin _was_ snoring
ponderously. Likinski himself lay with his eyes wide open. He was one of
those strange mortals who had learnt to do without sleep.

* * * * *

It was a quarter to five in the morning, still pitch dark outside and a
heavy sea running, when a thin, insignificant-looking figure stole into
the passageway leading to the doctor's quarters. He was on the lee side
of the ship and through an open hatchway he caught a momentary glimpse
of the white-topped mass of turbulent waters. A few drops of spray stung
his cheeks. He bent his head and staggered on. Suddenly a light flashed
into his face. A tall figure emerged from a passage-way. Likinski
recognised the uniform at once. It was one of the night watchmen of the
ship.

"Have you lost your way, sir?" the man asked quietly.

"I do not think so," was the prompt reply. "I am on my way to the doctor.
The red light at the bottom is the surgery, is it not?"

"Anybody ill, sir?"

"My travelling companion has had two fainting fits," Likinski explained.
"He started by being violently seasick. I was down here an hour ago. The
doctor is going to give me some more drops."

"I beg your pardon, sir," the watchman said, stepping respectfully on one
side. "I just thought you might have lost your way or been one of those
sleep-walkers. The doctor's room is the end one on the right. What is the
number of your room, sir?"

"My friend and I are occupying Number Seven de Luxe," Likinski told him.

The other made a note.

"Thank you very much," he said. "Good night, sir."

Likinski passed on until he reached the door of the surgery. He halted
there with his fingers upon the handle and looked behind. The night
watchman had disappeared. There was no one else in sight. He drew a key
from the pocket of his dressing-gown. It turned easily in the lock. He
pushed the door open. A shaded light was burning from a lamp in the
ceiling, otherwise the room was in darkness. The door of the sleeping
apartment communicating was open, but secured by a hook. From the dark
gulf beyond, Likinski could hear the doctor snoring. He listened for a
moment, then he stretched out his arm towards the switch, extinguished
the ceiling light and drew from his pocket a small but powerful electric
torch. Shielding this with his hand, he stole towards the cupboard,
opened it with noiseless fingers and flashed his torch along the line of
bottles. It was there--the third from the end. Almost as his fingers
touched it he heard a sound from inside the sleeping apartment. The
snoring had ceased. There was the creak of a bedstead--a moment's
silence. Then the snoring recommenced on a slightly different note. The
doctor had turned over on his side...

Likinski extinguished the torch and waited in breathless silence. The
snoring became regular again. He felt for the bottle and took it into his
hand. His nerves were apparently in excellent order. He drew out the cork
with steady fingers, selected a small phial from a row of empty ones and
filled it to the brim from the bottle he was holding. He corked up his
phial and slipped it into his pocket, replaced the bottle and closed up
the cupboard. He permitted himself a breath of relief. He had succeeded.
It was almost impossible to detect the inch or so of lower level in the
bottle which he had returned to its place. The phial in his pocket
contained all that he needed. Cautiously he turned round towards the
door. Then like a flash the room, seemed ablaze with light. The doctor,
with tumbled hair, sleepy eyes, but angry voice, was facing him on the
threshold of his room.

"What the hell are you doing there?" he demanded.

Likinski swallowed hard. The fingers of his left hand stole into the
pocket of his dressing-gown and grasped the phial. Whatever happened, he
had no intention of parting with that. With his right hand he slipped
back the torch and in its place gripped the butt of a small revolver.
Slowly he drew it from his pocket.

"Doctor," he confessed in a muted tone, "I have taken a few drops of your
precious _Texacon_. I am going to keep it. Sooner than part with it
I shall kill you. Do not come any nearer. Think carefully. I have only
taken a small phialful. I will give you five hundred dollars cash for it
in the morning, provided you get back into bed and consider this a
nightmare. If you do that you are safe. If you move towards a bell or
towards me or call out, you are a dead man. What about it?"

Likinski, in everyday life, was a small man of undistinguished
appearance. As a semi-tragic figure, in his dressing-gown and pyjama
jacket open at the throat, with his feet emerging from worn leather
mules, his lips protruding, he was somewhat ridiculous. But the hand that
held that gun was as steady as a rock and the words which he had spat
across the room reeked of the truth. The doctor's hesitation was only
momentary.

"It's a hell of a price to pay for a small phial of an untried drug," he
said. "Get back to your room and bring me the five hundred dollars in the
morning."

Likinski moved towards the threshold. His eyes, never left the doctor,
his outstretched gun never once faltered. At the door he looked back. The
gun was still firmly held in his hand and directed with hideous
precision.

"Were you thinking of ringing the bell as I opened the door?" he asked.

"Not on your life!" the doctor assured him.

"You will return to bed?"

"I surely shall."

Likinski accepted the risk. He opened the door and closed it again
quietly. Then with the phial in his hand he put the gun well out of sight
and retraced his steps. The watchman was standing just where he had first
found him. Likinski held up the phial.

"I got my draught, you see," he pointed out.

"That's good, sir," the man replied. "Hope your friend will be better.
Good night, sir."



CHAPTER TWO


From the moment of her boarding the boat at New York, Anna Prestnoff, who
was best known to fame as a scene painter and dress designer to the
Russian ballet, performances of which had been occupying the boards of a
prominent New York theatre for the last two months, found herself exposed
to the whole gamut of more or less courteous devices adopted by the
travelling male of amorous proclivities towards making her acquaintance.
Cosmopolitan though she was, she had ideas of her own on this subject and
set herself sedulously to the task of proving to as many of the other sex
as ventured in her direction how obnoxious a really agreeable girl can
make herself when harried into a defensive frame of mind. The task,
however, apart from being somewhat exhausting, had its disadvantages. A
table alone in the saloon meant an uncomfortable and ill-served locality.
Absence from the bar smoke-room entailed lukewarm cocktails on deck, and
Anna Prestnoff had never developed a taste for lukewarm cocktails. On the
second morning of the voyage, she retired to the greater seclusion of the
boat deck prepared to renew the contest, but this time the attack upon
her solitude assumed a different shape. It was an intrusion, of course,
but of a more direct type. She heard the footsteps approaching and had
proceeded with her reading unperturbed. No use, however. The footsteps
had paused. She found herself addressed by name.

"You have chosen a pleasant corner, Anna Prestnoff. I had some difficulty
in finding you."

The voice seemed somehow familiar, but softer and more pleasant than her
memory of it. She was taken by surprise and lowering her book she looked
up. She drew a quick, startled little breath. It was surely the
impossible that had happened. She threw aside her rug and made an attempt
to rise to her feet. The newcomer, a tall, slim but powerfully built man
of early middle-age, pushed her gently back in her place.

"But surely--" she began, the astonishment lingering in her eyes.

"You are quite right," he interrupted, "but will you please do as I ask?
Will you remember that I am a fellow-traveller upon the boat by chance
and that my name is Mr. Alexander? You will allow me, perhaps, as a
compatriot," he went on, dragging a chair to her side and sitting down,
"to have the great pleasure of cultivating your further acquaintance."

"It will give me much happiness," she acknowledged. "There are several
things I should like to know which only you can tell me."

"Well?"

"I read in the papers that you were in New York for the purpose of
launching an American edition of the _European Review._ Were you
successful?"

"Quite. I have arranged for a simultaneous publication in New York and in
London."

"It was from you, then," she went on, "that I received those mystifying
instructions only a week ago."

"It is the truth, but please forget it," he begged. "I trust that your
recall to London has not seriously interfered with your plans."

The slight agitation of her manner had passed but something of the
surprise still lingered in her beautiful eyes.

"I am glad to go back to London," she confided. "My work in New York was
unsatisfactory."

"The ballet is an acquired taste for Anglo-Saxons," he remarked.

"New York is scarcely an Anglo-Saxon city," she reminded him, "but it
certainly showed little appreciation of my work. Even Nikoli was a
comparative failure there."

"The success or failure of the season of ballet," he observed calmly, "is
a matter of slight importance. Its establishment there was not wholly
for artistic reasons, as you know. Will you permit me?"

He drew a thin gold cigarette-case from his pocket and offered it to her.
She took out a cigarette, which she lit with his lighter.

"You will be happier in London," he went on, after a brief pause. "You
will find yourself amidst more sympathetic surroundings."

She smoked for a moment, obviously enjoying the fine quality of the
tobacco. Then she turned towards him.

"It is not, of course, to place me in more sympathetic surroundings or
for my happiness alone that I. am being sent back to London," she said.

"There are other considerations, beyond a doubt," he admitted gravely.
"They will develop in time."

The girl was silent for several minutes, then she turned slightly in her
chair, facing him more directly. "So you are really Alexander?"

He drew a small morocco leather case from his inside pocket, shook out a
visiting card and slipped it into the oblong space at the back of the
chair. She leaned over and looked at it.

"Mr. Alexander," she repeated. "Rather a curt sort of card, is it not?
Not even an address."

"Does that surprise you?" he asked. "For the last few years I have been a
vagrant. That will not last for ever."

She sighed.

"It is bad for all of us," she said. "I, too, would like a settled home.
People are getting so tired of us. Outside the ballet we seem--our
menkind especially--to have embraced all the dishonourable professions in
the world. I do not mean you, of course," she went on hastily. "Your
establishment of the _European Review_ has been a great triumph.
Some of your articles, too, have been a joy to us."

"I am not a writer by profession," he observed. "It is hard sometimes to
express oneself."

"You succeeded in doing it," she assured him. "A famous American
statesman came to one of our evening parties at the studio only a week or
so ago. We were talking about the Russian censorship--"

"We will not discuss these things in public, Anna, Prestnoff," he
interrupted. "I have written only the truth."

"Yes, but you have written it as no one else has done," she persisted
eagerly. "You have written it with moderation. If any of those who have
had the opportunity--Kerensky, Leon Trotsky and many others--had
exercised the same gift, our country would not be in the condition it is
now."

"Nevertheless," he said, "the pen is not my weapon. I could serve my
country more easily with my sword."

"For a man with brains," she declared, "that seems to me so senseless.
All fighting is brutal and uncivilised. It is worse--it is illogical."

"Illogical, I grant you," he admitted. "But man will have become a
bloodless creature when the time comes that he no longer wants to fight."

"Will you explain this to me, then," she begged. "The world has gradually
come to recognise the fact that women are equal to men so far as regards
intelligence. Supposing this were to happen--that the political
governments of the world fell into the hands of women--do you think then
that there would be any more war? Do you think that women would find no
other way to express themselves except by machine-guns and bombing
aeroplanes?"

"I am afraid that my imagination is not sufficiently elastic," he
admitted gravely enough, but with a twinkle in his eyes. "I cannot
conceive such a situation as you suggest. In any case, we are working,"
he went on, after a moment's hesitation, "for the future of our own
times. We are working to right the balance of the world without
bloodshed."

"Are you satisfied with your progress?" she asked calmly.

"We have so few means of knowing," he pointed out, "how far our progress
has gone. Would you like to make an expedition to Moscow and try to find
out?"

She shuddered.

"I should like to but I should be afraid," she confessed frankly.

The deck steward made a sudden appearance. He was breathless and his
manner was urgent.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but would you be so kind as to go down to
your cabin? You are wanted there at once."

Alexander rose to his feet.

"Who is it that wants me?" he asked.

The man hesitated.

"It is your servant, sir, who insisted that you should be sent for," he
confided.

"You will excuse me?" Alexander begged, turning to the girl.

"Of course."

She leaned forward in her chair to watch him as he hurried away. She was
finding it hard to realise that this person with the deep, pleasant voice
and easy manners with whom she had been conversing during the last ten
minutes, was indeed the shadowy, dramatic figure behind the curtain of
her life since she had been enrolled one of the workers on the
_European Review._ His movements had been shrouded all the while in
so much mystery--it was, indeed, the first time that she had ever seen
him face to face. Certain vague prejudices which she had once conceived
were already almost entirely dissipated. He carried himself, she was
forced to admit, as a man should. His head and shoulders were finely set
and there was an air of restrained vigour about his movements which
suggested strength of limb and body. She noticed that people whom he
passed looked at him with respect, that the cabin steward who accosted
him raised his cap and remained uncovered while they spoke for a few
moments. Then he disappeared and she found herself reassembling her
impressions of him with almost feverish energy.


Alexander's first sensation as he entered his cabin was one of mild
amusement. Likinski was seated bolt upright upon the edge of the only
easy chair. Towering over him stood Paul, who had very much the air of a
bulldog guarding his captive.

"What has happened?" Alexander asked simply.

"I returned from the pressing-room a few minutes ago," his servant
explained. "I found this person in possession here."

"What were you doing in my cabin?" Alexander demanded, turning towards
the intruder.

"Absolutely nothing," was the prompt reply. "Your servant is mad, as most
Cossacks are. I explained that a friend had asked me to visit him. I
understood that the number of his cabin was twenty-seven and I came here.
I was perhaps misinformed. While I was hesitating, your servant enters
and he refuses to allow me to leave."

"You permit me to speak, monsieur?" Paul inquired.

"Certainly."

"This gentleman says that he mistook the number of the cabin. For a man
who had made such a mistake his behaviour was peculiar. When I came in he
was examining the fastenings of the portholes."

"What were you doing that for?" Alexander asked curiously.

"Tell me the reason yourself; if you can," the man in the chair replied.
"What interest could I have in the portholes of your stateroom? I simply
raised myself up a little to look out, because I fancied I heard the fog
signal."

"The sun was shining," Paul observed stolidly. "Furthermore, monsieur,
the drawer of your desk was open. It was closed when I left the room a
few minutes before."

"That is a foolish thing to say," Likinski declared. "Am I likely to be a
thief?"

"Very likely indeed, I should think," Alexander remarked.

"You say that to me--a stranger!" Likinski cried angrily.

"You may be something of a stranger--although I know about you--but your
companion most certainly is not," was the calm rejoinder.

"Who, Nicolas Grodin?"

"A thoroughly bad lot," Alexander observed.

"You are in a state of ignorance," Likinski scoffed. "You talk of one
about whom you know nothing. I will let you into a secret--if it does not
appear upon to-day's news. Nicolas Grodin is at the present moment the
accredited Minister to the English Court."

"You astonish me! To think that our government should have fallen as low
as that!"

Likinski rose to his feet. He was still a little afraid, but he was also
very angry. There were points of fire in his small eyes.

"I shall not stay here to be insulted myself or to hear my friend
insulted," he declared. "My presence in your cabin--Mr. Alexander if that
is what you call yourself--was accidental. I shall now leave it."

Paul glanced towards his master. Alexander, standing with his back to the
door, was looking down at the intruder thoughtfully.

"I am wondering," he confided, "whether I ought not to insist upon
searching you first."

Likinski buttoned up his coat.

"If you lay a finger upon me," he threatened, "I shall go to the
commander and shall charge you with assault."

Alexander's smile was one of kindly indifference.

"That would be a very foolish thing to do," he said. "See that he remains
where he is, Paul, for a moment."

He strolled across to the desk, looked at the contents of the open drawer
and made a cursory examination of several of the others. He picked up a
pocket-book and glanced through it. Then he swung round.

"Nothing missing here," he admitted. "You were quite right, Paul, to send
for me. You can go now, Likinski, only listen. Do not make this mistake
again. I do not like strangers in my cabin."

Likinski seemed on the point of an outburst, but the open door was too
much for him. He made a rapid and undignified exit. Paul watched him with
an air of dissatisfaction. His master remained a little puzzled.

"You did quite right to send for me, Paul," he repeated, "but I cannot
think what on earth the fellow was after. He must know that I should
never be likely to leave any papers of importance lying about."

"He is a bad man," the servant said simply. "I do not believe that he
found his way here by accident, any more than I believe that England
would accept his master as a Minister."

"His Excellency Nicolas Grodin," Alexander murmured with a faint smile.
"It does not sound right, Paul. I almost wish I had searched the fellow."

Along the corridor-way, Likinski, hurrying to the refuge of his cabin,
was busy mopping the moisture from his forehead.



CHAPTER THREE


It was the custom of the passengers to dine early, and at eight o'clock
that evening there were barely a score of people in the smaller cocktail
bar attached to the smoke-room. Amongst them were Nicolas Grodin and
Joseph Likinski, seated together in a remote corner. Alexander, arriving
alone and unnoticed, stood for a few seconds upon the threshold glancing
around. He was not a man with whom anyone would associate the idea of
indecision, but there was about him that evening, as he lingered there
and again hesitated before an empty table, a suggestion of irresolution.
In time, however, he made up his mind. He crossed the room and approached
the table at which the two men were seated. There was something furtive
in Likinski's manner as he looked up and, recognising the newcomer,
shrank a little back into his place. The other, partially recovered from
his indisposition, a thick-set, burly man, with close-cropped black hair,
and imperial, flaccid cheeks, a heavy jowl and a determined expression
which seemed somehow out of keeping with the cruel upward curve of his
mouth, frowned as though inclined to resent the approach of a stranger.
It was he whom Alexander addressed.

"You will forgive my intrusion," he begged. "We are all three known to
one another so I will not waste time in useless introductions."

"I do not think that you know who I am," the man whom he addressed
declared.

"I could more easily forget my own personality," Alexander continued in a
calm, even tone, "than the personality of Nicolas Grodin, the budding
diplomatist, the one man in his country who is supposed to possess the
complete confidence of his master. As for you, sir," he went on, turning
to Likinski, "I will admit that I know little about you except that I
remember you as an underling at Moscow University and later as a
secretary to a statesman now leading a retired life in Mexico. You still
call yourself, I believe, Joseph Likinski."

"The immediate question, sir," Grodin suggested, "is why you have
addressed us and what it is that you have to say."

"It is a poor game that you are playing," Alexander observed. "I shall
not weary you with the repetition of my name because you know it very
well already, but this is to let you know, my friends--or perhaps I
should say my enemies--that you may have my room searched, or even my
person or my trunks in the hold. You may take out the cushions from my
automobile and cut them to pieces, you may do the same with my mattress.
You can find your way into my private apartments when we arrive at our
destination--in comprehensive words you may search, search, search, but
you will never find in my possession a single line of writing likely to
be of the slightest interest to you. Furthermore, if ever I should find
you loitering in my cabin again, taking an interest in the fastenings of
my portholes, without any fear of the consequences, I shall shoot you on
sight. Even in this centre of civilisation I shall find means to justify
myself."

"We have a madman for company on this pleasant voyage," Nicolas Grodin
declared. "It is of no import. Continue, sir, I beg of you. My friend and
I have talked enough good sense for the day. Let us listen further to
your ravings."

"Alas, I have not much more to say," Alexander concluded. "Only this,
which may perhaps interest you. I paused for a few minutes on my way here
to write a letter--a thing I seldom do--to the purser of this ship. I
have informed him of your names, of the presence of Likinski in my cabin,
and two other facts concerning you both which should be enough to set the
wireless busy for an hour or so if ever the time comes for the letter to
be opened. It is to be delivered only in the event of anything untoward
happening to me in my sleep or hours of relaxation. A whim, perhaps, the
writing of it at all, but I feel that it will make the voyage a
pleasanter one for me and I feel, too, that with the knowledge of the
price you would have to pay for expediting my departure from this world,
you will probably wait until we are on dry land."

"I myself have been called wordy," Grodin said. "You, sir, are worse. You
are prolix--you are inexplicable."

"Crazy," his companion echoed. "Without a doubt, crazy."

Alexander smiled and turned away with a farewell bow in which there was a
touch of irony.

"The letter," he assured them, "is by this time, in safe hands."

He left them both looking after him. Nicolas Grodin shook his head.

"He is hard to deal with, that one," he muttered. "He knows too much. The
trouble of it is that the authorities are always on his side. He is
powerfully protected."

"What does it matter?" Likinski asked softly, in a voice which sounded
like a whisper after his companion's throaty tone. "Some day he, too,
will make the foolish mistake that others have made. There is a lamp, my
friend, hung over the frontier of our country and sooner or later they
come to it like moths, and then--"

"And then," Grodin muttered with a cruel gleam in his eyes, "they
disappear--as he will. Fate has played us a kindly trick in this matter,
Joseph. It has given us the means of leading him towards the menacing
light. That will be your task. I would it were mine."

Likinski stroked his upper lip thoughtfully.

"It will need much manoeuvring," he said, "but I have faith in the
workings of the drug. It will be a joy to watch his will grow weaker and
weaker, to have him like a puppet obeying my directions."

Grodin glanced at the speaker and there was a. grudging respect in his
small eyes.

"I think, Joseph," he said, "you have more courage than I gave you credit
for. It is a serious task that you have chosen."

"I have faith in the drug," Likinski repeated. "To-morrow I do not think
that the great nobleman will be stalking proudly about the ship. He will
be cowering in his cabin. His poise will be broken. He will obey the
bidding of even poor Joseph Likinski. He will follow me on to the freight
steamer which sails from Southampton to Rotterdam on the day after our
arrival. He will cross Europe with me. He will come to where the lamp is
burning."

Grodin chuckled with amusement.

"You make for yourself eloquent words, Joseph," he declared. "You speak
like a prophet."


Alexander diverted his passage through the crowded dining-room and paused
before the small table at which Anna Prestnoff had just taken her place.

"I do not like the situation you have chosen," he remarked with a little
bow.

"Neither do I," she rejoined. "I did not choose it, however. It was
thrust upon me. The ship is very crowded, you see, and I dislike very
much being at a table with other people."

"If a single harmless person could be tolerated," he proposed, "it would
give me great pleasure to offer you the vacant seat at mine."

She rose to her feet without hesitation.

"You see how quickly I accept your offer."

He led the way to his own very desirable corner, installed her in his
place and took the vacant chair by her side. Anna smiled as she realised,
from the respect with which he was greeted by the chief steward and the
head waiter who came hurrying up, how little his incognito had availed
him.

"It is better, this?" he asked.

"Infinitely," she replied.

"And for me also," he assured her with a faint but very attractive smile.

The ordering of dinner, over which Anna had been hesitating, became a
simple affair--a suggestion or two from the head waiter, an amendment by
Alexander, a courteous reference to her, and the thing was arranged. They
exchanged a few commonplace remarks over their hors d'oeuvres, then he
lowered his voice slightly and leaned towards her.

"You are asking yourself a question. What is it?"

"How clever of you!" she murmured. "Well, I was really wondering why you
chose to single me out for this undeserved honour. Why, to be quite
frank, you thought it wise to let anyone on the boat who might be
interested see us on apparent terms of intimacy."

"You are old-fashioned, Anna Prestnoff," he said. "Not in your clothes or
your coiffure or your contemptuous disuse of cosmetics, but in your
outlook upon the present conditions. You think that because I am the
instigator of the _European Review_ and am known to be a serious
person devoted to the task of liberating my country, and because you have
some connection with the Russian circle in London and are a contributor
to my paper, we should remain apart."

"You should go a little further than that," she rejoined. "Part of my
work, with which you, too, are connected, is done behind the curtain of
these people's eyes. It is, in a sense, secret service, you know. Some of
them might guess at our interest."

"Precisely," he admitted, "and yet what does it matter? The modern spies,
the most successful ones, have adopted modern methods. They have their
own names printed on their visiting-cards, they patronise the popular
restaurants and they have a flair for baffling the enemy by sheer
candour."

She sipped appreciatively the _Berncastler Doctor_ which had been
poured into her glass from a tall, yellow-tinted bottle.

"An intriguing outlook," she acknowledged, "but I wonder if it is sound.
For instance, there are people in the world who know that the _European
Review_ is not only the name of a' justly famous monthly publication,
but amongst its many outside activities it controls, under your guidance,
the secret watch over Europe by means of which you who are interested
obtain your information of what is going on in Russia. It is one of the
most secret of secret associations, that. You are its chief and its
inspiration. I have the honour, and I am proud of it, to be a
contributor. There you are. That is why I wonder that I should be in this
place at your table. There are two very crafty and dangerous members of
the Russian Administration on the boat at the present moment."

His eyes twinkled.

"Crafty is the word," he admitted. "If Likinski knows that you are a
member of our inner circle it will mean nothing to him that we are here
as comrades. If he is not assured of the fact he will doubt it when he
sees us together in this fashion."

"It is a brave outlook," she said. "I like it and I am the gainer. I
subscribe to it willingly. Have you, by the by, congratulated Nicolas
Grodin upon his new appointment?"

Alexander shook his head.

"I shall neither congratulate him nor shall I believe as yet that the
authorities in Moscow have dared to send him to the English Court as a
representative of the Russian nation. I treat the appointment as a jest."

"Well, I dare say you are right," she agreed.

"At the same time," he continued, "Grodin and Likinski between them are a
dangerous pair of knaves. Likinski had the bland impertinence to rummage
about in my stateroom amongst my belongings this morning. Fortunately,
Paul caught him there. That is why I had to leave you so abruptly on the
boat deck."

"A little crude for a front-rank conspirator," she observed.

Alexander shrugged his shoulders.

"It was probably just one small piece of information he was in search
of," he remarked. "When Paul caught him, however, he was examining the
fastenings of my portholes."

She laughed musically.

"That does not seem very formidable."

"Neither is Likinski," he declared. "He is not exactly formidable. Grodin
I fear more. There is a man who might do us great harm."

"Please go on," she begged. "The more I understand the easier it is to
work."

"Grodin's appointment as Minister to England could mean only one thing,"
Alexander proceeded earnestly. "Whether the man who gave him the
appointment realises it or not, it will be Grodin's ambition to stir up
ill-will between his country and Great Britain. Personally, I think that
his outlook is a short-visaged one. He is angry because Great Britain
permits the establishment and the continuance of the _European
Review_ in its capital. It is against us that he wants to strike. I am
already taking precautions."

"Would it matter very much if we had to move to Paris?" she asked.

"Enormously," he answered. "We should be at the mercy of one of these
ever-changing governments. Besides, however much we may regret it, we
cannot conceal from ourselves that France and Russia are far nearer to
one another politically than Great Britain and Russia. Our establishment
in Paris would not be popular. I doubt whether its continuance would be
possible."

"And there is no other place from which we could work?"

"Nowhere in Europe," he answered.

"You have considered the question then?"

"I have been obliged to. There are obvious objections to every one of the
other great capitals. I have a scheme in my mind for solidifying our
position in London without alienating in any way France's
sympathies...Now I think that we have talked seriously long enough. Will
you join me in the lounge for a cigarette and coffee?"

"With great pleasure," she replied.



CHAPTER FOUR


Alexander, a man who had never known fear, lay panting upon his bed in
the early hours of the following morning, a new, unanalysable sense of
terror chilling his blood. He was breathing in short, laboured gasps, at
the back of his head was a feeling of giddiness, a strange lack of
control which he had never before in his life experienced. A sense of
terrible weakness and depression was upon him. He had an almost
overmastering impulse to close his eyes, lean back amongst his pillows
and court sleep, forgetfulness, to step out of the world of action the
nearest and the easiest way. The thing came in waves, followed by faint
reactions during which his will made frantic efforts to reassert itself.
It was during one of these that he realised what was happening and with a
mighty effort plunged into battle, a battle with himself. He sat up in
bed and turned on the light. He looked around him in amazement. All three
portholes were firmly closed. There was a slight mist in the room, a
curious sickly and yet not altogether unpleasant odour, and a faint
hissing sound in his ears. He crawled out of bed and staggered to his
feet. By the side of the lamp which he had just turned on was an ordinary
medicine bottle, from the cork' of which protruded a tube of rubber.
Something in the bottle was bubbling. Out of the end of the tube came
little spirals of the grey mist. He laid his thumb upon the bell. Almost
immediately, he felt a curious desire to withdraw it and crawl back to
bed. He set his teeth. His thumb remained rigid. In the background of his
mind he knew that there was something to be done. He began to ask himself
furiously what it was--something outside the room--something to be done
even while this nightmare laid its clammy fingers about him. A knock at
the door. He called out, although he failed to recognise his own voice.

"Come in!"

The handle was turned. The door was locked from the outside. Alexander
rose to his feet, though his knees trembled. He tightened the muscles all
through his body and moved towards the door.

"Passkey! Use passkey!"

When the steward entered he found his passenger half upon the floor
gasping.

"Open port--open port--"

The man looked around the room and grasped at any rate the obvious part
of what was happening. He hurried to the portholes, struggled with them
for a few moments, flung them open and hooked them up. A fresh breeze
swept into the room. Even with its first breath, Alexander felt relieved.
He pointed to the bottle.

"The bath," he cried. "Take the cork out of the bottle. Turn on the
water."

The steward was a man who had his wits about him. He himself was already
coughing but he gripped the bottle, flung open the bathroom door and in a
few seconds there was the sound of rushing water. He came back to find
his passenger standing up without support, a ghastly colour but steadily
breathing in the fresh air.

"What's it all about, sir?" he asked. "Someone's been fiddling about with
them portholes."

Alexander was grasping his forehead. There was something he had to do. It
was there at the back of his mind. Something--

"God!" he muttered. "Three hundred and two, steward. Hurry to number
three hundred and two."

"That's the young Russian lady's room, sir."

"Hurry! Get there quickly. Break open the door if you have to. I will
come after you as soon as I can."

The man nodded.

"You had better lie down, sir," he cried. "I'll go and see if the lady's
all right."

With a sudden access of strength, Alexander pushed past him. The two men
made their way down the corridor. A word from the steward to the night
watchman whom they found doing his accustomed promenade, and the latter
followed behind. They reached the door of three hundred and two. Even as
they stood there, Alexander fancied that he could detect that ghastly
sickly odour. The steward knocked. There was no reply. He knocked again.

"Passkey!" Alexander cried.

He himself was first in the cabin. Notwithstanding that clogged sense
which seemed to deprive him of everything except a sort of instinct, he
felt a throb of relief as he realised that Anna's ordeal had been a
shorter one than his. There was a mist in the room but only in little
spirals. She was awake, her frightened eyes staring at them as they
entered, her breath coming in quick, convulsive jerks. The steward threw
open the portholes. Alexander seized the bottle with its hissing liquid
which stood by her bedside.

"The bath," he cried, "the bath. Turn on the water."

The watchman nodded and holding the bottle gingerly in his hand
disappeared into the inner room. Alexander grasped Anna's cold hands and
held them tightly in his.

"You are all right?" he asked anxiously. "How long have you been awake?"

She shook her head.

"I do not know," she moaned. "It hurts me to breathe. Oh, the air!"

He lifted her into his arms and carried her to a porthole, staggering
unexpectedly, but recovering his strength. The wind blew through her
hair. Her breathing was instantly more regular. Her head fell back.

"Keep me here," she begged. "Hold me closer to the wind."

He obeyed, although his knees were tottering beneath him. He called to
the steward.

"Get some brandy."

The man hurried off. The girl's cold fingers were clasped round
Alexander's neck, her head moved slightly from side to side, her eyes
were half closed.

"I cannot remember what happened," she faltered. "I was asleep and when I
awoke I was stifling. There was someone closing the portholes. I tried to
call out but he was close to the switch and it was all dark."

"How long ago?" he asked.

"I do not know. Then you came--I am tired."

The steward brought the brandy. Alexander forced a little between her
lips, then he gulped some down himself.

"There is an empty stateroom opposite," the steward told them. "The
stewardess has it all prepared--hot-water bottles, anything else the
young lady would like."

"That is excellent," Alexander replied. "Lock up this stateroom as soon
as we have left it."

He carried her into the cabin across the alleyway. The stewardess threw
back the bedclothes and placed a hot-water bottle at her feet.

"The poor young lady!" she exclaimed curiously. "Has she had a shock or
something, sir?"

Alexander shook his head. He was leaning against the wall recovering his
own breath slowly. The breeze was streaming in at the open portholes. The
air of the room, fragrant with ozone, was like wine to him.

"She will soon be all right in this atmosphere," he said.

The night watchman prepared to take his leave.

"Do you wish me to report anything, sir?" he asked.

"Not yet," Alexander replied. "Wait until the morning."

The man departed and the steward followed a moment later. The stewardess
bent over her charge. Anna was looking round and there was trouble in her
now wide-open eyes.

"Please do not leave me," she whispered to Alexander.

He forced a little more brandy between her lips.

The stewardess, whose hour it was for going off duty, felt her pulse.

"The young lady is quite all right now, sir," she reported. "Is there
anything more I can do?"

"You had better stay. I shall have to remain till she goes to sleep. You
can lie down on the other bed for a time."

She breathed a sigh of resignation, folded her arms and sat in the easy
chair.

"Send her away," the girl whispered. "I do not like her being here. I
like to be alone with you. I am afraid something has happened to my
brain. I feel different. What is it?"

"Nothing that you will not easily get over," he assured her.

"You, too," she went on. "You look strange." He forced a smile.

"Never mind. We will talk about it all in the morning. Can you sleep?"

"Perhaps. If you do not go away."

Ten minutes passed. Alexander himself was desperately sleepy. He closed
his eyes and opened them with a start to find her hands holding him more
tightly and her eyes wide open.

"Send that woman away," she begged once more. "I cannot bear her here.
Please."

Her distress was manifest in her twitching features. He motioned to the
stewardess.

"You can go," he directed. "If we need you again I will ring."

She rose promptly to her feet.

"Ring the bell twice if it is urgent, sir," she enjoined. "I will come or
send my relief."

The woman departed, closing the door. The girl's eyes followed her. She
smiled when at last they were absolutely alone. Her other arm stole round
his neck.

"Lean down more," she begged. "What has happened to me, Alexander? I can
only feel that I must have you there. Do not go away."

"I will stay so long as you are afraid," he promised.

"I am not afraid now," she said. "Only I do not understand myself. I
cannot think. Do you believe anything has happened to my head?"

"Nothing that will not have passed in the morning," he assured her. "Have
you any pain?"

"None whatever. I just feel--comfortable, almost happy. You will not go?
You will not leave me here all alone?"

"Of course I will not," he promised.

"You are very cold, Alexander. You are very far away," she whispered.

"You must close your eyes," he insisted. "You must sleep, Anna Prestnoff.
Hear me tell you that, please--you must sleep."

There was a faint indication of the little pout that he had once or twice
admired. She closed her eyes but her grip upon him tightened. He looked
at the clock. It was ten minutes to four. She began to breathe more
naturally. At six o'clock he opened his eyes. He looked around the cabin
in amazement--moved a little. Her arms fell away slowly. He stood up and
looked down at her, he himself aching in every limb. She was asleep. He
rang the bell twice and opened the door softly.

"You stay with her," he told the stewardess who answered him.
"Listen--you will receive a present from me later on, but you must not
leave until you see me again or hear from me."

"I quite understand, sir," the woman said. "Mrs. Hanner told me that the
young lady had been ill. I will not leave her alone."

Alexander staggered off. He made his way back to his own room. The fresh
air was sweeping in and through the portholes there was a gleam of
sunshine. He threw himself down and slept.


He was awakened a few hours later by the steward, who brought him his
usual cup of tea. Directly he opened his eyes and looked around him he
remembered what had happened. He had no definite feeling of illness but a
deadly sense of inanition. It was a trouble to answer the man. It was
almost agony to contemplate rising. He set his teeth and fought.

"How is the young lady, James?" he asked.

"Still sleeping, sir. Mrs. Hanner went round some time ago. We thought
you might like the few drops of what was left in the bottles kept.
Anyhow, I have them in my pantry."

"Excellent. Turn on my bath and send Paul to me."

"How are you feeling yourself, sir?" the steward asked a little
curiously.

"Quite well, thank you. You need not wait."

Alexander dressed and made his way out on deck. The sky was grey and a
thin, drizzling rain was falling. He mounted to the upper deck, wrapped
his mackintosh around him and walked steadily for over an hour. When at
last he sank exhausted into a chair, he felt the blood once more warm in
his veins. There was a slight glow in his cheeks. He knew that he was
winning. He made his way into the saloon, drank some coffee and made a
light breakfast. Then, with the bottle which the steward had given him in
his hand, he presented himself at the surgery.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Alexander?" the doctor asked, rising at once
to his feet.

"Tell me the contents of this bottle," Alexander replied, handing it
over.

The doctor smelt it, moistened his finger with it and tasted it. He shook
his head.

"I am not a chemist," he confessed. "I have no means on board for making
an intricate analysis. Why do you ask me?"

"Because something which requires explanation has happened upon this
boat," was the calm reply. "May I ask if you are in possession of any
drugs, the properties of which might be described as unusual?"

The doctor's expression of polite indifference was suddenly changed. He
had the appearance of a man who had received an unexpected shock. He
stared at his visitor wonderingly.

"Good God!" he exclaimed.

Alexander waited--stonily silent. The doctor recovered himself in a few
seconds.

"I have parted with, to a passenger," he confided, "a very small quantity
of a drug I know nothing about and which has a similar odour. Here is the
remainder of the bottle."

He opened the cupboard, withdrew the bottle labelled _Texacon,_ and
handed it to his visitor. Alexander held the bottle up to the light, drew
out the cork and smelt the contents. He returned it to the doctor.

"Would you care to tell me how you came into possession of this stuff?"
he asked.

"In a somewhat curious manner," the doctor explained. "Professor Hartlow,
who is President of the Society of Analysts, Chairman of the Metropolitan
Hospital in New York, and a very famous scientist, brought this bottle on
board an hour or so before we left. It was wrapped up in a brown paper
parcel and sealed. He brought a letter of introduction from a friend even
more famous than himself and a request that I should convey it to
Southampton and hand it over to someone whose name was given. It was
explained to me that the drug was extraordinarily scarce, it had only
recently been discovered and it was likely to revolutionise certain
classes of medicine. The Society did not wish to trust it to any ordinary
method of transmission, so they asked me to put it in my surgery cupboard
and, as I have said, hand it over to someone who would be waiting for it
at Southampton."

"And you agreed?"

"Wait a moment," the doctor begged. "I agreed, but thank God, although I
was very rushed, I insisted upon putting the matter before the commander
first. We went to see him. He, of course, was terribly busy, as we were
just sailing, but he listened to what my visitor had to say and he gave
permission. He insisted upon it, however, that the parcel be unsealed and
the bottle placed with my other medicines in my cupboard. Naturally
enough, he could not countenance anything which looked in the least like
smuggling."

"It was apparently, then, only in your charge," Alexander remarked. "How
did you come to part with any?"

The doctor told his story in a few words.

"I am a married man," he concluded. "My insurance policy has just lapsed.
I have two children, and the man into whose revolver I had to look meant
business. A small phialful of the drug as against a man's life. I do not
pretend I played the part of a hero but I did what ninety-nine men out of
a hundred would have done. I accepted his offer of five hundred dollars
and he marched off with the phial."

Alexander reflected for a moment.

"I wonder how the fellow knew that you had it on board," he remarked.

"I think that I can explain that," the doctor said. "He paid me a visit
on behalf of a seasick friend and the door of my cupboard was open. He
could see the label on the bottle from where he was seated."

"Have you ever heard of a new drug," Alexander asked, "which is powerful
enough to paralyse at the same time mind and body, to destroy the human
will, and to induce a complete lack of resistance to all the ordinary
energies of life?"

"There was an article in the _Lancet_ last month," the doctor
acknowledged, "about a new drug which they said had been discovered in
the Kremlin Laboratory at Moscow."

"Well, that drug, or something very much like it, thanks to your parting
with the phial of the preparation you were taking to Southampton,"
Alexander said, "was administered last night to myself and another person
on board. I have been through the whole of the symptoms and I am still
suffering from exhaustion. My fellow-sufferer did not inhale the fumes as
long as I did and I hope her recovery, too, will be complete."

The doctor was evidently thunderstruck. He reached for his cap and
glanced at his watch.

"This is terrible news, Mr. Alexander," he declared. "I must face it out
at once. Will you come with me to the commander?"

Alexander held out his hand.

"Wait a few moments, please," he begged. "This is a serious matter and I
do not wish to act rashly. I know the man to whom you delivered the
phial, of course, and I can guess at his motive. I know the man with whom
he is travelling, also. I have been watching them ever since we started
on the voyage."

"In any case, sir," the doctor pointed out, "I feel sure you will agree
with me that it is necessary to interview the commander at once."

"That is naturally the obvious course," Alexander meditated, "but
sometimes the obvious course is not the best. So far, only the young lady
and I have been the sufferers by your action. We may decide that we would
prefer to deal with the matter in our own way."

The doctor was frankly puzzled.

"But I don't understand," he exclaimed.

"Is it necessary for you to understand?" Alexander asked gently. "You must
be content when I tell you that in dealing with this matter there are
larger issues at stake than the attempted destruction of any two human
beings. The young lady and myself are alone concerned. We may decide that
it is better to act upon our own initiative."

"But what action could you take?" the doctor protested. "You could not
even have the fellow put out of harm's way for the rest of the voyage."

"Could you?" Alexander asked shrewdly. "No one saw him put this
abominable preparation in our cabins, nor could anyone identify the drug
which you supplied to him. I cannot prevent your reporting the affair to
the commander, if you choose, but my advice would be that you leave it
alone for a few hours. Suppose you come and pay the young lady a
'professional visit?"

The doctor acquiesced with alacrity. He had steeled himself to face the
inevitable, but if there was any chance of escaping that interview with
the commander he was all for it.

"We will go round at once," he proposed.

Anna Prestnoff was still in bed when the two men were admitted to her
stateroom, but she confessed wearily that it was an intense laziness
which kept her there. She was wearing a dressing jacket negligee and had
taken her coffee. She was singularly colourless, however, and the easy
vivacity of her manner seemed temporarily to have departed. She took no
notice whatever of his companion but she held out both hands to
Alexander.

"Give me something to make me want to get up, doctor," she begged,
without even glancing in his direction, "and you, please, you must not
leave me alone like this," she went on, her fingers tightening on
Alexander's wrists. "I have had a long sleep but I am too lazy to sleep
any more. Can you understand that, doctor?"

"It is unusual," he admitted. "Forgive me."

He took her pulse and blood pressure, asked her a few questions and stood
for a moment deep in thought.

"Young lady," he pronounced, "your symptoms seem to indicate that you
have taken an overdose of some strong narcotic. I should advise you to
get up at once and go on deck. This feeling of exhaustion of which you
complain is unnatural. It would be better for you to fight it."

"Very well, I will get up presently. Do not go away, please," she begged
Alexander as he showed signs of leaving.

"I will come back soon," he promised, following the doctor out into the
passage.

"Well?" he asked.

"The symptoms are a little puzzling," the other confessed, "but there is
absolutely nothing the matter which will not pass off in a matter of
hours, I should think."

"Very well," Alexander said. "We will let the matter rest, if you please,
doctor, for the present."

"At your request, sir," the doctor assented cheerfully. "Remember, I am
perfectly willing to face the music."

"We will see about that later on. I will take the responsibility of your
silence for the moment."


Alexander returned to his place by Anna's side. She took his hands in
hers and stroked them. There was a revealing tenderness in her tone and
manner which at the same time thrilled and embarrassed him.

"I think the doctor's advice was good," he said. "You must get up, Anna
Prestnoff. I will ring for the stewardess."

"Five minutes," she begged. "I am far too exhausted to dress. Could we
not sit down here and talk for a time? Why do you look so stern? I would
like you to be a little kinder."

"I can assure you," he declared cheerfully, "I never felt more kindly
disposed towards anyone in my life. All the same, what you need and what
you are going to have, is a salt-water bath with a spray almost cold
afterwards and then a brisk walk on deck."

She shivered.

"You are being very stern with me," she complained.

"I am behaving like a sensible person," he assured her.

"I have behaved like a sensible person all my life," she went on. "Just
now I feel--"

He rang the bell for the stewardess. A shadow of the old petulant grimace
lightened and then darkened her expression.

"You should offer to be lady's maid," she suggested sleepily. "The
stewardess is so clumsy."

"I am afraid that I should be much worse. I will come down for you in
half an hour."

"And you will not leave me all the rest of the day?" she begged.

"That is hard to promise. And when you get up and walk about you will
feel differently. I must do some writing."

"I will be your secretary," she declared eagerly. "It is quite time I,
too, did some work."

The stewardess bustled in. She set the bath running and remained waiting.
Alexander slipped away and hurried to the doctor's quarters.

"For God's sake can you not give us some sort of a tonic, doctor?" he
begged. "Both the young lady and I seem to be getting a little weak in
the head."

"I cannot give you any sort of direct antidote," the other confessed as
he shook up one or two bottles and prepared a concoction, "because I have
no knowledge of the drug itself. This cannot do you harm. It ought to
give you strength to fight the inertia. Drink your dose off now."

Alexander obeyed. The doctor poured the rest of the mixture into a phial
and handed it to his patient.

"I cannot claim that it is anything very original," he continued. "The
best cure for you and the young lady is sea air, and heaps of it. Eat
whatever you feel like and alcohol won't do you any harm, but if you take
my advice you will hurry Mademoiselle up on the top deck, set her with
her face to the wind and both of you do breathing exercises for as long
as you can stick it. Perhaps I shall hear from you later in the day," he
added a little wistfully.

"I will give you a call," Alexander promised. "I do not think you need
worry unduly about this," he added with a pleasant though rather forced
smile. "We are on the fringe of a very serious matter but your personal
share in it exposes you to little blame. No man can be censured for
saving his own life."

The doctor produced a roll of notes from his pocket.

"The five hundred dollars," he explained. "They were left on my table
this morning."

Alexander waved them away.

"Put them back and forget all about it, doctor," he advised.



CHAPTER FIVE


"I am better," Anna Prestnoff declared two hours later. "I believe that I
am quite as well as you are. We have recovered. I think that we are very
fortunate."

"So do I," he assented.

She pressed his arm. They had just finished a vigorous promenade on the
boat deck and were seated side by side with the wind in their faces.

"You were so quick," she said. "You did everything so wonderfully. It was
quite an adventure--yes?"

"It might have been a very serious one."

"Just now," she confided, "I feel physically almost myself. The trembling
has left my knees. I am not so depressed, yet I feel somehow stirred up.
Something has happened to my mind. I do not know what it is. Perhaps I
have lost what they used to call my poise. Do I look any different?"

"Not at all," he declared, regarding her critically. "You are very
good-looking, Anna Prestnoff, and you know it."

She laughed musically.

"Well, if it is the drug that has made you say that," she said, "I have
something to be thankful for. You never looked at me before as though you
remembered that I was a woman and that you were a man. I think I rather
like that you should see me sometimes that way, my noble chief."

"Bad for the work," he assured her laconically.

"What do you mean?" she demanded. "Bad for the work. What is the most
important part of my work, then?"

"To attract bad men who may be working against our country," he
explained. "To find out their secrets, to convert those that are worth
converting, to hand over the unregenerate to me, then to use that clever
pen of yours in writing articles to proclaim the truth to people of other
countries."

"That part of it I do not mind," she confided, "but I do not wish to make
myself attractive to anyone--only to you."

"But I am already a convert," he reminded her. "Very soon you and I will
be looking into the future with the same eyes. Then our work will begin
in earnest. Our close contact during these few days will be of immense
importance."

"Work," she repeated a little petulantly. "It is always work. Is there
nothing else, then, worth a thought in life?"

"Many things," he assured her, "and as they come to us, Anna Prestnoff,
so shall we deal with them. Just now we have been through purgatory
together. We have to remember--"

"I am always remembering," she interrupted. "You are a tiresome man, but,
in the most respectful of fashions, I am very fond of you. Now I have
done all that you told me. I have had a hot sea bath and a cold one
afterwards. I have taken my tonic, I have gulped down this sea air for
one hour, I have walked for half an hour, I have been preached to all the
time. Now we will have a cocktail--yes? Just in that corner of the lounge
bar."

"I suppose that until you are perfectly recovered," he reflected, "you
must have your own way."

"In that case I will have a champagne cocktail," she decided. "I am
beginning to live again. That walk--it was wonderful. When do we talk
seriously, my friend? When do we really discuss what has happened to us?"

"No hurry," he answered. "There are several considerations to be taken
into account."

They found a retired corner in the bar lounge. The cocktails were ordered
and served. She drew, close to him.

"Now, my master," she said, "for I suppose I must call you that, I shall
tell you what I have been thinking, since I was able to think again. What
happened to us, in a small degree--has it not occurred to you?--is
exactly what has happened to Adek and Morodkinto all those other men."

He remained silent.

"A man like Adek--brilliant, a great speaker, a man of brains--to plead
guilty, to remain a dumb white figure in the dock, a nervous wreck in the
hands of his accusers," she continued. "Is it common sense? He acted as I
felt for a few hours, as I should still be feeling if you had not rescued
me. Do you believe in that theory that those Moscow men were drugged
whilst they were in their cells, drugged so that they lost their nerve
and their will and had to be helped into court?"

He passed her a cigarette and lit one himself. She threw back her head
and inhaled luxuriously. Alexander began to wonder whether this period of
convalescence was not in its way a dangerous time. He was uneasily
conscious of the warmth of her presence, of the pleasure of listening to
her speech with its slight foreign accent so much more pronounced than
his, and the thrill which her changed manner, the sudden breaking down of
the barriers between them, gave him. Stretched out in her chair, with her
fur cape thrown back from her throat and her closely-fitting dress which
followed so seductively the lines of her delicate figure, he became
conscious of what he had felt so seldom in life--the joy of that sense of
proprietorship which, since their adventure together, he seemed, without
any definite reason, to have acquired.

"You have instinct as well as intelligence, Anna Prestnoff," he admitted.
"I believe that what you suggest is the truth. There are two of the most
dangerous men who were ever born in Russia on board this ship. They are
aware of the work I have already begun and the chain of workers I am
trying to establish through Europe. Without a doubt last night's attempt
came through them--indeed, I am absolutely convinced of it. I am
hesitating as to what steps to take. We are safe from anything except
blatant assassination and that is not the way of these men. But all the
same, Likinski and Grodin are here to do us a mischief if they can."

She sipped her cocktail thoughtfully and took another luxurious puff of
her cigarette.

"Oh dear!" she exclaimed, "and I thought this was going to be such a dull
voyage. What are you going to do?"

"I have not made up my mind," he told her. "The circumstantial evidence
against Likinski is overwhelming, but of definite proof we have none.
They are already under suspicion--Grodin because his dossier is an open
book for anyone's inspection, even though he has been appointed Minister
to Great Britain, and Likinski because--he does not look as though he had
the courage, does he?--he forced the doctor here, at the point of a
revolver, to give him a phialful of that foul drug which he is conveying
to Southampton."

"Where did the drug come from?" she asked breathlessly.

"A laboratory in New York which Likinski has visited several times
lately," he told her. "He had an introduction from the principal chemist
at the Kremlin Laboratory but he never seemed to win the confidence of
the people in America. I do not believe, as a matter of fact, that they
trusted him."

"You think that it is the same drug--that the Americans, too, have
discovered the formula, or that it has been passed on to them from
Moscow?" she asked eagerly.

He touched her arm and she broke off in her speech. Likinski and Grodin
were passing through the room together. Grodin caught Alexander's eye and
bowed an unctuous good morning. His companion passed them without
apparent recognition. They continued their progress towards the bar.
Alexander looked after them, a queer, almost contemptuous, smile parting
his lips.

"They have not much luck, those two," he observed.

"Explain, please," she begged.

"I have no certain knowledge, but I believe that Grodin is on his way
back from an unsuccessful journey to Mexico. If news of that journey ever
reaches Moscow, I should think that his appointment to London would be
cancelled."

"And the little one?"

"He took his chance with us and he failed," Alexander reminded her. "Fate
does not treat too kindly in these days the men who fail."

"Grodin has brains and vision of a sort," she remarked. "Of the two, he
is the one I fear."

Alexander watched them for a moment. Grodin was drinking champagne out of
a pewter mug; Likinski was imbibing some cloudy mixture through a straw.

"Dangerous fellows," Alexander exclaimed with sudden emphasis, "both of
them, although of a different genus. One should deal with them severely.
There are times when civilisation is too fettered."

She smiled at his so readily kindled anger.

"You should be a Dictator," she said. "How would you like that? Sit on a
throne of iron, try your prisoners logically and according to the facts
and wave them off to execution. Yet when our own country does that same
thing--do not be angry with me--you find it barbaric."

He looked at her in surprise.

"Are you serious?" he asked coldly.

"Not altogether," she admitted. "The trouble is that you fancy you would
destroy crime by destroying the criminal. It is not good logic, my
friend."

"You would turn the world into a huge reformatory, perhaps?" he
suggested.

She yawned slightly.

"Perhaps it is the effect of the poison still in my veins," she said.
"Perhaps it is because I have once or twice known great men who were also
criminals."

"Are you judging them by the deed or the motive?" he asked.

She hesitated.

"I shall go carefully with you," she warned him. "You are trying to lure
me into a cul-de-sac. Nevertheless, to kill a man because you have a
personal grievance against him--say jealousy--is murder. To kill a man
because he has a foul disease, whether of the mind or the body, which is
poisoning the world, is justifiable."

"If I ever have the slightest ambition to be a Dictator, it is not
because unlimited power would give me the least pleasure," he said. "It
is simply because if I saw clearly and had the power to act, I should be
cleansing the world of all these burdens of evil government."

"I am beginning to believe that I have stumbled upon the truth," she
sighed. "You are ambitious to join those others. You wish to become one
of those autocrats--the dread figures of Europe."

He leaned back in his chair smiling.

"I was right," he declared. "The poison is still lingering in your
veins."

She laughed--a vibrant, delicate little gesture, musical and
intriguing--then she met his eyes with their critical, uneasy light and
the impulse of mockery passed.

"I think you did not say that seriously," she said, "but it was a wise
speech, nevertheless. I am not myself. You are not quite yourself this
morning. We will be serious no longer. I will break the stern habits of
my long life of comparative abstinence. We will have another cocktail.
Please do not say no, my master."

"I had no idea of discouraging you," he assured her. "I should say this
was the one morning in your life when wine was good for you."

He touched the bell and gave the barman an order. Presently they walked
on the main deck until the lightly falling rain drove them into shelter.
They sat in a small alcove close to the Marconi office. Overhead was a
rustling and crackling of electricity. Closer at hand two of the
operators were bending over their work, and they could hear the harsh,
uneven ticking of the instruments.

"Someone has a great deal to say to our ship this morning," Anna
observed.

"Perhaps," he meditated, "the news is already being flashed in black
headlines on the front pages of the American papers:


"'The owner of the mightiest vehicle of thought in the western
world--the _European Review_--has joined hands with its most
wonderful contributor.'


"How does that sound?"

She drew her long fingers through his.

"Entrancing," she murmured.



CHAPTER SIX


The big boat was hove to outside Cherbourg waiting for mails and to
disembark passengers. The commander glared disapprovingly down from his
bridge as the white launch, flying the French flag and a silken burgee of
the Yacht Club of France, drew up at the foot of the gangway.

"No visitors allowed on board, Francis," he growled to his first officer.

"I'll pass down word, sir," the latter replied.

He returned a few minutes later. The launch still remained at the foot of
the gangway.

"Sorry, sir," he reported, "but the gentleman on board announces himself
as the Prince de Chambordine. He has a permit to board the vessel from
the company's agent here and also a letter from the Admiralty asking for
your consideration. A great man, the Prince, sir, if you will forgive my
reminding you. His daughter would have been the Czarina of Russia, if the
present debâcle had not arrived."

"Invite him on board," the commander ordered brusquely. "Show him the
usual civilities. If he asks for me I shall be in my cabin presently."

The officer returned to the head of the gangway and signalled permission
to disembark to the occupants of the waiting launch. A tall, slim man of
dignified appearance, wearing yachting clothes and casquette with the
badge of the Yacht Club of France, mounted the gangway, followed closely
by a most attractive young lady, who was obviously enjoying the
adventure. Her figure, although girlish, possessed already lines of
distinction. Her smile was the smile of contented youth, with that
fascinating suspicion of provocative inquiry which seems to be the
special heritage of the young French woman. Under her neatly worn
tam-o'-shanter were full coils of rich brown hair. The Prince exchanged
greetings with the first officer and addressed him courteously.

"You have my card, I trust," he said. "I am anxious to have a few words
with a friend and relative who is travelling on this steamer."

"Certainly, sir," the officer replied. "Whom shall I send for?"

Alexander at that moment made his appearance. He approached the two
bareheaded, his hands outstretched in welcome. He stooped and kissed the
girl on both cheeks. The Prince took his arm affectionately.

"I am delighted that you have returned from that grim enterprise," he
said. "I received your cable and I am here--also Simone, who is enchanted
at the idea of seeing you. Where is it that we can have this talk which
you desire?"

"I have a small sitting-room attached to my cabin," Alexander suggested.
"The lounge just now is rather noisy."

He led the way to his suite. The deck and companionways were crowded with
disembarking passengers and they scarcely exchanged a word until they
reached the door of number twenty-seven. The girl gave a little
exclamation of delight as they were ushered in.

"What luxury!" she cried. "Dear cousin, for a man travelling alone, you
have a quite excellent idea of comfort."

Alexander pointed to the piles of papers and books upon the table, the
volumes on the bookshelves, many of them a little dreary in appearance.
Notwithstanding the flowers, which still survived, there was an air of
industry about the apartment.

"You forget, my dear Simone," he said, "that I am an arduous worker. I
have to address several very important meetings as soon as I am
re-established in England--one within a week. Then there is my monthly
open letter to my countrypeople--in the _European Review_--which is
due for publication a few days after we land."

"Marvellous idea, those letters," the Prince declared, as he laid his
hand affectionately on the young man's shoulder. "How on earth you manage
to get a single copy of the _Review_ across the frontier I cannot
imagine. But, my dear nephew, you should be careful. There is a gnashing
of teeth, there is fierce anger against you amongst the ruling members of
the Government. If you had not sent for me to meet you I should have
come--if only to warn you that our enemies have representatives of the
secret police in every capital in Europe. In their black lists you are
the most prominent figure. You remember Arminoff?"

"The old General?" Alexander exclaimed. "Of course I remember him. His
last article which we published was splendid."

The Prince shook his head solemnly.

"Too splendid," he sighed. "He left his home ten days ago for his usual
evening _apéritif_ at the _Café de la Liberté._ He was seen
there talking to some strangers--Russians, it was believed. He left the
place with them at his usual time. He has not been seen or heard of
since."

"Another victim," Alexander muttered with a frown. "What had the French
police to say about that?"

The Prince shook his head once more.

"Nothing that gives us any hope," he confessed.

"Listen, Alexander. You must keep away from France--from Paris,
especially. It is only in London that you are safe."

"And when I want him so much to come!" Simone declared petulantly.

"I have a better idea," Alexander confided smiling. "I shall discuss it
presently with your father. Now, what can I order for you, Prince?"

"Too early, _mon ami_," he regretted. "You retain your splendid
health, I am glad to see. I was afraid that you might find the States
strenuous."

"I found plenty to do there, but nothing of any real importance,"
Alexander admitted. "The _Review_ is to be published in New York but
it will be censored in Washington. The measure of our success will depend
upon what the gentleman with the long scissors does to us, of course.
Tell me, have you received any news from private sources?"

"Nothing very encouraging," the Prince acknowledged gravely. "You had
your radio messages, naturally."

"Shocking!"

"They say that Adek was arrested with a smile upon his lips," the Prince
continued. "If so, it must have been a bitter gesture. The news which I
have for you, dear nephew, is certainly not good."

"It must be told," Alexander sighed.

The Prince considered for a minute.

"It is somewhat vague, as yet," he announced. "Although there is no doubt
whatever that the secret council of the present Moscow Government
consider that they have effectually swept away all that was imminently
dangerous to their authority, a crusade of a different order is being
organised throughout the country."

"That sounds interesting," Alexander murmured, accepting a cigarette from
the Prince's case and lighting it. "A crusade--yes?"

"The scanty news that we have has cost good men their lives," the Prince
said. "'We lost three invaluable adherents within a week. No trial for
them. They were arrested at ten o'clock one night and shot before
morning. One was a woman."

"Not Vera--" Alexander exclaimed, "not Vera Marchevsky?"

The other nodded.

"It is a shock, of course," he said, "but it is necessary that you know
how we stand. She was staunch to the end. Not a word passed her lips."

"And Serge?"

"Real drama," the Prince declared with a flash in his eye. "Serge was
commanding a squadron of heavy armoured aeroplanes within sixty miles of
the Polish frontier when he heard the news by telephone. They were
starting on an experimental flight the next morning and his plane was all
conditioned. He left barracks secretly at two o'clock, got away
successfully and came down in Hanover. How he managed the rest of his
exploit I do not know, but he is in London to-day."

"A military deserter," Alexander frowned. "That may mean complications."

The Prince smiled.

"You can call him that," he observed. "He has been a happy and a
hard-working traitor to the government in whose army he was enrolled
since the day he received his flying certificate. As the brother of Vera
Marchevsky he was a doomed man if he had remained where he was for
another twenty-four hours."

"And this crusade makes progress?" Alexander asked eagerly.

"An uphill business, I fear," the Prince sighed. "There is no doubt
whatever that the Russian Government is well served by its spies. As I
was saying, with the arrest of Adek and his friends, they have struck a
deadly blow at the new party in Russia, the party who had finally decided
that capital is as necessary to the country as is bread to the peasant.
And now, by some means or other, they have word of our own movement. As
yet we have made little progress in Russia itself. Not a single meeting
has been called at which our doctrines have been preached, not a single
journal published in Russia has dared even to discuss the question of any
form of democratic government as against the distorted Communism of the
Soviet. The whole of our strength still lies scattered in Europe. This
crusade of which I have spoken, is an attempt to assist our followers to
become a corporate body. A list of the spies who are working against it
together with the cities and countries to which they _are_ allotted,
is in existence, but, alas, none of our agents know where. If Vera had
lived, we should have had it. Since her murder--shooting without a trial
is murder--there has been a blank wall of silence. We do not know who is
left. We only know that every place in Europe where we had established
ourselves is threatened."

"Life will not be pleasant for a time," Alexander said wearily. "It will
be like camping out when you have to lift the mats and carpets every day
to search for scorpions. And France--tell me about France."

The Prince lifted his hand in a helpless gesture.

"How can anyone speak for France?" he exclaimed. "Her character is the
character of her women--she is wanton, she is cruel, she is changeable.
At the least excuse she rushes to extremes. Taking her seriously, she is
the most Communistic of all the countries of Europe outside Russia."

_"Mais, mon père,"_ Simone remonstrated, "you exaggerate. It is
simply that the wrong people are making themselves heard. The spirit of
France is for good."

"I agree with Simone," Alexander declared. "France is everything that she
seems to be on the surface, but she possesses a basic solidity of
national purpose which few people in the world appreciate at the moment,
Prince, and this is the most important thing I have had it in my mind to
say to you: Paris is no place for you. You have a great house standing
empty in London. You have many influential friends there. You have many
enemies amongst these Russian spies who would do their utmost, knowing of
your position with us, to involve you in trouble. We need you in London.
I want you to remain there."

"ALexander is right," Simone declared regretfully. "We know already, dear
cousin, more than my father has told you about the plots all around us,
the way we are spied upon. Our house in the Bois is watched night and
day. My father cannot go so far as his club without being followed."

"Is this true, Prince?" Alexander asked.

De Chambordine nodded sadly.

"I am afraid it is," he admitted. "The only place where I can speak a
single word to a friend without fear of being overheard is in the
sanctity of the Jockey Club. And there there is no one who is anxious to
hear what I have to say."

"The position I feared has already arrived then," ALexander declared. "I
beg, my dear Prince, that you will not hesitate. You must come to
London."

"He shall come," Simone cried joyously, springing to her feet. "For us
Paris becomes more _triste_ every day. You shall give me some work
to do in London, dear cousin. There I shall be happy."

The Prince glanced at the clock and rose to his feet.

"It is a great idea that you have put before me, Alexander," he admitted.
"In a day or two you will hear from me. Meanwhile, I was warned not to
linger on board. Your commander is restless to be off. For a few days
everything remains as before--my house, my club, our method of
communication. It is for you to let me know from London if the situation
is in any way changed."

"That I shall not fail to do," Alexander promised. De Chambordine glanced
at the clock once more. He laid his hand upon his nephew's shoulder.

"Our conversation," he said, "has taken a curious turn. I came on board
to greet you, Alexander, with different things in my mind. I had made up
my mind during the last few weeks that it was my duty to speak to you
seriously. You are still a young man and your life is being dedicated to
a weary task. For one of my generation it is no matter, for I know well
that the light will not come in my time. I feel, though, that it is my
duty to warn you that you may be giving your youth to a hopeless cause."

Alexander smiled.

"No cause that is good is hopeless," he declared. "There has been a great
unsettlement in the world and the Russian Government has surprised us all
by making sane and steady progress in many directions. Nevertheless, its
doctrines are founded upon a fallacy. The great structure which it has
reared, is built upon the sand. It is doomed to collapse and it will
collapse."

Simone took her cousin's arm as they passed through the door into the
companionway.

"But I do not wish," she remonstrated earnestly, "that you give your
whole life to this tiresome business of working for other people. Is
there to be no golf, then, no polo, no little parties in the south, no
shooting the high pheasants at Rambouillet, no Scotland, no Cowes?
Alexander, you must not be so serious."

"My time for frivolities will come, I hope," he answered smiling, "but
not just yet. Ah, this is a friend who arrives, Simone."

They came face to face with Anna Prestnoff at the corner of the gangway.
She stopped short as she saw them. Alexander detained her.

"Anna Prestnoff," he said, "I wish you to know my relatives. The Prince
de Chambordine, the Princesse Simone de Chambordine. Mount with us,
please. My friends are on the point of leaving."

The two girls fell behind. The Prince took Alexander's arm as they
reached the upper deck.

"If I had a son," he said quietly, "he would have been as you
are--entirely Russian on his mother's side. Nevertheless, I should have
advised him as I advise you--to let ill alone. I believe like you that
some day the Russian government will inevitably crumble into dust, simply
because no nation can exist and flourish without a soul. Yet in arms and
in cunning they are very powerful. A few scattered individuals against
them are helpless. You are wealthy, you have a position in the world--I
pray of you, before you commit yourself to any definite enterprise, that
you spend a month or two with us in seclusion. We shall be at my Argonne
château for the summer. Come to us there, Alexander, if only for a few
weeks."

Simone came eagerly forward. They were awaiting the officer in control at
the head of the gangway.

"Alexander," she said, "my father invites--I insist. You must come. A few
weeks delay will make no difference and afterwards we will come to
London. You are going to plunge yourself into all sorts of dangers and
just now it is useless. The time has not arrived. Remember, no one in the
world has been a more vehement upholder of the old traditions than my
father. The very idea of any other form of government in Russia has sent
him into a fury, and yet it is he now who begs that you have caution. It
is he now who is growing into the belief that the present government is
tying a rope around its own neck. Before we go, promise me that you will
make no rash movement."

She raised her eyes to him beseechingly. He took her hands and held them
tightly. Nevertheless he answered her in a lighter tone.

"When the time for holidays comes I will fly to Argonne," he promised. "I
am not a fanatic. Like other men, I enjoy a respite from work. But that
time is not yet. My work is only half-accomplished. I am needed in
London. I may soon be needed elsewhere. The _European Review_ and
its organisation has become the greatest stumbling-block those who plan
the ruin of our country have yet encountered. Whatever the risks may be,
I am prepared to face them."

The Prince sighed. He was no longer a young man. He, too, loved his late
wife's country. He loved his daughter. He loved Alexander, and he
regarded him a little wistfully from the French parent's point of view.
He was one of the few remaining noblemen of Europe who would be a
suitable and desirable son-in-law. He realised the impossibility,
however, of moving him from his purpose.

"In that case, my dear nephew," he said, "if the mountain will not come
to Mahomed, Mahomed will come to the mountain. I will send orders at once
to the steward of Kensington House. The place shall be prepared. We will
be with you within a fortnight."

A deafening blast came from the tug. The two departing visitors hurried
off to their launch. Simone had lost some of the gaiety with which she
had mounted the gangway. The Prince, still dignified and debonair, seemed
suddenly to have aged.

"That girl friend of Alexander's is Russian," Simone said to her father
peevishly. "I do not trust her."



CHAPTER SEVEN


It was during the second call of the dinner bugle that evening that the
doctor at last succeeded in his search. He found Alexander and Anna
Prestnoff sitting on the sheltered side of the ship watching the lights
of the channel.

"No further tragedies to report, I hope, doctor?" Alexander inquired
curiously.

"I am hoping you won't find it so," was the anxious reply. "It has been a
shock to me, I can assure you. I have just left the purser's office. That
fellow Likinski and his companion left the ship at Cherbourg."

Alexander threw his cigarette into the sea and watched it for a moment
thoughtfully.

"Clever of them," he remarked. "How did they manage that?"

"Simple enough. I insisted upon having Likinski's passport until you made
up your mind whether or not to report the affair of the _Texacon_ to
the commander. I have it still."

"Do you mean that he left the ship without a passport at all?" Alexander
asked.

"He did indeed. They tell me at the Marconi office that Likinski sent off
two long cables yesterday--one to an unknown person in. Paris and the
other to Cherbourg. They were either in Russian or some code--quite
unintelligible. Anyhow, just as you were seeing your friends off, Nicolas
Grodin and Likinski left in a police launch on the starboard side of the
ship. The officer in charge there had no instructions to interfere with
them and the police commissioner at Cherbourg met them on the dock and
presented them with a note granting them permission to land with or
without passports, and signed by the French Minister of the Interior. No
one was in a position to make any objection, so off they went. They left
a note for the purser and the usual fee for the steward, instructing the
latter to pack their belongings and send them to the Russian Consulate in
London. I hope you will understand, Mr. Alexander," the doctor went on
earnestly, "that I was entirely ignorant of their projected departure. I
knew nothing about it until a few minutes ago."

Alexander smiled reassuringly.

"My dear doctor," he said, "your news is really a relief. To tell you the
truth, I was exceedingly puzzled as to what steps to take about Likinski,
which would not involve me in any way with Grodin, his companion. The
difficulty has solved itself."

The doctor drew a long breath.

"I don't pretend to understand anything about the matter, sir," he said,
"but I must confess that your attitude is an immense relief to me. I was
glad to notice at luncheon-time that you and the young lady seem to have
made a complete recovery. You are feeling all right, Miss Prestnoff?"

"Absolutely," she answered. "All the same, I think we ought to have done
something about it."

"I was the person to blame," the doctor confessed, "but I felt compelled
to do exactly as Mr. Alexander wished. They would never have been allowed
to leave the ship, though, except for the French police launch fetching
them off with an official permit."

"Entirely my fault," Alexander admitted, "but it really is of very little
moment, doctor. I am content to let the matter drop. Neither Mademoiselle
nor I have suffered, beyond the discomfort of the first few hours, and
that is the end of the matter."

"Your attitude, sir, is most generous. As you can understand, the affair
would not have happened at all if the commander had not insisted that the
packet be opened and the bottle put in my cupboard as though it belonged
to the ship's store."

"What have you done with it now?" Alexander asked.

"It is packed up again and addressed to a Dr. Wilkinson who is to call
for it at Southampton. I understand it to be your wish, sir, that the
matter is not to be mentioned to anyone."

"Not even to the commander, if you please," Alexander begged. "Dismiss
the whole affair from your memory. Blot it out. We have had our warning
and that is something."

The doctor saluted as he turned away.

"Nothing that has ever happened to me in life," he assured them
earnestly, "will be forgotten more readily."


It was about ten minutes later when the astonishing thing happened.
Alexander was explaining to his companion the immense importance of de
Chambordine's coming to England, an event which for some reason or other
Anna Prestnoff seemed to contemplate without enthusiasm, when suddenly he
broke off in the middle of a sentence. He gazed at an approaching figure
coming along the deck towards them. The man was short, stout, but with
the broad shoulders of a prize-fighter. He wore a camel-hair overcoat
which increased his girth, a brown Homburg hat and he was smoking a long
cigar. He walked with the uneven, jerky footsteps of a man unused to
taking any form of exercise. As he drew near, Anna touched her
companion's sleeve.

"Why, see who this is--coming down the deck!" she cried.

"It is Grodin--Nicolas Grodin--or the devil himself!" Alexander
exclaimed.

To their amazement Grodin came to a standstill before them. He raised his
hat in salutation and paused for a moment to take breath. There were
drops of perspiration upon his pale forehead.

"I am addressing, I believe, the gentleman travelling on the boat under
the name of Mr. Alexander. The young lady's name," he added with an
awkward bow in her direction, "I have not heard."

"Well?" was the curt response.

Nicolas Grodin replaced his hat.

"Mine may be known to you," he went on. "It is Nicolas Grodin. If
permitted, I have a word of explanation to offer to you and the young
lady."

Alexander possessed to the fullest extent the gift of chilling silence.
He made no reply. In his eyes there was a faint expression of disdainful
surprise. Grodin was not a sensitive man. He proceeded untroubled.

"I understand that my late travelling companion, Joseph Likinski, has
been guilty of what I choose to regard as a clumsy practical joke,
directed against you, sir, and the young lady. His confession of the fact
led to words between us. I requested him to leave my company. I will cut
a long story short. I myself conducted him to the railway station at
Cherbourg and left him there."

"Most interesting," was Alexander's sarcastic comment. "The exploit of
your friend, however, sir, lacked one redeeming quality. The perfect
practical joke should be imbued with a sense of humour. Personally, the
only trace of that quality I can find in his effort is in your
explanation of it."

Grodin knocked the ash from his cigar on to the deck.

"Pardon," he begged. "I speak English quite well, I think, but there are
times when I lose myself. I gather, though, that you consider Likinski's
a very bad joke. I agree. We have parted company. I am here to present my
apologies."

"Quite unnecessary," Alexander assured him. "The young lady and I have
been very much interested. Let me ask you a question, if I may. The drug
with which our two cabins were sprinkled in that playful fashion--was it
Russian in origin? Was it by any chance the discovery of a Moscow
chemist?"

Grodin glanced down at the cigar which he was holding between his
fingers. There was a brief silence. He looked up and met his questioner's
inquiring gaze.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Alexander," he confessed, his voice thicker
and more guttural than ever, "I have not one idea. I was suffering from
seasickness at the time."

"You have quite recovered, I trust?"

"I thank you, yes."

"I have known you by name and reputation for some years, Nicolas Grodin,"
Alexander continued. "The reason for this so-called explanation of yours,
I must confess, however, puzzles me. You must consider Mademoiselle and
me a couple of naive children. Or you have some purpose in addressing us
that you have not explained. Perhaps you have something more to say?"

One of Nicolas Grodin's fists was deep down in the pocket of his bulky
coat; with the other hand, the fingers of which held his cigar, he made a
little deprecatory wave in the air.

"You are being sarcastic, Mr. Alexander," he regretted. "You do not take
me seriously."

"Pardon me, I take you very seriously indeed. That is why, having said
your little piece, I beg that you will now leave us undisturbed and go on
your way."

"You object to my presence," Grodin grunted. "You do not know, perhaps,
of the new official position which I hold."

"Your first surmise was correct," Alexander said. "I do very strongly
object to your presence."

"We are fellow-countrymen," Grodin insisted. "I have heard that you are
supposed to be a patriot and friend of all Russians, and all those who
work for our country's welfare."

"I do not count you amongst that number."

"I am the accredited Minister of Russia to the Court of St. James's,"
Grodin declared, his small, bright eyes glittering.

"Not yet," Alexander replied. "It is an audacious gesture on the part of
your master, but you have yet to be received."

Grodin was imperturbable. He stood facing them, squat and immovable. It
seemed as though the lash of words was wasted upon him.

"Very well," he said, "it is like this you choose to receive me. You
wield an eloquent pen, you present yourself to the world as a friend of
Russia. I, too, am a friend of Russia. It is a pity that we cannot be
friends."

"I am weary of you, Grodin," Alexander confided, with the first touch of
irritation in his tone. "The Russia which I serve is not the Russia to
which you belong. Leave us, I beg of you."

Very slowly Alexander rose from his seat. Grodin looked up at him from
his squat position upon the deck. His stock of bravado was exhausted. He
obeyed the outstretched arm. He stumped off towards the companion-way.
Alexander held out his hand to Anna.

"Quick!" he exclaimed. "We must purify the air. A promenade upon the boat
deck!"



CHAPTER EIGHT


Alexander and Anna Prestnoff, one morning shortly after their landing in
England, issued from the block of flats in Chelsea where Anna had a
studio and walked across the courtyard side by side.

"You are satisfied with your new abode?" he asked her.

"It is wonderful," she exclaimed enthusiastically. "The studio is fast
becoming the joy of my life. I have already planned out the tableaux for
_The Forest Lovers_. I shall probably begin to design the dresses
to-morrow."

"There is only one drawback of which I should warn you," he told her,
pointing across the tree-shaded thoroughfare. "That house."

"But it is charming!" she cried. "Even though one can see so little of
it. I caught a glimpse of the gardens the other day through the postern
gate. They are beautiful."

"The drawback is perhaps with the owner," he said. "It is where I live
most of the time when I am in London."

She looked at him in astonishment.

"You live there?"

He nodded.

"Paul and I will invite you to dinner in a few night's time," he
promised. "It is really an attractive little place. It is built for
solitude and I think that it achieves it."

"I do not imagine that I shall find it a drawback to have you for a
neighbour," she smiled.

"There are times when I have late visitors," he warned her.

"My studio is on the other side," she told him. "Anyhow, I hope that some
day you will show me your domain...For what you have done for me I am
very, very grateful. You have so much on your mind that it is wonderful
to think of such an unimportant person."

"And Leopold? You are permitting him your acquaintance?"

"I do as you say, but he is tiresome. He will come to a bad end, that
young man. He is eaten up with conceit. Soon that conceit will begin to
prey upon his genius. He will have a failure and he will go crazy."

"You know that Grodin has been accepted?" he asked her abruptly.

She nodded.

"The British Government is long suffering. I wonder what has become of
Likinski."

Alexander made no reply. Through the leaves of the trees opposite he
seemed to be watching a barge being towed down the river. The time had
not yet arrived for him to tell Anna Prestnoff what had become of
Likinski...It was a warm and pleasant morning. The Embankment was crowded
with loiterers, the river itself with many small craft. He felt a sudden
desire to breathe the perfume of the limes.

"Come and walk in my garden," he invited. "You do not need a hat--or do
you?"

"To cross this little strip of road?" she laughed. "I will love to come.
Have you flowers?"

"You will see."

He led the way to the green postern gate set in the high brick wall. They
passed through and Anna gave a cry of delight. There was a vista of green
lawns, flowering shrubs, beds of standard roses, brilliantly scarlet
geraniums. They left the house, larger than it looked from the outside,
on their right, and crossed the gardens to where a thick avenue of limes
sheltered them from the Embankment. They sat down. She half-closed her
eyes with the pleasure of it.

"I never knew that lime trees smelt like this," she murmured. "Even the
geraniums have an odour and your roses are too wonderful. I could have
imagined a hundred places where you might have lived, my friend, Burt
never here."

"I have owned this house for a great many years," he told her. "Ever
since I was at Oxford University. I must confess, though, that I have a
more banal dwelling elsewhere--a small suite at a block of flats which I
seldom enter. There are times when it is necessary. It is here, or at my
rooms at European House, that I think out my plans."

"Tell me about them," she invited.

"It is hard to say," he replied, offering her his case and lighting a
cigarette himself. "My immediate plans within the course of the next few
days will take me, it seems, to Germany."

"That is not so bad," she declared. "Germany is a safe country. Still,
one wonders why you should go there yourself."

"One of our agents is not giving us complete satisfaction," he confided.
"I have been making a few inquiries about him and think that it will be
necessary for me to follow them up. As you remark, Germany is a safe
country. A great many of our direct communications with friends in Russia
come to us through Germany. My secretary--"

"I should like to be your secretary," she interrupted. "I do not think
that you would. Besides, your present work is too valuable."

"Anyone can paint scenery or design clothes."

"It is not only that," he told her. "You will find that when the
rehearsals commence of _The Forest Lovers_ you will come more into
touch with the other members of the ballet. There are two people you will
have to watch even more closely, one in particular."

"Leopold?"

He nodded.

"You could not do anything of that sort if you were my secretary," he
pointed out. "Besides which, my secretary has to be deaf and dumb and
blind, and I do not think that I should like you to be deaf and dumb and
blind."

"I want to come to European House and sit with you one day and watch you
at your work."

"You would probably find it exceedingly dull," he assured her, "and if
you did not find it dull you might perhaps find it exceedingly dangerous.
We have a strange lot of people who visit us at European House. There
have been so many stupid plots framed for our destruction that we have
even to keep a guard in the cellars to be assured that no one is planning
to blow us up. And the number of riffraff that we get from the ragged Far
East of Europe would astonish you. We are getting quite friendly with
Scotland Yard. We handed them over one of the cleverest manufacturers of
illicit weapons from the Far East the other day."

"Why should these people come to you?"

"I suppose they associate us," he reflected, "with the powers we are out
to destroy. We have made up our minds to destroy the present Russian
Government, but, you see, we do not propose to do it with bombs."

"England is stupid!" she exclaimed. "Why does she, a clean and
healthy-minded nation, accept a man like Grodin as Minister here? Why
should you have anything to do with the dregs of humanity?"

"They are not quite that, Anna Prestnoff," he remonstrated. "There are
brilliant men in Russia. There are probably as many idealists as in any
country of the world, only the pity of it is they are following the false
light. Now we are talking politics. We are becoming foolish. You have
seen my garden, you know what the fragrance of sweet smelling flowers is
like even in the heart of London. Now I shall show you my dining-room and
my study and give you a wonderful _apéritif_--sherry I laid down
when I was at the university. Afterwards, you must go to your woman's
lunch, which is generally a silly thing and not a luncheon at all, and I
must go to a Russian lunch which is also silly but errs on the side of
excess."

They walked across the lawn to the house. Paul, who had seen them coming,
threw open some well-guarded french windows.

"The _Tio Pepe_ sherry," his master commanded. "We will take it in
the study."

Paul asked him a rapid question in an undertone. Alexander shook his
head.

"I am lunching at Kensington House."

"The Prince has arrived then?" Anna Prestnoff asked.

"Last week. This is a luncheon he gives to celebrate his taking up his
position as vice-president of the _European Review_."

"And the Princesse?"

_"La petite_ Simone is here, too," he told her. "Also her duenna,
the Duchesse de la Motte. I will bring them to see you before long.
Simone saw some panels of yours in the Paris Exhibition. I think they
were for _Les Cygnes_. She was fascinated."

"They were good," Anna said simply. "I will show anything I have of my
work to your friends whenever you like and I shall welcome you at any
time."

They lifted their glasses. He hummed a Russian toast under his breath.
Anna dropped him a little mock curtsy.

"Shall I see you again before you go to Germany?" she asked.

"It is doubtful," he answered. "I might be going at any moment."

"Where shall you stay?"

"The Avalon. I need not remind you, however, that our Association does
not write letters."

"The great and holy Chief need have no fear," she replied. "His toilers
will remain at their tasks. If one should wander as far as Germany it
would never be in anything more than thought."

He took her fingers in his--exquisite white fingers, shapely and of
exceeding delicacy--and raised them to his lips. The glancing sunlight
coming into the room, with its stately old-fashioned furniture and
slightly faded, wonderful rugs, touched her hair for a moment with almost
a Titian light. She was wearing a dress buttoned closely up around her
throat and fastened there with a small but beautiful little crucifix of
engraved silver. The dress itself flowed around her amply but in lines of
unbroken simplicity. It might almost have been a studio gown for her
work.

"You are very lovely, Anna Prestnoff," he said. "You are so entirely a
creature of the Renaissance School. What some of those old painters, who
were short enough of models in those days--Andrea del Sarto, Raphael or
Murillo--would have made of you! Even the little monk Fra Lippo Lippi
might have left his wife out of the picture for once."

She set down her glass. Her eyes were soft. There was music in her tone.

"Are you trying to turn my head? Your words have more power to do it, you
know, than even your wonderful wine."

"I would rather," he told her with a little bow and a curious note of
earnestness in his tone, "that they reached your heart."

Paul was standing upon the threshold. Alexander turned round to receive
his announcement.

"The automobile attends Monsieur. One would remind him that luncheon is
for one-fifteen at Kensington House."

Anna made her escape through the window and crossed the road with flying
footsteps. Alexander looked after her for a moment and then surrendered
himself to Paul, who was waiting for him with hat, coat and gloves.

"This afternoon," he announced, "I have an appointment at the rooms in
Buckingham Court. Be there in case I need you, at five o'clock."

"At that hour I shall await Monsieur," was the toneless reply.



CHAPTER NINE


Alexander found himself inclined to smile at the first question asked by
his neighbour after they had settled down to lunch at Kensington House.
The Princesse Sophia was a daughter of one of the reigning Houses of
Europe--popular, versatile and beautiful. She was also a distant
connection of Alexander himself.

"There is an air of expectation about this party," she remarked as she
toyed with her caviare. "Are we celebrating anything, do you know?"

"Only, I think, the return of the de Chambordines to London," he
answered. "There is no better host in the world than de Chambordine and
no one who so thoroughly understands the mixing up of various
nationalities."

"I am sure you are right," his neighbour assented.

"Who but a social genius would dream of placing my madcap cousin, Francis
Joseph, side by side with Helene de Bourdon?"

"Or a Hohenzollern," the girl pointed out, "even though he is not in the
direct line, side by side with my beautiful but far too sad aunt, Olga
Brushoff?"

"If it comes to that," he went on, "what about us? You who pass more than
half your time in a royal palace and I who am at the best only a
Pretender and who have not even the lands which go with a single one of
my titles."

"Not just at this moment," she murmured, "but you know, my dear
friend--my not too distant cousin--if all that people whisper about you
is the truth I think you are more to be envied than any of these exiled
monarchs, any of these wandering scions of nobility in a sheltered
country."

"Why?"

"Because you are the champion of a strong and beautiful cause. You have
great and powerful friends. You are working dangerously, without a doubt,
but towards a wonderful end."

He raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Are we not becoming transgressors?" he asked. "It was the Prince's
delicately hinted suggestion that this was not to be in any way a
political gathering. It is a social party, a meeting of old friends, a
very delightful reunion."

She nodded.

"I forgot for a moment, but I said just what I feel, all the same. You
are right about our host's suggestion. We are not supposed to be
interested in politics. Some of us who are struggling to keep our places
in the world, and a sprinkling of those who have lost them for ever, and
a fine splendid handful who are working for the future--still, de
Chambordine was right, without a doubt. No politics. That is, I suppose,
why he dared to give a luncheon-party of fifty, nearly every one of whom
is a connection of Russia, and not invite this new Minister...How pretty
Simone has grown!"

Alexander glanced towards where the girl was seated a few places away.
She was talking gaily to the Polish Ambassador, whose son was a tennis
champion.

"Simone will be a great beauty," he prophesied.

"Will be?" his neighbour repeated. "My dear man, she is twenty-one. For a
French girl about whom there is as yet no talk of marriage, that is a
great age."

He 'nodded.

"You are right, it is. I saw so much of Simone, however, when she was
between the ages of ten and fourteen, before I had settled down to steady
work, and it is hard for me to think of her as grown-up."

"Then it is quite time you began to do so."

"Why?"

"I must be careful not again to transgress," she reflected. "I am to keep
from politics. Still, you two are almost all there is left in the direct
line."

He sighed.

"Even at your tender years," he complained, "you have imbibed one of the
vices of your sex. You have become a matchmaker."

"One thinks of these things," she remarked. "Simone's mother was in the
direct line of succession, of course, and you are the accepted choice of
all your countrypeople. Still, that is of the future. Is it true what we
all hear of this great uneasiness in Russia?"

"I cannot discuss these things even with you," he replied. "Through our
organisation we have news every way. Some of it is true, some of it is
false. It takes us a long time sometimes to ascertain the facts for
ourselves."

She leaned back in her chair with the air of one seeking another outlet
of conversation. She addressed, indeed, a few remarks to her other
neighbour, but although he was a very distinguished person, she found it
difficult. Alexander, finding one of the last of the veritable
grand-duchesses on his other side engaged in a desperate flirtation with
the Hungarian Minister, leaned back in his chair and devoted himself to
an interested survey of the guests. De Chambordine had known what he was
about, he decided. They were almost all representative of the great
families of Europe and nearly every one of them was some connection of
his own country. There was no one present of the new regime, yet the
conversation to which he listened and in which he occasionally joined,
was entirely free from any political significance. Not one word was
spoken of the agonies which might be going on on the other side of that
eastern frontier. What was happening there seemed to be taken as a matter
of course, and yet all the time, Alexander, with his quick instincts, was
one of the first to realise that there was a real purpose in this
gathering. No one knew better than the Prince de Chambordine and
Alexander himself how near the crisis was. The very failure of their
recent attempts to get correct views from the right people was an
indication of what was happening. Messengers crossed the frontier,
commercial travellers, financiers, tourists, self-declared political
agents, philanthropists--some of them with famous names--but they did not
return. Something of what was happening was known now to the men who were
working night and day at European House, but the news which reached them
never passed outside its doors. There were others in the room who
belonged to the organisation, but Alexander and the Prince were the only
two who knew the whole truth. There was to be another luncheon-party in a
fortnight's time, if it could be arranged--the same crowd, with perhaps a
little more of the cosmopolitan element and a few statesmen of the
old-fashioned type. Alexander found himself wondering if he would be
there or whether his time would have come. The Princesse leaned towards
him.

"Even if we discuss folk-songs or the ballet or any of the side-shows,
let us talk for a little time," she begged. "I believe that you think
that I am a chatterbox. I can assure you that I am not. Our present host
gave me luncheon, last time he was over, at European House, where you
have never once invited me. He has not, of course, your fascination or
your knowledge of what is going on, but he did try to interest me and he
often succeeded."

"A fortunate man," Alexander sighed, "and I--"

"Do not be foolish," she interrupted. "Every word you speak I hang upon.
I love to hear you talk of the things which are dear to both of us. I am
a little peevish sometimes because I feel something is going on of which
we know so little. We are so outside everything. However, you have your
reasons. I will possess my soul in patience."

He smiled very pleasantly at her.

"My dear cousin," he said, "believe me, there is nothing definite which I
can tell you of what is going on at the present moment, although I will
admit, perhaps, that we see a little more behind the curtain than the
general world. We have plans and they are maturing. Our only trouble is
that the wholesale slaughter of our spies, many of whom are perfectly
harmless people, which goes on all the time makes it difficult for us to
sort out our information."

She shuddered.

"That sounds very terrible."

"It is not," he assured her. "We find that no spy who crosses the
frontier really and honestly expects to come back again. They seem to
have imbibed a special form of fatalism. They make their effort because
they must. But notwithstanding this lull in the news, I think myself that
we are on the brink of movement of some sort...There, have I been rash? I
do not care. You are a faithful and devoted adherent to our cause, so I
risk a slight indiscretion."

She took his hand and pressed it in hers.

"I thank you so much," she said. "You see, the Duchesse has designs upon
us. I am so glad that I recovered from my fit of sulks just in time."

She left him with a little smile.


In the chapel-like lounge of Kensington House the luncheon-party broke up
into groups of old friends and intimates. Alexander found himself
literally torn away from the small gathering of more serious members of
the company who were grouped around de Chambordine. Simone led him into a
small room adjoining, so obviously feminine in its decoration and
atmosphere that it was clearly her own retreat. She gave him some coffee,
laid a box of cigarettes on the table and invited him to sit by her side
on the divan which stood in one of the curved bay windows overlooking the
gardens.

"I am obliged to be stern with you, dear cousin," she said. "You are so
elusive. Now that we are here all alone we talk a little--yes?"

He smiled, but with a measure of deprecation in the gesture.

"There were others who had the same idea, I fancy," he remarked, "but I
am not the one to complain. You are very charmingly established here,
dear Simone. Tell me that you do not regret Paris. I feel to a certain
extent responsible for your coming to London."

"I do not regret Paris," she replied, "so long as I see you sometimes."

"Are you trying," he asked, "to turn my head?"

"I am always trying," she sighed, "but it is very difficult. You keep
your head so straight that I cannot twist it. And your heart also--is
that invulnerable?"

"What do children like you know about hearts?"

"I could show you, if you insisted," she threatened. He patted her hand
contentedly.

"This is the end of a serious luncheon-party, Simone," he declared. "We
must remain in the atmosphere."

"Very well," she agreed, "I will be serious. Tell me what is coming--the
great events. One feels the shadows cast before them. Everyone is a
little serious. It is something to do with the _European Review._
There is no talk of war, no movement of troops anywhere. What is it
really that is happening?"

He shook his head.

"You are ahead of the time, Simone," he told her. "Your senses are
quickened, you feel the future even before it has gathered shape."

"I think I should make a good prophetess," she agreed composedly. "There
is a touch of the Joan of Arc in my blood. I should like to go marching
back into our torn and mutilated country with you at my side."

"Russia, at the present moment, is no place for women," he assured her a
little sadly. "When I go back, Simone, if ever I do go, there will be no
woman in my entourage unless conditions are entirely changed. I can
promise you that."

"Not Anna Prestnoff?"

"Certainly not."

Simone sighed contentedly.

"Well, that is something, at any rate," she declared. "Do you see her
every day?"

"I saw her this morning," he confided, "for almost the first time since
we landed."

"Better and better. I become again light-hearted. Anna Prestnoff is too
beautiful and too dangerous. You must not see a great deal of her,
Alexander. You and I together--we stand for Russia."

"Anna Prestnoff is also Russian," he reminded her. "Yes, but she is not
the same."

"Anna Prestnoff is also of noble birth."

"That may be. She is not in the direct line."

"Why do you bother your head about these things?" he asked gravely.

"Because you have spoilt me and I am jealous," she cried. "I have never,
never seen you look at a woman with interest before in my life. She works
for you and I cannot. When you think of Russia I want you to think of me
and of nobody else."

"Then you are very foolish," he told her. "Russia just now, and perhaps
for many years to come, is a man's affair."

She was silent for a few moments. Some of the light seemed to have gone
from her face. The eyes which were watching the restless rustling of
tenderly green leaves in the elm trees opposite appeared to have become
deeper set than ever during the last minute or two.

"Is it that there is a crisis close at hand, Alexander, which makes you
so stern and far away?" she asked, and her voice, too, seemed to have
lost something of its music.

"I do not think," he told her, patting her hand tenderly, "that there is
any great change in me, little Simone. You seem to have the gift of
looking away into the future. Perhaps then you are right. Perhaps there
is a graver time ahead for all of us."

"For you, especially. Perhaps for me."

The door behind them was thrown open. De Chambordine entered with two or
three of his guests. The Duchesse brought up the rear. They were all
talking very happily. Alexander, a few minutes later, made his escape.



CHAPTER TEN


The door of the salon in Alexander's small suite at Buckingham Court,
which he held for his occasional occupancy, was thrust open from the
outside. A very young and exceedingly handsome man had made precipitate
entrance, slamming back the door in a matter of seconds. He stood there,
livid and breathless, the palm of one hand pressed against the panel, his
long white fingers searching frantically for key or bolt. The former he
found and at the sound of its click his panting for the moment ceased.
Even then, he stood feverishly listening, his dark eyes flaming with
terror, his breath still coming fast, his slim, elegant body shaken as
though seized with a paroxysm of fear. Alexander, who was standing on the
hearthrug, a cigarette in his mouth, the evening paper in his hand,
looked across at his visitor with a smile half-amused, half-contemptuous.

"Is it a regiment which pursues you, Leopold?" he inquired-"I hear no
trampling of feet, nor even the rattling of sabres."

The young man listened intently, then, as though with reluctance, his
hand left the door. He peered down to see that the lock was in place,
then he partially straightened himself and turned towards Alexander. His
voice was hoarse and weak as though from shock.

"It was Grodin, sir," he gasped. "He was at the desk, talking to the
_concierge._ He was turning his head as I stepped into the lift."

"Nicolas Grodin?" Alexander repeated. "Well, why not?"

"Here, in this block of Hats!"

"Again, why not?" Alexander demanded. "Grodin is much too clever a man to
encourage all the people with whom he has dealings to visit him at the
Embassy. Besides which, I understand that the rooms there are not all
ready for him. You will find that he is in Flat 70, 71, 72, and 73, two
floors down--a very handsome suite of apartments."

"You knew that he was coming?"

"Of course I knew," Alexander replied. "Why else do you suppose I am
here? I not only knew that he was coming, but I could tell you pretty
well how he will spend his time, what he will seek to discover and how
far he will succeed. Hold up your head, my friend. Grodin is no superman.
He has done plenty of foul work for his master and done it successfully,
but that was before he received his present appointment. You must know
that now lie has to walk warily."

Leopold took a deep breath. He was exceedingly well dressed and his
figure, which was really amazing, permitted of all the extravagances
affected by the young man of fashion. His black bow, although large, was
faultlessly tied, his soft-fronted shirt was beautifully pleated and his
pearl studs priceless. His silk socks and patent shoes were
irreproachable. As he came dubiously a little farther into the room, his
movements had all the grace of a panther. His pale oval face, his
deep-set dark eyes and his thick black hair, completed a _tout
ensemble_ which the fashionable photographers and a crowd of neurotic
women had made famous.

"I ask myself whether by chance he saw me," he faltered.

"What if he did?" Alexander demanded. "On the top floor there are no
fewer than four members of the ballet in their little nests. Lower down
there is Gregoire, the musical director, and any one of these might be
expecting a visit from you. I was rather surprised to find that you were
not staying here yourself."

Leopold shivered.

"Banal," he muttered. "Hundreds of rooms, a herd of
tourists--abominations. In such surroundings my genius would wither."

"Compose yourself, Leopold," Alexander enjoined. "What can I offer you?"

"I will smoke one of your cigarettes and drink a glass of water," the
young man replied.

Alexander pointed to the opened box of cigarettes, the cut-glass pitcher
of water and the siphon upon the sideboard.

"If that contents you let us proceed," he said. "You paid your visit to
Mademoiselle?"

"This afternoon."

"Well?"

"I had my usual success," he announced a little wearily as he sank into
an easy chair, a tumbler of water in one hand and a cigarette in the
other. "That was not difficult. Mademoiselle, however, did not talk
freely. I am to dine with her on Thursday evening. I shall introduce her
to a small place in Mayfair where I am well known and where the food is
excellent."

"She had news to tell you of the march of events in Moscow?"

Leopold waved his cigarette with an airy gesture.

"She was not communicative," he admitted. "She had little to say on
serious subjects. I fancy," he went on, with a reminiscent light of
pleasure in his extraordinary eyes, "that she was perhaps a trifle--what
shall I say?--unbalanced. It was my first visit. She did not expect me.
At the theatre she knows of my peculiarities. She realises how seldom I
approach any members of the cast. My appearance at her studio was a
surprise to her."

"Do you think that that is why she was so uncommunicative?"

The young man nodded languidly.

"I myself proceeded with caution," he confided. "I wished my visit to
seem just a friendly call."

"All persons of genius," Alexander observed, "possess the gift of
penetration. They have the instinct for judging others. Tell me your
opinion, Leopold--is Anna Prestnoff to be trusted?"

"After Thursday I shall answer your question definitely," the other
promised. "At present I can trust only to what you term instinct. I
noticed her twice in the theatre at Moscow when she came to make notes
for some scenery I required. She did not impress me. To-day, I should say
that she had developed. She has become a woman of great attraction. That
may be because she knows more of the world than she did two years ago.
She has lost some of her simplicity. She has the air to me of having gone
through some experience. I find that it makes her more interesting."

Alexander, whose eyes scarcely left his visitor's during his last speech,
had the appearance of one who is gently amused. He smiled to himself for
several moments, then he rose suddenly to his feet.

"Well, that is enough, Leopold," he said. "There is one thing more I want
to ask you. You remember a young man, a graduate from Oxford he was a few
years ago, a young man of strange views, who used to be continually
paying visits to the ladies of the ballet until he embraced what he
called the higher life and disappeared?"

"Ambrose Stornoway!" Leopold exclaimed. "Yes, I remember him. I thought
he had joined the staff of the _European Review_!"

"That was a year or so ago," Alexander assented. "He only stayed with us
a very short time, however. He wanted to do independent work. We had a
vacant post in Germany and he has been sending us occasional reports from
there. You never hear from him now?"

"Never."

"Or of him?"

Leopold shook his head.

"Sometimes there are people who call me a little mad," he said, leaning
further back in his chair and resting his delicate long fingers upon his
throat.

"That is because I am eccentric. It is not madness with me. I do not
flatter myself when I say that it is genius."

"Capital," Alexander murmured. "I hate all people with an inferiority
complex."

"Stornoway," Leopold continued, "developed even more pronounced
eccentricities. I should not be surprised to hear that he was in an
asylum by this time. He was a wild and excitable fellow who, in my
opinion, is not to be trusted."

Alexander lit a cigarette gravely.

"Why do you think that, Leopold?" he asked.

"In Berlin," the young man confided, "he came to me--it was in the midst
of one of my greatest successes--he proposed that I should join him in
some crazy new enterprise. I could not make out even what he was talking
about but we were to give all our money to what he kept on calling The
Cause. We were to live in poverty and cast aside refinement, culture,
art--everything which makes life bearable--for the sake of the masses. He
would have had me forget even that I was a Russian."

"He found you a little unsympathetic, I should think," Alexander
observed.

Leopold waved his beautiful hands. There was no doubt about the lack of
sympathy.

"I let him talk and I escaped. He came to the theatre again but I never
saw him. That was the end of Stornoway."

Alexander rang the bell.

"My coat and hat," he ordered from Paul. "Can I drop you anywhere, my
young friend?" he asked. "Your conversation has been so interesting that
you have revived all my interest in Anna Prestnoff. I must go to Chelsea
at once and call upon her. Can I drop you anywhere?"

"Anywhere you will," Leopold replied, rising to his feet, "but do not
leave me alone in this hideous block of flats frequented by the brutal
Grodin. I do not wish to meet him."

Alexander took his hat and coat from Paul and rested his hand upon his
visitor's shoulder as they left the room.

"I will escort you safely off the premises," he promised.


Alexander found the young woman of whom he was in search perched upon a
step-ladder at the far end of her studio, painting in the midst of a
dazzling beam of artificial light.

"Who is that?" she asked without turning her head.

"Alexander," he replied. "A very apologetic intruder."

She came swiftly down the steps, laid down her brush and palette and
turned off the light. She ran towards him across the bare floor with her
hands outstretched and a welcoming glow in her eyes.

"You are here again so soon," she cried joyfully. "I am beginning really
to forgive you for this blank fortnight."

"I have stayed away from you because I thought it was wise," he said. "I
have contented myself with asking questions about you from the amazing
Leopold. This morning I decided that to hear from you indirectly was no
longer sufficient. I decided that it was time I came and talked to you
myself. Now I come again because I have a real question to ask."

She pressed the bell and they sank on to a large divan.

"There is news, perhaps?"

"None," he answered, "or rather, none that we could discuss. Yet I have a
queer feeling that things are happening and that there is a great
movement going on. Reports which we used to get two or three times a week
are failing us. Tell me, Anna Prestnoff," he went on, "and this is what I
came to see you about, do you remember Stornoway--Ambrose Stornoway--a
wild young man of good birth?"

"Of course I remember him," she acquiesced. "I went to one of his parties
when he was at Oxford. I have heard him talk the most beautiful and
convincing Christlike socialism and deride it within an hour. I have
heard him expound a new theory that every form of government of one human
being by another is imbecility, and a few hours afterwards I have heard
him declare that a despotic monarchy was the only logical form of
control. Next time I hear from him I expect to be told that he is in an
asylum."

"Worse than I thought," Alexander groaned. "We sent him to do work for us
in Berlin some time before I went to the States, and our communications
with him since have been very unsatisfactory. Now he is trying all the
time to get me over there for some purpose or other. I think I had better
see what he is up to."

"I should not," she advised promptly, "unless you go there to get rid of
him. He could not be of any use to anyone as a serious helper. He is
fanatically religious, if you like, but you could not trust him an inch.
A very dangerous type of young man."

"All the more reason for not letting him run loose," Alexander reflected.
"Let us have done with the fellow...Anna Prestnoff, let me congratulate
you. You have achieved a great triumph. You have contrived to interest
the impregnable, the marvellous Leopold!"

"Have I?" she answered drily.

"I have my doubts about Leopold, as you know," he continued, "and for
that reason I let him fancy that I am interested in reports he brings me
about people in the ballet and their visitors, including yourself. He is
beginning to imagine himself an important figure in international
politics, but his chief concern seems to be that he himself keeps out of
any danger. I asked him questions about you, Anna. I gathered that you
met with his approval."

She laughed softly.

"Leopold would never be of any use to you, or able to do you any great
harm," she declared. "I am not so sure about Stornoway. Why do you waste
your time upon such people? You keep me here employed in the most foolish
of all fashions, when I would much rather be doing serious work, however
dangerous it was."

"When the time comes, Anna Prestnoff," he said, "When there is great work
to be done, I will _see_ that you take your share in it, even though
there is also a risk, but I will not have you take a part in this minor
plotting which is even more dangerous and which might place you, at any
moment, in a humiliating position."

"Why will you not?" she asked.

He laid his hand upon hers and she felt the swift response of everything
in her being towards this new seriousness.

"Because you represent something to me, Anna, which some day I think will
be the greatest influence in my life," he told her simply. "That is as
much as I ought to say just now."

"It is enough if you promise one thing."

"Well?"

"Promise me that before you face any great danger--anything that might
separate us--you will, when we are sitting like this alone and shut out
from the world, take me into your arms, if it is only for ten seconds,
let me feel your lips on mine, give me the embrace which, if you never
come back, will be the last I shall ever have from any man."

"I hope that you realise what that means, Anna," he said after a moment's
pause.

"I do," she confessed.

He leaned towards her and took her into his arms. He kissed her fondly
and yet with a joyous passion that thrilled every fibre of her body. Then
he drew away.

"Anna, my dear," he murmured as he led her towards the door, "every time
I face danger I shall repeat that little sacrament until the days of
danger are past. I kiss you now, and again and again," he added, as he
kissed her eyes, "because to-night I am obeying an urgent summons and
going at once to Germany to look after that fellow Stornoway."

"I guessed that was corning," she declared. "Wait..." She unlocked a
drawer in her writing-cabinet and drew out a small packet. "This is for
you," she told him, placing it in his hand. "It is not very important but
it might be of service. Do not open it until you are in Berlin. Promise."

"I promise," he assured her, thrusting it into his pocket.

Alexander crossed the road to his garden-encircled house and rang the
bell for his servant, who had accompanied him in the car from Buckingham
Court.

"Paul," he said, "pack two lounge suits and some morning clothes.
Telephone to Heston. Tell them to find my pilot. He will be in his room.
He is to have a plane ready at seven o'clock."

"For a long journey, monsieur?" the man asked.

"To Berlin."



CHAPTER ELEVEN


The Baron Adolf von Hertzfeldt, who held an important permanent post in
the government of his country, sat in his private bureau, high up in a
massive block of buildings fronting the most famous thoroughfare of
Berlin, awaiting a visitor. The note from his Chief containing certain
secret instructions, written in the departmental code for use amongst its
officials only, lay torn into small pieces in the waste-paper basket. The
air immediately around him was fragrant with the perfume of a cigarette
which he had just lit. A somewhat difficult position, this, which he was
called upon to face...

There was a tap at the door. An orderly, obeying the invitation to enter,
made his way swiftly to the desk, saluted and stood at attention.

"The gentleman who sent in his card of entrée a short time ago, Baron,"
he announced.

Alexander, dressed in morning clothes as though for an official visit,
entered the room. The Baron rose from his chair and bowed stiffly. The
orderly departed, closing the door behind him. Alexander accepted the
chair which had been placed in readiness for him.

"I had hoped," the latter said, "to have been received by your Chief. As
that does not seem to be possible I am happy to find myself with an old
acquaintance."

Von Hertzfeldt bowed once more.

"The Chief decided with regret," he confided, "that during the present
period of strained relations between various European Powers, it would be
better if he received no visitors of your nationality. He desired me,
however, to express his friendliness and he has placed considerable
powers in my hands. Will you explain what we can do for you?"

"Willingly," Alexander assented, accepting a cigarette from the box which
the other had passed to him. "There is very little secret about my
position. Here it is in plain words. I am not a disciple of the gentleman
who has sought exile in Mexico, although that is the impression in some
quarters. I stand for a new line of thought and action which I pray that
Russia may before long adopt."

"You are a revolutionary so far as the present government is concerned?"
the Baron, who was anxious to keep the conversation within certain
limits, inquired.

"The present government is in difficulties," Alexander replied. "To you
who are at any rate a little way behind the scenes that is a known fact.
The great and from many points of view the worthy experiment of which my
country has been the unfortunate victim, has met with very qualified
success. It is my aim to direct her into a position where she can hold
her own in dignity and honour amongst the other European nations."

"As a Fascist country?" the Baron asked bluntly.

"The fundamentals of every modern political faith have been, during the
last twenty years, torn to ribbons," Alexander pointed out, "therefore I
shall not accept the terms of any one of them as a definition of our new
faith. The existing system has reduced its citizens to bondage. It will
be the scheme of the party I represent to set them free."

"Those matters are not for our discussion," the Baron said, although his
gesture was one of sympathy. "You will understand that under the
circumstances it would be indiscreet for the Chief to accord you an
audience. Tell me what we can do for you. Within the bounds of diplomatic
propriety my instructions are to assist you."

"You can give me a card, signed by yourself as the head of the
department," Alexander replied, "rendering me immune from police arrest
whilst in your country."

"You ask for a great deal," was the Baron's doubtful comment.

"Not really," Alexander declared. "Your Chief is convinced of my bona
fides. I am a friend of your country, but I think you know yourself that
your city is suffering from a plague of spies. To perform my work here,
which is not work for the benefit of my soon to be re-created country
only but on behalf of every civilised nation, I need protection."

The Baron remained thoughtful.

"We have no secret tribunals in this country," he reminded Alexander.
"Everything that is done here is done in the open."

"I give you my word of honour," Alexander assured him calmly, "that the
use of my--shall we call it _laissez-passer?_--here, if ever I do
use it, will, be justifiable even at Geneva."

"You have an agent, I understand, in this city," the Baron asked, "whose
function it is to convey literature and even, if possible, propaganda of
other sorts into Russia and to receive communications?"

"I shall not attempt to deny or conceal the fact."

"You will realise," the Baron continued, "that while I agree that our
present relations with Russia are strained and difficult, under certain
circumstances we might be compelled to deal with your agent and his
activities under the provisions of international law."

"I admit that," Alexander acquiesced, "and I am content to take the
risk."

The Baron reflected for several minutes longer, then he drew a sheet of
paper from a drawer of his desk, and grasping a fountain-pen in his
pudgy, over-manicured fingers, scribbled a few lines in bold scrawling
caligraphy. He blotted them, read them through carefully, placed the note
in an envelope and handed it to= Alexander.

"There is your protection," he said. "Make use of it only in case of
necessity."

"Easily promised," was the confident reply. "I am, a man who does not
seek trouble."

The Baron rose to his feet. His visitor followed suit..

"So far as I may say so and preserve my official position," the former
declared, "I wish you fortune. Every thinking and patriotic German
desires the re-establishment of Russia. I bid you good morning, sir."

"I offer you my thanks," Alexander rejoined with a bow.

"I am gratified to have served you," was the formal response.

Alexander drove back to the famous hotel where he had engaged a small
suite. Paul, who was waiting for him in some anxiety, was standing on
guard in the little salon.

"I will change my clothes," his master announced. "An English tourist,
you understand, Paul. A brown or grey tweed, not too new, a Homburg hat,
and negligé shirt. You have the idea?"

Paul acquiesced with a faint gesture of disapproval. He had filled many
roles besides that of a valet but he still had a dislike of anything
slovenly in his master's attire.

"There have been no callers?" the latter asked. "No callers, no
telephone--only this."

He handed an envelope to Alexander, who glanced at it with a frown. It
was a very cheaply made envelope and looked as though it had been dropped
in the mud. There was no name upon it, only the number of his room. He
tore it open. There was inside a half-sheet of thin, pinkish paper such
as a servant girl might use. There was a big blot at the bottom of the
page and across the paper was scrawled one word:

"BELOVED."

Alexander's first expression of supercilious curiosity faded from his
face. Its lines had suddenly become rigid. He looked once more at the
envelope, he looked once more at the half-sheet of pink notepaper. Then
he tore both carefully into small pieces.

"Who left this extraordinary communication, Paul?" he asked.

The man shook his head.

"All my time," he explained, "has been spent between this room and the
sleeping apartment. When I returned here from pressing your trousers I
found this in the cage letter-box. There was no sign of where it had come
from. I only know that it could not have been there five minutes."

Alexander submitted himself silently to Paul's ministrations, refilled
his pockets with the articles he had left upon the dressing-table, added
to them a small but sinister-looking weapon, the loading of which he
carefully examined, glanced at the clock and picked up his hat.

"Monsieur will return for _déjeuner?"_ Paul asked.

"If the good chance remains with me," was the cheerful reply.



CHAPTER TWELVE


So into the streets again and another taxi, this time soon threading its
way through a denser traffic into the business quarter of the city.
Alexander sat with folded arms and a slight contraction of his eyebrows.
He noticed very little of the thoroughfares through which he passed.
Before his eyes all the while was that pink half-sheet of notepaper, the
word "BELOVED", the blot at the bottom of the page, and that little
memorandum book of code messages to be used only in times of danger,
which Anna had thrust into his hands some hours before. The taxicab,
after what seemed to be an interminable drive, pulled up half-way down a
busy narrow street in the northern part of the city. There were
warehouses on either side, heavy motor vans seemed to form a continual
chain delivering and receiving bales of merchandise. The building before
which Alexander descended and, after a casual glance around, entered,
announced itself as a restaurant and hotel for commercial travellers, but
on the right there were doors, on one of which was a small brass plate
inscribed with the name:

"AMBROSE STORNAWAY--Leather and Skins."

Alexander opened the door, which automatically rang a bell, and stepped
into a warehouse of considerable size. The place was stacked almost to
the ceiling with bales of goatskins. At the further end was a
counting-house. From it issued the person whom Alexander had last seen, a
well-groomed, somewhat supercilious young man about town, at a luncheon
party at the Ritz. He wore over his clothes a linen duster, and a pair of
heavy spectacles shielded his eyes. He seemed thinner and gaunter than
ever and as he removed his spectacles to greet his visitor he disclosed
sunken, feverish-looking eyes and features which seemed as though they
had been ravaged by some disease.

"You will come into the counting-house?" he invited. "There is no one
there. I keep only a typist-clerk and I have sent him out to lunch
early."

"In a moment," Alexander replied, looking round and sniffing
distastefully. "So you have gone into business, Stornoway."

"A commission agent," the latter confided. "The business is concerned
with the importation of Russian goatskins. I have visitors from Russia
everyday. It seemed to me a good opportunity."

"Excellent," Alexander agreed. "Do you know anything about the trade?"

"Not much," Stornoway admitted, "but I took over the clerk from the old
business. Between us we manage. Within the last month we have exported
two hundred bales of woollen goods in part payment of skins we have taken
and nearly every one of them has contained half a dozen of your new
pamphlets from European House. I get reports from our agent in specially
marked bales of skins. As soon as I have been established a little longer
I shall be able to take a journey into Russia."

"You have made friends here in the city?" Alexander asked.

"It is not easy," Stornoway replied. "There is bitter enmity on every
side towards Russia."

"You have no opportunity of making known our own views to a few
sympathisers?"

The young man shook his head.

"Too dangerous to attempt to form a circle. There are Russian spies
everywhere. On the slightest suspicion that we were sending Fascist or
Anti-Communist pamphlets into the country we should be in trouble. The
authorities here might be in sympathy with our views but they would close
us up all the same. If you do not mind I think you had better step into
the counting-house. I cannot pretend to be showing you goods and this is
an inquisitive country."

Alexander followed him into the small office and ensconced himself in a
swivel wooden chair in front of the desk. Stornaway drew a cane settee up
to his visitor's side and sank on to it wearily.

"What are your political views exactly nowadays, Stornoway?" Alexander
asked abruptly.

An unhealthy hectic flush streamed across the young man's face. It passed
quickly, leaving him paler than ever.

"I am as much a hater of the present form of government in Russia as ever
I was," he confided. "At its inauguration its sponsors had a great
chance. They lost it. They have failed. Even where they have succeeded
they have failed."

"Explain yourself," Alexander directed.

"On the return of my clerk, who has gone out for lunch and who has the
keys of our hidden safe," Stornoway promised, "I will show you my latest
pamphlet. It is like this," he went on, drawing a piece of paper towards
him. "On this side I have a column headed 'Mines'. Opposite that I put
down the number of miners at work, the approximate number of tons of
coal, iron, tin, quicksilver and the gallons of petrol the workers
produce. I put down the value of their output monthly, less working
expenses. On the other side I put down what the government has paid in
wages. The difference is gigantic, inconceivable. I address myself to the
Russian workman, the slave of the present administration. I remind him
that he is supposed to be an enemy of capitalism. I ask him--where has
that vast sum of money disappeared to? Some of it may have gone in
armaments, aircraft, guns. Where is the rest? That pamphlet is called
_The New Capitalism,_ I know for a fact that five thousand copies
have gone to the mines."

"A very good pamphlet," Alexander agreed, "but it has its weak point. It
is purely destructive. Your business, Stornoway, is to indicate the more
logical, the more humane system of government which we propose."

Stornoway remained silent. His visitor's eyes never for a moment left his
face.

"What I should like to see," Alexander went on; "is some of your
propaganda starting on the theses that the present system of government
in Russia has failed, and putting forward our schemes for its overthrow.
I ask you once more, what are your views exactly?"

Stornoway was again silent.

"I will show you my pamphlets," he mumbled, "but it must be when my clerk
returns. He has the keys. He has gone out to lunch."

Alexander nodded.

"There appears to be a restaurant in this building," he said.

Stornoway rose to his feet and threw off his duster.

"Let me invite you there," he begged. "You shall see the Russian trader
in his best clothes, at his hungriest and worst. This is the Russian
section of the city, you know. Such trade as Germany permits is done
about here."

Alexander hesitated. He was inclined to be fastidious and the atmosphere
of the place was unpleasant. Nevertheless, he remembered Stornoway's
dossier--the younger son of a member of the peerage, a family of great
antiquity. He remembered that he had started writing obscure but
beautiful verse for a magazine devoted to such dilettante performances.
He rose to his feet.

"Very well," he agreed. "I shall at least see a few of my
fellow-countrymen. Pin a notice on your door telling the clerk to come
for us on his return."

Stornoway did as he was bidden, then they both crossed the tiled hall
outside and entered the restaurant of the hotel. The place was crowded
with men talking loudly, eating and drinking noisily, smoking between
their courses vigorously. The smell of hot coarse foods, the lack of
ventilation and the clamour of voices were all nauseous. Nevertheless,
Alexander took his place at the table to which he was led, affected to
ignore the stained tablecloth of rough linen and took up a paper menu
written in Russian. Stornoway, for some reason or other, seemed nervous
and excited. His eyes were blazing and only his voice, in which his
companion noticed with some amusement the remains of that high and nasal
Oxford accent, remained calm.

"It is best to choose one of the dishes that are ready," he advised.
"Cod's roe and veal and beer--yes? There is no wine to be had."

"Thank you, that will do for me," Alexander acquiesced. "A glass of vodka
first, perhaps--the old if they have any--and with your permission I will
smoke a cigarette."

Stornoway ate little but smoked incessantly. He talked, now, in vague,
somewhat incoherent fashion. Alexander was for the most part silent, but
he listened attentively, with the air of one weighing in his mind every
word his companion uttered. Towards the end of the meal, when mugs of
coffee stood before them, a thin, shabby-looking man, bareheaded, pushed
his way to their table and handed a written message to Stornoway. The
latter glanced it through rapidly.

"My clerk," he announced, looking up. "Two merchants with whom I have
affairs have arrived. One of them is chiefly responsible for the
distribution of our pamphlets in certain directions. You will perhaps
have a few words with him?"

"Certainly," Alexander replied. "In fact I think I should prefer to talk
to anyone in the world than to drink this coffee."

"We come at once," Stornoway told the clerk.

He laid dawn the money for the bill. A moment or two later they passed
through the crowded room. There was not a single woman in evidence and
the men were evidently of the type of small merchants or _commis
voyageurs_. The bare floors were anything but clean, the three huge
gilt mirrors which adorned the inside wall were each one of them cracked
and unpolished. There was no ventilation and the stale odour and harsh
conflict of voices suggested a chamber in an ill-kept menagerie rather
than a restaurant. Alexander followed his guide across the shabby
entrance hall outside with a sensation of relief. He had no sooner passed
through the door on which was the small brass plate--

AMBROSE STORNOWAY--Leather and Skins

and heard the click of the key behind him, than he realised that he was
faced now with something worse than squalor. First amongst the thoughts
which flashed through his mind was an impulse of gratitude towards the
sender of that half-sheet of pink notepaper.

"Are these your two merchant friends, Stornoway?" he asked.

Stornoway, swinging the key of the door upon his little finger, slouched
into the foreground. His head was bent forward, his mouth had taken to
itself an embittered curve. He still retained, however, something of that
classical accent.

"They are not exactly merchants, these men, Mr. Alexander," he said.
"They are officials of a Russian organisation you may have heard of.
Captain Savinkoff and Major Kuskova of the Russian Ogpu Police."

"Indeed," Alexander exclaimed. "They have business with me?"

The two men wore civilian clothes but their carriage was military. The
tone of the elder was brusque but not altogether unpleasant. He had the
air of an official who was not to be trifled with but who desired to be
conciliatory.

"If your name is Alexander, as I am given to understand," he said, "my
comrade and I are on a mission here which concerns you. We have with us
an authorisation calling upon you, as a Russian citizen, to return with
us to Moscow and to give evidence at the trial of various political
prisoners which is to take place within a few days."

"That," Alexander replied, "would be inconvenient. I am afraid it would
be impossible. I regret, gentlemen, that I have other affairs on hand. I
cannot accompany you."

The smaller man coughed. He produced a paper.

"This," he indicated, "is the order demanding your presence. It is signed
by the President of the Court. We have no alternative but to insist upon
it that you, as a loyal Russian comrade, should submit to the summons."

"You have nothing to fear," his companion added calmly. "You are not,
strictly speaking, under arrest. Accommodation will be provided for you
close to the scene of the trial and your return journey will be arranged
for."

"It is just my return journey that I would be a little anxious about.
Whereabouts would they consider my home to be, I wonder?"

"Those are not affairs," the man who answered to the name of Major
Kuskova acknowledged, "with which we are concerned."

"This business, Stornoway," Alexander asked, "has been arranged by you?"

"Yes," was the hectic reply. "Do not ever believe that I came here to
preach your bourgeois doctrines. I am a good sound anarchist. If I have a
fault to find with the present form of government it is that they are too
easy and slack. They do not go far enough. _Faute de mieux_ they
have my sympathy, but I look forward to the time when a bolder and more
daring organisation succeeds them."

"This, then, I perceive is a trap," Alexander said, and his voice had
changed so that the words poured from his lips with a queer biting
crispness. "Put up your hands, the three of you!" he went on, as his
right hand, which had strayed for a moment towards his hip pocket,
flashed out and his revolver covered Savinkoff, the nearest one. "Up with
them! To hell with you, then," he added.

Savinkoff, for a heavy man, had felt for his hip pocket quickly but not
quickly enough. Without even a cry, he doubled up and fell upon his face,
the bullet from Alexander's revolver in his chest. His comrade's arms
were already high up. Stornoway had followed suit. The Russian, for the
moment, Alexander ignored. He covered the other steadily.

"Stornoway," he ordered, "drop that key upon the floor and kick it
towards me."

The young man hesitated for a second. A glance into the speaker's face,
however, was enough. He dropped the key and did as he was told. Stooping
down an inch or two at a time, with his right hand always outstretched,
Alexander picked it up and held it in his left hand.

"Ambrose Stornoway," he said, "you are a traitor."

"Not to my real party," was the angry retort. "I am a Communist to the
finger-tips, an anarchist, if you will. You are an aristocrat. You are
worse even than the capitalists."

"Nevertheless, you joined my party," Alexander reminded him, "and you
laid a cunning plot to get me into the hands of these men. You knew very
well what would have happened to me in Russia. I should have stood in the
dock and not in the witness-box."

"You would have stood with your back to the wall," Stornoway cried
fiercely, "when you left the courthouse. You would have gone where all
your slobbering crowd belong."

"You are a traitor, Stornoway, and you are about to die," was the calm
response. "Have you anything to say?"

The young man moistened his dry lips.

"I am unarmed," he faltered.

"So should I have been when I stood with my back to the wall," Alexander
reminded him. "Ten more seconds, Stornoway."

Stornoway gave a shout which rang through the room. He crouched and
sprang at Alexander. The bullet crashed into his brain. He lay doubled up
upon the floor, an unpleasant-looking sight, with his twisted mouth and
lips still quivering.

"More comfortable, this," Alexander said, stepping a little backwards and
confronting the other man, whose hands were still steadily uplifted.
"Where is your gun, Major?"

"I am not armed," was the gruff reply. "We did not expect this. We were
told that you were a man of peace. Savinkoff carries a gun night and day.
He has enemies who follow him everywhere. With me it is different."

"Turn round and lift up your coat," Alexander enjoined.

The man obeyed. His hip pocket was obviously empty.

"Now take off your coat and throw it towards me."

He did so. Alexander felt the garment with his foot. There was nothing
but a pipe, tobacco, papers and a bottle.

"You are a very lucky man, Major Kuskova," Alexander assured him
pleasantly. "What does that bottle contain?"

"A drug. We did not expect that you would come with us without a little
trouble. A tablespoonful of that, however, and you would have had no will
left. You would have come where you were taken. You would have confessed
to any crime. You call me lucky. I think it is you who have the chance up
till now."

"You may be right," Alexander admitted. "But I have had a dose of that
stuff before. What the devil are you doing?" he asked, suddenly catching
sight of the clerk who was standing on the threshold of the office, also
with his hands well over his head.

"I saw it all from in here," the man declared. "I have done no wrong,
sir, and I would not hurt anyone."

"Then you have nothing to fear," Alexander told him. "Bring me the ledger
with the names of your correspondents in Russia."

The clerk hurried away, grey and characterless. He looked like a little
rat as he came out with a book under his arm.

"This is all that we have, sir," he explained with chattering teeth. "Mr.
Stornoway would keep no books. He destroyed every letter. He always said
it was according to orders from headquarters."

"Where is your stock of pamphlets which go out in the bales of wool you
send away?"

The clerk shook his head.

"I never knew, sir," he declared. "Mr. Stornoway used to fetch them as
they were required. He would drive down in a _droshky_ with two or
three big packets of them. He had a strong-room at the bank. They may be
there. If I may say so, sir, I do not believe that they were the
pamphlets which he was expected to send."

Alexander considered for a moment.

"As this is Germany, not France," he reflected, "I cannot see that it
makes much difference where they are. Follow me."

With the little man trotting behind, Alexander opened the ledger and
glancing through several pages, each one of which recorded transactions
with the _European Review_, led the way to the great stove which
stood in the centre of the warehouse.

"Where do you put in the fuel?" he asked.

The clerk showed him. He picked up an iron implement and opened the door.

"Put this in," Alexander directed.

He obeyed with obvious delight. He closed the door again and sniffed.

"Oh, it will smell--it will smell a great deal. People in the building
will wonder what we are doing. What else can I do, sir?"

Alexander glanced at the two bodies upon the floor. The little clerk
turned his head but he pressed his filthy hands over his eyes.

"Two men," he sobbed, "both dead. The master, he was mad, but he is
dead."

"A regrettable necessity," Alexander said coldly. "Listen to me."

The man listened, shivering with fear.

"You have a heavy knife somewhere, I suppose, that you use for cutting
the ropes of these skins?"

"It is there, sir, hanging on the wall."

"Fetch it."

The clerk obeyed, handing it over with quivering fingers.

"Come into the office," Alexander directed. "Good. What on earth are you
shivering for all the time?"

"I am afraid," the little man confessed. "I heard the gun go off and I
saw the master's face all twisted, and there he lies--dead. I am afraid."

"Take the knife and cut that telephone wire," Alexander ordered.

The other did as he was told.

"You will not hurt me, sir," he begged. "I have a wife and a large
family. I will do you no harm. I will never say I saw you fire the shots.
I will forget what you are like."

"You need not worry," Alexander told him. "What I have done was just a
trifling act of justice. There is no law can touch me."

He crossed the room and picked up the bottle which lay by the side of the
discarded coat. He turned to Kuskova, who was all the time standing with
folded arms.

"You may keep the rest of your belongings, my friend," he said. "I am
curious, however, about the contents of this bottle. I shall have it
analysed."

"It took the cleverest chemist in the world three years to handle that
drug even after he had discovered it," the man assured him earnestly.
"You would have been with us as quiet as a lamb by this time, on our way
back to Russia, if things had gone _as_ we planned them."

Alexander turned towards the door.

"No, you are not to come with me," he told him, holding out his hand. "I
am going to lock the door on the outside. You will stay here and keep the
clerk company. If you shout and hammer loudly enough I expect you will
soon be free."

"Who are you?" the man asked, with a sudden burst of curiosity, "are you
used to killing men like sheep? How do you think you are going to
escape?"

Alexander smiled.

"I imagine that if the German police find out that you are a member of
the Russian Ogpu," he remarked, "and that you were thinking of arresting
me and then dosing me with this drug, you are a great deal more likely to
get into trouble than I am. You see," he added, fitting the key into the
door, "I leave you now. I shall lock you in and keep the key as a memento
of this little visit. _Au revoir_."

He stepped out into the entrance hall, locked the door behind him and
made his way into the street. He found an empty taxi almost at once. In
two hour's time his plane was a speck in the sky sailing westwards.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Anna Prestnoff was lying stretched upon a divan, her elbow upon a
cushion, her head resting upon her hand, studying with intense
concentration mingled with a certain amount of disapprobation, a large
canvas which stood upon her easel a dozen yards away. The stumps of two
extinct cigarettes were in the ash-tray by her side. She lit a third.

"To think that that fool could see quite clearly what he wants, that he
could explain it perfectly, and yet I cannot produce it," she muttered.

Once more her whole attention was riveted upon the canvas. There was a
knock at the door.

"Come in," she invited impatiently.

She half-turned her head. A tall figure had crossed the threshold and was
closing the door behind him. There was something familiar about his
movements even in that little pool of darkness. She sat up with a start
as he came towards her.

"Alexander!" she exclaimed.

"Why not? Surely the first visit I pay on my return should be to you?"

She swung round to a sitting position. Her eyes watched his approach. It
was ridiculous that his coming should be so disturbing. Still, he was
back, he was unharmed and she realised that she was conscious of an
immense sense of relief.

"Why should it be to me?" she asked quietly.

"Because your little pink message with the blot at the bottom of the page
saved me from my besetting fault of over-confidence. I kiss your fingers,
dear Anna," he said, raising them to his lips. "Thanks to your warning I
slipped a small plaything into my pocket and I killed the men who had it
in their minds to make away with me."

"Killed them?" she repeated.

"It was absolutely necessary," he went on as he seated himself beside
her. "Theirs was quite a clever scheme and I was walking into the trap
with all the folly of a credulous jackass. I ought to have known better,
too. I never had any real confidence in Stornoway. That is why I made
that trip to Berlin. He came down from Oxford a do-or-die revolutionary.
Our creed was like milk and water to him. It was only because he loathed
the present government so much that he joined us to make use of our
machinery to distribute his own propaganda. However, all's well that ends
well."

"It did end well, then?"

He smiled.

"Behold me, I am alive," he pointed out, "and Stornoway is dead. So also
is a smooth-tongued, deceitful rogue who announced himself as Captain
Savinkoff--an Ogpu agent with a warrant in his pocket to take me back to
Moscow."

She looked away and there was a shadow of reflective sadness in her tone.

"Ambrose Stornoway," she murmured. "Full of passionate life, the last
time I saw him--all aflame with his schemes, his wild, mad schemes for
purging the world. Death seems a sudden end."

"Death is only merciful when it is sudden," Alexander reminded her.
"Anna, my dear, this drama in which you and I are taking part has to be
played out according to the laws of necessity. We make our own right and
wrong. We are responsible only to our own consciences. Both those men
asked for their fate and deserved it. Stornoway was betraying me to a
Moscow prison and death. The other man, well, it is true he was only an
official but it was his life or mine. He had to go."

"But you," she asked him, "did you just have your will with these men and
leave Berlin without trouble?"

"Thanks to you again," he acknowledged, "I went to see an old friend of
mine, a man who stands in the shadow of the Dictator himself. He gave me
a _laissez-passer_ which brought me out of the country as easily as
I entered it. But tell me, Anna, for it is I now who am curious. You
slipped into my hand, just as I was leaving, that packet which contained
the code signals of imminent danger, but how the mischief did you get the
warning into the room of my hotel in Berlin?"

She reflected for a moment.

"Is it a wise question, that?"

"Wise or not, I beg you for an explanation."

"The night you left I telephoned to a connection of mine who--do not be
shocked, please--was a General in the army of the Grand Duke twenty-five
years ago, although he is now night watchman at the hotel where you
stayed. I told him to search the shops until he found one that would sell
him pink notepaper. I told him to write the word 'BELOVED' in the middle
of half a page and to be sure to drop a blot of ink below it, to place it
in an envelope and deliver it to you. That is how you got it. It is quite
simple. My friend is known at the hotel by the name of Urnoff. He would
do a great deal for me. He would do a great deal for you. He would give
his life for the cause that we stand for although he has often lately
been in danger of starvation."

"How can I find words to thank you?" Alexander asked simply.

"Do not try," she begged. "We will not speak further about it."

"But this man Urnoff? He could probably be of use to us. We have a list
at European House of such people. He would be freed from the danger of
want."

She shook her head.

"It would be too dangerous," she said. "After years of struggling he has
found a post where he has a living wage--even more than that--enough for
his small luxuries, his tobacco and his glass of wine. He has wretched
health and he is not very clever. If it were discovered that he was
receiving money from outside he would lose his post immediately. Leave
him alone, please."

"It shall be as you wish, of course," he acquiesced..."And now tell
me--how have you been faring? Life has not been too grim?"

"It is very hard to find amusement in this great city," she confided,
"but you sent me Leopold."

"Leopold for amusement! Why, I should not think that he would bring a
smile even to the lips of a clown!" She laughed appreciatively.

"I think I will admit that never in this world have I come across a human
being so egregiously devoid of all sense of humour. Ten minutes after he
had paid me his first visit he unbent so far as to offer to open the
gates of Paradise for me. The only thing that I must not expect was
fidelity. He belonged to the world, he was too great a gift for any one
woman. He belonged to the world and to his art!"

"I wonder to whom he would belong if he sprained his ankle," Alexander
meditated.

The telephone tinkled noisily. Anna lifted the receiver, from the
instrument on the small table by her side and listened for a few moments
almost in silence.

"Alas, my dear Lydia," she said at last, "it is impossible. At this very
time there is here with me a gentleman who has called to invite me out to
dinner. I cannot come. To-morrow I shall be working here. After that it
is uncertain..._Parfaitement. A sept heures et demie_."

She rang off.

"Where is the gentleman who is waiting to take you out to dinner?"
Alexander demanded.

"Is not that to be your tribute of gratitude for my having saved your
life?" she asked. "Or is it too great a price to pay? I am not an
expensive girl. There are small restaurants close by, where one is
sufficiently hidden, where one eats cheaply or dines moderately."

He rose and made her a little bow.

"If you will do me the honour of dining with me, Anna," he said, "it will
give me the utmost pleasure. Life, however, is too short for cheap meals.
I will give myself the happiness of fetching you," he added, glancing at
the clock, "at eight o'clock."

"Are you not a little overpowering?" she smiled. "I do not know that I
have a frock for a great occasion."

"I will risk it."

"And will you, please," she implored, as she strolled with him towards
the door, her hand resting lightly upon his arm, "withdraw your
Terpsichorean sleuth with his haunting violet eyes and insolent manner at
the same time? My studio here will seem to me purer when it is freed from
his perfumes."

Alexander hesitated.

"I would like you to keep in touch with him," he decided, "but I promise
that he shall trouble you no more. Till eight o'clock then."


The breeze from the river tempted him as he stood outside looking at his
own green postern gate, and instead of crossing the street he walked
slowly down towards the Embankment. The window-boxes and public gardens
were gay with flowers. Outside the mansion of a famous portrait painter
he lingered for a moment to inhale the sweetness of the roses and a
little farther along he lingered again as he passed a flaming border of
geraniums. The slight mist over the river was blue-tinged, the Houses of
Parliament, serene and stately, seemed to have gained a new beauty softly
but sharply defined in the luminous haziness. He walked slowly and in
that very rare humour into which he had drifted he seemed to attain as
nearly as possible to complete relaxation. The hard, firmly outlined
angles of life, with their grimly immovable finger-posts, seemed to fade
away. The world of puppets, the men and women whom he met day by day,
fell back into a sort of gentle chaos. After all, he wondered, must the
purpose of existence be always so grim and steadfast a thing? Must he be
always girding up his loins to struggle with giants? Left alone, they
would topple from their high places in time. Without a doubt, he
acknowledged to himself in those few minutes, he was missing much of the
music of life, much of its beauty, many of its joys...He crossed the
broad meeting of the ways of Parliament Square and continued his somewhat
melancholy progress along the Embankment. Soon he was opposite the great
block of flats where his temporary abode was situated. He felt reluctant
to cross the road. He sank on to a seat and watched the gulls drifting
downwards on the freshening breeze, listened without hearing to their sad
cry. He counted backwards. For eleven years he had sacrificed ambition,
all personal feelings, risked dangers, courted trouble and loneliness, by
reason of that deep, passionate impulse which he had never been able
wholly to understand, which prompted him to devote all that he had or was
capable of to the liberation of a country which, after all, he had first
quitted as a boy. Now, in these few minutes, he seemed to have reached
one of the halting-places at which one sometimes pauses to breathe and
reflect. He looked down the carefully defined avenue of his future and
with the influence of those last few days upon him he was grimly
conscious of his waning enthusiasms. Life, after all, was a precious
gift, something to be prized and treasured, not to be risked in that
almost flamboyant manner which he seemed lately to have adopted. Years
ago, a boy of sixteen, he had ridden into battle, his sabre in his hand,
the courage of a young lion in his heart, without fear or question. That
was a different thing. In these days he was risking not only death but
ignominy. All the time that chill doubt was torturing him. Was it worth
while? He whose political convictions should have made him the complete
individualist was suddenly grimly doubtful both of himself and of the
whole structure of his future.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Alexander reached the end of his turbulent promenade at last, climbed a
short but famous hill and made his way to his small flat in Buckingham
Court. There he found that for once in his life Paul had flatly disobeyed
him. Lounging in an easy chair in the sitting-room, studying some
photographs in an illustrated paper, was Leopold.

"What the devil," Alexander inquired, "are you doing here, young man?"

Leopold made not the slightest attempt to rise. He threw the illustrated
journal on one side, however, and knocked the ash from his cigarette.

"I telephoned and found that you were back," he said. "I wished to see
you."

"You should have waited until you were sent for, then," was the curt
reply.

Leopold shivered a little. Men who lived outside the world of culture, he
reflected, were so crude in their speech.

"How could you tell that I wished to see you?" he argued gently. "It
concerns Anna Prestnoff."

"I am satisfied about her," Alexander declared. "You need bring me no
further reports."

"But I am not satisfied," Leopold explained pathetically. "When the hour
arrived for that little dinner I told you of, Anna Prestnoff sent me a
note to say that she had a headache and was unable to leave the studio. I
sent flowers and I called there--no reply. I see her at last at the
theatre. She is talking all the time with our director. When I present
myself for a few minutes conversation she--it may seem incredible but it
is nevertheless true--she had the air of one who was thinking about
something else. Anna Prestnoff is not well, or something has happened to
her. I am glad that you are home again. I should be glad if you would
tell her that I am not angry--the dinner was only postponed. I am free
for two evenings next week--Tuesday and Thursday--and either is at her
disposal."

"Perhaps she does not want to go out with you," Alexander suggested.

The young man stared at him.

"I am not altering any of my plans," he said. "I shall be giving up
nothing. You could say that it will give me pleasure to meet her."

A gentle buzzing came from the telephone instrument by Alexander's side.
He took off the receiver. For a moment or two he answered in
monosyllables. Finally he glanced at the clock.

"In five minutes," he said, "I shall be disengaged, if you will do me the
honour of paying your visit, Madame. My room is number two hundred...Very
good. I shall expect you."

He hung up the receiver.

"Perhaps," he suggested, turning to his visitor, "it would be as well if
you tore yourself away, my young friend. You evidently have nothing more
to report to me at the moment. See me after Wednesday--say Friday
morning."

"The morning," Leopold declared peevishly, "does not exist for me. I rise
at two, and as regards Anna Prestnoff--"

"All right, come along here at three, then," Alexander interrupted. "As
regards Anna Prestnoff, you can leave her alone for a time. I do not wish
to hurry you now," he added, as the young man rose languidly to his feet,
"but my visitor bears a somewhat terrifying name. You would doubtless
like to avoid meeting her."

"Who is she?"

"Madame Grodin."

Leopold snatched up his hat. He seemed on the point of hysteria.

"Madame Grodin!" he repeated. "Olga Sherbatoff of the Grand Opera. The
Holy Saints! She is worse than her husband. She has sent more men to the
firing-squad than anyone alive. She is a sadist. She loves and she kills
She is coming here? You receive her--alone?"

"My reputation will support even that danger," Alexander assured him.

The young man's fingers were already clasping the handle of the door.

"I go above," he explained. "I pay a visit to the little Anita, who will
lose her head, but what matter? I shall rest there until I can leave this
awful place."

Alexander made no reply. He closed the door behind his departing guest
and looked in through the connecting door to his bedroom.

"Paul!"

The man, who was busy at one of the wardrobes, turned around.

"Monsieur?"

"Why the devil did you let that young popinjay into my rooms?"

Paul smiled deprecatingly.

"Monsieur," he explained, "I found him out in the passage trying the
handle of the door, and frightened to death. He begged me for shelter. He
said that he had important business with you and he was afraid of being
discovered here by some very dangerous person or other. I thought he was
so harmless that it did not matter."

"You are quite right, as it happens," Alexander admitted. "But listen."

"Monsieur."

"A lady is visiting me--at once."

"_Bien, Monsieur_."

"An old acquaintance, Paul. You knew her as Olga Sherbatoff."

The man straightened himself.

"Monsieur will have a care," he ventured.

"And you will keep out of the way, Paul. Lock the door of the room on
your side and do not unlock it unless it is I myself who speak. You are a
link with the old days. You remain unseen. It is understood?"

"It is understood, Monsieur."

Alexander nodded and left him. A few seconds after he had closed the
door, he heard the key turned. Almost immediately afterwards there came a
low mysterious tapping at the outside entrance. Alexander smiled as he
listened. It was odd, he thought, how much a woman could convey by the
mere touch of her knuckles against mahogany.

"Enter," he invited.

The door was opened and closed. He paused for a moment as he confronted
his visitor on the threshold of the salon--a tall, very elegant woman
with dark sad eyes, a creamy-white complexion and with a figure which
defied the discipline of her perfectly cut travelling clothes. She drew
back half a step and curtsied, a faint irony in the smile which played
about her mouth. He frowned at her. Then she held out her hands. He
raised them to his lips.

"Say that you are glad to see me," she insisted.

"Madame," he answered, "you are welcome. This is the first time I have
the privilege of receiving you in such a fashion."

He closed the door behind her. She sank into the chair to which he
pointed.

"It might well have been Olga, my own name, with which you greeted me,"
she complained. "My marriage was, as you might divine, something of a
farce. It is for the sake of the British passport."

"Grodin, as I remember him--" Alexander began.

"Be quiet, if you please," she interrupted. "I did not come here to talk
of him--not until later, at any rate."

"That is as you wish," he replied, handing her cigarettes. "The marvel to
me is that you should have come here to talk with me about anything or
anybody."

She looked at him with steady, inquiring eyes. He would be difficult,
this man. She knew something of him from the past. He had not changed.
Her task suddenly seemed to her impossible.

"I do not know why I came," she confessed with a perfectly genuine
feeling of helplessness. "Simply I knew that you were here so close under
the same roof and, after all, I may call myself, may I not, an old
friend, an old acquaintance, if you will?"

"My dear Olga," he said lightly, "I have very charming memories of our
brief past before you became famous, in the days before the mutterings of
the storm. Alas, that world has slipped away. You, they tell me, are a
very important figure in the new Russia."

"That is because I am the only woman whom the Dictator will permit to
have a permanent residence within the boundaries," she confided. "I am
the only woman in whom he has any trust."

"Something to be proud of, that," he observed. "Tell me, Madame, you
still work for your country?"

She looked at him steadily from underneath her slightly lowered eyelids.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"It is not necessary for me to explain."

"You mean that you still think, even now that I suppose I rank above any
other woman in Russia, that I am still a spy?"

"You were a very excellent one in the old days," he reflected. "I
remember having a narrow escape from a firing-squad myself some six years
ago. A poor student in the Nevsky Prospekt, you know, who had friends
above his station and a weakness for Kerensky."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"If you care to believe it," she said. "All the same, it is not true. No
one can say that I ever betrayed a friend. Your intimacy with Kerensky
was known to others besides myself."

"Oh, finish with all this talk of betrayal, Madame," he begged. "We are
in London, the freest spot in the freest country in the world. How you
contrived to have your husband appointed Minister to the Court of St.
James's, is not my business. Why you pay me this visit, on the other
hand, I have the right to ask."

She had the air of a woman pained, a little humiliated. Her eyes drooped
before him. One might have conceived that she was trying to hide from him
the slight mistiness which for the moment obscured their beauty.

"It was my husband's wish that I came," she said. "He is in a difficult
position. I may tell you facts. They are simply for you to consider."

"But your object in telling me anything?" he asked. "That is what I
should like to know."

"Our old friendship," she replied. "My husband's belief in your great
gifts as a leader of men."

"He flatters me," Alexander murmured.

"He does not. He would have liked to talk to you upon the steamer. He
would like to meet you himself, but in his position there are
difficulties."

"Still Lord High Executioner of a wavering people, is he not?"

If he was trying to sting her into a retort he failed. "My husband has
been Chief of the Ogpu."

"Of whom the whole world is in fear," he said simply.

"He is now," she went on unruffled, "the representative of the Russian
people in Great Britain. His position affords him great opportunities. He
is perhaps the first man of brains belonging to his party who realises
that underneath a mask of seeming prosperity this greatest experiment the
world has ever known has not met with complete success...Beyond the
limits of his own powers he looks into the future. He sees the coming of
a new dynasty, the triumph of a new school of thought. It is being
preached now vigorously enough from without, by no one more eloquently
than you. There is one place from which it could be preached from within,
hasten the end and be the salvation of hundreds of thousands of lives."

"You interest me, Madame," Alexander said quietly.

"I should."

"And that place?"

"By one holding the post of Field-Marshal of the Red Army," she answered,
"hand in hand with his Chief of the Staff, sole director of the military
operations in case of war."

There was a silence prolonged, it seemed to the woman, almost beyond
human endurance. All the time he sat with his eyes fixed upon her as
though seeking to penetrate to the thoughts at the back of her brain.
From below, through the half-open window, came the subdued sound of the
hum and bustle of the street traffic punctuated with the hooting of motor
horns. When at last he spoke it was as if his words possessed a
gimlet-like quality. Olga was a woman of great experience but she felt
herself on the borderland of fear. No situation she had ever been called
upon to handle had given her such a thrill.

"Is this an offer?" he asked at last.

"Yes."

"A serious offer?"

"In a sense, yes," she repeated. "It is a proposition."

"Does it come, I wonder, from the man whose name we so seldom mention, or
from your husband? If it comes from the latter alone it means that the
invincible, indomitable Grodin is qualifying for a post amongst the next
gang of political miscreants whom the great man's spies herd into the
Court."

She could bear his scrutiny no longer. She threw away her cigarette and
sprang to her feet. She walked restlessly to the window and back again.
He remained silent and rigid in his chair. The fingers of her right hand
rested lightly upon her hip. She walked with a scarcely discernible sway,
a gesture which half the feminine world had sought, and sought in vain,
to imitate since the days of her first appearance on the stage.

"You forget," she pointed out, "that it is my husband himself who is
chief of all the spies who are working for the government. Besides, he is
in London."

She came to a standstill on the hearthrug, her elbow upon the broad
mantelpiece, her eyes now seeking Alexander's once more.

"You have grown colder and harder than in the old days," she sighed. "It
has been my fate to bring you this wonderful offer. It does not move
you--no? Can you not realise that it does away with twenty years of
delay, of plots and counterplots? The government can hold its own against
any form of political opposition. Against the army it is powerless."

He changed his attitude with the rapid facility which can be inspired by
genius alone. He became the artist brought face to face with perfection.
A different light shone in his eyes.

"You are a very beautiful woman, Olga," he pronounced.

"What has that to do with the matter of this moment?" she asked with
impatience, almost anger, in her tone. "Do you realise that I have put
before you an offer which might change the face of Europe?"

"I have just that curious type of brain," he apologised, "which wanders.
I think hard and then I rest."

"I would rather know the result of your thinking hard than receive your
flattery--at this moment," she told him.

"Be reasonable, dear Olga," he begged. "You surely never expected to hear
the final result in something less than ten minutes."

"You were always a man of quick decisions," she reminded him.
"Over-impetuous we used to consider you."

"Perhaps I have learnt wisdom," he smiled.

"You never made a mistake."

"Even that remains to be proved. There was a time when I held a revolver
within a few yards of the great man's heart. I spared him because at that
time, although I loathed his principles, it seemed to me that he was
modifying them month by month. Was that a mistake, I wonder?"

"It is not a question for me to answer."

He rose to his feet, approached her and stood by her side. She remained
motionless. Emotion of a sort she was without a doubt feeling. Her eyes
were a little distended. She caught his hand as he stretched it out, and
kissed it passionately.

"Alexander," she murmured. "Alexander--this is a great moment."

"Was that the kiss of betrayal, Olga?" he asked her.

"Very likely," she admitted. "The message I bring comes from one who has
betrayed others. This time I tell you honestly that I do not know.
Nicolas Grodin is a man who is as secret with his wife as he is with the
world--whose thoughts no one yet has been able to read. Vulgar and even
rough as he is in appearance he has qualities which the public knows
nothing of."

He led her towards the door.

"In other words," he said, "I must take my chance while it is there."

"Precisely. Whatever you may think of me, Alexander, I have at least been
frank with you. You have asked me whether this is a genuine offer or one
meant for your betrayal. I have answered that I do not know. Comes
through my husband--that is all I can tell you. It may be that he or his
master are afraid of you and are choosing this way of getting you the
other side of the frontier so that they may deal with you as they think
well. On the other hand, it may be that it is a perfectly genuine, wise
and generous offer which as a patriotic Russian you should accept."

"What is your advice?" he asked.

She dropped him a little mocking curtsy.

"Who am I to offer advice to you? When will you give me your answer?"

"Is a week too much to ask for?"

"It was my husband's suggestion. Shall I came to you?"

"If you will."

She looked at him thoughtfully.

"I should like to come to your secret pagoda in Chelsea," she said.

He shook his head.

"Alas," he regretted, "there is nothing very secret about it, but it is
my resting-place. I receive no visitors there."

She shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"Here, then--at the same time?"

"If you will."

He held open the door. To the last minute his puzzled eyes seemed to be
questioning her. Then she passed out, and although the question persisted
she evaded the response he sought.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN


Anna Prestnoff, from her comfortable chair at the well-chosen but remote
corner table in the fashionable restaurant of the moment watched the
rapidly filling room with interest. She watched, too, Alexander as he
wrote out his order and handed it to the _maitre d'hôtel_ who had
taken charge of them upon their entrance.

"I am feeling rather guilty," she confessed. "To tell you the truth, this
is not at all the sort of thing I had in my mind. I imagined that you
might have stayed on for a time at the studio, that I should have mixed
you one of my not very good and never quite cold enough _apéritifs_
and that we should have gone out together to one of those little
restaurants close at hand."

"This is a feast of gratitude," he told her. "When I think of that
exceedingly unpleasant fellow who came all the way from Moscow to take me
back with him and remember that most noxious mixture with which he was
planning to dope me and which we know something about already, my
gratitude to you is more than a dozen such dinners as this could repay."

She shivered momentarily as she raised the glass containing the
amber-coloured cocktail to her lips.

"Horrible stuff," she murmured. "Sometimes I wake up with a start in the
night and fancy I can smell that slimy vapour stealing up my nostrils.
Only a few nights ago I had to get up and throw my windows wide open to
get rid of the idea."

"When one is living under the conditions we have to tolerate just now,"
he said, "fate makes no allowances. The weakling has to be destroyed and
replaced. Without a doubt, Leopold Zadaruski had a hand in that little
affair in Berlin and hoped that he had seen the last of me."

Her silence was sufficient answer. Alexander, after a moment or two,
continued.

"What unspeakable ignominy," he exclaimed, "to have been sent to death by
such means! It is true that the young man is a mass of nerves. He is also
a terrible coward. He heard the other day that Grodin had arrived to take
up a temporary abode at Buckingham Court and he nearly fainted from the
shock."

"Why was he ever admitted into the 'circle?" Anna asked.

"Because he was the only person who had a free entree backwards and
forwards between Moscow and the rest of the world," he explained. "One
thing I must say for our misguided countrypeople: even under the lash of
the present form of government they have kept their love of music, the
opera and especially the ballet. They speak of this creature, Zadaruski,
with bated breath. He can walk the streets of Moscow with impunity, where
either you or I would be whisked off to a fortress in a minute. The
government may send out to the execution squad its _littérateurs,_
its men of science, its philosophers, its great soldiers, but it dare not
lay a finger upon Leopold Zadaruski. That is why we are obliged to take
the risk of employing a possible traitor."

"It seems to me," she observed, "that the question is not what the
government of Russia, who have not yet found him out, might do to him, so
much as what you are going to do."

He smiled.

"My dear companion," he said, "I have such courage as a man of action
must possess, but I shall not interfere with Leopold Zadaruski. One
cannot set one's heel upon every gnat that stings."

The service of their dinner commenced. Anna sighed with exaggerated
content as she was served with hot toast and the caviare. She approved
most heartily of the vodka.

"Like all Russians," she confided, "I am a little greedy."

"And I more than a little," he confessed. "A truce to serious
conversation."

"Willingly," she agreed. "You have taken a load from my mind already. If
anything happens to Leopold, the ballet in London will come to an end and
a great deal of my work be wasted."

"You need have no fear," he assured her. "I may have my own ideas about
the association which existed between Leopold and Ambrose Stornoway, but
I shall make no effort to discover the truth. It simply does not matter."

The room was now almost full. Alexander had exchanged greetings with a
few acquaintances, Anna with no one. Nevertheless, she had attracted a
considerable amount of attention. She was perhaps the most simply
dressed woman in the room and she wore no jewellery except a small but
beautiful ivory cross. Notwithstanding that, more than one woman had
whispered the magic name of Chanel as they studied the lines of her black
gown...Alexander, towards the end of their little banquet, gave way at
last to an impulse which, half-developed, he had been carrying with him
ever since he had climbed the hill from the Embankment a few hours
earlier.

"Anna Prestnoff," he confided, "when I left your studio I did not return
to my own little retreat. I walked slowly to my apartment at Buckingham
Court. I gave myself the luxury of an hour's quiet reflection."

She looked at him with a soft smile upon her, lips and invitation in her
eyes.

"You will confide in me?" she murmured.

"Why should I not? Tell me your idea of what the men might do who are
diplomats, politicians or men of affairs, at a certain period of their
lives as they grow tired, when the things which seemed to them as they
started life so magnificently worth all the turmoil of effort and
struggle appear suddenly pointless?"

Anna shook her head, this time without comment.

"If they are not careful they fade away into the shadows," he continued.
"I am the head of a society of men and women banded together for a common
purpose. It has no name and few people in the world know of its
existence. We have worked with one idea--to bring back sane government to
our mutilated country, to re-establish her as one of the nations in the
forefront of civilisation. And now to me personally has come calamity. I
have a disturbance of the spirit, a mental _malaise,_ a black
thought depresses me. I feel that I am wearying of my task."

"I do not believe it!" she cried.

"But I am," he persisted. "Eleven years, almost the best years of a man's
life, and our country to-day is where it was."

"That is not true," the girl contradicted eagerly. "This is just your
Russian temperament which must every now and then assert itself. The
whole world is beginning to realise that Communism in its present
accepted form can never be applied as an active principle to a nation.
The system has failed. You think that it is not a great work to make that
clear?"

"But consider the situation," he pointed out. "I grant you the failure
and doom of the present regime is at hand. Have we any prepared scheme to
offer in its place? Where is our University of men of moderate principles
who might act as successors to the present illogical form of government?
How can we reach this great immobile mass of men and women who ache to be
shown the truth? The prophets are not there and it is only when we are
driven to it that we know why. The rulers of Russia, since three years
after the revolution, have taken the only sane way of keeping themselves
in their position. They have swept away their scholars, their embryo
statesmen, their intellectuals who rebelled against the grim fetters of
arbitrary despotism, to the fortresses and prisons and execution yards of
the country. Look at that long list of men who might have helped in our
great work--murdered, many of them starved to death. Think of Adek, the
genius who might have rallied the country. Anna Prestnoff, I am terrified
that I may declare myself weary of it all."

She looked at him in dismay. She knew that strong man though he was, he
was also temperamental, and that he was opening up his soul to her under
the influence of a wave of depression. She was terrified.

"But what could you do, Alexander?" she protested. "You have gone so far.
You have thrown so much of your life into the work--"

"Listen," he interrupted. "I have two courses open. One is a certain road
to death. It is an offer from Grodin to accept a Field-Marshalship in the
Red Army and the post of Commander-in-Chief of the entire Russian
forces."

"You would not accept," she implored with growing agitation in her voice.
"It is a trap! Grodin is not to be trusted. It is a trap to get you into
the country."

He smiled a little sadly.

"You are clear-headed, my friend," he acknowledged. "It is the truth. But
listen--supposing I should take the chance, I might pave the way so that
they were compelled to give me time. I might announce myself and my
policy and my hopes boldly so that the world would know them. I realise
the cunning of those men, Anna. They would wait until the world had
passed on to its next chapter of living a year, two years, perhaps, and
then all of a sudden, at the dead of night, an arrest, a fortress, a
court-martial--death. The only thing to be considered is that I should
have been able to go far enough, if they gave me time to light the torch
so that the work would go on."

"They would not," she declared firmly. "The idea is madness. You and I
both know that if you crossed the frontier of Russia even if they give
you a year or two years' respite, it would be eventually to enter a
fortress, to have your system poisoned with that horrible drug until you
crawled into court to a sham trial and joined the others. You are mad to
dream of such a sacrifice."

"I am a little mad," he admitted, "because during all these years I have
never once felt the call of life as I feel it to-day."

A wave of wondering emotion checked back the words upon her lips, a sense
of amazing happiness was creeping through her blood, her eyes glowed.
They went on talking a little uncertainly but everything that needed to
be said seemed to be there like music floating between them.

"I will tell you what it is that I have felt," he went on. "I have felt
that I am weary of the routine of patriotism, weary of this life of
intrigue and of the people who stand in the way of my happiness. I want
to live as a human being, thinking of myself and for myself and through
myself--of you, Anna. I want the good and desirable things of life. I am
tempted to become an individualist pure and simple. You know why."

"Oh, you must tell me," she begged.

"I have given so much to others," he said. "I could love as other men
have loved. I could love you."

All the glory of her worship glowed in her eyes. Her hand fell upon his.
She was speechless. She felt herself being carried by irresistible forces
into another sweeter and loftier world...Then banality. The old jargon of
meaningless words upon their ears. The empty space which had secured for
them complete privacy suddenly invaded. Men and women, a large party of
guests, were standing around the as yet unoccupied long table. The
hostess, a very great lady indeed in the peerage and society, with a card
in her hand _was_ directing her followers to their places. Greetings
from one or two, travelled across to Alexander's table. The Prince de
Chambordine, stately and dignified, permitted himself an expression of
slight surprise as he waved his hand to Alexander. Leopold with an air of
sleek insouciance, was taking his place between two middle-aged ladies of
petting proclivities, and gradually recovering from the shock he had
suffered a few minutes before in the ante-room of the restaurant when he
had come face to face with the Grodins and found that they were
fellow-guests. Grodin, who had come on to the opera after a semiofficial
dinner of recognition, was wearing orders and decorations. His wife was
quietly elegant in a black satin toilette, her only jewellery a
marvellous necklace of emeralds. Simone de Chambordine, in dazzling
white, had thrown one glance of ill-concealed disturbance towards
Alexander and subsided into her chair. The hostess, after looking at him
for a moment, waved her hand.

"I hope we shan't crowd you out," she cried pleasantly.

"Not in the least," he assured her. "In any case, we were early diners.
We are leaving almost at once."

The Prince, with a word of apology to his hostess, came over and after a
formal salute to Anna laid his hand upon Alexander's shoulder.

"I rang up a few days ago," he said. "No one could tell me where you
were. I inquired at Heston and found that your plane was out."

"I have been on the Continent," Alexander replied. "You will hear my
report on Thursday. Very likely the end of my voyaging for a time. Tell
me, what on earth is that fellow Grodin doing in your _galère?"_ The
Prince shrugged his shoulders.

"I imagine that his chief claim to being one of the guests is that he is
the husband of his wife. Olga Sherbatoff, as you must remember, was the
greatest Diva of her day and my hostess's friends are chosen always from
the world of music. We have even, as you may have noticed, that young cub
from the ballet in our midst."

Alexander nodded.

"Olga Sherbatoff will always remain a notable figure," he observed, "but
her husband--where did all the decorations and medals come from?"

De Chambordine smiled.

"He is an official person nowadays, Alexander," he reminded his nephew.
"He has, as a matter of fact, been attending an official dinner in his
honour at one of the Embassies, and came on to the opera late. Will you
dine at Claridge's to-morrow night just Simone and me?"

Alexander shook his head gently.

"I will let you have word," he promised. "I fear that I may ask to be
excused, though."

"I must see you," the Prince persisted.

He looked around. Everyone was settling down into their places. Anna was
leaning back in her chair contemplating herself in the small mirror which
she had drawn from her bag. He dropped his voice and spoke in rapid
French.

"My friend," he said, "there are curious rumours leaking across the
frontier. I have been twice to-day to European House. Everything points
towards a crisis. Besides, I want to hear of your visit abroad. It is a
time for action."

"You are right," Alexander agreed, almost under his breath, "but it is
also a time for restraint. A single false move might throw us back for
years. A proposition has been made to me within the last few hours. I
cannot decide whether it is a serious one or not. To-morrow I shall be at
headquarters all day. We shall certainly meet there."

"My dear Prince!" his hostess called out to him in remonstrance.

She pointed to the empty place on her right. De Chambordine reluctantly
moved away and Alexander resumed his seat.

"I was thinking," he said to Anna, his wonderfully modulated voice
sinking almost to a whisper, "of proposing a cabaret. Nothing could be
better than this, however, for a few minutes. The curtain has risen and
we occupy the front row of stalls. We can see how Leopold behaves in high
society. We can listen to the most accomplished hostess in London or
Paris drawing her guests together. We can watch the German Ambassador
looking askance at us from behind those horn-rimmed spectacles of his. We
can amuse ourselves watching the porpoise-like efforts of Grodin to adapt
himself to his new surroundings."

"And we can look, too, at that exquisite child, Simone de Chambordine,"
Anna observed, "sitting between a Royal Prince who looks as though he had
nothing to say, and a great genius who dreams only of music. Neither of
them have opened their mouths yet and she looks at us enviously all the
time."

"Simone is only a child," he remarked.

Anna glanced across the table and there was a gleam of faint pity in her
eyes.

"Children leave the convent too young, nowadays," she sighed. "I was like
that myself not so very long ago."

"Still, you do not regret?"

"Regret what?"

"Your womanhood. The passing from that nebulous state of sentimental
dreams to the world of real emotions."

"A few minutes ago," she told him almost shyly, "I was glad. I think that
a time will come when I shall be glad again."


Alexander, several times during the remainder of the evening, was
inclined to believe that he would never altogether recapture the moment
of mental abandon which the coming of de Chambordine and his friends had
interrupted. An hour afterwards, when, in the shadow of Anna's dimly-lit
studio, he had taken her into his arms and embraced her fondly and
tenderly, she herself was tortured by vague doubts. It seemed to her that
there was a leaven of wistfulness in his caresses, against which she
instinctively rebelled.

"You meant it?" she whispered passionately.

He smoothed back her hair and looked into her eyes--never more beautiful.

"I meant it. I spoke then at a moment when words are born, not made, and
all that I said was true. But Ann?--"

"There is to be a but?" she cried.

"Not to my love for you," he assured her. "That will never change. The
only question which remains is a simple but vital one."

"What is there more vital than our two selves?" she demanded.

"Nothing," he answered. "But you heard de Chambordine. There is a great
change in him. He is all keyed up for action. Anna, I believe that he is
right. The time is close upon us. Now that we are seated like this side
by side and I can hold you in my arms I feel that I can think clearly."

"I can think only of you," she whispered in his ear.

Her lips sought his once more. She was happy because she felt the passion
still there. Presently, however, he drew a little away.

"You know, Anna," he said, "you were right. One cannot throw up a life's
work in a moment. I ask myself whether I ought not to take up this
challenge and accept the command of the Russian Army. Remember that it is
through the soldiers alone that Russia can find what she has never yet
found--freedom."

She was for a moment distracted.

"But Alexander," she cried, "surely you are not deceived by that offer of
Grodin's? You do not believe in it? You must know that it is simply an
effort to get you across the frontier. You are the only man--you and one
other, Molonieff--of whom they are afraid. You cannot believe that this
is a serious offer, Alexander? They want you there not to direct their
armies--you will never be allowed to go near them. They want you there to
ply you with their drugs, to bring you to another of their mock trials,
and from there to the execution squad."

He smiled.

"I am not deceived," he assured her. "A child would know that that is
their idea. On the other hand, it is not mine."

"But what can you do?"

"Appear to swallow the bait," he explained with growing eagerness, "and
then take a few precautions which will probably lead them to move more
slowly. For instance, I would insist upon the Press of Europe announcing
the fact of my appointment. I could stipulate that I took three
aides-de-camp of my own choosing. I should arrange that they made reports
to their countries--two would probably be English and one German--of my
safe arrival at Moscow and the commencement of my work. If I were to
disappear my aides-de-camp would disappear. There would be a blank wall
of silence and it is my belief, Anna, that the civilised world has had
enough of these mock trials and bloodthirsty executions, and Russia, at
the present moment, is not in a position to face concerted pressure from
the whole world...I should also remind Grodin that I had my own espionage
system in Moscow, and that it would not be possible to have me disappear
there without the news leaking out. They would have to temporise with the
situation, they would have then to let me take up my post, and I promise
you that once there I should not lose a moment. They might find the
tables turned. It might be I who would be holding the court martials!"

"I will not let you go," Anna declared, dragging him down to her.

"You little revolutionary!"

"I have what you do not possess," she insisted.

"It is common sense. Your scheme is sheer madness. The minute you cross
the frontier you will be encircled by a ring of iron. They will never let
you escape. At the first moment of pressure from outside they will shoot
you. Then what does it matter however many nations protest? The world
will have lost a hero, our country its saviour, and I shall have lost my
lover."

"I do not think so," he said confidently.

Once more he yielded to her embraces, yielded to and returned them. The
hours slipped by. When at last she moved away and with a low laugh of joy
turned up the light and looked at herself in the mirror, she knew that
the happiness of her life was established. There was a shadow of anxiety
in her eyes but there was a softness in her expression, a gentleness in
her voice, which seemed to have brought with them a new and exquisite
charm.

"When do you decide?" she asked, her head once more upon his shoulder.

"Not in a hurry, I can promise you," he assured her. "I have to see de
Chambordine first. I must summon a meeting at European House. I shall
have to find my aides-de-camp, there will be some formalities to go
through at the War Office here, and of course we shall have to get the
reply to my conditions."

"You promise that you will not leave without seeing me--here in this
room?"

"I promise."

She walked down with him to the door.

"I cannot talk any more," she sighed. "It is useless. I know that I have
not the power to move you. Your promise must content me for to-night."

"I shall not break it," he assured her. "And listen, Anna, I will make a
confession. I am not so indifferent about life or death as I was a short
time ago. You have weakened my fatalism. You have given me desire for
life."

A faint smile flickered about her lips. She gripped him by the shoulders
as they stood for a moment in the night air listening to the rustling of
the elm trees in the garden opposite.

"Thank you for those last words," she whispered. "You were beginning to
frighten me. I like to think of you as human."

He took her once more into his arms. There was a drizzling rain falling
outside, a policeman with he light from the standard gleaming on his
soaked cape, passed round the corner, a wan fragment of the moon peeped
from behind a line of jagged clouds. Alexander's good-night kiss
thrilled the girl almost to madness. A great joy took the place of those
few minutes of icy depression. Nothing could take him away from her. Her
lips moved. He leant forward to catch her words--a passionate fragment of
Russian verse. Her eyes were shining as she looked up at him.

"Just a promise to our two selves and our love."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


The Prince de Chambordine was the first of the larger party to notice the
quiet but unhurried departure of their neighbours. He was just in time to
wave his hand in farewell as Alexander looked back from the door.

"Your friend," his hostess remarked, "seems to be a man of great
distinction. His face is familiar to me but I cannot for the moment
recall his name."

"He is a relative of my wife's and one of her cornpatriots," the Prince
confided. "As for his name, he has discarded it. I have known him ever
since he was a boy. We have met often in Paris, in London, and in New
York. This is the first time I have ever seen him either dining or
lunching alone with any woman--almost the first time, indeed, that I have
seen him in a fashionable restaurant."

"What a record!" his hostess, who had been an anxious collector of
attractive members of the opposite sex throughout her life-time, sighed.
"And he looks so charming! Tell me more about him."

The Prince shook his head.

"I have so much affection for my young relative," he said, "that I even
fall in with his whims. He dislikes very much to be talked about, to
obtrude, however harmlessly, into public notice. He comes of a noble
family and in his quiet, earnest way he works even now for the good of a
country which, thank God, he never visits."

Madame Grodin leaned across the narrow table. Her eyes, too, had followed
Alexander as he made his departure, and there was a misty light of
recollection in their beautiful depths. For a few seconds she had once
more breathed the atmosphere of Olga Sherbatoff--the atmosphere of sweet
memories and sad regrets.

"I have my own wonderful recollections of the gentleman who has just
left," she confided. "Not so many years ago, when I first sang at Covent
Garden, his flowers were the most beautiful I received. I think I dare
even say that they gave me the most pleasure, because he was not one who
sent flowers carelessly. They were Gloire de Dijon roses," she added,
addressing her hostess more directly, "the same shade as those with which
your dinner-table is decorated now."

"He is like myself," the Prince observed, "a man of sentiment. I must
tell him, with your permission, of your memory, Madame. He will, I am
sure, appreciate it."

She sighed.

"He has become a very serious person since those days," she said. "I
myself am surprised to see him with a companion."

"I have met the young lady," the Prince remarked. "She travelled home on
the same boat from New York. You remember her, Simone, I am sure."

"Perfectly well," the girl assented. "I recognised her directly we
entered the room."

"If you are curious," Leopold drawled, leaning across the table, "I can
tell you who she is. She is Russian and an artist tolerably well known.
She is painting the scenes for my new ballet. I occasionally visit her
studio. Her name is Prestnoff--Anna Prestnoff:"

"There is something about her," the Prince meditated, "which reminds one
of Russia--the Russia of the old days, I mean."

"For myself," his hostess observed, "I should have taken her for a
Parisian. She does not interest me--women seldom do. Why this mystery
about your distinguished-looking relative, my friend?" she asked the
Prince.

He smiled.

"I always respect an incognito when it is an honest one," he replied.

She glanced across at Olga Grodin.

"And you, Madame?"

"I have always looked upon the Prince, though our acquaintance has been a
slight one, as a model of courtliness and good taste," she said. "Where
he leads I follow."

The hostess raised her eyebrows slightly. If she was annoyed she
concealed the fact. The conversation drifted into other channels.
Nevertheless, for one woman at least amongst her guests, the evening had
become one of disturbing memories.

The spell of those memories persisted. Hours later, when her maid was
about to prepare her for the night, Olga Grodin threw herself instead
upon the divan.

"Give me some cushions before you go," she ordered, "and move the lamp
over by my side. Make up the fire, too. I may read."

The woman obeyed and departed. Her mistress, however, had no intention of
reading. She lay quite still and her eyes were looking into a fully
peopled world although a far distant one. At the sound of the opening of
her door she turned her head in surprise:

"Nicolas!" she exclaimed, as her husband entered smoking a cigar. "What
is the matter?"

"Nothing," he answered. "I came to have a word with you."

"Do not come a step nearer smoking that cigar," she insisted. "Take it
out of the room, please. You may smoke one of my cigarettes if you wish."

He threw the cigar into the fire with a little grunt and lit a cigarette.
He dragged up a chair to the side of her couch.

"Since you are here," she said, "I have something to ask you."

Grodin pulled down his waistcoat. He was conscious that his stomach was
becoming somewhat protuberant. Nevertheless, about his full mouth and
solid jaw there was an air of strength even if combined with cruelty. He
had caught the spirit of the times in which he lived.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It concerns Alexander."

"Well?"

"I told you of our conversation," she said. "I did your bidding. I told
you the truth. I came away unable to make up my mind whether or no he
believed that the offer I brought him was a genuine one."

"And again--well?"

She turned her head and looked into his restless beady eyes.

"Was it?"

"Is that your business?" he replied. "I told you what to say. I trusted
to the genius that you have in such matters to make the affair plausible.
You asked no questions at the time."

"Quite true," she acquiesced. "Since then I have developed a curiosity."

"The man was once your lover, I believe," he snarled.

"You flatter me," was the contemptuous rejoinder. "At the time I knew
him, any woman living would have been proud to have been his mistress."

"Be careful," he warned her. "I am your husband, remember."

"You are my husband," she admitted, "but we are not in Moscow. To tell
you the truth, Nicolas," she went on, "I am not sure whether I shall ever
return to Moscow with you. I should be afraid."

He laughed silently--a not altogether pleasant gesture, for his frame
shook although his lips remained rigid.

"I think you will," he said.

"Answer my question, please."

He shook his head.

"It is not your concern."

"Perhaps it has become so," she told him. "I have thought over this
matter since my visit to Alexander. I know that you and your comrades are
afraid of the army and I cannot believe that you would hand over its
destinies, even for a week, to Alexander. There is something behind the
curtain in that invitation of yours."

"Indeed!" he mocked. "Well, if there is, is will stay there. Let that be
sufficient for you-and Olga, have a care when you cross words with me.
You are not squeamish. You know what has happened to other men, and
women, too, who have failed to carry out my wishes. If I give the word,
neither your beautiful looks nor that exquisite body of yours would save
you."

She swung round upon the divan. Her eyes were blazing with anger.

"Answer my question and get out of my room!" she ordered.

He made no effort of movement. He permitted himself only a little
contemptuous grunt. She rose to her feet and stood with her finger upon
the bell. He lit another cigarette.

"If you ring that bell," he said, "I shall have you thrown out of the
place. I do not take a woman round with me who disobeys, even though she
is my wife. If you want to know about your lover you shall. You made him
the offer. If he accepts it you may have sent him to the execution squad.
I do not know, you do not know, nobody knows what may happen to anyone
when they cross the frontier into Russia. But listen. If you communicate
with him in any way you know very well that I shall hear of it. I hear of
everything. My spies make no mistakes. And as sure as you are alive
to-night, so surely will you be dead in a week. Take that to bed with you
and think it out."

He rose from his chair with another grunt. Olga stood motionless, her
finger still upon the bell. From the door Grodin looked back. There was
something a little satyr-like about his expression, a smile that
resembled a leer about his thick lips. She pressed the bell and he heard
it tinkling down the corridor. Even while he hesitated the maid was in
the room.

"You can prepare me for bed now, Moura," her mistress directed. "Lock the
door as soon as Monsieur has left."

The woman opened the door and glanced respectfully at her employer. He
paused for a single moment, then he passed out and they heard the door of
his room noisily closed. Moura turned the key and hurried to her
mistress. Her eyes were full of fear. Olga laughed at her and slipped out
of her negligée with a gesture of weariness.

"He fatigues me, that man!" she exclaimed.

"Madame should have a care," Moura warned her anxiously. "In our country
there is not a soul who does not fear him."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


The doors of the Counsellors' Chamber were locked, the windows, as
always, hermetically sealed. Ventilation was only possible through the
ceiling in a fashion which science called 'air conditioning'. Not a sound
was heard from the street below. Ingress or egress to the apartment,
except at the will of the man who sat at the end of the table with a
bunch of keys before him, was an impossibility. There were twenty-two men
present, including the Prince de Chambordine and Alexander, who presided.
It was a secretly-called meeting of the directors who were responsible
for the existence of European House, and the most important meeting that
had ever been held. The men who sat around in conference were of various
nationalities. The majority were Russians of high rank who had preserved
in their exile a passionate devotion to the land from which they were
outcasts. There was a famous American known everywhere as a great
international statesman even in these latter days of his life. There were
the two Pretenders to the throne of France, also an Austrian and a
German, both men of royal birth who had withdrawn from the world as
disaster came to their countries. There were three Englishmen, one of
whom--Professor Leonard, a scholar and political economist of great
distinction--had been made welcome in Russia until the arrival of the
present dynasty. It was he who, breaking a somewhat prolonged silence,
had just made the astonishing suggestion which had fallen like a
bombshell amongst his auditors.

"There are probably," he said, looking round with a quiet smile which was
seldom absent from his lips but which was at no time an indication of any
form of mirth, "two people outside Moscow who know the truth about this
astounding invitation which Alexander has just laid before us. One is
Nicolas Grodin. I have known Grodin for thirty years and it is my opinion
that there does not exist a man present who could know at any time
whether he was telling the truth or not. Personally I have found him,
whenever we have come into contact, a shrewd and brilliant diplomat;
also, when it suited him, an egregious, a convincing and a wicked liar. I
have also known times when with seeming risk to himself he has told the
bare and unvarnished truth. The other is a man who I believe at the
present moment is a semi-prisoner under this roof--Marc Zaritsch. To
appeal to Grodin would be a ridiculous waste of breath. It is otherwise
with Zaritsch."

"Zaritsch," the Prince de Chambordine observed from the lower end of the
table, "has been absent from his own country for many months. How do you
consider it is possible for him, Professor, to know the truth about so
vital a matter?"

"Because, Prince," he answered, "I am quite sure that this offer to
Alexander is not the inspiration of a moment. It has been in the
Dictator's mind for a longtime. It is its fruition only which has just
arrived."

"That," Alexander admitted, "is a possibility."

"In my opinion," the Professor continued, "Marc Zaritsch is a man who has
played for high stakes and lost. His mission to Mexico has cost him a
fortune in money and also his safety in his own country. You, Alexander,
are a man who seldom speaks his whole mind, yet I have sometimes fancied
that it is not only to keep Zaritsch away from his friends but to
preserve him from those who were his friends and who are now his enemies
that you have given him safe quarters within the walls of this
establishment."

Alexander shrugged his shoulders. Those who knew him best were of the
opinion that the gesture was an admission.

"I suggest," the Professor concluded, "that we put the question to
Zaritsch: does he believe this to be a genuine invitation or not?"

"It is an idea," Alexander reflected.

The Professor subsided into his habitual silence. Alexander, who sat at
the head of the table, followed his usual custom when there was a subject
for discussion. He asked each member of the Council in turn his opinion.
The Prince had precedence.

"I look upon the question as dangerous and unnecessary," he announced
without hesitation. "Zaritsch's answer would certainly be that he
believed in the genuineness of the invitation. The man has a world-wide
reputation which he has amply verified in his writing--a reputation for
deceit and dishonesty, when the exercise of such qualities is for the
good of his country. Notwithstanding the generosity of our leader towards
him, he would be proud for ever if he had been the one to cost us the
great hope of our existence."

Alexander passed on without comment to the Prince's neighbour. More than
half of the audience agreed wholeheartedly with the Professor. The
American was in favour of the question but only as a matter of curiosity.
Two others thought it not worth while asking, because honest words had
never yet passed Zaritsch's lips. A small minority were against any
communication with Zaritsch. The time came for Alexander to give his
decision.

"As you know, my friends," he reminded them, "however democratic my ideas
may be in matters of State, in matters of this sort I am an autocrat. I
have listened with respect and attention to all that you have had to say.
I promise you that I shall not consider myself bound by the result, but I
shall take an opportunity of asking Zaritsch his views sometime to-day."

De Chambordine flashed a glance of anger at the Professor.

"I shall pin my every hope to your common sense, then, Alexander," he
said. "If that fails you will go to your doom."

Baron Gurdenoff, who had been Russian Ambassador to the Court of St.
James's at the time of the Revolution, rose to his feet and stood
patiently waiting. They were well disciplined, this handful of men. To
address the company it was necessary to stand silent until they were
invited by the president to speak. Alexander hesitated only for a moment,
then he made an affirmative gesture with his hand.

"I am in agreement to a certain extent with my friend Professor Leonard,"
Gurdenoff began. "I believe Zaritsch, if he chose, could tell us whether
that appeal from my country to our president was a genuine one or not,
but I beg that Alexander, and you who are his Counsellors, will remember
also that the truth is not in that man. He is a man of culture and
abundant literary gifts but he is also an opportunist of the rankest
type. There is a price on Alexander's head and Zaritsch would gladly earn
it."

He resumed his seat. One by one, with three or four exceptions, the
others took his place, only to re-echo his convictions. In the end
Alexander summed the matter up.

"My decision must be two-fold," he announced. "I have to decide first of
all whether to follow the Professor's suggestion and interview Zaritsch.
Secondly I have to decide whether, having done so, I should follow his
counsel. As to the first, my mind, as I have told you, is already made
up. I shall seek Zaritsch, I shall listen to what he has to say, but, my
friends, do not be prematurely alarmed. I shall not pledge myself to
believe him. If he says 'go', I may go, but it will not be only because
he has advised it. If he shakes his head at the proposition, I may
discard it, but it will not be solely because he is against it. I seek
truth in this business and I shall hope to find it not from the lips or
counsel of any man but from inspiration."

De Chambordine rose to his feet and stood patiently for several moments.
Then Alexander nodded.

"In a single sentence I would remind you, sir," the former pointed out,
"that brave men have been carried to their doom with that idea."

He resumed his seat. Damasdri followed him, next in the line of the royal
succession, agile in body, supple in mind, but with the worn face of the
man who has sought life too furiously and discarded his conceptions of it
too often.

"I would ask a question, sir. Now and then we have had indirect
communication with Molonieff. Has any word been received from him in
confirmation of this message?"

"At present, none," Alexander acknowledged. "Inter-communication has
ceased. We wait hopefully for its re-establishment."

"I suggest," Damasdri concluded, "that without word from Molonieff the
message be disregarded."

Alexander made no reply. He himself rose to his feet. It was the signal
that the meeting was over. The doors to a large reception-room behind his
chair were slowly rolled back. The little company of men trooped in. It
was at such moments that the strange gift which Alexander possessed of
withdrawing from any sort of kinship with his friends and supporters
showed itself so distinctly. He stood almost like a statue as they passed
him one by one or in small groups--a person completely apart, removed
from the ordinary intimacies of friendship or even acquaintanceship. De
Chambordine would have followed the others, but Alexander detained him
for a moment with a touch upon his arm.

"I shall seek Zaritsch at once," he confided. "Afterwards we will perhaps
walk across to Buckingham Court."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Marc Zaritsch, surrounded by books of reference in many languages,
journals and reviews of comparatively recent date, was seated before a
writing-table in a small, simply furnished sitting-room when Alexander
entered. Perhaps the atmosphere of the place, where the latter reigned
supreme, perhaps the consciousness of the danger which awaited him
outside, had in some way inspired a change of attitude. He pushed back
his chair and rose to his feet when Alexander appeared. No evidence of
respect, however, was manifest in his tone as he addressed him.

"I am honoured indeed," he said. "Is it my death sentence that has
arrived? Am I to be thrown to the wolves?"

Alexander subsided into the one easy chair which the room afforded, lit a
cigarette and gazed thoughtfully at the man whom he had come to visit.
Externally he was by no means an inspiring sight. His small face was
puckered up with lines and almost hidden behind his huge spectacles. His
hair was unkempt and over long. His voice, however, notwithstanding a
certain petulance, was not unpleasant.

"No doubt that will be your end, Zaritsch," he admitted, "but for the
present we are making use of you. Your last article was good. A few
sentences removed and it will appear in the next issue of the
_Review."_

"I am honoured indeed," Zaritsch observed again sarcastically. "At your
customary rate of payment, I trust?"

"We keep you alive and in safety," Alexander pointed out. "Surely that
should count for something."

"Even in prison criminals earn their pocket money."

"I thought that you great littérateurs who write for the benefit of
society," Alexander remarked, "scorned payment. Nevertheless, if you
apply to Professor Leonard you will find yourself a richer man by a
hundred guineas or so, as soon as the next issue of the _Review_
goes into circulation."

"It is not much," Zaritsch grumbled.

"Your friend Grodin has increased his staff in this country," Alexander
said with apparent irrelevance. Zaritsch shivered palpably. For a moment
his voice lost its covert note of insolence.

"I was on the roof the other day," he confided. "The same two are on
watch. There is another one, the man who used to be in Berlin--Harkoff is
his name. I recognised him through my field glasses. He was there apart
from the others. He stopped as though to ask them for a light."

"Grodin wants you very badly indeed, I think," Alexander observed.

"Did you come here to tell me that?" Zaritsch demanded.

"By no means. I came here seeking your advice."

"You will be very foolish if you take it," was the cynical retort.

"I please myself as to that. You may be interested to hear that I have
received a courteous invitation from the other side of the frontier to
take up a position with my friend Molonieff, a position of some
importance in the Russian army. What do you think of that?"

Zaritsch's unpleasant lips parted in what seemed to be a smile of pure
sarcasm. The smile, however, broadened. He laughed quietly in genuine
though evil mirth.

"The invitation has come through Grodin?" he asked at last, taking off
his glasses and wiping his eyes.

"Through His Excellency Nicolas Grodin," Alexander assented.

Zaritsch recommenced to laugh. Suddenly he stopped and looked up at his
visitor suspiciously.

"Why are you here to tell me that?" he demanded. "What has it to do with
me? I am not responsible. As you know, I am a prisoner in this building."

"A prisoner entirely in your own interests, Zaritsch."

"Quite true," the man agreed hastily. "If I were an ordinary person with
ordinary sentiments I suppose I should be grateful. Grodin would have had
me long ago drugged and across the frontier but for your protection. I am
not denying that. You think that I am nervous, cowering here all the
time. It is not that. I am not even such a coward as you think me. The
only thing that I fear is that I may be done away with before I have had
a chance to kill Grodin."

"A trifle bitter," Alexander observed.

There was a curious glitter in Zaritsch's eyes, freed for a moment from
the shelter of his spectacles.

"Yes," he admitted, "I am bitter. Grodin and I have been associates for
several years. We have never disputed, because our interests have been
identical. He knew that my lecture tour in the States was bogus and a
fake. He knew that I never visited half the places I was supposed to. He
knew that I made that journey to Mexico which was the real purpose of my
visit to the States. He knew that the journey was a failure, and he knew
the reason. There was no object in deceiving him. Then, for the first
time, our interests might be said to have clashed. Grodin, Nicolas
Grodin, never hesitated. He sent a secret report of my actual doings to
Moscow by that jackal of his whom he took to America. Then came the
letter of recall. I knew what that meant. I knew very well indeed."

"You are getting somewhat long-winded, Zaritsch," his listener
complained. "We both know that your letter of recall meant the
firing-squad. With the most supreme assurance you appealed to the
_European Review_ for protection. Here you are writing your articles
in luxury, safely housed, waiting for the breakup eastwards. Now tell me,
Zaritsch. You have a subtle mind and not only that--you have a clear
comprehension of the brain of the man who is ruling Russia to-day. Is
this a genuine appeal to me or does it mean the firing-squad?"

The answer came unhesitating, tense and brutal in its directness.

"The firing-squad. Death for you and a chance to get rid of Molonieff. If
you are mad enough to go, leave word with such sane men as there may be
in your organisation that I have warned you against it. Do not let me be
liable for even a reflected shadow of the blame."

Alexander glanced at his companion and there was a gleam in his eyes of
something almost like admiration.

"What sublime egoism!" he muttered.

"Well, that is life," Zaritsch snapped out. "I do not care whether you
live or die, but I do not want to be thrown out on the streets from here
because your people think I advised you to go. I advise you to stay where
you are."

"I will make a point of mentioning the fact," Alexander assured him as he
rose to his feet.


De Chambordine and Alexander strolled arm in arm from the offices of the
_European Review_ to the block of flats in which the latter owned an
apartment. Outside the closed door of the small lounge leading into the
_salon_ they found Paul standing as though on guard. He was plainly
disturbed and as they approached him he indicated with a little gesture
of despair that trouble of some sort was awaiting them. His master was
momentarily puzzled. Paul never took liberties, never made mistakes. It
was impossible to divine what could have happened.

"There is a lady who awaits monsieur," he announced gravely.

Alexander raised his eyebrows.

"A lady? You have admitted her to my room, Paul?" he asked, and although
his tone was mild there was something in the words which hurt.

"It is the Diva," the man explained helplessly.

Alexander frowned, but he understood. Olga Sherbatoff was to Paul the
enshrined goddess of his lifetime. He had heard her sing at a time when
the world was at her feet, and although Alexander had been his god, music
had been the joy of his existence.

"I could not deny her," Paul muttered.

Alexander dismissed the whole matter with a nod.

"It was difficult for you, Paul," he acknowledged kindly. "I understand.
It is Madame Grodin," he added, turning to the Prince. "Needless to say,
I did not expect her. Will you listen to what she has to say?"

The Prince picked up his hat in haste.

"I will not," he declared, "no, no, no. It is heresy perhaps to say so,
Alexander, but I am not sure that I trust the wife of such a man as
Grodin. Even in Paris, where the old craze for everything Russian shows
signs of springing up again, Grodin is not a welcome visitor. Still, this
visit must be dealt with. It is your affair."

He took back his stick and gloves from the servant and laid his hand
impressively upon Alexander's shoulder.

"Weigh every word that woman says," he begged. "Remember what your loss
would mean to us, full now of newly-awakened hopes. We know your courage,
but if your judgment fails courage will not save you."

"I will not be rash," Alexander promised.

He found Olga installed upon his divan, a little table drawn up to her
side on which reposed a cup of highly-scented tea. A haze of cigarette
smoke hung about the room. She held out her hands to him, a familiar
gesture, and withdrew them reluctantly after he had touched them with his
lips.

"You are not to be angry with Paul," she told him. "We are old friends,
you know. I wished to enter and he was powerless."

"But why, Madame?" he asked. "My time is not up. I am to let you have my
decision on Saturday."

She waved her hand. It was a trifle, the enterprise to which he referred,
the enterprise which was to cost him his life or bring him eternal fame!
Her careless gesture dismissed it as of no importance.

"I have left Nicolas Grodin," she announced. "I have lived with him for
three years. It is enough. I need purification. I come here to you."

"But you were at that dinner with him the other night."

"It was afterwards that he came to my room," she confided. "We had a
dispute and I turned him out. I have lived with him for three years,
legally his wife, actually never anything but his mistress. He has no
other ideas about women--even women who have reached the high places, as
I have."

"But why have you come here?"

"I was disturbed and upset after the dinner-party," she told him. "What
were you doing there alone with that young woman?"

"Madame!" he remonstrated.

"Oh, I know that she was well enough. She is Russian, she is of noble
family, she is well enough for anyone but you--"

"For anyone save me?" he interrupted. "Explain yourself."

"The words are simple ones, the reason you can divine. I want you for
myself."

His reply was already upon his lips, then a rare thing happened to him.
He hesitated. He left his place and seated himself on the divan by her
side.

"You want me for yourself," he repeated. "Yet a short time ago you came
to me as your husband's ambassadress. You came to me with a very tempting
offer. But, Olga Sherbatoff, tell me this. Is it not true that that offer
would have committed me to an enterprise which would have sent me to my
death?"

"You cannot take that for granted," she cried passionately. "If you accept
the offer which the Russian Government has made you will become the
saviour of your country."

"Do you believe that?" he asked steadily.

She had been lying curled up on the divan with all the graceful abandon
of a cat. She suddenly swung herself into a sitting position and leaned
towards him. Her hands rested one upon each shoulder. She drew his face
close to hers.

"What do you think it means," she demanded, "when I tell you that I have
left Grodin? I come here to tell you that before anyone else in the
world. Do you believe that now I am free I should send you to your
death?"

He patted her cheek with a light caressing touch and looked unflinchingly
into her eyes, beautiful but almost painfully wicked.

"Why should I trust you, Olga?" he asked smilingly. "You have green eyes.
No woman with green eyes should be trusted. You are as beautiful as Circe
herself. No man could resist you for long."

"Then why try?" she answered. "If you go to Russia you are not to start
for some days. I am here. I have told you that I am free. Have you so
little confidence in your power to hold, Alexander--you who have been the
despair of so many women--that you think, when the time came, I should
send you to your death?"

He sighed gently without lament, an almost airy gesture.

"Dear Olga," he bewailed, "women lend themselves to every law of the
world except reason. There have been women in history, you know, who have
sent their lovers to the lions for the joy of seeing them torn to pieces.
I always feel that those women, Poppaea, for instance, must have had
green eyes."

She drew a little away from him.

"Alexander," she said, "why are you talking to me like this? Are you
making a jest of this moment--of my visit?"

"How could I take you seriously, dear friend, until I know? Wait until I
have travelled safely into Russia, wait until I have galvanised that
great army into life, built up anew in them the love of their country,
shown them the path of honour and where glory lies. Wait until we meet
again in Moscow. Then I will talk to you differently."

He felt her hands slip away from his shoulders. What, a moment or two
before, had seemed like the clutch of a wild fit of passion, died away.
He saw something in her eyes for a second which the bravest man in the
world has never seen without a thrill of fear. He saw the passionate
hunger for possession turn into the light of hate. Her little laugh was
unrecognisable.

"Do you remember the night I sang 'Iseult'?" she asked, with the air of a
woman flinging herself back into another life. "We will drink together
once before I g?--vodka--yes? You and I are Russians--men and women who
know how to love and how to hate, and also how to drink."

He rang the bell. In a way, his victory seemed scarcely worth while, a
victory of words over a woman. He ordered the vodka, ice and the tall
glasses. They drank until her empty glass slipped from her fingers. Then,
with almost studied deliberation, she pressed her lips to his. She drew
away breathless and crossed the room so swiftly that he was only just in
time to open the door.

"In the night," she warned him with a little gesture, a curious
expression which remained utterly unanalysable, "you may wake and dream
that I held an asp between my lips."



CHAPTER NINETEEN


At half-past nine on the following day, a brief colloquy took place
between Alexander and his faithful servant. The latter, who was engaged
in pressing some clothes in a small room of the flat devoted to that
purpose, looked around from his task to find his master standing by his
side.

"Paul," he said, "you are looking pale this morning. You have the air of
one to whom a few hours holiday would be welcome."

The man left his task and donned his coat which was hanging up behind the
door.

"Good luck to you, Paul," Alexander continued quietly. "Whatever I am
doing during the day, I shall be back here at seven o'clock."

"It is understood."

In half an hour's time, dressed in a quiet-patterned suit of grey tweed,
wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella, Paul issued from the back
premises of the block of flats and made his way City-wards. His idea of a
brief vacation seemed to be of a peculiar order. He first of all filled a
well-worn pipe with particularly strong tobacco and then set out to walk
steadily. He walked with occasional pauses until he reached London
Bridge. Here he spent a quarter of an hour watching with apparent
interest the progress of the shipping, betraying also at times a slight
interest in the passers-by. Presently he boarded an omnibus and with
restless eyes took careful note of the various passengers. At London
Bridge Station he alighted, made his way down the steps and strolled
along Tooley Street. At the third arch he paused and had his shoes
polished by one of the boys stationed there. Again he took some slight
interest in the passers-by. When he stepped back into the main
thoroughfare, he walked with a little more decision. Finally, he turned
down Market Street and plunged into a small open space. He lifted the
latch of a warehouse on which was painted the name:

STEFAN DVORAK--Dealer in Foreign Goatskins.

Paul opened the warehouse door and entered. A man wearing heavy glasses,
a long smock and with the air of a foreigner, stepped down from an open
desk and came to meet him. The two shook hands. They conversed for a few
minutes, after the fashion of business-associates, then Paul grunted in
assent to his companion's proposition, refilled his pipe and sat upon an
unopened bale of leather.

"I will examine these skins," he said, "but I must tell you that the last
lot had many defects."

"There are a hundred thousand of these pelts and they are flawless," the
agent declared. "Wait, my friend, while I fetch a knife."

The business of fetching a knife seemed a little complicated. Stefan
Dvorak visited every corner of the warehouse, looked into the
counting-house, which was empty, opened the door leading into the street
and apparently satisfied himself that there were no loiterers. Then he
scribbled on a small card 'Back at twelve o'clock', pinned it on the
outside door, closed and locked it on the inside and returned to where
Paul sat waiting. The latter seemed to find nothing unusual in the
agent's proceedings. He sat smoking his pipe in stolid silence.

"All is well," Stefan Dvorak reported, producing a knife. "We can
proceed, I think."

Paul rose to his feet, watched the cutting of the ropes and the slow
removal of the skins. Under their breaths the two men counted. At eleven
they paused. Dvorak lifted the twelfth skin with care. He turned it round
so that the place where the goat's head had been was visible. They
stooped over it. With his knife Dvorak cut away a few invisible stitches,
thrust his hand into a narrow space and drew out a neatly-tied little
packet wrapped in a strip of yellow oilskin. There was a guttural murmur
_as_ Paul took it into his hand. He crammed it into his pocket and
stood back. The agent continued his task and they counted again. When
they had gone as far as eleven, Dvorak paused once more. He raised the
twelfth skin with meticulous care. In the same place he made a slight
incision with his knife. Again he drew out a little packet also enclosed
in a sheet of yellow oilskin. He pointed to the outside.

"It is marked with a cross," he said. "That means there is nothing else.
Nevertheless, it is well, perhaps, to continue."

Paul nodded his assent. The second packet had joined the first in his
pocket. They counted again to eleven, then examined the twelfth skin
without result. The agent brushed his hands together.

"It is finished," he announced quietly. "Will you come into the
counting-house?"

He led the way there. Paul looked over his shoulder towards the door.

"It is locked," Dvorak assured him. "No one can enter. The place is
empty. Sit at the desk there. Here is pen and ink and paper. The stove
outside is lit."

Paul nodded, seating himself in the chair indicated. He opened the
packets, drew out several thin but tough strips of paper covered with
fine handwriting, and commenced decoding an irrelevant stream of Russian
words, committing them to memory at the same time. It was an hour before
he had finished. He had gone over every page from beginning to end twice,
muttering to himself the result as he attained it. When he had finished
he rose to his feet, looked out into the warehouse through the glass top
of the door, turned the key, made his way towards the stove, tore in
pieces the papers he was carrying and thrust them into the embers. When
nothing was left but ashes he closed the stove, stretched himself as
though with relief and went back to where the agent was completing his
task of tying up the bale.

"All is well?" Dvorak demanded.

"All is well. And the two skins?"

"We will deal with them," was the prompt reply.

The bale was rolled back into its original position. The two skins which
had been used as depositories for the messages Dvorak spread out upon the
counter and carefully cut out the spots which had served as
hiding-places. He went over to the stove and dropped the fragments
inside. The two skins he threw behind a pile of others in a distant
corner of the warehouse. Then he stood up, and on the faces of both the
men was an expression of relief.

"Is there news?" the agent inquired.

"There is news," Paul admitted. "You are best to remain ignorant of it,
my friend."

"Things go well?" Stefan Dvorak asked anxiously.

"They go as we might wish," Paul replied. "The news which I have just
read will help the master to come to a great decision."

The agent grunted.

_"Ach,_ then we take a bottle of beer together, Paul."

"It will be good for the throat," the other responded.

The warehouse was locked up, a fresh card was pinned upon the door. The
two men turned into Market Street and made their way to a public-house.
They sat in the saloon bar and they solemnly toasted one another in a
mixture of Guinness' stout and a local beer which was the favourite drink
of the quarter. Then without anything further in the way of conversation,
they passed outside and shook hands in farewell.

"God be with you," Stefan Dvorak said earnestly. "May your household be
blessed," Paul replied as he wrung his hand.

Paul retraced his steps as far as London Bridge Station. Here he entered
the dining-room, ordered a huge steak and another tankard of mixed beer
and stout. He exchanged amenities with the barmaid, selected his own
steak from the grill, slipped sixpence into the hand of the white-hatted
chef and established himself in a corner with a very black cigar of
nauseous odour. After all, it was his day's holiday.


Alexander, a little weary that afternoon after a medley of semi-official
calls, a visit from the representative of the department of the
_European Review_ which had its private wire to Warsaw, a brief but
harassing conversation with a very important though timid agent who hated
the idea of taking any responsibility whatever, returned to his rooms at
Buckingham Court to find Paul changed once more into the sober clothes of
the perfect manservant, none the worse for his day's vacation.
Alexander's eyes flashed a question and the response was swift and
illuminating.

"There were two messages," Paul announced. "Both of them I decoded and
have clearly in my memory."

"You have not put pen to paper?" Alexander asked quickly. "You have
trusted wholly to memory?"

Paul was a little hurt.

"When have I been known to disobey the orders of my master? Not a
sentence, not a word has been even spoken out loud. Silently I decoded,
keeping the words in my brain. In solitude and without utterance I
committed them to my memory. Afterwards I opened the stove in Dvorak's
warehouse. I saw all that had reached me disappear into ashes. Later on,
the portion of the skins into which the letters were sewn was also burnt
and the skins thrown with a pile of others."

Alexander smiled disarmingly.

"Forgive me, Paul," he begged simply. "This afternoon has been a weary
time. Everyone in authority is restless and nervous. There is an idea
that all is not well in Moscow. It disturbs one's ideas about this
mission of Grodin's. You understand, I am sure."

"I never seek to understand," the man replied. "Yours is the brain, I am
the machine. I do what I am told. Here is the position as outlined by the
nameless one and forwarded to you."

Alexander turned the keys of the two doors, then he returned and
listened.

"There is a rumour that Molonieff was arrested at midnight a fortnight
ago by a strong company of the Dictator's private bodyguard and conveyed
with the utmost secrecy to the Noblensky Fortress. No word of the arrest
has been breathed in Moscow. There has been no announcement of any trial.
There has been no news or message from the fortress into which, fifteen
days ago, Molonieff is supposed to have been taken. The idea in our
correspondent's head is that the Dictator's courage failed him and that
Molonieff is still alive. The second message," Paul continued, "was from
him whom we do not mention. He reports that a deep unrest is spreading
amongst the staff officers and the intelligentsia of the Red Army. Ten
arrests have been made and many officers in high positions have been
ordered to send in their resignations. The book-store secretly carried on
in a cellar for the last year has been raided; twenty-five copies of the
_European Review_ were seized and destroyed. The owner of the store
and every one of his assistants, seven in number, have been executed. The
Review of last year's recruits ordered by the Dictator has been
pronounced impossible as the men are undisciplined and disaffected. A
full colonel, a man of great distinction who signed this protest, has
been arrested and deprived of his post. A pamphlet boldly accusing the
government of having themselves taken the place of the capitalists has
been widely distributed within the last few weeks and has created an
enormous sensation. Every man found with a copy of the pamphlet is
sentenced to be shot at sight. Every café is filled with spies and, in
the case of any political discussion arising, is closed at once. The
streets of the city are filled with uneasy crowds who, if they could find
a leader, are known to be in a dangerous mood. The Press censorship is
redoubling its severity. Those were the last words of the messages."

"Great news to cross Europe in a bale of goatskins," Alexander observed.

Paul tapped his forehead.

"An addendum, if you please, monsieur," he said. "This bale of skins was
'represented as being a sample of one hundred thousand now being
collected in Georgia and the Ukraine. The local branches of the Russian
Government in those districts are urgently in need of cash. The skins
were represented as being saleable at once to rich English merchants, and
they were collected and crossed Europe from our agents in less than
twelve days. That enables one, monsieur, to fix the date when the
conditions described existed."

Alexander unlocked the doors.

"Prepare my bath, Paul," he directed. "I must consult once more with the
Prince."

Paul hesitated for a moment with his hand upon the bathroom door.

"You excuse, monsieur," he begged, "if I venture upon a word?"

"You know everything there is to be known, my friend," Alexander replied.
"Speak freely."

"The messages, monsieur, show us without a doubt that the hour of crisis
for the present government approaches. What it dreads, what the great man
himself dreads, is not an uprising of the people to smash the present
organisation and distribute its assets, but the saner re-establishment of
more moderate principles of government. That being so, is it likely that
Grodin's proposal to you is a genuine one? I say myself that save for
personal reasons, the Dictator would welcome the return of any of the
exiles before he would summon you to command his army. I believe,
monsieur, that you and those who are with you--but you especially--are
the new force which is dreaded by the present government. I have fought
in the Red Army. I am a deserter from it at this moment. I know what I
think of those millions. Your touch upon the levers of their
mentality--and their enthusiasm might blaze up. They want nothing to do
with anarchy. They want peace."

"You do not believe in Grodin's mission, then, Paul?"

"I do not, monsieur. I am your humble servant and I beg you to listen to
my conviction. I have mixed with the peasants of Russia as one of
themselves and later as a spy. I am of peasant birth myself, but so is
the Dictator. I can read his mind. I can realise his cunning. Evil events
are crowding in upon him. It is you, as a representative of the old order
and the new civilisation, whom he dreads."

"I have always found your counsel good, Paul," his master said
thoughtfully, "yet here it seems to me that you might very well be
misled. What I confess I do not understand is why, when every hour is
bringing' them nearer their moment of crisis, if your view of the
situation is really correct Grodin does not throw international
complications to the devil and come to me personally."

Paul had suddenly the appearance of a man who has received a blow. He
hung his head.

"Monsieur," he murmured, "I admit my fault. Nothing but the burning
conviction that is in my mind has kept me from my duty. Now I must tell
you that Serge Orloff, the secretary and companion of Grodin, was here an
hour ago. He knows that you repose some confidence in me. He was wishful
not to make another visit. He asked for an interview, on behalf of his
master, to-night."

"Grodin, Grodin himself!" Alexander repeated. "You kept this from me,
Paul?"

"Master, I am ashamed," the man confessed, "but as God knows, it was to
save your life."

Alexander was silent for several moments. There was no anger in his tone
when he spoke.

"Nothing can wholly excuse a breach of duty, Paul," he said. "Never again
forget that I am the master and am the guardian of my own destiny. Is
that understood?"

"I will not offend again."

"Did this man Orloff say in what way he wished me to communicate with
him?"

"He wishes you to do so openly, monsieur. Telephone to the Embassy and
name your own hour to-night. Nicolas Grodin has, Orloff confided to me, a
friendship for a dancer in the ballet--Mademoiselle Dubinski--who has a
flat close by. His presence in this part of the building, therefore, will
pass unnoticed. She is not dancing to-night."

"Make the engagement for eight, nine, or ten o'clock," Alexander
directed. "And now quick," he went on with a sudden change of tone. "A
bath immediately. This is a time when things may happen."



CHAPTER TWENTY


At eight o'clock precisely Nicolas Grodin presented himself at
Alexander's apartment. Paul answered his knock at the outside door and
ushered him in. Alexander, who was standing at the opposite end of the
room, contented himself with a nod and a motion of his head towards a
chair.

"Good evening, Nicolas Grodin," he said, ignoring the latter's
tentatively extended hand. "Will you sit down there? You are on your way
to dine, I understand. Paul will offer you a cocktail in a moment."

Grodin accepted the chair and crossed his legs, leaning back with an
assumption of being more at his ease than he felt. He presented himself
entirely at his worst. His soft silk shirt already resembled a sponge and
he seemed to have ignored the fact that diamond studs were scarcely a fit
appendage to such a garment. His dinner-coat was cut so long as to be
almost grotesque. His collar lay flat upon his short thick neck and in
its entourage the man's head, with his scowling mouth, his small inset
eyes and rather protuberant ears, resembled the head of a frog. None of
these drawbacks, however, interfered with a certain impression of
strength which the man seemed to give out instinctively.

"I will drink a cocktail with you, Alexander," he said coolly, "although
you do not offer me your hand. Perhaps you are right. A man who tries to
steal another man's wife does best to refrain from pretensions of
friendship."

"My attempt having been unsuccessful," Alexander observed, "it can, I
think, be ignored. Your wife is nothing to me, Grodin. You are. You have
brains, brains enough I should imagine to convince you that the truth is
worth half a dozen falsehoods in your profession. Is this offer you bring
me an honest one or is it an attempt to land me before your execution
squad?"

"It would give me immense pleasure to see you before that execution
squad," Grodin declared with enthusiasm. "Those who have sent me,
however, think otherwise."

"Who is responsible for your coming?"

"Not the great man himself," was the surly reply. "He gave a reluctant,
unwilling consent. It is Molonieff who will have you. There is trouble
brewing over Russia. You are the man they think might avert the
storm--you and Molonieff together."

"But I have heard a rumour," Alexander pointed out, "something more than
a rumour, in fact, that Molonieff himself is in trouble."

The conversation was momentarily interrupted by the entrance of Paul with
cocktails and various _zakuski_ upon a silver salver. Grodin fell
upon the latter greedily. The cocktail he only sipped. He waited until
Paul had left the room.

"You may disregard that rumour," he said as soon as the door was closed.
"If Molonieff is in a fortress it is at his own request and for his own
protection. You yourself have been responsible for some of the mischief
that is brewing," he went on, "with your blasted _European Review_
and your pamphlets. It is not the workers in the mines, factories and
timber forests you have succeeded in upsetting. The men who were serfs we
have made into machines. They never lift their heads. They are safe. It
is in the army where your poison has begun to tell."

"Capital!" Alexander exclaimed cheerfully. "The workers upon the land
will join in, too, though. Nothing like fresh air for giving a nation a
taste for liberty."

"No student talk, if you please," Grodin scoffed. "Our Dictator is no
fool. Neither am I, nor is Molonieff. Neither are you, although you are a
sentimentalist. You and I are both clever men and that is why we can talk
together. Perhaps Communism does not work out in practice exactly as we
had hoped. Too much variation in human nature. We are finding it out
slowly. You and your kind are barking outside the gates all the time.
Come in and see what you can do about it. That is the invitation I have
brought to you in plain words."

"What about Molonieff?"

"He gives up his baton," Grodin announced. "You are to take his place, or
work side by side with him. In any case, you are to be the lord paramount
of all the armies. The execution squads, in future, will operate only
when you give the word. You are to be the Czar of all the Russias, in
effect back again in your sheep's clothing. The army will trust you. You
are to work hand in hand with the industrialists. Profit sharing schemes
are to take the place of the government appropriations. There are a few
hundred millions in the secret exchequers which, when we have had our dig
into them, can go back to the workers."

"This all sounds marvellously attractive," Alexander reflected. "Have you
any securities to offer? I should suggest," he went on with a smile,
"that you offered yourself as one of my sureties. Say you establish
yourself for the next three months in my château south of Moscow,
surrounded by my people. There are enough of them left to know how to
treat you if anything goes wrong with me. What about that, Grodin?"

Nicolas Grodin grinned, disclosing an irregular row of teeth which had
rather the appearance of fangs.

"No thank you, Alexander," he said. "I shall be needed over here for some
time yet before I return to say good-bye to Russia and buy a province of
my own."

"Why did you send your wife to see me first and then come yourself?"
Alexander asked casually as he lit a cigarette.

"For two reasons," was the prompt reply. "One is that things have grown
more desperate during the last few days and international proprieties
need no longer be so closely observed. The next is," he added with
another of his unpleasant grins, "I thought that Olga might prove more
persuasive."

"Which shows how short-sighted you are," Alexander told him. "I find your
arguments much more to the point. Your wife is one of the most beautiful
women in the world and one of the most seductive, but when I consider
such an offer as this, only my brain and my perceptions--my instinct of
self-preservation, shall we say?--come into the matter."

"Well, you have the proposal," Grodin said with all the blunt directness
of an honest man. "Make up your mind about it. We are all sick of words.
You can take two aides-de-camp, English, American or Russian, whoever you
choose, if, after further consideration you think it necessary. You can
fly to Berlin in your own plane, if you prefer it, and on from there to
Moscow, where Molonieff will meet you. Your passport and safe conduct
have been signed by the great man himself. I will not guarantee your
life. I should think you are very likely to lose it in the long run.
There is a lot of talk in your pamphlets of giving your life for your
country. Here is your chance. Go and do it."

Grodin stretched out his hand, grabbed at the dish of delicatessen and
swept a couple of caviare sandwiches into his mouth. He ate them greedily
and poured himself out another cocktail from the frosted shaker which
stood in front of him. Alexander watched him amiably.

"You have made a good impression on me, Grodin," he acknowledged. "I
despise you at the present moment less than I have ever done before. You
could never be a human being, but you are a more tolerable brute than I
should have imagined possible."

"I do not want your compliments," his visitor sneered. "Are you man
enough to take on this job, and if so, will you start on Sunday? Would
you like to look through your passport and safe conduct? We have them
both at the Embassy. If it had not been for the German safe conduct you
wheedled out of von Hertzfeldt in Berlin, you would have been sitting in
chains by now whilst we made up our minds what to do with you."

"I do not like chains," Alexander admitted. "I have seen the inside of
one or two of your fortresses and I do not like them either. You see, the
trouble is, Grodin, that notwithstanding your professed passport, your
safe conduct signed by the great one, your promise that Molonieff will
meet me, your hint at a triumphal entry into Moscow, I have to take all
these things on trust, and I ask you, Grodin, what man in his senses
would trust a swine like you?"

Grodin glanced greedily at the empty plate before him. He finished his
cocktail and lit a cigarette.

"There is no trust about it," he said blandly. "You have your spies in
Russia and you know what is happening there. Your brain, if you have any,
will tell you that our offer is honest enough because it is merely our
last attempt to save the situation, to get time to scuttle out. I would
not trust us an inch, if I were you. I never indulge my feelings, but I
cannot think of a single man on the face of the earth whom I would rather
see hobble across the prison courtyard in chains to face the execution
squad. All the same, you will never be there if I can help it. You will
be busy clearing up the mess we have made."

"More and more I am beginning to tolerate you," Alexander declared. "It
was Tolstoy himself who said, T believe, that there is some spark of
virtue left in the vilest body if it can still appreciate the beauty of
truth. Go and eat and drink and frivol with your little Dubinski. In
other words, you can send me that passport and my safe conduct."

"What about those aides-de-camp?"

Alexander shook his head.

"Nothing for them, I thank you," he replied. "I have thought it over and
I have given up the idea of taking anyone else with me into the shambles.
If I go, I shall go alone."

Grodin glanced at the clock. He struggled to his feet.

"You are right," he said. "Dubinski is one who grows impatient. If you go
alone it will give us less trouble. The documents shall be sent to you
before midnight. Send word to the Embassy after eleven o'clock when you
have fixed upon the time of your departure. News must be sent to Moscow.
You must be fittingly received."

"See to it, then," Alexander enjoined. "I offer you the farewell
benediction of the Cossack warriors: 'May you be shot before you are
hanged'!"

Grodin took his leave, a lascivious smile upon his thick lips as he
brooded upon the joys in store for him. Alexander summoned his faithful
servant.

"Clear away all that stuff," he directed, pointing to the table at which
Grodin had sat. "Be careful to destroy the glass. Serve me with a
cocktail in a fresh shaker. I must reflect for a few minutes."

"Is it that we go to Russia, master?" Paul asked.

"It begins to appear like it," Alexander assented. "I believe that
probably for the first time in his life that man was speaking the truth."



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


There was, without a doubt, a savour of comedy in the meeting of Anna
Prestnoff and Olga Grodin next day. Unfortunately, there was no one
present to appreciate it. They neither of them attempted any of the usual
courtesies. Anna did not remove her hands from the little astrakhan muff
she was carrying, and Olga Grodin did not even trouble to rise from the
divan upon which she was lying. She pointed to a chair.

"So you are the little scene painter whom Alexander took out to dinner
the other night," she observed. "Sit with your face to the light, there,
will you?" she added. "I should like to look at you."

"Fortunately," Anna replied cheerfully, "I can stand the light. It is
better to avoid it when one reaches riper years."

Olga's eyes flashed.

"Youth has always the privilege of being impertinent," she remarked. "I
consented to receive you because I was curious to see what you looked
like in the daylight. I am more than satisfied. You can now tell me
precisely why you asked for an interview with me."

"With much pleasure," was Anna's prompt acquiescence. "I bring you your
death warrant. I hope you have lived a good life. It will be some
satisfaction to you in your last hours."

Olga Grodin was momentarily bewildered.

"My death warrant? What rubbish are you talking?" she demanded.

"It is not rubbish at all," Anna assured her simply. "I have all the
papers in my possession. I am able to prove to your husband or anyone
else you like, that you have been in communication with a certain person
from the time he left Russia until, say, the day before yesterday. You
have supplied him with all the facts which have made him such a dangerous
columnist and you are a member of his secret party established in Norway
which plans to assassinate the present Dictator and bring him back to
power."

Olga, with a sudden leap, sprang to her feet.

"You are a lying drab!" she cried.

"Oh no, I am not," Anna replied. "You are a member of the Circle, every
one of which, known or anonymous, the Russian Courts have sentenced to
death. Eleven of them have already been executed in the last two batches
of prisoners brought up to stand their trial for undisclosed offences.
There are not so many of you left, but you are one of them all right, and
in plain English or American parlance, Olga Grodin, you are for it!"

"What do you mean by 'for it'?"

"That you will discover for yourself before long," was the quiet
rejoinder. "I am not sure that plotting against the life of a ruler does
not entitle him to demand your extradition, even though England and
Russia have no more than a bowing acquaintance. But there is also
this--there is a branch of the Russian Secret Police, no longer the Ogpu
but Commissioners of National Safety, established in London. They can
take care of you quite well. You will just disappear and that will be the
ugly end of you, Olga Grodin."

The woman shivered.

"Supposing this were true," she asked a little wildly, "why are you my
enemy? Is it because of the man Alexander? You can have him. In these
days he means nothing to me."

"Do not be too impetuous. I can tell you more about yourself which is
interesting. You called yourself Frieda Wurtz during the war and in those
days you were a German spy. You did some serious work then. One hundred
thousand francs, I believe, was offered by the French Government for
Frieda Wurtz, and they were never claimed. They might be claimed now, if
you escaped from your other troubles."

Olga was livid.

"You little hell cat!" she cried. "Where did you find this sackful of
stale rubbish? I was only eighteen years old when the Treaty of
Versailles was signed."

"But at sixteen," Anna reminded her with a pleasant smile, "you were
doing excellent work for the Germans. The year afterwards, it is true,
their bureau broke down. There was no more money, but your name was still
on their list and you had done--oh, some quite excellent work. The French
would be very pleased indeed, even after all these years, to hear of
Frieda Wurtz. No more Chanel dresses then, you know. No more suites at
the Ritz or Meurice. A few feet of ground under the bricks of one of
their fortresses. You would be very welcome there, Olga Grodin. Nowhere
else."

"You little devil!" the tortured woman exclaimed. "What is it you
want--money?"

"No. I have money."

"Alexander? You can have him."

"Not as a gift from you," was the scornful reply.

"Then what is it you want?"

"Your famous husband's mission to London," Anna said calmly, "has been
excellently camouflaged, but it has one object and one object only. That
is to get Alexander back again into Russia. Any excuse, any pretext, any
patchwork of lies or misrepresentations or appeals to his patriotism, any
means whatsoever which can take him across that frontier, would make your
husband stand first in the favour of the Dictator and would cancel all
your own delinquencies. No wonder you have worked hard to bring this
about."

"Listen," Olga Grodin cried, "I will be honest with you. We have tried to
persuade Alexander to return to Russia. The Dictator has offered him the
complete control of the army."

"And he will go?"

"He will go," was the eager assent. "Why should you wish to stop him? He
will in due course be nominated Dictator. Even if Czardom is not
reestablished he will become the great man of Russia. He is a patriot--he
will get what he desires."

"He believes that?"

"He does, because it is the truth. All that has been promised to
Alexander will be fulfilled. He will find the general staff ready to take
the oath, he will wield more power than any man in Russia."

"Excellent," Anna said. "And now I will tell you why I have come, Olga
Grodin. You had better pull yourself together for this is to be a matter
of life or death. You have persuaded Alexander to go. It is necessary
that I persuade him to stay, and I shall persuade him. Listen, my
friend--look at me," she went on. "It is necessary that you hand over to,
me the secret instructions your husband has as to what really is to
happen to Alexander after he has crossed the frontier."

Olga shrank back in her place. She was a stricken woman.

"Who are you, Anna Prestnoff?" she gasped.

"I am just a little scene painter for the ballet," Anna replied, a hard
smile forming at the corners of her lips. "I am also, amongst other
things, at the head of the Secret Service Intelligence Bureau established
by a paper called the _European Review,_ which carries on a great
work, the details of which are unsuspected, some of them even by
Alexander himself. We have a wonderful staff and we are well served, but
what we do not know is the nature of these secret instructions. The very
fact that you hold them is proof to us that your offer spells treachery."

"It is not so!"

"Alexander is determined to go--he is a truth-loving man and he is always
hard to convince that others are trying to deceive him. That is why I
must have those despatches."

"I know nothing of them," Olga protested violently. "I swear that I am
speaking the truth. They do not exist. My husband would not deceive me in
this matter. Alexander is to go straight to the barracks in Moscow and
the army is his. It is a lie to say that there is treachery. Before the
Holy Virgin I swear it. Something of religion has lingered in my blood
ever since the days of the convent. I swear before all the saints that I
know nothing of any secret instructions to bring harm upon Alexander."

There was a brief silence. Anna's eyes never left the anguished face of
the woman whom she had come to visit. This was to be a difficult
business, after all. Slowly and against her will she was convinced. This
woman was telling the truth.

"Calm yourself; Olga Grodin," she said. "Let us talk further together and
let God judge between us if we fail to speak the truth. You have sworn
that yours was an honest effort to induce Alexander to accept a genuine
offer from the ruler of Russia to come to the help of his country. Do you
believe me when I tell you that your husband deceived you?"

"I begin to feel that I must," Olga replied unwillingly.

"You have convinced Alexander," Anna continued. "He is making his plans
to leave for Russia. Now what shall you do?"

Olga considered for several moments.

"I shall send for him," she decided. "I shall tell him all that you have
told me. I shall tell him that I believe you. I shall beg him to change
his mind. I shall tell him what you tell me--that he will be going to his
death if he crosses the frontier."

"It is not enough," Anna declared.

"What do you mean--it is not enough?" the other cried despairingly. "What
more can I do? I will tell him that I was deceived. I will tell him I
have since heard that it was an evil plot and that he must not go."

"It is not enough," Anna repeated.

"What more can I do?"

"You must possess yourself of the secret instructions your husband holds
as to the disposition of Alexander the moment he arrives. You must give
them to me or place them in Alexander's hands yourself in my presence.
Nothing less than that will convince him."

Olga wrung her hands. She was in a state bordering upon hysteria.

"How can I possess myself of his secret papers?" she demanded. "We have
just quarrelled. He believes that I am leaving him. He believes that I
love Alexander and he would keep those documents away from me more than
from anyone in the world. I do not know where they are. I am powerless."

"No, you are not powerless," Anna told her. "The man has still a foolish
passion for you. Then there is Serge Orloff, his secretary--he knows
where those documents would be. Is it not true that years ago you were
known as the Sorceress of Moscow?"

Olga shrugged her shoulders.

"It was folly, that," she declared. "Men have always been easy for me."

"Men have always been easy for you," Anna repeated. "Get to your task,
then, Olga Grodin. I require those papers, or such of them as will
convince Alexander, before forty-eight hours have passed."

"But it is impossible," Olga protested. "My husband will not give them to
me. I cannot steal them because I do not know where they are."

"Within forty-eight hours," Anna insisted. "Otherwise you will find
yourself, I fear, between two fires. The great man of Russia will know
that you have been in communication with his mortal enemy since a
fortnight after he settled in Norway and that you received from him a
letter written with his own hand during last week. Furthermore, the
French Secret Service will know that you are the woman who, as Frieda
Wurtz, worked in their employ, deceiving them time after time and costing
them the lives of many French officers."

"You are a devil!" Olga shrieked.

"I do not think so," Anna said quietly, rising to her feet. "I have a
great affection for Alexander and if I fail to save him I shall probably
kill myself. I can only save him, it seems to me, through you. You know
your task. If you fail and I fail--well, there may be another world for
us to explore. I am inclined to doubt it but we shall very soon know."

She laid a card upon the table.

"My studio number," she concluded. "I go now. Think out your plans,
please. Get to work quickly. Forty-eight hours is not an eternity, but
after forty-eight hours eternity will seem a very long time."



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Nicolas Grodin, dining tête-á-tête with his wife that evening, had eaten
too much. He had also drunk too much and the result was not a pleasant
one. Olga, when the obsequious maitre d'hôtel and his deft myrmidons had
wheeled away the serving table and cleared the sideboard of its
impedimenta, felt her courage waver at the task before her, and yet--more
terrible still was the thought of that cold-eyed, cold-tongued young
woman who had spoken so calmly of death and many other ugly matters. She
lit a cigarette and looked across at her husband pensively. It was on an
occasion something like this that he had unlocked the coffer which he
carried always with him and had given her at last the desire of her
life--the emeralds stolen from the Crown Jewels. If anything, she knew
that she had grown in attraction, even in his eyes, since those days. She
had become the most desired woman in the secret circles of Russia. She
had been, as a matter of fact, glad to escape for a while from the
turbulent passions she had inspired in some of those men who had so
little to offer. If she made no false step, she told herself, failure
would be impossible. She turned to the maitre d'hôtel.

"We will take our coffee a little nearer to the fire," she told him, "On
the divan there. Draw up a small table, please. Monsieur will take his
brandy there. Be sure that it is in a large glass, first frozen and then
warmed gently. I myself shall drink Kummel."

_"Bien, Madame,"_ the man replied.

"Rather spoiling me, are you not?" Grodin observed uxoriously when the
orders had been carried out and he had moistened his lips with the first
touch of the brandy.

She smiled.

"After all," she said, "London is a dreary city if one is left alone by a
faithless husband. I do not wish you to be faithless, Nicolas. I do not
like that little Dubinski danseuse under the same roof. You are sure that
you dined at the Embassy last night?"

Grodin, who had been a trifle disappointed with Dubinski who, after all,
was nothing at all compared with this magnificent wife of his, hastened
to re-affirm his falsehood.

"At the Embassy, my dear, I assure you, to meet some interesting new
arrivals. Prince Madziwill was there from Warsaw. A dinner for men only.
It was tedious but in its way interesting. There will be much movement,
before long, in eastern Europe."

"One expects that," she murmured.

She was leaning back in her place. Her eyes were fixed on the fire, her
fingers were playing absently with his thick stubby hand.

"Would you like to hear a confession, Nicolas?" she asked.

He turned his head towards her. His small eyes were lit with jealous
fury, his underlie was thrust forward.

"Last night--Alexander?" he demanded.

"Yes," she murmured, drooping her head a little. He became very angry
indeed, and restraint was not amongst his good qualities.

"That is the sort of woman you are!" he shouted. "You can get nothing
from a man unless you give. Another woman with a promise could have
succeeded as well as you, but you--it is because you are faithless in
your heart. At a time like this you must give--give what belongs to me.
You think that I am easy. We will see. My God, we will see! So this is
what happens while I am away on my business, working and planning that
you may be rich, that you may have jewels and marvellous clothes. I beg
for your help and you give it at the expense of my honour and yours. I
think--I think I shall kill you, Olga."

With difficulty he staggered to his feet. The veins of his forehead were
swollen, his clenched fist, the hand which he had snatched away from her,
was a horrible sight.

"You shall never be beautiful again," he snarled. "Your lover--"

"Stop!" she cried. "If you say a word more you will be sorry. Mark that,
Nicolas. You will be very sorry indeed. Calm yourself. My confession is
bad enough, but it is not that."

He stood there, dubious, breathing heavily, the victim of a consuming
jealousy.

"Not that?" he repeated.

"I told you that I had a confession to make," she continued. "Here it is.
Nicolas, he was hard to persuade but at the moment when everything was in
the balance, I--I was trying so hard that I think I lost control of
myself. I held out my arms to him. A man like Alexander knows I was his
for the taking then. I was unfaithful, Nicolas, but it was only in my
thought, and it was for you. What happened then?--I can see your eyes
asking me. What happened was this. I suffered the greatest degradation a
woman can know. I was refused."

"Alexander was not your lover?" he asked incredulously, yet with an
undertone of exultation.

"I have told you. He refused me. Even as he spoke, as he moved away, I
knew that what I thought was affection on my part was nothing of the
sort. It was a lesser thing--a momentary impulse. It became, even as he
spoke, hatred. It is hatred now. Nicolas, I must have my revenge on that
man."

He sank back again upon the divan. His arm went clumsily around her neck.
Olga knew then that her battle was half won. It was only necessary to
keep her head, to keep the loathing out of her eyes.

"Do you not understand, Nicolas," she went on, "what that means to a
woman? You have known so many and you have known them so well. Believe
me, if the moment had come I should have hated it. I should probably have
made my escape. He does not know that. He lives and he believes that I
offered him everything that I had to give, and that he refused it.
Nicolas, I must have my revenge upon that man. And you, too, should feel
like that. I loathe him!"

Grodin drew from his pocket an over-perfumed handkerchief and wiped the
drops of sweat from his forehead.

"You shall have your revenge, Olga," he promised her.

"When? How?" she begged, drawing nearer to him. "Tell me, Nicolas--tell
me, my husband. After all, then, perhaps something may happen to him
after he has crossed the frontier?"

He smiled a slow, ugly smile. His words were grim, but the after-note of
triumph was there.

"He will be met, as we promised, by Molonieff. They will both of them be
escorted with great honour to the barracks. The guns will be booming in
the city but they will enter by the private way. There will be a
demonstration there. There will be wild shooting. There will be other
shooting which will not be wild. Molonieff and Alexander will die. The
great one will take then the army into his own keeping. His staff is
already nominated. The danger will be past."

Olga sprang to her feet. It was a magnificent effort of histrionics. Her
face seemed lit with joy.

"Show me the decree," she cried. "Show me the decree, Nicolas, and I will
be your slave for life. Let me see it down in writing. Let me see the
seal."

His air of superabundant triumph was a little crushed.

"You cannot see that," he replied. "You must believe me. It is the
truth."

"But I must see it," she insisted. "Of course I believe, but the joy is
in seeing. If I could, I would be there at the top windows looking down
to see them fall. That is impossible, so I must see the decree. Where is
it, Nicolas? Do not deny me this."

"You cannot see it," he repeated stubbornly. "It lies--never mind where
it lies."

"I know," she cried, "I know where it is. It is downstairs in the
manager's strong-room. You have the key to it, Nicolas. Let us go down
together--you and I. You can show it me. We can read it down there, then
you can put it back. I should be the happiest woman on earth. Nicolas, I
shiver when I think what I shall be to you--my husband. You will give me
the greatest joy of my life."

"You must accept my word," he begged hoarsely. "I never visit the
strong-room. There are spies here in the flats. I tell you that the copy
of the decree is there for my endorsement. Orloff will take it by the
same plane. He knows what to do with it. There is no possibility of any
hitch. Alexander is doomed to death. Soon he will be a dead man."

Not a shadow of disappointment in her face, no anxiety, no fear. With
every word he spoke she seemed happier.

"It is you who are the king of men," she sighed. "Come, Nicolas, come, my
dear husband. Fetch your keys. We will go down together to the
strongroom. I will read the decree. What joy! The thought of it is
ecstasy. Nicolas, hasten! I shall ring for my cloak. You will come as you
are. We descend. Soon I shall be the happiest woman in the world and a
little later--yes?--you will be the happiest man."

Grodin struggled once more to his feet. He was like a man doped.

"The decree is there," he muttered. "Why is that not enough?"

"Do not rob me of half the joy," she pleaded. "I must see the great seal.
I must see it in writing--that he is to die. Moura," she went on, turning
to the woman who had come from the adjoining apartment, "a cloak, my
cloak, the green one with the chinchilla collar. My bag, give me my bag.
I will carry that--nothing else. We are not leaving the building, Moura.
We shall be back in a quarter of an hour. Prepare my room. I shall retire
early--soon after we return."

She flashed a swift glance at Grodin and those amazing eyes of hers
called him to her side. She took his arm and clung to it.

"To the lift, Nicolas!" she exclaimed. "Come. I feel like singing.
To-night, when the lights are out, I shall sing to you."

"All the same," he muttered uneasily, "it should have been enough when I
told you."

She leaned over and stopped his lips with a kiss.

"I must see the seal," she cried.

The lift arrived. She stepped lightly into it, but Nicolas remained
immovable. It was obvious that he was thinking deeply.

"Come back," he ordered. "There is something to be said."

Olga obeyed reluctantly. He motioned for the lift to remain.

"Listen," he said, "you are having your way with me, but this thing must
be done as I direct. I do not wish that you and I should go to the
manager's office and descend together into the strong-room. He will have
that against me for the rest of his life if there should be trouble. He
will know that we made this expedition together. You will go back to your
room and wait. In less than ten minutes, say quarter of an hour, I shall
be here and I shall bring the box with me and the keys. You shall see me
open it and you shall see--aye, more than you expect. You shall see the
warrant for the execution of Alexander. Will that suffice?"

"Suffice? It is a hundred times better." She was full of secret
exultation. Nevertheless, she merely shrugged her shoulders. "I only
wished to come," she told him, "because I was afraid that without me you
might change your mind. If you swear to return with the box and the keys
I will go back to my room."

"I swear."

Olga nodded, watched him step into the lift, then made her way to her
room. She threw off her cloak and opened her marvellous toilette box
which stood upon the dressing-case. She lifted out the top tray with its
bewildering array of gold-topped bottles and searched for a while
underneath. Then she drew out a small bottle, shook two tablets into her
hand, locked up the case and came back to the table where their two
glasses were standing. She poured more of the brandy into his, some of
the Kummel into hers, then dropped the two tablets into the brandy and
stirred them a little to aid in their dissolution. To her joy the spirit
remained clear. She carried the glasses through into her room, set them
on the table, sank into an easy chair and waited.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


It was barely a quarter of an hour after her husband's departure before
Olga heard his blundering footsteps in the corridor and his knuckles upon
the door. She threw it open immediately and stood there to greet him, a
radiant figure. She drew him into the room, closed and locked the door
behind him.

"Let me carry the case," she begged, taking it from his hand. "Why, how
light it is, Nicolas, and yet it looks as though it were made of metal."

"It is a new preparation," he confided. "Our chemists discovered it
working near the mines at Oblensk. It is harder than steel and lighter
than aluminium."

He crossed the room to the other door and locked it, then he took the
case from Olga and drew three curiously curved keys from his pocket, all
on one ring. She followed closely the complicated unlocking of the case,
how each numbered key fitted into a certain one of the three locks and
was turned once, twice or three times. The lid flew open. The inside was
lined with black cloth. There was apparently only one document inside--a
document of stiff parchment, an enormous seal at the bottom. Pinned to it
was an envelope on which was no address.

"Read," he ordered thickly. "There is my promise fulfilled. Read."

No need to tell her. The parchment was in her hands. There was a single
page of firm, marvellously clear handwriting. She read, gripping the
stiff parchment on either side. When she came to the names a slow smile
parted her lips. She gazed at the seal as though in transports. When she
had finished she drew a deep sigh.

"You have kept your word, Nicolas," she acknowledged.

She took his face between her hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

"One moment," she begged. "One moment."

She leaned over for their glasses. She gave him his brandy and lifted her
own glass to her lips.

"We drink to my gratitude, dear Nicolas," she said. "You will not be
sorry that you did this for me. I drink to you as we Russians know how to
drink--"

The sombre light was gone from his eyes. He gave a little grunt of
satisfaction and followed her example. They threw the empty glasses into
the fire, then she held out her arms.

"Nicolas," she asked softly, the false glow already in her eyes, "you
have not deceived me? There will be no reprieve?"

"There will be no reprieve," he assured her. "This man will die. God, how
close this room is! Help me off with my coat."

Olga led him towards his bed. Already his speech was becoming confused.
She pushed him for the last yard or two, lifted his legs from the floor
and threw the counterpane over him. He was already half comatose. She
waited for a moment, breathing heavily after her efforts, then made her
way back to where the box stood upon the table, seized the parchment and
held it to her bosom. She looked around. His eyes were closed. She turned
out the light. Already he had commenced the strangled snoring of a man of
his build. She groped her way to the spot where she had thrown her cloak,
covered herself with it, holding the precious parchment underneath, and
stood by the side of his bed looking at him by the light of the fire. He
lay perfectly motionless, his mouth open, his eyes fast closed. She
stepped away with a little shudder, let herself out and fled down the
passage.


When Grodin awoke, it was to the sound of the clatter of tea-cups. There
was someone moving about the room. He opened his eyes. By his side was a
small tea equipage, strong tea poured into a cup steaming hot, just as he
liked it. Bending over Olga's bed was Moura in her black gown and white
linen collar. She looked up at the sound of his movement and wished him a
happy good morning.

"Madam still sleeps," she remarked with a smile.

Grodin struggled into a sitting position. What a hell of a nuisance that
he could never drink old brandy which he loved more than anything else in
the world, without these headaches! He drank the tea noisily and
thirstily. When he set the cup down it was empty.

"What time is it?" he asked the maid.

"Ten o'clock," she answered. "Shall I wake Madame?"

"Yes," he grunted. "Then go through to my room and turn on my bath. See
that Stefan is there."

He looked down in disgust at his clothes. To go to bed like that! He
struggled with an effort of memory. Slowly it came back. He rolled out of
bed.

"Wake Madame," he ordered. "Wake her quickly."

He stood up, grasping the brass framework of his bedstead. The box was on
the table exactly as he had left it. He put his hand to his head. He
could not remember for a moment having locked it.

"Wake madame at once," he repeated.

Moura bent over her mistress and touched her with light fingers. Olga sat
up sleepily. She drew the silk bedclothes over her knees, shook out the
crumpled pillow and gazed in puzzled fashion around her. She was one of
those fortunate women who remain beautiful in the morning.

"Nicolas," she cried softly. "You are still there? You remained all night
like that?"

"It was that infernal brandy," he muttered. "It was strong, that brandy."

Looking marvellously fresh and well, she laughed at him mockingly.

"What gallantry!" she exclaimed. "Pass me my tea, Moura."

She raised the cup to her lips and drank. All the time her eyes were
following his movements. He was standing by the table now, bending over
the box. The keys on their ring lay on the floor by his feet. He suddenly
noticed them, stooped and picked them up. Olga set down her cup softly.
Resting on the palms of her hands, she sat up in bed and watched him. He
turned the keys and looked into the box. There was no exclamation, no
word of any sort, not a movement of the head. He closed the box. Then he
turned round to meet Olga's gently inquiring eyes. He was wide-awake
enough, now--an ugly sight for the early morning, his low collar squashed
up, both his studs parted company with the buttonholes, his white
waistcoat merely a rag. His hard, spiky hair, lying in violent disarray,
did nothing to conceal the bald spot on the top of his head. She waited
for him to speak. His silence perplexed her. His gaze seemed to become
more intense. He still said nothing, and she felt a nervous fear creeping
through her veins. Silence like this was worse than a torrent of words
and questions.

"What is the matter with you, my dear Nicolas?" she asked.

Still no word. There was a telephone on the same table as the case. He
turned slowly away and caught up the receiver.

"The reception office," he demanded. "Yes. It is Nicolas Grodin who
speaks...Yes, I am in my apartment--seventy. Be so good as to send at
once to me the house detective...Never mind--the house detective, I
said...In five minutes? Very well."

He laid down the receiver. Still he had not spoken one word to his wife.
He started for the communicating door, holding the case in his hand.

"Have you no morning greetings for me, Nicolas?" she cried.

He paused for a second, then retraced his steps. Olga was grateful at
that moment for Moura, standing discreetly in the background. Grodin
placed his foot on the side of the bed, laid the case across it and
turned the keys. She looked into it and her scream rang through the
apartment.

"The warrant is gone! What have you done with it, Nicolas? Do you mean to
cheat me?"

He closed the case and returned the keys to his pocket.

"No," he said, "I am not one who cheats."

"What have you done, then, with the warrant?" she demanded.

There was a flicker of admiration in his eyes as he looked at her, but
there was also something else far more terrifying.

"The warrant seems to have flown away," he confided. "Some besotted fool
must have turned the keys and disclosed its presence here to a person
whom he trusted. It is a sad event, Olga. The end of the affair will also
be very sad."

"But--I do not understand," she faltered.

"Then I have the advantage," he replied, "for I do. I understand, Olga
Grodin. I can only repeat that the end of this matter will be sad."

He stumped away with the box in his hand. He asked no question, he
uttered no threat, but the woman who was still sitting up in bed was
afraid...Presently she heard voices in the next room. The detective,
then, had already arrived. She beckoned to Moura.

"My bath," she ordered. "Leave the door open while you fill it. And
Moura--"

"Madame?"

"Do not leave me unless I send you away. I myself am nervous this
morning."

"It is of Monsieur that Madame has fear?"

"It is of Monsieur," was the softly-spoken admission. "He thinks that I
have stolen something."

"How could Madame have stolen anything?" the woman replied. "She has not
left the room."

Olga followed her into the bathroom. Voices were still audible.

"Wait outside," Olga enjoined.

She made good use of the half-hour and composed herself. It was going to
be difficult. It had all seemed so simple. When she had stolen downstairs
and passed out into the courtyard in the trail of a little crowd of
departing guests from a very Bohemian party, the _concierge's_ back
had been turned. Coming back, too, she had met no one. She had run
lightly up the stairs instead of ringing for the lift. Not a soul had
been about on her floor. She had stripped off her clothes and crept
between her silken sheets. There had been no sound anywhere save the
heavy snoring of her husband. It was like harsh music to her ears. She
had closed her eyes. By degrees the trembling of her pulses had subsided.
She had drifted off into happy slumber...

The voices again. A knock at the door. She folded her _peignoir_
about her and stepped back into her bedroom.

"What is the trouble, Moura?" she asked.

"It is the detective, Madame. He is waiting outside to speak to you."

"He can wait, then," she answered sharply. "Does he expect to interview
ladies as they come from the bath?"

The knocking at the door was more insistent. Olga controlled herself with
an effort.

"Tell him to wait in the salon," she directed. "I will see him as soon as
I have made my toilette."

Again the knocking. Moura opened the door cautiously but not cautiously
enough. A man's foot was placed in the aperture. Moura was swung gently
on one side. A small, neatly dressed man pushed unobtrusively past her
into the room.

"Madame," he said, bowing to Olga, "I offer you my sincere apologies. I
am here by your husband's instructions and in my capacity of detective of
the flats I am forced sometimes to appear ill-mannered." Olga promptly
but ungraciously capitulated.

"Give me a dressing-gown to put on over this, Moura," she directed. "And
now," she went on, as Moura returned with a more voluminous garment,
"what is this trouble, please? My husband left the room half an hour ago
without a word of explanation. What has happened?"

"A serious theft, Madame," the man replied. "A document of immense
importance was abstracted from your husband's despatch-case during the
night."

"And who does he suppose has abstracted it?" she asked scornfully. "No
one has entered or left the room. I am a very light sleeper and it would
have been impossible for anyone to have committed a theft in here without
my knowledge."

"It certainly would have been difficult," the detective admitted. "But to
satisfy your husband I must ask a few questions and look round a little.
It is my unfortunate duty, Madame. I hope that you will realise that."

Olga threw herself into a corner of the divan. "Ask your questions," she
invited.

"Your husband tells me that he brought a metal box into this room last
night and showed you a document which was in it."

"That is true."

"Afterwards you had a good-night drink together and your husband tells me
that he slept in this room."

"Quite true. He was not in a condition to hear anything but I was. No one
has been near."

"With reference to that drink," the detective continued, "I do not see
that there are any glasses here."

"Of course not. The maid has been in the room with the tea. So naturally
took out the used glasses with her."

"But the maid who brought your tea denies that she did anything of the
sort," he pointed out. "I have already interviewed her. Those two glasses
seem to have disappeared."

She laughed contemptuously.

"Why not ask my husband what became of them?"

"I have done so, Madame," was the prompt reply. "He has no recollection."

"That is because he had drunk too much," she scoffed. "He has no
recollection! Ask him once more and he will probably remember that he
followed an old Russian custom when one drinks a serious toast. We threw
our glasses into the fire. Look, the maid has removed the ashes, I see,
but in the corner there--what is that?"

The detective stooped down.

"It is a portion of the stem of a wine glass," he admitted, picking it
up.

"If you search amongst the ashes," she told him, "you will find the
remaining fragments."

"I am sure it will not be necessary," the man said smoothly. "Your
husband will remember the circumstances. You permit me to make a brief
search of the room?"

"Certainly. Am I, by the way, a prisoner?"

The young man held up his hands in horror. "How could you think such a
thing, Madame? You are free to come and go as you will."

"Then I will have my coffee in the salon," she said. "Moura will unlock
anything if necessary. When you finish rummaging about amongst my
belongings perhaps you will let me know. I wish to leave the place
shortly. I have an early appointment with my dressmaker."

"There is nothing in the world to prevent your leaving when you choose,"
he assured her.

Olga handed her keys to Moura, made her way into the salon and rang for
her breakfast. The coffee tasted excellent. The tobacco in the cigarette
which she lit afterwards had never seemed more appealing. What a fool
that young man was, even though he were a detective. Did he think it
likely that she would conceal a paper of such great importance amongst
her clothes? There came once more that little tap at the door. This time
she answered fearlessly enough.

"Come in."

The detective entered, Moura protesting in the rear. He carried Olga's
discarded opera cloak on one arm and held a pair of satin shoes in the
other hand.

"Madame," he said, "I shall have to ask you to explain why your opera
cloak is still damp with last night's rain and why your slippers
here--new ones, evidently--are ruined and splashed with mud. You left
Buckingham Court last night. It is quite useless to deny it."

Olga remained silent for several moments. Her eyes were fixed upon the
ruined slippers and the opera cloak with the marks of the raindrops upon
it.

"Where did you find those?" she asked at last.

"In your maid's room, Madame. It was naturally my first duty to examine
the clothes you wore last night. Your maid protested but I followed her
to her chamber. I regret the necessity, Madame, but the fact is now
established. You left the building last night, probably with the document
your husband has lost."

"What are you going to do about it?" she demanded.

"I must consult with your husband," he told her. "It is his affair."

"He will kill me," she said simply. "Go away, Moura," she added a moment
later. "I will ring when I want you."

The woman obeyed. The young man stood immovable. His eyes were fixed upon
the cloak. Olga stood with her back to him, her hands clenched. This was
more terrible than anything she had imagined. Her fears were closing in
upon her. If Nicolas knew the truth it was the end. He was not one who
forgave.

"Listen," she implored, clasping and unclasping her hands. "I have very
little money but I have jewels--any quantity of them. There is my case in
the room there. Moura has the keys. She is discreet. They are worth at
least a hundred thousand pounds. Help yourself to what you want. I shall
never complain. Leave me the cloak and the shoes and take the emerald
necklace that belonged to the Czarina--or anything you like."

She paused and listened for a moment. There was no reply. Silence. She
turned round. She was alone in the room. She hastened to the door and
opened it. Her bedroom, too, was empty. She heard the clang of the lift
at the end of the corridor and knew that he had gone.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


For a man to whom self-restraint had become almost a habit, Alexander
appeared to be in an unusually restless and uneasy frame of mind from the
moment he entered Anna Prestnoff's studio that evening. Anna herself; on
the other hand, had found in the quality of silence a new form of
strength. She refused to smoke, she listened to her visitor's somewhat
staccato efforts at conversation with grave but uncritical attention. She
waited until he had arrived at the threshold of the one portentous piece
of news he had come to disclose and then she stopped him.

"I have seen Baron Gurdenoff to-day, Alexander," she told him, "and I
have been to headquarters and talked with Professor Leonard. They neither
of them told me anything, yet they were neither of them able to deny what
has been my great fear during the last few days. You have definitely
decided to accept this invitation from Russia."

"I had to, Anna," he answered.

"You know the risk you run?"

"I know that there is a great risk," he admitted. "Anna, how can we
proceed further in our work unless we run risks? How do you think it
could become possible to liberate a country bound in such shackles as
exist at the present moment without the sacrifice of lives? On the other
hand, here is a distinct and definite issue to be considered with regard
to this expedition of mine. There is a chance that Molonieff and I may
get in our blow before the plot against us--if there is one--has time to
develop. I admit the danger. I accept it. Our country will never be set
free by men who fear death."

Anna rose to her feet. His eyes followed her as she crossed the room,
lingered upon her unhurried, graceful movements with an artist's
appreciation. She opened a drawer and drew out a stiff roll of paper
which had been pressed into her hands the night before by a breathless,
terrified woman, the rain upon her face and cloak, the sound of her
taxicab beating in the street outside.

"You had better read this, Alexander," she said. "You will know then that
it is not a question of risk. It is a question of certainty. You are to
go to your death a few hours after you have crossed the frontier. There
will be no time for you to appeal to the army."

He read those cruel directions word by word. He read, as few men have had
the chance to do before and live, the warrant for his summary death. He
studied the signature. Some hidden sense told him that the document was
genuine.

"Where did you find this, Anna?" he asked. "It is from Olga Grodin."

"Good God!"

He was silent for a moment or two, clutching the terrible parchment in
his hand.

"How exactly did it come into your possession?" he demanded.

"She gave it to me."

"But why--why on earth should she?"

"The fear of death. She may die now, if her husband discovers what she
has done. If she had been left to my tender mercies I should have given
information in Paris which would have brought her, without the shadow of
a doubt, to the secret scaffold. Olga Grodin never showed more clearly
her genius than when she slipped out of her life as a dangerous spy and
married Grodin, but, you see, I knew the truth. I gave her the choice of
handing me this document or denouncing her. I have the document. You have
read it, Alexander. Now will you promise me," she begged, raising her
eyes to his, "that you will not go?"

He made no answer. She let him alone--watching intently. Word by word he
read over again the directions to the chief of his escort. Word by word
he read over the death warrant.

"Anna," he said, "it is a great feat, this, which you have accomplished."

"Let it not go unrewarded, then," was the prompt reply.

"I must remind you of this," he pointed out. "There is a difference
between going blindly into the field of danger and entering it prepared
with foreknowledge of what is planned against you."

"There is no difference in this case," she answered eagerly. "They have
been too clever for that. The whole affair will be finished so soon. You
will never have a chance to speak to those million men, Alexander. You
will never have the chance to light that torch you could have lifted to
the skies. Death--ugly and sinister--is waiting for you there. Of what
use is a dead man to a suffering nation? Cannot you see what this means,
Alexander? The Dictator is weakening. He is tottering in his place. All
that we have to do is to go on as we are doing, pour in our pamphlets,
feed the list of officers and sergeants and that great mass of
dissatisfied men with the manna of truth. The army is ripening for
revolt. That we know. If you give your life fruitlessly before the time
has come, there will be no one to lead them. The allegorical knout of the
Dictatorship, which is worse than the knout of the Czars, will crack once
more and they will shrink back into their old selves. They must have
living men to lead them. You and Molonieff, alive, can free Russia. You
will never do it by rushing upon your death like this."

He suddenly astonished her. He drew her into his arms, kissed her eyes
and her lips. She yielded them tremblingly. It was such unexpected joy.
Only a few moments before he had seemed so stern, so far-removed.

"It is you," he whispered, "who have reawakened in me the desire for life
as other men see it and feel it--a human, joyous love for life. You,
Anna, you have done this. I do not wish to throw away what you have made
precious. For twenty-four hours I shall consider, but you must help me."

"If I help you," she smiled happily, "you will never leave me. We are
twin souls in one thing at least, Alexander. I, too, love our country. It
is because of that, as much as because I love you, that I will not let
you throw yourself away in those shambles. Your life is too precious,
dear one."

He pointed to the document.

"Meanwhile?" he asked.

She nodded. For a moment she listened attentively. It was only the sound,
however, of a car which passed in the street below.

"The hue and cry amongst Grodin's foxes will soon be started," she
admitted. "You had better take advantage of your opportunity."

His hesitation was only momentary. He placed the document in the inside
pocket of his coat.

"How did his wife come into possession of it?" he asked.

"She was barely here sixty seconds," Anna told him. "She was shivering
with fear. I think that she had teased Grodin into showing it to her,
then drugged him, slipped from his arms, taken the document, stolen away
from their rooms and brought it to me."

"But why to you?" he asked, bewildered.

"As I have told you, because I had been to her and threatened her with
certain disclosures of her past life," she replied. "I told her that
unless I had the document within forty-eight hours I should visit the
Quai d'Orsay."

"But how did you know," he 'demanded, "that the warrant had been signed,
that there was treachery in Grodin's offer to me?"

She was silent.

"I will tell you that," she said, "when Russia is at last a free
country."

He sprang to his feet and paced the room.

"Do not think that I am ungrateful," he cried, "but remember what that
document means to the man who has allowed it to be stolen from him."

"I know," she admitted.

"Olga may have paid already for her visit to you with her life," he went
on. "Grodin is a disciple of his master, at heart. A dozen lives would
mean nothing to him. Supposing he learns the truth?"

"Nothing more probable, I should think," she acknowledged. "I have no
feeling one way or the other about the woman. I do not care whether she
lives or dies."

The sharp summons of an electric bell broke the silence. Alexander's
eyebrows were gently upraised as he turned towards Anna.

"My outside door," she told him.

"A caller?"

"Apparently."

He glanced at the clock. It was twenty minutes to eight.

"You had better let me answer it," he suggested. She shook her head.

"Wait."

She rang down on the telephone to the _concierge._

Fortunately he was in his office and answered at once.

"Tell me," she said. "My outside door-bell has rung. Have you passed any
visitor up?"

"It is the young artist, Mademoiselle, who dances in the ballet. He has
visited you before, or I would not have let him pass."

"Is he alone?"

"He arrived in a car with someone else," the man told her. "The car is
still outside. I think it is another gentleman."

"Do not let anyone else up," she directed, ringing off.

The bell of the flat rang again.

"It is Leopold," she told Alexander. "Shall we hear what he has to say?"

"By all means," he assented.

She went to the outside door which led up a little passage into the
studio and by a door, on the right-hand side, into her other apartment.
Leopold was standing upon the door-mat. He wore a silk hat and a black
overcoat drawn in at the waist. His white muffler was beautifully tied.
He carried a gold-knobbed malacca cane and there was a gardenia in his
buttonhole. There was an air of fatigue in his face and his tone was
peevish.

"You keep me waiting, Anna Prestnoff," he complained. "That I do not
like."

"I cannot for the moment remember having invited you to call here," she
replied.

"This," he said, "is not an ordinary visit."

She opened the inner door. Leopold removed his hat and followed her in.
When he saw Alexander he stopped short.

"I did not understand," he faltered, "that you were not alone."

"Is it necessary for me to inform you?" she asked. "You say that you wish
to see me. Come in. Let me hear what you have to say."

"Before--your visitor?"

She laughed scornfully.

"Why not?"

"It is impossible," was the uneasy reply.

Leopold turned to the door but Anna was standing with her back against
it.

"I suspect," she said quietly, "that you have brought me a message from
Nicolas Grodin."

He looked across his shoulder at Alexander.

"I have nothing to say to you, under the present circumstances," he
declared. "You should have told me that you were not alone."

Alexander smiled good-humouredly.

"Come, come, Leopold Zadaruski," he said, "you are wasting time. The
young lady did not invite your visit. You came on your own account. You
have a message to give her. She asks you to give it before me. Out with
it, please. To tell you the truth, we are both of us anxious to get rid
of you."

"The message is a private one," Leopold declared sullenly.

Alexander lounged slowly across the room. He towered over the young man.
Anna remained with her back to the door.

"A pretty toy, that, which you are carrying, my little ballet dancer," he
remarked. "Let me look at it."

Leopold shrank away.

"Leave me alone," he insisted.

With a turn of the wrist, Alexander possessed himself of the cane. He
swung it gently in the air.

"Excellent," he declared. "As good as a whip, this. Take off your
overcoat."

The young man was white with terror.

"How dare you?" he exclaimed. "Anna Prestnoff, stand away from that door.
Let me go."

He swung round, but Alexander's hand was upon the collar of his overcoat.
He shook him gently.

"I will be your valet," he said. "See how easy it is."

He caught one sleeve of the coat and with its soft silk lining it slipped
from Leopold's shoulders. Alexander kicked it into the corner.

"Now," he declared, "we can proceed. Give the young lady your message."

"The message is only from myself," was the terrified reply. "I came to
ask her to take supper with me."

"That is a lie," Alexander asserted. "Even you, I think, would scarcely
have so much audacity. I do not wish to hurt you unless I am obliged, my
little dancing man, but if you do not tell us from whom you came and give
Anna Prestnoff the message you bear, I shall give you a thrashing with
this cane of yours that will stop your dancing for many nights to come."

"You dare not," the young man shouted. "Do you realise to whom you are
talking? I am Leopold Zadaruski. I dance at Covent Garden. The house is
sold out for weeks. Thousands come there over and over again to watch me
dance. If you lay a hand on me they will kill you."

"Who?"

"My public. The worshippers of my art."

Alexander laughed quietly.

"Do you know," he said, "that you are quite the stupidest person I ever
met? You are so stupid that I shall give you one more chance before I
take off your other coat and give you a thrashing. It will be a shock to
your admirers, when you are well enough to dance again, to see the weals
underneath."

Leopold was shaking all over. He turned frantically to Anna.

"Say something to this madman!" he cried. "He is out of his senses--he is
mad!"

"I do not think that he is mad, Leopold," Anna replied. "But listen. Tell
us both who is downstairs in the car with you. Perhaps Alexander may be
very kind and let you off if you tell us that instead of giving me the
message."

"Reinforcements downstairs," Alexander observed. "Well, this poor little
rat needs them. Who is your companion to-night?"

Leopold hesitated. Anything was better than the present situation. There
was a terrible air of seriousness about Alexander notwithstanding the
banter in his tone. Somehow or other, Leopold felt a conviction that he
was very near indeed to that horrible torture.

"It is Nicolas Grodin," he confided.

Alexander's lips shaped themselves for a whistle.

"Downstairs in the car--he came here with you?"

"We came to invite Anna Prestnoff to sup with us," Leopold announced,
recovering a little of his courage.

"And where," his questioner persisted, "is Grodin proposing to give this
feast?"

Leopold moved uneasily upon his feet. Once more the subject was veering
round towards danger.

"I have no idea," he declared earnestly. "I know nothing of that. Nicolas
Grodin wishes for a conversation with Anna Prestnoff in private. That is
all I know."

Alexander reflected for a moment, then he turned to Anna.

"I suggest," he said, "that you telephone down to your hall porter and
ask him to invite the gentleman in the car to mount."

"I will go and tell him," Leopold proposed hastily.

Alexander shook his head.

"No, I do not think that would do at all. Nicolas Grodin has courage of a
sort, no doubt, but I think that the last person whom he would wish to
see just now is myself. If you descend you will tell him that I am here
and your car and both of you will vanish. I think that the hall porter
will be the best one to give the message."

Anna moved to the telephone and took up the receiver.

"Will you invite the gentleman who is in the car outside to mount to my
apartment," she said.

She waited a minute and then turned to Alexander. Her voice _was_
steady but she was a little afraid.

"He is coming," she announced. "You know, do you not, what sort of man he
is?"

Alexander smiled.

"I am aware of his reputation. I have never been quite sure whether it
was justified or not. In a few minutes we may know."

From outside came once more the tinkling of the bell.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


There was an air of suspicion about Grodin as he followed Anna into the
room, but it was suspicion largely tempered with curiosity. The sight of
Alexander lounging against the back of the divan was obviously a complete
and amazing surprise. He stopped short, dumbfounded. His lips were parted
but for the moment he had lost the power of speech. His shifty eyes
darted restlessly from one to the other. Finally, they remained fastened
as though against his will upon Alexander.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked thickly.

Alexander waved his hand towards a chair.

"Is it such a shock to find me here, Nicolas Grodin?" he inquired with
mild sarcasm. "Anna Prestnoff is an old friend of mine. Surely you
remember seeing us together upon the steamer."

"Why did you not tell me who was here before you asked me to mount, you
blasted young fool?" Grodin demanded of Leopold.

"It was not I who spoke," the other replied.

His voice seemed to have cracked. It had a falsetto note about it which
was really the hallmark of a devouring fear. Grodin turned away from him
with an exclamation of contempt. Like all cowards, he had a profound
contempt for others who shared his weakness.

"I came to talk with Anna Prestnoff," he announced. "I have warned the
police of my visit. They are following me. They may be here at any
moment."

"Dear me, how inconvenient!" Alexander exclaimed. "I hope they will not
arrive just yet. Such an admirable opportunity, this, for a little
farewell conversation with you."

"What do you mean by farewell?" Grodin asked suspiciously. "I am not
going anywhere that I know of."

Alexander sighed.

"That is just the worst of it," he observed. "In those unsettled days we
are never quite sure where or when we are going--whether to Paradise or
the other place, when or how. I appreciate your situation, Grodin. I
gather, then, that you are not accompanying me to Russia?"

"Accompanying you where?" Grodin demanded.

"To Russia. I thought you already understood that I am accepting your
offer. I shall be ready to start to-morrow morning."

Grodin was thunderstruck. His piercing little eyes flashed round upon
Anne. It was not easy to read her expression. Perhaps--perhaps, after
all, that detective had made a mistake, or the taxi driver or someone.
Perhaps it had not been to Anna that his wife had brought that document
in the middle of the night. It would seem almost too good to be true, but
apparently this terrible Alexander knew nothing of the plot for his
destruction. His faint hopes, however, received a sudden shock.

"Alexander," Anna exclaimed, "what are you saying? Have you suddenly gone
mad? Of course you are not going to Russia."

Alexander looked mildly distressed.

"Now I wonder what gives you that idea, Anna," he protested. "You, of all
people, should know how I hate to change my mind. I have abandoned the
idea of taking my own small staff with me, but--"

Grodin's brain was working swiftly. Perhaps, even if Anna had received
that stolen paper, she had not yet shown it to him, had not told him that
the whole business was a trap. She had not even mentioned that death
warrant, probably, with the signature of the Dictator scrawled across the
seal. How to separate those two till he could find out the truth? It was
obvious that Anna herself was bewildered.

"The plans remain unchanged?" he asked. "All is in order?"

"Certainly," Alexander agreed. "I thought it was already understood that
I was going. I warn you that there may be differences of opinion between
my own views and those of the others when I arrive there. Everything may
not go quite smoothly at first but in the end, ah well, I think that it
may work out all right."

Leopold coughed hysterically. He pulled out his thin gold watch.

"I must go," he announced. "I have an engagement."

"Do not break up our little party, Zadaruski," Alexander begged. "I was
thinking of asking you all to supper with me. A farewell feast, you know.
What do you say, Anna?"

"Anything you wish," she answered tonelessly. "I should rather we were
alone. At the present moment I do not entirely understand you."

He scribbled a few lines on a page torn from his pocket-diary and handed
it to her.

"Use the hall porter's telephone," he directed. She nodded and hastened
from the room.

"I cannot come," Leopold declared, speaking in a tone that for him was
unexpectedly firm. "Since Anna Prestnoff has engagements I shall keep my
promise. I shall sup with the Duchess."

"And you, Grodin?"

Grodin had a cunning brain but he was perplexed. He pulled out his
underlip and stood for a few seconds in thoughtful silence. Alexander
continued.

"You will come, of course, Grodin," he said. "You must have some last
messages to send, some final instructions to give."

"You go to Russia, then?" Grodin repeated.

"Most certainly."

Leopold picked up his hat.

"In any case," he announced, "I take leave of you, my friends."

Alexander shook his head with a smile. It was not a smile of
pleasure--there was, in fact, nothing pleasant about it. He had changed
his position slightly and was standing now with his back to the door.

"I have other plans for you all," he said. "We are taking supper to-night
with my friend the Prince de Chambordine and his daughter Simone, whom
you, Grodin, will doubtless remember as the hereditary Grand Duchess of
Georgia since her mother's death. The Grand Duchess, whom we are to know
as the Princesse Simone de Chambordine, and her father, are anxious to
have a few last words with us before we start on our perhaps
history-making expedition?"

"This is not my affair," Leopold cried. "I was once presented to the
Grand Duchess at a dinner-party. She was rude to me. I take my leave."

"You stay where you are and do as you are told," Alexander ordered.

"Why do you speak of 'our' journey to Russia?" Grodin demanded. "I have
recently been appointed Minister here, as you know, and here I mean to
stop."

"Have I really omitted to mention the one condition under which I
undertake the journey?" Alexander replied. "I apologise. It is that you
accompany me, Grodin. I dislike travelling alone. I take you by plane to
Berlin and on from there to Moscow. This is, I understand, what you had
arranged."

"I will follow you," Grodin assented after a moment's reflection. "It
would not be possible for me to leave my post at the present time. I have
work to finish and besides, you speak of starting to-morrow morning. I am
not equipped. It would be necessary for me to obtain leave."

"All these things we shall discuss more easily at supper time," Alexander
told him.

"I have no acquaintance with the Prince de Chambordine," Grodin
protested. "There was even a time when he refused to make my
acquaintance."

"That is of no consequence now," was the other's suave assurance. "He
understands the great work you have accomplished on behalf of Russia. You
will be a welcome guest."

Grodin's expression was that of a wounded animal driven into a corner.

"I am not going to be ordered about in this fashion," he declared
sturdily. "Out of the way--I am leaving this apartment."

His quick step forward was checked. He was looking straight into the
barrel of a very deadly-looking weapon.

"Please excuse," Alexander murmured. "My car is waiting below. We will
leave together--the four of us. That will be very pleasant."


There was an awning in front of the great mansion of the Prince de
Chambordine, a footman on the kerbstone, a vague impression of luxury and
splendour in the great hall beyond. Alexander, and Paul who was in
attendance upon his master, walked one on either side of Grodin until
they had passed into the winter garden. Anna and Leopold followed a few
yards behind, watched over by a servant. Anna, with a little wave of the
hand, disappeared in the hall.

"_A bientôt_," Alexander cried. "A great supper-party this is to be,
Anna Prestnoff."

She turned towards him a little defiantly. She was still very pale.

"Before I join in such a ghastly celebration," she said, "you must
explain."

"And if I cannot?" he asked wistfully.

"Then I, too, come to Russia," she declared.

He made no reply but turned away to his already suspicious companions.

"This way, Grodin," he announced. "The supper-room is in the other wing."

Grodin was disturbed. He had whispered a word in Leopold's ear and the
latter was shaking with fright.

"We must know the meaning of this festival," Grodin demanded. "Why are we
dragged to the house of a man who we know is not favourably disposed
towards us?"

"Compose yourself," Alexander begged. "You are under the roof of one of
the greatest noblemen in the world. What harm do you suppose is likely to
come to you? It is only obstinate ones who look for trouble. If you
insist upon it I shall use sterner measures, but I have no wish to do so.
All will be well if you do as you are told."

"I do not desire to accept hospitality from the Prince de Chambordine,"
Grodin declared doggedly.

"Nor I," Leopold echoed. "I wish to keep an engagement."

"A taxicab is all I need," Grodin insisted.

"I will share it," Leopold cried eagerly.

The lights in the winter garden were suddenly lowered. The place seemed
full of shadows. There was a hand on Grodin's right shoulder and another
on his left--the hands of a man of great strength. Alexander's rather
tired voice had suddenly lost its courteous inflexion.

"No immediate harm is coming to you, Grodin, nor to you, dancing man, but
whilst you are under this roof you must do _as_ you are told. There
are certain plans to be made for my journey to Russia which are not
concluded. You are here to discuss them. In due course supper will be
served. In the meantime you remain where you are."

A door had opened in front of them. They were gently hustled inside a
square, impressive-looking apartment suddenly flooded with light. It was
handsomely furnished, the walls were lined with bookcases, but it had one
peculiarity--the whole of the illumination came from the ceiling. There
was not a window in the room, no possible means of egress except by the
door through which they had passed. There were comfortable easy chairs,
books and magazines of all sorts upon a round table. There were also
boxes of cigars and cigarettes.

"Unless you like to tear the books to pieces," Alexander continued,
"there is no mischief you can perpetrate here, but you will have some
little time to wait. Make yourselves at home, I beg of you. It is no use
trying to bribe the servant whom I shall leave in a far corner of the
room. He will only be angry and he is apt to be bad-tempered. Read and
smoke and talk as you will. When the time comes, you will be fetched."

"It is outrageous!" Leopold cried. "I am due to take supper with the
Duchess of Bodmin at the Ritz."

"A message shall be telephoned there," Alexander promised. "Excuse me
now, if you please. I have important affairs of my own to attend to in
connection with this journey ahead."

Notwithstanding his height, he had the gift of swift movement. Before
they realised it the two were alone, save for that grim, motionless
figure who stood with folded arms in the corner of the room. They heard
the key turned in the lock. Leopold began to sob.

"Why did you ever drag me into your wretched bureau?" he moaned. "My art
was enough for me. I hate politics. I should loathe to go back to
Russia."

Grodin stumped across the room, thrust his hand into a box of cigars,
drew one out, clipped and lit it. He turned his back upon his companion.

"These are the cigars of a prince," he muttered, "although it is indeed
the house of a madman."



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


Moura, dark, heavy-browed, sullen, stood in front of her mistress, a
confection of black lace upon her arm.

"Madame should permit me to conclude her toilette," she urged. "It is
useless to remain half-clothed. Monsieur may return at any moment. You
heard what he said, Madame. It was only a brief visit of adieu to an old
friend."

Olga Grodin rose wearily to her feet. She stretched herself and the
negligée slipped from her white shoulders.

"Moura," she said, looking at herself in the glass, "I am too beautiful
to kill. You think so, too? Tell me that you think so."

"No harm of that sort could come to Madame," the maid told her bitterly.
"No men are brave enough to do more than lash with words the creatures
they feed their desires upon, as Monsieur does with Madame. You are quite
safe. You have only to smile. The movement of your little finger is
sufficient. Monsieur would forgive even infidelity sooner than lose you."

Olga, in black lingerie, the design of a famous male dressmaker, suffered
the gown to be slipped over her shoulders. For a moment or two her maid
occupied herself in drawing the stockings up her mistress's long graceful
legs. Suddenly she paused. The muffled telephone bell was ringing.

"Be careful, Moura," Olga enjoined. "The detective--I will not see him
again. I am ill--away. If it should be anyone else, you are not sure."

Moura lifted the receiver.

"It is the apartment of Madame Grodin," she said. Someone spoke. She
listened and held the instrument away.

"It is Monsieur Alexander, Madame."

Olga sprang to her feet. There was a new light flashing in her eyes.

"He wishes to speak to me? I come," she declared.

"He waits below," Moura announced. "He begs for a brief interview."

"Tell him to mount--to mount at once," her mistress cried. "Let him know
that I am here alone."

The woman spoke and replaced the instrument. "He comes, Madame."

Olga Grodin for a moment was like a woman expecting her first lover. She
was round the room like a whirlwind--scented powder, a touch of a new
lipstick, very faint.

"The gown, Moura. I think I will wear the negligée. Have I time to take
this off?"

The woman shook her head.

"Madame is better as she is," she advised. "The gown is ravishing."

The bell of the outside door of the flat rang.

"Show him in here, Moura. Tell him I am engaged at my toilette but I will
see him."

The maid disappeared and a few seconds later Alexander stepped lightly
into the room. A gleam of anticipation shone in his eyes, but it was not
the anticipation which she desired.

"Alexander," she gasped, holding out her hand, "and I am alone! Where
is--Nicolas? I thought that he was hunting you."

"He is all right for the present," he answered. "I have him locked up,
waiting. I come to you for help, Olga, for help. With your aid I may
succeed in something very dear to me."

"My love!" Olga whispered passionately, her arms round his neck. "I am
your slave. I would do anything in the world you ask me. I adore you now
as I have done all my life. What can I do?"

He disengaged her arms gently.

"Olga," he confided, "I am leaving in a few hours for Russia. When I get
there, either your husband or I will be up against the firing-squad."

"Then let it be Nicolas," she cried. "Alexander, I hate that man as I
worship you."

He was silent for a moment.

"You must do this thing," he said, "for the sake of our country, Olga,
not for my sake. I can give nothing, I can promise nothing."

"But my love," she whispered, "my dear love, is there no little corner in
your life into which I could steal, for however short a time?"

"Olga," he told her softly, "the engines of my plane are already beating.
Everything is being prepared for a great effort. A few hours after I
cross the frontier I shall either be dead or the great work of salvation
will have commenced. I plead for your help, without conditions. I plead
to you as a daughter of Russia."

Her eyes were filled with tears. He bent softly and touched them with his
lips.

"You see, Olga," he went on, "I am not altogether of stone, but every
second that passes is against us. I want Grodin's--I want your
husband's--despatch-case and the key. Without it I shall never drag him
into Russia."

"When he comes back," she said quietly, "he will kill me. You know that
the infamous paper is no longer there."

"I know," he answered, "but nevertheless I want the case and the key to
it. Give them to me and you will have nothing to fear. Your husband shall
not return without my permission. I pledge my word for your safety."

"Give me your heart," she cried passionately, "if only for a moment. You
can keep your word. You can do what you like with Nicolas Grodin."

He glanced at the clock.

"Every one of those seconds spells danger," he reminded her. "Will you
give me the case?"

Olga threw open the door and called to her maid.

"Moura--my cloak."

She flung it over her shoulders.

"I will be as quick as possible," she promised. "Wait here."

Those were moments each one of them vibrant with anxiety to hold back the
clock. Yet Alexander, standing just as she had left him, was amazed at
the swiftness of her return. She came into the room panting, a wonderful
colour in her cheeks, the joy of a woman who risks everything for the man
she loves shining in her eyes.

"Take it," she tried, placing the metal box on the table by his side.
"Here are the keys. You know how to use them?"

"Please tell me," he begged.

She gave him the three keys on one ring which were stamped separately
one, two and three.

"You see," she pointed out, "the three locks. In lock number one you turn
key number three three times; in lock number two you turn key number one
once; in lock number three you turn key number two twice. If you turn
more often the lock fastens again automatically. You will remember?"

"Perfectly," he answered. "Olga, if I could only tell you--"

She pressed her lips to his.

"Do not try," she whispered. "One moment just one moment--"

He held her in his arms. She seemed almost to swoon.

"It is for you, Alexander," she murmured. "God save my heart from
breaking--"

There was silence in the room. She opened her eyes. "I am happy," she
breathed.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN


In the sitting-room of the apartment allotted to him in European House,
Marc Zaritsch sat at work. With a queer staccato touch he was hammering
into type, by means of a small portable machine, a chapter of the
autobiography which was later to amaze and terrify an incredulous public.
At the sound of the opening of the door he swung round in his chair. He
peered at the newcomer through his heavy glasses, then he removed them
and rose to his feet. He looked at Alexander in surprise. The latter was
quiet and composed as usual but there was about his sudden entrance and
his brisk clear speech a note of urgency.

"Put your typewriter away, Zaritsch," he ordered. "You have more
important work coming to you."

Zaritsch's forehead was wrinkled, his small eyes were contracted, his
head was a little on one side. He had rather the appearance of a
listening ferret.

"There is one subject," Alexander went on, "which it has never been
necessary for me to discuss with you, Zaritsch. There is no need for us
to comment upon it even now. I have to remind you only of the six months
you spent in the St. Petersburg branch of the German Bank after you had
completed your university course."

Zaritsch was a little frightened, more than a little puzzled.

"What have you to say to me about that?" he asked. "You left that
position," Alexander continued, speaking more rapidly than usual, "at a
moment's notice. You disappeared. There remains to this day, or rather
there would be if the books had not been destroyed, a memorandum of your
marvellous work upon some foreign bonds."

Zaritsch stiffened. Words left his lips with a certain quality of
iciness.

"I was a forger," he admitted. "You knew that when you gave me my place
there. What of it?"

"You are going to put your very marvellous gift to a marvellous use,"
Alexander told him, placing the despatch-box he was carrying upon the
corner of the table, drawing the keys from his pocket and calmly
unlocking it. "You are going to make a certain alteration in a document I
have here."

Zaritsch's neck was strained a little forward. There was a gurgle in his
throat.

"By the Holy Angels, you have the despatch-box of Grodin!"

"Quite true," Alexander acquiesced. "It is the despatch-box of Nicolas
Grodin. I have had occasion to borrow it. I leave to-night for Moscow,
Zaritsch."

"Well?"

"Nicolas Grodin accompanies me."

Zaritsch shook his head.

"That he would never do."

"He may not be quite convinced of it in his own mind," Alexander
continued calmly, "but Nicolas Grodin accompanies me. Here is a document,
Zaritsch, and an envelope prepared for its reception. The document is
here. Read it."

Zaritsch spread it out. It was not very long. He stared at that name and
once more the little gurgle came from his throat. The palm of his hand
was pressed upon the parchment. He turned round and looked wonderingly up
into the face of the man by his side.

"You are carrying your own death warrant," he muttered. "It is a triumph
of melodrama, this. You carry your own death warrant to the escort who
will meet you."

"In a sense you are right," Alexander agreed. "The only thing is that
when you have finished with that document, Zaritsch, and you have obeyed
my instructions with regard to it, it will not be my death warrant. It
will be the death warrant of another man."

Already Zaritsch was beginning vaguely to understand. His professional
instincts of years ago were aroused. He passed his forefinger lightly
over the surface of the parchment. He held it up to the light and spelt
out the words to himself.

"You wish your name deleted?" he asked.

Alexander leaned over to the stationery rack, drew out a sheet of paper
and scribbled a name.

"Exactly," he acquiesced, passing over the half-sheet of notepaper, "and
the name which I have written there substituted."

Zaritsch held the paper a short distance away. A start which seemed like
an electric shock set his whole body quivering. He sat there, his lips
parted, staring with fascinated eyes at the name which his companion had
scribbled. Then with a sudden movement he folded his arms, leaned forward
and drooped over the table. His shoulders began to shake. Alexander
looked at him in wonder.

"You understand me, Zaritsch?" he demanded.

There was no answer. The man at the desk seemed to have become a prey to
some uncontrollable emotion. His visitor grasped him by the shoulder.

"You understand what I wish?" he repeated imperatively.

Very slowly Zaritsch raised his head. The horrible gurgling noise was
still coming from his throat, there was sweat upon his forehead, his
mouth had taken a peculiar twist, he shook all over. Alexander suddenly
understood. He was watching the most demoniacal exhibition of mirth it
was possible to conceive...

"Sit up, man!" Alexander ordered. "Time is precious. You can do it?"

Zaritsch wiped the moisture from his eyes.

"Of course I can do it."

"You are willing?"

"Happily--joyously."

He spread open the parchment once more. He studied the signature. He
nodded confidently.

"I need one or two little appliances and a chemical. I have them here in
the drawer. There is no difficulty at all. I commence--yes?"

He was already fishing out a queer collection of knives and some powder
from a drawer in front of him. He held a bottle of ink up to the light
and then set it by his side.

"How long, Zaritsch?" Alexander questioned.

"I can fan my work dry," Zaritsch meditated. "Half an hour."

Alexander drew the evening paper and his cigarette-case from his pocket.
He threw himself into an easy chair.

"I wait," he announced.


For forty minutes Zaritsch indulged in a breathless, silent orgy of
concentrated effort. He had stooped lower and lower until his eyes were
within a few inches of the parchment on which he worked. He had drawn
down the green shaded lamp until under its concentrated rays his features
seemed ghastly and inhuman. He was breathing heavily as he swung round in
his chair.

"It is finished!" he exclaimed.

Alexander rose quickly to his feet and looked down at the yellow sheet
with its strange Russian characters, its flourishes, its concise and
deadly brevity. When he had finished reading he uttered a word of
approval.

"Your hand has not lost its cunning."

Zaritsch grinned at him.

"It has been a labour of love," he said.

With thin inhuman fingers he folded the parchment in its original creases
and, with the envelope, handed it to Alexander.

"There is no living man," he said, "who would believe that this had been
tampered with. I wish you good fortune with it. It may bring you great
success. It may bring to me escape."

"You are not a prisoner," Alexander reminded him.

Zaritsch wiped his eyes and spectacles.

"I am a prisoner of necessity," he said. "You probably know what I
know--that I have only to leave the shelter of this building for an hour
and I am finished. Grodin is afraid of me. I know too much. I know
far too much. I owe my life to the shelter of this place."

Alexander locked up the document in the despatch-case. He looked for a
moment or two curiously at the speaker.

"You are a marvellous example, Zaritsch," he confided, "of the philosophy
of predestination. Many a time since the morning when Leonard told me
that he had given you quarters here I wondered why we should have been
the instrument of your preservation. It was for the best, Zaritsch.
However soon you may quit this world or however unpleasant your end may
be, you have at least justified yourself to-night. Ring for some of your
beloved vodka. Order what you will. You are free of the place, Zaritsch.
In three days time crawl out on to the roof and listen. Watch the sun
rise over the river and listen. You can imagine that you hear either the
joybells of deliverance or the deep-throated guns. Lift your head up that
morning, Zaritsch. You are one of the few of the Russian intelligentsia
of these days who have imagination. You might have done marvellous things
with it. See that it does not play you false now that the great day is
coming."

There was a momentary responsive flash in Zaritsch's eyes. Alexander left
him there, passing along the silent but well-guarded corridors of the
great building towards the outer world. Ten minutes later he was striding
up the canopied way which stretched from the massive front door of
Kensington House to the kerbstone. He crossed the hall with swift
footsteps, passed that scattered line of sombre-looking servants solemnly
springing to attention at his approach and with the air of one familiar
with the place entered a delightful little room filled with flowers. Anna
and Simone were seated there alone. Simone threw him a kiss and
disappeared through a door at the further end of the apartment. Anna's
dark eyes were full of questions as she half rose from her seat on the
divan. He waved back and took the place by her side.

"So far, I have succeeded," he announced quietly.

His tone knew little of triumph. In her expression there was something
almost of terror.

"You mean, then, that you really go?" she asked, as though she had been
clinging to a last hope.

"We leave in a few hours. We should arrive at the frontier almost at the
scheduled time. Everything now will depend upon Molonieff. If I am in
time, everything will go as it should. There will be no more savage
beasts like Grodin gnawing away at the heart of Russia. She will become
what she has never been yet--a free country. And that is all there is to
be said, Anna, except that for these few moments we are alone together.
You see, I am no longer the prophet. I am down on the earth. I am
prepared to strike the great blow. If I succeed, and I shall succeed,
there will be two prizes for me--the freedom of Russia will be the prize
from heaven, and you, Anna, will be my prize on earth."

She crept into his arms, her warm lips clinging to his, her long fingers
wound feverishly around his neck. There was a sweet and memorable
silence. Only the little French clock on Simone's writing-table ticked
gaily, the flames in the small open fireplace hissed around the pine logs
they were devouring. Outside, in the rainswept streets, no one was
stirring. Anna drew back a little. The fire of his firm lips, his smile
with all it signified, filled her heart with deep and passionate content.

"You will succeed, Alexander. I feel it. I know it."

Her voice was joyful, almost triumphant. Again she stole into his
embrace...Then he rose to his feet at the sound of voices outside. He
stooped from his great height and kissed her upon the forehead. The door
had opened. The Prince stood upon the threshold looking in upon them. It
was the end of one of his precious dreams, but side by side with the
great issues of these few hours his own disappointment seemed of small
import.

"I think," he suggested, "that the feast had better begin. That fellow
Grodin is smoking all my cigars."



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT


Grodin, although shaking with terror, made some attempt at bravado when
Alexander led him with Leopold into the great reception-room. The Prince
stepped forward and bowed. Simone came swiftly towards Alexander with
outstretched hands. Anna, too, greeted him silently from the background.

"I appeal to you, Prince," Grodin said savagely. "I have been brought
here against my will--I, an accredited envoy from a friendly country! And
with a revolver pressed against my side the whole of the way. Is it you
who give countenance to such Chicago gangster methods?"

"Calm yourself, Excellency," the Prince replied. "If my nephew chooses to
bring you that way I am sure that he had a reason--and there is our young
friend from the ballet, too. I look upon you, according to your desire,
as unwilling guests. You see, I do not offer my hand. I beg, however,
that you will join us at the supper which will presently be served."

"But why?" Grodin demanded. "I know very well that the sound of my name
is loathsome to you. Why am I brought here?"

"And I," Leopold cried shrilly. "Why am I brought here a prisoner? I will
not eat food or drink wine in this house."

"You will do as you are told, young man," Alexander said calmly. "Do you
really wish to know why you are here?"

"If you do not tell me at once what you mean by this conduct," Grodin
threatened, "I shall appeal to the servants. I will insist upon
telephoning to the police. You cannot keep me here against my will."

"Well, we shall see," the Prince observed. "There shall be no
misunderstanding. I look upon you, Nicolas Grodin, as a dangerous traitor
to your country and it would give me great pleasure to offer you poison
instead of food. As to your companion, I know nothing of him except that
he is an exceedingly unprepossessing type of young man whom I regret
having to entertain. But the facts are these. My nephew finds it
necessary to keep you both cut off from the world, safe even from the
telephone, until a certain hour. He appeals to me, knowing the facility
my household affords. These are the conditions under which I am receiving
you. I beg that you will accept them, and I shall try my best to be a
considerate host."

"I refuse to accept them," Grodin declared loudly, as the butler entered
with a tray of cocktails. "I will not eat or drink here. Let the servants
listen to what I have to say," he added, looking round and standing a
little more squarely on his feet as he noticed' the two footmen following
the butler. "I have been brought here against my will and threatened with
assassination on the way. Someone will pay very dearly for this. The one
who telephones to Scotland Yard and insists upon a detective being sent
here at once will earn a hundred pounds reward and save his skin."

"Dry Martini or vodka, monsieur?" the butler asked as he presented the
tray.

There was something in the man's voice, perfectly modulated and
controlled, which had an instantly chilling effect upon Grodin's impulse
of bravado. He looked at the other two menservants bearing sandwiches and
various forms of savoury. There was not a flicker of interest, not a sign
of their having heard. Grodin took a glass from the tray mechanically,
but his fingers were trembling.

"You must understand, my reluctant guest," the Prince explained, "that
every servant in this house is Russian, every one of them realises only
too well that it is renegades of your type who have been responsible for
their position here as servitors and exiles. I am not proposing that you
should come to a violent end under my roof, unless your behaviour asks
for it, but amongst the twenty or thirty of my people by whom you are
surrounded, there is not one who would not gladly facilitate your
departure from this world if they were permitted to do so."

Grodin listened to those icy words and he knew that he was listening to
the truth. There was a chair behind him and he sank into it.

"Do you mean that you are keeping us in prison here?" he asked. "The
thing is absurd. You will have to let us go sometime. What then?"

"What your young friend may care to say or to whom he may care to say it
really does not seem to me to matter very much," the Prince observed as
he lit a cigarette. "He would find it, I think, a little difficult to
obtain a hearing from anyone of importance. What you will say will make
even less difference, because I imagine that in a little over thirty-six
hours you will be across the frontier of Russia. From what I heard
to-day, it is extremely improbable that the passport authorities will
welcome your re-entrance into the country."

"Quite right," Alexander said. "They censored one of your last letters to
a banker in New York."

Grodin set down his caviare sandwich. He had temporarily lost his
appetite.

"Is there a private plot behind all this?" he demanded. "Do none of you
understand that I am the accredited representative to this country of one
of the strongest nations in the world?"

"There is no private plot at all," the Prince answered.

"The Grand Duke Alexander here, in whom are vested all the hopes of
exiled Russians, is risking his life at your instigation. We want to be
perfectly certain that if anything happens to him someone will remain who
can be held responsible. In other words, you are travelling with him as
his hostage. If the situation should develop exactly as you have
explained it, all will be well, but if there should be a trap of any
sort, if you should be found guilty of an attempt to hand him over to one
of those fining-squads, you will find your future position here somewhat
involved."

"And what about me?" Leopold demanded, his voice reaching a higher note
still as his fear became intensified.

"Oh, you are a person of no importance," the Prince remarked pleasantly.
"The only trouble about you is that you are an informer of the lowest
grade. That, however, is not our affair. The only way in which you might
make yourself a nuisance is by publishing the fact that Nicolas Grodin
has been kept here for a few hours against his will."

"I shall do that, anyway."

"Perhaps, then, we may have to keep you a day longer," de Chambordine
continued. "Disagreeable for us, of course, but necessary. When Grodin
has reached Russia you can bark away to your heart's content."

The servants were throwing open the folding doors at the end of the room.
Grodin buried his face in his hands.

"I do not wish to eat," he declared.

"It will do you no good to remain here," the Prince assured him. "The
servants will be left to guard you, and my servants, although they appear
well-mannered, let me warn you, have something of the Tartar underneath
their suaveness."

Grodin rose to his feet and followed the others into the
supper-room.


Even to a man of Grodin's lack of sensibility, there was something
dramatic, almost awesome, in that leisurely, luxurious meal with its
epicurean setting and its grim background of sombre magnificence. The
servants moved like ghouls in the shadow-land beyond the table, upon
which the whole of the illumination of the room seemed to be directed.
There was something menacing in the atmosphere. Grodin could feel that,
for all his thickness of hide, Yet it was a madman's threat which had
been made. Every moment he felt more light-hearted as he realised the
absurdity of the situation. It was not possible that he should be
conducted from this well-known mansion through the streets of London into
the plane, kept silent during the change at Berlin, silent on the long
journey to Moscow. He watched the face of the man seated between Anna and
Simone, talking in turn to both of them, speaking now and then wits the
careless levity of one about to take a brief expedition into an adjoining
country. He watched, also, his host, seated in an enormous high-backed
chair at the head of the table, so far away that his fine patrician face,
in the shadowy illumination, seemed more like a waxen impression than the
face of a human being. He broke through the silence, however, as the meal
progressed.

"Tell me, Nicolas Grodin," he said, "to what do you attribute this
weakening of the present Russian régime?"

"I do not admit that it is weakening," was the brusque rejoinder. "The
Dictator would welcome a pause. This application of the new scheme of
life has left the nation a little breathless. Thinking men and women,
even of the lower orders, are beginning to ask inconvenient questions.

"And a good many of those who have ventured to put those inconvenient
questions into print," Alexander observed, "have had to creep out of the
country or face the firing-squad."

"The Dictator has his own methods," was the sullen reply.

"He has shown us what a peasant can do in the way of barbaric
ruthlessness," the Prince reflected. "Before we are many years older,
Nicolas Grodin, we may hear the cry of those peasants again. This time
the cry will be worse than any that has gone before. It will be the cry
of a people hungering for revenge upon those who have betrayed them."

Grodin moved uneasily in his seat. He drank a full glass of champagne.

"If you think that the time has not yet come," he demanded, "why do you
encourage Alexander to go? I simply delivered my message. It was a great
offer."

"Is it a genuine one?" the Prince asked.

"No man can read the mind of another."

"A discreet answer," the Prince acknowledged, "but remember, I know my
nephew well. He is taking his life into his hands. He is not letting you
out of his sight until he has met Molinieff. You do not seem to me the
type of man likely to commit suicide."

Grodin was visibly shivering.

"If he is afraid," he muttered, "he had better not go. I will cancel all
the instructions. I will tell the Dictator that I have failed."

"Too late," de Chambordine sighed. "Alexander is an obstinate man. He has
set his heart on going. They tell me that you have an espionage system
here, but I do not think it is as good as the one we have been conducting
under the auspices of the _European Review._ It is the nature of our
reports which has induced us to consider your offer so seriously. We do
believe that Russia is on the verge of a new upheaval."

"It is comprehensible, that," Grodin confessed. "Mistakes have been made.
The Chief has made his share of them. Some of Russia's most hopeful sons
have been sentenced to the firing squads. Hence the mission of your
nephew. If he is afraid, it is not too late even now. No man can carry
through a great work with fear in his heart."

The Prince laughed quietly. The voice of Leopold, shrill and petulant,
was like a sudden discord.

"Grodin," he called out, "why do you not assert yourself? You are an
ambassador, you have diplomatic rights. There is some evil in this house.
We must leave."

Alexander rose quietly to his feet. He called the butler and whispered a
word in his ear. With expressionless face the latter approached Leopold.

"Permit me, monsieur," he said. "If you will please come this way."

The young man stood up.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked suspiciously. "I wish for a taxicab."

There was not even a scuffle, for the servant was a giant and Leopold,
except for his marvellous legs, an infant. He was borne passively from
the room, speechless with fright. The Prince made a sign to Simone. She
rose and led Anna away. The two men closed around Grodin. In the
background, like grim sentinels, two of the waiting servants stood by the
door.

"Grodin," Alexander began, "I am taking you from here to a flying-ground
into my plane and we shall start in a short time for Berlin. You will not
leave the flying-grounds. We shall go on again to Moscow as soon as the
plane has been filled up and prepared. I ask you--are you willing to go
with me without making a disturbance either here in London, the
flying-ground, or in Germany? Are you willing to give me your parole?"

Grodin drank down another glass of champagne and felt something which
passed for courage in his veins.

"I do not wish to go to Russia," he replied. "I refuse to accompany you.
I shall shout for help at every street corner, to every policeman I see.
You bluffed me in that short drive from Chelsea. You would not dare to
use any weapon against me. This is a law-abiding city."

"It would be better," Alexander meditated, "to make a friendly
arrangement with you, Grodin. I do not care about a corpse as a
fellow-passenger, or a man so deeply drugged as to resemble one. Still,
you are going with me to Russia."

Grodin had another thought.

"It would be useless my attempting the journey. I have no passport. If I
left behind me the papers which I have collected on behalf of the Russian
Government which are now in my despatch-box I should myself be arrested."

Another of those mysterious figures was standing in the background and he
hurried forward at a signal from Alexander. He carried in his hand a
metal despatch-box. Grodin stared at it for a moment in stupefaction,
then he leaped forward and there was such vigour in his movement that his
coat was ripped. He very nearly broke away but he just failed. His
behaviour was that of a madman.

"I must have that case!" he cried. "If anyone tampers with it there will
be war. I must have my papers. My passport is there."

"Compose yourself," Alexander begged. "The case shall be yours when we
arrive at Moscow."

Grodin suddenly ceased to struggle. He took off his spectacles, covered
his eyes with his hand and leaned forward. His was the attitude of a man
praying. His body was still quivering, his breath coming heavily.

"Well?" Alexander asked.

Grodin stood up. He replaced his spectacles. His voice was weak and
faint.

"Where did you get that despatch-box?" he demanded.

"A simple form of burglary," Alexander admitted. "It came from your room
at Buckingham Court. It shows my consideration for you, Grodin. I felt
sure that you would not care to travel without it. I wrote a note to your
wife and applied for it on your behalf, explaining that you were making
the journey with me. There you are."

Grodin strained forward.

"Turn it round," he directed the servant who was holding it.

The man glanced at Alexander, who nodded assent.

"Let him examine it," the latter said. "He may do everything but touch
it."

Grodin stared hard at the box with blank eyes. He motioned with his hand
and the man turned it so that the three locks were exposed. The box 'was,
to all appearance, intact. There was not a scratch upon the locks.

"You are hard to convince," Alexander continued. "I will go even further
with you to show how little I fear anything that you can do. You may open
the box. Here are the keys."

Grodin shrank back.

"Open it here?" he asked harshly.

"It is permitted," Alexander consented. "Satisfy yourself with your own
eyes that all the papers you have in your mind are there. Touch nothing,
but see for yourself."

Grodin's right hand was trembling to such an extent that he could
scarcely fit the keys into the locks.

"Calm yourself, Grodin," Alexander advised. "You will see nothing
unexpected."

Grodin bent over his task. The lid of the box flew open. He leaned over
it, stared and stretched out his hand. Alexander gripped his wrist in a
clutch of iron.

"I told you that you might look, Nicolas Grodin," he said. "No more. You
may not touch. There is what seems to be your passport. There is a very
official-looking document. I give you my word that nothing has been
stolen."

Grodin thought hard. His face was distorted with evil imaginings. He
drooped his head so that the cunning light in his eyes might not be seen.
There, without a doubt, was the long envelope, and the document with the
chocolate-coloured seal. It was still there. Olga must have lost her
nerve!

"All seems to be there," he acknowledged. "If I go with you quietly to
Russia that box will be handed to me or to the authorities upon arrival?"

"That is my promise," Alexander replied.

Grodin stood for a moment deep in thought. He was still breathing
unpleasantly but he had the appearance of a long-confined prisoner who
suddenly sees the daylight.

"I do not wish to make the journey," he said. "I shall have to face
trouble when I arrive, but on your terms I will come. If we are to start
now, give me first some brandy."

At a sign from Alexander the servants fell back. They returned to the
table. The butler approached from the sideboard with a beautifully shaped
glass half filled with golden liquor.

"It is 1878 Armagnac, monsieur," he announced.

Grodin tasted it. He was free again. It was true that the doors were
guarded, but he was free. The word had been passed--on arrival at Moscow
the box and its contents would be handed over to the authorities, would
be theirs to open and read. There was the faint commencement of a Satanic
smile at the corners of his full lips.

"This is good," he said as he twisted the liquor round in his glass and
lifted it once more to his lips. "If it is to be, then, I will go with
you to Russia."



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE


Alexander, bent double and a little breathless, slammed the door behind
him and stumbled back into the small, oak-panelled saloon of his famous
plane. Grodin, fast asleep, lay back in one of the fixed easy chairs.
Paul, from the other side of the aisle, watched him ceaselessly.

"The wireless?" Paul asked.

"Official only," his master replied. "There is a new landing-place for,
planes. We are to descend almost at the entrance to the barracks. Look
below, Paul."

Paul rubbed the glass with his sleeve. He gave a little gasp. It seemed
as though the heavens had been turned upside down with every star
shining. As far as he could see on that great plain below, pin-pricks of
fire were burning. Grodin stirred uneasily in his place. He sat up with a
start. He needed shaving. His hair was unkempt. There was an empty brandy
bottle upon the table.

"Where are we?" he demanded drowsily.

"The air you are breathing," Alexander replied, "is that of Russia. We
are dropping now about a hundred feet a minute. We are to descend,
according to wireless instructions, close to the new barracks."

"It is important," Grodin declared, "that we land at the Kronsmeer Flying
Fields. A patrol will be looking out for me there."

"That is precisely where we are bound for," Alexander confided. "We will
probably find the patrol waiting for us."

They were sweeping now in vast circles. From where Alexander stood
looking downwards he watched the rockets rising like toy fireworks from
the earth. As he counted them he smiled.

"You had better get ready, Grodin," he advised. "The weather is clear and
if our landing is perfect we should be outside in ten minutes. What about
your passport and papers?"

Grodin's arms encircled his despatch-box. He drew it nearer to him,
clutching it jealously.

"It is our bargain," he reminded him. "I open it only upon landing."

"A bargain is a bargain," Alexander assented. "I am simply warning you to
be prepared. We shall have to pass into the inspection yard before we
enter the barracks proper."

Grodin chuckled grimly.

"I shall be prepared. They will not keep me long."

"Are you not going to tidy up at all?" Alexander asked, looking at him
distastefully.

Grodin shook his head.

"In an hour I shall be at my flat," he explained with an added truculency
already in his tone. "There I have servants, a warm bath, a coiffeur--ah,
that will be good!"

With scarcely a jerk they touched the ground, ran smoothly along and came
at last to a standstill. The three men looked around in wonder. The whole
square, as far as ore could see, seemed thronged with soldiers drawn up
in close formation. Alexander stood for a moment upon the steps. A little
group of men in uniform was waiting for him. Close behind was Grodin,
gripping his despatch-box. There was a curious silence everywhere, an
almost sinister silence, although the smile never left Alexander's lips.
He returned the salutes of the two officers who had stepped forward to
greet him. Grodin would have stood by his side but was drawn firmly back.
Words passed backwards and forwards between Alexander and the officers of
the guard. Alexander nodded acquiescence. They turned and walked to the
great shed barely fifty yards away. The doors were flung wide open. Again
there were salutes. Grodin looked about him irritably. He spoke to the
officer who seemed to have appointed himself his guard.

"I am Nicolas Grodin," he announced. "I carry despatches. Is it known who
I am?"

"The colonel on duty will salute you, Nicolas Grodin. He will also
examine your papers."

The hall, too, was crowded with soldiers. At a table at the far end a man
was seated whom Grodin obviously recognised. His expression had changed.
He smiled and carried himself with more confidence. They arrived at the
table. He greeted genially the officer in charge, drawing his keys from
his pocket and unfastening the despatch-box. Alexander and Paul had
fallen a little behind.

"Here," Grodin declared, throwing it open, "is my passport. This," he
went on, raising his voice and passing over the document with the huge
seal, "you will know how to deal with."

The officer brushed the passport on one side. He had risen to his feet.
He spread out the parchment and read it through. When he had finished he
frowned slightly and looked at Grodin's evil, expectant face.

"Do you know what this document is which you have passed into my hands,
Nicolas Grodin?"

"I do," was the triumphant reply. "It is an order signed by the Dictator
for the prompt shooting, immediately he arrives upon Russian soil, of
Alexander, nephew and heir of the Grand Duke Nicolas, arch enemy of
Russia, the last of the aristocrats who has ventured here, Colonel. I
have brought you the order under his own nose, in his own plane. The
warrant dealing with General Molonieff you have already received. It is
for you to act."

There was a long pause. The man in the uniform of a colonel looked at
Grodin with cold disdain. Then he summoned an officer who stood close by.

"Nicolas Grodin," he said, "the order you have passed me is one for the
summary death not of the persons you mention, but of Nicolas Grodin
immediately he sets foot on Russian soil."

Grodin, for a moment, seemed dazed. Then he tried to snatch at the
document but firm arms were restraining him.

"It is a lie!" he cried out. "The order came to me. It has never left my
possession. I have read it word by word. It is Alexander who is to be
shot. It is to secure his death that I have brought him back."

"Quite a mistake, my friend," Alexander intervened with a quiet smile.
"Not even a matter for argument, Now that this little affair is
concluded," he went on, turning to the officer who stood by his side,
"you can conduct me, if you please, to the quarters of General
Molonieff."

A horrible cry rang out from the shed, silenced almost immediately. An
officer to whom the Colonel had spoken gave the word of command. The
footsteps of the platoon of soldiers marching back into the square broke
step for a moment. They were obliged to half carry their
prisoner.


Molonieff's quarters were bare enough, but to Alexander they were as a
chamber in Paradise. There was Molonieff, the great Molonieff, his hand
extended. There was warmth, there were lights, a further forest of
extended hands, a roar of voices. He was amongst his friends. There was
more than a sprinkling of the old régime, who had struggled for their
places and kept them. Their shouts filled the room as one by one they
saluted. Soon that changed. It was all handshakes joy.

"Eight hundred thousand men," Molonieff told him with his arm around his
shoulder, "have taken the oath to serve the new Russia. By to-morrow
there will be a million. There has not been a shot fired. To-morrow you
will hear the cannons roar, but in salute only. You will see the bonfires
all round the city. There will be rejoicings, not battle."

"And the Dictator?"

"He sits in his room," Molonieff continued sternly. "Half his bodyguard
have deserted him. A few remain. Escape is impossible, but we waited for
you."

"You did honourably and well," Alexander said with emphasis. "Let him
stay there till after the meeting you have called. The army must be
supreme, but for a few days only. There are statesmen still left to
mingle with us. Russia has been an autocracy too long. Soon we will show
the world the meaning of true liberty."

Alexander asked one more question.

"How is the Dictator occupying himself during these hours?"

Molonieff smiled.

"Indulging in a rare bout of commonsense," he replied. "He has called a
meeting of the professors and his economic advisors. He is over there,"
he added, pointing to the dome of a building close at hand. "We shall
hear the results of that meeting before long. Meanwhile, we are as safe
as though we were in England. So far as you can see, every house and
building is occupied by soldiers. Practically the whole of the western
army is encamped around this square. There is no hurry, my dear
friend--the people are waiting. I propose that we, too, wait. Before long
we shall hear something from this conference."


The conference, although it was a dreary proceeding, had its dramatic
side. The Dictator sat alone behind the bare table in the chamber from
which he had ruled his country. The auditorium was filled with a nervous,
hustling group of men who only a few days before had thought themselves
the favoured ones of the earth. Their master, in a voice which rang
through the building, was calling them up one by one, pelting them with a
rain of questions fast and furious. By the side of him was one of those
confiscated copies of the _European Review._ Every now and then he
referred to it.

"Professor Comrade Dennikoff!" he called out.

A pale-faced young man with brown hair already streaked with grey, rose
to his feet. The Dictator pointed with thick forefinger to where he was
standing.

"The Council of Agriculture," he barked. "Fourteen million peasants have
been at work in the various States. What are the results?"

"The poorest crops since before the Revolution."

"Where is the money?"

"The State has it."

"What is the condition of the peasants?"

"Mostly starving."

"Why was I not told of their condition? Here, it seems, the report is
published in this magazine which is read by all Europe and I was kept in
ignorance."

"Those were the orders of the Council," was the brief reply.

The Dictator moved menacingly in his chair and waved the young professor
aside.

"Professor Comrade Sorloff!"

A short, alert-looking man sprang to his feet.

"You are responsible for a large section of the mines," the Dictator
said. "What is the situation?"

"Production has been on an enormous scale," was the prompt reply. "The
estimated value of metal brought to the surface ready for home use or for
export is something like two hundred millions in excess of the cost of
production."

"And the miners?"

"The medical report declares that they have lost twenty-five per cent of
their physique through either living underground or without sufficient
shelter in the sheds and huts provided. A hundred thousand of them at
least are practically starving."

"Your report," the Dictator said, "was published in this review for all
Europe to read. Why was it not sent to me?"

"My Department knows nothing of that."

The Dictator waved him away.

"Professor Comrade Dassen!" he called out.

An unkempt, haggard-looking man rose to his feet.

"What about the timber?" the Dictator demanded.

"The timber results show enormous profits and vast stocks," was the
dismal reply, "but thousands of the workers have died, unable to bear the
hardships of climate and production or poisoned by the poor Food supplied
by the State commissariat."

The Dictator called to a man who had been standing gloomily with folded
arms a little outside the circle. He tapped the copy of the _European
Review._

"Comrade Prossop," he said, "have you read a copy of this?"

The man pushed his way to the front. He was tall and scraggy with masses
of long, untidy hair. He had a lean face and a hungry look in his eyes.

"Yes," he acknowledged, "I have read it. That is the journal which has
spread the knowledge of our miserable state throughout the world. The
damnable part of it all is that it speaks the truth."

The Dictator was moved to fury. He crashed his fist upon the table.

"Do you mean to tell me," he shouted, "that you who have preached the
doctrines of pure Communism since the building of your university, that
you who have been a worshipper of Karl Marx, cannot explain these
failures?"

"Easily," was the scornful reply.

The Dictator leaned forward, moved on one side a file of papers and
disclosed the revolver lying on the table. He caressed it as a child
might play with a toy.

"Get on with it, then," he ordered.

"Bad administration, evil thinking, ignorant committees, carelessness,
greed, rapacity everywhere. These peasants and miners and tillers of the
soil have dragged up the wealth of our country for idle loafers to
dissipate or store in your coffers. The bogey of the old world was
Capitalism. Capitalism is a shining virtue compared with present-day
administration."

The Dictator rose to his feet. The man to whom he had been listening
laughed as he watched the revolver gripped in those swarthy fingers.

"One more or less--what good will it do?" he sneered. "If you had sought
the truth earlier you could have found it. If it stings now that you hear
it you will gain nothing by bringing yourself a little nearer hell."

A door in the distance banged. A touch of his old authority seemed to
come back to the Dictator. Still brandishing the revolver in his hand,
his voice, harsh and penetrating through the room:

"Away--all of you," he ordered. "To-morrow I shall call a meeting of the
General Council."

There was no disposition amongst the little body of men to linger. As the
room became clear, servants and clerks streamed in from unseen places.
The Dictator's secretary approached the long table, carrying an
official-looking envelope in his hand.

"A letter from military headquarters, master."

"Read it to me," the other snapped. "Tell me what it says."

The secretary cut open the envelope. There were only half a dozen lines
written on the strip of paper he drew out. He shook his head gravely as
he read.

"Your bodyguard, master, has been disbanded and disarmed. They are
confined to barracks but will be released on taking the oath of
allegiance to Alexander and General Molonieff."

"What else?"

"General Molonieff reports that the city is under martial law from six
o'clock. He requests your abdication. A train is being prepared which
will transport you to Georgia at midnight."

"Repeat that," the Dictator ordered.

The secretary read the words slowly once more, then folded up the paper.

"A committee from the army is in possession of the State premises," he
announced. "The appointments are signed by Alexander, as
Commander-in-Chief of all the Russian forces under arms, and Molonieff,
as Chief of the Staff. The orders are that not a single shot is to be
fired except in cases of dire necessity."

The Dictator leaned forward. His voice was hoarse and eager.

"I agree to abdicate," he declared. "Tell me the conditions."

"This paper says that you are free to go into Georgia," the secretary
continued. "Every officer of your personal staff except three has been
discharged. The Chief of the Police is missing. There is no disorder in
the city. A verbal message from Alexander and Molonieff to you and a
proclamation already upon the walls of the cathedral, announce the
formation of a new government with a free Press and the frontiers open to
correspondents from every country in the world. Those of us who are left
of your late supporters implore you to sign."

The Dictator took up the pen and scrawled his signature across the
parchment sheet. He glanced around him, then beckoned the secretary a
little closer.

"Stradinoff," he muttered, "you remember it is only a fortnight ago that
I signed the death warrants of Alexander and Molonieff. What has become
of them?"

The secretary shook his head.

"I fancy, master," he replied, "the answer to that question will become
part of the unwritten history of the world. The staff officer of the day
refused to receive the death warrant of General Molonieff and at his
order it was destroyed. The death warrant which was presented this
morning and had your signature upon it bore only the name of Nicolas
Grodin, who arrived in the plane with Alexander. The warrant was executed
ten minutes after Grodin himself had handed it to the patrol specially
appointed a week ago."

A curious change suddenly took place in the Dictator's overwrought
features.

"Grodin was shot?" he cried.

"Your own warrant, master," the secretary answered. "The last, I fancy,
that you will ever sign..."

There was terror outside in the streets, rapidly abating, but still
terror. In every room of the palace were little groups of shivering
servants and employees. No one knew what was to come. Fear had hung so
long about the place that it had become like a pestilential fever. Even
the secretary, who was blotting his master's signature, was as pale as
death. He looked up with a start. It seemed to him that the man who had
once been great was calling out as though in some paroxysm. Then he
realised the truth. Amidst all the wild upheaval by which he was
surrounded, the man who had just signed away what he had boastfully
called his destiny, was laughing softly to himself as at some huge joke.

"Nicolas Grodin shot!" he choked. "Tell me, Stradinoff, how did he face
the firing-squad?"

The secretary held out his hand, shook his head and hurried away
shivering into the shadows.


All over the world the wireless was flashing and crackling, the amazing
news was pouring from every loud-speaker. The long-distance telephones
were besieged, the newspapers were frantically issuing special editions
bespattered with headlines in italics. A veritable orgy of news seemed to
have descended upon the world which turned every house and hotel, railway
train and even the streets themselves into a rustling chaos of journals
scarcely dry from the Press.

"RUSSIA DISCARDS HER GOVERNMENT"..."DOOM OF THE PRESENT DYNASTY"..."THE
BLOODLESS REVOLUTION"..."THE DICTATOR PLEADS IGNORANCE OF PRESENT
CONDITIONS, AND ACCEPTS BANISHMENT TO GEORGIA"..."THE ARMY IN
CONTROL"..."THE GRAND DUKE ALEXANDER AND GENERAL MOLONIEFF TWIN
DICTATORS"..."ALL EUROPE INVITED TO SEND NEWSPAPER CORRESPONDENTS"..."A
HUNDRED MILES of TRAINS EN ROUTE FOR THE RUSSIAN FRONTIER"..."THE SKIES
BLACK WITH AEROPLANES"..."PROCLAMATION ISSUED BY NEW RULERS ESTABLISHES
FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND PROMISES RETURN OF HUGE HOARDS OF CAPITAL AMASSED
BY LATE GOVERNMENT TO THE WORKERS."


"PEOPLE TO ELECT A GOVERNING ASSEMBLY NEXT MONTH"..."GOVERNMENT PRESSES
WORKING ON VOTING PAPERS"..."ADVISORY COMMITTEE OF MODERATES ALREADY
BEING FORMED"..."MOLONIEFF DECLARES THAT LATE GOVERNMENT HAS ROBBED THE
PEASANTS OF COUNTLESS MILLIONS ALL OF WHICH WILL BE RESTORED"..."FIRE OF
REJOICINGS THROUGHOUT RUSSIA"..."LATE GOVERNMENT LEADERS RECEIVING EXILE
PAPERS BUT NO EXECUTIONS"..."COURTS OF JUSTICE THROWN OPEN"..."A NATION
IN HYSTERICS"..."LATE DICTATOR BELIEVED IGNORANT OF MANY OF THE RECENT
EXECUTIONS LEAVES FOR GEORGIA TO-MORROW."


"FURTHER NEWS OF THE BLOODLESS REVOLUTION"..."GRAND DUKE ALEXANDER THE
IDOL OF THE PEOPLE"..."in BRIEF PROCLAMATIONS HE ANNOUNCES THAT NEW
GOVERNMENT WILL BE FRAMED ON LIMITED MONARCHY LINES AND WILL COMMENCE BY
OFFERING TO WORLD A SCHEME FOR UNIVERSAL PEACE"..."NEW GOVERNMENT ALREADY
DISPLAYING MARVELLOUS POWERS OF ORGANISATION"..."NO SCENES OF VIOLENCE OR
EXCESS"..."CROWDS HYSTERICAL WITH JOY THRONGING STREETS AND SINGING
ANCIENT HYMNS"..."CHURCHES AND CATHEDRALS PACKED WITH SOBBING
MULTITUDES"..."CENSORSHIP OF PRESS ENTIRELY REMOVED"..."NAVY UNANIMOUSLY
ACCEPT NEW GOVERNMENT."


Simone drove down to Chelsea on the evening of the third day. Anna and
her maid were both on their knees before trunks and the room was strewn
with clothes.

"What does it mean?" Simone exclaimed. "What are you doing?"

Anna looked around with a radiant smile. A wireless message fluttered
between her fingers. "Packing," she answered happily.



THE END



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