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Title: The Counterstroke
Author: Ambrose Pratt
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 13
Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Counterstroke
Author: Ambrose Pratt


====================================

The Counterstroke

By AMBROSE PRATT

Author of "FRANKS, DUELLIST," ETC.

R. F. FENNO & COMPANY

PUBLISHERS: 18 EAST SEVENTEENTH STREET, NEW YORK CITY.

====================================

Published in book form in 1906.
Also published in The Evening News, Sydney, N.S.W. commencing 31 July, 1905,
and in The Mornington Standard, Vic. commencing 13 January, 1906.

====================================

CONTENTS:

I........The Academy of Ex-Ambassadors
II.......Portraits
III......A Spy upon a Spy
IV.......Two Women's Hearts
V........Francine Disappears
VI.......A Difficult Situation
VII......Love and Lies
VIII.....The Torture of the Thumbscrews
IX.......The Voyage of the "Sea Hawk"
X........The Council of Kings
XI.......The Vengeance of a Prince
XII......The Lord of Attala
XIII.....Condemned to Death
XIV......A Dream of Hope
XV.......The Doom of a Monarch
XVI......The Treasure Chamber of the Nihilists
XVII.....Escape
XVIII....The Caution of a King
XIX......Explanation: Assassination
XX.......Side-Lights and Sermons
XXI......A Supper Party
XXII.....A Game of Dice and its Consequences
XXIII....The Invasion of Attala
XXIV.....The Capture of Attala
XXV......The Love of Oeltjen
XXVI.....The End of Bosa Gracci
XXVII....Francine




CHAPTER I.--THE ACADEMY OF EX-AMBASSADORS

AT a late hour on a certain cold night in February, in the year 1900,
three gentlemen stood near an old padlocked iron gateway at the
northern end of Finchley Road, London. They had arrived at that common
point by separate conveyances, and it was easy to discover that they
were strangers to each other, for although all stood within a circle
whose diameter did not exceed three yards, and although the night was
dark and the road otherwise utterly deserted, the face of each, dimly
discernible by the light of a neighbouring street lamp, wore an air of
blank unconsciousness of all companionship.

The gentleman nearest the gate, and the tallest of the three, was
wrapped in a heavy fur greatcoat. His cleanshaven face--strong,
impassive, and good to look upon--was of a type unmistakably English,
and he wore an eye-glass that appeared to have become cemented into its
position.

The second gentleman was of a short but sturdy build, and his bristling
moustache, whose yellow and stiff-waxed points turned fiercely upwards,
proclaimed him of Teutonic origin. He wore an imposing military cloak
of foreign cut and manufacture, and his attitude was that of a soldier
mounting guard.

The third gentleman, whose tightly-fitting black frock coat was shiny
and threadbare to the verge of seediness, seemed to be of excessively
nervous disposition; he stamped about incessantly, swished often at
the darkness with his cane, and sent a fire of impatient glances in
all directions from a pair of large and piercing black eyes. He was
slightly formed and lithe, active as a panther, never still. His
face was tiny-featured, pallid, and almost fleshless, its plainness
intensified by the few straggling black hairs that apologized for the
lack of a proper moustache and imperial, but relieved from absolute
ugliness by the beauty of his eyes. No man might confidently predicate
his place of origin, but he resembled most an Austrian, and perhaps a
Jew, for his nose was long and slightly hooked.

A wearisome half-hour passed by in absolute silence; the relative
positions of the three gentlemen remained unchanged, but the impatience
of the Austrian appeared to have communicated itself to his companions,
for the German often consulted his watch and the Englishman was
swearing softly under his breath.

"An hour past the appointed time," he muttered at last, half-aloud.

The German turned to him. "Less five minutes, my Lord; it is five
minutes to twelve," he observed in excellent English.

"What, you know me?" cried the Englishman.

"I saw you once not long ago, at the Court of the Czar: you are Lord
Francis Cressingham."

"You have me at a disadvantage then."

The German bowed. "My name is Oeltjen, Ludwig Oeltjen."

"What! Count Ludwig Oeltjen, chief attache to the German Ambassador
in London?"

"Not now, my Lord; I have retired----"

"Ah, that fatal--whew, my tongue! I beg your pardon, Count."

"No need, my Lord. But it surprises me that you had not already heard;
unhappily the affair was kept but half a secret----"

The third gentleman here broke in, speaking in English quaintly
accentuated rather than broken. "May I offer you of my cigarettes,
messieurs?"

Lord Francis curtly shook his head; Count Oeltjen shrugged his
shoulders. "No, I thank you, sir."

The eyes of the Austrian swept a burning glance over the pair who had
disdained his advance, but he proceeded with tranquil voice: "it was
that I might beg from you a match, I wish very much to smoke."

Lord Cressingham handed him a box from his waistcoat pocket without
speaking. The Austrian struck a light and returned the box with a low
bow.

During a deep silence, some clock near by tolled midnight, and a second
after the last stroke the iron gate before which they had waited so
long opened with a sharp clinking crunch.

"Enter!" commanded a voice from the dark beyond. The three men glanced
at each other and each made a courteous inclination of invitation and
stood motionless.

"You, my Lord."

"After you, Count."

"But perhaps this gentleman!"

The Austrian bowed to the ground. "I am neither my lord nor count," he
responded, his tone suggestive of subdued satire.

"Ah, well," muttered the Englishman, and he strode forward squaring
his shoulders as he walked. He was closely followed by the other two.
The gate clanged behind them and an elderly gentleman in evening dress
emerged from the shadow of the wall. "This way," he said laconically,
and without turning his head stalked up the path towards the dark porch
of a gloomy stone house removed some twenty paces from the pavement.

The figure of a man was vaguely perceptible standing in the open
doorway silhouetted against an artificial twilight within.

"Have all arrived?" he demanded, his voice grave and richly sonorous.

"Three," replied the man in evening dress.

"Their names?"

"Lord Francis Cressingham, Count Karl von Oeltjen, and the Archduke
of----"

"Silence!" cried the Austrian, interrupting suddenly.

Lord Francis and the Count, thrilled with surprise, searched for each
other's eyes in the darkness.

The man in the doorway stepped aside, disclosing the entrance to a wide
and spacious, but dimly lighted hall. "Welcome to my house, gentlemen;
may it please you, enter!" he said politely.

The Austrian was the first to obey. The Englishman and the German
followed, exchanging questioning glances immediately they had crossed
the threshold. The master of the house entered last, after muttering
something in an undertone to the gentleman in evening dress who
thereupon disappeared. He carefully fastened the door behind him,
then strode down the hall to an archway defended with heavy velvet
curtains. These he threw aside, and the visitors were dazzled by a
sudden shaft of brilliant gaslight. Behind the arch stretched a stately
and magnificent apartment full thirty feet square, which was, however,
poorly furnished, indeed tenanted solely by five armed divans arranged
to face each other in a small circle in the very centre of the thickly
matted floor. The room had evidently been originally designed as the
auditorium of a small private theatre, for at one end was a platform
intended for a stage. It was illumined by a single chandelier, which
contained, however, twenty gas jets and which hovered immediately above
the circle of chairs.

The master of the house observed the surprise with which his guests
surveyed his arrangements. "Here we shall be free to converse
unreservedly," he explained, pointing to the chairs; "the world may see
us, for aught I care, but I do not wish the world to overhear us."

The three visitors regarded him with curiosity. They beheld a man
neither old nor young, a man of heavy mask-like countenance, with big
fleshy nose and sullen jowl over which a pasty skin was so loosely
drawn that puffy bags fell away at intervals from eyes and cheeks and
jaws. The face, although superlatively ugly, was nevertheless ennobled
by a broad and splendid brow, and enlivened by a pair of twinkling
black eyes that shone with humour and keen intelligence.

He suffered the glances of his guests with a certain calm and dignified
composure, staring straight before him and allowing them to look
their full upon him. The examination lasted a few seconds only, for
no conclusion could be drawn by the most penetrating from that stolid
visage, and this fact was quickly recognized by all.

The Austrian was the first to turn away. "You--I don't know your name,
sir," he said affectedly, "have kept us standing in the cold an hour."

"By Jove! yes," said Lord Francis.

"An hour exactly," said Count von Oeltjen.

The master of the house slightly smiled. "My name is for the present
Perigord. It is true that by an accident I have kept you waiting sixty
minutes; well--the more reason that we get to business at once: seat
yourselves, gentlemen, if you please!"

Mr. Perigord, who was over six feet in height and of great bulk,
forthwith crossed the apartment in a few ponderous strides and seated
himself with perfect sang froid in the largest divan.

"Insolent!" muttered the Austrian.

Lord Francis readjusted his monocle, which had become displaced through
sheer surprise. Count von Oeltjen coughed. No one appeared the least
inclined to follow the direction or example of his host.

Mr. Perigord, observing their disposition, made a peculiar gesture with
his hands, holding them aloft in an attitude of admiration; thereafter
he placed three fingers of his right hand upon his lips. His guests
each immediately fell upon one knee, the left, their arms uplifted to
heaven, their hands inclined to the right shoulder.

"Shibboleth! Shibboleth! Shibboleth!" said Mr. Perigord.

"Tob!" murmured Lord Francis.

"Banai!" whispered Count von Oeltjen.

"Amalabec!" said the Austrian, his voice growing strangely husky.

Mr. Perigord slowly stood erect. "Heleniham!" he said impressively.

On a common impulse the others rose to their feet, then fell on both
knees, their heads bent in an attitude of adoration.

"Gibulum!" said Lord Francis.

"Jubulun!" muttered the Count.

"Zebulan!" said the Austrian.

Mr. Perigord raised his arms above his head, holding his left elbow
with the finger and thumb of his right hand. "Mahak-Makar-a-bak,"
he said, intoning the words slowly in the manner of a priest making
sacrifice. The three men humbly bent themselves before him, touching
their foreheads with their open palms.

"Arise, gentlemen, and seat yourselves," said Mr. Perigord. This time
he was obeyed without question and in deepest silence, the silence
of speechless astonishment. It was as though the huge, flabby-faced
man had suddenly accomplished his own apotheosis, for all traces of
combativeness had disappeared from the faces of the three, leaving them
stricken dumb and strangely reverent, like Brahmins before a sacred
idol's shrine.

Mr. Perigord surveyed his guests with a keenly scrutinizing gaze, for
a period so extended that the stillness became almost insupportable.
He appeared to be endeavouring to read their thoughts and with such a
measure of success that all three were plainly suffering much mental
disquietude. Lord Francis clutched the arms of his chair with a grasp
of iron. Count von Oeltjen tugged violently at his moustache, while the
Austrian simply writhed in his seat unable to meet, much less return,
his host's searching and compelling stare.

Finally Mr. Perigord appeared to have satisfied himself. He smiled
slightly, and addressed them in low even tones, his voice nevertheless
occasionally expressive of satire and tinged with subtle malice.

"Most worshipful Knights of the Ninth Arch, in this encampment whether
you be counts, belted earls, archdukes, or even princes of the blood
royal, you meet as brothers and subjects of our Order. Is it not so?"

"Aye," returned the three, shooting questionful and hesitating glances
at each other.

"It is well. You were summoned hither this evening for a solemn purpose
which I shall presently disclose to you. It is better first, however,
that as brothers you be made acquainted with each other."

Here the Austrian rose abruptly from his chair, his lips parted as if
for speech, but Mr. Perigord frowned him down.

"Fear not, sir, names are as nothing save as symbols; yours shall be
respected. Well then, you first. Uncle of a monarch, heir perhaps
to a crown, you shall be called Prince Carlos; are you content?"
(A cynical smile flashed for a second across his lips.) "You have
an enemy, fearless, remorseless, implacable, who has already twice
narrowly failed in accomplishing your destruction. Once death essayed
to clutch you lurking in the green depths of a pond. A trespasser whose
providential presence in the Royal Park was unsuspected by your enemy,
hearing your drowning scream, plunged in and rescued you at the risk of
his own life, since he could not swim. Once again death flaunted his
ensign in your face, this time hid in the honeyed poison of a woman's
scarlet lips. You received a warning, and for the moment escaped. But
you are foolish, Prince, to nurse your danger still. Had you disobeyed
the summons which explains your presence here to-night, to-morrow would
have seen Europe in mourning, Madame Viyella a murderess!"

On mention of that name Lord Francis and Count von Oeltjen uttered
cries of dismay, but the effect on the prince was more startling--he
fell back on his chair limp and nerveless, his cheeks livid, his eyes
glowing like coals. "False, false!" he muttered, or rather groaned.

Mr. Perigord went on unheeding. "You, Lord Francis Cressingham, three
months ago secretary to the Ambassador at the Court of the Czar, were
obliged to resign your position and abandon a career which your energy
and brilliant talents must have rendered glorious because on the
solicitation of a woman, for whose smile you had already forgotten ties
which bound you in all honour to a woman of greater beauty and queenly
worth, you carried a letter to one high in office but a traitor to his
salt, a letter which but for the vigilance of my agents might have
accomplished its nefarious object. Shall I state that object?"

Lord Francis Cressingham, who was nervously biting at lips turned
absolutely bloodless, stammered hoarsely, "No!"

Mr. Perigord smiled satirically. "The Czar still rules," he said,
adding with marked coldness, "but unhappily Madame Viyella has
succeeded in persuading you that she was an innocent agent and unaware
of the contents of that letter!"

A pause succeeded, during which the falling of a pin to the floor would
have appeared a loud and startling noise.

"You, Count Ludwig von Oeltjen," said Mr. Perigord suddenly breaking
the silence, "were chief attache to the Kaiser's embassy in London
until three weeks ago. You were then compelled to resign, and the
reason officially assigned for your retirement was the misplacing of an
important dispatch entrusted to your charge, which through some mishap
was said to have reached its destination too late to be of service. The
real cause of your dismissal was somewhat different. A certain reigning
monarch was at that time paying a visit to Her Majesty the Queen of
England. You were induced to undertake the presentation to that king
of a petition from his majesty's subjects resident in England, which
purported to be an address of welcome, I believe, praying for some
favours speciously put forward as a means for your delusion. It was
writ on parchment, subtly perfumed by a scent which to inhale meant
death. Your mission happily failed of its intention. Your honesty
was not questioned, but you were required to name the person who had
so befooled you. You persistently refused, and, in consequence of
your obstinacy, Germany lost a faithful servant, and Madame Viyella,
Countess of Hobenstein, still reigns a sovereign beauty and petted
favourite at half the Courts of Europe."

The Count von Oeltjen drew his breath sharply through tightly clenched
teeth. Bending forward he demanded hoarsely: "Who the devil, sir, are
you, who know so much?"

Mr. Perigord for answer threw back the left lapel of his coat, his
action displaying the presence of a large brooch fastened to his
breast, whereupon was traced a strange device, wrought with diamonds
of great size and brilliancy. "Prince, peer or peasant," he said
with grave solemnity, his manner of malice entirely gone, "what
matters, it? I am he to whom all true Masons owe allegiance. And yet
your question is not impertinent and deserves a different answer. Be
satisfied to know that social rank I have none. I am of royal birth,
but I have no right to name my parents; therefore am I a veritable
nobody, a mountebank if you will, but a mountebank who holds the reins
of a mighty power, not the less puissant because its methods are
concealed. For sixteen years I have concentrated and devoted all my
energies of brain and body and the resources of a large fortune to the
accomplishment of an object, a mission which I have persuaded myself to
believe is incontestably virtuous and just. To that end I have used all
my talents, sacrificed my desires, pleasures and ambitions, and forced
myself to become an idea rather than a person, a purpose rather than a
human being. Throughout those years I have lived an anchorite, without
once tasting the kiss of woman or permitting a drop of wine to cross
my lips, always working, working, working, often despairing, but never
relinquishing my task. My labours have not gone entirely unrewarded,
my cause has produced many proselytes, it has been sanctified and
consecrated by the greatest priest on earth. Emperors have become my
helpmates in its service, kings my servants, princes and peers my
ardent followers. The obscurity of my origin was at first a deadly
bar to progress, but that obstacle was conquered the instant that I
became a Mason, and now, in spite of it, no potentate on earth denies
me right of place. At last I see the end in view. The knowledge which
for sixteen long years I have sought so patiently has at last been
partially revealed to me and I am now within measurable distance of
accomplishing the mission which I believe that the Most High God has
confided into my hands."

He paused, and raised his right hand reverently upward, while his three
guests stared at him spellbound.

After a moment he resumed: "You wonder, gentlemen, what the nature of
that mission is, still more perhaps why I have called you here. Listen
then, and learn. When still a young man, a hotblood like yourselves,
while travelling in Russia I fell madly in love with an evil woman,
the beautiful but infamous Sophie Peroffskaja. For her sake I became
a Nihilist, and the friend of bloody scoundrels such as Russakoff,
Jelaboff, Kibaichick and a score of others. These men laid specious
arguments before me. They told me blood-curdling tales of the horrors
of Russian serfdom, the cruelty of the nobles, their selfishness and
viciousness, their wanton disregard of human misery and suffering.
Unhappily, they proved their stories true. Having entered their circle
to gratify a woman's caprice, I remained among them a Nihilist from
sympathy, and, a young impassioned man, for a term I thought their
objects noble, their ineffable methods more than justified. You have
all heard of the assassination of Czar Alexander II. Well, I stood
beside Russakoff when Russakoff threw the bomb. Bah! calm yourselves,
gentlemen, I had no hand in the massacre, and was as ignorant of
those fiends' dreadful purpose as yourselves. But that fact did not
save me. I served six months in the mines of Siberia, and was only
released after the exercise of powerful intervention. But it was a
changed man who received his passport and was deported from the realms
of the Czar. During my imprisonment I had learned many things before
unknown to me and had much opportunity for serious reflection. I
recognized then how senseless and unreasonable was the assassination
of Alexander, the one Czar who had truly loved his people, who had
freed the serfs of his own will, and who had done more than all his
imperial progenitors combined to establish personal liberty in Russia.
With deep and constant consideration came further enlightenment, and I
began to see how criminally near-sighted were men who sought to punish
individuals for the sins of centuries, and who blindly hoped to destroy
an institution so hydra-headed as monarchy by the murder of a king, or
a score of kings. It then occurred to me that the leaders of Nihilism
must be men of incredible ignorance to persist in such designs. Memory
forbade, however, the entertaining long of such a proposition. I had
read pamphlets, the handiwork of the mysterious leaders of the society,
whose specious and brilliant contents could only have emanated from
powerful and enlightened minds. Irresistibly, therefore, was the
conviction forced upon me that the society of which I had been a member
was controlled by men whom either madness, revenge or personal ambition
excited to the planning and perpetration of such monstrous crimes, and
who for their own wicked ends played upon the ignorance and noble but
misdirected enthusiasm of their following. This terrible conviction
grew stronger through the weary, slaving days, but I was tortured with
the vanity of knowledge come too late. Having lost hope of ever walking
the earth a free man again, I dared to make one night a solemn pact
with God. Kneeling on the stone floor of my cell I vowed to the Most
High that if He saw fit to accomplish my release, I would devote my
life, my fortune, my very soul, to abolish Nihilism and disband by any
means and at any cost or hazard that small but dangerous coterie of men
whose objects are, avowedly, ideally grand, but whose methods are so
accursedly inhuman. Gentlemen, God heard, and took me at my word. His
answer was swift and sure. After I had sworn my vow I fell into a deep
dreamless sleep; I was awakened at dawn by a soldier who struck off my
chains and informed me that I was free. Overcome, I fell upon my knees
and gratefully renewed my covenant, but the soldier thought I returned
thanks for my good fortune, and, an unbeliever, he kicked me brutally
upon the side. At another time I should have strangled him, for I
was strong and quick-tempered in those days, but I felt that I had
become God's servant, and rising humbly followed the ruffian without
attempting to revenge his coward act. Since that day, my life has all
been moulded on that plan."

In the pause that followed, silence reigned supreme; the faces of all
had grown profoundly grave, passionately attentive.

Mr. Perigord gazed musingly at his guests, and presently continued: "My
work was of necessity infinitely tedious. From my short acquaintance
with Nihilism, I knew something of its laws and secrets but nothing of
the organization of its chiefs. With gold I purchased much knowledge,
with patience more, but it cost me five years of ceaseless effort to
acquire the groundwork that I needed. Those five years taught me that
the society is composed of three circles. The outermost comprises
no less than half a million neophytes scattered among the poor and
proscribed not only of Russia but of all the other nations of Europe.
These neophytes, who are generally unintelligent and illiterate
creatures drawn from the lowest classes of humanity, are captained
by members of the second circle, men of a slightly better type,
indeed sometimes aristocrats, who act as mediums between the inmost
and outermost circles. So much it was not difficult to discover, but
so closely and faithfully are the secrets of the order kept that
it cost me a further eight years of unremitting inquiry and nigh
thirty thousand pounds before I could ascertain one simple little
thing--namely, the number of the chiefs who constitute the inmost
circle. At last I succeeded, and the day of my success was never more
despairing. I had journeyed to Cairo to hear the news. The traitor whom
I had bought having muttered in my ear a number--three--was about
to whisper names, when a bullet fired at him point blank from across
the street in which we stood, took his life, and a second bullet cut
off the lobe of my left ear. That day, gentlemen, President Sadi Carnot
was stabbed to death in France. I did not relax my diligence; Divine
Providence assisted me; a month since I discovered much of that which
I have sought for so long and often so hopelessly. The manner of my
discovery need not be discussed, only the fact that at last, gentlemen,
I have acquired power to name in a breath the three creatures who now
direct the terrible machinery of Anarchism and Nihilism."

The listeners neither murmured nor moved; they appeared to be frozen
and tongue-tied, so pale and still were they.

Mr. Perigord waited a moment, looking at them expectantly; then with a
shrug of his huge shoulders once more resumed.

"You make no remark, you ask no questions, most worshipful Knights
of the Ninth Arch. You do well. Come hither, gather closer round me,
brothers--so. I have sent for you because I need your help, therefore
my secrets are your secrets So! Listen, and you shall hear how vilely
can the devil deface God's handiwork. Madame the Countess of Hobenstein
is a beautiful woman, is it not so, and kind? Ha, ha, ha! My brothers,
the inmost circle of which I have spoken, is composed of three men. Of
one of these Madame Viyella is the daughter, of the second the wife, of
the third the mistress!"

Prince Carlos sank back in his chair uttering a loud hysterical laugh.
"Her husband is dead!" he cried.

Lord Francis and Von Oeltjen gazed at their host with dazed and stupid
faces, "Yes, he is dead," they repeated.

Mr. Perigord frowned. "The Count von Hobenstein is dead," he answered
grimly, and drew from his pocket a folded paper. "Read!"

The Prince snatched the paper and tore it open; the others stooped over
him to see. Quickly they fell back.

Lord Francis put his hand to his head. Von Oeltjen threw out his arms
dramatically. Only Prince Carlos did not seem to understand. "What does
it mean?" he gasped; "a copy certificate of a marriage celebrated in
New York between Katherin Viyella and----"

"Mr. Frederick Smith," interrupted Perigord, with a queer little smile;
"a common enough name, is it not?"

"But perhaps assumed," suggested Lord Francis Cressingham.

"Undoubtedly assumed," replied Perigord.

"Diable! who is Katherin's father?" muttered the Count von Oeltjen,

"And who, in God's name, is her lover?" almost shouted the Prince, who
seemed overcome with a sudden frenzy of rage.

"Gentlemen," said Perigord, "you behold assigned to you your tasks.
You, Lord Francis, will devote yourself heart and soul to the discovery
of the name of Madame Viyella's father. The task should be easy, for
the woman believes herself at present in love with you. I can give you
no assistance except to inform you that the late Count von Hobenstein
some twelve years back married in Bavaria an American actress who
called herself Kate Staines; the name, however, was assumed."

"Are those my orders, sir?"

"Yes." Mr. Perigord turned to the Prince. "Your Highness is so foolish
as to remain, in spite of repeated warnings, still infatuated. We must
therefore seek to turn your madness to our own account. A jealous man
should make a good detective; you must ascertain the name of Madame's
lover----"

The Prince, who had retreated several steps during this speech, here
interrupted fiercely: "Never--an action so base--I----"

Mr. Perigord looked him in the eyes, and spoke gravely, kindly, as to
an angry child. "Patience, Prince; the object is good, if the method
be unseemly. Believe me, I assign you a task whose first aim is the
preservation of your own life. For two months has your death been
decreed; twice have you miraculously escaped assassination; take care
that the third attempt be not better planned. I have called upon you to
assist me where I might have commanded a score of others, in order that
you might help in the work of your own salvation, and at the same time
lessen your indebtedness to me. You force me into explanations. It was
I who fished you from the pond at Hohenlinden. You saw me not, for I
left you while still unconscious in order to track your assassin, but
into your tight-clenched hand I thrust a symbol to remind you----"

"Great heaven!" gasped the Prince.

"A pencil case engraved with the word 'Jehovah.' Nay, words are
useless. Prince. Speak not of gratitude, but rather act the part of
grateful man. You will do my bidding?"

"I--I--I, yes, ah----"

"It is well. You, Count von Oeltjen----"

"Sir."

"Will set out at once for Paris. You will seek out the Chief of Police,
and say to him these words: 'Tunnel, Bordighera, Perigord,' whereupon
that officer will know how to prevent the Nihilists from undermining
the railway over which the President must presently pass on his
visit to Mentone. But be careful, Count, let drop no mention of my
whereabouts."

The Count saluted. "And after, sir?"

"Return to London with all speed, for I shall soon have further need of
you. You will hear from me!"

Mr. Perigord rose to his feet and moved slowly to the door. There
arrived he turned and pointed gravely to some curtains opposite.
"Beyond those hangings, gentlemen, you will find supper, and a servant
who when you are ready will guide you to the street. Pray excuse me
from personally attending you. I have much to do. Good night."

He bowed, and would have gone but for Lord Francis Cressingham, who had
impulsively started forward, his right hand outstretched.

"Well, my lord?"

Lord Francis hesitated a second, then plucking up courage asked: "And
for me--is it forbidden that I leave England?"

"Absolutely--is that all?"

"But Madame Viyella--she may at any moment----"

"She will remain where you remain."

"Ah, er--I--excuse me, sir, but I should like to know the end of all
this."

"You mean?"

"I mean that if I, if the Prince, succeed in our tasks, are we
pledged--I put it badly, sir," he stammered, then blurted out: "Your
object, sir, is the destruction of Nihilism; does that involve the
destruction of Nihilists?"

Mr. Perigord eyed him thoughtfully a moment, then answered with cold
deliberation: "You have been a soldier, sir, and should have learned
the lesson of unquestioning obedience. My commands have much to do with
you, my designs need concern you nothing. But reassure yourself; you
will be required to do nought that is not entirely lawful."

Next instant he had disappeared, and the three gentlemen presently
obeyed his latest admonition. They found in the indicated room a rich
repast awaiting them, composed of choicest foods and wines spread
temptingly upon an unclothed marble table. But appetites they had none.
Each swallowed hastily a glass of spirit, and forthwith departed in the
wake of the gentleman who had first admitted them to Mr. Perigord's
mysterious house.




CHAPTER II.--PORTRAITS

MISS FRANCINE ELLIOTT, only daughter of Colonel Vernon Elliott, V.C.,
C.B., sat one afternoon in the library of her father's house in
Berkeley Square, giving tea to her cousin and intimate friend, Captain
Lethby, of the 1st Dragoon Guards.

Miss Elliott was twenty-four years of age, and a girl of much parts
and character. She managed unaided her father's household, her mother
having died in her infancy; she was president of a woman's franchise
society, secretary to an important private charitable institution,
and treasurer to one of the largest working girls' clubs in London.
She had already painted two pictures which had been hung in the Royal
Academy; she possessed an exceedingly sweet contralto voice, and for
four years past had sung at almost every charitable concert organized
in the city. She was a clever conversationalist, and much in demand for
four o'clocks and dinner parties; she loved dancing above all other
pleasures, and during the five seasons since she had been "out" had
contrived to be present and enjoy herself at almost every fashionable
ball given by society's best set.

Naturally she was a very busy young woman indeed, who had very little
spare time ever on her hands, but in spite of her manifold duties,
and in spite of her popularity and the adulation she received in
consequence, she remained an unspoiled and unassuming girl, remarkable
chiefly for a sweet and approachable demeanour, and a manner whose
charm was universally admitted, and which converted her most distant
acquaintances into admiring friends.

She was rather tall; slight, but not thin; she had a firm but gliding
gait, an unimaginably graceful carriage. Her eyes were large and
blue as the sea; they looked at one directly, straight and true. Her
chin was prominent but softly rounded; her faintly aquiline nose was
beautifully shaped, and its curved and quivering nostrils strangely
matched the sensitive mouth beneath. She seemed to exhale kindness and
distinction. To see her was to wish to know her.

Captain Lethby had been in love with his cousin for quite six years,
but after two refusals of his suit he had gradually settled into the
assured position of her chum and closest friend. He had not abandoned
all hope of winning her, but his addresses were never in evidence,
and in consequence he had enjoyed for two years the privilege of her
fullest confidence, and was usually also her appointed escort. He
found in such constant companionship a solace for his long-repressed
desires, and was therefore satisfied to wait. He was a frank and
generous-hearted gentleman, not good-looking, but he looked good,
and in spite of rather blunt and off-hand manners was the best-liked
officer in his regiment. It is true that he spent his money freely, and
that he had plenty to spend, being an only son and heir to a baronetcy
and uninvolved estates, two advantages alone sufficient to win for
almost any man a certain popularity.

His open face at present wore an expression of embarrassment, for Miss
Elliott was attentively regarding him, awaiting his reply to a question
he appeared to find a difficulty in answering.

"Lord Francis Cressingham is a friend of yours, surely?" she repeated.
"He used to be, I know," added the girl.

Captain Lethby fenced with her. "Oh, ah, well, of course, he used to be
one of us, you know."

"But you do not like him? Out with it, Jack; you have no secrets from
me, have you?" with an arch smile.

Captain Lethby fidgeted in his chair. "Well, er, the fact is,
Francine, I like him well enough. It's a question of respect. You
see, he got badly mixed up in that Russian affair, and although he
resigned at once, he hasn't attempted to give out anything like
a proper explanation. Our fellows say there was more in it than
mere carelessness; and then, he's been acting so queerly ever
since. Never goes anywhere except to the house of that foreign
Countess-what's-her-name. And even when one meets him there he keeps
out of one's road. Funny business altogether. May I smoke?"

"Why, yes, of course. But what do you think of it yourself?"

Captain Lethby puffed out three long smoke wreaths. "Hum, er--well.
Blessed if I know what to think. No more tea, thanks. What makes you so
keen about him, Francine?"

The girl gave a queer little smile. "You might offer me a cigarette,
Jack. Thanks." As she lit the cigarette she gave a contented sigh and
remarked: "I was there myself last night."

"Where?"

"At the Countess of Hobenstein's."

"The deuce! Beg pardon, Francine, but what under heaven took you there?"

"A hansom."

"But, er, you know--er, they say the Queen refused to receive her."

"Do they? I don't believe it. There was a big crowd there, and all good
people. I like her, Jack."

"Well, wonders will never cease; I didn't think she'd be your sort."

"Why not?" imperiously. "She is the sweetest woman I have met for
years, and pardon me, Jack, but although all London is discussing
her, you are the first person who has said a word to me of her
disparagingly."

"I beg your pardon," retorted the Captain; "I only said I didn't think
she was your sort."

Francine laughed merrily. "You did not mean that to be uncomplimentary,
did you, Jack?"

The Captain did not catch the point. "Did you meet Cressingham there?"
he asked.

"I saw him at a distance. He was looking far from well."

Lethby regarded the girl with jealous eyes. "You seem to take a lot of
interest in him," he remarked.

"He was once a friend of mine. Do you know, Jack, he is the only man
who ever----" she hesitated, blushing faintly and casting down her eyes.

"Who ever what?"

"Nothing."

"Francine!"

"Yes, Jack."

"You are blushing; you have a secret."

"Not from you, Jack; I meant to tell you some day."

"Then tell me now."

"Oh, how stern you look! Really, I always meant to tell you--but
somehow I have never had an opportunity. There, don't look at me; turn
away your head--so. You see, it was a little serious at first----"

"Francine!"

"Ah, please not to look, or I can't tell you. It was at Lady Martin's
ball. But it isn't serious now, Jack. I've got over it. It was ever so
long back, quite six months ago, my salad days in fact; every one has
salad days, haven't they?"

"Go on," said Lethby, staring morosely at the wall.

"He was going next day to St. Petersburg. We had a waltz together; then
he took me to the library, and, and--he kissed me, Jack."

"Ah! and you?" very sternly.

"I, I rather liked it. He asked me to be his wife."

"Francine, you love him!"

The girl's lips trembled. "N--no, Jack, not now."

"The infernal cad!" growled Captain Lethby.

"You are wrong," cried the girl. "I, I refused him. I have no right to
complain."

"Tell that to the Marines!" cried the Captain rudely, getting noisily
to his feet as he spoke. But at that moment a servant tapped at the
door and entered, with the announcement: "The Countess of Hobenstein."

"I forgot to tell you she was coming; please stay, Jack," said Miss
Elliott.

"And Lord Francis Cressingham," continued the footman pompously.

On mention of the second name, Miss Elliott turned quite pale and
rose abruptly. "How do you do?" she said, holding out her hand to the
lady who was pausing on the threshold. Then: "So glad you came; allow
me to present--The Countess of Hobenstein--Captain Lethby. Won't you
sit here. Countess? How d'ye do, Lord Francis! I fancy you gentlemen
are acquainted. James, some fresh tea, please--and wine, or would you
prefer spirit, Lord Francis?"

"No, thanks, a cup of tea, if I may."

Lord Francis Cressingham's handsome and determined face was not seen
to advantage just then; he looked a little haggard and careworn, and
appeared to be nervously uneasy, for his eye-glass defied his efforts
to adjust it firmly in its place. Captain Lethby favoured him with the
coldest of nods, and turned to observe the Countess.

Katherin Viyella, Countess of Hobenstein, was a woman of perhaps
six-and-thirty years of age, but she was so magically preserved, and
possessed of such excessive physical vitality, that she seemed at the
utmost twenty-nine.

She was somewhat above the average height and moulded languorously, the
lithe and fascinating curves of her generously ample figure defying the
suspicion of art in construction, although her gown was of itself a
veritable artistic triumph. Beneath a cloak, which presently she cast
carelessly aside, she wore a clinging, seamless robe of fine grey lawn
that fitted her with glove-like closeness, its simplicity daring to
excess.

Her face, less beautiful than bewitchingly attractive, was the face of
an enchantress. Its only strictly perfect feature was the nose, which
was of classic straightness. Her forehead was broad and high, draped
with a heavy fringe of dark-brown hair, parted sharply to one side.
Her teeth and full red-lipped mouth were expressive and alluring, but
seemed strangely at odds with her low-lidded Eastern eyes, which set
irregularly under black arched brows were the home of a speaking spirit
that lurked in their red-brown depths, a spirit endowed with such a
power of sensuous suggestion that Madame's shortest glance was able to
convey a subtle and intoxicating challenge.

Captain Lethby suffered the momentary fire of her regard, and
surrendered at discretion.

"Ah," she murmured softly, her vowels marked with a quaint and foreign
roundness of enunciation, "I have wished to meet you, Captain Lethby."

She had never heard of him before, but it was one of her principles to
flatter all prospective victims, and she marked a fresh victim here.
"Won't you come and speak with me?"

The Captain, who had been about to decamp, deposited himself at
her side without hesitation, and Miss Elliott found herself alone
with Cressingham. Lord Francis was rendered uncomfortable at her
propinquity, but, a man of resource, he contrived to make the
conversation for some moments general. After a while, however, it
languished in spite of him, and he fell to watching the Countess, while
Miss Elliott busied herself with the tea.

"You have not called since your return--until to-day," she murmured in
a low voice presently.

He started, and changed colour. "No--I have been very busy."

"Indeed! Sugar, Countess?"

"If you please, my dear--may I call you 'my dear'? Do you know, I want
to be great friends with you, Miss Elliott."

"That is sweet of you, Countess. Lord Francis, will you----ah, thanks."

The Countess smiled bewitchingly. "I want to carry you off with me
to-night. I have a box at St. James'. Please say that I may."

"Unhappily I cannot this evening, Countess. I have to sing at a
concert."

"Then won't you take me with you? I should so love to hear you sing."

Miss Elliott blushed with pleasure. "If you would care really. It is
the Factory Girls and Sempstresses' Club. Rather a poor place, you
know."

"I was a poor girl once myself. Thank you so much, dear; it will be a
great pleasure to me."

"May I go too?" asked Captain Lethby suddenly.

"Why not?" said Miss Elliott; "you know you are always welcome there,
Jack. Let me see, what was the amount of your last subscription? Ten
pounds, I think."

"Nonsense," cried the Captain laughingly, "more like ten pence: but
your concerts are good fun sometimes."

"And you, mon ami," said the Countess, turning languidly to
Cressingham, "you will come with us?"

"Thank you, no. I have an engagement."

He spoke so sharply that all stared at him. The Countess smiled in his
face. "Postpone it, my Lord, I wish you to come."

"No."

"To please me,"--with a caressing glance.

The man turned pale. "I cannot."

The Countess abruptly stood up, her dark eyes gleaming, and with a
quick movement drew her cloak about her. "Well, for the present, au
revoir, ma chére--no, do not trouble. At what time shall I call for
you, or will you call for me?"

"I shall call for you--shall we say at nine?" replied Miss Elliott.

"An admirable hour. I shall expect you."

She moved across the floor with an indescribable half-floating
half-surging gait, her evident agitation filling the room with a vague
intangible essence of emotion. When passing Cressingham, a glove fell
from her hand.

Captain Lethby started forward, but Lord Francis picked it up. "Your
glove, Countess," he said, following her to the door.

She slightly turned her head, and muttered in a low, fierce whisper:
"You dare to stay!" smiled, and was gone. Cressingham hesitated, hat in
hand, as if uncertain what to do.

Miss Elliott, whose quick ears had caught the Countess' strange words,
watched him searchingly, a satirical smile just curling her lips. He
caught the look, and his pallor deepened. "I should like another cup of
tea," he said.

Captain Lethby got to his feet. "And I must be going. Au revoir,
Francine."

"Good-bye, Jack, be here not later than 8.30. Certainly, Lord Francis,
one can see that you need it; you are awfully pale, have you a
headache? Do sit down!"

"Don't bother with the tea, Miss Elliott; it was only an excuse," said
Cressingham.

"Then some wine; shall I ring?"

"Please not."

"A cigarette, perhaps?"

"I thank you, no." He sat down upon a chair, holding his cane tightly
clasped with both hands.

Miss Elliott toyed with a ring on the third finger of her left hand.
A man's signet it was, cut from a single piece of chrysophrase.
Unconsciously Cressingham's eyes followed her action, and when he
saw the ring he started visibly and cried: "You wear that still,
Fran----Miss Elliott."

The girl, smiling composedly, drew the ring from her finger and held it
out to him. "I have worn it for the last fortnight, my Lord, hoping for
a chance to return it to you. The chance has now arrived."

The man took the ring and weighed it carefully upon his palm, his eyes
downcast. "I have no right to ask you to keep it," he murmured.

Miss Elliott laughed merrily. "Really, Lord Francis, you grow quite
amusing; do I seem to want it?"

He looked up and caught the challenge in her glance. "No," he replied.

"You spoke just now of an excuse," said Miss Elliott.

"Captain Lethby was here. I wanted to stay--to say something to you."

"Well?"

"It is something impertinent, I don't know how to put it."

"Then leave it unsaid, please. I hate to be out of friends with people.
Lord Francis, but I don't think I could suffer an impertinence."

Lord Francis looked excessively uncomfortable. "If only your father
were in England," he sighed.

"Oh, it is advice you want to offer me," cried the girl, amused.

"Yes, advice, that is it." He caught eagerly at the word. "Advice, yes,
a piece of advice which I would not dare to advance if I had not your
welfare deep at heart, Miss Elliott."

His face grew passionately earnest as he spoke, and the girl found
herself involuntarily growing earnest too.

"Speak, then," she said.

"It is about that woman,"--he groaned out the words with an effort that
was painfully transparent--"who was here just now, the Countess of
Hobenstein."

"Ah!" the girl's eyes flashed and she clasped her hands across her
knee. "Be careful, Lord Francis. I like 'that woman' as you call her."

The man almost groaned. "For heaven's sake don't allow yourself to like
her!" he cried. "She means you harm; yes, Francine, she means you harm."

"Francine!" echoed Miss Elliott springing to her feet; "you have no
right to name me so, and less to speak ill of my friends. How dare you
say such a thing to me of the Countess--and behind her back?"

Cressingham arose too. "I dare, Miss Elliott, because I, I once"--(he
gulped down a breath)--"because I wish to be your friend, and surely it
is a friend's part to warn his friend when there is danger. Pardon me
one moment. Please let me speak. I know that what I am saying will cut
me off from your acquaintance for all time, but say it I must so that
at all hazards you be warned. That woman has been my ruin; wantonly and
deliberately she wrecked my career, and, not yet satisfied, she now
pursues me with professions of affection. Recently she has chosen to
regard you as a rival. I think that she is mad, at all events she is
dangerous; I believe that she hates you, I know that she will try to do
you harm."

"My Lord!" Miss Elliott seemed trying not to laugh.

"Forgive me, Miss Elliott, what I have said must sound to you horribly
absurd and egotistical. But for all that I pledge you my honour it is
true. I felt that it was my duty to warn you, even though it has only
worked me further injury."

"Time will show, my Lord," said Miss Elliott coldly.

"Ay, Time. It is the only friend I have left." The words were spoken
with such unaffected sadness that the girl's heart was touched. She
moved a step nearer to the man and put her hand timidly upon his arm.

"Lord Francis, if what you say is true, why do you, why do you
persevere in an acquaintance which appears to you so evil?"

He looked at her gravely, his eyes full of melancholy. "I cannot answer
you, Miss Elliott."

The girl drew herself erect, and surveyed him with a chilling smile. "I
think I understand. Lord Francis, I thank you for the warning. Perhaps
it was kindly meant. Need I detain you longer?"

"No." Cressingham bowed low. "Good-bye." He stood gazing at her
imploringly.

But Miss Elliott, turning her back, crossed the room to ring the bell.

"Good-bye," she replied without looking at him, and with a quick sigh
he departed.

When the girl was quite alone she sank into a deep armchair and thought
these words aloud: "I suppose I can't be a proper sort of woman,
certainly not the sort that one reads about in improving books. I know
I ought to feel frightfully indignant, the outraged divinity business,
and all that. But I don't a bit. I love Frank Cressingham, and I don't
care much who knows it, so long as he does not. As for that woman, she
has fascinated him, of course, but I don't believe he loves her. I can
feel that she is not a good woman. Any way and whether or not, she is
not going to keep him. He is too good for her, and I want him, yes, I
want him, want him with all my heart."

Then Miss Elliott went to her bedroom, locked the door, threw herself
upon her bed, and wept unreservedly for quite ten minutes.




CHAPTER III.--A SPY UPON A SPY

LORD FRANCIS CRESSINGHAM found Captain Lethby waiting for him upon the
steps of Colonel Elliott's house. The Captain held a twisted piece
of paper in one hand; with the other he was impatiently twirling his
walking-stick.

"The Countess asked me to give you this note," he announced abruptly.

"Ah, thanks." Cressingham crushed the paper into his pocket. "Are you
going city-wards?"

"I think not."

"Well then, good-day to you," with a nod.

"One moment, Cressingham, if you please."

"Ten if you like. Anything urgent?"

"Let us walk on." The Captain's face was troubled; they walked in
silence for a little and stopped by common impulse at the corner of
Dover Street and Piccadilly.

"The fact is, Cressingham, I've wanted to speak to you for quite a
while, but you're so infernally hard to get hold of, since----" he
hesitated.

"Since I got the sack from the F.O.," said the other grimly.

"I didn't quite mean that, but you've said it yourself. We used to be
friends once, Cressingham----"

"Once!----"

"Well----"

"Oh, I quite understand; your manner when we met to-day left little to
be explained."

"Bosh!" blurted out the Captain. "It's not your part to be satirical;
you are the deserter, Frank. The old rooms which you always shared with
me are still there and never once have you come near me."

"I thought----"

"Never mind what you thought. You never gave me a chance. You resigned
from the regiment without saying a word to a soul. You've never been to
the club, never called at the mess. How can you wonder that your old
pals are offended? The fellows are thinking all sorts of things----"

"Let them think!"

"Oh, it's all very well to take that stand, but you are not treating
them properly. They have a right to an explanation, and you know it.
Vernon and I have stood your sponsors long enough. It's time you took a
hand, or at least gave one of us the right to speak."

Cressingham's face softened. "You're a good fellow, Jack, but I can't
yet, I'm too cut up."

"Absurd," cried the other sharply. "Don't you see how foolish you are?
What's the use of nursing the beastly thing? It's not as if you'd
cleared out and gone to India or somewhere. Then they'd have understood
your feelings and forgotten the whole business before this. But here
you stay right in the heart of things, avoiding everybody and not
condescending to offer the smallest explanation. 'Pon my soul, it's no
wonder that people talk about you and imagine things."

"It's kind of you, Jack, to come down on me like this. I know you're
right. Well then, I'll see the Colonel; Vernon's a good sort, he has
refused to send on my resignation--I got a note from him to-day."

"Good man. You'll stay on with us, then."

"If Vernon advises me--after he hears what I have to say. Fact is, I
was damnably careless, Jack, and deserved the thrashing I got. But for
an accident, I'd have disgraced the old regiment. The facts were not
published, but you have a right to know. It was a Nihilist conspiracy,
and the brutes made use of me. The Czar might have been assassinated."

"Great heavens!"

"I was near to cutting my throat at one time, and would have, too, if
they had called my honour into question."

"Don't talk rot, Frank. The F.O.'s stupid enough, but it never gets
drunk, all at one time."

"I'm dashed glad to have chatted the thing over with you, old chap. I
feel better now than I've done for weeks."

"Well, good-bye, old fellow. See Vernon soon, won't you?"

"To-morrow. Good-bye, Jack."

"Eh, by-the-bye, dine with me at the club to-morrow night?"

"Very well."

Captain Lethby got into a hansom, and presently remembered that he had
entirely overlooked his original intention of rating his friend for his
extraordinary treatment of Miss Elliott. But he soon forgot the whole
matter in the recollection of Madame Viyella's bright eyes and certain
kind speeches which she had murmured in his ears. Indeed, so fickle is
the heart of man, he forgot also his own devotion to his cousin and the
fact that he had worshipped at her shrine for six long years.

Cressingham wandered moodily to his rooms in Jermyn Street, and there
arrived nervously plucked open the Countess' note.

It was laconic, and bore sharply to the point: "Expect me at twelve."
He threw it in the fire, and lighting a cigar cast himself upon a
lounge, the prey of exasperating thought and vain imaginings. He saw
himself as he had set out from London half a year back, an ardent,
and successful lover, for although Francine Elliott had not verbally
accepted his proposal, still, she had promised to wear his ring and
she had not been offended at his kiss. He recalled with heartfelt
bitterness the ambitious and splendid future that had beckoned to him
at that time. Rich and young, the only son of one of England's greatest
nobles, a career had opened for him in the diplomatic service of his
country which only needed his own diligence and intelligent cooperation
to lead him to the foremost rank of power and statesmanship. And true
happiness had seemed more than possible, for his sweetheart was a woman
without peer in her class; well born, beautiful, an heiress, and,
above all, worthy beyond dispute of the best blessings in the gift of
Fortune, alike for her goodness of heart, her purity of mind and her
sweet, untiring charity.

He reviewed the causes of his ruin as dispassionately as he could,
but from the red coals into which he stared rose up the sorceress
face and form of Katherin Viyella to taunt him and to disturb him as
of old. She came, a Cleopatra smile upon her lips, bewildering and
reckless challenge in her eyes, advancing towards him, gliding like a
graceful phantom through the splendid ball-room of the Winter Palace,
nearer, ever nearer, her gaze unfalteringly fixed on his, demanding,
beseeching, commanding of him he knew not what.

Vividly he remembered how her first glance had filled his soul with
doubt and trouble, with dreams and wild, intolerant desires. How he had
struggled to resist her, to remain true to his English love, whom in
his heart of hearts he always worshipped and worshipped still! Then the
drifting, when day by day his resolutions weakened one by one. Last of
all that mad and fateful night when Katherin had come at a witch hour
to his rooms and prayed for his assistance.

The story she had told him! Her distress and her despair! Even now
it was at times impossible to realize that she had been so base. He
shuddered to recall her acting, her incredibly perfect acting. Weeping
in his arms she had pretended a confession. She had fallen, she said,
victim to a momentary weakness, a criminal weakness, and her desire
was only to escape the consequences of her folly. A great man, the
very greatest, had sought her love with gifts, and for a moment she
had been tempted--the gifts were jewels, jewels fit only for a queen
to wear. She gave him the jewels wrapped in an unsigned letter full of
imprecation and remorse, whose contents she recited to his unwilling
ears. She implored him to be the messenger of their return. He was to
take them that very instant to a certain chamberlain, to say to him
certain words, and then, on his return--well, what he would, she loved
him, she said, and was willing to bestow on him for love that gift
which another and greater than he had sought to purchase in vain.

He had done her bidding, blindly done her bidding, and then returning
generously put her from him and refused to profit by her hour of
weakness and surrender.

Then came the morrow, the darkest morning of his life, the saddest and
most humiliating, when his angry chief with wrathful face and blazing
eyes had informed him of that letter's inner meaning; had told him to
his face he was a fool and unfitted for the duties of his office.

It seemed that he had carried to the hands of a double traitor a
damnably injurious weapon of destruction, and for a moment the life of
a king had rested on the fickle disposition of a rascal. The jewels
were a snare, for their facets had been poisoned and their lightest
handling meant certain death. The king had been saved, but policy
demanded a sacrifice, and the traitor whose treachery had saved the
king, the chamberlain into whose hands Cressingham had confided the
fatal letter, was rightfully made the victim. A lesser victim was
Cressingham himself, for he was constrained to resign, the world being
carelessly informed that his own failing health was the cause of his
retirement, an excuse ruinous to him from its transparent simplicity.

Only Viyella had entirely escaped, for Cressingham had kept her secret,
and she had known how to convince both him and her imperial host that
her hands were clean in the affair. Soon after his retirement she
had followed him to England anxious for his complete subjugation,
for curiously enough the woman had fallen deeply in love with the
self-contained, reserved young Englishman whom she had ruined and who
had never once reproached her for his ruin.

But he had been too severely handled by fate and felt his disaster too
keenly and completely to resume at once the part of ardent lover. For
her sake and at her bidding he had remained in England, longing all the
while to hide himself at the world's end, but in spite of such a real
sacrifice he had been unable to satisfy her of his devotion, and at the
same time a closer knowledge of the woman had given him cause for much
serious reflection and misgiving.

He had discovered her to possess an insatiable craving for admiration,
excitement and conquest. His own coldness had aroused her every energy.
He had studied the methods she employed with other men and recognized
them applied in form a thousand times intensified to himself. Gradually
she declined in his esteem; he commenced to harbour doubts and strange
suspicions, and he would at last have been content to break the bonds
between them; but here the tragic contrariety of fate came into
evidence.

The more that his affection for her subsided, the stronger grew the
flame of hers for him, and sometimes, the mask thrown altogether aside,
she showed herself to him, a woman with her womanly armour of reserve
dissolved, a creature of pathos and passion, imperious, languishing and
pleading in a breath, madly resentful of his coldness, his slave, his
plaything, did he care to stoop.

Then came the interview with Perigord, in which his suspicions were
converted into certainties and the scales finally removed from his
eyes. Thereafter he had no choice but to recognize in Katherin Viyella
her veritable ego, and while the man in him saw her outer covering
beautiful as that of an angel, his mind's eye caught traces of a
soul within, wicked, licentious and powerful for evil. Had he been a
free agent he would have fled from England to escape her, but bound
by chains he dared not break he was forced to remain and honestly
endeavour to achieve the task which he had been allotted.

It became his duty to elucidate a hidden page in Madame's history, to
win from her, since she alone held the key to the riddle, the story of
her parentage, to ascertain the name of her father, well assured in
his heart the while that that name once revealed would open the door
to a chamber of horrors unspeakable. He felt that he stood upon the
threshold of a tragedy mysterious and terrible. He knew himself that
meanest of all creatures, a spy, and hating his occupation with all the
ardour of a straightforward, upright nature, he caught himself pitying
the woman and yielding to the weakness of procrastination.

Meanwhile Madame Viyella, seeking the reason of his growing coldness,
had had her jealousy aroused. An inscribed photograph hanging above
his desk, a sharp question and the manner of his answer, had been
to her instinct all sufficient; she felt she had a rival, and she
knew her rival's name. A storm had followed, and Madame, losing all
self-control, passionately informed her lover of an intention so
violently fantastical that he had smiled at first, but her words sank
into his heart later, and in contemplation of her actions he became so
fearful that she might really dare to try to realize her threat, that
he had that afternoon forced himself to call upon and warn Miss Elliott
in the manner that has already been described.

The remembrance of that interview made him restless and extremely
self-dissatisfied. How gauche and awkward he had been: how
melodramatic and foolish must have appeared his words, his spoken
fears! They now appeared wild and senseless to himself, and yet
he could not regret that he had spoken. That woman was capable of
anything, and she was jealous as the devil; even in the cold light of
day he could not divest himself of a certain undefinable dread of her.
She inspired him now with the same consciousness of potential evil
that the sight of a serpent gives to all human creatures, the same
intangible power of fascination too that renders even the most loathing
curious.

Toying with his solitary dinner he dreamed of her, and afterwards,
trying vainly to read, her elfish face with its slow, subtle smile
eclipsed the printed pages on his knee, defying him to concentrate his
mind on aught but her. How he wished that he had never met her, that
his life had never been inflicted with the burden of her blighting
personality! Ah, if only that, what other things had been, what more
tender, peaceful and purer visions had now been his! That thought was
bitterest of all, for the sweet "might have been" had departed from the
regions of the possible.

Francine Elliott's face took fashion in his fancy, too calm in its
purity and self-control, pitiful for his pain but immeasurably scornful
for his weakness. The expression of it maddened him, so infinitely
far it placed her from his reach. How good she was, he thought, how
beautiful, how strong! And he had lost her, for what? Dead Sea fruit!
Ruin: almost disgrace: the love of a woman whom he had already almost
ceased to find desirable.

The clock struck ten, and still he rested musing, gazing always
into the glowing fire which his servant without his cognisance had
periodically kept replenished. At eleven he aroused himself, for his
man announced a visitor. It was strange to come back to things real,
from the land of dreams. He caught himself looking curiously all about
him, at the furniture, at the pictures, at the floor, as though he had
returned from some long sojourn in a foreign country and expected to
discover here and there the handiwork of time. Last of all he saw his
visitor, and slowly got to his feet struggling to collect his thoughts.

"Ah," he said, "Ludwig von Oeltjen!"

"Yes, my Lord, I hope I find you well."

"Oh, ah, quite, thank you--get a chair, won't you? I fancy I must have
been half asleep."

"No wonder, in a cosy nook like this," said the other, glancing in
surprise at the luxuriant appointments of the room. "Himmel!" he cried
suddenly, "not, surely not a Franchia, that?" pointing to a large
crucifixion done on copper, which swung beside a pier glass on the
mantel.

"It's an old favourite of mine," said Cressingham; "I always take it
about with me. The colours are so rich and restful, you know, and the
treatment so quaint and medieval."

"It's a perfect treasure," examining it critically. "My father has
a small one, a copy, I fancy. I should like him to see this; he's a
collector."

"Indeed! You have returned from France?"

"Yesterday. I have just left----" He made a peculiar sign with his
hands.

"What, Perigord?"

"S--sh. Yes. He goes to-morrow to Brussels on some mysterious business
or other. The man is a marvel! Who do you think was with him?"

"I'm a fool at riddles."

"The Prince of Wales!"

"Nonsense!"

"I beg your pardon, my Lord."

"Forgive me, Count, you took my breath away. He sent for you, I
suppose. I have not heard from him yet."

"Be easy; you will. He sent for me to carry you a message."

"Ah!" Lord Francis Cressingham's monocle became displaced--an
infallible sign with him of mental agitation.

"He is dissatisfied; he bids you waste no further time but get to work
immediately."

Cressingham's cheeks coloured slowly with anger and embarrassment. "He
sent only a verbal message, then?"

"Yes, and appointed me besides to an unpleasant duty. As he has not
forbidden me to speak, I shall inform you of it. I am to be a spy on
you, my Lord."

"What!" thundered Cressingham, springing abruptly to his feet; "he does
not trust me?"

Oeltjen waved his hand. "Softly, softly," he murmured with a humorously
deprecating smile. "He trusts nobody. In my turn I too am watched by
an unknown agent. He makes no secret of his methods, and quite frankly
disclosed his arrangements for--what shall I say--our comfort."

Cressingham's indignation changed presently to mirth. The quaintness of
the plan appealed to him, and he resumed his seat laughing a little,
but his laughter was half-hearted.

"You will have a bad time, I fear, Count; do you propose to sleep on
my doorstep? I hope you won't bore too many holes through the doors,
and there are one or two cabinets and things I'd like you respect--for
instance, that old----"

"Excuse me," struck in the Count with dignity; "really the matter is
serious; we are, I think, men of honour."

"I hope so," drily.

"I do not like my position at all."

"I am quite of your way of thinking."

"I am an officer of the German Army."

Cressingham eyed him interrogatively. "I of the English Army," he
remarked. "Besides that, we are members of----"

"Just so, whose orders I must obey."

"So I suppose must I."

"Precisely--but afterwards----"

"Afterwards? Count."

"Afterwards, my Lord, we shall be free agents, and should you feel
in any way aggrieved by what I am obliged to do in the course of my
present duty--you understand me?"

"Proceed."

"Why, I shall hold myself entirely at your service."

Cressingham put up his eye-glass and surveyed the German with visage
calm and imperturbable. "Really, Count, I don't want to fight you. We
don't fight in England nowadays, you know. Besides, I shouldn't be at
all aggrieved with you--you can't help yourself any more than I."

Oeltjen shrugged his shoulders. "So long as we understand each other."

"Quite so. When, er, when do your duties commence?"

"Immediately."

"I see. Do you intend to live with me?"

"It would be convenient."

"As my guest, I hope."

"With pleasure, my lord. Otherwise I must have taken rooms in this
building."

Cressingham rang a bell, and presently a servant entered. "John, a
friend has come to stay with me. Get a bedroom fixed up somehow. And,
er" (turning to the Count), "have you any luggage with you?"

"A bag downstairs."

"Take the Count von Oeltjen's bag to his room, John. Let us know when
everything is ready."

"Yes, sir." The servant departed, and the gentlemen stared grimly at
each other, the expression of either anything but cordial.

"I expect a visitor at midnight," said Cressingham slowly.

"Indeed."

"Yes; a lady."

"Ah!"

"In fact, Madame."

The Count flushed crimson, and bit his lip. "You are fortunate," he
said with a snarl of suppressed rage.

"What!" cried Cressingham, "you still----"

The German flung out his hands, and stamped violently upon the floor.
"I am no stick nor stone, sir; the lady was to have been my wife."

"Mine also."

"My Lord!" The Count's face was livid, and he hissed the words.

"Calm yourself, sir," said Cressingham very coldly; "why should we
quarrel--yet, at all events?"

"True--there is always time."

"Pardon me, it is almost twelve; do your instructions include
eavesdropping? I use the phrase without an afterthought."

The Count with pain restrained himself, but unable to speak could only
shake his head; he was furious with passion.

"I might suggest then that you retire. Ah, what is it, John?"

The servant muttered: "A lady, sir."

"Keep her a second, John. Count, it is unfortunate, but you must meet
Madame, unless----"

"Anything, my Lord, but that, anything."

"Then there is nothing for it but my bedroom--through that door yonder."

The Count hurried from the room, and had barely disappeared when a
woman, heavily cloaked and veiled, entered by the other door.

Cressingham strode across the room to meet her. "You are punctual,
Madame," he said.

"Madame!" echoed the woman, and slowly drew aside her veil.

The man fell back with a startled cry. "My God! Miss Elliott--you here!"




CHAPTER IV.--TWO WOMEN'S HEARTS

"YES, my Lord, though you at first mistook me," said Miss Elliott, with
a pointed smile; her cheeks were scarlet; she looked straight at him,
her eyes luminous as stars.

"I--I beg your pardon," stammered Cressingham, entirely discomfited.

"I have come to return a compliment. This afternoon you warned me of
some danger which you believe is threatening me. It is now my turn to
put you on your guard against a peril so real and imminent that I have
disregarded hour and place."

"How good you are!" he muttered, still half-dazed with his surprise.

"It was after the concert. I went with some of my girls to call upon
one who is ill and in want. It was at a tenement house in Soho, a
very poor place indeed, where the rooms are small and have only thin
partitions between them. While waiting by the sick bed for a surgeon
for whom I had sent, I overheard a conversation between two foreigners
in an adjoining room. They spoke in Swedish, and quite unreservedly,
thinking I suppose that they incurred no risk of being understood.
Luckily for you, my Lord, I spent two years in Stockholm. I think that
they are Nihilists; at any rate, they are acting under orders given
them by the head of some mysterious society whose enemy apparently
you are. They spoke of a Madame Viyella and a man called Uljen--or
something like that--first, and then mentioned your name. It seems that
you were seen issuing late one night quite recently from a certain
house in London, a house occupied by enemies of their society. This
fact, taken in conjunction with your intimacy with Madame Viyella, has
aroused the fears of their master, and your removal has been planned
in consequence. This very night an attempt will be made to murder you.
A forged letter will be brought entreating your immediate presence at
the house I have mentioned, which house I gathered has now changed
ownership and is under their control. If you go, you will be stabbed
and your body buried in a cellar----"

A low tapping at that moment sounded on the outer door. Miss Elliott
stopped speaking and looked at Cressingham inquiringly.

His face was white and miserable; he stood wringing his hands a moment,
then turning to the girl muttered in a low passionate whisper: "Miss
Elliott, I am accurst to-night; it would have been almost better that
you had left me to my fate. There is one without there who if she sees
you here would----My God! who can tell what she would do? Your fair
name to-morrow--ah, what am I saying, what shall I do?"

"Who is it?" imperiously.

"Madame Viyella."

"Ah, the woman they spoke of!"

"You do not understand; it is the Countess of Hobenstein."

The girl turned scarlet, and hot tears glistened in her eyes. "I
am properly punished," she muttered--then: "You must not let her
see me--at least, not that. I should die of shame! Oh, I might have
guessed, I might have guessed!"

The tapping recommenced. Lord Cressingham swiftly crossed the room and
drew aside some curtains. "It breaks my heart," he almost groaned, "but
I must ask you to wait here; it is my dressing-room."

"But--is there no other exit?"

"None."

"Through that door there."

"My bedroom; there is a man in it already."

"A man!"

"Ah, trust me a Little, Miss Elliott. I am less black than I appear."

She gave him a burning glance.

"Madame waits," she said, her voice full of bitter satire. He fell
back, and she closed the door in his face. The tapping was louder now
and more imperious. Drawing the curtains into place again he swiftly
and noiselessly returned to his chair before the fire.

"Come in," he called in drowsy tones.

The handle was tried. "I can't," replied a voice without.

Cressingham got noisily to his feet, and stumbling to the door pushed
aside the latch.

"A thousand pardons," he cried; "I fancy I must have been dozing."

"Dozing! you slept like the dead, my boy. I have been hammering there
for quite a time."

Cressingham rubbed his eyes and pretended to yawn. "I'm awfully sorry,"
he said sleepily.

The Countess swept into the room and round it with long, undulating
strides, shedding coat, cloak and wraps to the floor as she proceeded.
The man leisurely followed her, picking up each article in turn.
Madame was now apparelled like a queen. A splendid dress of shimmering
jet work on a ground of black brocade enveloped her luscious figure
tightly, and above it her alabaster shoulders and milk white bosom
shone forth in bold relief. A single band of diamonds embraced the
rounded column of her neck, and from her corsage swung a chain of
brilliants almost to her knees.

Proudly conscious of her beauty, she faced the man as a queen might her
subject; a moveless, faintly scornful smile upon her lips. "Well, my
boy, I've taken the measure of your English baby-face."

Cressingham shrugged his shoulders. "And then?"

"Bah, I am not jealous any more. She is pretty, yes, and good--good,
all English women are pretty and good. She may be even a little more
so than the rest, but she could not content you, Frank--for long. She
is too cold, too sensible, too much always conscious of herself, too
proud, too self-restrained. Did you ever think she could love you,
Frank? Ha, ha, ha! My poor boy. It makes me laugh to think of you
married to that woman. You would love her for a week, and then--bah,
you would freeze and come to me to warm you back to life again. What
does she know of love? I know her, I tell you, and her class. Bah! you
are blushing like the girl herself if she could hear me. I tell you----"

"Stop. I forbid you----"

"Why should I stop? I am a woman of the world, and you--do you fear to
hear these things? Do they shock your English prejudices? Ah, believe
me, Frank--that girl, I tell you----"

"Katherin! be silent!"

The Countess stamped her foot. "I will speak. But there, after all,
it is needless; why should I speak of her? Here are you and I alone
together." She approached him in one long sweeping stride and put her
hands upon his shoulders; "you have been so cold lately, Frank, so
distant. It is not that girl, I shall not believe that, for you have
not seen her until to day. It must be this cursed English climate. But
I, Frank, look at me!"

He caught her by the wrists, but she maintained her hold.

"Look me in the eyes; tell me what you see there, dear one."

Cressingham vainly attempted to push her from him; he was near choking.

"Katherin," he muttered hoarsely, "think, think!"

"I have thought," she answered, smiling strangely, her bosom heaving
with a sudden gust of passion. "I have thought and thought, but nothing
alters me. You are mine, and I am yours, for my love is absolute.
Frank, do you understand?"

"You are mad," he cried.

"Yes; I am mad--for love of you." She swayed towards him until her body
touched his trembling limbs. "Frank," she whispered, her breath hot
upon his face; "I love you; have you nothing to say to me?"

White-faced and desperate, he thrust her fiercely from him and fell
back. She stood with parted lips, with sobbing breasts, gazing at him,
a speechless but marvellously perfect picture, unable immediately to
believe, to realize, he had rebuffed her.

Cressingham stared at the floor, a statue of misery and complete
dejection. He felt that besides Madame's he was the centre of another
woman's conjectures; he knew that Miss Elliott must have heard all,
perhaps had seen all, for twice had the curtains slightly moved. With
all his soul he longed that moment for freedom to disclose himself,
to let this siren see how utterly her power was gone. But he was
oath-bound, and, moreover, behind another door lurked the Count von
Oeltjen, spy upon him and guardian of his trust. He had still a duty
to perform, and to carry out that duty it now became his task to damn
himself in the eyes of the woman he loved, since did he finally disdain
the Countess all hope of tricking her was gone.

Madame watched him, her brain thronged with fevered thoughts and
agonized suspicions. It was true, then, he loved this English girl and
dared to be true to her! And yet, and yet! Perhaps he was jealous,
perhaps he had learned some of her well-hidden secrets. No; impossible!
And yet--was he mad or she? Formerly he had not seemed such an Antony.
Was it her wild abandon that he feared? She was on the verge of tears.
Strangling a hysterical sob, she drew herself erect, slowly, slowly,
always staring at him.

"Frank!" she gasped at last.

He raised his eyes to hers, his mind at last resolved. It was necessary
to play a part and sacrifice himself.

"Well!" he answered, gruffly and rudely.

"What do you mean?"

"I am not the fool you think me, that is all."

She caught her breath, and cried: "Explain!" one hand pressed tightly
to her heart.

He answered her with brutal plainness, speaking the first words that
occurred to him.

"It is you who should explain; you visit me and pretend to love me, but
you have another lover who visits you."

Madame sighed deeply and breathed again, her mind at ease. "After all,
he is only jealous," she told herself. And then she thought sharply,
asking herself many questions. This jealousy must have a cause. He
could not be jealous of the men usually about her; he must have seen
something to arouse his suspicions. Perhaps he had seen--ah, that was
it. She smiled the wonderful subtle smile with which she had known how
to win to her so many hearts, and murmured: "Are you jealous, dear one.
Then of whom?"

"You best know that."

"Ah, Frank, you need not be. I love none but you!"

"Liar!"

Still she smiled.

"Frank, dear, you are wrong; really you are wrong. I think I know what
you mean; you saw me last Thursday night----"

Cressingham seized upon the chance: "Yes; last Thursday night, Madame.
Little did you dream that I was by."

"You saw me bid farewell to a man at my own door; was that wrong of me?"

"But at what an hour, Madame!"

"It was late----"

"Morning, Madame!"

"Even so. Frank, dear, presently you will go on your knees to me and
ask me to forgive you; and I----"

"And you, Madame?"

"Will not forgive you, dear, unless you trust me now."

He folded his arms, biting his lips to force himself to keep up the
cursed comedy. "I cannot."

"Then ask me what you wish."

"Who was the man?"

Madame facing him, always smiling that strange mysterious smile, caught
up her cloak from the chair beside her and threw it on her shoulders,
then her wrap, while Cressingham stood idle, stiff, and still.

"The man"--Madame glided slowly to the outer door--"was my own father."
She paused.

Cressingham uttered a queer choking cry, so great was his surprise:
"Your father!"

"I have said it."

Cressingham threw out his hands. "I don't believe you!" he said
brutally.

Madame still smiled. "I love you, Frank, but do not try me too far.
I shall go now. No; don't come near me; your touch would burn. I am
almost hating you. Remember, you have called me liar--twice. To-morrow,
come to me with your apology. Perhaps I shall forgive." She gave a
great sob. "Ah, Frank, how could you--how could you dare insult me so?"

With a swift movement she threw open the door, passed, and was gone.
Cressingham listened dumbly in the silence to the patter of her
footsteps on the passage. He heard her falter on the stairway, fumble
with the latch below, and presently the street door's crashing close.
Then he staggered, rather than walked, to his bedroom.

Oeltjen was standing just within the threshold. "I shall show you to
your room now, if you please."

"Very well, my Lord," said Oeltjen. "I should, however, tell you that I
have been listening to your conversation."

"Indeed, and you approve?" Cressingham spoke very loudly, hoping that
Miss Elliott would hear. He had conceived the sudden wild hope of
attempting to exculpate himself in her eyes thus.

"I think that you went a little too far. Your acting, however, was on
the whole superb."

"Thanks," drily. "My fear is, however, for the morrow."

"You fear what?"

"That in a colder moment she will know better how to guard her secrets.
Even to-night she was careful to disclose no name. She said 'my
father,' only 'my father.'"

"True."

Cressingham thought for a while. "It is a terrible part for me to
play," he said at last. "Do you know, Oeltjen, although I know the
woman is bad, I feel an awful ruffian at tricking her like this."

"Ach Himmel! she loves you, that is plain! But" (in a whisper) "where
is the other woman, the first, my Lord, the one that warned you?"

Cressingham turned pale. "That is my business!" he said curtly.

"I beg your pardon."

Cressingham bowed. "Let us go," he said.

But a loud knock sounded on the door as they approached it. Cressingham
pushed aside the latch, and his servant, in slippers and pyjamas,
entered, a letter in his outstretched hand; he seemed half asleep.

"For you, my Lord."

"Who brought it?"

"A cabman."

"Wait a moment, John, and you can show the Count to his room." He
opened the letter, and presently passed it in silence to Oeltjen. It
was a card inscribed with certain hieroglyphics.

The Count glanced at it, and whispered meaningly: "Already the path
grows dangerous, my Lord. It is perhaps my turn next."

Cressingham shrugged his shoulders and pocketed the card. "Perhaps.
Good night."

"Sleep well!" said the German, and smiling satirically he departed in
the servant's wake.

Cressingham shut the door, and turned to face his greatest task. Miss
Elliott stood between the parted curtains of the dressing-room, her
face pale, but self-possessed and calm.

"It was, oh, so cold in there, and dark," she muttered, shivering a
little.

He pointed to the fire. "You had better wait a moment and warm
yourself. Presently the passage will be clear."

She crossed the room and spread out her hands to the blaze, her back
turned to the man. He stood irresolutely a moment, nervously gnawing at
his under lip, then, growing desperate at her silence, spoke.

"Miss Elliott."

She slowly turned her head, and looked at him across her shoulder.

"You heard?"

She nodded. "Everything."

"What can you think of me?"

"I scarcely know just yet; indeed, I haven't really thought of you.
I am trying still to realize how it is that a woman can so degrade
herself. How she threw herself at you!"

"Spare me," he groaned.

She gave a little rippling laugh. "I almost begin to fear you, Lord
Francis; you must possess some dangerous magic fatal to my sex. And
yet, how deaf you were to her entreaties, but that was because you had
an audience perhaps?"

"Miss Elliott, I assure you on my honour----"

"Spare me, my lord," she interrupted icily; "I have already seen you
act to-night. What time is that?"

A clock was chiming somewhere in the City, its tones reaching them in
muffled melancholy. Cressingham glanced at his watch. "Half-past two!"

"Luckily I have a latch-key," said the girl. "Don't you think the coast
is clear by now?"

"One moment!" He hurried into the dressing-room and a second after came
out with hat and coat. The girl regarded him with much contempt.

"Do you think I should accept your escort farther than the street?" she
queried bitterly. His lips tightened, but without reply he opened the
door for her to pass, and in unbroken silence they trod the passage
and descended the stairs. There he paused, but she passed on and stood
by the door, attempting herself to open it. With a hopeless little
laugh he assisted her, and she glided through into the street. Two
men, standing not a yard from the door, peered rudely into her veiled
face. She drew back with a little gasp, an involuntary cry for help.
Cressingham sprang out at once, but the men slunk off quickly down the
street.

"Thank you," said Miss Elliott. "It was nothing, but seeing them so
close and suddenly, they frightened me for a second."

"At least, let me put you in a cab," he said imploringly. "Really, the
streets are not always safe at this hour. It may be the last favour I
shall ever ask of you."

"Very well, then."

He walked with her a few steps down the street and whistled. Instantly
a four-wheeler standing in the shadows of some houses not far distant
moved out into the light and came quickly towards them. To Cressingham
it seemed that the cab must have been waiting by appointment, so swift
was its response, but another matter now engrossed his mind. A few, a
very few seconds remained to him during which he might fight for his
happiness. Silence might be more dignified, but at any rate he could
not possibly hurt himself more by speech than he was harmed already.

"Francine," he muttered suddenly, "you wrong me in your thoughts. I'm
not so black as you think me. I'm in an awful mess, and the curse of
it is I can't explain. But on my honour, Francine, I'm not the loose
fellow you think me. I couldn't be, for I love you, you, you with all
my soul, and that alone would keep me straight."

Miss Elliott, watching him from behind the thick meshes of her veil,
thought how handsome he looked standing in the lamplight there, his
eyes so bright, his face so passionately eager: a quaint thought
entered her mind, and an impulse.

"Really, my Lord," she said, "you should never wear that monocle of
yours, you look so much better without." Her laugh rippled out like the
pealing of a silver bell.

Cressingham opened the carriage door, a black frown on his face.

"Where shall I tell the man to drive you?"

"Bruton Street, please. Good night!"

Cressingham made one last appeal. He held the door open, and standing
close beside it whispered: "Francine, I'm the most miserable man on
earth."

She muttered back from the darkness; "Is that my fault?"

"It is not altogether mine. Ah, for heaven's sake, believe me!"

Miss Elliott did a strange thing. Cressingham's left hand was leaning
lightly against the glass of the window. Stretching forth her own she
took it gently to her and drew from his third finger the ring which she
had returned him yesterday; then she dropped his hand, and said: "You
shall have one more chance; are you content?"

For a second he stood dazed, but a happy light came presently into his
eyes, and, stooping, he caught and passionately kissed a portion of her
gown.

"More, much more than content," he whispered huskily. "May I hope to
see you soon?"

"To-morrow, if you like, at four."

"Heaven bless you, dear. Good night!"

The cab rattled off, and Cressingham, watching it with loving eyes, saw
soon after it had turned the corner the forms of two men running in the
same direction. The occurrence gave him a moment's vague uneasiness,
but it soon departed altogether from his mind.




CHAPTER V.--FRANCINE DISAPPEARS

LUDWIG VON OELTJEN felt much at odds with the world. He had been
pitchforked by fate into a false position that exposed his sensitive
nature at every step to jars and discords which he was unable properly
to resent. In the first instance he was compelled to play the spy upon
a man whom he respected and admired. In other circumstances a warm
friendship might have grown up between himself and Cressingham. Each
was a young man of good birth and breeding, of uncommon intelligence,
of upright disposition. And yet they differed sufficiently in
temperament to render their natures mutually attractive. The German was
nervous, highly strung, ceremonious, and strong willed; the Englishman
calm, self centred, and determined, but generous and obliging. The
pity of it was they could not meet on common ground. The relationship
between them forbade an entente cordiale. Moreover, Oeltjen was
still deeply in love with Madame Viyella, and recent events had shown
him Cressingham not only as a successful rival, but a rival indifferent
to success.

It is hard to watch unmoved another win a treasure ardently but
hopelessly desired, but it is infinitely harder not to hate the person
who wins that treasure without appreciating it. Oeltjen had listened
to Madame Viyella lavishing her love upon Lord Cressingham. That was
a misfortune which as a brave man he could bear with composure. But
to see his rival disdain the prize which he would have welcomed as a
priceless boon in spite of all things moving to the contrary--was a
stab to his pride and amour propre which made him writhe in mental
anguish.

Von Oeltjen survived this ordeal, and after a long and bitter night
spent in struggling with his bad angel, emerged superior to pain
and circumstance, his own conqueror. He sought Lord Francis in the
early morning before his purpose could have time to cool, and without
preliminary put the whole case reservelessly before him.

The Englishman, still in bed, listened to his quaint apologia from
the depths of his feather pillows, and without interrupting once by
word or sign.

At the end he stretched forth his hand, and said: "I'm glad you've
spoken, old fellow. I half saw how it was all along, but was not able
to help myself. The fact is we are just two little puppets in a game
which is being played by people a lot more powerful than either of
us. We are each bound to see the thing through, and we are hatefully
situated. But it's no good kicking, neither of us is to blame. For
myself, I see no reason why we shouldn't get along without quarrelling.
At all events I'll do my best, but most depends on you; you have the
worst of the deal by far."

Oeltjen took his hand.

"That is kind of you, my Lord. You will forgive me for disturbing you?"

"Disturbing me? That's good. Why, man, you've acted like a brick." And
after the other had departed he repeated the word. "Brick; yes, that's
just what he is. I wish he was an Englishman!" which remark showed that
Cressingham appreciated Oeltjen's conduct properly, for an Englishman
can express for a foreigner no higher form of praise.

The Count appeared to interpret his duties lightly. He accompanied
Cressingham at noon to Madame Viyella's doorstep and there left him,
although Cressingham would have much preferred a stricter and complete
espionage, for secretly he dreaded the approaching interview.

The Countess received him in her boudoir. She wore a loose dressing
robe of opal silk open at the neck, and was reclining at full length
on a lounge engaged in the role of partial invalid, salts and essences
about her. The room was softly illumined with some concealed artificial
light, the windows being heavily draped with dark purple curtains to
exclude the day. She looked very languid and lovely, and her pose,
if studied, was a work of highest art, for all traces of art were
absolutely wanting.

"Speak softly, please, Frank," she murmured; "my head aches."

He took a chair near by and watched her silently for so long that at
last she raised her low lidded eyes and looked at him.

"I wait," she said.

"For what?"

"Surely--your excuses."

"I cannot apologize yet, Katherin; I am unconvinced."

She thought a moment, thinking deeply.

"Do you know, Frank," she said at last, "no man has ever insulted
me but you. I do not like it. I have a mind not to bother trying to
convince you--a mind to let you go."

"In that case, Madame----" He arose, hat in hand.

Her eyes opened wide. "You would go; you would dare leave me?" she
gasped.

He nodded.

She stared at him, turning pale as death, then cried of a sudden--

"Go then. Never let me see your face again."

He bowed and obeyed, but from the door heard a low, painful moan. He
turned. Madame Viyella was sobbing as though her heart would break.

Cressingham found an echo of her emotion in his own heart. Madame
Viyella was very beautiful, even though her face was not of classic
type. It was no sense of duty which prompted him to take the woman in
his arms and press hot kisses on her crimson tear-wet mouth. Nor did a
single recollection of his sweetheart come to intervene when, Madame's
bosom next his heart, his nerves thrilled and his blood took fire at
her siren sweetness.

And a siren at that moment was Madame. Her tears soon dried, she rested
in his arms contentedly, and looked at him with burning heavy lidded
eyes, her parted lips occasionally giving forth a sob or a deep sigh.

Madame had won. He was hers, hers at last she told herself exultantly.
With a swift lithe movement she rose and stood before him, her dark
hair falling in a shower below her waist. He rose too, breathing hard.

She took his hand and put it to her heart, which beat within its cage
a wild impassioned prisoner. "It is yours!" she whispered; "all, all
yours, do you believe me now?"

"Katherin!" The cry was a struggling one; he was fighting for control.

The woman smiled to see. She sat upon the lounge and drew him down
beside her--with a gust of words. "Foolish boy, you are still jealous.
Really, it was my father, Frank. I know it is hard for you to believe,
but it is true. I cannot tell you his name, dear, nor anything about
him. He is a great person, and I am only his natural daughter. Do you
understand? No one in the world knows aught of this but you, dear one.
He sometimes visits me, but always secretly. Were our relationship once
suspected--I should see him no more, and, Frank, he is the only near
friend that I have. I love him, dear; he has been always good to me. I
should not tell you anything of this. Ah, how I trust you!"

"Trust me more. What is his name?"

The woman smiled at him. "You are an honourable man, dear, are you not?
You would not break your word, much less an oath?"

"Ah!"

"I am oath-bound, Frank. You would not counsel me to break my vow. But
ah, for your sake anything. Am I not yours, soul as well as body? Dear
one, order me to break my oath! Are you not my master?"

Cressingham was beaten, and although he dimly recognized the
method, the art of her attack was too perfect to allow a thought of
insincerity. Honest as steel himself, he answered frankly as another of
as pure calibre. "I have no right to ask that of you, Katherin."

"Then let us talk of love!" she cried, "since we are now together here
with nought at last but love between us."

Fate saved him for the moment. There came a servant with a message for
Madame; a person had called to see her who was of too exalted rank for
cavalier dismissal. She got to her feet, a jealous light in her eyes
and anger unconcealed; she hated so to let him go, but she whispered in
his ear some burning words, and Cressingham left her pledged to return
that very night.

The cold calm light of the day without offered a sudden blight to
his still tingling senses, chilling the blood that still throbbed
insolently in his veins. He remembered Miss Elliott then, and realized
the depths into which he had almost fallen, the abyss on whose brink
he still stood tottering. He remembered too the task which he had
undertaken, and saw himself a double failure: a traitor to his duty, a
traitor to his love.

In an almost reckless mood he called upon Colonel Vernon, his
commanding officer, a kindly old soldier who had not fathered a crack
regiment long enough to forget the follies of his own youth and who
bore the reputation of being lenient to all faults save those that
tarnished honour. To him Cressingham made full confession of his
Russian fiasco, save only that he gave no names.

The Colonel had always been fond of his junior captain, and did not
want to lose him, but he saw an opportunity dear to his heart and, as
he afterwards told his friend General Poole, he "rated the youngster
soundly. These hot bloods want a lesson now and then, Poole, and when
they want it, sir, by gad they get it--from me!"

But the "ragging" once over, the Colonel proceeded straightway to
discount his words; he invited Cressingham to lunch, and over the
second bottle of Heidsieck waxed so reminiscent that Cressingham
presently perceived he sat before a man who had spent a wilder and more
thoughtless youth than he, and he was astonished and a little amused to
find how proud at heart the old man was of the semidisgraceful pranks
and mishaps of his past.

The lesson did him good from a worldly point of view. It showed him
that pains of the present become pleasant mental tit-bits for the jaded
palate of maturer years. It taught him to attach less weight than was
his wont to his own backslidings and shortcomings. He left the Colonel
feeling half satisfied that an undiscovered sin is at most only half
a sin. This moral obliquity of vision furnished him with an excuse
to keep his appointment with Miss Elliott, in spite of the morning's
treacheries. He had been false to her--granted; but then, she did not
know of it! He loved her in spite of his falseness, indeed his fault
had made him perhaps appreciate her more.

So he argued, attempting to convince himself, and when he reached her
door the argument was still half finished. He had a queer instinctive
presentiment that he would find her cold to him, that she would read
his heart and divine the wrong that he had done her. That she loved
him he never doubted; so strangely penetrating is the mind of love,
he had been able to read her heart in that without tangible reason or
encouragement. Ah, well, perhaps she would save him from himself. He
had been weak before temptation, and would infallibly be weak again
before a similar temptation, but like most well-meaning sinners he was
remorseful and anxious to find grace immediately the cause of sin had
been removed. "Lead us not into temptation!" is the most necessary
prayer of all, as Christ the Master knew, for in fashioning that
exhortation, which has descended down the centuries to us, a legacy
divine, He phrased that simple heart cry last of all in token of its
measureless importance. Cressingham wanted to be saved from temptation,
and so he rang the bell.

The butler answered the door, a man whom Cressingham knew well and
had often liberally tipped; he seemed distrait and disturbed to-day,
and his welcome was effusive, for, an old servant, he knew well the
reading of social symptoms, and he had long guessed at the gentleman's
attachment to his mistress.

"Please come in, my lud--shall I take your coat and hat, my lud? The
library, if you please, my lud."

"Miss Elliott at home, Adams?"

The butler followed him into the library. "Ah, my lud, I'm so glad
you've come, my lud." The man seemed so upset and anxious that
Cressingham involuntarily felt concerned.

"Your mistress is not ill, Adams?"

"No, my lud; leastwise I hope not--we all hope not. But, my lud,
I--I----"

Cressingham saw over the man's shoulder the faces of two servants
peering anxiously upon them from the passage without.

"What the dickens is the matter?" he demanded somewhat testily.

"The fact is my lud,--last night--I--the mistress, she----"

"Out with it, man!"

Adams gave a desperate glance at the doorway and a frown which
scattered the faces in the passage.

"The fact is, my lud, Miss Elliott went out last night to sing at a
concert--and--and--she hasn't come home yet."

"But," stammered Cressingham, "she--she--I have an appointment to see
her here at four."

The butler's face lighted up immediately. "Ah, then, my lud, she'll
be back directly I expect. And oh, my lud, I hope as how you'll not
mention to her what I said. You see, we all got anxious about her,
'specially as how she's never stayed away before without lettin' us
know aforehand--and she sent the coachman home early with the 'osses
and said as how she wouldn't keep 'em waiting in the cold, but she'd
come home in a cab."

Cressingham scarcely heard him. He was tormented with a sudden wild,
madly fanciful idea, which, however, he presently put from him as past
the bounds of possibility.

"I expect she has spent the night with some lady friend, Adams," he
said kindly. "Certainly I shall not mention what you have said; your
anxiety for her does you credit."

"Thank you, my lud." Adams went slowly out and closed the door.

"Strange," thought Cressingham; "she left me intending to go home. I
told the cabman to drive to Bruton Street. Perhaps she changed her
mind and went elsewhere, but it's queer she didn't send a message
or something to her servants all to-day. She's so methodical in her
habits, too, does the housekeeping and all that sort of thing. Perhaps
she's ill."

He paced the floor for a quarter hour distractedly, reflecting,
listening anxiously to every sound without, often going to the window
and attempting to peer into the street below. Then he could stand it no
longer, and violently rang the bell.

Adams appeared with disconcerting promptitude. "Ah, er--I'd like a
glass of whiskey, Adams, please."

The butler opened a cabinet and produced glasses and decanters, also
cigarettes; afterwards he loitered hesitatingly.

"Well, what is it?" said Cressingham.

"It's half-past, sir, and still no sign of her. We've been wondering in
the servants' hall if a accident might a happened."

"Have you the papers, Adams?"

"Yes, my lud, and we've gone through 'em all that careful. There's
nothin' in 'em, my lud, 'cept about the concert. The Countess o'
Hobstein was with her, sir."

"Ah!"

"Besides, if she'd been took to a hospital, my lud, word would a been
sent here at once."

"So it would. It can't be that then that has detained her, at least
it's not likely."

"No, my lud--as I says to Richards, what is the coachman, my lud--it's
no use jumping to look at the black side o' things, though in general
it's the black side as turns up."

"Quite so, Adams. By the by, Colonel Elliott is expected home shortly,
is he not?"

"To-morrow, my lud, which, if you'll pardon me mentionin' it, my lud,
is what has made us feel more anxious like, my lud, for Miss Elliott
allowed to her maid yesterday as how she was goin' to do up his rooms
herself this morning, the Colonel bein' rather a fidgetty old gentleman
as doesn't like his things touched or put out of their places. And his
rooms have been locked up ever since he went away, and we not bein'
able to air them the whole day, seein' as Miss Elliott has the keys
herself."

Every word the butler said had the effect of making Cressingham more
deeply disquieted; unwilling, however, to give himself away, he
dismissed the man, and spent a solitary hour walking the library floor
in a fever of impatience. At the end of that time he doggedly resolved
to see the thing out, and lighting the gas took a book and settled
himself in a chair. Not that he did much reading; he was too wretchedly
disturbed for that, but he killed time in a miserable moping fashion
until the clock struck seven, and he remembered his engagement with
Captain Lethby.

He said good-bye to Adams, who was by then thoroughly alarmed, and
promising hurriedly to call back later in the evening, drove swiftly to
his rooms to dress, reflecting with some relief that Lethby was Miss
Elliott's cousin and would probably have news of her.

At the club he was greeted as one back from the dead; all his old
friends swooped down on him like so many hawks, and in the midst of
their careless badinage and raillery he forgot for the time his anxious
fears. Dinner passed as such dinners pass, with jokes and quips, with
wine-engendered jeux d'esprit, and more or less witty anecdote.
It was a gay, good-tempered meal, for a dozen had gathered round the
recreant one, refusing to allow Lethby the distinction of entertaining
him in solitary state, and Cressingham, who had always been noted as a
man's man, was gayest of the gay.

With the liqueurs, however, he remembered, and on the first opportunity
drew Lethby aside.

"Have you seen or heard from your cousin to-day, Lethby?" he asked
quietly.

"No, dear boy. Why?"

"I called there this afternoon pretty late, and the servants told me
she has not returned home since she went to that concert last night.
The butler was upset about it, thinking an accident had happened or
something."

"Nonsense, man; she went home with some friend, or else to nurse one of
her poor girls. You can never bet on Francine; she's a great sick-bed
girl, don't you know."

"But she'd have sent her people word, surely. Besides, her father
returns to-morrow. Adams tells me she had intended to do out his rooms
herself."

Lethby laughed. "Oh, it's Adams is it; he's a regular old woman."

"Well, old chap, I hope you're right, but I promised Adams I'd call
back and see if she'd returned. You'd better come with me, Jack. I'm
off now."

"Well, good luck to you, Frank. I can't go with you, as I'm booked for
a waltz with the Countess at ten--charming woman, the Countess, Frank.
Depend on it, you'll find Francine has got home long before this. Hope
she gives Adams a good rap over the knuckles, he deserves it. Ta-ta."

"Good-bye."

Cressingham drove at once to Berkeley Square; Miss Elliott had not
returned. He waited until midnight, then despatched one of the servants
with a sharp note to Captain Lethby. He himself hurried to his own
rooms and put the whole matter before the Count von Oeltjen. He had
completely forgotten his engagement with Katherin Viyella.




CHAPTER VI.--A DIFFICULT SITUATION

OELTJEN was at first most concerned at the failure of his coadjutor's
mission, for he recognized at once that the situation no longer
offered a hope of extracting from Madame Viyella the information
required by Mr. Perigord. Regarding Miss Elliott's disappearance, he
was inclined to be quite tranquil, preferring to believe that she had
some good private reason for absenting herself, or was detained by
some unforeseen or accidental circumstance. When, however, Cressingham
informed him of Katherin Viyella's wild and jealous threat against
Miss Elliott's life, and also of the circumstance of the two men who
had met himself and Miss Elliott at the door the previous night, and,
lastly, of the two figures he had caught a glimpse of running after
Miss Elliott's cab as she drove off, the Count's face became grave and
thoughtful as that of his companion.

He strongly urged Cressingham at all hazards to keep his appointment
with Madame Viyella as a course which offered the only present chance
of sounding their now joint suspicions. For a long while Cressingham
utterly refused, feeling himself entirely unequal to the task of making
love to a woman he had commenced to detest.

But they were saved the trouble of determining by the advent of Madame
herself, who, finding her lover once again recreant, had made up her
mind to visit him. She entered the room abruptly, the light of battle
in her eyes, Cressingham's protesting servant following her to the
door. Perhaps she had thought to find her lover engaged with some
other woman; at any rate, her face grew instantly composed on sight of
Oeltjen. She found grace indeed to appear faintly embarrassed, but not
for long. With wonderful sang froid she advanced to the two men,
offering a hand to either. "How fortunate am I, messieurs, to find
two friends, expecting only one. You will be surprised, dear Count,
to find me visiting your friend at such an hour, but less so, I hope,
when I tell you that Lord Francis is my fiance, and that I have
come to make him mes adieux. To-morrow, at daylight (She glanced at
the clock), indeed, but that is only two short hours hence, I set off
for Vienna, having been called suddenly to visit the death-bed of a
relative."

The two men exchanged unquiet glances.

"That is unfortunate, Madame," said Oeltjen. "If you will permit me
then, I shall retire. I am at present a guest of your fiance,
Madame. I wish you bon voyage and a happy return--to you,
Cressingham, I offer my heartiest felicitations. Au revoir."

"Au revoir, Count," said Madame; then as the door closed upon him
she turned fiercely on the other. "Infame, perjured one, what have
you to say?"

Cressingham found it necessary to exercise his nicest diplomacy.

"Nothing, Katherin, except that I have not been able to help myself.
A strange thing has happened. It appears that your new friend Miss
Elliott (the girl of whom you were recently so foolishly jealous) has
mysteriously disappeared from her home. Lethby, her cousin, whom you
know, has been frightfully upset about it, only learned the facts a few
hours back, and he hurried at once to me to demand my assistance in
searching for her. Well, what could I do? The man is my friend. It was
impossible to refuse. I have been with him driving for hours from one
police-station to another, longing all the while to slip away and go to
you."

He watched Madame with the keenest scrutiny as he spoke, but her face
reflected only surprise and some amusement.

"Captain Lethby is her lover you know, has been for several years," he
concluded rather lamely.

"Miss Elliott has disappeared--when?" demanded Madame.

"No one has seen her since the concert last night to which you
accompanied her, Katherin."

"That is strange--perhaps some accident?"

"I confess I rather feared at first that her disappearance was due to
you," said the man pointedly; "you said some queer things the other
day, you know."

Madame frowned.

"What nonsense, Frank. I was mad at the time, and scarcely knew what I
said. But enough of her. You must come with me to Vienna."

"Eh, what!"

"You must come with me to Vienna. My father has been taken very ill; he
has cabled me to go to him at once."

Cressingham looked at her stupidly, a rush of whirling thoughts aching
his head. Here indeed was a marvellous opportunity given him of
discovering the identity of her mysterious parent, a chance he felt he
ought not to abandon. But on the other hand, what of Miss Elliott? His
whole heart cried out to him to stay in London. His sweetheart at that
moment might be in some danger and he deserting her. He still thought
that Katherin Viyella had had a hand in her disappearance, in spite of
her careless disavowal of all concern in it. A tortured moment left him
nerveless and miserable. Not knowing what to do, he vaguely temporized.

"But how can I accompany you, Katherin?"

"How you like; my friend, my lover, my husband. Do we not belong to
each other?"

"But, dear, we must have some regard for appearances."

"Ah, bah! appearances! Am I not my own mistress?"

"Really, dear, I think it would be better for me to follow you. I know
how devoted you are, sweet one, and I glory in it; but I must take care
of my dear girl's good name. Some day you will be my wife, Katey; is it
not so?"

Well he knew that such a thing was far removed from the regions of the
possible, but Madame did not know he knew, and she had played so long a
part that she was bound in it. She dared not undeceive him yet, fearing
that the coldness of his English nature might revolt from her control
did he know that she had lied to him.

"Ah, Frank," she murmured with a melting look. "Can you wait?"

But he was master now. "Marry me at once then, sweetheart--it can be
done. I know a clergyman, a good fellow, who won't mind being knocked
up--and then we can go off on our honeymoon together."

He had won, but she made one last pouting attempt. "Frank, you know
there is no time now for that." She put her arms about him and
whispered tenderly: "We have all our lives before us for marriage,
dear. That is only a contract. If I am content to wait and trust
you--surely you----"

He put her gently from him. "We regard these things differently
in England, Kate," he answered, a note of sternness in his voice.
"My wife's name must be above the reach of all suspicion. Do you
understand, dear?"

"How cruel you are, Frank. You think of the world; I only of our two
selves." Tears stood in her eyes.

The woman was so beautiful in her distress that Cressingham took her
in his arms and satisfied her amply with the ardour of his kisses, but
presently he led her to the door and to her waiting carriage. She gave
him her address in Vienna and departed, charging him with her latest
breath to follow soon--she could not live without him long, she said.

Cressingham found Oeltjen waiting in his drawing room. "I heard
everything," said the Count. "I think you should have sunk all
considerations and gone off with her. I cannot understand why you did
not."

"You forget my instructions not to leave England."

"I forget nothing--those instructions depended upon Madame, and
were only given you in order to curtail her movements through her
infatuation for yourself."

Cressingham hesitated a moment, then blurted out: "Look here, Oeltjen,
I'll be frank with you. I simply can't leave London until I hear from
Miss Elliott--there, the murder is out."

Oeltjen gave a long, low whistle. "Ah, pardon me--I think I see. You
love the English lady."

"I do."

The Count laughed happily and executed a pas seul, effervescent as a
schoolboy.

"My friend, I could kiss you," he cried. "I can now be your friend,
for I am no longer jealous of you. You see," he said, sobering as
suddenly as his spirits had risen, "I have worshipped Madame so long
and, in spite of me, I cannot help but hate all others who love her
too. Ah, what I have suffered these days! but now I no longer care--she
loves you, yes; but you love another. Ah, you smile at me, you do not
understand. You love with your heads, you cold Englishmen. With us, we
love with the heart. You see a woman beautiful as a dream--you love
her. You are told she is bad, you at once discover that she is to be
despised, and--pouf, she is to you in future a beautiful creature
indeed, but to be in your hearts despised. With us Germans, it is so
different. We love the same woman, but once we have given our hearts
to her we do not recall the gift. I am not plain perhaps, for I cannot
quite express all that I mean. For myself, I love Madame knowing what
she is too well, but still I love her. You know how little hope I
have, but still I love her. What are her faults, her crimes to me? I
love her. When she dies, if I survive her I shall love her still, and
sometimes go to muse and weep upon her tomb."

Cressingham silently took and pressed the Count's hand. The men looked
deep into each other's eyes, and from that moment a friendship sprang
up between them which no circumstance could ever mar completely.

Von Oeltjen spoke presently. "We are in a great difficulty, my friend.
I wish that Mr. Perigord were here."

"He is here!" replied a deep, low voice, which made the gentlemen start
as if a thunderbolt had fallen.

Standing in the open doorway was the huge loose figure of the master,
holding before him in a grasp of iron, a foot from the floor, the
helpless pyjama-clad form of Cressingham's servant, one hand across his
mouth to suppress outcry.

"This fellow wanted to prevent my entrance," he observed carelessly. "I
rang and rang; he came at last and told me to go to the devil."

"How can I apologize, sir!" said Cressingham, a little stiffly.

"No need. You can go!" (to the startled valet, who instantly hopped
off). He stepped into the room and locked the door behind him, drawing
the curtains close.

"It appears you wanted me," he said. "Indeed, I think it is time that
I returned, although I have only been from England a few hours. So
Katherin Viyella sets out for Vienna?"

"You know that?" gasped Cressingham and Oeltjen in a breath.

"And more--but not enough, not enough. Who is the woman that her
friends have kidnapped in mistake for her?"

He eyed the pair before him keenly, but their faces expressed only
blank surprise.

"H'm, you don't know; that's bad. You do nothing, you know nothing!
Are you blind, the pair of you? It is lucky that some of my agents are
more sensible. She is tall, slight, fair" (he took a note-book from his
pocket and read from it), "blue eyes, rather pretty, dressed from head
to heel in a yellow sealskin coat, fur outside, blue silk lining."

"Good God! Francine Elliott!" shouted Cressingham.

"Elliott, Elliott; not the daughter of Colonel Francis Elliott?"

"The same--she went with Madame yesterday evening to a concert, and
has not returned home since. Her servants and--er--friends have been
awfully anxious about her, and are only waiting until morning to put
the matter in the hands of the police."

"Ah! this lady visited you late last night, Lord Francis!"

"She came to warn me of a plot to murder me. It seems that I was seen
coming from your house in Finchley Road, and this fact, added to my
intimacy with Madame, made your enemies anxious. They determined to get
rid of me, and concocted a plan. They took the very same house which
you must have vacated and forged a summons to get me there, intending
to assassinate me on my arrival. Miss Elliott overheard a conversation
in Swedish between two men in a tenement house in the east, while she
was making a call on a sick protegee of hers after the concert. It
was then late, and the affair was to be carried out that same night, so
she drove straight to my rooms to warn me."

"I see. She must be a plucky girl."

Cressingham's eyes flashed. "Plucky, yes--but, great heavens, it seems
that she's come to harm through me. Where is she----"

"Softly, my lord," said Perigord, "one thing at a time please. Was
Madame Viyella here when Miss Elliott called?"

"No, she arrived while we were talking, and Miss Elliott, not caring to
meet her, waited in my dressing room until she had gone."

"Ha, it was a clear mistake; true, their heights are similar, and then
the abductors were probably ignorant fools who took the girl for Madame
in the first instance and let their proper quarry slip."

"Why should they want to kidnap Madame?" gasped Cressingham.

"Your fault, my Lord; you kept her dangling too long. You should have
got her secret from her the first day. Delays are ever dangerous, your
delay was fatal. The circle having their suspicions wakened on hearing
that you had visited my house, tried to get Madame away from England,
for they are quite aware of her attachment to you, and they feared lest
you should exert your influence to worm some of their secrets from
her. But Madame refused to leave you--and they got panic-stricken.
Therefore they determined to cause your assassination, and at the same
time spirit Madame off to the Continent, where they might keep her in
confinement until she became more amenable to reason. Their double
plot failed. You were warned in time, and their agents kidnapped Miss
Elliott instead of Madame. On discovering their mistake they adopted
the final expedient of cabling Madame some message which must be of
most vital moment, for immediately on receipt of it she telegraphed to
Kaputsky, the chief of the second circle in Vienna, that she would set
off to-morrow, or rather" (he glanced at the clock) "this morning for
the Continent. What the message they sent her was, I cannot tell, for
although I hold a copy, it is in a cypher which I cannot read. Perhaps,
however, Madame told you something, my lord?"

"That her father was ill, dying, she said, I think," said Cressingham.
"But for heaven's sake, sir, tell me where they have got Miss Elliott.
Is she in any danger? Do they contemplate----"

"I am not omniscient, young man. What I do know is this. Some twelve
hours ago a steam yacht put in at Flushing and landed a young woman who
was supposed to be very ill. No doubt they had drugged Miss Elliott,
for she was put ashore lying on a stretcher, quite unconscious, and
taken in that condition straight to an hotel. My agent there saw her
face, and telegraphed me that their prisoner was not Madame. I arrived
on the scene two hours later, by means of a special train, and acquired
all the information I could from one of their agents who is my paid
spy. Very soon afterwards they found out their mistake for themselves.
None of the abductors apparently knew Madame by sight, but Kaputsky,
having quite by accident (he is an old flame of Madame's) gone in to
contemplate the sleeping beauty, discovered that his men had abducted
the wrong woman. There followed a fine old row, nearly every word
of which I heard; but later I was not so fortunate. When Kaputsky
recovered his temper, he became doubly careful, and although my room
was directly overhead and the floor bored through and fitted with an
ear trumpet as well, I was unable to gather more than an outline of
his dispositions concerning Miss Elliott. He set off at once himself
for Vienna, and very soon afterwards Miss Elliott was removed from the
hotel and put on board the yacht, which weighed anchor within five
minutes and steamed out to sea."

"My God!" cried Cressingham, "they will murder her."

"I think not; I hope not," said Oeltjen soothingly. "What object would
they have in committing such a crime?"

Perigord glanced slowly from one to the other. "Ah," he said suddenly;
"I forgot: you were once attached to Miss Elliott, my Lord."

"Once!" muttered Cressingham, his voice hoarse with despair.

Perigord smiled. "Have no fear on that score, my Lord. They do not
intend to murder the young woman, but to take her for the present to
some secret place of theirs. They would probably return her to England
at once, safe and sound, but they are not ready to quit London yet, and
they know that, Miss Elliott once free, the police would swarm about
their ears."

"But where, where?" he cried distractedly.

"That I shall ascertain to-morrow night at latest. Before then Captain
Klein, the deputy, Klein the murderer, will have fallen into my hands,
and he shall be made to speak. Colonel Elliott will arrive in London in
a few hours. Fortunately he is one of us and can be persuaded to grasp
the situation. I shall make it my duty to explain to him, and to him
shall be the task of rescuing his daughter."

"Ah, sir," cried Cressingham, "let me assist in that!"

"For you," said Perigord coldly, "I have another plan. Madame
Viyella----"

"That cursed woman----" cried the young man hotly----"am I not yet rid
of her?"

"Judge! At daylight, indeed about this time, yes she will be just
about now getting into her carriage with her maid, in order to drive
to Waterloo. Her maid is mine, her coachman is mine, her footman is
mine! You understand! Going through Hyde Park the carriage will stop,
the footman will get down and go to the door. Madame will ask the
reason. The footman will dash in her face a mask of chloroform. The
footman will then resume his place and the carriage will proceed, not
to Waterloo, but to can you guess where, my Lord?"

"Not, not--here," stammered Cressingham, pale as death and very
miserable.

"But yes--why not? I have not had time to arrange for her another
asylum. Here she will be quite safe. Your rooms are small but compact.
The only difficulty is your servant. Him you must dismiss first thing
in the morning. I shall provide a man to take his place whom you will
find altogether trustworthy. It will be your pleasant task, when Madame
recovers consciousness, to see that she wants for nothing; but she
must not leave her room, you understand? Should Madame lose her temper
and scream out, I should suggest chloroform, or a gag, whichever you
prefer. The man I shall send you has a stock of both."

"How long must I act the cad in this fashion?" grated Cressingham
between his shut teeth.

"Until I send for Madame. I shall relieve you of her charge as soon as
possible."

"And then?"

"I shall have other work for you, work more suited to your taste, I
hope, that is if you care to assist in rescuing Miss Elliott."

Cressingham's whole face eagerly lit up. "Ah, sir!" he cried, "I should
be grateful to you all my life."

Perigord patted him kindly on the shoulder. "Let us go downstairs now
and wait there to receive our prisoner. We must not run any risk of
interruption or of being overlooked by servants."

"One moment, sir, I have forgotten to tell you something. Some few
nights ago--Thursday, I fancy--Madame was visited by her father."

Perigord stopped suddenly. "Ha! who told you this?"

"She herself; she fancied that I saw her bid a man farewell at her own
doorstep in the early morning, and thinking me jealous she informed me
it was her father."

"She lied. Prince Carlos, who has carried out his duties better than
you, my lord, saw this man; it was Klein--a deputy."

"But is it not possible that Klein may be her father?"

"Bah, he is younger than she. By-the-by, you must bear with the Prince
if you run across him; the man is mad with jealousy. Do you know what
he told me this evening? He calmly informed me that he had discovered
Madame's lover, one of the three infamous chiefs of the inner circle,
in the person of Lord Francis Cressingham, and he earnestly begged to
be appointed your executioner."

"But that is beyond a joke, sir."

"Precisely, therefore I put you on your guard. Remember, he is a
Prince, and his person sacred. But let us go down. Oeltjen, your arm."

The three men noiselessly slipped down the stairs, and softly opened
the street door. They had not long to wait. In about ten minutes a
brougham drawn by two fine chestnuts drew up before the building; a
footman sprang to the ground and opening the carriage door lifted
bodily into the street the limp form of a woman whose face was covered
with a wrap. A second woman followed quickly unassisted, and these two
carried Madame between them, swiftly but with infinite care, into the
house and up the stairs, guided by Lord Francis, to his room.

Perigord and Oeltjen departed arm in arm immediately the carriage had
arrived.

Lord Francis recognized the sweet subtle smell of chloroform quickly
permeating his rooms, and wondering idly at the lavish use made of
it, asked himself the question, would Madame wake at all perhaps? But
he soon put that thought aside: somehow he felt his task less brutal
and more easy since his last conversation with Perigord, in which he
had learned of Madame's latest lie to him. It is always hard for an
honest nature to sympathize deeply with a liar, and although he too had
lately resorted to trickery, still, there was excuse for himself, he
argued, in the duty which demanded such diplomacy. He had at any rate
deceived Madame in a good cause; she had deceived him, or striven to,
for no cause at all--except that a lie had appeared to her the readiest
pathway from a trying situation.

His lips tightened as he thought of her subsequent address in throwing
herself upon his honour so as to avoid the questions which she could
not answer. He felt almost glad that he had now a chance of squaring
the account between them.

For a time he sat lost in marvel at the power of this strange creature
Perigord, who knew how to win so many and diverse instruments into
his service. For the thousandth time he asked himself the question:
"who--what is Perigord?" But with a smile at the bootless nature of
the query he presently returned to his apartment, and after double
locking the outer door and carefully secreting the keys, he put on a
heavy dressing gown and reposed himself to sleep upon the thick rugs by
the fire.

The humbly apologetic rays of a weak and cloud-fogged sun were mildly
discussing with the darkness a question of precedence when he awoke.
The clock was striking ten, and some one was beating against the inner
wall of the bedroom. At first half-dazed he got slowly to his feet, and
memory came to him with a rush.

He saw that it was necessary to obtrude upon Madame's solitude,
indeed she seemed anxious for such an attention to be paid her. Lord
Cressingham was not a very vain man, but all men are somewhat vain.
His first act was to seek a mirror, brush and comb, and fix himself up
becomingly as possible considering the imperious nature of the noise
Madame was making and his consequent impatience. Then he approached
the bedroom door, gave a knock, a loud cough, waited a second, noisily
turned the handle, then, observing that the hammering had ceased, he
pushed the door a little open and cautiously poked his head round the
corner.




CHAPTER VII.--LOVE AND LIES

MADAME was sitting fully dressed in an arm-chair her eyes big with
anger and amaze. She stared at him for a full minute, quite unable to
realize the meaning of it all, scarcely able to believe that it was
Cressingham who stood there looking at her so guiltily.

"Where am I?" she whispered at last.

The ghost of a smile flickered over his lips. "In my chair, Katherin."

"Ah this is your room, then! Was it you who carried me off?"

The man had not yet formulated a plan of action, and was at a dead loss
to explain. "One moment," he whispered, having heard a knock at his
outer door.

He hurried out, and took a quite absurd time in dismissing his servant,
giving the fellow half a year's wages in advance. Even after the man
had departed he lingered, desperately racking his brains for an idea,
but Perigord's promised servant arrived and he was still befogged.

The new lacquey was a dapper little Frenchman, exquisitely dressed,
very sharp faced, and active as a cat upon his dainty little feet. He
was already fully seized of his duties, and had brought with him a
basket of eatables, which he immediately proceeded to arrange upon a
tray.

"Madame and you, my Lord, will be hungr--r--r--y," he remarked.
Cressingham determined to seek his advice.

"I don't know your name----"

"Guillaume Bellair, Monseigneur."

"Well, Bellair, the fact is I don't know what the deuce to say to
Madame. She is awake, and has demanded an explanation."

Bellair shrugged his shoulders. "N'importe, my Lord, shall I carry
to Madame her breakfast?"

"No, give it to me."

"Take my advice, my Lord, and breakfast with Madame."

Cressingham gave the man a haughty look and bore the tray into the
inner room.

The Countess was as he had left her, a little more imperious perhaps.

"Really, Frank, I am very patient, but my fortitude has a limit. Here
have I been forcibly abducted and delayed from going to my dying
father's bedside. I demand to know at once the reason of such an
outrage and to be immediately released."

"Eat some breakfast first, Kate, to please me."

"It would choke me, besides I----Answer me!"

"Well then, if you must," Cressingham stared desperately at the window.
"A couple of hours after you left me last night, or rather this
morning, a man brought you here, carried by two women--his servants. Of
course, I was very surprised, but he made a sign--I ought to tell you
Kate, I belong to a secret society."

"Frank!"

"Yes, it's true----"

"What not----" she shut her lips of a sudden very tightly, but
Cressingham's inspiration had come to him.

"Yes," he whispered; "I am a Nihilist. I joined years ago in a mad
moment and have never been able to shake off the shackles since."

Madame watched him with glowing eyes. "Go on!" she muttered.

"This man, as I told you, made a sign which I was compelled to
recognize and to obey. He had you carried into this room, and commanded
me to keep you hidden here until he should send for you."

"My God, why, why!"

"I cannot tell," said Cressingham.

"Describe him to me!" she cried.

"I saw so little of him, he wore a greatcoat and was masked."

"Was he tall or short?"

"About medium height."

"What sign did he make?"

"Ah, dear, that I may not tell you."

"Was it this?" Madame thrust out her hand and made a curious motion
with her fingers. Cressingham affected to start, but shook his head.

"This?" Madame crooked her little finger and bit the knuckle, raising
at the same time her eyebrows.

Cressingham sprang to his feet. "Kate, Kate!" he cried, "don't tell me
you are a Nihilist too."

"But I am," she muttered. "Tell me, this man, was he old?"

"I could not tell."

"Surely you noticed something about him," she cried angrily. "Had he a
thick black beard?"

"No, clean shaven!"

Madame turned deathly pale. "Did you see his teeth?"

"Ah, let me remember, something struck me about his teeth or mouth, or
something at the time, I think. I can't recall. I was so upset."

"Were they set wide apart and very yellow?"

"I believe they were. I can't swear to it, though."

Madame shivered all over and closed her eyes. Presently she looked up
and said: "We are in danger, Frank--the pair of us. I know the man; he
was once my lover, and he has been for a long time madly jealous of
you. He has brought me to you intending to get us together to kill us
both. We must escape."

"Who is he?" asked Cressingham eagerly.

"I dare not tell you. But I must escape."

"Useless, Kate."

"Why?"

"The man, whoever he was, has left a spy on guard here. He is in the
outside room now."

"My God! I must see who he is!"

She went to the door and stooping peeped through the keyhole, peering
long.

Suddenly she rose up and fell sharply back. "I saw him," she panted; "I
don't know him at all. He is at the keyhole now trying to see and to
listen!"

Cressingham caught up a towel and flung it over the knob. "At any rate
we can block him there!" he muttered, frowning himself, for no man
likes being spied on.

Madame clasped her hands. "I see the whole plot," she muttered; "that
fellow has a bomb and soon, perhaps, he will fix it to destroy us and
escape himself."

Her terror was so evidently unaffected that Cressingham felt it his
duty to soothe her.

"I can relieve your mind as to that," he said. "The man has brought
nothing with him, neither bag nor baggage, and his master ordered him
not to leave the room on any pretext whatever until he came himself to
carry you away."

"But why, why would he bring me here?"

"I don't know; perhaps you've mistaken the man, Kate, and it may not be
the one you think. Ah, his voice! it comes to me now. He spoke to me in
broken English, and so huskily one could hardly understand him--but to
the man out there he spoke in fluent Russian."

Madame's face began to look dazed. "One thing," she whispered suddenly,
"surely you must have noticed, was he stout of build and did he roll
his r's tremendously?"

"Yes."

"It's Kaputsky, then. What can it all mean? I only got a cable from him
yesterday."

"Perhaps the cable was a mistake."

"Ah, or a forgery. My heaven! could Perigord have sent it?"

"Who is Kaputsky--who is Perigord?" demanded Cressingham with a
splendid assumption of jealous impatience. "It seems to me, Kate, that
you have a lot of secrets."

"Kaputsky is a friend, one high in office; the other is a bitter enemy
of our society. Let me think! There is a reason in all this. I almost
commence to see. Perhaps my abduction had been planned. Perigord grows
more daring every day, they say. It is true that I have been warned
quite often lately. At any rate, we are safe since it is not that
other. Something grave must have happened, though, for Kaputsky to take
this step; some great danger must have threatened, and he has adopted
this high-handed plan of saving me, knowing how obstinate I am at
times. That must be it, yes, that must be it. Ah, how I wish I knew!
Tell me, Frank, what were the women like who carried me?"

"Foreigners both" (Madame's maid was English); "Germans, I think, or
Austrians. They were dressed in black, and seemed pretty plain and
middle-aged. I did not notice anything else; indeed, I saw them only
for a second, as they left immediately they had disposed of you."

"I wonder what they did with my servants; ah, I remember! the footman
put the chloroform in my face. He must be one of us."

"Very likely; at any rate you can be sure that your friend, Kaputsky,
would know how to avoid publicity in the affair. Well, I suppose all we
can do is wait. What about breakfast, Kate?"

"A good idea!" Madame prepared to eat. The viands had grown cold in
their dispute, but both were hungry and inclined as well to appreciate
the two small bottles of sweet champagne which Bellair's thoughtfulness
had provided. The meal was quite a bright affair, for Madame's fears
had been dissipated and Cressingham was entirely contented with the
manner in which an ugly situation had been settled. Afterwards Madame
reminded him that the spy outside must be considered, and propriety.
Cressingham agreed with her, and departed.

Madame had not offered once to kiss him; indeed he had never found her
so cold, and felt piqued to understand the reason.

It might have been that pique which induced him to approach his
dressing-room and there to don fresh and immaculate apparel, to spend a
long hour at his toilet table, and finally emerge a spotless and very
handsome dandy. But his trouble was wasted on Madame, if indeed he had
undergone that trouble on her account. Lying back in the chair with her
eyes shut, she maintained perfect silence for so long that he guessed
she must be sleeping. He turned at last in despair to Bellair for
companionship, but when about to speak the lackey put his fingers to
his lips with a gesture too impressive to be misunderstood, and walking
slowly to the room door stood with his back against it. Then he lifted
both his hands and commenced to use the deaf and dumb alphabet, which
fortunately Lord Francis understood.

"Madame listens," he telegraphed on his fingers. "I heard what you told
her. Keep it up. Ask me questions."

Cressingham nodded. "What the devil do you mean by fooling round that
door, sir," he demanded sharply.

Bellair answered impertinently: "I know my duty, sare. I am not
responsible to you."

"No matter; I shall not allow that sort of practice here. Madame has
not wings, therefore she cannot fly. You have no need to spy on her in
that fashion."

"Mon Dieu!" growled the man. "I was told to keep an eye on her, and
must obey instructions."

"Who gave you such orders, you insolent dog. Not Monsieur
Kaputsky--I'll swear."

"What--you know----"

"Yes, I know, and shall presently inform him of your insolence."

"A thousand pardons, Monseigneur. I had no intention to
offend--I--I----"

"Keep silent then, and let me try to forget your presence here."

Bellair smiled his approbation, and took a chair some distance off.
Cressingham yawned and buried his face in a book.

At last Madame wanted tea; it was after four and she was so thirsty.
Bellair was called into the room, and after some by-play, which
involved the acceptance of a heavy bribe, he was induced to go out for
tea and also to order dinner, provided that he was allowed to lock
Monseigneur in with Madame during his absence. Naturally Madame was at
first terribly shocked at the mere suggestion of such a thing, but she
was hungry, and Cressingham specious. Were they not affianced? Madame
blushed divinely and consented.

She had effected quite a toilette during her lonely hours. The man
marvelled at her appearance and complimented her quite ardently.

Madame blushed (really she appeared under twenty).

No recollection of Miss Elliott came to disturb him. He (pardon him,
Fidelity; Constancy, forgive!) approached the chair, and kneeling by
Madame implored a kiss. Madame held up a rosy forefinger to admonish
him.

"Frank, dear, be generous; am I not at your mercy? I trust you, Frank!"
she whispered.

Her affectation baffled him. A few short hours before had she not
begged him to accompany her abroad, had she not nestled in his arms, a
passionate world-forgetting creature, anxious only for his love? And
now----He could not understand her, therefore quite humanly became
offended at her coldness.

And Madame! She was in her element. All her life and bright
intelligence had been devoted to the exploration of the hearts of
men. What wonder then that she knew them thoroughly; her knowledge
had been bought dearly enough, as Madame in infrequent moments of
self-questioning reflection had sometimes recognized remorsefully.
Luckily for her peace of mind, she did not often think. She was not all
a bad woman, and she still possessed the remnant of a heart which in
her girlhood had been so powerful a means of government, that had her
fortune been to meet and love a proper man, it would have resolved her
life into a path just as far removed from evil as now it was remote
from good.

She loved Cressingham, partly because of the many manly virtues which
she could not help discerning in his nature. But years of evil had
printed their ineffable stamp upon her mind.

"You have ceased to love me," said Lord Francis reproachfully.

Madame smiled to remember how many men had said the same thing to her
when treated similarly. "Would you care?" she whispered.

He bit his lip in sheer vexation. Yesterday he had despised her
proffered love; to-day it seemed desirable because withheld.

"How can you ask me such a thing?" he cried; "you know how I love you,
Kate!"

Madame found his words very sweet to listen to; she had not heard many
such from him of latter days, therefore they ministered a comforting
incense to her vanity.

She gave him a languishing glance. "How should I remember, dear, you
have not told me for--ah, so many days."

"With all my heart!" he answered, and Madame sighed and fell to musing,
well content to be wooed thus, her mood of the moment being peaceful
and composed. Cressingham watched her as she dreamed, speculating idly
on the subject of her thoughts, drinking in her strange wild beauty and
almost loving her. It seemed to him that nature had made a terrible
mistake in the forming of this woman. Why had a shell so beautiful
been fashioned if to be deprived of that crown of beauty, a perfect
soul? There came to his mind the thought of other women whose names
still shone like stars in the shadowy annals of the world. He wondered
half-doubtingly, if their charms could really have eclipsed Madame's,
and wondered more to remember and realize how comparatively few were
those women cherished by history whose supreme beauty had been equalled
by their virtues. "Is there not something evil in beauty?" he asked
himself, and he found the question impossible to answer.

"Do you know what I am thinking?" asked Madame suddenly.

"No--tell me, dear."

"I am wishing I had met you years ago, that we had married, that I
was--ah, do not laugh at me, Frank--that I was a--mother, the mother of
your child!"

"Kate!" He stared at her in swift dismay, but Madame was serious.

She continued dreamily: "Really, dear, I have always longed to have a
child; every woman does, I think. Do you know, when I see babies with
their nurses in the street I often stop to speak to them and kiss their
hands. Their little hands appeal to one so, so small and crumpled-up
they are, when they stretch out to me they make me feel tight here;"
she put her hand to her heart.

Cressingham felt strangely shocked, just as shocked as he would had he
listened to a better woman uttering a blasphemy. And yet, somehow he
was compelled to sympathize, for Madame was a good woman just then. Her
eyes were dreamy and bright with dew, her lips parted in an ecstacy of
meditation. It was as though she dreamed indeed, and believing herself
a mother clasping her infant to her heart.

But what a douche on his imaginings! He found something actually
revolting in the idea of Madame as a mother. Getting to his feet he
paced the floor in silence until Bellair returned with Madame's tea.

The man vouchsafed a piece of information as he entered. "At midnight,
Monseigneur, Monsieur will come for Madame."

Cressingham nodded, Madame smiled, and when Bellair had gone grew quite
hilarious, for she was pleased that a term had been placed on her
incarceration even in so soft a prison, so intolerant was her nature
of restraint. Cressingham, feeling the need of exercise, continued his
walk until dinner had arrived, keeping up, the while, a running fire of
chaffing conversation.

After an excellent dinner, Madame puffed a cigarette. She called her
lover to her.

"Kiss me," she commanded.

He brushed her forehead with his lips.

A sudden rage possessed her at his coldness, and quite beside herself
she struck him sharply on the mouth.

He started back maddened at the blow, but next second Madame repented.

But Cressingham, white with anger, and in spite of her whimpering
entreaties, hurried from the room, banging the door fiercely behind him.

An hour of meditation made him remorseful, too. After all, she had
but given way to a moment's temper, and had instantly repented. He
was a man, she only a woman; he should have pardoned her. Even as he
relented, there came a soft tapping at the outer door. He turned in
time to see enter the apartment two women thickly veiled, behind them
Von Oeltjen, his finger on his lip.

Bellair made a comprehensive gesture, and the women brushing by
Cressingham, entered Madame's room noiseless as phantoms, closing the
door soundlessly behind them. A short pause succeeded, then a sharp
quickly-smothered cry--and a long silence, which no one cared to break.

Cressingham felt boiling in his heart a mixture of wild impulses, some
of which madly urged him to help Madame, some to rush away, away,
anywhere, anywhere in or out of the world, so that he might rid his
brain of thought, and rest. As in a horrid dream he saw the women
presently emerge from the room bearing Madame's body like a corpse
between them. She was utterly unconscious, and rested in their grasp so
still and helpless that his heart cried out in very pity for her state,
the more perhaps because her face had lost a great part of its beauty
in the pallor of the drug. He watched them bear her carefully away,
and noted, half-dazed, that the house was wrapped in silence, that the
clock's hands almost stood at two. One dim consolation only seemed
remaining: presently he would be alone.

But that too faded. Von Oeltjen approached him. "Better put on your
thickest coat," he murmured, "the night is bitter cold."

"What!" said Cressingham stupidly; "I am wanted too?"

"Why, certainly! Hasten, please."

Soon he found himself in a carriage seated beside the Count, a carriage
that bore them swiftly and unfalteringly through the gloom, for a grey
mist enveloped the city, and the streets through which they passed were
utterly deserted.




CHAPTER VIII.--THE TORTURE OF THE THUMBSCREWS

THE drive was long and wearisome; just before daylight broke they
departed from the high road to enter an avenue of leafless larch trees,
and in the grey light of dawn drew up at last before the ruins of a
grand old manor house built in the best Elizabethan style, but long
given over to decay. Cressingham with much surprise recognized the
place as the property of old Lord Sedgewick, a remote connexion of his
family, and knew therefore that he must be in Kent and not far distant
from the sea. The whole house was dark, and seemed deserted. Oeltjen
led the way to the farthest door of the left wing, which he opened
with a latch-key. Entering, they climbed by match-light a flight of
narrow, winding stairs and passed along a dusky corridor into a large
double-bedded room.

Oeltjen lighted a candle, and throwing himself into a chair commenced
at once to undress himself. "You must excuse me," he remarked, "but I'm
dead tired. I have not rested these eight-and-forty hours."

"But what am I to do?" said Cressingham.

"Well, I can't say, unless you follow my example. There is no one
in the place except Perigord's servants and his prisoners. Perigord
himself will not arrive before the evening."

"Then why the dickens was I brought here?"

"To ensure your safety; you are a marked man, my friend."

Cressingham stamped impatiently to the window, and when next he turned
to question his companion found that Oeltjen had got half-clothed
between the blankets and was already fast asleep. With a muttered oath
he approached the other bed and cast himself upon it, but he was more
weary than he guessed, and presently forgot his discontent in dreamless
sleep.

In the afternoon Oeltjen aroused him, and they wandered together
through long halls and stately but cobwebbed corridors to the kitchen
on the lower floor, where a servant in charge gave them cold meat,
bread and cheese and a flask of cider. Afterwards they endeavoured to
explore the house, but soon tired of that dusty task. Many rooms were
locked, but those unbarred which they could enter all told the one sad
story of desertion and neglect. Furniture of massive type and old-world
structure and design there was in plenty, but moth-eaten, dust-covered
and deplorably decayed, while the carpets simply rotted on the floors.
It was a spectacle to make a careful housewife weep, and Cressingham
and Oeltjen were filled with generous anger at the shameful ruin that
they saw. They discovered at last in the ground floor of the right wing
a billiard room which was in a slightly better state of preservation
and bore traces of recent use. No doubt the caretaker in his master's
absence was used to entertain the village champions there. At any rate
the table was fit to play upon, and several cues were tipped. The two
friends, glad of such recreation, whiled away the waiting hours in
amiable rivalry. Late in the evening they dined on the remains of their
lunch--other food there was none--and when at about ten o'clock they
heard the sound of an approaching cavalcade they were in a condition of
mind to welcome Satan himself, so that he brought them a relief from
the dull silence of that sombre mansion.

The new-comers proved to be Perigord, Colonel Elliott, the man
Guillaume Bellair--and a fourth, a tall and heavily-bearded Norseman,
who looked every inch a sailor. Perigord gravely saluted them, giving
Cressingham a word of thanks, then he introduced them both to the
Norseman--Captain Fagerholm, he called him.

Colonel Elliott greeted Cressingham kindly, but with a certain reserve
of manner. The old gentleman was a narrow-shouldered, thin, and
excessively sallow person; his face suggested a nagging liver and
choleric disposition: just now he was on the qui vive of anxiety,
and in his struggle to appear calm and unconcerned, his manner was
unconsciously pathetic, and his eyes constantly appealed to one with
the unspoken words: "Am I not quite a Spartan? Please do not pretend
to think me over-anxious for the safety of my child. Above all do not
pity me!" In reality, the Colonel, though quick-tempered, was one of
the kindest and warmest-hearted men in the world. As they proceeded
indoors, Cressingham, who was very fond of him, whispered in his ear:
"How have you arranged about your servants and the public, regarding
your daughter's disappearance?"

The Colonel's lip trembled as he replied: "I have not seen them.
Perigord met me at the station and gave me the news. He made me write
a note to the butler saying Francine was with me at Dover, and he took
the note to my house himself and explained matters; he was very kind."

Cressingham whispered back: "Who is Perigord, Colonel?"

The old man shook his head. "I don't know, although I have known him
for these ten years past. He's a right good fellow though, and has done
me many services. Francine is awfully fond of him."

"What! Fran----your daughter knows him?"

"Yes!" Here was more food for Cressingham's mental consumption, but he
was not given time to digest it just then.

Perigord had led them to the very end of the building, and now pausing
before a ponderous iron-bound door, was fitting a huge key into its
massive lock. The bolt shot back with a sharp snap, and through the
open door entrance was disclosed a wide and stately chamber, which,
though lighted with waxen tapers manifold, was nevertheless so spacious
that it scarcely seemed illumined, and its comers faded into actual
gloom. The room extended from one side of the building to the other;
three of its walls were slashed with narrow windows, now however
closely shuttered and barred, and the fourth, through which they had
entered, was hidden altogether behind long drooping sheets of rich
embroidered arras, centuries old and much the worse for wear. Two rows
of stiff armour-plated warriors kept watch and ward, drawn up erect,
visors down, their mailed hands threateningly grasping sword, mace
or battle-axe, forming as they stood a wide and splendid avenue to a
dais at the farthest end of the apartment. Memory woke in Cressingham
when he recognized the figures, and vaguely he recalled a half-fearful
hour of his boyhood spent in gazing at those speechless emblems of a
bye-gone warlike age. More vaguely still he remembered that his cousin,
Lord Sedgewick, had once possessed the craze of collecting arms, armour
and the dreadful implements of torture used by old Norman barons and
other feudal lords; his glance sought and found quite near at hand a
skeleton rack, reposing between two red-cross knights; farther on two
rusty, hateful-looking boots and, scattered here and there among the
mail, pincers, thumbscrews, leaden cranium caskets and ugly little beds
of death.

With a shudder he turned from these grim objects to contemplate the
living tenants of the room. On the dais a man was seated on a chair
between two standing black-clad figures. Approaching, he saw that the
chair was of iron, and the man securely fastened there by bands of
stained and rusted steel. His mouth was tightly bandaged, but his black
eyes sparkled with an eager and venomous brilliancy. He was thick-set,
middle-aged and bald, and his face was of a low and vulgar type, with
its receding forehead, nose flat and sprawling like a negro's, jaw
ponderous and brutal.

Perigord, last to enter the apartment, softly closed the door, then
strode down the avenue without a pause until he had reached the dais.
There he stopped while the others gathered round him, his eyes fixed
steadily upon the prisoner. "Rupert Klein," he said, his slow, sonorous
accents strangely suggestive of calm and well-resolved determination;
"twelve months ago I saved you from Siberia because you once rescued
a child from the barbarism of a drunken ruffian. I thought for that
reason there must be some good in you. Since then Baron Lavalovski
has paid for my mistaken judgment with his life. I have reason to
believe that his is not the only murder to your credit. I have better
reason to know that on account of your peculiar talents you have been
recently chosen by your society as instrument for the perpetration of
a certain crime--ha! I see I am not mistaken!" (The man had writhed in
his chair.) "However, I am not here to judge you now--only to seek from
you some information which is in your power to give. I require you to
tell me the name and whereabouts of the island whereon the chief of
your society sometimes resides. I already know something--enough to
prevent your deceiving me. Will you speak? If so, nod your head, and
the bandage shall be removed."

The man remained still as marble, staring straight before him.

Perigord made a sign to the guards. They stooped down and fastened
something to the prisoner's manacled right hand.

"One!" said Perigord slowly, and paused.

"Two!" another pause. "Three!" Klein's face turned suddenly purple; for
a second he strained like a tiger at his bonds, then sharply nodded his
head.

Perigord said: "Take off the gag." But scarcely was this done when the
prisoner sent forth a wild, unearthly shout for help, a scream so full
of physical anguish that it froze the blood in some of his hearers'
hearts.

It was, however, quickly smothered, and the man gagged again.

"Four!" intoned Perigord, his voice utterly unmoved.

Cressingham, who watched the prisoner intently, saw his eyes roll
in their sockets and the whites gradually fill with blood. Feeling
unmanned and sick, he turned away. Oeltjen was staring horror-struck,
his face white as death; Colonel Elliott trembled in every limb;
Captain Fagerholm was livid with emotion. But no one spoke or seemed to
think of interference.

"Five!" said Perigord. Klein uttered a groan so fierce and prolonged
that it penetrated the mufflings of the gag and was distinctly audible.

The horrid sound broke down Cressingham's control. "I cannot stand
this!" he cried. "Mr. Perigord, you must stop this fiendish work; what
are you thinking of? Gentlemen, I appeal to you--Oeltjen, Colonel
Elliott!"

For answer Perigord stamped his foot, and as if by magic five men
issued from shadows where they had previously lurked unseen. In the
hand of each rested a revolver. "You see," said Perigord with icy
immobility.

"My God!" cried the young man. "Do you mean----"

"I mean that I shall brook no interference, sir!" At a nod, two of
the men approached, and before Cressingham had recovered his surprise
his wrist and arms were grasped and he was helpless. Perigord coldly
returned to business: "Six!" he said.

Klein's eyes, which had shone with a light of hope during the
altercation, grew dull with desperation. He nodded his head. A second
time was the bandage removed.

"Water!" he gasped. A cup was put to his lips, which he drained at a
draught.

"Now!" said Perigord.

"The Island of Gotkska," he muttered faintly,

"Where is that?"

"North of Gothland, in the Baltic."

"Gag him!" said Perigord quietly. When this was done: "Put the screw
on his left thumb, the point well beneath the nail--so!" (he bent over
to examine their work). "That is well, now turn firmly but not too
quickly. One!"

Klein gave a muffled shriek of agony.

"For God's sake stop, this is wanton, the fellow has told you!" almost
sobbed Cressingham, in whose eyes stood tears of generous rage.

"Lies!" returned the other briefly. "Two! three!"

Klein groaning horribly nodded his head, continuing to groan after the
gag was gone.

"Well," said Perigord, for the first time showing some impatience,
"speak quickly and the truth; this is your last chance to save yourself
the torture of the boot!"

"Archipelago; Anarchos!" gasped the prisoner between his moans.

Perigord drew a sharp breath and his eyes glittered like stars.

"Latitude and longitude?" he demanded quickly.

"I don't know. It lies midway between Kos and Amargos."

"Turkey or Greece?"

"Turkey! For the love of God take off the screws!"

Perigord eyed him narrowly, still perhaps in doubt, but at that instant
came a fearful interruption. The door through which all had entered was
suddenly thrown open, and a loud, strident voice cried out in Russian:
"Master, master, save yourself. Come quickly this way. The Anarchists!
a bomb, a bomb!" A man stood in the doorway, pale and panic-struck,
imploring wildly with his hands.

Perigord demanded sharply "Where?" but the man, unable to speak,
pointed a trembling finger at the farthest wall.

Already the executioners and the servants had taken fright, and without
asking permission were retreating in disorder. Cressingham alone of the
others had understood the man's words and he explained them briefly to
his companions, while Perigord stood dumbly listening.

Something that he appeared to hear roused him soon to action. "Come,
gentlemen," he cried, "the fellow may be right! We had better retire."

"And leave that poor wretch to die perhaps?" cried Cressingham
indignantly.

The young man sprang to the dais and attempted to lift the chair
bodily, seeing at once the uselessness of seeking to release the
prisoner. He found the chair, however, fastened firmly to the floor.
Putting forth all his strength he tried to uptear the screws, unheeding
a dull booming roar beneath his very feet. While he strained he was
caught suddenly in a giant's grip and borne struggling vainly at a
swift pace down the avenue of armoured figures, his ears ringing with
Klein's shrieks and desperate yells for help. But he was held powerless
as a babe, and when Perigord put him down outside the door he was
breathless and exhausted.

They had not long to wait for further developments. A second explosion
followed quickly on the heels of the first, and this a fatal one.
First, a sharp report like the firing of a cannon close at hand; then
a rending crash which shook the floor beneath their feet and made the
whole building tremble. Peering through the door, they could see for
one short instant the farthest wall of the armoury crumpling up and
collapsing inwards like a folding hand, then came a thunderous noise,
which dwarfed all others by comparison; the air was quickly choked
with dust, and all about their heads fell bricks and plaster with a
wild and awful clattering. Silence and the dark succeeded; a deathly
silence, a dense, impenetrable darkness. Cressingham stood stupefied
and breathless, unable to realize he lived. He heard presently a slight
rasping sound, then caught a flicker of light some distance off.
Perigord had struck a lucifer and stood calmly surveying the dreadful
ruin around him. "Is any one hurt or injured?" he asked, his voice
sounding strangely harsh and unfamiliar.

At the question Cressingham realized that his left arm hung limp and
helpless at his side, but he felt it carefully and found it was not
broken. "Not I," he answered, "thanks to you, Mr. Perigord." Colonel
Elliott was badly shaken and had his face cut open by some falling
plaster, and some of the servants were much bruised, but not one
seriously injured. Perigord, Oeltjen and Captain Fagerholm had escaped
untouched. Presently they all made their way by a distant staircase to
the ground floor, and quitting the building hurried out to seek the
fate of Klein. They found him after a little search lying beneath a
heap of debris quite dead and mangled horribly. There was no need to
free him from his bonds, the chair had been smashed to fragments, but
Perigord ordered the screws to be removed from his dead hands and his
body taken to the kitchen.

The gentlemen were still surveying the ruin by the light of a hastily
constructed bonfire, when they became conscious of the presence of a
stranger who came upon them like a spirit from the dark.

It was Prince Carlos. On seeing him Perigord led the whole party to
the kitchen, and dismissing the servants gave the new comer a succinct
account of the proceedings. The Prince, whom Cressingham regarded
curiously, appeared strangely anxious, but his face grew composed when
he had heard everything, and he was the first to propose a scheme which
might explain to the world the whole occurrence. His idea was that
Perigord, to whom the mansion had been lent by Lord Sedgewick, should
declare the explosion the result of a large gas escape within the
armoury, and he strongly urged Perigord not to conceal Klein's body but
to notify the authorities at once of his death and himself attend the
necessarily ensuing inquest.

Perigord having listened to him politely to the end, with a commanding
gesture called for the attention of all.

"Gentlemen!" he said impressively, "this accident was caused by an
escape of gas. That is a fact to be understood and remembered by us
all. I shall myself pay for the damage done, but there will be no
inquest, as fortunately no one was injured by the explosion. Klein's
body will be carried at once by my servants on board my yacht, the Sea
Hawk, which now awaits its freight not three miles distant. Captain
Fagerholm, you will proceed at once to the Sea Hawk and steam with
all speed to Naples, disposing of the corpse en route. You will take
especial care of Madame Katherin Viyella, who is already imprisoned in
my state room, and more particularly when you reach Naples; she must
hold no communication with the shore--you understand. Prince Carlos,
Colonel Elliott and Lord Francis Cressingham, you will accompany
Captain Fagerholm. I shall myself join you at Naples, whereupon we
shall proceed immediately to effect the rescue of Miss Francine
Elliott."

"Thank God!" cried the Colonel.

"And now, gentlemen, au revoir. Captain Fagerholm, you know the way?"

The Captain saluted. "Excellency, yes."

"Good; lose no time then; your freight shall reach the boat as soon as
you. Good-night!"

"Good-night, Excellency!" The Captain strode immediately to the door,
followed by the three gentlemen under orders. He guided them across a
score of fallow fields and wasted meadows to the sea. They encountered
no living soul in their march, for their route was circuitous and
avoided habitations like the plague. At a short distance from the beach
a little launch swung darkly at anchor, but at a whistle from the
captain it sprang to life and glided shorewards. Even before it touched
the sand, Bellair with three others came upon them carrying between
them on a sling a square packing case into which had been doubled up
the mangled corpse of Klein.

In unbroken silence the embarkation took place, and twenty minutes
afterwards they boarded a beautiful 500 ton yacht which lay with
smoking funnels in mid-stream. Cressingham was shown into a cabin
furnished with a luxury and magnificence that astonished him, knowing
as he did Perigord's simple and austere habits of life. In a rack
reposed decanters of spirit and liqueurs which to taste was to enjoy,
and he found an open cabinet replete with choice tobacco, pipes and
many brands of cigarettes and rare Havannas. He chose a Russian
cigarette, and the dainty weed was scarce consumed before the motion
of the yacht apprised him it was under way and steaming seawards with
surprising speed. In another hour he forgot his troubles and all recent
happenings in the pangs of mal de mer. Lord Francis Cressingham was
a bad sailor.




CHAPTER IX.--THE VOYAGE OF THE "SEA HAWK"

FIFTY-FOUR hours slipped by before Cressingham was sufficiently
recovered to try the deck, and even then it was with fear and
trembling. Tempted, however, by the smooth and gliding motion of the
yacht, he left his cabin and weakly made his way up the companion
stairs. He found Madame the Countess of Hobenstein reclining at full
length on a deck lounge, and in that position holding a small court
composed of Captain Fagerholm, Colonel Elliott and Prince Carlos, all
of whom were paying her every possible attention.

When she caught sight of the new comer, she promptly dismissed the
others, ordering them away with a quite regal indifference to their
feelings. Cressingham was glad to take one of the vacated chairs, for
he felt "anyhow," but Madame noting his pallor recalled Prince Carlos
and commanded him to bring her a bottle of champagne. The Prince gave
a black scowl at his rival, but obeyed, although he did not return in
person. Madame made Cressingham drink quite half the bottle, and sipped
a glass herself.

"What a liar you are, Frank, my boy!" she murmured presently, regarding
him with a little enigmatical smile.

His face flushed a little. "Tu quoque," he answered her.

"So they have me by the heels at last, and you, the man I loved, have
done it. No other could have. Not Perigord with all his millions and
his minions."

"Don't make a scene, please; I'm not equal to it."

"Oh, of course not. You may ruin me, but I must not make a scene about
it! What a fool I was, wasn't I?"

"What's done--is done, Kate."

"The funny part of it is that I don't yet know whether I hate or love
you most. I ought to hate you, shouldn't I?"

"Oh, hate me if you choose."

"You don't care, is that it? Did you fool me with your love as well?"

Madame rose to her elbow, her eyes glittering. Cressingham felt too ill
to trifle with her, especially as there was no longer any need to do
so. "I have known you exactly for what you are, these weeks past," he
said wearily.

Madame was silent for quite a time, then she muttered in a very low
voice: "I understand now a lot that previously puzzled me. I thought
you were so good, so pure-minded, so honourable. Tell me, Frank, did
you ever really care for me?"

"Once."

"Ah, thanks for that, dear. It would have hurt so to have lost
everything. I can always think of that whatever comes. Do you know,
Frank, I love you still, in spite of all."

"Please don't."

"But you owe me something surely, Frank; a very little--but something;
are you not conqueror?"

"What do you want?"

"Only your friendship, dear. Please be kind to me until this voyage is
over. Ah, never fear; I shall have time to expiate my sins. I hug to my
heart no delusions on that score. I know my fate. I am in the power of
men who know no mercy. They will either kill me or confine me in some
terrible prison house, where I shall grow old in utter loneliness. Pity
me, Frank, and grant me what I ask; it will not be for long, and is not
so very much, is it, dear?"

Tears glistened in Madame's beautiful eyes, two big diamond drops
that slowly grew in size trembled on the lashes and then rolled down
her peach-like cheeks. She had never appeared more pathetic, nor more
perfect. Her words entered into Cressingham's heart, for he recognized
the truth in them. He had been compelled to stand by and witness the
torturing of Klein, and he could not help believing that some terrible
fate was reserved for this poor creature, who in spite of all her
crimes was still a woman, and wonderfully beautiful.

"I shall do my best," he murmured, then sighed--"We are all puppets,
fate-handled puppets, Kate. What I have done I have been constrained
to do. Perhaps it has been the same with you. I shall try at least to
think so, since I am least worthy in the world to be your judge."

Madame smiled, and dried her eyes. "You are a good fellow, Frank. I
wish I might have been a better woman; but let us try to forget. We
have a day or two before us which we may enjoy--after that, for me at
least, the deluge!"

She cried out suddenly: "Captain Fagerholm! Colonel Elliott!"

The gentlemen hurried to her delighted to have been recalled to
grace. Cressingham noted with amaze that each was already a devoted
slave--even the Colonel, in spite of his three-score years and
patchwork liver.

"I am going to give a dinner party!" said Madame; "a dinner party on
deck, may I?"

"Why certainly," said the Captain heartily. "That is, provided you
invite me."

"As if there were need for that proviso," said Madame with a look
that brought a flush to the Captain's cheeks. "My guests shall be:
His Highness Prince--Carlos you call him, is it not so? Lord Francis,
Colonel Elliott, and you Captain--ah, you will have the place of honour
on my right hand; are you not my guardian, eh?" She gave a rippling,
mellow laugh. "Then after dinner, if you are very good, I shall feed
you with sugar plums as a reward of virtue. Are you not charmed?"

"Utterly, Madame," responded all.

"Then to you, Captain, I give the task of seeing that everything is
properly prepared. Let me see; first we shall have shellfish--with
Sauterne; second, soup (Julien) with claret, say Medoc; next, a single
entree, say quail roasted, with asparagus and chipped potatoes--and
the wine, something light, ah yes, Lachryma Christi, that will do.
Then the piece de resistance; ah, you English, I must study you
in this--well, then, roast beef, we shall call it boeuf roti, so
that everybody may be satisfied; with that, two wines, Hiedsieck for
you men, for me Veuve Cliquot. Next--ah, you need not lift up your
hands, you men; I also, although a woman, detest pastry, but I shall
allow you to have cheese and cafe-avec, then with me Benedictine or
Chartreuse. Does the menu please you?"

"Madame, you are a perfect hostess!" cried the Colonel for all.

"Then, Captain, see to it, my reputation is in your hands. It is now
eleven; we shall dine at eight, and here where the deck is so nice and
wide, by the light of the stars and electricity."

Madame rattled on and kept her court the whole day occupied with her
pretty coquetries and light-hearted merriment. She showed herself a
perfect mistress of the art of entertainment and not a dull moment
was allowed to any near her, so full she was of life and sparkling
spirits, so fluent her conversation, so manifold her moods and methods
of engrossing male attention. Only Prince Carlos kept from her, jealous
perhaps of Cressingham. He remained below deck all day, and when called
to dinner put in his appearance tardily and with a manner of manifest
reluctance. But Madame soon changed all that. She seemed determined
that her party should prove an unqualified success, and that all her
guests should be entirely pleased. Therefore to the Prince she showed
herself so gracious, so meltingly coquettish, that presently he was
charmed from his reserve. And yet so perfect was her art that not for
a second did any other feel neglected. To each and all with quick and
sparkling change was addressed a different charm, a smile, a glance
of witchery, or subtle blandishment, and the while--never an instant
still--the bandied ball of conversation was flung back and forth
between the five, gaining each time it left Madame added lustre from
her sparkling wit.

Cressingham, who knew something by experience of Madame's powers of
fascination, was nevertheless completely dazzled by her latest effort,
for never before had he witnessed her exert herself so thoroughly to
please. He was charmed with the result, and reflected with a measure
of sadness on the wantonness with which nature had bestowed such
precious gifts. But the yacht had commenced to roll a little during
the meal, and the young man before long ceased to interest himself in
idle speculation. It soon required a fierce effort on his part even to
keep his seat, yet he pretended to eat and tried to make his companions
believe that he was enjoying himself. Every time the vessel pitched
he felt that the bottom was going out of things and that he, like
Gerontius, trembled on the dizzy brink of some sheer infinite descent
and needs must sink and sink into that vast abyss. Then when the dive
followed the pitch he realized the comparative bliss he had the second
previous enjoyed and made miserably aware of the emotions of Lucifer
falling from Heaven, wondered at what precise instant he would be
required to yield up the ghost, that is to say, his dinner.

The psychological moment soon arrived. After the Benedictine, Madame
produced a handsomely decorated box of sweets, tied up with dainty
ribands whose ends were sealed with bright green wax. "These are my
sugar plums," she announced, "but before I open the box I must tell you
how I got them. Listen! once upon a time, about a week ago, a pretty
lady--that's me--wanted a great statesman to do her a great favour. He
refused at first; because, well, because----She coaxed and flattered
him, and finally he gave her a half promise. Then he discovered that
if he kept his word he would betray an official secret; so he did not
know what to do. He did not want to fail in his duty, he did not want
to offend the pretty lady. He thought and thought, and finally made up
his mind. He sent the pretty lady two offerings, a note enclosed with
each. The first was a diamond necklace, and its letter said: 'Madame,
keep this gift, and wearing it command my love and ask my honour what
you will.' The second offering was this box of sweeties; the letter is
here, I shall read it, my friends, to show you how clever an Englishman
can be at times: 'Madame, keep this gift, it is simpler than the other,
but I think you needs must find it more acceptable, for it is offered
you with feelings of devotion and sincere respect.'"

Her audience exchanged smiling glances, and Madame continued: "It is
unnecessary, gentlemen, to finish the story since you see that I have
kept the sugar plums. Prince, will you open them?"

Prince Carlos took the box and slashed the ribands with a penknife.
Within reposed a score of richly candied fruits, and in their very
midst a little nest of wool. On the wool lay a marquise ring set with
five priceless emeralds. Everyone gave a little gasp of amaze, but
Madame caught up the jewel with a cry of rapture and kissed it ardently.

"It was so hard to return the necklace," she explained. "After all, the
great statesman was nice to the pretty lady, wasn't he?" She was just
like a child in her joy and excitement, and the others found it a real
pleasure to watch her, she had so bewitched them; all, that is to say,
excepting Cressingham, who was too seasick to be aught but cynical.

Madame took up the sweetmeats presently and extracting one between two
dainty fingers extended it towards the Prince. He bowed and murmured:
"I never eat sweets, you know that, Madame."

She pouted prettily, and turned to the Colonel: "You sir, will not
disdain me too; do not dare!"

The Colonel thought for one fleeting second sadly of his liver, but
like a gallant old gentleman put fear behind him and ate the dainty
up. Captain Fagerholm followed suit, but Cressingham's psychological
moment had arrived. The very odour of the rich candied stuff effected
the disaster which he had fought off for so long. With the courage of
a hero he put it in his mouth, but at that stage heroism vanished. He
could not swallow it, his throat, his every nerve and sense went into
sudden revolt.

Uttering a wild, unintelligible gurgle of excuse, he sprang to his feet
and made a bolt for his cabin, where happily arrived without mishap he
was very ill indeed for quite an hour afterwards. He slept fitfully
that night and his sleep was so filled with wretched dreams that in the
morning he woke seedy and depressed, and suffering from what the patent
medicine advertisements describe as "Prognostications of evil," and
what he himself called "blue devils."

A stiff whiskey and soda did him very little good, but it gave him
strength to stand a severe shock presently. He had just commenced to
dress when a tap sounded on his door and there entered the second
officer, a grim, hard-visaged Dane, who not being a ladies' man had not
ventured on the quarter-deck, and therefore Cressingham met him now for
the first time.

"Good morning," said Cressingham, suspending operations and sitting
down on his bunk, one leg in, one out of his trousers. "Anything I can
do; you see I'm dressing."

The officer replied in German: "Captain Fagerholm and one of the
passengers, an old man, are lying in their cabins stone dead."

"Dead!" echoed Cressingham stupidly. "Dead, not dead?"

"Yes!" The man was stolid as an owl, he did not appear at all agitated
or surprised, only a little annoyed and much perplexed. "They must have
died in their sleep quite peacefully," he continued. "There are no
marks on their bodies, and their faces are perfectly composed. Do you
think they could have been poisoned, sir?"

Cressingham feverishly recommenced to dress. "When was this?" he
demanded.

"An hour ago, sir. I found the Captain first, and when I saw he was
dead I started in to tell the others. The little dark man, a prince,
isn't he, found the old gentleman, Colonel--ah, I forget his name. The
Prince is on deck now talking to the woman passenger. He asked me to
tell you."

"I see. I suppose you are the captain now?"

"I suppose so. The Prince has asked me to touch at Spartivento, as he
wishes to cable the news somewhere. I don't know quite whether to do as
he says or not; you see. Captain Fagerholm was going straight to Napoli
under strict orders to stop nowhere. Naturally those orders should now
apply to me. Do you not think so?"

"Undoubtedly, Mr.----?"

"Voerloeff."

"Mr. Voerloeff. I thoroughly agree with you, and, moreover, I happen to
know that Mr. Perigord will be anxiously awaiting our arrival and would
be much annoyed if we delayed our journey by an hour."

"That settles the matter, then. I must now go on deck, but if you will
send for me when you are ready I shall take you to see the bodies."

Cressingham no longer felt a trace of sea-sickness. Voerloeff's
news had effected a complete cure by virtue of its shock and horrid
suddenness. The young man felt unable to think at first of anything
but the dreadful facts, but soon he commenced to ask himself reasons,
to seek causes, to suspect and argue with himself. He went to inspect
the bodies with Voerloeff, and found Captain Fagerholm lying as the
officer had described, and the only sign which he could detect himself
of anything wrong was a slight blueish swelling round the nostrils
and lips. Otherwise he might have been taken to be enjoying deep and
peaceful slumber, so calm and reposeful were his features. He must have
died without consciousness of pain and actually while sleeping, for his
eyelids were closed and in nowise strained, while the eyes beneath were
turned slightly upwards as is always the case in sleep.

"It looks like heart disease," said Voerloeff, after a prolonged
examination of the Captain's corpse.

Cressingham shut the cabin door and answered: "It was not heart
disease, Voerloeff. It was poison. Last night the woman passenger,
who is really as you know a prisoner, gave us a dinner party, and
afterwards sugar plums. The dinner was not poisoned, for we all
partook, and three of us still live. The plums were, for those who ate
of them are dead. The Prince refused to eat: he is alive. I was ill,
seasick, just as I was about to swallow one: I am alive. Whether Madame
ate any or not I do not know, but if she ate any she ate harmless ones."

Voerloeff nodded his head very gravely. "Women are the devil, sir. What
would you advise me to do?"

"Put her in irons, and confine her to the cabin."

"Good, very good; I shall do it." He went to the door, then turned with
shrugging shoulders: "The Prince, what of him; he is interested in this
woman; he may object?"

"I shall settle with him," said Cressingham. "Do not tell him what you
intend, but ask him to come and see me in my cabin."

"Good." The Dane swung off, and Cressingham hurried back to his cabin,
wishing above all things that there was a doctor on board so that he
might verify or disprove his terrible suspicions.

Prince Carlos knocked at his cabin door after a lapse of some minutes.
Cressingham received him courteously and gave him a seat. The Prince
was excessively nervous and ill at ease, but he endeavoured with so
much labour to appear composed that he almost succeeded. Cressingham
cut straight into the heart of things, and informed him of his own dark
suspicions of Madame. The Prince listened with difficulty, every moment
fiercely interjecting, but Cressingham persisted to the end.

"Bah!" cried the Prince at last; "Madame gave me the box unopened as
she had herself received it from her English statesman. Was it not
sealed; did you not see me cut the strings? Do you forget the ring and
Madame's surprise and pleasure at finding it? Besides, Madame ate more
plums herself than we all put together!"

Cressingham frowned. "All that proves nothing. Madame is a clever
woman, a superlatively perfect actress. I have reason to know it, and
so I think have you."

"Well, my Lord, I think you are mad to suspect her. In my opinion, the
men died of heart disease."

"What, two in one night, your Highness, out of a company of five?"

"Why not? Stranger things have happened."

"Possibly, your Highness."

"Hark! what is that?" A woman's scream rang out of a sudden through the
stillness, a wild cry for help. The Prince sprang excitedly to his feet.

"Stay!" said Cressingham. "There is no need for your Highness to be
disturbed. I can explain the meaning of that scream. Madame is being
put in irons----"

"What!" thundered the Prince.

"A measure I consider most necessary for our common safety."

The men stared at each other for ten seconds; Cressingham stern and
quite resolved, the Prince mad with anger, his face white, his eyes
glittering like beads.

"You treat a woman in this fashion," he stuttered slowly; "it is not
because you truly suspect her; it is because she has disdained you and
thrown you aside, and you wish revenge. My Lord Cressingham, you are a
contemptible hound, and it is I who tell you so."

Prince Carlos evidently forgot that he was speaking to an Englishman,
for instead of removing himself to a safe distance while delivering
this speech, he thrust his forehead almost under Cressingham's nose.

Cressingham's reply was not in words. Disregarding the fact that
the Prince was his guest, and the further fact that his guest was a
Prince, he answered like an Englishman, straight from the shoulder, and
with such hearty good will that Prince Carlos was knocked completely
insensible for a space of several minutes. When he recovered, it was
to see Cressingham contemplatively regarding him through a haze of
cigarette smoke.

The Prince rose slowly to his feet, and gazed with stupid but venomous
eyes at his enemy. "I shall kill you," he gasped, finding words with
the utmost difficulty.

To the Englishman he appeared a very pitiful object indeed; Cressingham
felt almost sorry for the blow, such a tiny little man he was, so small
and spiteful in his impotent rage and his despair. "You want to fight
me, I suppose?" he asked coolly.

"Ah! fight you, canaille! Never!"

"Oh, you mean murder, then." Cressingham laughed contemptuously. The
Prince got somehow to the door, gave his enemy one terrible glance and
vanished.

Cressingham soon afterwards betook himself to the cabin of Captain
Elliott, in order to inspect the body of his old friend. He had been at
first quite satisfied to have examined the corpse of Captain Fagerholm,
but later a sense of duty impelled him to leave no particular of his
obligations undone.

The old gentleman was lying on his right side, his mouth wide open.
Cressingham could detect no motion of the heart, but taking out his
watch he put the cold, bright glass above the Colonel's lips. To his
joyful surprise, on withdrawing it the surface was slightly dulled.
He at once shouted for assistance, and presently on the arrival of
Voerloeff everything in the power of amateur physicians was done to
resuscitate the apparently expiring man. They alternately drenched the
head and shoulders with cold water, and vigorously chafed his limbs,
then forced a quantity of raw spirit down his throat.

Their efforts met with some measure of success. The Colonel, after an
hour of this treatment, commenced to breathe stertorously, but it was
impossible to waken him to consciousness. He lay in a deep coma, and
was apparently insensible to pain, resting utterly unresponsive to
the pricking of a needle or any other form or device of torture which
they essayed for his arousing. In spite of this, a regular system was
instituted, and with short intervals during the next forty-eight hours
relays of sailors were employed in repeating the process of drenching
and chafing the old man's body.

Throughout that day and the next Cressingham received a score of
imploring messages from Madame, but he steeled his heart and replied to
none of them. He did not see the Prince again, and Voerloeff informed
him that his Highness was confined to his cabin, having struck his head
against a skylight and severely bruised his forehead.

On the afternoon of the second day they sighted the smoking top of
Mount Vesuvius, and some hours afterwards dropped anchor in the Bay of
Naples, a mile outside the breakwater. Within twenty minutes of their
arrival a steam launch came to the yacht's side, and Mr. Perigord and
the port health officer climbed on board together.

Voerloeff immediately led them to the Captain's cabin, and a little
later into the saloon. Cressingham once heard the Prince's nervous
voice raised in loud expostulation, after that nothing for quite two
hours, at the end of which time the whole party came silently on deck.

Perigord approached the young man, and whispering in his ear, "You have
done well," said aloud, "I wish you to accompany me ashore, my Lord."

Cressingham nodded, and with great difficulty restraining his
curiosity, followed Perigord down the gangway into the little steam
tender that groaned alongside. A very strong hot wind was blowing from
the land, and there being no shelter on the launch, conversation was
rendered impossible.

In silence they landed. Prince Carlos saluted Perigord without speech
and disappeared in a carriage. The health officer bowed very gravely
and departed also in silence, except that he rattled some coins in his
pocket as if to reassure himself.

But Perigord at last broke from his reserve and spoke: "I congratulate
you on your sea-sickness, my Lord."

"Then you think as I?" cried Cressingham, delighted with such support.

"Precisely, since I still retain possession of my reason. But let us
dine together, that is if you have any appetite."

"Why, I think so, sir."

Perigord took the young man's arm with a gesture almost affectionate,
and led him slowly into the city.




CHAPTER X.--THE COUNCIL OF KINGS

MR. PERIGORD glanced in at two or three restaurants, but apparently
dissatisfied with the appearance of their occupants, finally
requisitioned a private room at the Hotel de l'Europe at the end of
the Toledo. He ordered a very plain repast, and while they partook of
it leisurely explained himself. "The Captain's body," he said, "will
be removed ashore during the evening. The health officer has already
certified that he died of apoplexy; therefore we shall be troubled
with no official inquiry. There will, however, be made privately a
post-mortem examination of the contents of his stomach in order to
determine the proper cause of death. The doctor suspects aconite or
apomorphia, and I am inclined to agree with him."

"What of the Colonel?" asked the young man anxiously.

Perigord shook his head. "Impossible to say, my Lord. The doctor thinks
he cannot recover; he says the old man must have had the morphine
habit or he could not have survived so long. He will be taken ashore,
however, and everything that medical skill can do will be done to
help him. His is a very sad case, for even should he recover he will
probably be either paralyzed or permanently insane."

"How horrible! And Madame?" inquired Cressingham; "is she to escape
scot-free?"

"I think not: her fate will, however, be determined this evening. By
the way, my Lord, I have to thank you for the manner in which you
have recently acquitted yourself of the duties allotted you. You
have hitherto obeyed me without question, trusting almost blindly to
my word. It is time that I requited your confidence to some extent.
To-night I shall endeavour to secure your admission to the council of
my coadjutors, amongst whom are numbered some of the great ones of
the earth. I think, moreover, if all goes well, that I can promise
you a complete rehabilitation in the career which you had chosen for
yourself, and which was so unfortunately interrupted. That, however,
must largely depend upon your own energy and perseverance. If you
continue to show yourself worthy, you will find many powerful men
willing to assist you and anxious to become your friends."

"You are very good, sir," said Cressingham gratefully, "but I fear that
what you suggest is beyond the bounds of possibility. I'm afraid I have
damned myself too completely. The British Government would never give
me another chance."

Perigord surveyed the young man with a strange smile, his powerful face
animated with an expression of quaint kindliness and unwonted warmth.
"We shall see; we shall see. Wait a little, my Lord. Time is full of
balmy attributes; a little time and who knows what may hap. But tell
me, is it true that Prince Carlos fell and bruised his face? I thought
his explanation was peculiar."

Cressingham coloured. "He insulted me most grossly, sir. I knocked him
down."

"That is bad, my boy, very bad. The man is of royal blood. He is
slightly crazed, I think. I warned you, did I not, to bear with him?"

"You did, sir--but I lost my temper; he wished to prevent us drawing
Madame's teeth, professed to believe her a maligned angel, and called
me by an unforgivable name."

"I see; and yet she appears to loathe him; will not allow him to go
near her, I believe, so Voerloeff informed me. Is that right?"

"I do not know that, sir, but I do know that he conversed with her
immediately the bodies were discovered."

"Ah--and he wished Voerloeff to stop at Spartivento. It is really quite
a lucky thing that you are a bad sailor, my Lord."

"I don't quite understand you, sir."

"The Prince refused to taste Madame's sugar plums, is not that so?"

"That is true!"

"He wished to stop at Spartivento, and violently defended Madame."

"All true, sir."

"You infer nothing from these facts?"

"I dare not, sir--why, what----"

"My Lord," said Perigord gravely, "in an enterprise such as ours the
lightest happenings require investigation, and that investigation
should be founded on the maxim that your staunchest seeming friend may
be at heart an enemy. But you have finished your dinner; your friend
Oeltjen will be waiting for us on the Piazza Reale. Let us go."

Cressingham got up, and mustering his courage while the other paid the
bill, inquired: "Recent events will not delay us in proceeding to the
rescue of Miss Elliott, sir, I hope?"

"I hope not," answered Perigord. "In a short while we shall definitely
know."

Five minutes' walk took them to Maraschi's corner, where they found
the Count von Oeltjen, who cordially shook hands with Cressingham. The
three gentlemen then entered a fiacre and drove northwards, Perigord
giving the driver an address that completely astonished Cressingham.
At ten o'clock they drew up before the gateway of the Palace of King
Humbert of Italy, and Perigord having given a pass-word to the sentries
on guard, they were all permitted to pass into the Royal grounds.

Perigord led the way to a side entrance, defended by a porch, within
which stood a dozen soldiers, an officer, and about twenty black-clad
gentlemen. To the officer he simply announced his name, and instantly
they were ushered with the greatest courteousness through a spacious
hall into an ante-chamber, where Perigord bade his companions wait, he
himself proceeding with the officer to an inner room.

An hour passed, which Cressingham devoted to informing Oeltjen of his
adventures on the Sea Hawk. At the end of that time an old and
courtly gentleman came, who asked them to follow him. They proceeded
from the ante-chamber to a wide corridor, thronged with officers
magnificently dressed, who all stood to attention like so many private
soldiers.

Passing between their ranks they entered a second anteroom, where were
seated three grave-looking gentlemen in evening dress, who politely
arose and bowed to the strangers. Their guide led them to the further
door, on which he knocked, and opened, bidding them enter, himself
remaining outside and closing the door behind them.

The friends found themselves in a large and stately apartment decorated
with all the ornate extravagance of the early Italian renaissance; it
was brilliantly illuminated, and its walls hung with many fine oil
paintings. A large table occupied the centre of the room, and about
this table were seated seven gentlemen, six of whom were attired in
ordinary dinner suits. The seventh wore the richly-coloured state
robe of a Cardinal and on his head a scarlet biretta. He occupied the
head of the table; on his left hand sat King Humbert, whose stern and
warlike features were set in an expression cold and impassive. The
other five gentlemen were unrecognizable behind heavy velvet masks.

Mr. Perigord stood at the foot of the table immediately opposite the
Cardinal. He appeared to have been just speaking, and to have paused
at the interruption. The eight gentlemen stared for some space at
Cressingham and Oeltjen without speaking.

Cressingham, who recognized King Humbert and thought that he could
also recognize the King's vis-a-vis, made (as well as Oeltjen) a
reverent obeisance. He was profoundly moved at finding himself in such
august company, and although he had been in a measure prepared, he
nevertheless experienced a shock so great that for the first time in
his life he was touched with nervousness and veritable timidity. Having
bowed, he unconsciously drew himself up like a soldier and stood at the
salute, enduring the examination with tremors hitherto unknown to him.
Oeltjen, who had doubtless known better what to expect, was more at
ease.

Perigord broke a silence whose intensity was growing painful. "As I
said before, your Eminence and your Majesties," he began gravely,
speaking in French, his deep powerful voice filling the room with
heavy waves of sound; "I shall personally answer for these gentlemen.
Lord Francis Cressingham" (Cressingham involuntarily stepped forward)
"has already rendered our cause important services. Ludwig, Count von
Oeltjen, has for the past two weeks been my private secretary, his
trustworthiness I have amply proved."

The Cardinal answered in a thin rasping voice: "Your assurance, Mr.
Perigord, is sufficient recommendation. If you are satisfied, we are
more than pleased to welcome the gentlemen amongst us. Is it not so?"

He looked slowly round the table. King Humbert for answer slightly
nodded, and the six masked gentlemen immediately removed their masks.
Cressingham stood petrified to meet the open gaze of five reigning
monarchs and the Crown Prince of Italy, who sat beside the King,
his father. As well as the Prince, the Cardinal, King Humbert, and
Perigord, the council was composed of the Czar Nicholas of Russia,
Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of
Sweden.

They all slightly bowed to the two astonished intruders; then,
apparently dismissing the matter from their thoughts, glanced
inquiringly towards the Cardinal, who seemed to act as president.

"The Archduke ---- is now twenty minutes late," said his Eminence;
"doubtless he has been detained. I think we need not wait further, but
proceed to business."

Cressingham heard the name then uttered with a start, for he had at
last rightly guessed the identity of Prince Carlos.

The others all signified approval.

Perigord immediately beckoned to von Oeltjen, and, pointing to a mass
of papers on the table at his left hand, gave some direction.

The Count selected a certain document, which he handed to his master
and fell back a step.

Cressingham was thus left lonely, but with plenty of matter to occupy
his eyes and thoughts.

Perigord divided the document given him in half, and handed one
portion to von Oeltjen with a muttered word. The Count took the paper
immediately and presented it with a low reverence to the Cardinal.

"That, your Eminence," said Perigord, "is a duplicate account of my
expenditures during the last three months. The sum total amounts to
Ł41,000 English. If it pleases you, I shall read aloud the items in
order that your Eminence may check the figures."

"What is the balance in hand?" asked the Kaiser.

"Ł109,000, your Majesty."

"Then," said the Kaiser, "there is no immediate need of further
contribution. I think, my brothers, we may safely leave matters of
accounts to the discretion of his Eminence. For my part, I must be at
Berlin to-morrow, and would like to set out the first moment possible."

A hum of approval followed. The Cardinal bowed, and putting the sheets
aside, addressed Perigord, who continued standing.

"You may consider the accounts passed, sir, subject to my subsequent
ratification. We shall be pleased now to hear your report."

Oeltjen handed Perigord a second document, which he opened and conned
for some moments in silence. Cressingham took this opportunity to
regard him, and was struck with the man's dignity and calm repose of
manner. Even in an assemblage of kings he stood forth a figure full
of strength and grandeur, suffering nothing by comparisons. And this
although most of his features considered separately were incomparably
ugly. But his forehead was so broad and noble, his air and general
appearance so manifestly full of lofty purpose, and the man himself so
large and powerful a presence, that his very homeliness was pleasing
and his tout-ensemble carried invincibly to the dullest mind a
restful conviction of capability and impervious integrity.

"Your Eminence, your Majesties," he presently began; "it was first my
intention to recite my progress step by step, but lest such a course
might weary you I shall condense as much as possible. Three months ago
I informed you that I had at last discovered a key to the mystery which
has baffled us so long. By the expenditure of a large sum of money,
I was able to purchase from a dying and repentant man, who, wishing
to provide for his children, was thus induced to partially betray his
trust, a priceless piece of information regarding the three iniquitous
chiefs of Nihilism----"

Here he was interrupted, for the door opened and Prince Carlos entered
the apartment. He made a long apology for his delay to the president,
and was provided with a seat.

On seeing Cressingham he started up with a scowl and seemed about to
speak. The others regarded him expectantly, but he changed his mind and
resumed his chair.

Perigord, when silence again obtained, proceeded: "I discovered that
a close connexion subsisted between the three chiefs of that dreadful
society and a woman who by virtue of her rank, talents, and beauty has
long been an ornament at the Courts of your Majesties. I refer to the
woman Katherin Viyella, soi disant Countess of Hobenstein. With the
approval of your Eminence and your Majesties, I then undertook the
task of ascertaining Madame Viyella's parentage, confident that such a
course would lead us to the knowledge we desire. I regret to say that
in this I have so far failed. I have, however, succeeded in taking
Madame Viyella a prisoner, and she is now in my power. In fact she
is at this moment confined on board my yacht which lies at anchor in
the bay yonder. I should tell you that Madame Viyella is an unwilling
prisoner, and such is her address that during the voyage from England
hither, not two days since, she succeeded in poisoning my friend
Colonel Elliott and the captain of my yacht----"

"My God!" cried several, interrupting sharply.

"The captain is dead, Colonel Elliott is still alive, but unconscious
and sinking fast. Madame tried also to poison Lord Cressingham and your
Highness"--he turned to Prince Carlos, who looked very uncomfortable
but said nothing--"but an accident averted in those cases her designs.
Your Majesties may ask me why I took Madame prisoner. My answer is
that the time appeared ripe. Madame knows very well how to guard her
secrets, and she is too dangerous and capable an instrument of evil to
allow at large. Moreover, the course was of a sudden rendered acutely
necessary by circumstances beyond my control. I had laid certain
traps for Madame, hoping to surprise her secrets from her. Madame was
cleverer than I; she saw the traps, and both laughed at me and tricked
my agents. Her friends, however, less wise than she, feared that she
might, unwittingly or otherwise, betray them. They endeavoured to
entice her from England, but failed. Their fears intensified by her
refusals, they suddenly determined to forcibly abduct her from the
country in order to ensure their safety. Their spies, however, who
were entrusted with this task, mistook another woman for Madame; they
carried out of England and still hold in their power Miss Francine
Elliott, only daughter of the man whom two days ago Madame tried to
murder, and the affianced wife of Lord Francis Cressingham."

Prince Carlos here gave vent to a deep exclamation, a guttural "Ah!"

Perigord flashed at him a searching glance and proceeded: "By
a fortunate circumstance I personally overheard at Flushing a
conversation between Kaputsky (who, as you know, is an active but
cunning member, too cunning to convict) and the commander of the yacht
which conveyed Miss Elliott from London. I thus learned that they
proposed to carry Miss Elliott in their yacht to a certain island,
whose name was not mentioned, in the Mediterranean Sea, where the
president of the inmost circle is at present residing. I might at
that moment have interrupted their designs and rescued Miss Elliott
from their clutches. Had I done so, however, it would have destroyed
all hope of successfully carrying out a plan which I then immediately
conceived. That plan was, and is, to discover the whereabouts of this
island, and seize it, if necessary, under arms. It has long puzzled us
all to know where the permanent stronghold of the society is pitched.
I no longer entertain any doubt but that this island once discovered
and taken will be found to contain the solution of all those mysteries
which have distressed us for so long. Even should none of the chiefs
be discovered there when we attack the place, our operations may be so
conducted that it will be possible to conceal all evidence of hostile
presence and await their arrival to capture or destroy them. We shall,
however, have to use superlative caution and address in attacking the
place, for of one thing I am certain, if this island be the stronghold
of Nihilism as I conceive, it is connected with the mainland of Europe
by one or several secret cables----"

"Ah!" Prince Carlos this time gave a sharp cry, which seemed strangely
like one of dismay.

Perigord slightly smiled, but did not look at him. "For," he continued,
"I have long since come to the conclusion that the Nihilists have not
trusted their more important communications through the medium of the
public telegraphs; indeed, I have absolutely proved this to be the
case, and yet we have had frequently thrust upon us overwhelming,
staggering proof that information has been secretly and instantaneously
conveyed across long distances and communications exchanged for the
purpose of dazzling or defeating us in a manner that could be only
explained otherwise by magic."

"Or cypher," said Prince Carlos, with a sneer.

Perigord smiled again and addressed himself entirely to the Prince.
"That explanation occurred to me, your Highness, but an exhaustive
examination (which their Majesties some time since rendered
possible)"--he bowed to the kings--"of the entire telegraphic
correspondence between the principal cities of Austria, Germany, Italy
and Russia, during prolonged and well chosen periods of time, has
utterly failed to discover a trace of messages which our agents had
proved to have been transmitted from place to place with telegraphic
speed."

"You claim that the Nihilists have a private transcontinental telegraph
system as well as a direct cable communication to the island, then?"

"Either that or well arranged small private subways between certain
centres; their organization, at any rate, is so perfect as to defy
detection. Your Highness knows that the secret police of all Europe
have assisted us to the utmost limit of their power without result."

"Ah, bah, the police!"

"To resume," said Perigord. "Having conceived this plan, I proceeded
forthwith to put it into execution. Klein, the deputy, who--as your
Eminence and your Majesties well know--assassinated Lavalovski and
twice attempted even greater crimes, had been chosen to make an
attempt upon the life of the present President of the French Republic.
I ascertained that his idea was to undermine a railway near Mentone
and blow up the train carrying the President as it passed through a
certain tunnel. This diabolical outrage was happily frustrated, chiefly
through the energy of my secretary, the Count von Oeltjen, here."
(Oeltjen turned fiery red.) "Klein was quietly arrested and given into
my keeping. I had him carried to England, and there adopted certain
measures to loosen his tongue. So closely, however, were my movements
watched and followed by our enemies that while in the act of hearing
his confession in a place guarded with extraordinary precautions, a
bomb was fired. Klein was killed, and my servants and myself only
narrowly escaped with our lives."

At this a perfect storm of exclamation broke from the excited lips of
the kings, who had hung on the speaker's words with breathless interest.

Perigord waited a moment for silence, and then resumed: "The Nihilists
were nevertheless too late; Klein had spoken!" (Perigord now watched
Prince Carlos with a covert but steady keenness.) "Finding his
situation hopeless, he confessed that the stronghold of his chiefs
rested on the Isle of Anarchos (a fitting name for such a place), a
small island of the Archipelago belonging to Turkey."

Prince Carlos raised a face of icy calm to meet Perigord's inquiring
stare. "I pray God that Klein has told you the truth!" he said with
deep earnestness.

Perigord nodded and turned his glance away. "I believe that he has," he
answered quietly; "I cannot believe otherwise."

Deep silence lasted for several moments, then King Humbert, clearing
his throat, spoke gruffly.

"That is all, sir?"

"Your Majesty, my report is ended. There remains for us to consider two
things: first, what shall be done with the person of Katherin Viyella;
secondly, what steps shall be taken, if any, to capture the Isle of
Anarchos. I venture to suggest that each matter should be disposed of
in turn."

"A good suggestion," said the Cardinal.

"Since it promises to save time," said the Kaiser.

The Emperor of Austria sighed. "It is a sad thing to war with women."

"Your Majesty," said the King of Sweden, "we defend ourselves from our
enemies; we do not war with men or women."

"You are right and wrong," said the Czar softly. "War is the greatest
evil which humanity may suffer; unhappily, to defend ourselves in this
instance war is compulsory. I like to think, however, that out of this
present evil good must come, even should our plans miscarry; indeed,
good has come already, since as representatives of Europe we are met
together united in a common cause. And even should we fail for a time
in our desires, and before success arrives I or one of us be struck
down by an assassin hand, the seed we plant must grow, and I pray shall
one day develop into a splendid understanding amity of brotherhood
which will be proof against the pricks of time and pride and jealousy,
thus guaranteeing for our peoples secure and lasting peace."

"Amen!" said the Cardinal solemnly, and there echoed round the table a
deep and reverent "Amen."

"Your Eminence," said Perigord very gravely, "Katherin Viyella is not
made of that clay from which traitors spring. She is a wicked woman,
but her nature is irrevocably loyal. We cannot release her, we dare
not. The labour of long years would be thereby rendered vain, and the
precious lives of your Majesties thenceforth irremediably liable to
the perils of the past, which perils we now stand on the threshold of
finally eradicating. I repeat, we cannot release Katherin Viyella, but
we can keep her prisoner."

The kings looked at each other with unquiet glances. No one spoke.

"It is, in my humble conception, our only course," said Perigord.

The kings nodded. The Cardinal drummed on the table with his fingers.

"Where?" he asked; and the question interpreted the expressions of all.

Perigord spoke slowly, looking at each of his august audience in turn:
"Siberia; England; Austria; Germany; Hungary; Italy."

No one replied, though many shook their heads.

"Siberia is best, but it is far," said Perigord.

Silence.

"Italy has convents. Your Eminence----"

The Cardinal started. "You are right, Mr. Perigord. I shall take this
duty on myself. The woman should, however, be delivered to me at once,
for I set out on a journey early in the morning. I shall care for her."

There followed a deep murmur of approval and relief. The Czar spoke for
all: "Your Eminence's kindness in accepting such a burden commands our
lasting gratitude."

"And now," said Perigord, "comes the matter of importance."

The Crown Prince of Italy here murmured something in King Humbert's ear.

The "Warrior King" started, and cried out: "My brothers, is there not a
chair for Mr. Perigord? What a clumsy creature am I to act the part of
host so badly!"

"Forgive us, my dear sir," said the Czar with a bland smile.

"My dear Mr. Perigord," murmured the others.

Perigord looked directly at the Prince and smiled.

"If I may, your Majesties, I shall, for I am weary; I have done much
to-day and travelled far." He immediately sat down and opened a paper
which, in obedience to a sign, von Oeltjen had handed him.

"If your Eminence and your Majesties consent, I shall read a prepared
statement which I think will narrow somewhat our field of choice."

"Proceed," said the Cardinal.

"Your Eminence, your Majesties: I should despair to suggest to you a
course which technically interpreted would involve the issue of united
Europe making war upon a friendly state. Anarchos is an island owned by
Turkey, under the Sultan's ruling and protection. Turkey is at peace
with the world. It is therefore impossible that any accredited invasion
of the remotest portion of that realm should be countenanced by you.
And yet, in order to achieve the fulfilment of our aims and also to
restore to liberty a lady who has already suffered unwittingly in our
cause two unrequitable misfortunes, imprisonment and the murder of her
father, the invasion and capture of Anarchos is of vital import. The
difficulty so presented, however, is not insurmountable. If--if, your
Majesties, devoted men could be found, willing to risk their lives in
an enterprise which circumstances have conspired to place absolutely
beyond the reach of your powerful protection should disaster meet their
efforts--why, then, your Majesties, with the help of God, we can work
your enemies' undoing. I possess a yacht which is sufficiently provided
with arms and ammunition to equip two score of men. I want no more. A
score I have already on board. I should command the expedition. Here
are Lord Cressingham and the Count von Oeltjen; therefore I need only
seventeen to make my band complete."

He ceased, and looked quietly up. The Cardinal, the kings and princes
were staring at him with the keenest scrutiny, as if seeking to read
his very heart.

"Your devotion goes so far?" muttered the Kaiser, as if unable to
believe.

Perigord smiled. "I regard the affair as a recreation, your Majesty--a
pleasant recreation after years of toil."

"I can promise you three men now," said the Kaiser; "a thousand in
three days."

"I four," said the Czar musingly; "more I cannot spare; of necessity I
am almost unattended."

"I," said King Humbert, "shall supply you with the remainder of your
company."

Perigord immediately stood up. "Your Majesties, I thank you. My yacht
is the Sea Hawk. She lies a mile outside the breakwater. I shall set
out at daylight to-morrow morning."

"So soon?" said the Cardinal.

"Your Eminence, delays are dangerous; moreover, I have nothing to keep
me here. Where would your Eminence wish that I should deliver to your
keeping the woman, Katherin Viyella?"

The Cardinal considered for a moment. "Secrecy is necessary above all
things," he replied. "Bring her three hours hence to the sea wall
opposite the Villa Annunziata. I shall there await you."

"As your Eminence pleases. Your Majesties, I have the honour to wish
you farewell!" He bowed very deeply, and signing to Cressingham and
Oeltjen, backed slowly towards the door.

But in a second King Humbert sprang to his feet. "Not thus," he cried
gruffly; "for my part, I like to shake a man by the hand when I can.
You would not baulk me of such a pleasure, Perigord?"

"Your Majesty does me too much honour," said Perigord. But the other
kings quickly followed Humbert's example--one and all came forward,
and, as if on a preconcerted signal, smilingly surrounded him. In a
moment they fell back, but when they did so Perigord's sober apparel
was marvellously transformed, for a dozen glittering stars shone on his
breast, and round his neck swung a gold chain on which depended the
most coveted of European distinctions--the gift of Wilhelm of Germany.

Perigord could scarcely speak; he stammered out a phrase or two,
then seemingly a little unmanned, hastened to the door. In the first
anteroom, however, he appeared completely restored to his old calm and
impenetrable demeanour. Quietly removing all the decorations, he placed
them in his pocket without so much as a glance at them, and hurried
his companions from the palace and thence without pause to the sea.
His first words were to Cressingham, whom he addressed in quick, sharp
accents of command.

"Oeltjen and I proceed immediately on board the yacht; in three hours
we shall return and shall await you here. You will conceal yourself
hereabouts, and when Prince Carlos leaves the palace follow him.
Wherever he may go, follow him, you understand. If possible, do not let
yourself be seen, but at all hazards follow him. I fear him; I have
ceased to trust him."

Cressingham heartily disliked the order, but he did not refuse to obey;
indeed, he had grown to respect Mr. Perigord so highly of late that
his old habits of regarding certain things had become tempered by the
opinions of the other concerning them, and he had long ago commenced to
recognize the imperious nature of the emprise on which he was embarked
as a legitimate excuse for many actions which formerly he might have
considered transgressions against his code of honour.

Left solitary, he pulled his hat over his eyes, buttoned up his coat to
the chin, and strolled as near as he could to the palace gates without
drawing upon himself the attention of the guards.




CHAPTER XI.--THE VENGEANCE OF A PRINCE

HE had not to wait more than five minutes before a carriage emerged
bearing Prince Carlos. He had expected the Prince on foot, and might
have allowed the carriage to pass unsuspected in the darkness but for
the fact that the Prince that moment was in the act of lighting a
cigarette, and his features were thus revealed.

Cressingham gave a hurried glance around, but not a single conveyance
was in sight. Bracing himself up he prepared for a run, and presently
his powers were taxed in that direction to their utmost limit. The
carriage set off citywards at a very smart pace, but soon turned
abruptly east to thread a maze of narrow and ill-lighted thoroughfares.
Cressingham almost lost it many times, but straining every nerve he
pressed gamely on, and at last beheld it draw up before a large and
imposing mansion. He stopped abruptly, almost done, for, although a
fine athlete, his illness on the voyage had made him weaker than he
thought.

Leaning against a wall in the shadow of a portico he panted sobbingly
for breath, and the world swung round him for a while. He saw through
a blurred haze the Prince alight from the carriage and ascend the
steps. Even at the distance which separated them, all of a hundred
yards, he heard the man's impatient thunder at the door. Then followed
a grateful silence, during which he gradually recovered his strength
and curiosity. Slipping cautiously along the houses, he approached
the carriage by full fifty paces, and there narrowly escaped a fatal
accident. Two policemen on their rounds had turned the corner of
the street and quickly overtook him. They were disputing excitedly
together, else they must have noticed him, for although he shrunk into
the shadow and flattened himself as much as possible against a wall,
they passed so close that either could have touched him. Holding his
breath, he feared they would hear the beating of his heart, but they
noted nothing, and presently exchanged some words with the driver of
the Prince's carriage.

Hardly had they disappeared from view when the Prince himself descended
the steps of the house, a lady leaning on his arm. Cressingham strained
his eyes, but could only catch a glimpse of the outlines of her figure.

The Prince placed her in the carriage, then entered himself. The driver
whipped up his horses, the carriage turned and passed within a dozen
feet of the amateur detective. Cressingham waited until it had turned
the corner, then dashed off in pursuit.

As nearly as he could recall the way, it seemed to retrace its previous
path, but now more leisurely, and he was able to keep it in view with
less expenditure of effort. Presently emerging from the streets upon
the sea road, it increased its speed, driving rapidly northwards
towards the upper neck of the great bay. The speed told on Cressingham,
but with clenched hands and hard-set teeth he ran along, satisfied
to keep his quarry even distantly in sight so that he did not lose
it altogether. One mile, two miles; he had his second wind by this,
and the old bull-dog instincts of the English race awoke grimly in his
heart. He would run till he dropped; he could be broken, he would not
be beaten.

Three miles! Buildings were now infrequent; those that he saw, splendid
villas enclosed in spacious grounds, but few and far between; street
lamps had been left behind. The red back lights of the carriage
twinkled in the distance, and the carriage was going quite slowly. To
his left stretched the magnificent panorama of the bay; to his right,
the dark bold outlines of the classic hills of Italy. But Cressingham
knew nothing now of time or place; he saw nothing, thought of nothing
but those sparkling spots so far ahead that twinkled and mocked at
him like the eyes of demons. All idea of duty had long vanished from
his mind. It had become a personal struggle between himself and those
demon eyes. He felt that they were taunting him, and with the fierce
revengeful energy of despair he put forth all his fast expiring
strength and forced his tottering limbs along.

Then came despair indeed; the carriage had suddenly disappeared, and he
was helpless, for he could run no more. But still he walked on at the
best pace he could, though utterly exhausted, unconscious that he was
climbing to the summit of a little hill.

He topped it at last, to see before him a tiny span of beach a quarter
mile below, and the carriage waiting there. With a little cry of
triumph some energy returned to him. The slope assisting, he staggered
down the hill, and, turning to the side, approached the carriage from
the sand. He saw a boat resting by the beach and several dark figures
standing there. Hardly knowing what he did, he struggled towards them,
and at last threw himself upon the ground, fifty paces from the group,
behind a little clump of stunted shrubs. No one had observed him, for
his footsteps had been noiseless and the dark was kind. For a terrible
five minutes he panted, helpless as a babe and almost fainting; then
his breath returning, he forced himself to kneel and watch.

As he watched, two figures detached themselves from the group and
walked his way--a man and woman, who spoke together with the utmost
earnestness. They halted presently, only a few paces from his lair. He
tried to listen to their conversation, but the wild throbbing of his
heart and the surging of the blood in his veins had robbed him for a
time of the power of hearing.

They stood, their backs turned to him, but soon he recognized the
Prince from certain extravagant gesticulations peculiar to the man.
After what seemed to Cressingham an interminable period, but in reality
was only a few moments, he had so far recovered his composure as to
hear vague murmurs, and a little later words and whole sentences. The
Prince spoke quickly and eagerly; his demeanour was authoritative and
unrestrained; he appeared to be angrily urging some course upon the
woman which was repugnant to her inclinations; she answered him for
long in monosyllables, and her attitude was distinctly combative.

"You are mad even to dream of returning," cried the Prince in fluent
Russian. "Are you blind to the dangers that threaten? You will be
lonely. What then? Dull, perhaps, but safe! Soon I shall go to you--as
soon as possible. That prospect does not please you? Speak!"

"What do you call soon?" asked the woman in a muffled voice.

"One week, perhaps; two at furthest. I would accompany you now did
I dare; but in that case I should be ruined. Already I believe that
Perigord suspects. It will require much art and my constant presence
here for the next few days to baffle his suspicions."

Cressingham experienced such a shock on hearing these words that his
strength and energy returned in sudden flood. He strained forward,
fearing to lose a word.

The woman replied: "You are all so much afraid of Perigord! For me,
I laugh at him! Twice have I fooled and mocked at him as easily as
that----" She snapped her fingers, and suddenly gave vent to a peal of
laughter, mellow, rippling, and beautiful.

Cressingham found the sound most tantalisingly familiar, but he could
not fix it in his memory; he was certain that he knew the woman,
though; who, who under heaven could she be? She spoke on when her
laughter ceased: "Even already he will know that his pretty bird has
flown. Ah, what would I not give to see his face this instant!"

"We waste time!" said the Prince. "You should be gone ere this. Let us
bid each other farewell here."

"Good-bye, then," said the woman, holding out her hand.

"Have you no warmer offering for your husband, Katherin?"

"Katherin!" thought Cressingham, and suddenly he understood. The blow
was sharp, and almost took away his senses. He bit his lips to keep
back the cry that burst trembling from his heart. "My God! Madame
escaped and here!"

With a violent effort he restrained himself from immediately rushing
forth and doing he knew not what. Madame's words came to him in a sort
of dream: "When you make me your wife before the world, I shall be
kinder--not before. Too long have I been a soft, submissive fool."

"Kate, Kate, you know well how impossible it is. My nephew----"

"Your nephew will not live for ever. If you had not been such a
fool----"

"Hush!" cried the Prince, glancing round him furtively. "Ha, those
shrubs; some one may be lurking there. Why did I not notice them
before?" Swinging on his heel, he quickly approached the Englishman,
peering into the bushes as he came. Cressingham awaited him, uncertain
and indeterminate, leaving all to fate. The Prince skirted the
clump very closely, kicking at the stumps with his feet, his hands
outstretched to feel as he proceeded. When he had reached the back of
the clump he halted within a foot of the other, and sharply struck a
match.

Then he gave a little cry, and fell to the ground dazed and stupid, for
Cressingham's fist had caught him squarely on the chin. Cressingham
swiftly followed up his advantage, and kneeling on the Prince's chest,
caught him by the throat.

There had been very little noise in the encounter, but quite enough to
alarm Madame. "Frederic," she called out, "what have you found?"

Cressingham thought it necessary to answer her, but he had not reckoned
on his voice. "Nothing," he cried, trying to imitate the Prince. But
the word was a hollow croak, so weak and flaccid were all his organs
from the exertions he had undergone.

Madame, completely alarmed, ran towards the boat, calling loudly for
assistance. Cressingham saw that his case was desperate, for he had no
weapon, not even a stick, and he had counted at least six figures by
the boat.

Giving the Prince's neck a final wrench, he got quickly to his
feet, and stooping low, ran as swiftly as he could directly to the
sea. He saw in silhouette the men leave the boat and run towards
Madame. He reached the water without mishap and without discovery,
for the darkness had befriended him and he had left the Prince quite
unconscious.

Then a desperate idea occurred to him. All the attendants of the
Prince had gone to investigate their master's accident, leaving Madame
midway between the clump of bushes and the boat. Could he only make a
dash and seize the boat, he would be able to row across the bay and
warn Perigord in time perhaps to avert any serious misfortune to the
expedition and to effect Madame's re-arrest. Gathering his energies
together, he slipped noiselessly along the edge of the waves until he
crouched almost opposite Madame and only twenty paces from his goal.

But Madame's prescience seemed more than mortal. Although straining her
gaze in the direction of the bushes, some instinct must have warned
her, for she turned and, in spite of the dark, discerned the figure
of her enemy. She uttered a loud cry, and Cressingham, seeing caution
useless, immediately sprang erect and sprinted to the boat. He reached
it well ahead of all pursuit, but he reached it to despair. The boat, a
great cumbersome launch, rested with half its keel upon the beach, and
his most frantic efforts failed to move it a single hairsbreadth.

Sick with anger and completely desperate, he seized a stretcher (the
oars were fastened firmly to the rowlocks) and turned to face his
pursuers. Two men sprung at him. The nearest he sent to earth with a
slashing straightforward stroke that must have broken a negro's skull.
The second, however, closed with him, and in a moment all was over, for
Cressingham was spent. Other men presently arrived who bound him hand
and foot, then the Prince, supported by Madame.

"Hasten!" cried the Prince; "there may be others."

"First see if we know this one," said Madame.

The sailors immediately proceeded to launch the boat. Madame made the
Prince rest upon the sand, then striking a light peered into the face
of the prisoner. "Blood of Mary!" she cried hoarsely. "You!"

"Who is it?" demanded the Prince.

"Lord Francis Cressingham."

"Caramba!" The Prince got to his feet, nimble as a monkey, his ills
entirely cured by such delightful news; the man who had twice struck
him--a Prince--to be in his hands and power so soon! He could scarcely
credit his good fortune.

"Are you sure, Kate? let me see for myself," he cried.

Another match was struck, and a single glance assured him. "Ah, bah!"
he said gleefully. "We need not fear, nor haste too violently. The
fellow must have followed me alone, perhaps by the orders of Perigord,
for he was, as I told you, at the conference, and your escape could not
have been discovered until the yacht was visited. As for----"

"What shall we do with him?" demanded Madame.

"Do with him, why, kill him. Bah, better than that, I have an idea; you
shall take him with you to the island and keep him there alive till
I arrive. Then we shall hold an auto da fe. That will give fine
revenge for the tortures Perigord inflicted on poor Klein!"

"And the blow----"

"Two blows, Madame! But you interrupted me. Cressingham once out of the
way, I shall declare him the one guilty of your abduction. Who shall
contradict me? Ha, ha, ha! He shall bear the burden of my misdeeds. Ha,
ha, ha! What think you of my plan?"

Madame, always a coquette, said laughingly: "Brilliant, my Prince. But
you will trust him to me, Frederic. You are no longer jealous, eh?"

The Prince gave a hoarse chuckle and struck a third match which he held
above the prisoner. "Oh, yes, I am jealous, Kate, but in a moment I
shall not be, for I intend to spoil his beauty. Regard me!"

Suddenly raising his foot he deliberately kicked Cressingham in the
mouth. The Englishman writhed upwards, blood streaming from his lips,
but the brutal boot was again lifted, and a second kick on his temple
deprived him utterly of consciousness. A fury seemed to have come
upon the Prince. He danced about his helpless enemy uttering insane
ejaculations of delight, kicking the prostrate body savagely at
intervals.

Madame watched him (to do her justice) horror-struck, but the man was
her husband, and she wished above all things just then to lull his
jealousy to sleep.

Forcing herself to calm, she observed with a voice icy but tremulous:
"When you have quite finished amusing yourself, I should like to get
away, my dear. If you are wise, you also will hasten back to the city,
for be sure that Perigord will visit you immediately he knows of my
escape. You should be on hand to receive him."

The Prince, recollecting himself, gave Cressingham a final kick in the
face, reluctant to abandon an exercise which he had found so entirely
pleasing. He was, however, still wildly excited; approaching Madame
he caught her in his arms and violently embraced her. "A week hence,
Madame, prepare to give your husband a loving welcome. Au revoir!"

He then flung off to his carriage, and drove swiftly citywards, singing
like a drunken man at the top of his voice some silly street ditty--his
vulgar song of triumph! and the man a Prince!

Madame viciously wiped her face where he had kissed her, and ordered
Cressingham to be carried to the boat. Four lusty sailors manned
the oars and the shore was soon left far behind. They rowed an hour
steadily against wind and tide and then reached a long and dark
low-lying narrow steamer, that hovered like a night bird with folded
pinion on the water ready at an instant's notice to take to flight.
Cressingham was hoisted up the side, bleeding from a dozen cuts, still
limp and senseless. Madame followed and ordered him to be taken to a
cabin that she might dress his wounds and tend him.

The Captain came to her, bowing and reverencing like a serf. "Your
pleasure, Princess?" he asked humbly in Corsican.

"To Attala at once--and full speed, Nickolaiff;--forced draught!" said
Madame.

"As the Princess pleases," the Captain murmured, and next moment the
night bird steamer took to wing.




CHAPTER XII.--THE LORD OF ATTALA

CRESSINGHAM'S injuries were painful rather than serious. His lower lip
was badly cut, two of his side teeth broken and many others loosened,
his nose cruelly torn, both cheeks horribly bruised and on his forehead
a wound inflicted by the Prince's boot heel which promised to leave a
scar he must carry to the grave. Besides these, his body was black and
blue from the vicious pounding he had received. It is scarcely matter
to marvel at that when he woke to a consciousness of his surroundings
his frame of mind was feverishly revengeful, in spite of the fact that
Madame had swathed his head and face in bandages and smothered him from
head to heel with some soothing balsam.

He stared at Madame through black-fringed and bunged-up eyes with an
expression of ludicrous ill-will, for his face was comically distorted,
and he wore the appearance of a prize-fighter who had somewhat more
than met his match.

Madame was sympathetic, but for the life of her could not avoid a
smile. "Are you comfy?" she inquired.

He glanced at the linen night-gown that enclosed his limbs. "Thanks,"
he answered surlily; "but where am I, where are my clothes?"

He attempted to sit up, but he was very sore and weak, and he fell back
with a groan that made Madame's cheeks blanch.

"Forgive me," he muttered, "I didn't know I was so bad; that brute must
have let himself go. I'm aching all over. Are any bones smashed, do you
know?"

"No," sighed Madame, and murmured: "Frank, dear, you must not blame me
for this. I did what I could to stop him, but he was mad and struck me
as well."

"Did he, the cad! Ah, I'd like to have him in my clutches for a moment,
weak and ill as I am. But tell me, what ship is this we're on?"

"The Argonaut."

"Whose, and where bound?"

"My father owns it; we are going to him."

"I suppose you can be frank with me now, eh? Where does your father
live?"

"On one of the Isles Sanguinaires. Attala it is called."

"Never heard of such a place--have pity on my ignorance."

"It lies off the Corsican coast."

"Ah, then, Klein lied to us after all!"

Madame smiled. "What could you expect, dear? My father chooses his
agents well: indeed, he has to."

"Kate, before I lost my senses there was some talk I heard of an
auto-da-fe. Is that what you are saving me for?" he pointed to his
bandages.

Madame shook her head. "My husband is a dreamer of dreams; your fate
will really rest in my father's hands."

"And who is your father? Tell me of him, Katherin."

"He is Count of Attala, a Corsican noble."

"More, more--how is it he became a Nihilist?"

"My poor boy, what does it matter, the knowledge wouldn't profit you?"

"But I am curious, I beg of you to tell me."

"You would do better to sleep and try to get well."

"Kate!"

"Well then, if it must it must; but there is little enough to tell you,
dear. It all happened ages before I was born; he has been chief of the
Nihilists for nearly three-quarters of a century. He is an awful old
man, Frank. He must be over a hundred years old, but is still as active
and energetic as a youth. He is horribly cynical and cold, and although
he loves me I have always been afraid of him, and I dread going home
almost as much as you can or should. He was always terribly ambitious,
and once he tried hard and thought to make himself King of Corsica,
but a rival baffled him. In revenge he sold his confederates to the
French and drove his rival into exile, but did not better himself by
the exchange, for the French broke their promises and laughed at him. I
think he turned Nihilist in order to revenge himself upon the French,
for he has never forgiven them and still hates them like poison. I was
with him when news reached us of the death of Sadi Carnot in 1894. He
turned to me and said with a smile that froze my blood: 'Katherin, I
could die happy if that man had been a king.'"

"He planned Carnot's murder, then?" gasped Cressingham.

Madame laughed at the horror of his voice. "Ah, bah! what murders, as
you call them, has he not planned? His aims have been always chiefly
directed against France, though. Twice he attempted Louis Phillippe's
life, three times that of Napoleon III, and every president since then,
at one time or another, has stood in mortal peril. I do not think that
Monsieur Loubet will live long, but he has been warned, he may resign
to save himself."

"He must be the fiend incarnate!" cried the young man.

Madame yawned. "I think I shall retire, if you'll excuse me, Frank. I'm
very weary."

"One moment," Cressingham implored. "Who are the other two
leaders--there are two, are there not?"

Madame drew herself up with a gesture of pride and her lip curled
scornfully. "Figure-heads!" she cried. "My father is not the man to
share authority."

"But who are they, these figure heads?"

"They often change," said Madame with a frown; "when they outlive their
period of usefulness they die. The present living ones are: first, my
husband, you know him, I think"--(she smiled)--"the other is Yussef El
Jibaloff, a Russo-Turk, and a natural son of Prince Skoboleff. He was
once Grand Vizier and is still a trusted friend of the Sultan."

"Rumour says he has another accomplishment, Kate. I have heard it
whispered--a mighty lady-killer."

Madame gave him a burning glance. "I know your meaning, Frank, but you
are wrong. The man is a brute, and I hate him. He misused me when I was
quite a child, and in my father's house."

"But your father, Kate?"

"Laughed when I told him and bade me ran away and play. I was just
fifteen, and that was my first lesson in the school of life. Do you
wonder that with such able tutors I have become what I am?"

There surged into Cressingham's heart a flood of warm and generous pity
for the woman. "Had you no mother?" he whispered.

She shook her head. "I never knew her; but my old nurse has told me
much about her. She was the daughter of one of my father's victims, and
very beautiful. He abducted her and made her his wife. When I was quite
a baby, he struck me because my wails annoyed him. My mother chided
him, and in a fit of rage he killed her. I think he did not mean to
do it; indeed, I feel sure that he has always mourned her, for he has
never since had anything to do with women, and before he met and loved
her, he was a veritable Turk."

"Thank you, Kate, for telling me all this," said Cressingham. "It has
given me a clue to follow you. I was so much in the dark before. But
please before we say goodnight, tell me one thing more: Miss Elliott,
is she imprisoned on this island of your father's?"

"Frank, you love that girl!"

He shook his head. "It seems in any case that I shall not be allowed to
live to love her long."

Madame sighed deeply. "She is there. Good-night, Frank."

"Good-night, and thanks."

Madame reached the door and turned. "Frank!"

"Yes!"

"The plum I gave you was not poisoned, it was one of those I intended
for myself and my husband, who was just then too useful to kill, for I
depended on him for my escape."

"Really, Kate?"

"Yes, it's truth time now."

"How did you get away from the Sea Hawk?"

"The Prince sent some men with a forged letter. Voerloeff is a
wooden-headed fool; he let me go without a question. Frank----"

"Yes."

"You look simply dreadful bandaged up like that. Your lips are all
puffed out, and black, and oh, your eyes--you are, ugh! so ugly!"

"Thanks," drily. "I won't need a mirror now that you've told me all I
might see in it."

"Yes, you're dreadfully ugly," continued Madame, with a quaint, sweet
smile; "but it doesn't alter me a bit. I still--look away, Frank--I
still love you, dear!" The door closed upon her, but next moment it
opened a little, and she peeped shyly through the crevice, her face
charming with an expression of timid, almost pleading coquetry.

"Say you don't love that girl, Frank!"

Cressingham shook his head, and Madame, interpreting in her own favour
his equivocal response, kissed her hand to him and departed with
beaming eyes.

In ten minutes Cressingham was sleeping like the dead, and he did not
wake until eighteen hours had spun their unseen fibres round his heart
and the stars of another night were burning brightly in the moonless
heavens. The steamer had stopped; perhaps it was the rest from travail,
the sudden calm succeeding the ceaseless thundering and shuddering of
the screws that recalled him to his senses. The cabin lamp was lighted,
and his clothes, nicely brushed and folded, rested on the couch,
while a deck chair by the bedside held a tray of dainty edibles and a
flask of wine. He felt still sore, but already infinitely better, and
hungry as a hunter. Dressing quickly, often smothering a groan in the
operation, he made a hearty meal and drained the flask, reflecting
wisely that even should he be proceeding to his death it were just as
well to die with a full stomach as an empty one.

He tried the door afterwards half doubtingly, but it yielded and he
went on deck. The night was cloudless and marvellously mild and a balmy
wind just fanned the world's surface with a tenderly caressing touch,
laden with faint, sweet memory-arousing odours. Cressingham noted with
surprise that the masts of the yacht had disappeared, and that her
funnel had been extraordinarily reduced in size. They lay in a tiny
harbour, scarce a mile across, composed of two circular, narrow and
low-lying strips of land that stretched out from the mainland like two
embracing, anxious arms, and almost met to seaward. The mainland was
mountainous, but no other feature could be distinguished in the dark.

The coastline in the bay, mingling with the waters deep in the shade,
was indiscernible, but half way up a mountain close at hand a group of
lights regularly arranged suggested the outline of a house of large
dimensions, perhaps a castle.

Cressingham, lost in contemplation and conjecture, was startled by the
placing of a hand upon his arm. It was Madame. "Yonder is Attala," she
said; "my home. What were you dreaming of?"

"Of your father, Kate. How do you suppose he will receive me?"

"Like the courtly gentleman he is. Do you wish advice?"

"Indeed, I need it badly, don't you think so?"

"Then treat my father as he treats you. He will receive you kindly in
the first place, but if he should by chance continue kind pretend to
like and to admire him. Like all great men, he is very vain. Ah, you
smile at the adjective, you will not always--he is great at all events
in crime."

"Forgive me, Kate, and thanks for your advice, but tell me frankly is
it likely he will do as you suggest and take a fancy to me?"

Madame surveyed him anxiously, and shook her head. "I'm afraid not,
dear. I'd like to say yes--but I think otherwise. You see, he adores
beauty both in men and women, later you will understand and discover,
but he hates ugliness or deformity just as ardently, and he will not
permit a creature to approach him that is not near perfect. If my
infernal husband had not so brutally ill-used your face, he would have
been sure to like you, for he has a weakness for all things English,
in spite of the fact that your country gave a home to his old enemy.
You see the French so hate the English, and have suffered so much at
the hands of your countrymen, that father cannot help but feel a little
kindly to the English."

"I see--well, I shall be prepared for his aversion. Do you think he
will kill me?"

"I shall not allow him to if I can help it. Do you think I want to lose
you, Frank? Why, I may have to spend years on this wretched little
island. It would be death in life alone."

Cressingham smiled at the selfishness lying beneath her spoken thought,
but the reply that trembled on his lips was never uttered, for the
Captain interrupting led them to a gangway and thence into a little
steam launch that puffed alongside the yacht.

The water swayed gently with a long, steady, gliding swell, its surface
unbroken by the slightest ripple, and the boat sped shorewards with
surprising speed. They landed at a small stone jetty, where Madame
dismissed the sailors and bade only Cressingham attend her. They
climbed arm in arm a gentle slope for some short distance from the sea,
then came to a narrow stone stairway leading abruptly upwards to the
heights. Step by step they ascended toilfully until, half the height
traversed, they found a resting terrace and seats of carven wood.

Halting a little while for breath they recommenced the journey, and in
twenty minutes reached a flat ledge of rock, fifty feet square, from
which the stone wall of an old half-ruined mediaeval tower sheered
straight above them to a dizzy height. Behind the tower stretched a
straggling granite mansion that seemed built right into the mountain's
heart, for huge crags jutted threateningly above its castellated tops,
crags whose fall seemed momentarily imminent. A wide granite flagged
path led from the steps around the tower which brought them soon unto
a splendid marble porch whose outer doors stood open and whose inner
doors were glorified with long and broad panels of rich stained glass.

Madame advancing rapped on the door with as much sang froid
as though she were making an afternoon call on some Park Lane
acquaintance. It opened wide, and Cressingham stood amazed to see a
hall more grand and splendid than that of any European palace he had
ever visited. Stately classic columns of dazzling alabaster ran in
double rows down each side to the farthest end, full sixty yards away,
where a wide white marble staircase mounted gently for twenty feet,
then bifurcated, each fork leading to a carven marble balustraded
gallery supported by the columns underneath. The floor was composed
of innumerable small solid sheet glass mirrors mosaiced into flowery
patterns which, reflecting in all directions the many-coloured electric
lights above, filled the great chamber with a flashing radiance
indescribably magnificent.

Immediately opposite the doorway in middle distance stood a band of
gorgeously upholstered negro servants, each a marvel of physical
perfection, their black and shining faces being in keeping, intelligent
and, although the faces of negroes, comely featured. In the centre of
this group, reclining on a many pillowed lounge, was a figure that
once descried arrested and irrevocably held the glance, however much
inclined to rove. A long lean figure it was, the figure of a tall and
thin but shapely gentleman attired in the manner of a bygone age.
A coat of black velvet and rich embroidered doublet of white satin
encased his body. His legs were clad in black velvet trunks and black
silk stockings, and on his feet he wore a pair of high-heeled, pointed
toed and diamond buckled shoes. He was old, that one might tell, but
nothing of his age, for his head was covered with an old-world powdered
wig carefully coiffured with its queue resting between his shoulders
at the back. At first glance his face appeared supremely beautiful.
The eye observed with delight that rare combination a perfect tout
ensemble and individual perfection of feature. But a long gaze
inspired both doubt and fear commingled with aversion. The brow,
so lofty and intelligent, was deeply scored with frowning furrows
straight above the eyes. The long and delicately pencilled eyebrows
took a satanic upward sweep beyond the temples. The eyes so large and
beautifully shaped were of a light sheeny colour, like nothing so much
as burnished steel, and their regard was hard as iron, cold and cynical
as death. The long straight nose with its arched and quivering nostrils
seemed to speak of strength, indeed, commanding strength, but strength
combined with supernatural pride. The arched and clearly chiselled lips
were red, but thin and cruel, and their corners drooped with weariness
or scorn. The perfect oval of the cheeks was honeycombed with narrow
wrinkles, and a million tiny crowsfeet lurked beneath the eyes. The
shell-like ears coned upwards to a point like the ears Italian painters
gave to satyrs and to demons, and finally one noted with a shudder that
the massive chin was strangely cloven. Behind the head of the lounge
on which the old gentleman reclined stood two small, copper coloured
men, who appeared to be slaves, for they were chained together by thin
steel gyves about six feet long, the left wrist of one to the right
of the other. They waited upon their master with the most scrupulous
attention, swaying obediently to his slightest gesture, their eyes
always unwaveringly fixed upon his face. Cressingham subsequently
learned that these men were both dumb, and were the Count d'Attala's
special attendants, who never quitted him a moment on any pretext, and
who saved him from the smallest physical exertion.

The Count d'Attala, tenderly assisted by the manacled slaves, was
raised slowly to his feet as Madame with her escort crossed the
threshold, and with stately measured steps he advanced to greet them,
supported and leaning heavily on the arms of his attendants. Madame
he took for an instant to his breast; he touched her forehead with
his lips, then put her from him. "Welcome, my daughter," he said, and
looked keenly at her. His voice was a thin baritone, and more than
anything about him betrayed the measure of his age. Seemingly satisfied
with her appearance he smiled and turned to Cressingham, to start back,
however, at sight of the Englishman's bandaged face and battered looks.
But he quickly controlled his emotion, and extending both hands gave
the young man a cordial grasp.

"Welcome to my house, Lord Francis Cressingham," he cried in English.
"All that I have is yours. It is a poor endowment, but a man cannot
give more than he has."

"My Lord," replied Cressingham gravely. "I thank you. I should
apologize for my unfortunate appearance, but I fear to inflict on your
Lordship an unmerited aspersion, since I have suffered at the hands of
one of your Lordship's servants who I know acted irresponsibly."

The Count turned inquiringly to Madame, who answered: "My father, it
was the Prince. Lord Francis lay bound and helpless at his mercy:
behold the mercy of the Prince!"

The Count smiled, and his face in that smile was the face of a Satan,
powerful, inscrutable, scornful, unutterably cruel. "The Prince acted
on his own responsibility, believe me, my Lord," he said slowly. "I
never ill-use a man whom I intend to kill."

Cressingham felt a shuddering coldness at his heart, but he answered
with calm indifference: "Your Lordship is a man of great mind who is
satisfied with the supreme. Meaner natures and lesser intellects seek
to improve on the punishment of death, unable to realize or understand
that what is absolute is best."

"You mean?"

"That in the hearts of the multitude hope springs perennially so strong
that pain with life prolonged is ever preferable to an instant painless
death."

"My dear Lord Francis, you speak of ordinary pain. I have known men
pray for death----"

"While in agony."

"True, but for the moment, of your goodness, let the question pass.
Supper has been long spread and I doubt not you are both hungry."

Offering his arm with a courtly bow to his daughter, the old gentleman,
always assisted by the dumb slaves, led the way to a little dining-room
beyond the staircase, and there Cressingham beheld a small square table
set for four in the most modern Parisian style.

They seated themselves to find a printed menu before the plate of each;
and this card was so replete and promiseful of all good things that it
was hard to choose a dish among them.

A negro footman stood silently beside each chair waiting commands with
stiff formality, and a fourth stood by the door. The manacled slaves
took up a position one on each side the Count, the chain that bound
them passing behind his back. The Count d'Attala ordered caviare,
Cressingham foiegras, Madame macaroni, tomato sauce and cheese.

The Count d'Attala then beckoned to the fourth negro.

"Miss Elliott is dressing?" he demanded.

The negro bowed low, and Madame glanced quickly at Cressingham, whose
heart had been profoundly moved on mention of that name.

"Bid her hasten!" said the Count sharply.

The negro bowed again and prepared to depart, but on that instant the
door opened and there entered the room apparelled in a shimmering satin
empire gown, whose jewelled drapings spoke of bygone courts and queenly
gatherings--Miss Francine Elliott.




CHAPTER XIII.--CONDEMNED TO DEATH

CRESSINGHAM sprang to his feet; the Count remained seated. Miss Elliott
swept gracefully across the room to the unoccupied chair; she nodded
to the Count, bowed to Madame and gave Cressingham her hand, starting
and paling a little to mark his battered face. "An accident?" she asked
tremulously.

He nodded, unable for a second to answer, but his eyes told her how
glad he was to see her once again.

The Count beckoned to the fourth negro, who immediately came forward
and stood beside Miss Elliott's chair. She gave a hurried order and
turned again to Cressingham. "You are not seriously hurt, I hope?"

"No, a few days should recover me. But you, are you well?"

"In health, yes." Her glance spoke volumes.

The Count d'Attala frowned and spoke to Cressingham: "To resume our
conversation, my Lord----"

"A sad theme to discuss before ladies," interrupted Cressingham.

"That depends on the manner in which it is discussed. Death is of
itself not an incident to stir a single tremor in a sane and well
regulated mind. Do you fear death, Kate?"

"No, father, not I," said Madame. "Not that I want to die, but when the
old Captain comes my way recruiting, he'll find me ready to enlist."

"And you, Miss Elliott?"

The girl smiled a little sadly, then answered: "I don't think I fear
death, very much, Count. It is really not so very terrible a thing;
indeed, at times its very contemplation is a comfort, since it offers a
refuge to the hopeless before whose portals all the stings of life are
forced to pause."

"You see, my Lord," said the Count grimly, "your fears were needless."
He turned to Miss Elliott: "Lord Cressingham and I were disputing a
certain point. He contended that death is of itself the best punishment
one man may inflict upon another."

"A sane man, sir," cried Cressingham.

"While I," went on the Count, unmoved, "declared and still declare that
certain pains may make a victim look for death as the best and kindest
gift left in the lap of life."

"Then," said Cressingham, "I withdraw my statement and beg permission
to agree with you. May we not therefore change the conversation, sir?"

"Not yet, for it is a propos of my intentions with regard to you."

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"Granted. You see, my lord, the motto of my house constrains me to
declare myself. 'Bis dat qui cito dat.' As a sane man I have no
desire to torture you unless you wish for torture. Do you catch my
meaning?"

Cressingham lifted a mouthful of dainty to his lips, and answered
presently: "I think I understand you, sir, but I cannot see the need of
such immediate haste. After the ladies have retired we might resume the
conversation."

"You must allow me to be the best judge of that necessity, my Lord,"
said the Count, and he slowly bit off and munched a piece of bread and
caviare.

Madame and Miss Elliott stared at the two men silently, and without
evincing a desire to eat.

Cressingham's nerves were on stretch, but his blood was up, and he ate
quite heartily, as though enjoying himself, at perfect ease.

"You see," went on the Count, "I have determined that the incident we
spoke of shall visit you to-morrow. There only remains to arrange the
manner of your dissolution."

"I understand," said Cressingham. Miss Elliott grew of a sudden very
white and her eyes glowed like stars.

"If you would prefer a lingering death," resumed the Count, "I have
no desire to thwart your wishes. I have on hand a large assortment of
tortures from which you are at liberty to choose. Some would postpone
the final moment for a week, thus allowing you full scope to put your
theories to the test."

"My dear sir--I told you before that you had converted me."

"Ah, I beg your pardon, I did not take you literally. In that case it
would be as well perhaps that we should now discuss the more painless
modes of death. Have you given the matter any thought?"

"Well, I can't say that I have." Cressingham could hardly comprehend
that the man was really serious. It occurred to him that this was
a gross and frightful jest, a bitter device for the testing of his
nerves; but a glance at Madame discounted such an explanation. Her
face was ghastly pale, and her hand which rested on the table trembled
spasmodically.

The Count observed the ladies with delighted eyes. "Kate, Miss
Elliott," he cried suddenly, with well acted concern, "you eat nothing."

Madame took up her knife and fork, but Miss Elliott shook her head. "I
am not hungry," she muttered.

The Count ordered wine, and when it had arrived sat back and sipped a
glass. Cressingham followed suit; his appetite had fled, but he forced
himself to appear indifferent, vowing inwardly that he would not let
this monster have the satisfaction of discerning in him one single sign
of terror or confusion.

"Perhaps, Kate, you could oblige your friend with an idea culled
from your experience," suggested the Count with a cruel smile.

Madame coloured slowly. "I beg you to excuse me," she answered.

"You then, Miss Elliott?"

Francine turned if possible paler than before. "This is all some horrid
jest," she cried.

The Count smiled again. "My dear young lady, I never jest," he said; "I
am too old to play the fool. Come, have you no suggestion?"

"None except that you kill me too!" She seemed about to faint and
swayed towards Cressingham, but he sent her a glance that gave her
sudden strength.

The Count bent upon her a countenance of severe reproach. "What, you
dare to say that you are tired of life! Ah, bah, you have scarcely
tasted it, besides you are a woman. You think now that you love this
young man, perhaps. Believe me, that will pass. You are beautiful,
young; there are many years before you. Death, no! I have other views
for you."

She was silent; he eyed her a moment, then turned to Cressingham. "It
seems that we shall be obliged to decide the matter between ourselves,
my Lord."

"Best, I think," said Cressingham.

"Ah-m," he cleared his throat and gave the young man a burning,
searching glance. "What of a bullet through the heart or brain? Death
would be almost instantaneous."

"Brutal," objected Cressingham.

"True, quite true! Science has of late years so refined these matters
for us! We shall therefore pass by suffocation, drowning, the rope,
the dagger and the coarser poisons. There remains to consider a few
comfort-giving powders and to choose one or some of them."

"Exactly. I have heard that morphia----"

"A good groundwork, my Lord, wherewith to induce sleep, but a
death-dealing dose often causes pain. Now if you will allow me to offer
a suggestion?"

"Why certainly; are you not master of ceremonies?"

"Ha, ha, ha! quite so. Well, morphia first to bring you sleep and
dreams, visions glorious, my lord, for morphia is nothing but a form
of that hasheesh of which the ancients were so fond. But mingled with
the morphia a little aconite and then in the midst of splendid dreams
will come death, a darker dream than the others, but who shall say less
sensuous or beautiful?"

"Excellent!"

"It is agreed then?"

"Why, yes."

"I see you handle that knife, my Lord, with, what shall I say--a
murderous intention in your eyes. I shall spare you the trouble of
attempting to use it fruitlessly. Mark this button on my chair.
Observe, I turn it--thus. Ah, you see!"

As he turned the button, Cressingham and the two ladies were on a
sudden rendered rigid and helpless as stone figures where they sat, and
they endured moreover tortures unspeakable.

"You hear that clicking sound?" said the Count. "It scarcely is
necessary to explain the matter to persons of your intelligence. You
are all seated on electric chairs, this button controls the circuit.
So! I switch it off, you are released! But beyond that, my Lord,
these negroes about us are my servants. You must surely have thought
me lavish of display to require so many to wait on us at table." He
laughed, a long, low, hideous chuckle of fiendish mirth it was.

Cressingham commenced to despair, for he now fully realized how utterly
helpless was his position, but with a violent effort he kept his self
control and asked: "At what hour, sir, do you intend that I shall die?"

"At noon to-morrow!"

Cressingham was about to speak when a loud rap came to the door and a
tall negro servant entered.

"What is it?" asked the Count.

"A cable, Highness."

"Read it aloud!"

The man unfolded the paper in his hand. "Khan
Barbaroka--Perigord--Eruted--Semaphore."

"The translation, fool! do you think I carry cyphers in my head?"

"Pardon, Highness. 'Expedition sailed this afternoon, Perigord
commanding. Cressingham blamed for Katherin's escape. Elopement
suspected. Police of all nations awake. Orders given for European
coastlines to be searched for secret cable stations, commencing east.
Have warned Peluchi. Keep Cressingham alive without fail till I arrive.
He is my prisoner. Frederick.'"

The Count d'Attala uttered a grim laugh. "The fool presumes to give
me orders, he shall see! Really, my Lord, I feel quite a humanitarian
in your regard. The Prince will undoubtedly be here to-morrow evening
anticipating a fine feast of revenge. The fellow is a coarse brute at
heart, who would put you to all manner of inconveniences. We shall,
however, forestall him."

Cressingham shivered. "Thanks, sir; I perfectly appreciate your amiable
intentions," he said with satire; "you will kill me painlessly at
noon to-morrow, less to save me tortures though than to spite your
son-in-law."

"Pardon me, spite is a bad word, and discourteous--say disappoint."

"Ah, a thousand apologies--disappoint."

"Until noon to-morrow, my Lord, everything I have is yours."

"Including liberty?"

"Everything," interrupted the Count, "with the single exception of my
daughter's company. I need her, for we have many matters to converse
upon--eh, Katherin?"

"Yes, father." Madame's manner was painfully subdued; she was pale and
pensive, and Cressingham, observing her narrowly, thought her a little
fearful too.

The Count nodded to the manacled attendants, who at once lifted him to
his feet. "You will excuse me, my Lord. I seldom eat much supper, and I
have business. Come, Katherin!"

Madame arose too and took his proffered arm. The Count turned at the
door: "My servants will show you to a room when you are weary"--he gave
here a coarse chuckle--"that is if you need separate accommodation, my
Lord. Here is a lady who was just now anxious to die with you, possibly
she will be disposed to lighten your latest hours. If so do not
hesitate on my account, for on this demesne exist neither conventions,
prejudices, morals----"

"Nor manners, sir!" interrupted Cressingham hotly, starting upwards as
he spoke, his face ablaze with passion.

"Tut, tut," said the Count, smilingly shrugging his shoulders; "manners
are conventions; here we are always natural, and say what we think if
it amuses us. I am sorry my suggestion failed to please you, for beside
Miss Elliott there is no other woman on this isle but Kate, and her I
need to-night, unhappily. You must try to forgive me, my Lord."

"Ah, bah!"

"Exactly--'ah, bah'--'tis an expressive phrase. By the way, there is a
little warning I should give you before we part. Until noon to-morrow,
as I have already told you, all that I possess is yours, including
your liberty. But see that you are to be found at noon to-morrow!
This island is small, scarce three miles square, 'tis inhabited only
by my people, but it is mountainous, and you perchance might find
some tempting hole to hide in. Well in that case, my Lord, you will
be sought out quite leisurely, and perhaps before you are found my
son-in-law will have arrived. You understand? He is a devil, that man,
and loves inflicting pain. If he has nothing else to do, he tortures
animals or insects to pass away his time. I wish to save you from his
mercy (I am aware you think it is because I wish to spite him); in
reality it is because you happen to be an Englishman, and I love the
English. Good-night, my Lord."

"A demain, sir."

"A demain, vraiment, et a la morte." His chuckle sounded far down
the corridor, even after the door had closed, and Cressingham was alone
with Francine Elliott. They looked at each other silently for long,
then two big tears fell splashing from the girl's eyes on to her gown.

"For heaven's sake don't weep, dear," said the man.

She stifled a sob. "It won't help us, will it, that?" and tried to
smile, but her lips trembled pitifully.

He stooped above her and kissed a loose strand of her hair. "Darling,"
he said brokenly, "the worst of it all is that I am powerless now to
help you."

She started to her feet. "Tell me everything that has happened since we
parted, tell me why I am here, why you are to die, everything!"

He did as he was bid, and two long hours were spent in the recital.
Francine heard of her father's condition in dry-eyed, speechless
misery; she listened throughout like one in a dream, but she heard all,
understood all, and at the end, when Cressingham had no more to tell,
she put her hand upon his arm and said--

"There is no hope for either you or me, Lord Francis, we are in the
hands of a human tiger; escape is impossible. This tiny little island
is inhabited only by the Count, his grandson and a score or two of
negroes and mongrel Europeans, every one of whom is a ruffian steeped
in crime. I have been here now six days and have been everywhere,
seen everything that may be seen, and studied all the creatures that
surround us. The Count has not sought to control my actions and does
not now seek to control yours, because he well knows such precautions
are entirely needless. To escape we should need wings."

"Or a boat," muttered Cressingham.

"There are only two boats on the island," sighed the girl, "and they
are always kept securely chained when not in use."

"In another hour we shall have daylight," said the man. "I shall then
explore the place--who knows, dear; some kind fate may befriend us."

The girl sighed, and said: "Then take me with you, will you please,
Lord Francis. Let us spend the last few hours together that are left
us."

"Us?" he queried.

"Yes, us! do you think I should care to live without--hope?"

"Francine!"

"I mean it!"

"You would kill yourself?"

"Not that. I have not the courage. But you are an English gentleman. I
put my life and honour in your hands. You will kill me when the last
comes; promise me!"

He shook his head. "No, dear, I'll not do that; you are in no immediate
peril. I think, dear, they will not try to harm you in any way, they
have no reason to. Besides, you must be rescued one day, soon I hope,
for Perigord will never rest till he has fulfilled his mission.
Moreover, I depend on you to clear my name for me, the name which that
villain has tarnished. No, Francine, you must live if only for my sake."

She smiled sadly. "My father is dying, you are about to die. What is
there left in life for me?"

"Come, come, dear, I haven't given up hope yet, nor shall I till the
very end."

"Hope, what is that with us, Lord Francis? A despairing effort to
postpone facing the inevitable."

"While life lasts, Francine, hope is the mainspring of ambition. It
gives me ambition now to work and find a way from here for both of us.
It gives me wider vision and points to better days, to longer life and
love----"

"Ah, you are brave--but you have not seen, you cannot understand."

"Dear, let us talk a moment of ourselves. The last time that we met you
were so kind to me I dared to dream----"

"Ah, heaven--how long ago it seems!"

"Yes, long enough, and fearful things have happened in between. But
Francine----"

"Ah, let us rest, my Lord. Soon if you think of trying to explore the
place we shall have toilsome work enough to do."

She led him to a couch and seated there looked up at him. "Do you know,
I feel so weary and so old, so very old."

He regarded her with tender pity, but a little of reproach was in his
eyes. "Too weary to remember, dear?" he asked. "I have been trying to
speak to you of something that might have been, that yet perhaps might
be."

"Ah, my Lord, what now matters anything?"

"Love, Francine."

She sighed profoundly, and shook her head. "I loved you once, I think,
perhaps I love you still, but I am miserable. Oh, my poor old father!
Ah, to think he is so ill, he that loved me so, and I away from him."
With a sudden gasping cry she threw herself forward on the couch and
great heart-breaking sobs shook her slender body violently. Cressingham
watched her in silence, tears trickling down his own cheeks. His heart
ached to soothe her, to help her in her great grief, but he dared
not touch her, he felt himself somehow too unworthy and the girl too
sacred. But soon she grew more composed and controlling herself looked
sadly up at him. "What, do men weep?" she asked, a mournful smile
parting her quivering lips.

He nodded, and answered huskily, "When they see the one they love in
pain, men sometimes weep."

"Ah," she sighed, "you love me, Frank?"

"Yes, dear," he said simply.

"Sit down beside me." He obeyed. "Do you think there is any hereafter,
Frank?"

"I do."

She sighed again. "I do not. I have tried, ah, so hard, to believe
that somewhere beyond our ken a good God exists who will judge us when
we die according to our lives on earth. But I can't, I can't, I never
could. It all seems too unreasonable, too wild and fanciful. Never a
shred of proof has any one advanced to me. If God exist why does He not
disclose Himself?"

"He does, Francine."

"Where?"

"In hearts and lives: sweet, pure, kind, charitable hearts and lives
like yours. Do you think your sweet, unselfish life has been of itself
without fount or purpose? It came from God, dear, and to God it will
return."

"You are foolish, Frank, because you love me. I have not led a really
good life. I have been a little charitable, but that was only because
it pleased me to help the helpless better than to disregard their
cries. Listen, Frank, I have sat by more than twenty death-beds of the
poor and watched the spirits of the sufferers depart. Would you not
think at solemn times like that some little sign would come? Well, I
have watched and watched, filled sometimes with hope and a wish to be
convinced. But no, all have died in the same dreary fashion, simply
ceasing to live because disease had disjointed or destroyed the parts
of their bodies whose coherence constituted life. Even from their last
words, no meaning could be drawn. Some died wailing to their friends
around them for help impossible to give; some in silence selfishly
resigned; others praying to their God and asking mercy for their sins."

"Francine, it hurts me, dear, hearing such things from you. It sounds
somehow like blasphemy, coming from your lips."

"It is blasphemy, Frank, but it is what I believe and think. I have
told you these things to show you how utterly hopeless I am both in
life and death."

"My poor girl, how I pity you!"

"Can you not help me, Frank?"

"I help you? I?"

"Teach me to believe as you do; give me some of your faith. I should so
love to think that after death I might meet father and you again!"

"Ah, dear, I am helpless! I know so little of God or Christ. I believe
in them because I was taught to believe when a child. I have never
questioned that teaching, never cared to, for what is all so beautiful
must be true."

"My poor Frank, you are only half a Christian! Good heavens, that there
are so many millions like you! I used to despise such faith at one
time, preferring my own wholehearted paganism. But now somehow it is
different. I long so to be comforted a little."

"Francine, soon it will be daylight."

"Frank, my heart is breaking; in a few hours you will die."

"Dear, you love me then? Ah, say you love me, Francine!" He bent
towards her, his arms outstretched, and the girl went to him slowly,
with parted lips and brilliant eyes that shone with unshed tears.

"Kiss me, Francine!" Their lips met in a long feverish caress, and
slowly the colour mounted to the girl's wan cheeks. The man gathered
her in close embrace and held her tightly to him, not satisfied until
she rested on his knees and her head reclined upon his shoulder. And
she, a little comforted, looked up at him and whispered: "I have so
longed to be your wife, Frank. I have always loved you, dear! Ever
since I have known you!"

"Darling!" he muttered, and kissed her passionately again.

She smiled. "I never intended to let that woman have you, Frank; I
wanted you too much."

"I never really loved her!" he muttered.

"Ah! I am glad of that--but even if you had, I must have loved you
all the same. I don't think I'm a very good girl, Frank. Even when I
thought she was your mistress I still wanted you. Do you hate me for
saying these things? But I may speak now without restraint, mayn't I,
since we are so soon to lose each other?"

"Sweetheart, let us hope a little still."

"I cannot, Frank; but hold me to you--kiss me often; when you kiss me,
for a second I forget to think, and am almost happy."

For a long while they reclined in silence folded in sweet
companionship, moveless and speechless. They watched the dawn creep
into the room, at first a pallid spectre that sought to strangle
unawares the lamp's hard light and scarce succeeded, later a rosy
sprite that peeped in at the windows to mock the man-made glare with
the contrast of her dainty blushing beauty. The lovers saw each other
soon by day, and each received a little shock, for the face of either
was haggard beyond belief and eloquent of misery.

"Frank," said the girl, breaking at last the long silence; "pure love
is beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes, dear, it is beautiful."

"I would gladly give up my life to save yours, Frank."

"Need I tell you, darling, that my feelings are the same?"

"No, I know. We belong to each other now, do we not? Soul and body,
Frank?"

"Soul and body, dear."

"You will not now refuse to take me with you when the time comes?" she
muttered tremulously. "Ah, Frank, promise me. If you die I shall kill
myself. I lied when I said I hadn't the courage, for I have; but ah,
dear, it would be sweeter far to die by your hand. Listen, dear, you
said that I am in no peril. You are wrong; I am. I already guess what
my fate shall be, for that terrible man has hinted things, and sneered
so often in the one direction that I am almost sure. He intends to sell
me to some hateful friend of his, a Turk, I think, for he is expecting
a visit from a Turk."

"My God!" cried Cressingham, "he would never dare?"

"Ah, Frank, what would he not dare? In pity promise me, dear love."

Cressingham kissed her on the lips. "Darling, if an hour before noon I
find all hope gone it shall be as you wish, we shall die together."

The girl arose, and took from the bosom of her dress a small but
vicious looking dagger, jewel hilted, which she gave to her lover. "I
stole it from the Count's own room," she said, "the very first night
that I arrived here. Let it be with this!"

He nodded, and concealed the blade about him, and presently Francine
slipped from the room to change her gown. When she had gone Cressingham
paced the room awhile, then, practical man that he was, crammed both
his pockets with eatables from the uncleared table. Miss Elliott
returned very soon wrapped in a long, grey cloak, and was his guide
from the chateau.

Guards there were none, the doors were all on latch, and no living soul
appeared to be on watch. The girl led the way behind the house to where
a flight of stone steps, similar to those he had climbed with Madame
the previous night, stretched winding upwards to the mountain top. Up
these they toiled, and in half an hour had gained the summit, where a
splendid view extended on all sides for a vast distance. Cressingham
saw at a glance how small was the island on which they rested. It lay
like a gleaming green jewel in a sapphire sea, for save for a few
small clearings its mountainous sides were covered with dense thickets
of olive-tinted shrubs. Looking sheer down the steps he marked how
cunningly the house was perched. It was entirely hidden from the sea by
the massive ruined walls of the ancient castle (whose tower and turrets
he had seen before), and only from the farthest inlet of the tiny bay
below could it be seen at all.

The yacht which had carried him from Naples had completely vanished,
and not a sail was in sight. The island itself offered no landing place
except the inner coastline of the little bay, and perhaps, on a fine
day, the outer shores of the necks of land that made the harbour, for
they were dented here and there with sandy reaches.

Elsewhere the coast was formed of jagged crags and precipitous
cliffs that sheered abruptly from the waters. He noticed about half
a mile from the chateau, almost at the base of one of these small
promontories, a small stone boat-house that, defended by a coping of
high rocks, seemed to run a little distance from the land, for the
waves lapped at its sides with curling tongues of spray. Straining
his eyes seawards, he espied, a dozen miles north-east, the outline
of another island which seemed, as near as he could judge, of more
important size than Attala. At first he thought, indeed, it was the
mainland, but the rising sun showed him only a flat, low-lying coast
with seas beyond, but the sight gave him a faint hope none the less,
so hard indeed it is for hope to die. As Francine had said, there were
only two boats visible on the island. Those lay in shallow water near
the beach, but a glance, even at that distance, showed that they were
fastened and secure with chains and giant padlocks.

Cressingham pointed to the boat-house. "What is kept there, Francine?"

"I am not sure, Frank, for no one is allowed in there except Desiré,
the Count's grandson, who has always been my mentor and companion (he
is only a boy, Frank). Desiré told me as a secret that his grandfather,
the Count, uses it as a workshop, and spends a great deal of time there
on a boat which he is building of steel and aluminium. This, it seems,
is the old man's single hobby. He has invented some new motive power
which be believes will revolutionize the shipping world, and in order
to test it, he is building a boat with the help of his grandson only,
for he will trust no other living soul with his secret. It is true, I
think, for I have often seen the Count escorted there by his servants,
and they always wait on the beach till he returns, since he permits no
one to follow him within."

"Ha, I should like to see the inside of that boat-house, Francine!"

"No use, dear. I have tried, but it is built of solid stone, and its
one door, which is of plated steel, is always locked. Desiré even dared
not take me there."

The lovers spent two hours on the look-out hand in hand, Cressingham
always gazing seawards, racking his brains for an idea, some plan
which might offer a tiny chance to win him his desires. But no hope
came to cheer him. Every chance of escape was inevitably removed, and
despair, a grim-visaged spectre, came at last, and stared him in the
face. A brave man, he fought the phantom off, and assuming an aspect of
cheerfulness which almost deceived the girl, invited her to sit upon
the steps and share his breakfast.

"Is it possible that you can eat?" she asked sadly.

He forced a laugh. "Must, my sweetheart. I never could think properly
on an empty stomach. Come along, darling, we'll have to clear out of
this soon, you know, and it's a pretty fairish journey we'll be taking."

"A long journey, indeed!" sighed the girl; "a journey from which there
will be no returning!"

"Well, who wants to come back here, anyway?" demanded Cressingham,
forcing himself to seem light-hearted. The girl sat down beside him and
watched him eat with wide but tender eyes.

"You cannot deceive me, Frank," she muttered presently; "you are
forcing yourself."

"Not I," he cried. "Come, come, sweetheart, it's barely eight o'clock;
we have four hours yet. By jove, who is that?"

The girl followed his gesture, and saw wandering along the beach
the graceful figure of a lad, who carried a bundle slung across his
shoulders.

"It's Desiré going to the boat-house," she replied.

They watched the boy lightly climb some boulders, then arriving at the
boat-house open the door, enter and disappear, the door closing behind
him.

"He must need light to work by," objected Cressingham; "perhaps the
building opens on the bay."

"No, dear; it can open there, I think, for there is a big iron door,
but it dips right into the water, and is always closed; he works by
electricity, I think."

"What sort of a lad is this Desiré?"

"A real sweet boy," said Francine. "He hates this island bitterly. He
has always been shut up here. He is very clever, I think; he knows all
about science and electricity, and that sort of thing. I have heard
him argue with the Count--who is a very learned man, Frank, to do him
justice--but each time Desiré held his own. Desiré works early and late
in that boat-house, only coming out for his health's sake, for his
grandfather has promised him, if the boat is a success, that he shall
go to some university in England."

"I see; but is not the lad mixed up with the Nihilists?"

"Yes and no; he is, of course, a Nihilist, he had to be, but he loathes
them in his heart."

"Francine, this boy might help us if we could get to him."

"Ah, dear, he is only a lad! What could he do?"

"He might give us a key to unlock one of those boats. Only think of
it, Francine. See! my God, one of the boats is fitted up with oars
and sails. There is not a living soul on the beach or near it. Great
heaven, let us go at once! If we could steal away now, we should get a
good start and with a wind! Francine, was I not right to eat? Please
God, I'll get you safe off yet."

The girl's eyes had taken a sudden light of hope, reflected perhaps
from his, for the man was near frantic with excitement. Joining hands,
they commenced the descent like a pair of eager children, but had not
proceeded twenty yards before a turn of the winding steps brought them
to a little platform and face to face with Madame Katherin Viyella.

"Stop!" she commanded. "I have come in search of you."

"For what purpose?" he demanded roughly, for on sight of her every bad
feeling in his heart had mounted uppermost and it was in his mind to
kill her, since she might bar the slender chance of their escape.

Madame held up a large key. "My father sleeps at last," she said, "and
I have procured this key. The servants are now at breakfast. You must
slip down speedily to the beach and with this key unlock one of the
boats. You should get an hour's start at least. More I cannot do for
you, Frank; I have risked my life in doing this much. Go, dear, go!"

"Kate, you have done this for me!"

"To save your life!" said Madame wearily; "I could not bear to see
you die. All I ask in return is that you should think kindly of me
sometimes."

"You know all my escape must mean?"

The woman smiled. "You are foolish, Frank. The Chief of the Nihilists
will never be taken; if you escape, he will abandon this retreat, that
is all."

"Ah, I see. Well, Kate, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Good-bye." He held out his hand, but Madame looked at him
reproachfully, and without a word he took her in his arms and kissed
her lightly on the lips.

"Farewell!" he said. "Come, Francine!" But Miss Elliott stared at him,
turned of a sudden cold as stone. "Do you think I would owe my life to
that woman, my father's murderess? You are mad, or dream, my Lord."

Cressingham groaned on seeing this new difficulty in his path, but
Madame, with a strange smile, swung on her heel and walked off with
these words: "Delay will be fatal, Frank. Soon the beach will be alive
with negroes who are going fishing out to sea. Their boat is now
awaiting you. If you are wise, haste and take it. Farewell!"

"Francine!" said the man hoarsely, "you see before you a chance to save
two lives, yours and mine. What matter whence comes this chance? It is
ours, let us take it."

"You go, my Lord," said Francine icily. "I shall stay."

"You know I shall not go without you," he cried.

"I beg your pardon, I know nothing now."

Cressingham threw himself on his knees before her. "Francine, I know I
am not worthy of you. I never was, but on my honour, darling, I love
only you. I kissed that woman just as I would have kissed one of those
cursed negroes if he had brought me a means of winning you from here."

"You kissed her!"

"I did. Hate me, cast me off if you will, dear, but let me save you."

"Or yourself!" The words were stinging as a whip lash. Cressingham got
slowly to his feet and looked at her; when next he spoke his voice was
calm and low. "You do me an injustice, dear; but have it as you will.
My death at least will prove I am not all the cad you think me." He
seated himself on the steps and buried his face in his hands.

Precious minutes passed slowly one by one, but he was hopeless now, and
did not feel so keenly as he had felt before. It came to him as a real
surprise when at last a trembling hand was laid upon his shoulder, and
a faltering voice whispered in his ear, "I was so jealous, Frank!"

Starting to his feet he seized the girl, his eyes agleam again with
hope.

"Francine!" he cried, and strained her to him, but she pushed herself
away. "First wipe your lips," she muttered. "I could not let you kiss
me after her!"

Next moment they were speeding seawards down the steps.




CHAPTER XIV.--A DREAM OF HOPE

THE adventurers arrived at the beach at last, and apparently without
having been observed. Cressingham cast an anxious glance behind him as
they reached the boats, but no one could he see nor any sign of life.
With trembling fingers he unlocked the padlock of the boat that was
already equipped, and drew it swiftly towards them from the sea.

It was then that they heard a loud mocking laugh, and turning, saw the
figure of the Count d'Attala supported on the arms of his slaves, and
accompanied by half a score of negroes, issue from a tunnel in the rock
some fifty yards away.

But Cressingham was desperate. Seizing Francine in his arms he threw
her in the boat, and springing aboard himself, caught up the oars
and fitted them into their rowlocks. He saw that some of the negroes
carried sculls upon their shoulders, and that all were armed, but with
a muttered cry to providence, he refused to let himself think, and bent
all his energies for a mad race with death.

Miss Elliott crouched down in the stern and covered her face with her
hands, for she could only see one upshot of the struggle, and had
abandoned herself to despair.

Cressingham heard the Count give a stern order: "No, do not shoot!
After them; take them alive."

Putting forth his utmost strength, he strained at the oars, but the
boat was huge and cumbersome, the oars were heavy, long, and difficult
to manage. He saw the negroes enter the other boat and push from the
beach. He marked their course, four strong men at the oars. They passed
him wide, intent on heading him off. Accomplishing their purpose, they
stopped and leisurely awaited him. With an angry cry he ceased his
toil, seeing the mad vanity of further travail, for he was hopelessly
entrapped.

"It's all up with us, Francine," he muttered hoarsely.

The girl stood up and gazed with wild eyes into his.

"The time has come to keep your promise, Frank," she cried.

He got to his feet, too, and glanced despairingly about him, as though
taking a last look at the bright world before departing on that unknown
voyage from which there can be no return.

The negroes were backing water and slowly approaching him, still eighty
yards distant. His own boat lay idle on the water immediately opposite
the portcullised mouth of the stone boat-house of the Count d'Attala.

The boy Desiré stood upon the beach outside the door gazing at them
intently, while two hundred paces to the right the Count himself sat on
a rock smoking a cigarette and waiting unconcernedly for his prisoners
to be brought back to him.

Suddenly Cressingham gave a start. "We have one hope left!" he cried.

"What is it, dear?"

"The boat-house. I must leave you, dear. It is a chance and a
desperate one, but it may save us yet. See, darling, the sea door of
the boat-house only just dips into the sea. I shall pretend to stab
myself, and then jump overboard. Then I shall dive, and swimming under
water, try and reach the boat-house door, under which I shall swim,
and afterwards throw myself upon Desiré's mercy. If he is the lad you
think, he will help us; who knows? Shall I chance it, dear?"

"Yes, Frank, go, and God be with you. If there is a God, He will surely
help you!"

"Then kiss me, dear."

They embraced, and then, in full view of all the watchers, Cressingham
took the dagger from his pocket, brandished it before the eyes of his
pursuers, and to all seeming plunged it deep into his heart. He gave a
sharp scream, and toppling overboard, disappeared instantly beneath the
surface of the waters. Miss Elliott uttered a terrible shriek and threw
herself at full length in the bottom of the boat. The negroes, with
fierce guttural cries, propelled their own boat swiftly forward.

The boy Desiré stood as if turned to stone, while the Count d'Attala
started to his feet, let fall his cigarette, and swore a savage oath at
the man who had dared to balk him thus.

Miss Elliott was soon roughly roused from her position, but she did
not heed the negroes' insolence. Every second that passed seemed to
her an agonized eternity, for every second she expected to hear the
outcry which would proclaim her lover's failure, his capture and his
death. She held her eyes tightly closed and scarcely dared to breathe,
so fiercely terrible was her anxiety, but minutes passed and nothing
happened. Could it be possible, she asked herself, that he had actually
succeeded?

With a fearful effort she opened her eyes and glanced at the shore. No,
it seemed incredible. The boat-house was fully sixty yards away. But
yet, and yet her lover had not appeared again. Perhaps he had deceived
her! Perhaps he had really killed himself in order to force her to live
on! Perhaps he was drowned! Each thought filled her heart with anguish
unspeakable. As in a horrible dream she saw the negroes leaning over
the boatside peering keenly into the dark waters. She marked Desiré
now perched on the roof of the boat-house glancing eagerly about him.
But Cressingham did not appear again, and after a half hour infinitely
dreadful to the girl the search was abandoned and she was taken to the
landing place and subsequently to the chateau, no one apparently having
conceived an idea so mad as that Cressingham might have performed the
apparently impossible feat of swimming under water for so great a
distance to take refuge in the boat-house.

As for Cressingham, when he took the dive he entertained no illusions.
He was desperately conscious that the slender chance he grasped at
was his last and only hope of salvation, and he swam for dear life
itself. The swim was long and full of fearful effort, for before he had
traversed half the distance his breath was almost used, and he combated
two forms of death instead of one. But with bursting heart and swollen
lungs he struggled madly on, fortunately in the right direction, but
he never gave a thought to that. He ceased struggling at last, unable
to move another muscle without taking breath, and his only idea at
first was failure. He had done his best; no man might do more. Well,
he had failed, and must pay the penalty. His mind was filled with a
vague pity for Francine; he had not kept his promise to her, he now
would never have the opportunity. He wondered dimly if she would have
the courage to take her own life; and then, forgetting her, there came
into his brain a thousand mind-pictures of the past, vivid, real and
flashing pictures that flitted past his mental eyes with phantasmagoric
rapidity. Long-forgotten incidents of his childhood recurred to him,
events buried in the deep oblivion of years. He remembered to have
heard that such sensations preluded death, but a strange lassitude held
his limbs, he experienced no pain, but rather a blissful and reposeful
dreaminess.

Suddenly all this went from him. He was really dying now, and nature's
struggle with its old arch enemy set in in spite of him. His hands
unconsciously beat the waters, uplifting him, and finally he reached
the surface. The anguish of the fight with death restored him to his
senses, his aching lungs discharged the long-held poisonous breath,
and a deep draught of sweet air took its place, but the transition was
accomplished with a torture so keen that only weakness kept him from
screaming out.

He wondered vaguely in a moment why he was not already seized and why
he heard no shouts of triumph at his appearance. Then he opened his
eyes that had closed in his late unconsciousness, and they were dazed
with a brilliant glare of artificial light. With a gasp of rapture
hope returned, and he realized that after all he had succeeded. One
of his hands in his drowning struggle had unconsciously clutched a
stake driven into the water. This had stayed and saved him. Slowly
strength returned, and he looked curiously about him. The boat-house
was a single apartment, long and narrow; one half composed of a stone
platform whereon reposed long wooden work-tables and a score of
strange, bright, many-wheeled engines, covered with crystal frames, and
other implements; the other half was all water to the iron portcullis
at the farther end behind him. Above his head was a platform of planks
running from the stone floor right to the portcullis, and above this
platform swung a narrow skeleton-like boat, whose sides shone like
burnished silver in the fierce electric light.

Cressingham discovered that he could completely conceal himself from
observation by remaining beneath the plank platform. He had no desire
to land just then, fearing that the Count d'Attala might accompany
Desiré back to the boat-house. Nor was he mistaken. After half an hour
of waiting, he heard voices, and the lad entered the building, his
grandfather at his heels.

"Do you think his body will soon come up, sir?" asked the boy in
Italian. His voice was soft and liquid as that of a girl.

"I don't," answered the Count; "he must have been dead before he
touched the water, for he sank like a stone. The bay is full of
currents, and his body will be probably carried out to sea--that is,
if the sharks let it alone. I can't understand how he got that dagger,
though."

"Perhaps Miss Elliott gave it to him."

"Ah, boy, you are right. I missed a knife from my room some days since;
I thought you had taken it, and intended to ask you."

"No, sir, I touched no dagger."

"Well, how goes the work, lad?"

"Smoothly, sir. I have completed the alloy, and am now shaping it into
plates. It's hard work, though."

"Bah! you are young."

"I am not grumbling, grandfather; please don't think I'm grumbling. I
wouldn't shirk anything to earn what you have promised, sir."

"Well, well; don't waste time. I shall expect to hear from you this
afternoon that half the plates at least are finished."

"I'll do my best, sir."

The Count d'Attala strode out, showing no signs of weakness although
deprived of the assistance of his slaves. He slammed the door behind
him violently.

Cressingham from his humid lair watched the boy take up a large sheet
of white metal and place it in a frame, then bring to bear on it an
appliance from one of the strange machines, which he set in motion by
pressing on a lever. There followed a sharp and deafening hiss, and
he could see now a tiny saw was cutting through the plate as fast as
though it were a board of deal. This operation was often repeated, then
came a filing process, exercised with marvellous care and attention to
detail, and the divided plates gradually assumed uniform proportions.
Cressingham watched the work, completely fascinated for a time, but the
water, which had long ere this penetrated his bandages, commenced to
pain and smart his bruised body, and he only awaited an opportunity to
declare his presence.

Fate brought him a splendid chance. The boy Desiré while comparing two
plates by transposition mused aloud: "I am glad that I did not meet
that gentleman, Lord Cressingham. Miss Elliott is always saying what
a splendid man he is. I should have been sure to want to help him to
escape, and if I had, grandfather----" He paused, as if reflecting.
"Well, I suppose he'd not have killed me, I'm too useful to him for
that, but I'm sure he'd punish me by breaking his promise in the end."

Cressingham listened breathlessly, and at the last word sighed out his
relief. The noise startled the boy. He dropped the plate and glanced
furtively at the water. Cressingham pushed himself into the light. The
boy turned deathly pale, and stood staring at the apparition shocked
and rigid, for the man's face was indescribably ghastly seen under the
white glare of the electricity.

"Boy," he whispered hoarsely, "I am Lord Francis Cressingham."

But Desiré, white to the lips, muttered out: "I never harmed you, sir;
you know I never harmed you. Don't hurt me, sir. I'm a good Catholic,
and when I get to England I shall have masses said for your soul."

Cressingham smiled wanly at the thought, and said: "I'm not a ghost,
Desiré; I'm alive."

"But how did you come here, then?" demanded the boy, only half
reassured.

"I swam here under water from the boat and under the door. I only
pretended to stab myself."

"Good heavens, what a swimmer you must be!"

"I want you to help me, Desiré. Miss Elliott told me how good and kind
you have been to her; she sent me to you." He swam to the platform as
he spoke, and painfully dragged himself from the water.

The boy fell back a few steps, eyeing him in sheer affright. "Help
you!" he stammered; "how can I?"

"I don't know yet; later we shall see. You can hide me here for a few
days, can't you? You would not like to see me die, Desiré. A few days,
is that much?"

"Ah!" (hesitatingly) "but you must soon be caught, and then my
grandfather will know, and I shall suffer for it. You see," he added
shamefacedly, "I've worked on this boat for two years now, day and
night, day and night. When it is finished grandfather has promised to
send me to England to the Cambridge University. But if I do anything to
vex him in the meantime, he will not let me go."

"Then you would rather see a fellow creature murdered before your eyes
than risk a little to try to save him?"

The boy cast down his eyes, and was silent for a time. He was
wonderfully beautiful of face, this boy, and strangely like Madame
Viyella in feature--but he differed just as strangely in expression.
His eyes were heavy lidded, large, and marvellously kind; his mouth was
soft and tremulous, and his lips quivered as the man observed him.

"I've so wanted to get away from this horrible island; I've always
been here, you see," he muttered plaintively at last; "and you must be
caught, my Lord. It's not like as if I could really serve you or help
you to escape--only God could work such a miracle as that, and God
never comes near this place."

"My boy," said Cressingham impressively, "God is everywhere, although
He be not manifest. He fulfils Himself by divers means and ways we
cannot always understand. It is God who has given you now charge of
a fellow's life. Be sure that He reads into your heart and sees the
selfish impulses at war there with the generous promptings of your
better nature."

"You speak like my friend the Abbé who died here last summer," said the
boy. "It was he who told me about God. Have you ever seen him?"

"Whom, the Abbé?"

"No; God!"

"No, Desiré; it is only when we die that we can look upon His face.
That is why foolish men dare sometimes to be wicked and disobey His
commands."

"One of His commands is to love all men, is it not?"

"Yes, my lad, it is."

"Then I have disobeyed that order," said the boy, "for I hate everybody
on this island, even mother. Am I very wicked?"

"We are none of us perfect, Desiré. But say, will you help me, or give
me up? I am entirely at your mercy, as you see."

"I won't tell on you, of course; you may stay here until you are
discovered."

"Thank you, boy; let us shake hands on that."

Desiré came forward and offered both his hands. "I like you, my Lord,"
he said frankly. "I shall be so sorry when you are caught, but if you
are careful you may live here for quite a long time, for I shall feed
you, and grandfather seldom comes to work here lately, he is so old
that he grows tired very soon. The only thing is--ha! I did not think
of that----"

"What, Desiré?"

"The tunnel."

"What tunnel?"

He pointed to the rocky wall against which the boat-house was built, and
Cressingham saw the outlines of an iron door cunningly let into the
solid rock. "He sometimes comes that way," he muttered fearfully, "and
spies on me as I work. If he came now he would catch you easily."

Cressingham shivered. "That door opens on a tunnel, then?"

"Yes, which leads to grandfather's bedroom. No one knows about it but
grandfather and me, not even mother. The whole island is honeycombed
with tunnels; if you once got in there, and didn't know your way, you
might wander for days in the dark, and no matter how you cried out, no
one would ever hear you."

"That would be horrible; but where could I sleep, Desiré, where I would
be safe?"

Desiré pondered a while, then pointed delightedly to the silver boat
that swung on its davits above their heads. "In there," he cried,
"you would be perfectly safe, for we never let it down. It is quite
finished, and only needs the engines, which I am busy making now. You
had better get in it at once, in case of accidents," he continued
presently, "for I have to work, and while I am working one can hear
nothing."

Cressingham obeyed, and swung himself on board the boat, which he
found to be very lightly but substantially constructed of some alloy
of steel and aluminium. It was furnished fore and aft with water-tight
compartments, and a large space in the centre waited for the engines
that Desiré spoke of. Leaning over the side he watched the boy at his
work, and marvelled at the patience and wonderful skill he employed
in the labour that engrossed him. Four hours sped by, and then Desiré
threw down his tools. "I must go to lunch now," he said; "I shall bring
back something for you in my pockets."

"Will you see Miss Elliott?" asked Cressingham.

"Why, yes. She always has her meals with grandfather and me."

"Please try to let her know that I am safe; she will be dreadfully
anxious."

"I shall try; good-bye, my Lord."

He was gone two hours, and on his return seemed very anxious and
distressed. "I could not tell Miss Elliott," he said quickly, "for
the Prince, my mother's husband, has arrived, and I could not see
her alone; but I made a sign to her, and grandfather saw me. He was
very angry and beat me cruelly. He pretends to think that I intend to
run away with Miss Elliott in this boat as soon as the engines are
finished, and he is coming soon to take away all the completed plates,
so that I cannot do what he suspects. He is now perhaps on his way. Oh,
if he should find you here!"

Cressingham found himself sharing the lad's fears, for although, if
the Count came and found him, he succeeded in killing the monster,
that would not help him to escape, but would probably precipitate Miss
Elliott's ruin as well as his own. "Is there not some other hiding
place?" he cried.

Desiré gasped out--"The tunnel!" and ran to the door which he opened
with a key from his belt. "Come quickly!" he cried.

Cressingham followed the boy, who striking a match darted into a dark
and dripping passage that led upwards like a staircase, but soon they
left the main path and entered a cross passage that led into a spacious
stalactited cavern. "Remain here!" said Desiré. "I shall come to you
as soon as I can!" and thrusting some matches into the man's hands he
hurried back like a sprite into the darkness, seeming to know his way
by instinct.

Cressingham stood for a long hour in the pitchy blackness of the place
listening to the ghostly, ceaseless splashing of the drops of water on
the stones about him, a splashing that had lasted then for countless
ages and would last perhaps until the end of time.

The horrid loneliness got on his nerves at last, he felt chilled all
over to the bone, and sick too with anxiety and superstitious fears.
Unable to bear it, he struck a match and glanced about him. In the
centre of the chamber stood the ruined stem of a monstrous slab-shaped
stalagmite which some upheaval of nature had overthrown perhaps
centuries before. It was of dazzling whiteness, and looked like a
sarcophagus. The cavern was dome-shaped, its ceiling hung with millions
of glittering inverted spires and pinnacles, all of crystal brightness,
while about the sides weird, fantastic columns reared up like so many
cold and shrouded corpses frozen into stone.

The cavern seemed to have a dozen entrances, and Cressingham
experienced a sudden chill of fear, for he had already utterly
forgotten the direction he had come. He raised himself upon the
sarcophagus and there, sitting in the dark, for matches were too
precious now to waste, gave himself up to all manner of sad and gloomy
speculations, and wondered with a thrill of horror how long he would
be able to retain his sanity in that dreadful place. He was not a
particularly superstitious man, but he was more imaginative than many,
and his fancy peopled the darkness with strange phantom shapes, eyes
that stared and mocked him from the shadows, lips that writhed in
soundless but sardonic mirth.

He gave utterance to a wild, hysteric laugh, when of a sudden footsteps
sounded in one of the corridors and he caught the far gleam of a lamp.
It was Desiré, who carried in his arms a bundle of rugs, a lantern and
a mass of food. Cressingham was struck dumb to learn that he had been
five hours alone and that night reigned over the world without. It had
not seemed to him a tithe as long, so intense had been his feelings and
his fears; but the lamplight and his supper quickly changed all that.

Desiré told him while he ate that it would be better to take up his
abode in the cavern for the present, as the Count, once inspired with
an idea, was hard to satisfy, and he would probably pay frequent visits
to the boat-house for many days. He had come as he had threatened and
carried off all Desiré's completed handiwork and set the lad doubly
heavy tasks to do. It appeared that there had been angry times at the
castle, that Madame Viyella, who it transpired was Desiré's mother,
had had a violent quarrel with her husband, and the Count d'Attala had
taken sides with the Prince.

Miss Elliott had fallen ill and was confined to her room. Everything
was upset and the whole place difficult to live in. One of the negro
servants, moreover, had given the Prince some insolent reply, and he
had been incontinently shot by the Count d'Attala. "Poor wretch,"
sighed the boy, "he was a brute, the negro, but he was always kind to
me: I shall never forget his dying scream."

"Is Miss Elliott really ill?" demanded Cressingham.

"I think so, for grandfather visited her to see. He would never have
allowed her to absent herself from dinner if she were not really sick.
Grandfather hates to be alone, you know; he loves company better every
day, that is why he was glad when Miss Elliott came here--he likes her,
I think."

"Does your grandfather always live on the island, Desiré?"

"Oh, no; only during the winter months. He goes away each spring in his
yacht, but where I do not know; he never tells me anything."

"He is expecting the visit of some Turk, is he not?"

"Oh, yes; that is my father."

"Your father?" gasped the man.

"Yes, have you ever seen him? Yussef el Jibaloff is his name?"

"No, never. What is he like?"

"He is a devil," cried the boy sharply; "a cursed devil! Every time
he sees me he laughs horribly and tries to strike or kick me, unless
mother is by, and then he says some hateful thing to her that makes her
laugh. I hate her most when he is here. She is generally kind to me at
other times."

"My poor boy," said Cressingham, "I pity you from the bottom of my
heart. You must come away with me and Miss Elliott. We'll look after
you. We'll make you forget all this; we'll be father and mother,
brother and sister to you, and give your life a little of the love it
has lacked so long."

The lad smiled sadly. "That is a pretty dream," he said. "Sometimes I
think I shall never be able to leave this cursed island. But I must
away for I have work to do. I shall leave you the lamp, it is full of
oil and you need not fear to burn it. Grandfather never comes this way.
Good-night, my Lord."

"Good-night, Desiré. Think of my words, lad; I meant them." But Desiré
had vanished into the dark.




CHAPTER XV.--THE DOOM OF A MONARCH

IN spite of his terror, Lord Francis Cressingham slept in the dark that
night. He had not been able to divest himself of a queer presentiment
that he would be abandoned in the cavern and that he might later
need every drop of the oil the lamp contained. When he awoke, it was
of course pitch dark, but some inner consciousness told him that
morning had come upon the earth. He lighted the lamp, and finding
himself stiff and chill in spite of Desiré's rugs, sprang from the
sarcophagus and smartly paced the floor. He breakfasted on the remains
of his last night's supper, and then sat down to await the advent of
Desiré with whatever patience he could gather. His watch had stopped,
therefore time had lost meaning for him, and hours or moments passed
with indifferent dulness. He discovered soon an anxiety to explore
the place, to search and pry into those dark holes that opened on
the chamber in which he was and whose secrets his lantern failed to
penetrate for more than a paltry distance. But he simply dared not risk
such an undertaking yet, fearing to get lost, and he determined to ask
the lad on his next visit to obtain for him a ball of twine so that he
might make some record of his journeyings and be able to return to his
starting point at will.

It seemed to him that many hours had passed when Desiré at last
arrived, but he experienced no surprise on being made aware that
another whole day had unrolled its score; upon the book of time. The
boy's news was sad. Miss Elliott was very ill, indeed so ill that the
Count's physician was in constant attendance upon her. She had become
delirious and was constantly raving, calling wildly on some one to save
her father and "Frank." She no longer recognized anyone, and was in the
midst of a sharp attack of brain fever.

Cressingham listened with misery unspeakable, but Desiré soon wandered
off to other themes. His father had arrived at the chateau, and now two
yachts lay at anchor in the bay. Madame Viyella had further incensed
her husband by paying open court to her old lover, and it seemed that
the Count d'Attala took a savage pleasure in assisting events and
stirring up the passions of his guests.

The boy later on suggested that Cressingham should return with him
to the boat-shed, for an hour or two, there being no fear of any
interruption, as a conference had been arranged between the three
Nihilist chiefs in the Count's rooms, which of necessity required the
Count's presence.

Cressingham very gladly agreed, and it was with feelings of real
satisfaction that he left the dreary cavern and found himself once
again in the boat-house. Desiré no longer worked upon his metal plates;
he was now engaged in preparing fresh alloy, and as that required only
the paying of intermittent attention to two small bronze furnaces,
he was at liberty to converse with his protege almost at his ease.
Cressingham wandered about for a while peering into things and asking
questions to which the boy returned short and guarded answers; but
there was a method in his quest. He presently found a large twisted
roll of twine and this, during one of Desiré's moments of occupation,
he concealed beneath his waistcoat, for he did not want to ask Desiré
to help him too much, as he feared the lad might prove to have scruples
if he learned for what purpose he required the cord.

Cressingham took a seat at last and surveyed his companion critically.
"So you are a Nihilist, Desiré?" he said abruptly.

The lad coloured a little and laughed constrainedly, "I wouldn't be if
I could help it," he replied.

"Why not?"

"I don't like them or their ways."

"You don't like the idea of being cruel to people, of murdering
creatures you have never seen and who have done you no wrong?"

"That is it." Desiré looked up with bright and fearless eyes. "Do you
know, my Lord, when I get to England I intend to give it all up, to
escape it if I can? Do you think I could? England is a big place, isn't
it; not like this little island? Do you think I could hide so that they
would not find me?"

"I think so," said Cressingham with a fleeting smile; "you must come
and live with me, I shall protect you. I am a rich man, Desiré."

"So am I," said the lad. "Ah, you need not laugh. I showed the Abbé; he
laughed too at first, but after he had seen, that is what he said."

"What did you show him?"

"My jewels. I took them from grandfather's chest. He had so many he
could never miss them, indeed he has never missed them, but I did not
know they were valuable at the time. I took them just to amuse myself
with them, they are so beautiful."

"Show them to me, will you?"

The boy looked at him keenly.

"I won't rob you," laughed the man.

Desiré flushed hotly. "I was not thinking that," he cried: "I
was thinking that perhaps I should return them. They are really
grandfather's, you know."

Cressingham shook his head. "Your grandfather is not worthy such
consideration, lad; he is one of the wickedest men on earth."

"Is it not wrong to take--to steal from the wicked, then?" The boy's
words were without an afterthought; he asked the question simply, from
the depths of an incomparable innocence. Cressingham met his pure
inquiring eyes and felt quite a thrill as he looked. Answer he could
find none for a moment, but then he said: "It is wrong to steal from
anyone, Desiré."

"Then I shall put the jewels back to-morrow. I have them hidden in the
house and cannot get them to-night."

"Do you always do what you think is right, Desiré?" asked the man,
who felt amazed and a little shamed before the boy's strangely frank
straightforwardness.

"I always try," said Desiré.

Cressingham felt in his heart a sudden glow of eager hope. "Listen,
boy," he said; "listen attentively, for I am going to try to show you,
make you understand, a great chance that has come into your life to do
a great good to the world."

"Yes, my Lord."

"You know the objects which this terrible society to which you belong
has in view?"

"Pardon me," interrupted the boy; "I know what you would say, I think,
but the Abbé taught me all that. He wanted me to help him to kill my
grandfather and afterwards escape with him. He told me that by doing so
I should rid the world of a monster and earn the gratitude of nations
and of kings."

"Ah!"

"I thought that he was right. I felt he was right in here"--(he pointed
to his heart)--"and I tried to bring myself to do what he advised, but
I could not, my Lord; I had not the power, I do not love grandfather,
but somehow, even when he beats me, I could not even try to harm him."

Cressingham was silent, and the lad continued, speaking almost
apologetically: "You see, my Lord, I have always lived with him, and
sometimes he has been kind to me. Besides, I have never been able
to harm anyone or anything. When grandfather has any of the negroes
flogged, it hurts me almost as much, I am sure, as it does them, and
their cries ring in my ears for days. I always have to run away."

In spite of his keen disappointment, Cressingham could not help feeling
a sincere respect rise in his heart for this strange, sweet-natured
boy, who had grown up pure and good amidst a festering mass of evil
and of crime. "I should not have asked you to kill your grandfather,
Desiré," he said quietly. "Only to help Miss Elliott and me to escape
and to yourself accompany us. Then we should be able with your help to
frustrate the Count's diabolic purposes, and perhaps, nay surely, save
the lives of great and good men whom he hates because of their goodness
and his own wickedness."

The boy shook his head. "I would love to escape," he said, "but that is
not possible."

Cressingham pointed to the silver boat: "Not with the help of that?
Even without engines, with oars and a sail we could manage."

Desiré blushed at this, and muttered in a low voice, his eyes on the
floor: "I scarcely like to tell you, sir."

"Speak, Desiré."

"You may think me foolish and wicked."

"No, I promise not to."

"Well, ever since you spoke to me last night, I've been thinking of
what you said. I know you are right and kind and good, and I am wrong
and wicked, although I want terribly to do what you say, but I can't,
because----"

"Well?"

"Because he trusts me."

"Trusts you, does he? Didn't he take the plates from you, then?"

Desiré gasped: "Yes, but I have the key of the portcullis; if he had
really ceased to trust me, he'd have taken that first."

Cressingham almost groaned. "Have you given him your word?"

"No, I wouldn't mind so much if he had asked me for that. He just
trusted me because he felt he could. I couldn't disappoint him, could
I, sir?"

"You ought to, Desiré, if you really desired to do right. If, say, you
had promised to kill a man, would you keep your word?"

"No, but that is not trust, not silent trust."

"If by keeping that trust my life is sacrificed, what then?"

The boy got slowly to his feet and answered gravely: "I should be
sorry, my Lord----"

"Ah!"

"But if my own life were to be sacrificed as well as yours I would
still do the same, because I could not do anything else."

"You are hard, my boy; hard and obstinate."

Desiré drew himself suddenly erect and walked immediately to the tunnel
door, which he threw wide. "You had better return, sir, to the cavern,"
he said coldly; "you cannot miss it if you take the first turning to
the right. Your lamp and food are there. I shall visit you to-morrow."

"Why this sudden change, Desiré?"

The boy's lips trembled, but he stared Cressingham straight in the
eyes. "Look you, my Lord," he said; "I have spoken to you just as I
used to speak to the Abbé, and told you all about myself just as I am,
because you asked me. I cannot help myself, I am as I was made and
cannot alter. But because I cannot bring myself to do what you want,
you insulted me and called me names." At this he gave a great sob, and
to Cressingham's utter amaze broke down and wept like a veritable girl.

The man was entirely nonplussed, and for a time could only stare
silently at the boy's shaking figure. He watched his chest heave up
and down with big choking sobs; he saw the tears trickle through his
fingers and fall to the ground in a perfect stream. Quite unnerved by
the sight, he tried to soothe him with muttered apologies, but Desiré
seemed heart-broken and wept on unreservedly. Cressingham patted him
on the shoulder with one hand and passed his free arm round the boy's
slender body, marvelling to find how slight he was and lithe. Then with
a sudden gasp of sheer astonishment he started back; in a flash of
light a dozen mysteries having been explained to him. Desiré was a girl!

"Good God!" he cried sharply, "what is the meaning of this?"

His sudden start and cry shocked Desiré into self-control. She ceased
her sobs and looked up through her tears. "What?" she muttered.

"You are a girl!" he cried.

Her face turned scarlet on the instant, and she watched him as if
fascinated, her big shining eyes staring at him strangely.

"But are you sure?" she demanded breathlessly.

He eyed her with deep suspicion, wondering if such innocence could be
all assumed. "You should know best," he said half-angrily.

"How could I know?" she cried. "I have suspected so for a great while,
and once I asked grandfather, but he beat me cruelly for asking him the
question, and I have never dared ask anybody else."

"Do you mean to say," asked Cressingham, feeling somehow his flesh
begin to creep; "do you mean to say you don't know yourself?"

Desiré's lips trembled pitifully. "Please don't speak to me like that;
I can't help it, my Lord. There has never been anybody to tell me
things."

"What, not your mother?"

"She is never here, or almost never, and I have always been too ashamed
to speak to her. It seemed so foolish too. If I am dressed like a boy,
I must be a boy, mustn't I?"

Cressingham felt a burning indignation surge over him against the
monstrous creatures who had parented this sweet, soft-hearted child. He
had hated them all before, with the exception perhaps of Madame, but
he now regarded them with feelings of utter loathing and abomination.
Before, they had seemed devilishly inhuman, now they appeared to him
entirely fiendish. He intently watched the girl who had for a moment
forgotten his presence in a sudden, deep, rapt contemplation.

"My poor Desiré," he said, "you still doubt?"

She nodded, watching him breathlessly.

"Go," he said, "go quietly to your mother, tell her that you know. She
will make you understand."

"But if I am really a boy?" she cried, paling suddenly; and the man
revered her for the chaste and delicate thought that prompted her words.

"Come here, Desiré," he said softly.

The girl went shyly towards him and her face dyed slowly when she met
his eyes. He put his hands upon her shoulders and slowly bent his face
to hers.

She started back, her cheeks aflame: "What would you do?" she gasped.

"This," he answered; and with reverent gentleness he kissed her softly
on the lips. "Poor little girl!" he muttered. There was no treachery
to Francine in his act. It was as though he had caressed a child. He
was touched to the heart with pity as every good man is at any child's
distress.

She gave a low, quick sigh, then as he released her, hid her face in
her hands. "Oh, I feel so strange, so lonely, so miserable," she panted.

"Depend upon it, you are a girl, Desiré," he said gently.

"I think I am," she muttered. "If I am, I shall never forgive them for
not telling me--never, never."

"They have treated you vilely," said Cressingham; "they deserve at your
hands nothing but hatred and aversion."

"If I am really a girl, I shall do what you--ah, what am I saying?"

"Speak on, Desiré, for what you say is right. You will do what I have
asked you?"

"I--I--I cannot tell. You would be kind to me, my Lord?"

"Always, dear; you shall be my little sister."

"And never speak to me like you did a little while ago?"

"Never, dear; I thought you a boy then."

"Then I shall go now to my mother, for I should be able to see her now."

"Go then, dear; you need not accompany me to the cavern, I shall find
my way."'

"Good-night, my Lord."

"Good-night, Desiré."

"My Lord?"

"Yes, dear."

"Do people often kiss each other in England?"

"Friends do, and relatives or sweethearts, dear; why?"

"Because I have never been kissed before."

"You poor little girl," said Cressingham.

He wandered through the cold and slimy darkness of the tunnel deep in
thought, and in his fancy working out plans for the future. He resolved
that if he ever escaped he would really prove a brother to Desiré.

Soon he reached the cavern, where for a while he forgot everything in
making a hearty meal. That finished, he fastened one end of the ball of
twine to a pillar, and lamp in hand strolled down the passage by which
he had entered the cavern until he reached the cross-cut. There arrived
he turned into the broader path and commenced the ascent of a sloping
and exceedingly damp and dismal staircase hewn out of the mountain's
solid matrix. He was often puzzled by cross-ways, cavern chambers and
the branchings of the path, but at such times he closely examined the
floor and always chose the road which seemed most trodden.

He judged he had traversed five hundred yards of steps and sloping
passages when he came at last to a level cutting from which three
separate roads divided. Here he had but little difficulty, for the
ground was dry and worn only in one direction. He now proceeded with
the utmost caution, for his cord was near expended and he guessed that
he must be within the confines of the castle. He opened the lantern's
slide and prepared at an instant's notice to "douse the glim."

The cord gave out entirely at the end of fifty feet, but the path, as
far as he could see, showed no sign of branching, so he tied the cord
to a stone and laid it on the ground. Another fifty feet showed him a
blank wall through which there issued a faint medley of sounds.

Blowing out the lamp, he was surprised to find the darkness less dense
than he had expected, for at the height of a man's shoulders from the
ground two tiny eye-holes appeared in the wall, through which shone
a subdued glow something like the light of a fire-fly. He approached
these eye-holes and peering through discovered that he stood behind
the wall of a large, old-fashioned chamber very near the ceiling, the
floor of which was quite sixteen feet beneath his feet. He looked out
immediately upon a brass-railed, narrow gallery that ran all round the
apartment, whose outer walls were hidden behind huge oak bookshelves
which contained many thousands of volumes. The railing of this gallery
was hung with curtains, through one narrow slit of which Cressingham
could catch a glimpse of the opposite side of the gallery, a patch of
richly-carpeted floor and one corner of a table far below. The hum of
voices reached him, but dim and undistinguishable.

Very cautiously he felt with his fingers over and about the eye-holes
for some spring or latch which might enable him to find a door. His
search was soon rewarded. His fingers encountered a small circular
disc of metal which yielded to his pressure, and with noiseless ease
a portion of the bookcase opened inwards on the tunnel. Instantly the
voices grew louder, and he became aware that an excited disputation was
in progress in the chamber.

The tunnel door was small and narrow, but pricked on by eager curiosity
he crawled through, and lying at full length, his stomach upon the
floor of the gallery, he looked cautiously down into the room, himself
perfectly concealed by the curtains. Three persons were seated before
a table littered with flasks and flagons: the Count d'Attala, the man
whom he had first known as Prince Carlos, and another whom he had no
difficulty in guessing was the Turk Yussef el Jibaloff, the father of
Desiré and Madame Katherin's first lover.

At the sight, Cressingham was thrilled with a feeling of deep
exultation that made him catch his breath. He alone, of all the world,
had by a stroke of fate at last succeeded in witnessing the council of
the three infernal heads of Nihilism. "Surely," he thought to himself,
"Providence has not allowed such happening without purpose! Surely God
will not desert me now?"

The first words that came to him were uttered in the French tongue
by the Turk, a narrow-faced man whose deep-set eyes and eagle nose
spoke of strength of mind and penetration, but whose oily smile and
facile, mask-like visage denoted craftiness and abnormal powers of
dissimulation and deceit.

"My master," he observed quietly, "is dissatisfied, your Highness, and
I must say I personally share in some way his opinion. Enormous sums of
his money have during the three past years found their way here----"

"Of which you have had your share," cried the Count, interrupting
angrily.

"Quite so, but the bulk has always been entrusted to your charge, and
for a certain purpose which has not yet been fulfilled, and which will
need to be brought about very soon if not too late to work my master
any good. To speak frankly, if the Czar or the Kaiser, or even the
Queen of England, had been removed during the Armenian disturbances,
we should have had a free hand to do what we pleased without fearing
the interference of any cursed foreign meddlers. As it was----" (he
shrugged his shoulders).

The Count d'Attala drummed with his fingers on the table. "What you
say is quite true, my friend, but we did our best, we did our best.
Not a copper have I retained in my own interests, all and more has
been spent in the cause. But after all I cannot control fate. Many
attempts have failed through the watchfulness of the police, more
through the cursed cunning of that mysterious forcat Perigord.
(Would that I had the fiend in my hands.) But what could be done was
done. Faure only narrowly escaped the dynamite bomb. Wilhelm saved his
life through an attack of cold which prevented him from going to the
stag-hunt at Haunn, where all was prepared for his removal. The Czar is
so surrounded that open attack is hopeless. Twice have my most trusted
agents, including my own daughter, done their utmost to reach him by
poison, and each time his life has been snatched from us by a miracle.
It is not only you, my dear Yussef, who are dissatisfied. I myself am
bitterly chagrined. Why, since Carnot's death we have accomplished
nothing, except the ambassador Lavalovski (ah, bah! his death helped
your master, if I mistake not) and Elizabeth of Austria. And this is
not my only worry. I am constantly harassed with applications, prayers
and all manner of thin-veiled threats. Our own people become each
day more discontented. The fools grow impatient and resentful. Each
lodge has a different requirement; France wishes anarchy restored,
Italy a republic, Russia sighs for an impossibly speedy reform of the
constitution on English standards, Austria demands the Emperor's death,
only Germany and England give me any peace. But all, with no exception,
cry for a victim; well, a victim they must have. They require a
sacrifice in order to keep them quiet and put them in a better humour.
Money comes in very stingily, however, and to move we require a great
sum. I must confess that my store is almost depleted. Gods, to think
that in my old age I see beggary stare me in the face!"

The Turk smiled sardonically. "Money can be had, your Excellency, money
and to spare, but the Sultan requires a guarantee."

"He shall have one," cried the Count. "A bloody guarantee; but
something must be paid us down!"

"I have only five thousand with me."

"'Twill suffice, so that it be gold."

"It is. My servants have orders to bring the parcel here by midnight,
less of course my share."

Here Prince Carlos woke up. "What of my share?" he demanded.

"I shall pay you here!" said the Count.

"Understand," said Jibaloff quietly, "there must be no mistake this
time. My master wishes a guarantee--well and good--but the death of a
king, no petty princeling, mind."

"I shall satisfy him--and afterwards?"

"Afterwards I shall bring you myself one hundred thousand ounces of
Russian gold; the remainder he will not part with until you have
carried out your promise and England is publicly embroiled with Russia,
for only then may the Sultan be at liberty to entirely crush these rich
Armenian dogs to whom he looks to reimburse him for the vast sums he
has so far fruitlessly expended."

"My plans are already almost ripe," replied the Count with a grim
laugh; "it is more easy to embroil nations than to kill kings. One
of my servants commands a Russian warship, now on its way to Chinese
waters. He has amongst his officers one brother, amongst his sailors
seventeen. On receipt of my message he is prepared to run amuck in the
English fleet, and taking them by surprise he should sink three ships
at least before he is himself destroyed. Do you not imagine that such
a course might embroil England with Russia, taking into consideration
the bitter rivalry that now exists between them with regard to Eastern
boundaries?"

He spoke with such calm and brutal cynicism that Cressingham felt a
cold shudder run through all his veins.

The Turk nodded and smiled his approval. "It is a good plan, your
Excellency, and should precipitate war, for the English admiral
commanding in Chinese waters has, I believe, discretionary powers, and
he would undoubtedly retaliate and assail the remainder of the Russian
fleet before awaiting orders from his government. Yes, your Highness,
it is indeed a good plan and masterfully conceived!"

The Count allowed his face to assume an expression of gratified vanity.
"For the rest," he said, "watch the papers for your guarantee. Let me
see, this is July 20. I said five days just now, but give me nine, so
as to allow for all contingencies. By the twenty-ninth, at latest,
Humbert of Italy will have departed on a journey to the Lake of
Tartarus. Gentlemen, charge your glasses; it is only fitting that we
should drink his health and wish him bon voyage."

The three immediately filled their glasses from the flasks before them
and got slowly to their feet--the Count saying in a thin piping voice
as he arose: "Note the wine, my brothers, is it not meetly designated
for our gentle toast 'Lachrymae Christi'--Tears of Christ? I thought it
better than champagne, and more appropriate. Ha! ha! ha!"

The others echoed his frightful laughter, the grim jest moving the
Prince almost to tears. They clinked glasses and repeated one after
another this formula: "To Humbert! To Death! A pleasant journey!" They
drained their tumblers to the dregs and resumed their seats.

Suddenly the Prince cleared his throat and spoke, his voice nervous and
quavering. "It is time, I think, my brothers, that a little of your
attention should be devoted to my requirements. My nephew lives on, in
spite of your repeated assurances that he should be removed. I dwell in
daily terror that a male heir will be born to him."

The Count d'Attala interrupted angrily: "You have already had my
last word on this score, Prince, and Katherin has my oath. Openly
acknowledge your wife, procure your nephew's ratification of the
marriage and the week afterwards you shall stand in your nephew's
shoes."

The Prince shook like a leaf with passion. "How is that possible while
Perigord lives?" he demanded. "He has already damned her reputation;
do you wish me to flaunt a murderess as my wife before the Courts of
Europe? I tell you I shall see you!"

"Softly, Prince, softly!" said the Count quietly but with a frown of
menace.

"Bah!" cried the Prince, making a violent effort at self-control, but
failing lamentably. "You cannot frighten me; let me tell you I am not
quite the fool or dupe you think me. Twice has my life been attempted.
I have been saved each time by Perigord. True, it was agreed between
us that such a comedy should be played out in order that I might the
better gain his confidence. But each time the farce turned almost into
tragedy, nor was I amply warned beforehand of what I might expect. At
one time it might--it might, I say--have suited you to kill me. Do you
hear me, sir?"

"Ay, and heed!" replied the Count. "You are mad, Prince, to bring
against me such an accusation. Mad! mad! What could I gain by your
death, or ever have gained?"

"Repose of mind," snapped the Prince, his eyes glaring like two lambent
coals of fire, his face livid with rage.

"Ah, bah!" replied the Count, with a shrug and smile, each marvellously
expressive of contempt. "If I had ever doubted you, you would be now
rotting in the grave. If I could bring myself to doubt you now, you
would not leave this room alive."

"You refuse to aid me, then?"

"You know my terms, your Highness. I never change my mind once it is
made. On this matter I am firmly resolved. I would be a bad father if I
assisted my daughter's husband to neglect my daughter's interests. Ha,
ha, ha! What say you, Yussef?"

The Turk regarded for a moment the Prince, whose flaming temper had
been reduced to smouldering ashes by the Count d'Attala's covert
threat. He smiled, and answered satirically: "Your Highness has always
been a tender parent!" and the two men laughed together as at some
brilliant bon mot.

They were still laughing when a loud knock sounded on the door, and in
answer to the Count's invitation there entered the room four negroes
carrying between them two small but apparently very weighty carpet
bags, which they laid upon the table, then instantly retired. The Count
d'Attala with some difficulty emptied their contents on the board, and
Cressingham watched him arrange in heaps of twenty and count out with
all the care and avarice of a miser the sum of four thousand pounds,
amidst a silence broken only by the chinking of the coins. When this
was done, he pushed fifty of those glittering heaps over to the Prince,
who took and placed them in his pockets until all were full to bulging,
and then arose.

"I am at liberty to go?" he asked.

"Why certainly, dear Prince, our conference is finished; you are weary,
perhaps?" The Count's voice was full of honeyed sweetness. He seemed to
have completely banished from his mind the late dispute.

"Yes, I am tired. Good-night!" said the Prince curtly.

"Sleep well, my brother. By the way, you set out to-morrow?"

"I do."

The Turk also arose. "I too am weary," he said. "If you will allow me I
shall sleep here to-night."

"My dear Yussef, you confer an honour upon me which makes me desolate
in that I cannot properly repay your condescension. Everything I have
is yours; you know the house, choose what chamber best pleases you. Ho
there, without--Caesar, Buonaparte!"

Two smart-looking negroes made their appearance with the celerity of
magic in answer to these eminent names.

"Attend upon his Highness the Pasha!" said the Count. "Good-night,
Yussef, sweet dreams!"

"Good-night to you, dear Count. Sleep deeply, dream not, and may you
wake each morn a decade younger." Smiling and bowing the Turk backed
out of the room and left the Count alone.




CHAPTER XVI.--THE TREASURE-CHAMBER OF THE NIHILISTS

THE Chief of the Nihilists for the next few minutes appeared to
experience great pleasure in fingering the gold, and he displayed
himself in a new aspect to the unseen watcher. Cressingham smiled to
observe the loving manner in which the old gentleman stroked and patted
with his bony and wrinkled hands the yellow treasures piled before him,
and later the tender care with which he replaced those heaps one by
one within the carpet bags. When all was done, he stood up and gave an
astonishing exhibition of physical strength. Without apparent effort he
took up the bags one after another and hid them underneath the table.
Sandow himself could not have accomplished the feat with greater ease
than this centenarian. Panting heavily from the exertion he resumed
his chair and drained a glass of wine, which appeared to restore his
strength completely. He then gave three sharp raps on the table with a
wine flask. A door almost opposite Cressingham opened a little at the
signal, and Madame Katherin cautiously peeped through, but finding her
father solitary she boldly entered the apartment, closely accompanied
by the Count's dumb manacled attendants who immediately took up their
accustomed positions.

The old man did not turn his head, but asked: "Is that you, Katherin?"

"Yes, father." She crossed the room and stood to face him.

"You heard?"

"Yes, I heard."

"The fool is obstinate; he is getting out of hand. You were wrong to
arouse his jealousy with Yussef."

"Father, the scheme is hopeless; he loves me, but he will never admit
the marriage. He has been all this evening painting the advantages of
morganatic unions, and vows that he can do no more for me than that."

"Unsafe, my dear, utterly unsafe. The man is not to be trusted
unless securely bound. He hates me like the devil, and would betray
us to-morrow to Perigord only he wishes to handle his share of the
Sultan's gold. Well, when he comes to claim that share of his----"

"Yes, father?"

"If in the meantime he has not acknowledged you----"

"Yes, father?"

The Count laughed grimly.

"Why then, my sweet daughter, we must introduce him to the place of
graves."

Madame sighed.

"I suppose there is no other course possible. The fellow can still be
made of use; with his help we shall despatch Perigord within the week,
perhaps the very day of his return from Anarchos. Ha! ha! ha! A pretty
goose-chase that."

When the door had clanged behind Madame, the Count got up and moved
quietly around the room, barred and bolted every means of entrance to
the chamber with the greatest care. Then he made some signs to his
slaves, who dragged the bags of gold from underneath the table, and
taking one between them carried it staggering slightly under the weight
towards the staircase leading to the gallery.

Cressingham felt that it was time for him to go. Wriggling backwards
he got into the tunnel and closed the door, then hurried as swiftly as
possible towards where he had left the stone. Before he had traversed
fifty paces, however, he heard the secret door open with a sharp
click, and then a thud, as of some falling body, followed quickly by a
smothered chinking sound. He stopped, and glanced backwards, but saw
nothing. The slaves had evidently returned to fetch the second bag of
coins.

Cressingham hastily struck a match and picked up the twine which was to
guide him on his return journey to the cavern. Not daring to light his
lantern, he felt his way through the darkness, following the string and
rolling it up hand-over-hand as he proceeded. He was so fearful though
of falling down the steps that his march was slow, and soon he heard
far behind him the noise of heavy footfalls. Reaching at length the
staircase, he saw that he must be caught if he followed the straight
path, and the Count's slaves took that road too, for the steps were
steep and dangerously echoed the slightest sound. Not daring to risk
it, he chose the less of two evils, and pulled sharply at the cord. It
snapped far down below him, and with the speed of thought he drew up
the broken strands and hurried with outstretched hands into one of the
three dark cross-roads.

A few seconds afterwards there followed him a faint gleam of light,
and he realized that he had made a horrible mistake. The slaves had
taken the path he had chosen as a refuge and were treading swiftly
on his heels, but now puffing and panting like steam engines. For a
wild second Cressingham thought of waiting for his enemies and risking
everything in the hazard of a personal encounter, but he had no
weapon, he was physically not a strong man, and the odds were at least
two--perhaps three--to one. No doubt too the Count was armed with knife
or revolver, in which case he would have no chance.

Judging discretion the better part of valour, he hurried in advance,
following with difficulty the twistings and turnings of the tunnel.
This went on for perhaps a hundred paces, when of a sudden he
thankfully observed that he had distanced his pursuers and that the
light was no longer visible. Halting abruptly he found he could still
hear footfalls, and was about to recommence his flight, when they
ceased. He waited still as death, his every sense strained to listen.

For ten seconds deep silence, then a voice cried angrily: "Sapristi!
the catch is rusted!" and he heard the sound of rapid hammering of
steel on steel.

Burning with curiosity, Cressingham crept backwards until the zone of
light was reached. Peeping round an angle of the tunnel he beheld the
Count d'Attala striking at the wall with the handle of his dagger.
The slaves stood idly by regarding his movements. As he watched, the
recalcitrant spring yielded, and a whole section of the stone swung on
a pivot disclosing entrance to a hollow void beyond. The Count replaced
the dagger in his pocket and the slaves at once dragged the first
carpet-bag within the chamber; emerging presently they all retraced
their steps leaving the door wide, but in five minutes returned with
the second bag of gold and disappeared behind the pivot-door for the
space of a full half-hour. Cressingham occasionally caught the faint
chink of falling coins, and guessed that the old man must be engaged in
counting and gloating over his money.

He was quite tired of waiting, and feeling chilled and damp besides,
when the Count, looking very tired and weary and supported by the
slaves, with many a backward glance, finally tore himself away from
his treasure-house and carefully closed the door behind him. The young
man deemed it prudent to wait a further twenty minutes after his
enemies had gone before he kindled his own lantern, fearing that the
Count might return. But with the uneventful passing of time, he grew
bolder, and at length, emboldened by the silence, he struck a light and
advancing to the spot which he had marked, searched carefully for the
spring which might unbar for him the hidden wealth of the Nihilists.

He might indeed have searched uselessly for weeks had the Count used
proper care an hour before, for the spring was small and hidden
cunningly, but a piece of stone chipped off by the dagger-hilt gave
him the secret after ten minutes anxious scrutiny. Pressing the spring
the door fell back for him as it had done for his enemy, and his
lanthorn showed him a small square chamber hewn out of the limestone
probably centuries ago, for both walls and roof were crusted with tiny
stalactites. Entering he found the floor arranged with wooden chests
which bore a remarkable family resemblance to ordinary wine and spirit
cases, indeed, on one he discerned the familiar name of "Hennessy."

These chests were not locked or protected in any way, and Cressingham
found no difficulty in removing their lids. Three of the largest were
filled with golden coins of every nation to the value of perhaps two
hundred thousand pounds English; two more with bars of solid specie,
and the sixth was a quarter full of English sovereigns. The last and
smallest chest of all, which looked like a tobacco box, was lined with
zinc and crammed with jewellery and precious stones worth perhaps as
much as the contents of the other cases put together.

Cressingham felt a little dazed, and there flashed into his mind a
recollection of Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, and all the other
stories of treasure trove that he had ever read or heard of. He
surveyed the vast wealth about him for some time with a sentiment of
absolute awe, but he belonged to a commercial race, and although a rich
man himself, and heir to greater riches still, he appreciated the value
of money too keenly to remain undecided for long. From the largest
case he abstracted about a thousand pounds in gold, more he did not
feel strong enough to carry, and from the jewel case he selected as
well as he was able a score or two of rings and brooches, a splendid
diamond necklace and about fifty of the best loose diamonds, emeralds
and rubies that he could find. These he tied up in his handkerchief and
secured within the bosom of his shirt. So great, however, was the store
that remained that no one might tell the treasures had been tampered
with.

It required a positive physical effort to draw himself away from the
chamber, but conscious of the flight of time he rearranged the lids and
removed all traces of his visit, then departing locked the door behind
him. In another moment he was hurrying backwards to the staircase.
Descending the steps as rapidly as possible, a close and careful search
at last discovered for him the end of the twine which he had broken,
and following the cord he soon found himself within his sleeping cavern
once again, utterly wearied from his excitement and exertions. First
hiding the gold and jewels, he doused the glim and wrapped himself
closely in Desiré's rugs to sleep presently like the dead, although
wishful to think of what he had seen and heard, and anxious to plan
some course of action for escape.

Desiré woke him--a bashful, blushing Desiré now, no longer a pretty,
self-confident boy, but a girl in boy's clothes, shy and shamefaced
with resolutely downcast eyes.

Cressingham yawned, stretched himself and languidly arose.

"What's the time, Desiré?"

"Eleven o'clock, my Lord."

"Ah, so late! How is Miss Elliott?"

"Conscious now, but very weak and ill."

Cressingham stared at the girl and observed her altered manner with a
rush of recollection.

"You have seen your mother, Desiré?" he muttered.

"I--I--yes, my Lord, I have seen her."

"Ah, and you are convinced?"

"Yes." Desiré's cheeks were burning.

"You will help me now then?" said the man joyfully.

She sighed. "I scarcely know, I cannot tell. Everything seems so
strange yet. But I have brought your breakfast, my Lord." She took from
her pockets a small flask of wine, some meat and bread, and laid them
on the stone, also a bottle of oil for the lamp.

Cressingham watched her gravely as at last, all arranged, she stood
before him nervous and ill at ease, unable to meet his eyes.

"Mother kissed me this morning," she whispered presently.

He frowned, trying vainly to fathom by guessing at the workings of
her woman's heart. "Kissed you, did she?" he said coldly. "Rather
unexpected on your part, wasn't it?"

"Yes, my Lord, it was."

"Did you kiss her too?"

"She--she is so beautiful," stammered Desiré apologetically.

The man gave a little groan.

"So you are ready to forgive her years of neglect for a single tardy
kiss?" he sneered.

The girl glanced up at him half defiantly. "She is my mother!" she
replied.

"Ah, your mother! you said that, Desiré, as though you loved her."

"She is my mother!" repeated Desiré tremulously. "I am sure she would
love me if it wasn't for grandfather!"

"Great heavens!" cried Cressingham. "Do you mean to say you love her?"

"She is my mother!" said the girl a third time with a rebellious little
sob.

"She has never been a mother to you, though."

"Wouldn't--wouldn't you--wouldn't you love your mother, no matter how
she--how she treated you?" sobbed Desiré, who was now in tears.

But Cressingham was angry and desperate.

"I would not," he snapped, "not if she had treated me as yours has
done."

"But gr--gr--gran'father made her--I'm sure he did; he's so cruel!"
sobbed Desiré. "I'm sure mother loves me; her--her eyes are always
kind."

"Why do you suppose then that she has allowed you to be brought up in
this fashion like a boy?" growled Cressingham.

"P'r'aps--p'r'aps she didn't know!"

This absurd suggestion put the cap on the man's temper. With a muttered
curse he strode up and down the cavern, stamping savagely on the floor,
and Desiré, in very surprise, ceased crying to observe him.

He stopped after a moment and faced her.

"Tell me," he demanded, "does not all this mean that you have decided
not to help us?"

"I d--don't know," she stammered, then eagerly: "There's plenty of
time, my Lord; Miss Elliott cannot be moved for days and days. She's
too ill; the doctor says she's not out of danger yet!"

"Ah!" A sharp pain struck at the man's heart, for he had suddenly
remembered what he had heard the previous night, and he knew that in
order to save King Humbert's life it was his bounden duty to escape
from the island without delay. His duty warred strongly with his
inclination, for it caused him agony to even think of leaving without
his sweetheart, but Miss Elliott was ill and could not be moved.
Further torture was contained in the reflection that her sickness might
be unto death, that she might die, and he far away unable to aid or see
her or comfort her last hours. With a groan he buried his face in his
hands and gave himself up to bitter thoughts. For long he rested thus,
and his reflections must have aged him, for when with mind at length
resolved he again looked up, Desiré shuddered to see his face, so wan
and lined it was.

"How sad you look!" she cried.

"I am sad, Desiré," he answered gravely, "sad as death, for I have a
cruel task to do, and am helpless, almost hopeless."

"Not helpless," she whispered.

"You have refused to help me," he said.

She averted her face, and whispered:

"I would help you, my Lord, but--but I don't want to leave mother. You
see," she went on quickly, "this morning mother was just beautiful to
me. She said that as soon as father and the Prince have gone we will
have a lovely time together, and she was so kind, so sweet, my Lord. I
couldn't leave her, could I?"

Cressingham conceived a sudden hope. "But if I don't ask you to come
with me. Desiré, would you help me to go away at once?"

She looked up at him eagerly. "Oh, yes, my Lord--but----"

"But what, dear?"

"You would promise me if you escape not ever to do anything to hurt
mother, wouldn't you?"

The man smiled and prepared to lie. "My dear Desiré, certainly. You
help me off, and I'll tell you what I shall do. I shall return secretly
and take you, your mother, and Miss Elliott away with me. Then we shall
all go to England and live there happily together."

"Oh, how lovely!" cried the girl; "if only it could be done."

"It could easily be done, Desiré," said Cressingham artfully, "but
you would have to be very careful after I am gone, and say nothing
to your mother of our plans. You see she might--indeed, I'm sure she
would--tell your grandfather everything, for she is very frightened
of him, and then all hope would be gone. What I shall do is this: I
have a yacht, the Sea Hawk it is called; I'll bring my yacht near
the island, but so that it can't be seen--then I'll steal into the
bay in the dead of night, to your boat-house, in a little electric
launch. I'll swim underneath the door and pin a piece of red cloth on
to the platform. When you see that you will know that I have been, and
the next night at midnight you must somehow get your mother and Miss
Elliott down to the beach. I'll be there, and we'll make your mother
come with us, and we'll all go quietly off to my yacht. Then we'll
steam straight to England, and neither your grandfather nor anybody
else will ever know what has become of you."

Desiré's eyes shone like stars at this proposal. "Ah, that would be
perfect happiness!" she gasped.

"It is all so easy, so perfectly simple!" said the man.

"Except your escape," the girl sighed out, a sudden despairing cadence
in her voice. "To do all you have said it would be necessary to fly
from the island, for grandfather is so dreadfully wise. You see, if
you were to take the silver boat or one of the other two big ones, he
would know at once, and he would be alarmed. He has been often alarmed
lately. He would send a cable for his yacht, and then long before
you could return here he would have taken us all away to some other
horrible island, perhaps a more horrible island than this."

Cressingham saw his fine chateau en Espagne fading into thin air.
"Ah," he cried, "what a pity the Prince and your father leave to-day."

"But they don't; not till to-morrow morning," said the girl.

"What!" cried the man sharply, "how is that?"

"Well, father never intended to leave until to-morrow, and the Prince
will not go until he does; he hates him very much, and he can't even
bear to see mother talking to him."

"Oh, I see! Desiré, with a little luck and your help I shall be able to
escape." Cressingham was shaking with excitement.

"But how, tell me quickly," cried the girl.

"You must try to steal a boat from one of the yachts. Arrange it so
that it will appear as though the current had taken it to sea."

The girl stared at him wide-eyed. "The yachts' boats are so small," she
said.

"All the better! Think, Desiré, think--think how it can be done."

His excitement communicated itself to her, and the girl's slender frame
was presently quite a-tremble.

"I can't tell," she gasped, "they would see me; I couldn't do it."

"Think, Desiré."

"I might borrow a boat and pretend to go fishing. I sometimes go
fishing quite alone."

"Yes, Desiré."

"And I might pull out to sea and land outside the bay. There is a
little beach beyond the neck of land not half a mile from here. Then
I could return and take you there in the dark, and you could escape
in the boat; then I would come back and pretend to the sailors that I
was too weary to row back into the bay and pretend I had left the boat
moored to the beach, and when they went to fetch it they would think it
had been washed from its moorings and carried out to sea."

"Desiré, you are a genius!"

"I am so glad you are pleased, my Lord."

"Pleased, my dear! I could kiss you I am so pleased," cried the man.

As he spoke the words there smote on their ears a loud clanging echo
as of an iron door violently jarred. The girl turned pale as death and
stared terror struck at Cressingham. "What is it?" he muttered.

"Grandfather!" The echo was repeated, and a voice faint with distance
but unmistakably passionate cried: "Desiré, where are you? Desiré!"

The girl pointed quickly to a maze of columns that sloped upwards into
a tiny narrow passage.

"Squeeze yourself in there," she whispered; "it looks small, but it is
really quite roomy. He may find his way here," Scarcely waiting until
the man had disappeared she caught up the light and hurried down the
path, but a moment afterwards Cressingham heard her stop and a testy
voice exclaim: "What the devil are you doing here, lazy dog, eh?"

"Nothing, grandfather."

"Oh, of course; back you go, you young imp. Lucky I saw your light;
when nothing is urged as an excuse there is generally reason for
investigation."

"Really, grandfather----"

"Back, I say!" The voice was now a shout. "How dare you bandy words
with me!"

Cressingham heard the girl gasp and whimper as though she had received
a blow, then the light grew brighter, and though he could not see he
knew that both Desiré and her grandfather stood in the cavern. There
was a short silence, occasionally broken by the sound of stamping feet.
Then the Count's voice rang out loud and clear, its accents tinged with
venemous satire:

"Ha, what is this? My dear Desiré, you astonish me! What luxury! A
flask of my best wine, meat and bread, bed and blankets. So! I perceive
now the reason that my engines build so slowly. Cursed little swine,
lazy pig, this is what you do when I am from you: gorge and guzzle and
sleep!"

"Indeed, grandfather----"

"Silence, you wicked brat, give me at once your key of the tunnel door."

Cressingham felt his blood run cold at that.

"Here it is, grandfather," whimpered the girl. Then followed the sound
of a slap, and she uttered a cry of pain.

"Shut up!" cried the Count. "That is nothing; presently I shall beat
you so that you will remember it, I can promise you. Pick up these
things and follow me."

"I won't!" The words were Desiré's, and very sharply uttered too.
Cressingham felt a thrill of admiration for her spirit.

"You won't, eh?" said the Count's voice, and he laughed. "Do what I
tell you, little swine, or I'll cut your flesh from your body inch by
inch, yes, by God, I will!"

"You will not," flashed Desiré. "Stop!" she shouted. "Listen to me! You
must!"

"Listen to you? I must, must I? Little thief, you've been at my jewels,
too. I've just been to the storehouse and found half of the best gone.
By hell, I wonder I don't shoot you as you stand."

"Oh, don't shoot me, grandfather; put away your pistol, please! Oh, oh!"

"What have you done with them? Give them back to me."

"They are in the boat-house."

"I'm glad to hear it. Why did you take them?"

Desiré fell to whimpering again. "They looked so pretty; I meant to put
them back, grandfather, really I did." Cressingham devoutly thanked
Providence that he was not the only thief.

"Ha, ha! Of course! Little swine, they looked pretty, did they? One
might take you for a girl!" It would be impossible adequately to
describe by words the fiendish and malicious sneering of his voice.

But Desiré was stung by it to recklessness. "You know I am a girl!"
she flashed hotly.

"In--deed?"

"Yes, and you can't deceive me any longer. I am a girl, and I shall be
treated as a girl. I am going to make mother dress me like a girl, and
I won't be beaten any more. If you touch me again, I shall kill myself,
and then you can build your engines without me."

The Count spoke again after a moment's intense silence, but his voice
had grown quite soft and almost caressing. "Who was it put this
business into your head, Desiré?"

"No one."

"Don't lie to me!"

"I'm not lying. I--I--mother told me last night."

"My sweet pet, so the secret is out, is it? Yes, you are a girl,
Desiré!"

"I knew it."

"I suppose you wonder why I've made you act the boy these years, eh?"

"I'll never forgive you for it, grandfather, never!"

"Bah! wait till you are asked."

"Why did you do it?" demanded Desiré.

"Ah, bah! women are all cursed, hateful creatures like you, lazy as
pigs and brainless as blocks of wood."

"But you like mother, grandfather?"

"She is a little better than the rest, and has learned to do what she
is bidden."

"Why do you hate me so much? I have always done what you have told me
to do."

"Pschut! You could not understand if I were to tell you."

"I'm not the fool you pretend to think me, you know I am not."

"That touched you, did it? Ha, ha! Well, Desiré, I wanted your mother
to be a boy; I put up with the disappointment I received on that
occasion, hoping that she in time might give birth to a son. When you
came it was too much! I have always wondered since why I didn't kill
you on the spot. But you give me too much credit. I never wanted you to
be dressed up like that; it was your mother. She turned you into a boy
to spare my feelings I suppose, perhaps because she thought the device
might save her cub's life. It is possible she was right. At any rate,
if you are offended you must blame your mother for it."

"My mother!" The two words were uttered with such depth of wonder
and affection that Cressingham was thrilled to hear them, and wished
ardently that he might see Desiré's face, but he dared not move, he
dared hardly breathe, for he knew the Count was armed, and that once
he guessed the presence of an enemy his life would be forfeited on the
instant.

"Yes, your mother!" said the Count. "But come, we waste time here.
Sapristi! Ha, ha, ha!" He gave vent to a grim, cynical chuckle. "I
have lost my servant now, I suppose. Well, leave the things there,
they are not of any consequence. And see here, Desiré, I won't beat
you again; you shall be treated henceforward as a woman, but on one
condition, girl."

"What is that?"

"That you finish those engines for me. S'sh, not so fast, think before
you speak, and understand if you refuse your hours are numbered. I'll
not be balked for nothing by a whining girl."

"I'll do them, grandfather, but I want to dress like a woman."

"See your mother about that. I don't care, though I'd prefer you
to continue as you are. Come on now and get me the jewels at once.
Damnation, here's half a morning wasted and not a thing done. Ah, the
lazy swine that women are!"

His voice became gradually thinner and fainter, and Cressingham
realized that he was being abandoned in the cavern without a lamp and
without chance of escape from his position, as Desiré had surrendered
to the Count her key of the tunnel door, and he knew that he could
never find his way through the maze of passages to the other exit
without assistance, for his store of matches was almost gone. Scarcely
a minute later he heard the distant clang of the iron door as it was
shut and locked, barring him in a prison house of dreadful gloom.
Reluctantly lighting one of his precious vestas he scrambled back into
the cavern and stretching himself upon the sarcophagus fought as best
he could against the despair that knocked tumultuously at the threshold
of his soul, his one remaining hope being that Desiré would find a
means of helping him. But hours passed, slow hours of agony, each one
drawn out and twisted into an eternity of pain, each stealing from
him a portion of his slender store of hope, until bankrupt at last he
stared into the impenetrable darkness meditating ways and means of
death.




CHAPTER XVII.--ESCAPE

LORD FRANCIS CRESSINGHAM was an Englishman, and he came of a stock
which for ten successive generations had gallantly provided food for
steel and powder in the service of England. He was not an exceptionally
courageous man, as Englishmen go, and physically rather delicate and
nervous than robust, but he had in his composition that essentially
British characteristic which ever prevents its possessors from long
giving way to despair, and which has earned for English soldiers the
super-eminent distinction of being recognized by all other nations as
tenacious as bull-dog adversaries who, though possibly beaten, fight on
while life lasts; a characteristic from which probably originated that
equally essentially English maxim: "While there is life there is hope!"

Cressingham having abandoned hope of outside assistance, for the space
of an hour perhaps completely despaired, and even considered the
advisability of taking his life at once rather than wait to have it
dragged from him by the slower process of starvation.

Thereafter he remembered that he was an Englishman, and with a
sharp revulsion of feeling bitterly chided himself for his unmanly
inactivity. The English maxim occurred to him, and he sprang to the
floor. Carefully counting his matches he found he possessed eleven.
Well, he determined, and his jaws snapped together at the thought, to
make those matches last him until he should have reached the other exit
of the cursed mazes that imprisoned him. Then--well, he would leave
the rest to fate, and so strongly had the phoenix hope sprung to life
from the ashes of despair that his first care was to regain the jewels
which he had abstracted from the Count d'Attala's strong-room. The gold
he decided to abandon as being too weighty and cumbersome, but he put
five-and-twenty sovereigns in his vest pockets all the same. Lighting
number one match he discovered the proper exit and hurried through.
Reaching the staircase he turned first to the left and made his way
through the darkness to the tunnel door, not with the hope of finding
it open, but so as to leave no means of escape untried. It was securely
barred. Retracing his steps he kept on in the straight path until he
reached the sloping staircase, which he commenced to ascend in the
gloom. After fifty steps came a platform and four branching tunnels.
Number two match was applied to an examination of the floor, and by
its aid he discovered the proper path. Twenty more steps, then another
platform and a divided road. Number three match was a failure; numbers
four, five, and six were expended, and he still remained undecided,
for here marks on the floor were few and faint, the ground being an
inch deep in running water. He dared light no more, for he had still a
quarter mile to go, so he plunged into the left-hand tunnel and for a
hundred yards encountered no difficulty. Then came another maze. Number
seven match enabled him to recognize the place from his previous visit.

With a little laugh of triumph he pressed on.

Number eight match gave him a further lease of hope.

Number nine he struck with the greatest caution, but it sputtered and
went out.

The steps were almost dry here, and he sat down to think, not daring at
first to light another. He had been holding the vestas in his hand, but
suddenly fearing that they might get damp, and therefore useless, he
put them in his pocket, bestowing at the same time a hearty malediction
on Messrs. Bryant & May, or whoever the makers might be. "If the
beggars only knew the responsibility that is on them!" he mused aloud,
"they might give a little more care to the manufacture of the article."
He drew at last another from his pocket, and found to his consternation
it was headless. "Damn the man that made it!" he cried savagely. Then
recognizing the futility of giving way to temper, he uttered a grim
laugh and ate his words. "I'm afraid I was a bit rough, likely enough
it's my own fault; anyway, the poor beggar that made it couldn't know
where his bad workmanship would land me!"

He then decided to take the middle path without investigation and
trust to luck. He did badly, for he had scarcely gone ten paces when
he tripped, and instead of falling upon an ascending incline as he had
anticipated, he toppled over a small stone coping and rolled headlong
down a steep and slippery passage until he thought he should never
stop. He did at last, however, and without mishap, although brought up
rather sharply against a mound of mud.

Standing up he found that he could feel no wall or ceiling within reach
of his arms, and was constrained to strike his last match. Seeking a
dry patch of trousers, a desideratum that required an attentive quest,
he drew the vesta across the tweed with a reckless laugh. "Might as
well laugh as cry," he reflected.

The match flickered and sputtered fitfully, but to his joy caught, and
he saw he stood within a vast circular cavern which seemed two hundred
feet wide, its roof so high as to be invisible behind the dark. He lost
himself in gazing, and the match burned his fingers and went out before
he knew.

"I think I'll have a rest," he said aloud, and was surprised to hear
how his voice reverberated through the chamber, filling it with a
million hissing sounds that grew in volume instantly as though caught
up by mocking sprites who clanged and hissed and crashed his words
about and back at him with ghoulish glee. It was a horrid happening,
and he thought the noise would never stop. It seemed to abate and
then commence again, each time louder and louder. Suddenly something
clattered with a hollow bang in the darkness opposite, and there
followed pandemonium itself. So deafening grew the noises that he put
up his hands to his ears in very pain and shut his eyes, all his nerves
on edge; waiting until he thought the nuisance gone, he opened his eyes
again to see with wild amaze the figure of a huge man, full ten feet
high, standing in the centre of the cavern holding an enormous lantern
in his hand.

Cressingham's heart leaped violently, then stood almost still, so
great was the shock, and he observed with positive fear that the
giant was approaching him. But with every step the monstrous creature
and everything about him diminished in size, until ten paces off he
recognised Desiré. The girl had seen him simultaneously. With the speed
of thought she motioned him to silence, and beckoned him to go to her.
He lost no time, but half mad with joy sprang forward to find that
every step he took he sank ankle-deep in thick black slime.

Desiré took his arm and they hurried off together in the direction she
had come. It took them, however, though straining every nerve, a full
five minutes to cross the cavern, and not till they had penetrated the
tunnel which they next entered for sixty yards, did the girl choose to
break the silence. Then she stopped, and demanded: "How is it I found
you there?"

"I got tired of waiting, Desiré, and tried to escape from this cursed
place by myself."

"You were mad," cried the girl almost angrily, "you should have waited
for me. It fills me with wonder how it happens that you are alive, or
how you managed to reach the Devil's Bedroom. Why, my Lord, some of the
tunnels end in frightful shafts and bottomless pits which are entirely
unprotected and just as the old lead miners left them hundreds of
years ago, because they could find no more ore. You are certainly the
luckiest man in the whole world."

"What a horrible place that big cavern is, Desiré. It is full of
dreadful noises, and when I first caught sight of you you looked a
giant. I was quite afraid of you."

"It's called the Devil's Bedroom," said Desiré. "It is death to stay
there long, for the air is full of poisonous mist. But let us get on,
we have a long way to go."

"Did you get the boat, Desiré?"

"Yes."

Cressingham felt as glad and happy as a boy. "You darling!" he cried;
"you are a perfect treasure!"

Desiré made no answer, but pressed on in advance.

"Where are we going?" asked the man presently.

"Out of this."

"But which way, though, the boat-house door is locked, isn't it?"

"By a way I discovered for myself last winter. No one else knows of it."

"You dear, clever girl!"

"Am I?"

"Desiré, are you angry with me?"

"Yes."

"For not waiting for you?"

"No, not that, although it was silly of you."

"What for, then, Desiré?"

"Never mind!"

Cressingham could not extract another word from her, although he
essayed every blandishment he knew, but Desiré would not let him touch
her, refused to speak, and showed herself so sullen that he finally
desisted in despair and they marched on in silence. Ten minutes' sharp
walking brought them to a place where the tunnel so contracted that
they had to crawl for forty yards on hands and knees. Then the light
suddenly disappeared; Desiré had extinguished it.

"Here we are," she said, and stood up. Cressingham pushing forward
eagerly received a stinging blow in the face from the branches of a
shrub, but forcing these aside, he got to his feet and joyfully filled
his lungs with a deep draught of the pure air of heaven.

He found that he stood on a rocky mountain ledge behind the castle and
outside the bay, which was hidden utterly from view. Two hundred feet
almost vertically beneath the ledge the sea beat upon the mountain's
feet. Desiré had already plunged into a narrow sideling path that
skirted the precipice, and this she trod so swiftly and so fearlessly
that the man for a second stood aghast. But marking her sure-footed
skill he gathered up his courage and followed her. The dark was
profound, but the path was white, and Desiré's figure sharply cut in
silhouette against the frothing sea below, for a strong breeze was
blowing and the Mediterranean had donned its lightest coloured garments.

Soon Desiré halted with the path's end, and grudgingly offering her
hand to Cressingham, helped him from crag to crag with the strength and
skill of a hardy mountaineer. The descent was very difficult at first,
but each moment it grew easier, and before long they arrived as near to
the sea as they dared go. It was then a matter of an hour's clambering
along the coast and scrambling through the maquis until they reached
the beach where the yacht's boat lay moored half in the water, half in
the sand.

Cressingham found that the girl, in spite of her sudden inexplicable
aversion to him, had provided for his comfort, for the boat was stocked
with a beaker of water and a fair quantity of food; it was also
furnished with sculls and a small lug sail.

He got everything prepared for his departure with all possible
despatch, and then turned to the girl. "Don't let us part bad friends,
Desiré," he pleaded.

"You had better start," she returned coldly. "It must be after ten, and
if I don't soon make my appearance a search boat will be sent out after
me."

"You appear to have taken a sudden dislike to me, I don't know why.
Won't you at least tell me why?"

"You had better go."

"Please tell me, Desiré."

"Go, go quickly!"

"Very well, dear, since you wish it. But our bargain holds. I shall
soon return, Desiré."

"Yes, return quickly, as quickly as possible."

"Perhaps you will be liking me again before then. Ah, Desiré, let me
tell you how grateful I am to you for all you have done, what a sweet
noble girl I think you."

"That is not true," cut in the girl. "You don't think me noble, you
don't think me even good."

"My dear girl, you dream," cried Cressingham in amaze. "I think you are
the best and noblest girl I know of."

"Then why did you kiss me?" very angrily.

The man gasped. "Why--why--what's the matter?"

"Ah!" cried the girl of a sudden, going very close to him and hissing
the words in his ear: "I know why, you have no respect for me, that was
it. You knew it was a wrong thing to do, but you didn't respect me, so
you didn't care."

"Who told you all this?" he demanded in his turn, growing annoyed.

"Miss Elliott."

"What! You told her that I kissed you?" he cried.

"Why not, why should I not tell her? She knows that I am a girl. I told
her you kissed me. I did not know it was a wrong thing to do. I did not
do it, it was you."

"Phew, what did she say?"

"She told me it was wrong and mean of you; she told me that I should
never allow any man to kiss me except the man whom I wished to marry,
and not him even until he had asked me to marry him. She said that men
only take liberties like that with girls whom they don't respect."

"By Gad!" reflected Cressingham; "she must have taken it badly to dose
this baby with such rubbish." Aloud he said gravely: "My dear Desiré,
you must pardon me, but you see I have all along regarded you as a
child, and it's not wrong to kiss children. You ask Miss Elliott if it
is. I never thought of you as a woman; had I done so I would never have
dared attempt to kiss you."

"I'm not a child; I'm eighteen," said Desiré.

"Really, so old?"

"Yes," very shortly and much offended.

"It's those infernal boy's clothes," sighed Cressingham; "they make you
look so young, and then your short hair."

Desiré seemed a little mollified. "If you really thought so," she
murmured.

"Of course, I did, Miss er-er-Jibaloff," said Cressingham. "You see, if
I'd known you were so old I'd never even have called you by your first
name."

"Wouldn't you really? Then I forgive you," said the girl with
magnificent condescension. "But please, that name you said now is not
mine; my name is Desiré Gracci."

"Oh, ah--thanks, Miss Gracci. I'm so glad you've forgiven me."

"No, I don't like that; you may call me Desiré."

"Thank you so very much; but, Desiré, Miss Elliott is better, then?"

"She was, but she took a bad turn while we were talking, the doctor was
very angry with me."

"Is the doctor a good-looking man, Desiré?"

"Why, he's a negro!"

"Oh, indeed!" Cressingham felt much relieved. "You will look after Miss
Elliott all you can until I return for you, won't you, Desiré?"

"Of course I shall; I love her ever so much."

"Well, good-bye, Desiré." He held out his hand. She took it and pressed
it warmly.

"Good-bye, my Lord. God keep you!" she said, and the earnestness in her
low sweet voice touched him deeply.

Stepping into the boat he shipped the mast, but when just about to cast
off he leaned over the gunwale and said: "Desiré, tell Miss Elliott
everything as soon as she recovers, but your mother nothing--mind,
nothing."

"Very well, my Lord!"

"And, Desiré?"

"Yes."

"Give Miss Elliott a message from me."

"Yes, what is it?"

"Three words in the English language; do you know English?"

"No, my Lord."

"Well, repeat them after me: 'I--love--you.'" Cressingham blushed in
the dark.

"'I love you. I love you. I love you,'?" said Desiré.

"That is right. You won't forget them, will you?"

"No, my Lord, I shall learn them by heart. 'I love you. I love you.'"

Cressingham plucked up the little anchor and pushed off from the sand.
"Good-bye, Desiré!" he called out.

"Good-bye, my Lord. 'I love you. I love you,'" and Desiré vanished
into the darkness muttering the words over and over to herself like a
refrain.

Cressingham did not put up his sail at once, fearing if he did that
the boat might be capsized on departing from the shelter of the island
under whose lee he was. Taking the sculls out he lost no time in
pulling from the shore, and was luckily assisted by both wind and tide.
Very soon he found himself in the open, and then shaking loose the tiny
sail he steered a course as far as he could judge north-east. The wind
was fairly strong but steady, and gusts were few and far between. The
sea was choppy rather than rough, running in small foam-crested waves
that made the boat dance and jump horribly.

But Cressingham was a skilful yachtsman, although a poor stomach
sailor, and he managed his frail craft with great dexterity, a little
over rashly perhaps in his anxiety to put as great a distance as
possible between the island and himself. But he had of late run so many
risks that he found himself quite oblivious of the perils of the ocean,
and his only fear was that morning might discover him within the course
of one or other of the yachts that lay at anchor in the tiny harbour of
Attala.




CHAPTER XVIII.--THE CAUTION OF A KING

ALL night the breeze blew steadily, and Cressingham ran almost dead
before it at a speed of about four or five knots. When morning broke he
was out of sight of any land, and soon afterwards the wind died away to
a calm, and the sea in sympathy soon grew almost smooth as glass save
for a long gliding swell that rocked the boat as gently as a mother her
baby's cradle.

Cressingham, half famished from a twenty hours' fast, let the sail go
and made a hearty breakfast, then shipping the mast, for he still felt
nervous of being seen by the Nihilists' yachts, got out the sculls
and spent the morning rowing eastwards. The boat was very light and
manageable, and he made such good progress that by the evening he
guessed he was well within the track of steamers trading between Naples
and Genoa.

All day the sea had continued calm, but at nightfall a gentle breeze
sprang up blowing from the north. Cressingham, however, was by that
time completely exhausted, and not daring to rig the sail he lay down
in the bottom of the boat and soon fell asleep, allowing his frail bark
to drift at the mercy of the elements. Providence was kind, however,
and repaid him bravely for his confidence. Hour after hour sped by,
and although two steamers passed by almost within hail Cressingham
slept as sweetly as ever he had done on shore, lulled by the peaceful
motion and by the balmy north wind. He awoke while it was still dark,
and shipping the mast steered now south-east. An hour before dawn a
great Nord Deutscher Lloyd crossed his bows within half a mile, running
nor'-nor'-west, a blaze of lights from stem to truck of her vast bulk.

Cressingham sent up to heaven shout after shout for help, but he
was far beyond hail and was compelled helplessly to watch her steam
away into the darkness at fourteen knots an hour. That morning he
breakfasted on water, for his provisions had run out, and for the
next six hours he sailed slowly obliquely along towards the Italian
coast. By noon he was very hungry and growing anxious, but in the early
evening he descried with joy unspeakable the smoke of a steamer in his
wake that seemed to follow him deliberately. He ran to his masthead a
kerchief, the only coloured cloth in his possession (which Desiré had
used as a wrap for his provisions), and putting about he waited for the
rapidly-approaching steamer with heart in mouth. The look-out sighted
him while yet a mile off, but Cressingham not knowing that and frantic
with excitement, stood up and commenced to shout and yell and wave his
handkerchief like a maniac. Nearer and nearer the steamer came until he
could read the name upon her bows, Alessandria, and then she stopped.

Cressingham shipped his mast and rowed to her side with the speed of
thought, then catching the rope which was thrown to him he climbed on
board with the agility of a squirrel, to find himself in the midst of
a lot of chattering Italians who plied him with a thousand questions.
Meanwhile the vessel recommenced her journey, carelessly abandoning the
boat which had served Cressingham so faithfully and well.

The captain of the Alessandria proved to be a Frenchman, who,
immediately he was made aware that his guest was "gentilhomme" and
wealthy to boot, became excessively solicitous for his comfort, and
provided Cressingham not only with a cabin, but a very welcome change
of clothing. Cressingham informed him that he had tried to cross
from Elba to Piombino in an open boat in consequence of a wager, but
had fallen asleep and so lost his bearings. This story the captain
seemed to find no difficulty in crediting, for he merely shrugged his
shoulders and murmured something in an undertone about the mad English.

In his turn he informed Cressingham that he was taking a cargo of
general merchandise from Genoa to the island of Gozzo, and offered,
for a consideration of ten pounds, to call in and land him at Trapani
if he so desired. Cressingham offered him his whole store of ready
money--twenty-five pounds--if he would proceed straight to Naples, but
this Captain Frioche refused to do, and the young man dared not tempt
him with jewels, for the man's face was not prepossessing, and his
crew appeared as blackguardly a set of cut-throats as might be found
in Europe. It was not that the Englishman valued so much the precious
stones which he had stoled from Attala, but he thought that if the
captain by any chance could learn that he possessed so great a treasure
he might feel tempted to hurl him overboard, and the crew were all
creatures who looked as though they might be bought body and soul for a
few scudi.

He was compelled therefore to rest satisfied with Sicily, but he felt
sure that from there he could make his way to Palermo and Naples in
time to save the King of Italy, for it was yet only July 22, and he had
still seven days of grace.

He landed safely at Trapani an hour after daylight on July 24,
parting from the Alessandria without regret. Evening found him at
Castellamare, and after a good dinner he pressed on by post horses
(the mail having long gone) to Palermo, which city he reached a little
before dawn on the morning of the 25th--the conveyances which of
necessity he had been compelled to use having proved so wretched that
it had taken him, including stoppages, twenty hours to traverse a
distance in all of something under forty miles. Cressingham proceeded
at once to the Hotel Benevento on the Piazza Corbone, a place he had
often put up at in his younger days when yachting in the Mediterranean.
There he learned that a steamer was scheduled to start for Napoli that
evening at eight o'clock. He booked his passage and replenished his
wardrobe, and was able to board the steamer dressed as a gentleman once
more.

He arrived at Naples by eleven o'clock on the morning of the 26th, and
driving to the Hotel d'Europe at once wrote and despatched by mounted
messenger a letter to King Humbert, in which he covertly reminded His
Majesty of the occasion when he had made his acquaintance under the
auspices of Perigord, and begged for an immediate audience, stating
also his intention to proceed to the royal palace at noon, as his
business was vitally important.

Cressingham was of course prepared to be regarded with suspicion
considering the fact that Prince Carlos had fastened on his shoulders
the blame of abducting and eloping with Madame Viyella. However, he did
not experience the least doubt but that he could speedily correct all
false impressions, and it was with a light heart and elated bearing
that he set out an hour afterwards from the hotel.

He was received at the door of the palace by a gaudily dressed officer,
who gave an astonished start on learning the visitor's name, but he was
very polite to Cressingham, and at once led him into an empty ante-room
and begged him to wait. Cressingham took a chair beside a window that
looked out on the gardens, and blithely hummed an air from "La Cigale"
which he had heard a barrel organ murdering while passing through the
streets of Naples on his journey to the palace.

He watched with some amusement the movements of a perky brown
cock-sparrow on the paved courtyard below, when a hand was laid upon
his shoulder and a soft Italian voice spoke whisperingly these words:
"Sir, you are my prisoner. Put up your hands above your head, and do
not make another movement, or you are a dead man."

Turning curiously he found the room blocked with men in uniform, and
immediately before him an officer of the household guard, who held in
his right hand a cocked revolver that was pointed unwaveringly at the
Englishman's heart.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded indignantly.

The officer did not reply in words, but at a nod four men had secured
Cressingham by arms, wrists and hands in such a manner that had he
been a Hercules he would still have been powerless. They hurried him
then with scant courtesy from the anteroom and up several flights of
stairs to the top floor of the palace, where they brought him to a
small room whose one barred window looked out upon the Campanian Hills.
This apartment had evidently been at some time used as an asylum for a
lunatic, for walls, floor and door were all thickly padded; furniture
there was none, with the exception of a mattress and bedding spread
in a far corner on the floor, above which a small steel ring-bolt with
chain attached swung from a narrow embrasure in the wall.

The officer at once closed the door and proceeded with nervous caution
to search his prisoner, perhaps expecting to discover a collection of
dangerous bombs.

His surprise on finding the jewels was almost ludicrous: he uttered
a cry of something like fear, and dropped the glittering treasures
as though they had burned his fingers, while the men gathered round
staring with wide eyes at the priceless baubles.

One stooped to recover them, but the officer reproved him sharply.
"Do you want to lose your life, fool!" he cried; "they are no doubt
poisonous to touch, since there are no bombs or other weapons to be
found."

The man started back as though an adder had stung him, exclaiming
incoherently.

Cressingham, who had been growing more and more angry by this, had
nearly lost his temper. "You will pay for these indignities," he
cried hotly; "I am an English nobleman, fools that you are one and
all. I demand that you send immediately for the English Consul or the
Minister, I don't care which, they are both friends of mine."

The officer bowed and smiled. "Certainly, my Lord, but in the meantime
my orders are to take all precautions. Your Lordship will doubtless
excuse me for I must obey my orders!" He bowed again and turned to his
men. "Chieti, Malsamo, be so kind as to fasten my Lord Cressingham's
wrists to the chain yonder and behind his back, but be careful not to
injure or hurt my Lord in any way." Cressingham struggled violently,
but vainly. In a moment he was handcuffed and chained, and could only
stand glowering angrily at his captors.

The officer made a sign, and his men departed, saluting him one by one
as they passed to the door. He then strolled over to the jewels and
kicked them about with his feet until the floor was strewn and shining
like the coat of a Persian king. "They are very beautiful, milord," he
observed critically, "but deadly, are they not?"

"Give them to me," said Cressingham with a savage snarl, "and I'll eat
a few to show you."

The officer smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. "It is possible that my
Lord would prefer suicide to the rope," he suggested calmly.

"Have them tested by whom you please, only for God's sake be quick
about it. You will find them harmless enough. You think me a Nihilist,
but you are horribly mistaken. I came here to save your king's life,
not to try and murder him."

"Ah, is that so?" The man spread his kerchief on the floor, and pushing
the jewels on it with his boot gingerly gathered up the ends and
knotted them, then lifting the bundle with the end of his scabbard held
it from him at arm's length.

"If my Lord will excuse me, I shall take my departure," he said
politely.

Cressingham with a great effort restrained his rage and answered:
"Signor, I beg you to give my compliments to the King----"

"His Majesty is not at home," interrupted the officer.

"When will he return?"

"I am not so far in His Majesty's confidence."

"When he returns will you give him a message for me?"

"With pleasure."

"I thank you. Be so kind as to say to him these words: 'Lord
Cressingham craves an audience in order to tell your Majesty of a
plot which has been arranged by the Nihilists for your Majesty's
assassination. Your Majesty's life is in immediate danger, and Lord
Cressingham has undergone a thousand perils to carry you this warning.'"

"I shall remember," said the officer, "nay, more--I shall cause your
message to be immediately transmitted to his Majesty. Is there more
that I may do for you?"

"If you could tell me of the movements of a certain Mr. Perigord, a
friend of the king, I should be obliged."

"Why, yes. Mr. Perigord returned to Naples this morning in his yacht
from a voyage in which I myself was one of his companions. He has gone
to Milano."

"Then I pray you send him a telegram informing him of my position. I am
sure he will immediately accomplish my release."

The officer bowed. "Certainly, my Lord, it shall be done. Is that all?"

"Well, I have eaten nothing since early this morning."

"I shall send you some lunch immediately and a servant who will feed
you. My orders forbid me releasing your Lordship's hands."

Cressingham sighed resignedly, and the officer, with a final sweeping
reverence, took his leave, having created the impression of a
remorseless but at the same time the most courteous gaoler in the world.

The remainder of that day passed quite uneventfully. On the following
morning, a little before noon, the officer presented himself at the
door and informed his prisoner that the King of Italy had received
his message, but had not favourably replied to it. He did not stay a
minute, and in spite of Cressingham's excited questions bowed himself
away.

Another twenty-four hours passed by, hours of utter loneliness and
misery, which the wretched man spent in alternately pacing the
apartment with furious impatience or reclining on his pallet vainly
trying to sleep. Servants came with his meals, but the men were
soldiers who had evidently received their orders, for they refused
to talk or be drawn into any converse. In answer to all his eager
questions and demands they merely shook their heads or nodded like
automatons, and he was at last constrained to keep silence and wait
with what patience he could for the end.

In the afternoon of July 28 the officer again paid him a fleeting visit
to say these words: "I have received a telegram from Mr. Perigord; he
will be here early to-morrow morning."

Cressingham looked at the man imploringly. "Signor," he muttered,
"persuade your king to see me at once. As truly as there is a God in
Heaven his life is in deadly peril. I have much to tell him."

"Rest easy, my Lord," said the officer. "His Majesty is securely
guarded. What you may have to say could not help him" (he drew himself
erect and twirled his moustache with a gesture of pride and vanity).
"The king is defended by the household guards, to which regiment I have
the honour to belong."

"Nevertheless!" cried Cressingham despairingly. "I----"

But the officer cut in: "Pardon, my lord, what you ask is as impossible
as it is unnecessary; the king is at Monza."

"Monza! Monza! where is that?"

"A few miles from Milano. A riverdici, my Lord," and with a low bow
he strode from the room, brushing the floor with his trailing plumes as
he departed.

Cressingham sat down rather suddenly upon the floor, his brain whirling
with gloomy thoughts, but before long his reflections disentangled
themselves, and he came to view the future with more of philosophic
resignation and comfort than he had been able to command for many
hours. "After all!" he soliloquized, "I have done my best, what man may
do more?"

That night he fell asleep the moment that he laid head on pillow.




CHAPTER XIX.--EXPLANATION: ASSASSINATION

AT seven o'clock on the morning of July 29, Cressingham was still
slumbering. He was not aroused even when the door opened and there
entered the room Mr. Perigord, Ludwig von Oeltjen and the Italian
guardsman.

Perigord made a gesture commanding silence and crossed the chamber on
tip-toe. For several seconds he stood gazing down at the sleeping man,
his keen eyes marking the recent scars that disfigured Cressingham's
face and doubtless noting much else beside, for Perigord was a
practised physiognomist and a skilful reader of men. He turned at
length and beckoned to von Oeltjen, who at once came forward.

"What do you think of those bruises," he whispered.

Oeltjen after a sharp glance shrugged his shoulders. "A fall, I think,
sir," he replied.

Perigord shook his head. "No, there are too many scars: there has been
an encounter of some sort. It is not the face of a traitor, Oeltjen."

"I have always said so, sir."

"Mark the hair beside his temples. It was not grey when last we saw
him."

"You are right, sir, it was not."

"He has much to tell us. Wake him, Oeltjen!"

The Count stooped and shook the sleeping man by the shoulder.
Cressingham immediately uttered a loud cry and started up. "Murder!"
he shouted wildly. "Stop him, arrest him!" Then he caught sight of the
intruders and stared at them dazedly. "Ah!" he muttered: "Mr. Perigord,
Oeltjen, you here! I was dreaming."

"What was your dream?" demanded Perigord, speaking in a loud,
imperative voice. "Tell it me at once!"

"I dreamed--Heavens! a horrible vivid dream it was--I dreamed I saw a
man shoot at King Humbert. I saw the king fall."

"Ah, and you saw the murderer! You shouted out as you awoke to stop and
to arrest him. Describe him to me quickly before you forget."

Cressingham closed his eyes. "He seemed a young man--ah, but I cannot
remember. I did not see his face. But this is nonsense, gentlemen!" He
started to his feet. "We have realities to deal with, not dreams. Is
King Humbert still alive?"

"Thank God, yes."

"Has any attempt been made to murder him?"

"None."

"Then lose no time and warn him, for this is the last day. With my own
ears I heard him condemned by the three chiefs of Nihilism, and the
pledge was given for his death to be accomplished by July 29 at latest.
That is to-day!"

His three auditors stared at Cressingham in blank astonishment.

"You heard?" said Perigord.

"Yes, I heard! But, man, what are you waiting for? My story can wait.
Go instantly and warn the king: telegraph to him at once!"

Perigord shook his head. "We already have heard of the danger," he said
slowly, "and already every human precaution has been taken to safeguard
his Majesty's life. Nevertheless, the detail of date is news to us,
and the king had better be warned of that. Go, Oeltjen, and despatch a
telegram in my name in the English language to his Majesty."

"Yes, sir, and afterwards?"

"Await me at the Hotel d'Europe."

Oeltjen appeared much disappointed, but he obeyed and at once departed.

Perigord then turned to the officer. "Do you by chance speak Russian,
Lieutenant?" he asked quietly.

"I, good heavens, no Signor; it is no gentleman's language, Russian!"

"Well, kindly excuse me, for Lord Cressingham and I are about to
converse privately in that tongue and I wish for the protection of your
presence, so desperately do I fear this Englishman and so much do I
respect his talents."

"Certainly, Signor."

Cressingham turned fiery red and said in Russian: "You have some motive
for insulting me, Mr. Perigord."

"None whatever," answered the other coldly. "The explanation of my
words is quite simple. Until I hear what you have to say I am compelled
to regard you as a traitor to the order, a desperate and dangerous
ruffian, the more worthy of fear because you are brave, intelligent and
by birth a gentleman."

"Thank you kindly, sir," said the young man with satire.

Perigord frowned. "What have you done with Madame Viyella?" he demanded.

"Why nothing."

"Where have you left her?"

"Under the protection of her father."

"And where may that be?"

"Why, where but in her father's house?"

"You are flippant, my Lord. Who is her father, and where does he
reside?"

"Her father is a gentleman of means and leisure. He resides anywhere
but in the island of Anarchos, Mr. Perigord."

Perigord stamped his foot upon the floor and flushed with passion.
"Have a care, my Lord," he muttered angrily; "you appear to forget your
position. Clear your mind of all illusions, and immediately. Understand
once and for all that you are my prisoner and in my power. Remember the
fate of Klein! I tell you, we have worse punishments in reserve for
traitors than for our enemies, especially traitors who are stubborn and
recalcitrant when caught."

Cressingham gave him frown for frown and answered haughtily: "That is
it, sir; you take me for a traitor!"

For the space of fifty seconds Perigord gazed into his eyes as though
he would read the young man's soul; then he did a strange thing, a
thing that showed himself to be a man of great and noble mind, capable
of grand and generous actions. Turning to the officer he said in swift
Italian: "Be kind enough. Lieutenant, at once to release Lord Francis
Cressingham."

The Lieutenant evinced no surprise. "Certainly, Signor," he said, and
taking a key from his pocket stepped forward. Next instant Cressingham
was free.

Mr. Perigord said to him with grave but kindly dignity in Russian: "My
Lord, I took you for a traitor because you disappeared from Italy the
same moment as Madame Viyella. No doubt you will be able to give me
good reasons for your wandering. If I have misjudged you, I hope you
will forgive me; for my recent expressions, in that they have pricked
your sensibilities, I unreservedly apologize."

Cressingham, who was rubbing his arms which were cramped from their
long continued unnatural position, answered frankly: "I'm glad you've
apologized, sir; more glad you've seen fit to release me before I told
you my story. I suppose I'd better commence from the beginning and
tell----"

"Excuse me, my Lord, I fancy neither of us have breakfasted. Had we not
better postpone the story for a while?"

"Well, if you don't mind I'm sure I don't. To tell you the truth, I'm
rather keen to try what feeding myself feels like after being trussed
up in that fashion for so long."

"Come then, we'd better go to a hotel."

"Excuse me," said Cressingham, "there's a little matter I'd like to
settle before we leave. This officer has a parcel of jewels belonging
(at any rate temporarily) to me, which I'd like to recover possession
of."

Perigord smiled. "I have them in my bag. Very fine stones they are
too, most of them. I did not think you were a gem collector. I must
congratulate you on your taste, my Lord. Well, if that is all?"

"Quite."

Perigord took the young man's arm and led him from the palace. He
occupied the drive with an account of Colonel Elliott, whom Cressingham
was delighted to learn had, in spite of the decrees of medical science,
been restored in a measure to health and to full possession of his
mental faculties. The old gentleman, it appears, had however lost the
use of his lower limbs, and finding himself of no use to Perigord
had returned to London, and was there anxiously awaiting news of his
daughter whose deliverance his unhappy state compelled him to entrust
entirely to others. Half an hour later they were seated with Oeltjen at
breakfast in the dining hall of the Hotel d'Europe. Cressingham made
a very good meal indeed, but the others ate little, and although they
courteously endeavoured to converse on ordinary topics of the day it
was patent to the Englishmen that both were expiring with curiosity
and keenly anxious for him to make haste. With pardonable malice he
disobliged their expectations and ate as slowly as possible. Finally
Perigord seemed able to stand the suspense no longer.

"You said, my Lord, that you heard the Three, the Three, decree a
certain thing?" he muttered.

"I did," replied Cressingham, filling his mouth with bread.

"You saw as well as heard?"

"Plainly."

"Then you know them; you would recognize them again?"

"Perfectly."

"You perhaps know where they are now?"

Cressingham slowly drank a glass of claret. "One for certain, the other
two only vaguely."

"There is no one within hearing," said Perigord, "you might whisper
names."

Cressingham leaned forward, and the others instantly drew up their
chairs. "Have you ever heard of a man called Bosa Gracci, Conti
d'Attala?" he whispered softly.

Perigord stared at him blankly and shook his head, but a second
afterwards a gleam came into his eyes. "Stay, let me think!" he
muttered. "Is he a very old man?"

"Yes, very old."

"I know him, then. I met him years ago in the Casino of Monte Carlo. He
lost half a million francs, after three times breaking the bank with a
system which he had invented. I marked him at the time as the best and
most passionless gambler I had ever seen. He lost that vast sum without
appearing to mind in the least, and gave a brilliant supper next
evening on his yacht to which everyone of any consequence was invited.
I was however unfortunately unable to attend, for I was called away
suddenly to St. Petersburg."

"Pardon me," said Cressingham, "you said 'unfortunately.' In my
opinion, you were very lucky for that accident probably saved your
life, that is if you were at the time engaged in this--er--business.
Were you?"

"I was."

"You may take your oath then that he had marked you and gave that
supper simply on your account. That man is one of the cleverest on
earth, and at the same time the most unscrupulous scoundrel I believe
the world has ever mistaken for a gentleman. He it is."

"He it is? He it is? You mean?"

But Cressingham arose. "Take me where we may converse in perfect safety
and I shall soon relieve your curiosity. Ha!" he gave a sudden little
gasping cry and dropped as though he had been shot, pulling the table
cloth and its contents over at the same time with a wild clatter to the
floor. When he arose his face was smeared thickly with a black mass of
treacle, behind which his features were absolutely unrecognizable. He
then spluttered out hoarsely in fierce Italian to his companions' utter
amaze: "Corpo di Baccho! My leg was asleep and gave way under my
weight. Sapristi! this stuff is choking me. Quickly, signores, lead
me to a bedroom. I am blind, I cannot see."

Everyone in the room stared and laughed in amused astonishment at the
ludicrous figure he cut, but Cressingham seized with one hand the
arm of Oeltjen, with the other the arm of Perigord, and gave to each
an iron grip. "The Prince," he muttered, "he must not see me," then
resumed his Italian oaths and dragged his companions swiftly from the
room swearing like a trooper.

But Prince Carlos, who had just entered by another door accompanied by
two Austrian naval officers, hurried after the trio and caught them in
the passage. "Mr. Perigord, I want you," he cried.

"My dear Prince, kindly wait for me a moment," said Perigord. "My
friend Signor Carrega has met with an unfortunate accident, and I
really must attend to him."

The Prince nodded. "Very well, I shall be in the reading room."

As soon as Oeltjen's bedroom was reached, he wiped the sticky mess from
his face with a sponge and turned to his companions, who stood watching
his operations in expectant silence.

"That was a narrow escape," he remarked coolly. "The Prince is one of
the three Nihilist chiefs. If he had recognized me, Heaven only knows
what might have happened, for he knows I know, although he believes I
was drowned a week ago. But go down to him, Mr. Perigord. Do not keep
him waiting; he might get uneasy."

Perigord surveyed the young man with a glance of open admiration.
"Really, my Lord," he said frankly, "you must return to the diplomatic
service. England needs the services of men like yourself. Oeltjen,
attend to your friend while I am gone. I shall not be long." From
the door he made a peculiar sign to his secretary, which however
Cressingham remarked.

For some minutes the two friends watched each other in silence, then
Cressingham said: "What did that sign mean, Oeltjen?"

"Really, Cressingham, I can't tell you." The Count's face flushed and
he looked a little ashamed.

"Nod if I guess it, will you?"

"Well--well--you see I----"

"Please! I'd do as much for you."

"I think I may. Indeed I shall."

"Good. It meant: Watch him carefully! on no account allow him a moment
from your sight! Am I right?"

Oeltjen nodded.

Cressingham smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "He can't allow himself
to trust anybody completely, that man. Strange, isn't it? Wonder what
the true reason is. I fancy it's lack of breeding myself. He's a grand
chap wonderfully brainy and all that sort of thing, but I don't think
he had a grandfather, do you, Oeltjen?"

"One can't tell. He is as you say a wonderful, indeed an extraordinary
man. But I have certainly noticed little things about him----"

"Cuts his bread," said Cressingham.

"He's a poor speller," said Oeltjen.

"Is he now. Well, I've once or twice found his grammar faulty for all
the wonderful linguist that he undoubtedly is. What country do you
guess he sprang from?"

"America, I think."

"H'm, I rather fancy he's a Frenchman."

"Permit me to assist you, if you are talking of me," said an ironic
voice from the doorway. "I was born at Totna, on the Danube."

Perigord entered and locked the door behind him after giving some
direction to a man in the passage without.

Cressingham and Oeltjen were cast in utter confusion by his sudden
appearance and his words, but he turned to them presently with a
good-humoured smile and said: "Some day I shall tell you all about
myself, since you are interested enough to be curious concerning me.
But for the present we have business on hand and I confess that I am
anxious to play the listener myself. First, however, let us defend
ourselves from eavesdroppers. I have men on guard, but that is no
reason why we should not observe every possible precaution."

While yet speaking he advanced to the bed and unceremoniously gathering
up quilt, sheets and blankets in his arms; he fixed them around and
about the door so that any cunning person who might essay to listen
without would find his trouble quite in vain. Satisfied with his
arrangements, he drew the others to the farthest wall of the room and
himself sitting on the unclothed bed motioned his companions to chairs
beside him. "Now, my Lord," he said eagerly; "commence, please, and
from the moment that I left you at the palace gate the night of the
Council."

Cressingham nodded and began his story. It was then eleven o'clock a.m.
At six p.m. he had finished, having spoken almost uninterruptedly for
seven hours, and so engrossed had he been in his discourse and so rapt
had been his auditors' attention that neither he nor they had given a
solitary thought to lunch or any other thing outside the story that he
had to tell.

A long silence followed his last word, a silence given up to anxious
reflection; then Perigord said slowly: "I cannot forgive myself for
having believed you a traitor, Lord Francis. Oeltjen was wiser than I;
he maintained your good faith through everything."

Cressingham smiled and held out his hand to the Count. "Thank you, old
chap," he said gratefully.

Oeltjen grasped his proffered hand and pressed it warmly, but made no
reply.

"However," said Perigord, "I shall try to make amends. To you I shall
entrust the task of rescuing Miss Elliott and your friend Miss Desiré,
and of kidnapping Madame Viyella. I like the plan you have arranged for
that, and we shall follow it. But tell us, my Lord, how many men has
the Count about him?"

"About twenty, my lord, as near as I could count. There may be more."

"H'm, the place must be seized by a coup de main, then, for you
have described it as almost impregnable. Did you observe any sign of
artillery?"

"None whatever."

"All the better. By-the-by, you spoke of the Count d'Attala receiving
telegrams. Did you observe any sign of a cable or cable house on the
island?"

"None, sir; except the castle and the boat-house there are no buildings
on the island."

"Ah, please excuse me for a moment, I must go to my room for a book!"

He departed and presently returned bearing with him a huge
leather-bound volume containing innumerable sheets of manuscripts.
"This," he said, "is a report just completed and furnished me by the
Italian police of all houses and castles of importance on the Adriatic
and Tyrrhenian coasts whose demesnes abut upon the sea. It may be
barely possible that the Count d'Attala is an Italian landholder."
He turned over the leaves for the space of perhaps ten minutes, then
suddenly uttered a cry of triumph. "Ha, it is as I thought!" he said.
"How marvellously simple is the unravelling of the sublimest mystery
once provided with a key. Here, listen please, gentlemen. 'Villa
Franchia, nine miles south of Spezia; present owner, Bosa Gracci, Conti
d'Attala, Corsican noble; purchased by him from Carlo, late Prince
Visconti, apud 1861; large walled park and grounds covering complete
frontline to small harbour and bay called locally Gulf of Sighs; owner
possesses one large steam yacht, and two smaller vessels; keeps up a
large establishment; his servants are mostly foreigners.'"

Perigord paused a moment and said: "That is all, gentlemen, but it is
significant enough. There undoubtedly we shall discover a complete
cable station. Mark, the place is only nine miles from the city of
Spezia, a comparatively unimportant town which for centuries might
escape the attention of the most acute investigators."

"Do you propose to attack the Villa before we set out for Attala?"
asked Cressingham.

"I shall not set out for Attala," said Perigord. "That expedition I
shall give into your charge, and your lieutenant shall be Oeltjen. My
part shall be the capture of the Villa Franchia. If I were to depart
on another voyage so soon, the news would be immediately telegraphed
to the Count and he might grow anxious. Moreover, I have to throw dust
into the eyes of Prince Carlos and prevent him from taking any alarm.
To-night, soon after dark, Oeltjen will convey you secretly on board
the Sea Hawk, where you will await instructions, but to prevent
accidents you must immediately disguise yourself--we must run no
further risks like that of this morning which you so cleverly evaded."

He plunged one hand into his breast pocket and drew forth a false black
moustache and imperial. "Fix that on your face, my Lord, it will serve
to alter your expression, and as you are supposed to be dead you will
not be regarded very closely. Once you are on board the yacht, you will
be quite safe from observation."

"And when shall I set out?" demanded the young man, as he took the
things and proceeded to adorn himself before a mirror.

"As soon as possible. By three days at furthest. I shall myself set out
for Milan this very evening to consult with King Humbert, for without
his assistance we can do very little, as you will require more men to
attack the island than I have at present on the yacht:"

"Nuisance!" cried Cressingham.

"I agree, but we cannot help ourselves. Oeltjen and you had better have
your dinner in this room. I myself am pledged to dine with Cardinal
Cornito and must leave you at once. After you have taken Lord Francis
on the yacht you will return here, Oeltjen, and wait in the hotel for
a telegram from me. I shall wire you from Milano, and you will then
carefully arrange for the embarkation of Humbert's officers on board
the yacht. Luckily you know them all already. I shall arrange to get
Prince Carlos out of the way, so your work should be accomplished
without detection by the Nihilists or other mishap. Give out that the
yacht proceeds to England. I shall spread abroad the same story. Now,
my Lord, as to you, I give you discretionary powers. You will assail
and capture the island in the manner that appears best to you. I have
no fear for the result; you have already shown me how capable you are.
You will if possible take the Count d'Attala prisoner and bring him----"

Suddenly a sharp rap sounded on the door. Perigord frowned and called
out loudly in French: "Who is there?"

"Dupassis, sir!" answered a faint voice.

Perigord crossed the room and opened the door. "Come in," he said
coldly, then, when the man, a small consumptive looking Frenchman,
whose face was very pale and nervous looking, had entered, "my orders
were that I was not to be disturbed. Something of importance has of
course occurred?"

"Yes, sir. I have waited very long, fearing to annoy you, but I dared
not any longer. The King----" he paused, interrupted by a loud hollow
cough that purpled his face.

"What of the King?" demanded Perigord.



EXPLANATION: ASSASSINATION 229

"Dead, sir," gasped the man, "shot and killed by a Nihilist this
afternoon at Monza!"

"Where did you hear of this?"

Dupassis drew a paper from his pocket. "I didn't leave my post, sir,"
he muttered apologetically; "one of the servants brought it to me.
Besides, they are crying out the news in the streets even now. If you
listen you may hear for yourself."

In the silence that followed they could indistinctly catch the far-off
shouts of an excited crowd, a confused babel of murmurs, from which
occasionally single words arose and travelled clearly to the pallid
listeners; such words as "Umberto--Death--Mercy and Revenge."

Perigord allowed the journal to slip to the floor unopened. "Have they
caught the murderer, Dupassis?" he asked presently.

"Yes, Excellency."

"His name?"

"He says Bresci."

Perigord turned to Cressingham and muttered sadly: "Your dream has come
true, my Lord." Then he shook his huge bulk like a Newfoundland dog
that has just emerged from a bath, and set his ponderous jaws together
with a snap. "It is lucky that Emanuel is one of us," he growled and
strode to the door. "Follow my orders, gentlemen; it is better to be
cautious, although excessive caution is no longer necessary since the
dogs our enemies will all be hiding in their holes a week to come
at least. You will soon hear from me. I go to Cardinal Cornito now,
thence to the new king. The new king! Le roi est mort, vice le roi.
Good-bye, gentlemen! If I do not again see you before you go to Attala,
I shall write my full instructions. Ah, the villains, the cruel, cursed
villains!"

He paused, his clenched hand unconsciously upraised on high, hesitated
a second, then, with a sort of groan, passed out and vanished without a
backward glance.




CHAPTER XX.--SIDE-LIGHTS AND SERMONS

"MEIN Gott!" said Oeltjen, "what a terrible confirmation of your story,
my Lord."

Cressingham picked up the journal which Perigord had let fall, and read
aloud the account and horrid details of King Humbert's assassination.

"Do you know, Oeltjen," he said afterwards, "from the very moment I
heard the Count d'Attala so cold-bloodedly predict the fulfilment of
his pledge, I somehow felt in my bones that Humbert was doomed, and
that nothing in the power of man to do might save him. I do not feel at
all surprised, for I expected this."

"I wonder if they will be able to extort any information from Bresci
the murderer?"

"Be sure not. The Count knows how to choose his instruments too well
for that. Remember Klein!"

"Ugh! I shall never forget that night. I often dream of the poor
wretch's screams of pain."

"And yet in spite of that dreadful torture, he was obstinate and
finally deceived us."

"Who do you suppose fired the bomb that night, my Lord?"

"Who but the Prince, or rather the Archduke. He arrived on the scene
immediately after the explosion. I marked his face particularly and saw
his eyes counting us over with an expression of utter disappointment.
I am sure Perigord commenced to suspect him from that moment. I wonder
what fate Perigord intends for him?"

"He is a Prince, you know, and heir to a throne."

"You think then----"

"That he is too highly placed to touch. Perigord will probably warn
his royal nephew, and in that way draw his teeth. You see, once the
Count d'Attala is killed or imprisoned, the inner circle will crumble
to pieces and Nihilism will fade away for want of a leader, never to be
revived in our generation at least."

"That is so, for it is the Count who holds all the strings. The Prince
and the Turk are merely figure-heads."

"So it seems; but what infernal villains they are, worse in my opinion
than the Count."

"Ah, you think that because you have not yet seen the Count! Wait a
little."

"Do you believe we shall encounter much resistance on the island?"

"Very little, if we have any luck. I hope to surprise the place."

"No doubt we shall find records there of all the various Nihilist
lodges and their individual members and provincial chiefs."

"I am sure of that, Oeltjen, for Attala has been the Count's
head-quarters for a quarter century. With what we shall find there
Perigord should be able to achieve his mission absolutely and abolish
Nihilism as a concerted organization from the face of the earth."

"What a proud man he would be then!"

"Quite forgivably so, too. I can't help admiring the fellow, can you?"

"Well, my Lord, personally I more than admire. You see, for some
weeks I have been his intimate companion, and, to some degree, he has
given me his confidence and friendship. He is uncouth, and often does
things which jar a little on one's nerves, but he is so big in every
other way; such a giant physically and mentally, so liberal in his
views for other people, although in his own life, a severe ascetic,
so broad-minded, so charitable and generous. I could tell you a
score of things he has done without ostentation and without a second
thought--generous, dutiful things which would show you the man's true
heart. Why, only last night as we came down from Milano in the train, a
poor wretch (we were travelling second class) slipped into our carriage
unnoticed by the guard at some small wayside station and besought us to
allow him to hide beneath our seat as he wished to visit his wife whom
he said was lying ill at Florence in order that he might see her before
she died. I pitied the man, he looked so miserably in earnest, and
would myself have assisted him, but had no money of my own. Perigord
had no money of his own either, for he is quite poor personally, and
although I had in my bag some hundreds of pounds belonging to his trust
he would not permit himself to use a single farthing. But he took
out his watch and the ring from his finger and thrust them into the
beggar's hand, telling him in a harsh voice to go and sell them and
then buy himself a ticket, but not to dare attempt to thieve a passage.
Nor would he permit the fellow to give him a word of thanks. No, my
Lord, I defy anyone to live with Perigord for long and entertain for
him only admiration. He is rugged and rough, I grant you, but his heart
is golden, and for myself I confess I love and am devoted to him."

"Indeed, I am not surprised since you tell me he is capable of such a
noble action. I have never heard of a finer thing than that."

"Ah, you should see him among the poor as I have seen him, then you
would understand the poor of London, of Paris, of Milano and Napoli. He
has found a way to their hearts, one and all, I can tell you. He goes
among them, the lowest of the low, and speaks to each poor wretch of
his affairs as though old friends had met to chat, and although now so
poor himself that he has nothing but words to give them, it needs but
little penetration to remark how well beloved he is, how venerated and
how lovingly esteemed."

"You fill me with surprise!"

"I can assure you he filled me with amaze; I used to watch him at first
in speechless silence, perhaps in some filthy den when a miserable
bedraggled crone would pour her vulgar troubles in his ears, and for
an hour he would listen to and comfort her as though she had been a
duchess, and he her spiritual adviser. Afterwards he would smile to
me and say, 'These creatures are my best friends, they help me in my
work.' But not all that he might say could make me credit that such was
his only reason for so sacrificing himself. No, the man was happy at
such times. One could see it in his face, in the kindly gleaming of his
eyes, in the husky tones of his voice, in the shamefaced way he would
offer the few pence he might have of his very own to give away; pence
that were often refused with blessings for, strange to say, some of
these creatures appeared to possess hearts too."

"My dear Oeltjen!"

"It is true, and more, much more; I could spend hours in telling you of
his charity, his sweet, untiring goodness to those poor abandoned folk.
I assure you, tears have often come into my eyes to watch him!"

"One thing I cannot understand. Why did he take you with him if it was
not to publish to you his goodness?" said Cressingham in a doubting
voice.

Oeltjen smiled. "Be sure I often asked myself the same question,"
he replied; "and I used to ask myself this question, too: 'If these
creatures are his agents, from whom he acquires information as he tells
me, why does he not help them from the vast funds at his command, a
thing he would have a perfect right to do?' But he never did this,
and one day I discovered the reason of his taking me about with him.
He said to me quite quietly as we dined together 'You are a rich man,
Ludwig, are you not?' I told him the amount of my income. He sighed
and replied: 'Sometimes I catch myself agreeing with and pitying the
Nihilists. It is surely a shame that some men are so rich and the vast
majority so poor. If only all the rich were charitable and gave to the
needy according to their means, why then we should have no Nihilists,
for always, as Talleyrand once said--'Ragged clothing and empty bellies
are the most terrible incitements to the plotting of murders and the
planning of revolutions.' It was then I understood him, and grasped the
full meaning of what had before been an annoying mystery."

"What did you do?"

"Not very much--the little that I could."

"He dispensed your favours?"

"You wrong him. He merely pointed out deserving objects. Unhappily
their number was legion, and I could only help a few."

Cressingham's eyes were glistening. "My dear friend, I envy you your
experience; it was money well expended. Did it not give you pleasure?"

"The greatest my life has known. Unfortunately all things have an end."

"Ah, you have beggared yourself?"

"For a year to come I shall have to be careful, that is all."

Cressingham cleared his throat once or twice before he would quite
trust himself to speak, then he said: "We'll change all that, lad, once
we get to the treasure chamber of Attala. By Gad! you've made me quite
fall in love with Perigord; I had no idea he was such a brick. You're
a dashed good sort yourself, old chap. I feel quite a useless, selfish
brute by comparison. I'm afraid I've a lot to pull up."

"Ah, bah, my Lord! don't give me the credit, that belongs elsewhere. I
never should have dreamed of doing what I have done, if it hadn't been
for him. If you'd been in my place you'd have done exactly the same
thing yourself, my Lord."

"Please don't 'my Lord' me any more, will you? I--I'd be glad if you'd
use my first name; my pals all call me Frank."

Oeltjen smiled brightly; "Hein, that is good," he cried, "you know my
first name, Frank?"

"I do, my boy, and it's just been tripped up on my tongue a score of
times. Much more homely, isn't it? especially as we'll be so closely
associated in our voyage. But what do you say to an early dinner,
Ludwig--I'm simply starving?"

"I say yes. Ring the bell, will you?"

The friends dined in the bed-room, Cressingham pretending a sprained
ankle in order to pacify the waiter. Their conversation drifted with
liqueurs and cigarettes to the inevitable subject of women, and the
Englishman unburdened himself of a long description of Francine
Elliott's charms and virtues, also his fears regarding her health and
safety. Oeltjen was sympathetic and encouraging; he listened for an
hour without evincing the slightest signs of weariness, and then strove
to comfort his friend by resolutely refusing to entertain any but the
bright side of the situation.

In the end he artfully inquired of Madame Viyella. "Is she still
eprise with you, Frank, do you think?" he asked.

Cressingham shook his head. "I don't know that she ever was really,"
he replied. "It was all in the game she was playing. Anyhow, it would
be impossible to measure her sincerity. The woman is such a perfect
actress that whatever she says or simulates she actually means for the
time. I've studied her pretty thoroughly, and in my opinion she is
incapable of any deep feeling. Besides, man, think of her age!"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she has a daughter of eighteen!"

"Gott in Himmel! Is the girl so old?"

"Now there's a chance for you, Ludwig!" cried Cressingham laughing.
"Desiré is exactly what her mother may once have been--a lovely,
impressionable child, pure as an angel, and wonderfully intelligent
and sweet. She resembles Katherin most wonderfully too, in fact I
believe when her hair grows and she fills out a bit she will be a most
beautiful woman."

Oeltjen's face assumed an expression of pain. "Please don't jest about
that, will you, Frank?" he murmured.

"My dear fellow, you don't mean to say----"

"Nothing," interrupted the other, "except that my recovery is still
recent; the scar still hurts at times, although I try to think it is
entirely healed. For all that I can't quite help dreading to meet her
again a little."

"Phew!" whistled Cressingham, "I'm sorry I spoke, old chap. I know
perfectly what you mean; I've been there myself, as the saying is."

Oeltjen arose. "I think we'd better get aboard the Sea Hawk now,
Frank."

"All right, I'm your man."

They found the streets of Naples in a strange ferment. Excited crowds
thronged the thoroughfares. Soldiers were everywhere in evidence,
forcing their way through the press in half companies and squads,
acting the part of patrols, speaking not at all but occasionally using
freely their scabbards and sword hilts to clear a passage. The populace
seemed on the verge of doing something desperate. The air seemed full
of silent menace. Often one might catch the gleam of naked steel.
Strangers were constantly accosting each other and whispering and
discussing the royal tragedy. Carriages there were none to be had, so
the friends made their way towards the wharves immediately in the wake
of a formidably strong patrol which proceeded in that direction. In the
Via Scala, a bonfire had been erected and a mob of drunken fools were
burning in effigy someone, whether the late king or his murderer it was
impossible to tell. The officer in command of the detachment gave a
sharp order, and the soldiers immediately charged the crowd, scattering
them in all directions and taking a score of prisoners. They then
stamped out the blaze, and wheeling turned at right angles into a maze
of alleys, leaving the friends alone for they did not care to follow
farther. Threading their way with infinite difficulty through the
quickly reassembling mob, they got at last past the post office, but
there a sudden surge of the crowd forced them into a by-path, and they
were obliged to run for their lives helter-skelter down a dirty and
ill-smelling street, surrounded by people who jabbered unceasingly. The
wave receded soon, but they had been remarked by the creatures about
them and found themselves objects of most unwelcome attention. The cry
of "spies!" was raised, and knives flashed out like magic.

One woman bolder than the rest made a vicious lunge at Cressingham, but
he caught her wrist and shouted out: "Fools, we are English!"

The word was like a talisman. The knives vanished as quickly as they
had been drawn, and a storm of "Vivas" and "Viva Inglesi!" rent
the air on instant. The woman, seized with remorse (a wrinkled hag she
was) threw her arms round Cressingham and kissed him violently on both
cheeks. He gasped and struggled, but quite in vain, and the beldam,
quite satisfied with herself, presently hurried back the way she had
come, yelling like a demon and fortunately taking the other devils with
her.

"It looks like a revolution!" panted Oeltjen.

"No fear of that," said Cressingham, "the military are too strong, but
the spirit of revolt is loose. There will be blood spilt to-night I
think."

"Ay!" cried a hoarse, chuckling voice to their surprise in English;
"There will be blood spilt to-night, signores," and a short, brutally
ugly creature emerged from the shadow of an open doorway close at hand
and barred their passage with a cocked revolver.

"Money, if it please you, signores, and all you have about you; your
watches and rings besides. What luck to come to a poor man, what
beautiful, heaven-sent luck!"

Oeltjen moved his hand to his pocket as though to comply, but the man
gave a hollow laugh and covered him. "Not you, hands above your heads,
please! Giuletta!" he shouted suddenly.

A second figure sprang from the darkness, the figure of a slender
girl dressed in rags, but pretty as the man was ugly. "Search these
gentlemen, Giuletta; don't be squeamish about it either, your father
will protect you: every pocket, and the linings of their vests."

The friends, though savagely angry, were compelled to submit, and so
cleverly the girl did her work, that in less than five minutes she had
divested them of rings, scarf pins, watches and Oeltjen's revolver,
and they were left without so much as a copper piece between them.
The man counted the spoil before their eyes, putting the banknotes
in his pocket and testing the gold coins with his teeth, mumbling
all the while with glee. Then he calmly ordered his victims to walk
backwards down the alley for the distance of fifty feet, and finally
satisfied, addressed them in this fashion: "Signores, go home and
sleep peacefully; you have done a noble deed to-night, for you have
generously helped the poor and the motherless. Through your kindness I
shall be able to drink your healths for a month to come at least, and
Giuletta has to thank you for the new dress which to-morrow I shall buy
her. Go, and God be with you, I cannot ever hope to repay you, but at
least accept this little gift from me as a souvenir of the night." With
a mocking laugh, he tossed his pistol towards them and disappeared into
the shadows, a door clanging violently behind him.

Cressingham strode forward and picked up the weapon, which after a
second he handed silently to Oeltjen. The Count gave vent to an angry
German oath, but Cressingham clapped his hands to his sides and broke
into a hearty roar of laughter in which his companion presently joined,
though perhaps not with equal heartiness, for he had been robbed of
over a hundred pounds of Perigord's money. The revolver was made of
painted wood.

"It's all very well for us to laugh," said Oeltjen presently, "but the
rascal has got away with a hundred and twenty pounds which belongs to
Perigord."

"Let us pursue him then--come on."

"No, thanks; he has my revolver, which is loaded in every chamber."

"The police?"

"Hopeless, they are already over occupied. They would not listen to us."

"Let us then resign ourselves, since nothing can be done. By Jove, it
was a clever rascal, Ludwig; he almost deserves his spoil, doesn't he?"

"H'm; Perigord will be angry."

"Bosh, man! I'll give him a cheque for the amount if he wants it. The
laugh I had was worth twice the sum. Ha, ha, ha, ha! One doesn't often
meet a humorous dog like that. I'd like to know the fellow."

An upstairs window of the house opposite which they stood opened at
this moment, and a voice cried out, the voice of the thief: "Take a
friendly hint from me, Count von Oeltjen, and get yourself as soon as
possible out of harm's way."

"Who are you?" demanded Ludwig.

"What matters that? Do as I bid you; you are marked with the red cross,
and a tiger is already after you."

"Thanks for the warning, but tell me a little more."

"Keep your thanks; one good turn deserves another. I can't tell you
more than I have, but if you are wise do not walk the city after dark.
Good night!" and the window was pulled down sharply.

"Seems we have stumbled on a nest of Nihilists," muttered Cressingham;
"we'd better pad the hoof. By Gad! that fellow was not at all bad,
after all. I thought he couldn't be; a man with his sense of humour is
bound to have some good in him."

Oeltjen gave a little grunt of dissatisfaction, but he took the other's
arm and they hastened from the spot as fast as they could walk. They
soon reached a main street, and by dint of much pushing and struggling
made their way at last to the wharves, which they found completely
deserted. Boats there were in plenty, but no boatmen. They wandered up
and down for half an hour, when there arrived a steam launch flying
American colours, to the commander of which they made known their
predicament. He proved to be the purser of the Yosemite, a large
steamer at anchor in the bay, and a very obliging creature to boot,
who immediately ordered his sailors to take the friends off to the Sea
Hawk and return for him. Twenty minutes afterwards they stepped on
board Mr. Perigord's yacht, and to their astonishment were greeted by
Mr. Perigord himself, who it seemed had been for some time anxiously
expecting them. He led them at once to the saloon, where they found
Cardinal Carnito seated before a flask of Seltinger which he had
already severely punished.

The Cardinal had insisted on visiting the yacht in order to hear
Cressingham repeat the main points of his story in propria persona,
and this the young man was obliged to do, and subsequently submit to a
cross-examination which for rigour and detail would not have disgraced
a leader of the bar.

The Cardinal was a big, fleshy man of fifty-five, but so marvellously
well preserved that he appeared to be much younger. He possessed a most
winning manner and complete control of a very charming smile. So well
did he know how to bear himself that although his mind was cynical
and it was patent that he found it hard to make himself believe all
that he heard, no exception might be taken to his incisive phrases
and doubting questions. His eyes were large and dark, but very cold
and hard. He seemed to regard the whole world from the standpoint of
suspicion, and his remarks were often full of sarcasm which he did
not attempt to restrain, but which he half annulled by the confident
and caressing suggestion of the smile which accompanied his words. He
imparted the idea of a man who could not refrain from the utterance
of bitter speeches, but who recoiled from their effect; a man wishful
to give himself the pleasure of hurting others, but anxious to disarm
the people he sought to hurt, fearing perhaps a return in kind.
That he knew well the art of dealing with men was soon evident, for
Cressingham's disposition was impatient and his perceptions keen, and
yet the young man was always as a puppet in its master's hand. He felt
his treatment and resented it, but he found it impossible to grasp a
single definite cause of offence or display the least annoyance without
becoming a fool for his pains.

The inquisition lasted hours, but at last the Cardinal was satisfied,
and said so in a manner so friendly and with language so full of deftly
chosen flatteries, that Cressingham was constrained to feel pleased in
spite of himself and pay tribute, however grudgingly, to the peculiar
talents of his inquisitor.

Oeltjen then related the history of the robbery on shore. The Cardinal
listened with an amused smile, and at once promised to set about
securing a restitution of their property. He recognized the robber
from the description given, and informed them that the man was a
stone worker, half Italian, half English, who had for many years lead
a disreputable life, and who was probably a Nihilist. He declared,
however, that the fellow was a good Catholic, and had many redeeming
points about him, and he advised Oeltjen to pay strict attention to the
warning which had been given him.

Perigord, who had been absent throughout the evening, at this moment
entered the cabin, and placed in Cressingham's hands the jewels which
he had brought from the island of Attala.

The young man regarded the treasures with much embarrassment. "They're
really not mine, you know," he said.

The Cardinal smiled, eyeing him keenly. "Whose then are they?" he
inquired, his voice soft as silk.

"They belong to the Count d'Attala, I suppose."

"Well?"

"Well, your Eminence." Cressingham resented the subtle smile with which
he was regarded.

"What do you propose to do with them? Restore them to the Count?"

"Perhaps your Eminence would be so kind as to advise me?"

The Cardinal shrugged his shoulders. "I should prefer you to determine
the matter for yourself."

Cressingham looked him straight in the eyes. "Very well, I give them to
your Eminence to sell, and distribute the proceeds among the poor of
Naples."

The Cardinal got to his feet and smiled again, but this time his smile
was really kind and his eyes were soft and luminous. "Well said, my
son," he murmured; "I shall accept the trust." He took the jewels. "The
Count d'Attala is a man, and so must needs possess a soul, however
black with sin it be; a soul perhaps that may be saved. If all his
wealth is so expended, even though in spite of him, who shall say that
his punishment hereafter may not be thereby softened in some way! At
any rate, the gold of the wicked is accursed and can only be purged of
the evil which it has occasioned when it is given to the poor, for thus
out of evil arises good. All theologians have thought thus, and I think
as they."

The man's face was transfigured as he said these words, and it was
impossible to doubt his earnestness. He resumed presently, addressing
himself to Cressingham and Oeltjen: "You, Count von Oeltjen, are a
Catholic; listen then to me. You, my Lord Francis Cressingham, are
of another faith, but what I am about to say should not offend you.
You will presently set forth on a difficult and dangerous mission, a
mission to which the Holy Mother Church accords its blessing because
its object is entirely pure and good and noble, in that it seeks
not only to save the lives of kings, who after all are men, and in
the sight of God lowly as the lowliest, but it aims for the saving
of men's souls from sin. Our Divine Redeemer when on earth gave to
the disciples whom He loved a form and discipline of prayer which He
taught them to use as the means whereby they might best approach the
throne of the Most High when most in need of blessings. In that prayer
He said these words: 'Leave us not in our temptation.' My children,
behold then the part of your mission, which is chiefly blessed. The
hearts of all men are weak and subject to temptation, therefore Jesus
Christ in His divine wisdom taught us to beseech God to save us from
temptation. If God prospers you, my children, you will be His humble
instruments in saving countless hundreds of souls from the ways and
opportunities of sin. I point out these things in order that you may
approach your task, not in a spirit of adventure, not with feelings
of hatred and vengeance in your hearts, but reverently, thankfully,
devoutly and yet resolutely, as God's servants should always set about
the accomplishment of the duties which they are given to perform. Above
all, I exhort you to prepare yourselves, to cleanse by prayer and by
sincere repentance your own hearts from sin before you set forth, for
thus you will deserve success, and oftentimes to deserve success is to
command it. There, my children, my little sermon is finished with the
exception of my blessing, which I shall now give you."

Oeltjen at once fell on his knees before the prelate, and Cressingham,
after a second's hesitation, followed suit, feeling in spite of himself
that he was in presence of a man whose blessing could do him no harm
and one whose mind was so lofty and spiritual that he could kneel to
him without experiencing any loss of dignity.

The Cardinal made the sign of the cross above their heads, and
murmured: "Benedicite, Benedicite! Dominus vobiscum!"

"Et cum spiritu tuo," answered Oeltjen.

His Eminence gravely motioned them to arise, and turned to Perigord.
"Let us depart," he said.

Perigord drew from his pocket a letter which he gave to Cressingham.
"Those are your instructions, my Lord; you will start at noon
to-morrow."

"But the men, the officers----"

"Are all on board and asleep long ere this."

"In that case we could start at once."

"You will start at noon, to-morrow. Read now your instructions.
Good-bye, my Lord."

Perigord and the Cardinal then shook him gravely by the hand, and
taking Oeltjen with them left the cabin. Cressingham immediately tore
open the letter and read as follows:--


"You will start at noon of July 30 from Naples, and proceed at half
speed on the ordinary route of vessels proceeding to Gibralter until
you pass Sardinia. You will then steam full speed due north, keeping
Sardinia and Corsica at least fifty miles to starboard until the latter
island is rounded, after which you will be at liberty to proceed as
best you deem fit to Attala. The manner of attack on the objective
point is left entirely at your own discretion. But having captured the
place you will take prisoners all its inhabitants and secure them in
the hold of the Sea Hawk. You will then carefully search the island
and castle, and remove therefrom to the yacht all books, papers and
documents whatsoever that may be found, also any treasure, specie or
other valuables. You will demolish any printing presses or machinery
which may be discovered, but carefully preserve and transport all
blocks and letterpress in use. You will entirely destroy--by fire,
if necessary--the cable station and all telegraphic instruments, but
preserve all records of messages if any such exist. Should you be
interrupted at your work by the arrival of enemies, you are given
discretionary powers to act in such emergency in any way you may judge
best. The Count's silver boat, engines and appliances you will remove
to the yacht intact. After the castle has been ransacked you will
destroy it by dynamite; you will also as far as possible wreck the
tunnel opening on the stone boat-shed, and the boat-shed itself by the
same means. After everything here detailed has been carefully effected
you will return with your prisoners at full speed to Naples, where your
arrival will be anxiously expected. God bless and prosper you.

"Perigord."


Cressingham conned this document over until he had got its contents by
heart. Then it struck him that as he was in command of an important and
possibly very dangerous expedition, he might as well avail himself of
the perquisites of his position. He rang a bell and a steward entered
the room on instant.

"A bottle of champagne, please; your best."

"Large or small, my Lord?"

"H'm, large, please. Where is my cabin?"

"Through that door, my Lord."

"Good: bring two glasses, please, and go find the Count von Oeltjen."

"He has gone ashore, my Lord."

"Oh! indeed!" This was news to Cressingham, but he did not cancel his
order for all that; and when an hour afterwards he retired to sleep the
champagne bottle was--well, a dead marine.




CHAPTER XXI.--A SUPPER PARTY

MISS FRANCINE ELLIOTT was upon the high road to recovery when
Cressingham made his escape from the Island of Attala. She had been
carefully attended during her illness by the Count's negro physician,
who, although a person without university qualifications, proved
to be the possessor of much skill in the practice of medicine. She
found nothing to complain of in her treatment during the time of
convalescence. The old Count seemed to have discovered a liking
for her, and although he frequently showed himself impatient and
crotchetty, he was on the whole kind, and paid her many little
attentions.

Madame Viyella she never saw except at a distance, but Desiré came
often to visit her, and at least one hour every evening was spent
very pleasantly by the girl in trying on the various articles of Miss
Elliott's wardrobe, a wardrobe which the Count had provided for her
from Italy shortly after her arrival on the island. Desiré had grown
very fond of her new friend, and was never tired of asking questions
about that wonderful London which had so long been the El Dorado of her
dreams, and which she now eagerly looked forward to visiting at no very
distant date.

Each morning Desiré anxiously searched the boat-house for the red cloth
which was to be the signal of Cressingham's return, but the days passed
monotonously, and no sign came. Francine became well enough at last
to walk unaided, and it was then her dearest pleasure to climb to the
look-out and spend hours gazing out over the blue water, longing to be
the first to discover sight of the vessel which might contain her lover
and the hope of freedom. Many steamers and ships she saw pass across
the horizon, but they all passed, and with each her hopes grew smaller
and smaller. She remembered that a strong wind had blown on the night
of Cressingham's departure, and Desiré had described to her the frail
cockleshell which had borne him out to sea. It was hard to continue
hoping on in such circumstances, but it was harder to resign all hope;
and although in some moods she despaired, the very fact that so many
steamers and other vessels so constantly passed the island inspired her
with confidence that he might have after all been saved.

The hours of sunshine and balmy breezes that she devoted to the summit
of the mountain meanwhile completed her recovery, and each day she grew
more her old self, more established in health, and consequently more
beautiful. The Count d'Attala watched her restoration with undisguised
pleasure, and commenced to pay her many compliments on her altered
appearance. It afforded him a species of cynical amusement to think
that she expected deliverance, for her visits to the mountain top were
interpreted by him correctly; but not aware of the full extent of her
hopes and their foundation, he did not attempt to restrain her liberty,
and indeed was once the companion of her excursion, having himself
carried to the look-out in a palanquin.

On July 29 he invited her to supper with him, and in such a manner that
she was constrained to accept the invitation. Madame Viyella and Desiré
were of the party, and she found herself sitting on the Count's right
hand, opposite her father's murderess. It was a quaint situation, full
of horror to the girl, but it would have profited her nothing to rebel
against the sending of the fates, and recognizing her helplessness, she
forced herself to resignation.

Madame Katherin was superbly dressed in a low cut gown of heliotrope
satin, covered with rich Maltese lace; Desiré, as usual, appeared
in boy's clothes, but the Count d'Attala had discarded his usually
magnificent apparel, and was clothed from head to heel in deep black,
even his collar, silken shirt and ruffles being of that sombre colour.
The old man's face, however, was at odds with his mourning costume, for
his expression was excited and triumphant, and his first act on seating
himself was to fill his glass and those of his guests with sparkling
burgundy. Then, raising his flagon, he thus addressed them: "I wish you
to join me in drinking the health of His Majesty Umberto I of Italy,
and to wish him prosperity and bon voyage in the new career in which
he has this afternoon embarked."

Madame Viyella made a peculiar gesture with her eyebrows, but she drank
to the toast, and Francine and Desiré each sipped their wine.

"Is it over?" asked Madame, as she put down her glass.

"It is," replied the Count, his eyes beaming; "Umberto was shot this
afternoon at Monza, shot dead!"

Francine experienced a thrill of horror, and stared at the old man with
a sudden presentiment of what was to come. "You--you had no hand in his
death," she gasped out.

He gave a low chuckle of appreciation. "No hand, my dear young
lady--no, not I, I am not a vulgar assassin, I merely arranged the
matter. I decreed--my servants carried out the work!"

"Then you are the actual murderer!" She gazed at him, her eyes dilated
with terror, her bosom heaving, her cheeks ashen white.

The Count d'Attala was plainly flattered by the sensation he
had created; he laughed out in extravagant delight, and glanced
about the table with the air of a man who had abundant cause for
self-gratulation. "I am not of those who are frightened of the
world," he answered, still smiling, "not do I seek to escape, in my
home-circle, at all events, the consequences of my acts. Katherin
views the world much in the same fashion as myself, and is used to
the traffic of death, for I have trained her. But Desiré is still
child enough to feel affrighted. Ha! ha! ha! look at the child.
Desiré, my dear, you appear to be quite out of love with your poor old
grandfather; you stare at me with your heart in your eyes, and your
heart is filled with dismay and detestation. Ha! ha! ha! Why even you,
Miss Elliott, I dare swear stand this moment slightly in awe of me. But
what need is there for emotion after all? A king is a man, and just as
liable to death as the poorest contadina. He has lungs, stomach, and
heart like yours or mine. It is only a question of reaching him, and
then sufficiently disturbing one or other of those organs, and pouf!
Death carries him off as easily as the sirocco a fluffy blossom on its
bosom. You perceive then that not so very much credit is due to me. I
plot and plan, but my real friend is Death. Death! who lurks an unseen
phantom in the sunlight and the shade, who, omnipresent, universal and
almost omnipotent, aids and abets my counsels, ever ready to extend his
grisly hand, and recognizing me as a friend of his heart, preserves
me alone that I may continue his ally in the campaign he wages with
the world. I vow to you, Miss Elliott, that with every death which I
accomplish I grow young again, and take a new lease of life."

"Monster!" cried the girl, "do you never think that Death will at last
reach yourself?"

He laughed again. "Ha, ha, ha! Do you take me for a coward or a fool?
I know that I must go at last, for all things have an end. But what do
I care for that? At least while I live I shall enjoy myself. Besides,
it is written in the stars that I shall die poor. Christobal himself
read my horoscope when I was born, and since then every astrologer of
note the world over. All have told me the same thing, and I believe it.
I shall die poor and lonely, in rags, perhaps from starvation. Well,
that day is still far off, for I am rich, rich. In your Bank of England
a great sum stands to my credit. In the Bank of France there is more.
Bah, did I land in Florence, in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, I can still
hold up my head among the wealthiest inhabitants of those cities! You
see, I have striven and done what I might to postpone the evil day.
Only a world wide revolution, a political cataclysm of unparalleled
dimensions could work my ruin, and until that day arrives why I shall
live."

Francine felt as though she looked upon an incarnate fiend. "But you
are old," she muttered.

"Old! oh--ay, as the world goes," he returned. "This is my hundred and
third year of existence. But I am still young and vigorous; there are
few men near my age who can handle sword, knife or pistol as well as I.
You have seen me climb to the look-out assisted by my attendants, it
is true, but I almost think I could just as easily have done without
them. However, I am wise; life is sweet, so I take no chances, but
care for my health as no man I verily believe before has ever done.
Hence my choice of this island for a permanent abode during the past
fifty years. It is true that the place is the ancient home of my
family, but that idea influenced me nothing. I settled here because it
was inhabited by a race of centenarians, poor fisher folk, who lived
miserably but who lived long--they are all dead now, I saw to that. The
last to go was my old nurse; she quarrelled with my doings, the hag,
and sought--although twenty years my senior--to escape, and bring about
my ruin. That was two years ago, but she was one hundred and fifteen
years of age when my bullet found her heart."

"My God!" gasped Francine.

"A ripe old age, was it not?" said the Count, wilfully disregarding the
true reason of the girl's exclamation.

"May I trouble you for the salt," said Madame Viyella.

Miss Elliott handed the article to the woman, and her fingers touched,
as she thought, the fingers of her father's murderess. She gave a
violent shudder, and sipped at her wine to hide her emotion, although
the draught near choked her. Then she stammered out: "Why did you kill
the King of Italy?"

"My dear Miss Elliott, you eat nothing," said the Count. "Eat, I beg of
you; the food is not poisoned."

Francine tried to force herself to obey, for she was in deadly terror,
and the words were a command, but with every mouthful a hysterical
contraction of the throat caused her violent pain.

The Count resumed: "I arranged the death of Umberto for a cash
consideration, and to satisfy my followers. My people are a stupid
class, who imagine that by instilling into the hearts of kings the
constant fear of death they will at length cause the abolition of
monarchy. A mad idea that, which they continue to entertain only by
reason of their profound and impenetrable ignorance. The lessons of
the past have taught them nothing. At their bidding the lives of all
reigning monarchs have been variously attempted for three-quarters of a
century, and many have been slain. In spite of that no throne has been
vacant long, but they nevertheless persist in their blind purpose, and
in order to retain their confidence, in order to obtain their money, I
am at intervals obliged to give them a victim. It is true that in the
first instance my predecessor in office and I myself instilled this
idea into their dull minds. Well, I suffer now in consequence, for my
ingenuity is put constantly on strain to keep them satisfied."

Francine remembered at that moment the ambition and hopes of her lover,
and was curious. "Supposing"--she hesitated--"supposing you were
killed, would Nihilism then die out?"

He shook his head. "My people would not want a leader long; there
exists a man who is most anxious to step into my shoes."

"Jibaloff," said Madame.

The Count nodded. "Yes, Jibaloff. Ah, bah! he would suit them too,
for he is more bloodthirsty than I. He would arrange for wholesale
executions."

"But," said Francine, "what if he too were killed?"

The Count sipped his wine and looked at her steadily. "In that case, my
dear young lady, Nihilism as an institution, a settled organization,
would revert to the position from which it was rescued by Baron
Katusoff, the noble Pole, my predecessor and teacher, some hundred and
three years ago, about the time that I was born."

Francine dissembled the eagerness which instantly possessed her, and
observed as tranquilly as she could: "I suppose it was not a very
perfect system then?"

"Parlons, parlons, Miss Elliott, a nihilism of nihilists. Lodges
there were certainly, but their members had no esprit de corps, no
cohesion, no organization. There was no recognized chief, no settled
principle of action or leadership, very little secrecy. In fact, they
were not dangerous, merely a collection of discontented bandits, whose
movements were easily apprehended, and whose motives were readily
frustrated. Alas! the world has no idea of the debt it owes to Katusoff
and me!"

"Jibaloff should be here soon," observed Madame.

"He will not arrive until to-morrow, or I am much mistaken," said the
Count; "his yacht was only seen off Napoli this morning."

"Do you think he will bring the treasure?"

"Why else should he come? Depend upon it, he has had it with him
all along. In any case, not a step shall I move without it, and he
understands that the division this time is mine. But I do not fear; he
has too much to lose by failing in a jot of his obligations."

Desiré changed colour a little at this. "How long do you think he will
stay, grandfather?" she asked.

"A few days. Why?"

"Oh, nothing."

"You had an object in asking the question; tell it me."

"I don't like him."

"Fie on you. Your own father! unnatural child that you are--ha! ha! ha!"

"Don't, don't!" pleaded the girl, recoiling from his jeering laughter.

"Poor little girl, the father is unkind to it, eh? Never mind; come
to its old grandfather; he will protect it--ha! ha! ha!" His mirth
was a more shuddersome thing than his anger, and even Madame shivered
slightly to hear him.

"Jibaloff wants Desiré," she remarked.

The old man flew in a passion on instant. "The cursed swine dared to
ask me for her!" he cried angrily; "he wants her as a present for the
Sultan, an addition to his master's zenana, no doubt. Well, he shall
not have her, not before my boat is finished at all events."

Desiré turned pale. "But then you will send me to England, grandfather,
will you not?" she asked entreatingly.

"As a boy?"

"No, as a girl."

"You have my promise, my promise," he sneered; "are you not satisfied?"

But his voice was insincere, and Desiré's lips tightened. "Oh yes, I am
satisfied," she answered, and flashed a meaning look at Francine.

Francine discovered a certain anxiety to know the Count's ultimate
intentions with regard to herself, and she hastened to take advantage
of his mood of garrulity. "Am I to stay on this island always?" she
asked tremulously.

The old man surveyed her with a mocking smile, and answered presently:
"Why no, not always--at least, I think not. To-morrow you will be
presented to Jibaloff, and if he is satisfied with your appearance, and
I with the price he offers, you will shortly change your state."

"What do you mean?" gasped Francine.

"I mean that you will become Jibaloff' s sixtieth or seventieth wife,
I don't quite know the extent of his domestic arrangements. Perhaps,
however, the rascal may reserve you for his master, in which case you
will have a royal husband. Does not the prospect please you?"

"I would kill myself first!" cried the girl.

The Count laughed and answered brutally: "At least live until I have
Jibaloft's money. I have no objection to your cheating the Turk of his
bargain, but wait till then, if you love me, wait till then."

He made a sign at that moment, and his two dumb attendants at once
hurried forward, and lifting the old man to his feet, guided him with
the utmost care from the apartment. Francine immediately arose, and
disdaining to glance at Madame also hastened from the room.

Madame turned to Desiré. "Well, girl, you look displeased. What is the
matter with you?"

"I hate it all!" replied Desiré passionately. "How I would love to go
away, and never see grandfather or father again; they are horrible."

Madame sighed. "My poor kitten, so should I. But what chance have we?
Come and kiss me, Desiré."

The girl threw her arms around the woman and tenderly caressed her.
"Why can't we, mother mine? why cannot we leave this dreadful place?"

Madame patted her daughter's head. "Because we haven't wings," she
answered drearily, "and because no other part of Europe is safe for me
just now; there are men who want my life."

"Mother, did you care for that Englishman, Lord Francis Cressingham?"

Madame arose and put the girl from her. "I liked him well enough," she
said, "but he is dead."

"Did he care for you?"

"When I wished him to care, he cared."

"You tried to help him away, didn't you?"

"No; I knew he could not escape, but I did not want to see him die, so
I pretended to assist him, knowing that your grandfather would shoot
him immediately he was caught."

"Do you think he was drowned, mother?"

"I am sure of it, but why?"

"I dreamed last night that he came here in a yacht and took you and me
and Miss Elliott away with him."

"A pretty dream, but a foolish one, my child."

"Oh, if it could come true!" sighed the girl.

"My dear, it cannot come true; we have realities to face, not dreams.
I fear much that your only hope of escape is through your father. For
myself when next he goes I shall try to induce him to take me with him,
I believe. Under his protection life would not be so dull for us as
here at all events, though I dare say it would be dull enough. I have
never been in a zenana yet."

"But, mother--you surely would not----"

Madame interrupted her with a storm of passionate words. "I would do
anything to escape this cursed island, where there is nothing to do for
me but yawn. It is better for you, since you have work to do, and have
known nothing else. But to me the life is absolutely insufferable, I
who have since a girl been used to the world of fashion, of courts and
fetes, of constant movement and amusement. Why, in a few months I would
cut my throat to end the boredom of it all."

"Mother!"

"I would, I tell you. It is killing me. But you had better go to your
work, or you will catch it from your grandfather." She kissed the
girl, and forced her from the room, then alone, betook herself to Miss
Elliott's bed-chamber, where arrived she knocked sharply on the door.
Francine's voice bade her enter, but when Francine, who had expected
Desiré, saw the person of her visitor, she started back in disgust.

"You!" she cried.

"Yes, it is I," said Madame. "I, Kate Viyella, and I can tell you, my
lady, you had better be a little amiable if you want my help."

"Your help! I would rather die than accept your help."

"There are worse fates than death!" said Madame coolly, closing the
door behind her as she spoke, and placing her back against it.

"What do you mean?"

"What I say. You need not assume airs and graces with me; there is no
one by to admire your pretty disdain, my dear."

"I do not wish to speak to you. I shall be obliged if you will go."

"Would you, my angel? Well, that is not my intention. Je m'ennui,
and I wish a little excitement, so I have come to you."

"You will be disappointed then." Miss Elliott shut her lips tightly.

"Oh, you'd maintain silence, would you? Well, do so. You must listen
to me though, for you can't escape. I have the door, and the window is
barred."

Francine sat down on a chair and took up a book, which she opened and
pretended to read.

Madame laughed. "How would you like to escape?" she demanded.

The girl glanced up, unable to suppress a sudden interest.

"Ha, ha! I touched you there!" rippled Madame. "I repeat, how would you
like to escape?"

"You know it is impossible."

"Bah, nothing is impossible. Listen to me."

"Well?"

"I am tired of the life I lead, and am just as anxious to be free as
yourself. There is a way."

"What is it?"

"Rather, there are two ways. The first is to kill father--knife or
poison him, I don't care which--then cable for his yacht, and get away
in it with his gold; he has plenty of money hidden somewhere on the
island, old fox that he is."

Francine eyed her in horror. "You can't mean it," she gasped.

"Why not? I am weary of the constant restraint he exercises over me.
No matter where I may be, here or in St. Petersburg, he governs me as
though I were a child. I hate being governed; I've stood it too long."

"But to poison your own father!"

"Bah, he'd think less of getting rid of me if it suited him."

"What is your other plan?"

"To go off with Jibaloff. You will be taken in any case, for father has
determined to sell you to him. If we act together, we could kill him
on the voyage quite easily, and get the captain to land us where we
please. The fellow is an old flame of mine, and will do whatever I bid
him, so long as I use him properly. What do you say?"

"I think--you are a devil!" gasped Miss Elliott.

"Pshaw! that is no answer."

"I shall tell the Count everything you have said to me, that is my
answer."

Madame laughed mockingly. "You fool, do you think that such a course
would help you? Father would probably believe you, he might shoot me on
suspicion, but that wouldn't alter your fate."

"It will give me my revenge, though. You murdered my father--fiend that
you are! Thank you for giving me such a chance."

Madame rippled with laughter and opened the door. "Go to him at once,
my dear; do not wait. You will see how he will receive you."

"What do you mean?"

"Ah, bah! I have been amusing myself, that is all!" and Madame departed
laughing so heartily that Miss Elliott was entirely deceived into
thinking her words true. As a fact, Madame had been quite serious, and
in a reckless mood would have tried to accomplish one or other other
proposals if Francine had agreed to help her. Indeed, as it was she did
not abandon her schemes completely, but she had felt the need of some
companionship in her designs, and was so bitterly angry with the girl
that she there and then determined to destroy her.

Within ten minutes a plate of fruit and a tray containing tea and fresh
made coffee were taken to Francine' s room. Miss Elliott, however, was
suspicious of such unwonted attentions, and touched nothing; she was
wise, for the provisions had all been subtly poisoned by Madame.

That night and the next day passed without incident, but on the
afternoon of July 31 there entered the harbour of Attala a yacht
flying the Turkish ensign. Miss Elliott observed its arrival from the
look-out, and watched for some hours a constant stream of boats ply
between it and the shore, each evidently heavily laden on one trip
at least, for although she could not see their cargo, they rode the
water deeply, sunk almost to the gunwales. She kept her position until
she saw Desiré emerge from the boat-house, and then with a feeling of
keen trepidation descended to meet the girl. Desiré was engaged in
earnest converse with some sailors when Francine reached the beach,
but Miss Elliott, although a good linguist, failed even to recognize
the tongue they spoke in. But the girl turned to her at last, and as
they climbed the steps muttered: "I fear it is all up with us. Lord
Francis must have been drowned, for his yacht which he spoke of--the
Sea Hawk--was sighted late last evening going south-west towards
Gibraltar, perhaps on its way to England."

Francine felt her heart turn cold and something of the bitterness of
death came to her then.

But presently Desiré spoke again. "Of course, we can't absolutely tell
from that. He may have taken such a route in order to put grandfather
quite at ease. He is such a clever man, Lord Francis--isn't he?"

But Francine was very little comforted. She entered the dining-room
half dazed, like a person who walks in her sleep, prepared to meet her
fate and almost anxious for the moment to arrive when she might at
last find rest in death, for she was determined upon suicide, and she
carried with her in her bosom a sharp-pointed table knife which she had
stolen and secreted the evening that the Count had made known his mind
regarding her. She found, however, an unlooked-for respite. The Count
was engaged in his own room with Jibaloff and Madame, and so she ate
her dinner with Desiré, and afterwards was suffered to retire to her
chamber undisturbed. Desiré, who feared her father more than anything
on earth, more even than the Count, slept with her that evening for
protection, and the two girls wept together until far into the night,
for each was now despairing.




CHAPTER XXII.--A GAME OF DICE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

THE 1st of August, contrary to Miss Elliott's expectations, passed in
absolute tranquillity. She saw neither the Count, nor Jibaloff, nor
yet Madame. Desiré came to her in the evening, and they dined together
in solitary state. The girl had done a hard day's work and was weary,
but before the meal was over she was sent for by her grandfather, and
Francine saw nothing of her until noon of the next day.

Then Desiré was able to inform her of the reason of the strange
inactivity that prevailed at the chateau. The Count and Jibaloff were
waiting with the gravest anxiety for the arrival of Madame's husband,
the Prince. It seemed that a telegram had arrived saying that he had
been suddenly taken ill, and although the Count had despatched a score
of inquisitive cables no satisfactory reply had been yet received in
answer to his eager questionings.

Desiré said that she had never known her grandfather to be so
disquieted. He appeared to be expecting some catastrophe, and had just
taken the extreme step of ordering his own yacht to be immediately
despatched to the island. Meanwhile he passed the time in his library
with Madame and Jibaloff gambling for high stakes with the Turk
at cards and dice. He had been losing very heavily, and was very
bad-tempered and upset. Two men were kept constantly on the look-out
searching for the appearance of the Count's yacht, and every hour
messages passed to and fro between the castle and the mountain top,
messages which increased the old man's ill-humour.

The Turk also was uneasy and distrait. His yacht was kept under steam
and was prepared at an instant's notice to depart, his men being all on
board at their posts with the exception of a single boat's crew that
waited on the beach ready to convey their master on board the moment
that he wished.

Francine was very curious as to the cause of all this anxiety, but
Desiré was not able to further enlighten her, although both guessed
that the Count and Jibaloff were afraid that the Prince might have
turned traitor and were preparing themselves to meet such a contingency.

Late in the afternoon, however, a change came o'er the spirit of
the scene. Servants who had been before busily engaged in taking up
carpets and hurriedly packing up the more valuable furniture of the
chateau suddenly disappeared to re-appear after an interval and just as
hurriedly undo their previous work. Like a swarm of bees they buzzed
about putting everything again in order, and at the expiration of an
hour the castle wore its old appearance of calm magnificence.

A message was soon afterwards brought to Francine commanding her array
herself in her richest costume and dine with the Count in the old
man's library that evening. She guessed by that that the Count's fears
had been by some means allayed. She prepared to obey the summons,
but her heart told her that the fatal moment of her life had almost
arrived, and during her toilet she often fingered the knife which she
had stolen, with a feeling of despairing consolation, recognizing it
as a last friend whose assistance she must presently rely upon if she
wished to save herself from indignity and outrage, worse to her mind a
thousand times than death.

She had ceased to fear death itself, but she was a woman, and her soul
stood appalled before the threshold of the tomb. The brutal means of
death at her command terrified her instincts and made her woman's
heart recoil in shuddersome dread. She wished ardently that she had
been provided with some searching, painless poison. Such she would
have readily taken without waiting for the compulsion of insult and
ignominy, but the cold-bladed knife seemed too hideous, the pain it
would bring before the end came too sure and certain. Finally she hid
it in her bosom, her mind resolute to use it when the need arose, but
shivering at the thought of the dreadful act itself and anxious to
postpone that act as long as possible.

She donned an empire gown of pale blue silk that draped her graceful
figure with the charm of a caress, and at length when the time came she
glided from the room feeling hardly of earth and as though the dark
portal had been already passed, for her steps were light as air, and in
her fancy she seemed to float above the boards without sense of effort
or motion like a disembodied spirit.

Dinner was already served when she entered the library. The host and
guests were already seated, the Count at the head of the table, his two
dumb attendants at usual one on each side his chair, the chain that
joined them stretched at full extent behind the old man's back. Madame
sat on his left hand, gorgeously arrayed, Jibaloff beside her, while
Desiré was placed directly opposite her father, thus leaving a vacant
chair on the Count's right hand. The old man was positively beaming,
his eyes sparkled, his whole manner was extremely animated, and he was
engaged in chaffing the Turk most genially.

Francine caught a fragment of his words. "When luck turns it turns.
Yesterday and this morning all was against me, but with the Prince's
message the goddess smiled upon me. This morning you were a mighty
winner, now you owe me ten thousand pounds. To-night I shall beggar
you, my friend."

Jibaloff replied with a forced laugh. "We shall see, sir, we shall see.
Dame Fortune is ever a fickle mistress to depend upon."

At that moment they became conscious of Miss Elliott's presence and
turned to look at her. The girl had never appeared so beautiful. Her
large blue eyes stared straight before her, moist and glistening
like stars; she appeared to be only half-conscious of her immediate
environment, for her gaze was rapt, ecstatic and seer-like; her
mouth was like a blazing scarlet flower, the lips parted to show her
milk-white teeth. She formed a picture which both men appreciated with
a sharply indrawn breath of admiration, but the Count's proprietorial
instincts were soon excited by the contemplation of such loveliness and
the impression which she had made upon the Turk.

"This," he said in French, recovering himself hastily, "is the lady
whom I told you of. Sit down, Miss Elliott."

The Turk arose, and slipping round the table placed her chair. "I am
delighted to make your acquaintance. Miss Elliott," he muttered in her
ear.

The Count heard and chuckled softly to himself.

Francine threw back her head with the gesture of a queen, giving the
Turk a glance which slightly disconcerted him. She replied with icy
calm: "Do not trouble yourself to be polite, sir."

"But, mademoiselle----"

"I pray you resume your seat."

He bowed humbly, and at once fell back. The girl sat down and turned to
the Count. "Is the bargain completed?" she demanded haughtily. "Am I
already the chattel of that man?"

The old man chuckled. "Not yet, not yet. Perhaps you may not ever be,
my dear. It will be hard for me to part with a creature so superb as
you."

Madame gave utterance to a sudden rippling laugh. "Don't tell me that
you intend to present Desiré with a new grand-mamma," she cried.

The Count broke into a roar of laughter, sinking back in his cushions
to indulge his mirth; then, after a draught of wine, replied: "Stranger
things have happened, Katherin; I have been too long a celibate--who
knows?"

Francine shivered and turned pale. "I should make you a bad wife," she
muttered.

The old man gave a sneer. "Who spoke of marriage?" he demanded
coarsely. "But there, my dear, calm yourself, I would rather think of
you at present as my daughter." He turned to the Turk: "It is strange,
Jibaloff, no sign yet of the Argonaut; she should be here by now."

"Hardly, Excellency; you wired for her only this afternoon."

"But it is scarce an eight hours' run; her speed is fifteen knots."

"She might not have been under steam."

"Absurd, she is always ready '"

"Pardon, she should perhaps be always ready, but orders are sometimes
disregarded."

"If she does not arrive before morning, someone shall suffer. We shall
have an execution."

"Pour encourager les autres?"

"Precisely."

Madame held up a warning forefinger. "You will presently not have a
qualified navigator left in your service, my father. It is not three
months since Captain Chine caught the bullet fever."

"Ah, bah!" returned the Count; "the world is wide, it has many
children."

The Turk laughed cynically. "True, Excellency! most true. If need arise
I can give you a captain whom I can personally vouch for, a man young,
enthusiastic and ardent, who is at present condemned to death for an
indiscretion committed in the Sultan's seraglio. He would regard you as
his saviour and would serve you faithfully."

"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes," sneered the Count.

"Pardon, I do not know the tongue you speak in," said the Turk.

The old man smiled. "Then I shall translate my words, dear Yussef.
I said that I should feel a monster to deprive you of so useful a
servant, especially as the fact is I do not need his services."

Jibaloff, shrugging his shoulders, applied himself to the pleasures of
the board, and thereafter silence reigned until the conclusion of the
meal. When all was satisfied, servants carried the table bodily away
and substituted a smaller one covered with green cloth and armed with
cards and dice.

Francine would have departed, but the Count restrained her with a look,
and at a nod from him negroes guarded the doors against escape. Both
he and Jibaloff had drunk deeply during dinner, and their faces were
flushed, their manner anxious and excited. Francine took a distant
chair, but Madame and Desiré stood beside the table, eager to watch the
play.

Jibaloff shuffled the cards. The Count cut, and turning his portion of
the pack face downward took up the dice box. "What shall the stake be?"
he demanded.

"Whatever sum you please."

"A thousand pounds rising from ace to six."

"Agreed! commence!"

"Then I say black."

"And I red; throw the dice!"

The Count threw, and the number uppermost was six. Slowly either man
turned up a card, the Count that on the bottom of his pack, the Turk
that on the top of his.

The Count's card was the ace of spades. "Six thousand pounds the
limit," he observed calmly. "That makes in all sixteen that you owe me,
my friend."

Jibaloff turned a little pale and his hands trembled as he gathered up
the cards. The Count cut again, but this time his adversary called,
growling out: "Red, red for my life!" and quickly threw the dice,
which on settling showed the number five. He turned up his card--seven
of hearts--and threw it on the table with a shout of triumph. "That
reduces the score by five," he cried.

"Precisely," returned the Count, whose manner was growing more and more
cold and businesslike as the game proceeded. "Shuffle the cards, my
dear Jibaloff, a little more, will you?"

They played on for an hour in this fashion with varying luck, but at
the expiration of that time fortune set with a steady tide in favour
of the Turk, and for a period he continued to win every hand with most
monotonous precision, the score mounting on his side until he had
recorded the enormous gain of eighty thousand pounds. With his success
he grew each moment more excited, more triumphant. He jeered at the
Count with the coarsest vulgarity, deriding the old man's previous
boast to beggar him, and savagely taunting his opponent to increase
the stakes. The Count d'Attala listened calmly, a set half smile just
turning the edges of his thin and pasty coloured lips, but his eyes,
which he kept resolutely fixed upon the cards, were alight with the
feverish fire of gaming and something else besides, perhaps malice,
perhaps hate, but so well did he command himself that very little of
his mind was manifest. He answered his adversary nothing, and although
he plied the Turk with wine, keeping his glass constantly replenished,
he drank but little himself, and was otherwise moveless and silent as
an automatic figure.

"Increase the stakes--increase the stakes!" grated out the Turk for the
twentieth time. "You owe me eighty thousand pounds. I am determined
to break you, but let us get it over quickly. It is now eleven; at
midnight the Prince will be with us, and I must then away. Indeed, I
should have gone twelve hours ago, as well you know. Let us end the
matter quickly."

The Count slightly shrugged his shoulders, and for the first time
looked his opponent in the eyes. "Let us change the game; let us throw
a single stake for eighty thousand pounds!"

"But if I win?"

"I have enough to pay you."

"And afterwards?"

"That is my affair, but I shall win, dear friend, I shall win."

"You lie! you shall not. Throw, throw!"

The Count smiled a grim, horrible smile, and obeyed,

"A million curses!" shouted the Turk. "Give me the dice!" The Count
had thrown six. Jibaloff shook the dice for a moment, then crashed the
box upon the table. The number uppermost was five. The Count laughed
gently. "Ha, ha! said I not so? We are quits, dear friend."

"Let us resume," cried the Turk, his face livid with rage. "Let us
throw each time for ten thousand!"

"No, I weary of the game; a little relaxation, I beg of you."

"Two more throws first, only two," urged the Turk.

"For high stakes, then?"

"As high as you please!"

"Fifty thousand pounds?"

"Yes!" The Count snatched up the dice, and quick as light threw five.

Jibaloff threw two. "Damnation!" he muttered.

The Count threw again, this time five.

Jibaloff pressed the box to his lips and kissed it passionately twice.
"Little friend!" he said hoarsely, "little friend, do not betray me."
Holding his hand on high he allowed the ivory to fall. Madame and
Desiré started forward, watching the cast with bated breath. The Count
leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Six!" cried Madame.

"Allah be praised!" said the Turk, sobered for a second by his narrow
victory.

The Count opened his eyes and smiled. "Again we are quits, my friend,
though I hoped to have earned a hundred thousand pounds," he said
gently. "Well, now for a little rest, surely we have earned it. Miss
Elliott."

Francine got to her feet and slowly came forward. "Yes?"

"Oblige me by standing there, a little to the right; no, a step
forward--so! Now, Jibaloff----"

The Turk swung round and gazed at the girl embracingly. "A good face,"
he said. "What is your price?"

"Five thousand pounds."

"Too much, far too much."

Francine stared at her enemies with eyes aflame, her cheeks paling to
the hue of milk. Slowly she drew up her right hand until it rested on
the bosom of her gown, then inch by inch she fell back towards the
wall. But the Count's penetration was superhuman.

While watching her with apparent calm he was signing rapidly with his
hands to the dumb slaves behind his chair. These made a sudden dart and
threw themselves upon the girl. She gave a wild scream and drawing the
knife flashed it before their eyes. Next second it was wrested from
her grasp, and she sank half beside herself to the floor, cowering and
shuddering in an abandon of terror and despair.

"Cowards! cowards!" panted Miss Elliott; "unmanly, infernal cowards
that you are!"

Desiré started forward. "Grandfather!" she cried, her face crimson with
passion. "If you insult Miss Elliott, I shall kill you."

The Count glanced quizzically at Jibaloff. "Your daughter needs
correction," he said.

"And she shall have it!" The Turk sprang at Desiré and, grasping her
before she could elude him, dragged her roughly to the door, then
kicked her with brutal force into the corridor without. He had resumed
his chair, and returned the Count's smile of approbation before the
girl's shrill screams of pain had died away.

Madame looked at him fixedly. "You will regret that, Jibaloff," she
said.

Jibaloff, muttering a curse, approached Francine. The Englishwoman
threw back her head with a gesture of magnificent disdain and looked
him full in the eyes. She uttered no word, she was helpless in her
gaolers' hands, but so great a power was in her glance that the brutal
Turk encountering it, writhed, paused and faltered. He stood dubious
and abashed, and presently his eyes fell before hers. Suddenly he did
a graceful thing. He bowed reverently, almost humbly. "Mademoiselle,"
he said, "I beg a thousand pardons. You are beautiful. You shall be the
queen of my harem."

He then swung on his heel and addressed the Count. "Monsieur!" said he,
"I shall pay you your price."

The Count uttered a low sardonic chuckle. "'Tis the triumph of mind
over matter," he said grimly, "and now the mind faints." He pointed to
the girl.

Francine was swaying wildly to and fro. Suddenly she tottered and
fell to the floor in a deep and merciful swoon, and there her gaolers
permitted her to rest.

The Turk stared at her as if unable to wrest his glance from her
graceful form. "I shall pay you your price!" he repeated.

"Pardon," smiled the old man; "I warned you what to expect, my friend.
My price has advanced."

"What is it?"

"Ten thousand pounds."

"I agree."

The Count smiled. "It is almost midnight," he said; "let us resume our
play."

"No, I am sick of it," cried Jibaloff.

"But I am not," returned the Count

"My dear Count, I must go! Hark! what is that?"

As he spoke there came to their ears a hollow, rumbling echo that
seemed to issue from beneath their feet. The castle for a second
trembled and vibrated and the library windows rattled as though shaken
by a sudden gust of wind. The old man paled a little, and nervously
clutched at the arms of his chair. But in a moment recovering himself
he smiled. "It is nothing, my dear Yussef, or almost nothing. This
house is built over old mines, as you know; the water trickling through
the passages often eats away supports, and then follows a crash of
stone. There is no danger though."

Jibaloff appeared uneasy in spite of this explanation, and he got to
his feet. "Really," he said, "it is time for me to go."

"You shall not leave here until midnight," said the Count coldly, and
he turned to one of the negroes who stood at the door on guard. "Go!
find out if any steamer has been sighted from the look-out yet."

"Excellency!" returned the man; "a message has this second arrived,
there is none."

"The more time for us to play," said the Count. "Come Jibaloff!"

"I tell you I am sick of it."

"Come."

"Well, then, let us fix a limit; I am sick to death of it. Let us say
three throws for the same stakes we played for last."

"Ten throws."

"No, three. I'll dice no more."

"Well, three. You throw first."

The Turk threw six, the Count three.

Jibaloff drank a glass of wine, and took up the box again. "Six!" he
cried. He was right.

The Count threw an ace.

"One hundred thousand pounds!" cried the Turk, for the third time
taking up the box. "I shall win again, I cannot lose to-night!" But in
spite of his confidence his hand trembled violently as he threw.

"Six!" The word was a yell of triumph.

The Count eyed him with an evil smile and scarcely rattling the dice
threw. The number was again an ace.

Jibaloff sprang to his feet. "It is my lucky night," he muttered
hoarsely. "I have bought a Sultana among women, a priceless pearl of
beauty, and I have won a hundred thousand pounds."

He met the Count's eyes at the last word, and suddenly faltered, his
face paling a little, for the gaze he encountered was full of menace.

But the Count drooped his eyes and smiled. "My dear friend, you are
indeed fortunate," he drawled. "Shall I pay you now?"

"How?" Avarice struggled with the man's fears, for he feared the Count
that moment like the devil. "How would you pay me?" he stammered.

"In gold or----"

"Or what?"

"Jewels."

The Turk's face lighted up. "Ah!" he cried; "you have told me often of
your jewels."

"Would you care to see them?"

"Now?"

"Yes."

Jibaloff's fears flooded his soul again. "Oh, I can wait," he answered
with an affectation of tranquillity; "there is no need of haste."

The old man shook his head. "I must insist, my dear Jibaloff, that you
take your settlement at once. I never permit myself to allow a debt of
honour to rest unsatisfied longer than the termination of the game."

Jibaloff was enticed by the other's earnestness into a feeling of
security. "Well, if you insist," he said.

"Will you be so kind then as to get to your feet. Thanks; you see that
rug, kick it aside. Many thanks!"

The Turk was surprised to find that where the rug had rested now
appeared a patch of bare floor about four feet square.

"I am about to show you my treasure closet," said the Count. "Prepare
to have your eyes dazzled, for very few men have ever been privileged
to look upon so great a mass of splendid gems as I possess. I confess
that I am sad to think that my treasures will presently be thinned--but
it is the fortune of war, I must not repine. You will find, my dear
friend, that the centre board is loose. Forgive me for troubling you
so much, but you are a younger man than I. No, not that way, you must
press the other end with your foot--so."

Jibaloff unsuspectingly commenced to cross the boards, but immediately
his weight rested on the planks the Count pressed sharply upon a corner
of the chair on which he sat.

As if by magic, the floor that supported the Turk gave way in the
manner of a trap-door suddenly released, and Jibaloff, with a wild
scream, was precipitated through the orifice thus disclosed, vanishing
in an instant.

The Count at once reversed the action of his chair, and the trap-door
resumed its place with the speed and precision of a machine. The old
man fell back among his cushions laughing horribly.

But Madame came forward shivering and pallid as a corpse. "The yacht,"
she gasped. "What of the yacht?"

He sat erect at once. "Ha," he cried, "I forgot the yacht; it is here
then?"

"No, I do not mean the Argonaut, but Jibaloff's. What will you say
to his men?"

"What should I say? That he has met his death by accident."

"Father, you are stupid, they will not be satisfied with such an
explanation. Jibaloff's men are more numerous than ours, and they are
devoted to him. If he does not appear, they will bombard the castle;
his yacht is an armed cruiser really, as you know. They will take the
place and kill us all!"

"Oh no, they will not, I shall see to that."

He signed to his slaves who departed to swiftly re-appear with a
palanquin. The Count gave a number of sharp orders to his other
servants, and then stepping into the palanquin was carried from the
chateau, Madame following at a distance in the rear of a score of
heavily armed men.

The descent to the beach was made in absolute silence. The party
proceeded to the yacht's boat which waited at the edge of the water,
its crew of four men standing on the sand. These were instantly
surrounded, the men submitting to the proceeding in wondering silence.
Their unsuspiciousness cost them their lives, for next second all four
were seized and dispatched by the negroes with the speed of lightning,
not a single cry being raised to warn others of the horrid deed.

The yacht was lying at anchor about three hundred yards from the shore,
her funnels belching out an intermittent shower of sparks, which showed
how prepared she was to wing her flight to sea. The Count's palanquin
led the way to a little rocky eminence at the foot of the chateau which
towered above it three hundred feet in air.

Here ten minutes' labour was conducted swiftly with spade and shovel
and presently, had there been light enough, a watcher would have seen
a mound of earth and stones removed from the face of the knoll and a
cunning door revealed which opened entrance to a cavern hewn out of
the solid stone. Into this cavern the negroes plunged, but presently
returned bearing amongst them two long, dark and coffin-shaped objects
with which they staggered to the water's edge. The palanquin was now
deposited, and the Count's faithful slaves helped him to emerge and
tenderly assisted his steps to the narrow line of surf that marked
the beach. There he occupied himself for some time stooping over and
playing with the long dark coffins, always muttering vaguely to himself
in a language which none of his companions could understand, for in the
old man's excitement he had reverted to his mother tongue and spoke in
Corsican.

At length he seemed satisfied, and at his word the mutes pushed the
coffins into the sea, where they rested floating for a moment, their
noses pointing to the yacht whose broadside was presented to the beach.
Then with a slight whirring, bubbling sound they started forward of
themselves like things of life, heading through the placid water of the
bay straight for the unsuspecting vessel, but with an ever increasing
speed. The old man uttered a sharp command and two negroes at once
caught him in their arms and hurried, followed pell-mell by the rest,
into the cavern from which they had recently abstracted the strange
living coffins.

The last to enter pulled to the door, and they were thus shut in
together as in a sepulchre. Madame only stayed without, but then the
Count was not aware of her presence at all. She quietly moved towards
the castle steps and commenced the ascent. But she did not go far, she
was wondering too fearfully what those living coffins might do when
they should reach the Turkish vessel's side.

She had not long to wait before she knew. The torpedoes must have
struck the steamer almost simultaneously, for in a moment two terrific
explosions that might well have been a single sound, so closely did
one follow on the heels of the other, resounded from the bay. Madame
saw in a gleam of intense white light that lasted scarce a second,
the poor stricken yacht plunge and shudder throughout her length, in
the same instant rise amidst a leaping cataract of water and burst
into a thousand blazing fragments; then blackness, blackness more deep
and horrible than any darkness she had ever known. The silence that
followed was broken by the noise of dull and intermittent crashes, the
sounds of falling wreck, of falling human bodies. A mass of iron, half
a ton in weight, shocked almost at her feet, grinding a pair of steps
to pieces, then rolling and rumbling to the sand. Nothing touched her,
but with a gasp of horror she fled up the steps, up, up, never stopping
until the zone of light was reached, for her soul was sick with terror
and even her callous heart was seared with something of remorse, for
she knew that her counsel had sent to instant death half a hundred
human beings.

She hurried to the Count's library, anxious to drink and drown her
fears with wine. There she found Francine who had just awakened from
her swoon, and was dazedly looking about her. Scarcely regarding the
girl she caught up a glass that rested fully charged upon the table and
drained it to the dregs.

Sense and memory returned to Francine when she saw her enemy. Starting
to her feet, with a cry of almost joy she caught up the knife which had
failed of its mission before.

"Stop!" gasped Madame. "Stop, there has been death enough to-night!"

But Francine raised the knife on high. Madame shrieked out: "Stop, you
fool; he is dead, dead!"

"Who is dead?" demanded the girl.

"Jibaloff and all his men!"

"My God!" Her hand fell to her side.

Madame hurried forward and seized her by the shoulder. "Come quickly
with me," she cried. "Father will presently return and he will be
dangerous, for he has tasted blood. Come, come, I say; there has been
death enough to-night. Come, let us hide from him. He is mad at times
like this."

Francine, sick and still half-fainting, permitted herself to be dragged
from the room, entirely oblivious of the fact that she was supported on
the arm of her bitterest enemy, her father's murderess.




CHAPTER XXIII.--THE INVASION OF ATTALA

WHEN Desiré had been so rudely expelled from the library by her father,
the Pasha Jibaloff, sheer physical pain drove for the time all thought
from her mind. She limped down the corridor uttering screams which
her fortitude was unable to suppress, screams of agony. But when the
pain had in a measure subsided, the spirit which she had unconsciously
inherited from her maternal stock at last asserted itself, and the
long dormant hate with which her father's constant brutal treatment
had inspired her awoke to life and sudden vigour. She was a gentle and
pure hearted girl, ordinarily of unusually soft and placid disposition,
but deep at heart she possessed, in common with all human creatures,
the natural instincts of the savage and a determination which once
sufficiently aroused was as potent and remorseless as the Count's
unnatural lust for blood.

Had Perigord or Cressingham discovered her in such a mood, they would
have found a powerful instrument ready to their hands for the instant
demolition of the inner circle of the Nihilists. The sweet and tender
humour which had ever been her most distinguishing characteristic had
entirely disappeared, and she was transformed into a being of fire and
passion, no longer a girl, but a woman outraged beyond the bounds of
resignation and all decency, her heart alight with anger and burning
for revenge.

Desiré wandered through the castle, restless as a lost soul, searching
feverishly for she knew not what. It is at such moments as this that
the Fates delight in assisting the puppets whom their vagaries control.
Desiré came upon a negro servant lying sleeping at his post. The sight
gave her a thrill, and like a flash of lightning a long train of
possibilities occurred to her, for the man's pistol had slipped from
his belt and lay idly on the floor beside him.

She would take the pistol, make her way into the network of tunnels
underneath the island, and thence proceed to the panel that opened on
the gallery of books above the library of her grandfather. She knew the
secret of the panel; well, she would open it and lying perdu on the
floor deliberately shoot her dastard father, and thus avenge herself
for the long series of insults which that night had crowned, and also
save the friend she loved from shame, for Desiré had grown to love Miss
Elliott with a passionate devotion.

Swiftly, noiselessly as a phantom, she approached the negro and caught
up the pistol without disturbing him, then with the speed of thought
she glided from the castle and approached the boat-house. Entering,
she suddenly remembered that the tunnel door was locked and she no
longer possessed a key to open it. But she had thrown prudence to the
winds. She was a skilled chemist, and many explosives were in her
charge. Choosing a bottle from her laboratory, she quickly and roughly
manufactured an open bomb of nitro-glycerine. Placing this at the foot
of the iron door, she balanced above it a heavy block of iron with a
cord attached which she could release and precipitate its weight upon
the fluid. Cautiously retiring for a distance without the shed she
pulled the cord and instantly an explosion like the noise of a muffled
gun sounded dully through the silence of the night. It was this noise
which had startled the Count and Jibaloff as they were about to resume
their play.

Careless of consequences, the excited girl hurried back to the
boat-shed and slammed the door behind her. Striking a match, a scene
of terrible wreckage met her eyes, but scarcely glancing at the ruin
about her she gave a cry of triumph, for the tunnel door was torn and
bent inwards like a crumpled sheet of paper and the dark pathway lay
open to her desires. She was obliged to content herself with a supply
of candles, for the lantern and almost everything else in the shed,
including the electric appliances and the silver boat itself, had been
rent to fragments by the nitro-glycerine.

Scarcely wasting a moment she entered the tunnel and had presently
commenced to climb. The way was known to her, but in her perturbation
she chose without noticing a wrong passage at the first parting of
roads, and some minutes were wasted before she had discovered her
mistake. Retracing her steps, she found at last the proper route and
pressed on, already weary and panting with exertion, but remorseless as
death.

She came at last to the final cavern chamber which she knew lay
directly underneath the chateau. There her precautions commenced, for
she knew that each slightest sound she made would become magnified
by resounding echoes and might penetrate to the castle and thus warn
her prospective victim. Holding the candle on high, she dimly saw two
flights of steps leading spirally upwards from the opposite wall, and
with the utmost care she prepared to cross the chamber. She was already
almost in the centre of the cavern when a slight grating noise in the
darkness far overhead arrested her attention. She glanced up, to catch
suddenly a gleam of light a hundred feet above, to hear a man's wild
shriek of mortal fear; two fateful seconds afterwards there crashed at
her very feet a dark and dreadful substance, the rush of whose fall
extinguished the light she carried.

There ensued a repetition of the queer grating sound she had heard at
first, then a leaden silence and an awful gloom that weighed upon the
senses like a pall.

Desiré felt by instinct that she was not alone, and a chill of terror
held her spellbound and breathless for a long, frightful moment, during
which icy fingers seemed to twine round her body like thin currents of
coldest air, clutching at her heart and making her flesh creep, her
very soul turn sick and shuddering.

With courage born of desperation, she struck a match at last, and the
fitful gleaming of the vesta showed her the form of a mangled corpse
lying on the rocky ground scarce a yard away, crushed and battered
almost out of human semblance. Desiré became conscious of a sentiment
of pity. Relighting her candle, she fell on her knees beside the body,
and with trembling hands tried to feel if any spark of life remained. A
moment's examination assured her that death had irrevocably claimed a
victim, and the girl slowly turned to the man's face in order that she
might ascertain whom the victim was.

She saw, and saw too that her hands and feet were stained and dabbled
with her own father's blood. All thoughts of anger and revenge faded
quickly from her soul, and with a sharp revulsion of feeling came
horror and remorse. She had intended to kill her father, and had
Providence allowed it another few minutes would have made her a
parricide, but confronted with her father's corpse, she could only
think of the hopelessness, the unutterable solemnity and terminality
of death. This mangled, blood-bespangled, shapeless thing had no later
than a minute since been a living, breathing man, a creature powerful
for evil, who had robbed many better men of life and only half an hour
ago brutally assaulted her.

Now, he was either nothing or elsewhere, for the patch of ensanguined
bones and dust which his spirit had once tenanted was not her
father--only a mass of matter inert and helpless, but matter before
which life was constrained to pause in awestruck silence, and passion
involuntarily halted in dismay.

Desiré had never fainted in her life and she knew nothing of hysteria,
for the island of Attala was visited only by health-giving breezes, and
she was strong almost as a man, but the horrid happenings of the past
hour had overstrained her nerves, and it was with the utmost difficulty
that she tore herself from the gloomy cavern. Her father's corpse was
a thing of mystery whose ghostly stillness and horrible appearance
attracted her with a species of compelling fascination.

She stumbled from the chamber, step by step, her glances ever fleeting
back against her will, and when at last she reached the tunnel and the
cave was left behind, she felt as though she had narrowly avoided some
monstrous evil, that the thing she had deserted was full of power to
work her harm, and that even yet she had not properly escaped. With
a gasping cry full of terror, for panic had seized her, she ran like
one pursued, springing recklessly down steps and over crags, until the
sudden darkness warned her that she must pause for safety. Trembling in
every limb, she lighted her candle, then hurried on again and soon had
gained the boat-shed.

Even that old haunt of her working hours brought her no sense of
security, for the explosion had smashed the electric lamps one and
all, and by the dim light of the candle its ruin appeared to resemble
in some way the broken body of her father. With a deep sob of
relief she passed out into the night, whose mourning dome of black,
leaden-coloured clouds, in spite of their sad colouring, had never
seemed so friendly, and at that moment Desiré sorely needed friends.

She was about to return to the castle, when another fear beset her.
She saw in silhouette against the sky a band of silent, black-robed
figures stealing down the steps, her grandfather's palanquin in the
van. Sinking behind a rock, she watched their subsequent proceedings,
the murder of her father's boat's crew, the launching of the torpedoes,
the destruction of the Turkish yacht. She saw her mother pass like
a phantom upwards to the castle, she marked the Count and his black
servants emerge from their hiding after the explosion, she heard her
grandfather's wild laugh of triumph and the orders that he gave for
the disposal of the wreckage, as soon as daylight came; she watched
him depart, carried upwards in his palanquin by the two dumb slaves
accompanied by the other servants.

Left lonely then, Desiré thought of what the Count's rage would be when
he knew that his precious boat had been destroyed, the boat which he
had helped to construct by long hours of painful toil, the boat that
constituted his one ardent hobby, the only pleasure of his existence
which was not evil. She asked herself the question, and its answer was
in her heart. She knew that he would kill her as remorselessly as he
would an offending slave, more still she feared, that he would torture
her before she died in order to wreak on her a vengeance fit and proper
in his estimation for her crime.

It was then that her eyes rested on the yacht's skiff which still idly
floated beside the beach, its resting place marked by the bodies of the
four slain sailors.

The Count's servants had vanished with the Count, forgetful in their
excitement of the boat. Desiré, still possessed by the panic which
had seized her in the cavern, ran like a sprite across the sands
and leaping into the little craft pushed from the shore, only half
conscious of her ultimate intention, but wildly anxious to fly the
dreadful place where she had witnessed so many horrors and where death
seemed to wait for her.

No one saw her flight, no one interrupted her. She reached the mouth
of the harbour, working at the sculls like one pursued by furies. She
gave no thought to wind or tide, and although a stiff breeze had sprung
up and she was soon drenched with spray, it did not serve to arouse
her from her abandon of terror. On rounding the nearest headland she
steered straight out to sea, but just then a strange thing happened.
She had not watched her course, thinking only of possible pursuit, and
so gazing always with strained eyes at the fast receding coastline of
the bay.

Suddenly she heard a man's voice sharply hailing her: "Steady there, my
hearty. Drop your oars, and hands up, or you are a dead man."

In very consternation she obeyed. The darkness was profound, but at
the distance of twelve feet she dimly discerned the outline of a large
duck-shaped launch whose sides were studded with the figures of men.
Next moment her own boat crashed into the stranger and the shock hurled
her into the thwarts. Though half stunned, she felt herself seized by
rough hands and lifted bodily on board the launch, then a voice said
sternly: "What was the meaning of the thunderous explosion that we
heard a while ago?"

Desiré listened dreamily, only half comprehending the question, for the
voice appeared marvellously familiar to her ears, and she was wondering
where it was she could have heard it before.

But her silence exasperated the questioner. "Is the fellow dumb?" he
demanded, and shook her roughly by the shoulder.

"Lord Francis!" she gasped.

"What!" almost shouted the man; "who then are you?"

"Desiré!"

"My God, can it be!" He pressed his face close to hers and passed an
arm around her. "It is!" he cried, excitedly. "What of Miss Elliott, is
she well?"

"Yes, my Lord, but in dreadful trouble--at least, she was."

And then Desiré broke down utterly, and sobbed, and cried and laughed,
in the manner that women the wide world over have always done and will
always do under stress of circumstance. Cressingham did his best to
comfort her, at last succeeding partially, and he extracted something
of the story she had to tell in broken fragments from her tear-wet
lips. He was content for the while with the more important incidents,
for these had made him anxious to lose no more time than he could help.

While still conversing, he sent the launch at full speed towards the
boat-house, where arrived, having first obtained from Desiré the key,
he landed fifteen men and immediately despatched the little vessel
back to the Sea Hawk, giving the girl in charge of an officer whom
he also bade tell Oeltjen to bring the yacht to the harbour of Attala
with all possible speed. He feared to take Desiré with him, for she was
still nervous and intensely overwrought, and he imagined that he could
do almost as well without her guidance.

Crouching on the sand, he watched the launch until it had passed from
sight, then, accompanied by his silent company, noiselessly crept into
the boat-house, carefully barring the door when all had entered.

Each man lighted the lantern with which he had been previously provided.

Cressingham fastened one end of a great ball of twine to a piece of
timber and then shortly addressed his followers.

"Gentlemen!" he whispered. "It seems to me necessary to storm Attala
to-night, for a lady stands in peril of her life, a lady who has
already been inhumanly insulted. We shall try to take the place by
stratagem, but if we fail in that we shall not in open assault, for
though our enemies outnumber us we shall fight for the good of humanity
and for the honour of a woman. I must again impress upon you the
absolute necessity of silence and obedience. Fate has made me your
leader, and although some of you are my superiors in official rank I
rely upon you none the less to accord me frank and generous support.
A word or an exclamation may suffice to warn our quarry, therefore I
implore you to beware."

The lamplight showed the faces of fifteen gentlemen, men of breeding
and refinement, some possibly of patrician caste. One and all were
resolute and serious, they listened attentively and nodded in unbroken
silence.

Cressingham appeared satisfied, he pointed to the tunnel door and
muttered: "That is our way, follow me closely and without sound." Next
instant the boat-house was again wrapped in silent gloom; the invasion
of Attala had commenced.




CHAPTER XXIV.--THE CAPTURE OF ATTALA

WHEN the old Count d'Attala returned to the castle after his ruthless
destruction of Jibaloff's yacht and the murder of the boat's crew and
ship's company, he was weary and anxious for repose. Assisted by the
chained slaves, he left the palanquin on reaching the library and
entered one of the rooms adjoining, a large and airy bedchamber, whose
furniture and fittings were of princely magnificence. The walls were
entirely composed of huge plate-glass mirrors arranged in the manner of
panels. The ceiling was painted by masters of craft with scenes from
Dante's Inferno, each separate square being a priceless work of art
wrought either by copyists of Gustave Dore or by Dore himself, and in
such grim fashion that a single upward glance was sufficient to thrill
the bosom of an ordinary observer with a sentiment of gloom or dread.

But the Count was not an ordinary observer. When he was disrobed and
lifted by his attendants into the huge carved four-poster bed that
rested on the centre of the richly carpeted floor, he lay quietly while
the slaves massaged his limbs from head to heel and covered him with
unguent, and gazed up at the realistically pictured horrors of hell;
his lips parted with a smile of keen appreciation, an appreciation that
for years had never wearied. It amused him to pass his leisure moments
in reflecting upon the mysteries of time, space and eternity, for his
iron soul had never been the subject of fear, and he was an atheist
from the sincerest possible conviction.

In his belief nothing existed which his intelligence could not
realize, or at least fathom. Neither God nor Satan had ever been made
manifest to him; he had never known a dead man to return to life;
therefore heaven, hell and the hereafter he regarded as merely bogies
created by the imagination of softer-brained folk than himself.
The superstitious terrors of others gave him food for pleasure and
sarcastic contemplation, since he was himself incapable of similar
weakness. It was for this reason that at great cost he had had his
ceiling painted in such ghastly manner; but though a miser of money
he had never regretted the expenditure, for thereby his sleeping and
waking thoughts had always filled him with egotistical satisfaction,
since they furnished him with an excuse to jibe and sneer at the world,
whose enemy he was.

It may be inferred that he wasted no time in prayer. He was his own
god, and there was little need to pray to himself; but his reflections
were all self-adulative, self-reverent. He felt that he had done a
good day's work. He had for ever rid himself of a dangerous rival, a
man whose ambition had of late caused him grave uneasiness. He had
saved his money, and would make more, for he fancied he would know well
enough how to cajole Jibaloff's master into believing that the Pasha
had perished at sea by some unknown peril of the deep.

He laughed aloud to think that there was no occasion to admit to the
Sultan the receipt of any portion of the gold, and all the miser in
him revelled and delighted in the idea of exacting a second payment
for the nefarious contract he had in hand. There was still work for
him to do. To-morrow at latest the Prince would arrive to claim his
portion of the spoil, thinking fondly no doubt that he, the Count
d'Attala, would be such a madman as lightly to part with so vast a sum
as a hundred thousand pounds. The old man chuckled softly to himself.
Well, to-morrow the Prince too would die; he had never been more than
a figure-head, and his period of usefulness had passed; indeed, he was
becoming troublesome, and had lately dared to voice a threat.

The Count's thin yellow hands clutched hungrily at the bedclothes then,
for a further consideration had occurred to him. After the Prince's
death there would never be need for another division of the gold that
he loved so dearly. All, all would be his.

It would certainly be necessary to appoint substitutes in the places
of the dead men in order to carry on the work of Nihilism, and
reconstitute the infernal trio who had worked so long together. But he
would this time take more care in their selection. Never again would
he tie his hands by raising to his own rank men of birth or talent. It
had been a mistake; such creatures were too greedy, too inquisitive of
his methods, too hard to blind. He would henceforth choose fanatics,
men who would serve the cause for love of it alone, content to starve
that they might kill. It pleasured him to recall the names of many just
such men, to know that fate had fashioned scores of fiends to suit his
purpose, that he had but to pick puppets already moulded to his will.

He fell asleep with the smile still on his lips, and slumbered as
gently as a babe. His countenance in such repose was beautiful to look
upon. Though wrinkled and saffron-coloured with extreme old age, every
feature was still regular and perfect, and the lingering smile might
have come from some gentle dream. His wig removed, his thick white
locks framed the face with a soft and venerable halo. His long lashes,
still black as jet, lay on his cheeks caressingly, forming with his
dark grey brows a wondrous contrast to the snowy masses of his hair. So
little mark of crime had a life of unexampled evil put upon him that
one to see might not feel otherwise than reverently admiring, and be
constrained to mutter, beneath his breath, fearing humbly to disturb
such gracious rest: "What a beautiful, what a good, what a sweet old
man!"

The dumb slaves, on observing their master to be asleep, at once
retired, and so arranged themselves that they presently reposed upon
the mats, one on either side of the door, which was kept slightly ajar
in order to permit the passing of the chain which bound them together.
The lamps were all kept blazing, for the old man loved light of all
things, and was unable to sleep in a darkened room.

It was thus that the Count had always protected his sleeping moments,
and the plan was a good one, for his bedchamber had no other means of
approach, and although one of the slaves was deaf, and both were dumb,
no one could possibly enter the room without disturbing them.

This was the problem presented an hour later to Lord Francis
Cressingham, who after successfully negotiating the tunnels undermining
the mountain, had at last arrived at the sliding panel communicating
with the gallery that traversed the library walls. Silently as ghosts
his obedient company had one by one crept after him through the narrow
gateway, and ensconced themselves behind the curtains of the gallery.

Cressingham made sure that the slaves were really slumbering, and then
with utmost care tiptoed to the staircase and down it to the floor of
the apartment.

A gesture, and just as noiselessly the soldiers followed him. Pausing a
moment for consideration, he made up his mind, and proceeded to solve
the problem straightway like a man of action.

With a smart, soundless rush the first slave was pinioned and bound
before he was thoroughly awakened. The chain rattled against the door,
but no warning was given. Cressingham forced the door open, and the
slave before him into the bedchamber. The second slave started to his
feet, uttering a sharp guttural cry.

Some one struck him over the head with the butt of a pistol, but
Cressingham did not wait to observe results, for the Count d'Attala,
though not entirely aroused, was stirring restlessly. The young man
hurried to the bed and waited, cocking his revolver.

The Count thrust his knuckles in his eyes and half raised himself.
"What is the matter?" he demanded testily; then seeing Cressingham, and
marking too his attendants in the hands of such hostile numbers, his
face slowly blanched, and he sat upright in bed. "What does this mean?"
he stammered angrily.

"It means--you are my prisoner," said Cressingham. "Don't move, Count,
and keep silence if you value your life. Orsini! Vincenzo! your
assistance, please."

The two gentlemen named rapidly approached, each provided with a stout
roll of cord.

"Bind the Count," continued Cressingham; "his hands behind his
back--so! now his feet--ah, thanks! Now, if you please, Count, you will
give your ordinary signal for summoning your servants."

The Count smiled, and shook his head. Cressingham eyed him sternly.

"You refuse?"

"Do you take me for a fool?"

Cressingham made a quick sign, and Orsini at once clapped his hand over
the old man's mouth. Next moment he was so securely gagged that he
could not have uttered the least sound had he been ever so disposed.

Cressingham searched the walls of the room, and presently discovered
a bell rope, which he sharply pulled. Two minutes afterwards a knock
sounded on the door, and a negro entered the room. He was instantly
stunned by a blow from a club, bound and gagged.

Cressingham rang the bell again, and again repeated the process, until
eleven of the Count's servants had been thus happily disposed of.
Thereafter no answer was vouchsafed his summons.

Leaving the Count d'Attala in charge of two gentlemen, whom he gave
strict orders to shoot the old man should any rescue be attempted,
Cressingham then sallied forth at the head of his thirteen remaining
comrades to explore the castle room by room. Every apartment on the
ground floor was deserted. Ascending the staircase, they found a
similar condition to prevail; no sign could they find of Madame or Miss
Elliott, and Cressingham, in regard to the latter, became filled with
the gravest anxiety. It became necessary to approach the basement, and
after a little search they discovered a staircase leading downwards
from the first floor. Daylight had already broken by this, and they
were able to discard their lanterns as useless lumber. With straining
eyes and cocked revolvers grasped in their right hands, they silently
descended to the lower regions; but their caution was in vain; the
place was utterly abandoned.

The basement was one huge open structure, taking up much space, but
containing no separate rooms at all. One end was entirely occupied
by a very extensive kitchen, replete with every detail of kitchen
arrangements; two large steam stoves, three marble tables, several
dressers filled with plate of all descriptions, and two dumb waiters
leading to the rooms above. The remainder of the place was slung with
hammocks, that swung between the iron columns which supported the
castle; these hammocks appeared to have been lately occupied, but their
tenants had vanished into air. The floor beneath was covered with
Arabian matting; there were no chairs or other furniture in sight; all
was scrupulously neat and clean.

Beyond the kitchen the basement opened upon a small square garden of
flowers and vegetables, separated therefrom by open doors of glass.
The garden was as deserted, however, as the rest of the establishment.
A few moments sufficed to explore everything, and Cressingham was
constrained to pause for the moment entirely baffled.

One of his companions, however, who had lingered among the flowers,
called him suddenly, and pointed to a thin trail of smoke that issued
from the rock below the sheer ledge upon which the garden jutted.
Waiting there in silent speculation, all distinctly heard the muffled
thud of engines, the faint whirr of machinery in motion, which seemed
to arise from beneath their very feet.

Another search was immediately instituted, and this revealed presently
a trap-door in the very centre of the basement, whose presence the
matting had at first concealed from view. Opening this, the roar of
machinery instantly grew louder, but the darkness below was intense.

Lamps were again brought into use, and soon they silently commenced the
descent. Their caution was entirely needless. They found themselves in
an immense apartment similar to the basement, only this was entirely
shut in by the solid framework of the mountain, for it was nothing but
a monstrous excavation in the rock. Their lamps showed them at one end
a large dynamo and steam engine, both of which were in motion; at the
other, a mass of different machinery and a telegraphist's operating
table, upon which an instrument monotonously ticked. Against the
central wall reposed a large printing press and long founts of type;
also two typographical machines which would not have been out of place
in the workroom of a London journal. The place was further occupied by
quite a score of men, some white, some black. All were resting on the
floor, half were asleep.

Those awake turned and glanced at the intruders, but with
an indifference which was at first startling from its utter
unexpectedness. But the reason was soon made manifest. Each movement
that they made was accompanied by the clanking of iron, and a hasty
examination informed Cressingham that they were one and all gyved and
fettered with the most superlative care, their heavy chains in every
case being riveted to ring-bolts in the floor. While the gentlemen
stood then endeavouring to recover from their astonishment, two men got
slowly to their feet, and after a careless glance into the furnace of
the engine, unscrewed a tap and poured into a funnel-shaped opening a
quantity of oil from cans which stood within their range of action.

Cressingham's first thought was that these men must all be suffering
victims, unfortunate creatures whom the cruel Nihilists had possibly
kidnapped from their homes, printers, telegraphists, engineers, perhaps
of special ability, who had been stolen into such vile slavery, and
thenceforth compelled to serve their inhuman taskmasters bitterly
against their will. With this idea he started forward to examine them.
The slaves did not in any way resent his action; they were too sullen,
too indifferent to care; not one showed even a trace of curiosity on
seeing so many strange faces so suddenly about him.

The young man was, however, soon disabused of his imaginings, and
his kindly intention to immediately release them perished almost as
soon as it was born. They possessed, without exception, countenances
unmistakably vicious and criminal, and it needed no physiognomist to
discern as desperate and abandoned a set of rogues and scoundrels as
the gaols of Europe could readily produce in rivalry.

Ten minutes of vigorous and systematic search failed to discover any
means of egress from the cavern except the door by which they had
entered. Cressingham then gave the word to depart, and they mounted
again to the basement, leaving for the time the slaves to their own
devices.

There he held a short council of war, and it was arranged that the
force should be divided: six should go and reinforce the Count's guard,
two should proceed to the lookout, which commanded a complete prospect
of the island, four should guard the main entrance to the Castle, and
the remaining four, including Cressingham himself, should carefully
re-examine the ground floor, with the view to discover an opening which
might lead to some secret tunnel into which the Count's remaining
servants had probably retreated in order to conceal themselves.

The disposition was immediately effected, and all proceeded to their
allotted tasks. Cressingham first visited the Count's bedroom, but
everything there was in the same condition that he had left it. The
old man lay quietly on his side, trussed up like a fowl, and breathing
heavily. Orsini stood beside him with revolver cocked, Vincenzo guarded
the door and the bounden prostrate negroes, alert and anxious as a fox.
Neither had been disturbed nor heard a single alarming sound.

Cressingham tapped heavily upon every panel of the bedroom and library
walls, but with the single exception of the door which had admitted
his comrades and himself to the apartment, all appeared solid, and
resounded dully to his knocking. Leaving the library, he investigated
in similar fashion the other sixteen rooms of that floor of the
chateau, but no sign of hollow wall or hidden door rewarded his careful
search.

By this time he had become horribly anxious for his sweetheart's
safety, and commenced to despair of finding her alive. He was on the
point of ascending to re-test the upper floor, when the two men whom
he had despatched to the look-out suddenly returned, their eager faces
showing they brought news.

"Well?" said Cressingham excitedly.

One replied: "There are a dozen negroes on the beach and scattered
round the bay, my Lord, all hard at work engaged in collecting and
burning wreckage."

Like a flash there occurred to the young man the true reason he had
been unable to discover the remainder of the Count's attendants. They
were no doubt covering up the traces of last night's destructive work.

But that did not explain the disappearance of Miss Elliott and Madame
Viyella. He at once ordered his whole force to await the arrival of
the negroes, concealing themselves, as well as they could, in the
main hall, and secure them immediately on entrance. Then with renewed
anxiety he betook himself to the upper floor and resumed his work. In
ten minutes he was interrupted by a messenger with the information
that one negro had returned as if on an errand to the castle, and been
captured.

Cressingham had by that time seen the hopelessness of further search
in that part of the castle, for the walls on the upper story were all
above ground, and only one stone thick. It was ridiculous to suppose
the existence of any secret passage possible. He suddenly determined
to question this negro, and accompanied his comrade to the great hall,
where he found the fellow cowering bound upon the floor, displaying
the most craven terror. Cressingham ordered his gag to be removed, and
standing over him with a cocked revolver, demanded in Italian: "Where
are the two ladies who were in this house last night?"

The negro answered with chattering teeth: "Pardon, Excellency, I do not
know."

"When did you see them last?"

"Excellency, last night at dinner; they dined with my master, the
Prince."

"The Prince!"

"Yes, Excellency, the Prince of Attala."

"You are lying to me. You know where they are. Speak, or I shall kill
you."

The fellow's black face became grey with fear. "Good, kind Excellency,"
he wailed, "I dare not tell your Excellency a lie. I know not where
they are, I swear it."

The fellow evidently spoke the truth, and Cressingham was bitterly
chagrined. After a moment's thought he said: "You came here with a
message to your master, is it not so?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Give it to me; I am your master now."

"Yes, Excellency, good, kind Excellency, I am glad that you are my
master. Excellency, I----"

Cressingham cut his shivering protestations short. "The message!" he
cried sternly.

"Excellency, the foreman Julius Octavius Anthony discovered that one of
the boats is missing, and he ordered me to hasten to my master--pardon,
Excellency, my late master--with the tidings; he feared----" The man
hesitated.

"Feared what, fool?"

"Excellency, he feared that one or some of the Turks might have
survived the explosion and escaped us while we slept."

"Ah! was not this boat secured as usual?"

"Excellency, I fastened it myself; the key has never since left my
hands."

"How then could the boat have been taken by the Turk? Is the lock
smashed?"

"N--no. Excellency."

"Has any one in the castle another key?"

"Yes, Excellency, the Prince and Signor Desiré each have a key."

Cressingham remembered that Desiré had the previous night been striving
to escape the island in a boat, a boat which had been staved in and
sunk after its collision with his launch. But a moment's reflection
taught him that it could not have been the craft in question, for each
of the Count d'Attala's boats was as strong and substantial as the
launch itself, and, moreover, it could never have been propelled by a
single person at the speed with which the girl had driven hers.

He questioned further at hazard, in order to verify his thought. "There
was another boat on the beach last night?"

"Yes, Excellency, the Turkish yacht's skiff."

"What has become of it?"

The man trembled, and shrivelled up as though expecting annihilation,
and whined out piteously; "Good, kind Excellency, I do not know."

"It is not on the beach now."

"No, Excellency."

Cressingham turned to his companions and spoke in French: "Gentlemen,
if a complete examination of the island fails to reveal the presence
of my fiancee, Miss Elliott, and Madame Viyella, we shall know that
they have escaped the island in that boat----"

"Hist!" cried one of the men, interrupting suddenly.

In the silence that ensued a noise of footsteps and voices was heard on
the path without the great door. Instantly all prepared themselves for
a struggle, one man to save time stunning the negro with a violent blow
from a revolver butt. Next moment the door opened, and the remaining
servants of the Count, weary and dirty from their toil, trooped
unsuspiciously into the hall, anxious probably for their breakfast.
When all had entered, the gentlemen sprang from their hiding, and threw
themselves upon the astonished negroes. Then followed a wild melee
of oaths and blows and startled screams, but before many minutes had
passed all were bound and helpless, many having surrendered without
offering resistance.

"Gentlemen," cried Cressingham, rising, excited and panting from his
exertions, "we have accomplished our mission, and bloodlessly--the
island of Attala is ours."

Three ringing cheers greeted his words. Cressingham tore from his
pocket a small flag, it was the Union Jack, and fastened it upon the
scabbard of his sword.

"A volunteer!" he cried, "a volunteer to wave this from the look-out,
so that the Sea Hawk may know and enter the harbour without fear."

A dozen hands were raised, but the nearest seized the trophy and
hurried to the door. Next second he returned, and said: "My lord, the
Sea Hawk is this moment rounding the point."

"Then," said Cressingham, "to work! Before we breakfast our prisoners
must all be shipped, for that is our first duty, and only then can we
eat in safety. The Count is now bound and gagged, but he is such a
devil that until he is safe aboard the Sea Hawk I shall continue to
fear him!"

Two hours afterwards every living creature on the island had been
transported to the yacht; Attala was utterly abandoned, and Cressingham
and his companions were feted in the cabin of the Sea Hawk, with a
magnificent disregard to the cost of Perigord's champagne.




CHAPTER XXV.--THE LOVE OF OELTJEN

ONE of the Sea Hawk's company was a skilled telegraphic operator,
and Cressingham's first care on returning to the island was to obtain
this man to despatch a cable to the Count's station on the mainland
of Italy to ascertain if Perigord had yet succeeded in capturing the
place. After some thought he caused to be transmitted simply his own
name.

Half an hour later a reply came equally laconic--"Perigord."

The young man, reassured by that, cabled a concise report of his
capture of Attala, laying especial emphasis on the fact that Madame
Viyella and Miss Elliott had disappeared, advancing his opinion that
they had fled to sea in the missing boat. He begged Perigord to use all
his influence to discover if they had been picked up by any passing
steamer, and also to send out a vessel in search to the north of
Corsica, for a strong south wind had blown all the previous night and
was still raging.

Perigord's answer was satisfactory; he promised to do all that
Cressingham desired, and commanded the young man to remain upon the
island, carefully guarding the prisoners until he himself arrived, as
circumstances had arisen which necessitated a change in his original
intentions, and it was no longer his wish that the Count d'Attala
should be transported to Naples.

The remainder of that day Cressingham devoted to a rigorous examination
of the island, assisted by a score of anxious helpers, but although
every nook and cranny capable of concealing a rabbit was carefully
explored, no trace of the missing ladies was discovered. The next day
the subterranean passages were submitted to a similar test, but with a
like result. Not a single tunnel from end to end escaped their vigilant
scrutiny, but unless a tragedy had occurred, and Madame Viyella had
cast herself and Francine Elliott down one of the numerous bottomless
pits which occurred in many of the disused workings, they were forced
at last to the conclusion that their first idea was the correct one,
and that the two women were then on the open sea, or had reached some
more friendly shore than the coast of Attala.

Cressingham, remembering his own narrow escape, was tortured with the
thought that his sweetheart had possibly been drowned, and a single
glance at the weather sufficed to increase his fears, for the sea was
running high, and the wind had been blowing half a gale ever since the
previous day. Even in the protected harbour of Attala the waves were
wild, the beach and coast were marked by a thick line of spray and
driving foam, and the Sea Hawk strained at her anchors like a hound
in leash, rising and tossing tumultuously.

With a dull feeling of despair he recognized how impossible it would be
for an open boat to live in such a sea, and his only remaining hope was
that the wanderers had been rescued in time by some passing steamer. He
had been very loth to give up the idea that he should find Miss Elliott
hiding somewhere on the island, for he knew that Francine regarded
Madame as her father's murderess, and he could not understand how she
could have brought herself to escape in such company, no matter how
terrible the motive might have been urging her thereunto. He submitted
all the negroes and the Count d'Attala to a rigid inquisition, but none
knew aught of the missing ones, and with the progress of his own search
he was compelled to abandon any other solution of the mystery.

Face to face at last with facts whose stubbornness refused him any
further hope, he resolutely thrust disturbing thoughts behind him, and
set to work with fiery energy to carry out Perigord's instructions
regarding Attala. For two days he toiled with his companions like a
common labourer, doing more than his share of the work. At the end of
that time everything was completed. The Count's enormous treasure of
gold, silver and jewels had been transferred to the shore and stored in
the boat-house, together with all papers and documents existing on the
island. The Castle itself had been ransacked from top to bottom. The
printing presses, founts of type and typographical machines had been
ruthlessly destroyed, and the more valuable furniture, pictures, books,
statues, carpets, rugs, chairs, tables, etc., removed to the beach and
stacked under canvas tents, ready for exportation immediately that the
waves should have abated. The steam engine, dynamos and telegraphic
instruments only were allowed to remain in statu quo awaiting the
arrival of Perigord, but elsewise the whole chateau was dismantled and
deserted.

That evening a cable arrived from Perigord: "Keep Count and Desiré with
sufficient force of my own men, including Oeltjen, on island, and await
me; despatch Sea Hawk with all other prisoners to Tunis, where have
arranged everything for their reception; afterwards Sea Hawk will
proceed to Naples, landing officers and other volunteers, and there
remain until word from me. I set out for island to-morrow night. No
news yet Madame or Miss Elliott; perhaps rescued by ocean steamer."

Such contradictory commands seemed unlike Perigord, but Cressingham had
no choice except to obey. An hour afterwards the Sea Hawk steamed
out of the harbour with its cargo of prisoners bound for Africa,
leaving Desiré, Cressingham and Oeltjen standing on the beach of the
bay waving their adieus. A tent had been erected to shelter the Count
d'Attala, and within it the old man lay alone with his reflections, but
securely guarded, for besides his shackles six armed sailors formed a
cordon without the canvas.

Cressingham had decided to camp out with his whole party on the sand
during their remaining sojourn on the island rather than take up
quarters in the Castle, a course which would have entailed a great deal
of useless toil.

The storm had broken during the day and gave promise of fine weather
in the near future, for the gale had calmed down to a mild and balmy
breeze which now blew from a different direction, so that no difficulty
nor hardship was experienced in that regard.

Cressingham gave Oeltjen the first watch, for he was worn out and
exhausted, and the German had taken no part in the ransacking of the
island, having been detailed to the duty of guarding the Sea Hawk's
prisoners, while Cressingham conducted operations ashore. But the young
man found that he could not sleep in spite of his great weariness.
Every muscle of his frame ached horribly from the incessant labour he
had lately undergone; he was, moreover, harrassed with painful thoughts
about Francine, for Perigord's message had sounded the knell of his
hopes, and he scarcely dared to dream that his sweetheart could have
been rescued, and no news thereof been gleaned during the days that
had passed between. Lying stretched out on his mattress on the sand,
a mattress upon which the Count d'Attala had often reposed, for it
had formed part of the old man's bed, he tossed and turned for the
space of an hour, vainly seeking a respite from his sad imaginings,
vainly longing for the relief of slumber. At last, utterly tired of the
struggle, he got to his feet and wandered along the beach away from the
camp towards the nearest promontory, and after a while threw himself
down in a sandy nook shaded by jagged rocks, which, however, did not
shut out the sweet air of heaven nor the mild beaming of the planets.

The god he had wooed so long took pity on him there, and touched his
heavy eyelids with the magic wand of dreams. How long Cressingham
slept, he did not know. He was aroused by the sound of voices quite
near to him, the soft-toned voices of a man and maid murmuring together
underneath the canopy of stars.

He vaguely recognized that it was Desiré talking to Von Oeltjen, and
for a while was drowsily indignant with his friend for quitting the
post assigned to him without permission.

He heard the German say: "Yes, Desiré, astronomers all tell us that
each tiny, twinkling lamp set in the sky above us is another world, or
a sun, perhaps, larger and more glorious than ours. But for myself, I
prefer to think otherwise. I love to dream that with the fall of dusk
God draws a spangled curtain over us, through rifts in which His angels
curiously peep to watch upon our doings. It is their eyes that lighten
the gloom of our night, the ones that beam are the friends of lovers,
for they are soft and kind; those that twinkle smile at our follies,
as you may easily tell, while yon thick veil, misnamed the milky way,
are the eyes of angels who weep for our sins--see how blurred and misty
is their light; their tears form the rain which falls upon the earth
at intervals. Flowers spring from those tears, Desiré, beautiful,
sweet-scented flowers."

"It is a pretty thought," mused the girl. "But what do you think of the
moon?"

Cressingham wondered how his friend would face this poser, but Oeltjen
did not seem even momentarily puzzled.

"The moon, Desiré," he answered softly, "is part of Heaven itself, a
tiny part which God only occasionally permits us to look upon, for none
of us are worthy to regard it always. Is it not true that when the
moon's golden splendour shines upon the world the hearts of all who
walk and see are insensibly made mild and kind, inclined to love and be
beloved? That is because it is the light of God's own House, and God is
Love, Desiré."

"How beautiful your dreams are, my friend! Neither the Abbé nor Lord
Francis ever spoke to me like that. I love to listen to such things."

"That is because you are at heart a poetess. Desiré."

Cressingham raised himself noiselessly to his elbow, undecided
whether to interrupt such charming converse or to keep his presence
unrevealed. He did not want to spy upon his friend, and yet he had
distinguished something in the Count's voice that surprised him, a
note of admiration, almost passion. Oeltjen was standing upon the
sand, Desiré--dressed at last in the costume of a woman--beside him.
They were holding each other's hands, and a very pretty picture
they made--the man's strong, earnest figure, the girl's curved and
tender outlines silhouetted softly against the moaning surf beyond.
Cressingham decided not to reveal himself, for somehow he had conceived
a positive affection and reverence for Desiré's character, and he had
grown to look upon himself as her protector since she had no other,
and besides he owed her a deep debt of gratitude. It was not exactly
that he feared or distrusted the Count von Oeltjen's intentions, but
he knew from his own experience how weak are all men before the breath
of passion and the lure of opportunity; he knew moreover how utterly
ignorant and unsuspicious was the girl.

He heard his friend say presently: "I wish to heaven that you were not
your mother's daughter, dear."

"Why do you say that, signore? Is not my mother beautiful?"

"Yes, she is beautiful."

"Tell me then."

"I--I--please don't ask me, Desiré."

"How strange you are, my friend! You say to me a thing and then forbid
me to speak upon it."

"I was foolish to say what I said at all; still, since you wish to know
more, I shall tell it you. But not thus, sweetheart; with my arms about
you--so. Will you not first kiss me though, Desiré?"

"Are you sure that it is a right thing to do, Ludwig? Somehow when I
kiss you I feel as though I were stealing something and afraid to be
caught."

"You sweet innocent! I am sure enough; are we not lovers?"

"That is true, and some day we shall marry; is it not so? Even Miss
Elliott told me it was proper in such a case. Then I shall kiss you,
Ludwig."

She put her arms about his neck, and did as she had said. Cressingham,
feeling entirely relieved in mind by the latter portion of the
converse, gave a sudden cough.

The lovers started guiltily apart. He stood up and said smilingly: "It
is thus you interrupt my repose; you, Ludwig, who should be on guard,
you, Desiré, who should be in your tent and fast asleep by this."

Oeltjen hung his head at the reproof, and stammered: "I can see the
Count's tent quite easily from here, Frank."

"Oh, of course, and you were watching it! But there, I do not think any
great harm is done in this instance. It is always thus, however; when
love wakes, duty sleeps. Is it not so?"

"You heard?"

"Enough to convince me that you have much cause to be congratulated. I
do so now with all my heart--and you too, Desiré; your future husband
is one of the best men I have ever known."

"He is a beautiful man, Lord Francis," replied Desiré artlessly; "I
love him very much."

"Thank you, my friend," muttered Oeltjen.

"Rather sudden though, isn't it?" whispered Cressingham with amiable
satire.

"Hush!" replied the other; "she knows nothing." Aloud he said: "Sudden,
Frank! I do not think so; we have already known each other four days,
and we did not become affianced until this morning."

"I feel as though I had known Ludwig all my life," protested the girl.

Cressingham laughed, and waved his hand. "Well, old boy, I'll not
disturb you further, but will take the rest of your watch. Relieve me
as soon or as late as you please. A riverdici, Desiré."

"You are a brick," said the Count, using with much feeling a favourite
expression of the Englishman.

"A riverdici, and thank you, my Lord," said the girl.

Cressingham swung off, laughing softly to himself; he was deeply
pleased, since had he possessed the power of moulding Desiré's fate he
could not have chosen a prospect more promiseful of happiness for her
than marriage with his friend.




CHAPTER XXVI.--THE END OF BOSA GRACCI

AT three o'clock on the afternoon of the day following there entered
the harbour of Attala a large grey yacht, flying Italian colours at
her peak. Anchoring near the mouth of the bay, a boat was instantly
lowered, and Perigord, taking his place in the stern sheets, was rowed
swiftly to the beach. He was met by Cressingham and Oeltjen, who
presented their reports with speed and brevity.

Perigord complimented them on all they had achieved, and then asked to
see the prisoner, to whom he said he wished immediately to announce
sentence of death, as it had been determined in council to execute the
Count without delay and without trial. When the three gentlemen entered
the Count's tent the old man sat up and stared fixedly at his enemies.
He had just eaten his lunch, the remains of which rested on a tray
beside his mattress; consequently he was still ungagged, and free to
speak.

"You may not remember me, sir," said Perigord. "It is so many years
since we have met. My name is Perigord."

"You deceive yourself," replied the Count; "I recollect you perfectly.
Kindly ask your servants to leave us together. I have many things to
say to you."

"Afterwards, sir, perhaps; I have come to inform you that to-morrow at
daylight you, Bosa Gracci, Count----"

"Prince!" interjected the old man sharply.

Perigord shrugged his shoulders. "Count d'Attala, will be shot. Five
Italian officers will be your executioners. I personally obtained this
indulgence to be granted you in deference to your undoubted rank, so
that you may die in the manner of a gentleman. You may look, however,
for no other favours."

The Count d'Attala replied with the most perfect composure: "You have
done?"

"Yes."

"Then please comply with my request, also of your charity furnish me
with a glass of wine. Your servants have helped themselves liberally to
my belongings, but have treated me with niggard meanness. For days past
I have endured the tortures of Tantalus, listening thirstily to the
popping of champagne corks."

Perigord turned to his companions. "I pray you leave us, gentlemen, and
please send me a bottle of champagne."

Cressingham and Oeltjen at once departed, and a sailor next moment
entered the tent with the Count's desideratum. Perigord filled a glass
with the wine, then noticing how bound up the old man was gave him
the freedom of his hands. The Count sighed gratefully and took a deep
draught of the sparkling liquor, holding out eagerly thereafter his
glass to be refilled. "Ah, that is good!" he cried; "it puts new life
into my withered heart. Now I feel fit for anything."

"Death, Count?" asked Perigord's deep voice.

"Bah, I am not dead yet, though I daresay I soon shall be, for I am
in your power, but I shall give you a little trouble first. Hum, hum,
let me look at you, my son. Sapristi, how old you have grown in
these past fifteen years! Old and sad-looking. You have had a hard time
chasing me; is it not so, Valdemar?"

Perigord started up as abruptly as though he had been shot on mention
of that name, and he stared at the old man with incredulous amaze.

"How comes it that you know my name?" he demanded.

The Count chuckled out: "Ha, ha! it surprises you. Hein! Oh, I know
more of you than you think, my son!"

"Reserve such epithets for members of your family," said Perigord
coldly, "thank God I am not your son!"

The old man smiled. "Your thanksgiving prayer is wasted,
Valdemar--entirely thrown away. You may not relish the honour I paid
you in creating you, but you cannot escape the fact, however much
you choose to thank God." His voice and manner were so replete with
insolent mockery that Perigord, strong willed and stolid as he was,
involuntarily gave a shiver.

"You waste time," he retorted angrily; "you said you had much to tell
me. Commence!"

"I have already. I have told you that you are my son."

"Liar that you are! My father has long been dead!"

"Your mother told you that on my direction. Sapristi, you do not
credit me? Listen, then--nay, first tell me what you know about your
parentage. I shall presently convince you."

Perigord gazed at his enemy, his eyes filled with disgust, and slowly
shook his head. "Do you think I shall make of you a confessor?"

"Mule that you are!" cried the Count with a sudden flash of rage. "Heed
me well. Your mother was a princess of the House of Austria, by name
Theresia Isabella. You were born in the Castle of Fitzhammerhaus, near
Totna on the Danube, on the eleventh day of May, 18--. You were brought
up as the child of Maria Nekka, your mother's tiring woman; it was not
until you were eighteen years of age that you learned the secret of
your parentage--that was when Theresia visited Totna, she thought, to
die, although she afterwards recovered. She was then the wife of the
Grand Duke of----, and mother of Prince Frederick, who you no doubt
know is my colleague and a member of the Three."

Perigord's face had turned slowly of an ashen hue. With a great effort
he muttered: "You are acquainted with my family history, it seems."

The Count sneered. "No one has a better right; but you are still
doubting my words; I shall go into details. I met your mother twelve
months before your birth. I was then engaged upon a mission from my old
master Katusoff, the Pole, whose second in command I was, whose object
was to gather together the scattered threads of anarchy in Austria and
Hungary with the view to the formation of a lodge which might further
disseminate the seed we wished to sow. It was at Buda Pesth we met,
at a State ball, for although an exile then I was well accredited and
personable; I say it without vanity, few men were at that time more
good to look upon than I. Well, Theresia fell in love with me. We met
frequently, but always the eyes of the multitude were on us, for she
was young, beautiful and sought in marriage by a king. You remember the
old saw--'Love laughs at locksmiths.' Ha, ha, ha! Theresia found her
way to get her wishes. She fell ill and was ordered by her doctors to
Trieste for change of air. There I followed her and we were married."

"What?" thundered Perigord.

"We were married," repeated the Count coldly. "We were married by a
Romish priest----"

"The proofs!" cried Perigord, "the proofs!"

"Bah!" said the Count with a cold smile; "they would benefit you
nothing. The marriage of a princess is always illegal unless sanctioned
by her State."

"Nevertheless, I demand the proofs!"

The old man took from his inner pocket a bulky leathern case, from
which he extracted a paper. "I have kept this on my person since the
first day that I knew you were upon my track," he said quietly. "No one
can foretell the future, but a wise man always provides for it in the
best manner that he can. You observe that my precaution has justified
itself. Read!"

Perigord snatched from his hand the paper, which he found to be a
properly attested marriage certificate between the princess, his
mother, and the Count d'Attala. The date and everything about it
corresponded perfectly with the old man's story. "My God--I thank
Thee," he cried brokenly.

"For having found your father?" jeered the Count.

"No!" replied Perigord, his eyes shining like stars. "But for having at
length discovered that I was not born in shame! For thirty years I have
thought myself a bastard! At last the stain is removed!"

"Bah!" sneered the old man with a bitter chuckle. "Undeceive yourself,
that paper is utterly valueless; you are a bastard, for your mother's
marriage was illegal."

"Not in the sight of Heaven!" retorted Perigord, with a dignity that
abashed the old man for a moment; but presently he rallied and muttered
jeeringly: "Shall I go on with the story?"

"Yes."

"We left off at the marriage. Your mother was ill then, ha, ha! she
remained ill for nine months, and so lost a king for a husband.
You were born without scandal in her friend's house at Totna, and
brought up as I have said. She subsequently returned to her father's
protection, and shortly afterwards married the Grand Duke. I consented
to the match, and we remained friends up to the very day of her death.
It was I who provided you on her solicitation with the fortune which
you subsequently wasted in endeavouring to destroy my work. It was
she who first informed me of your mad enterprise, the secret of which
you had fondly confided to her keeping. She told me of your change of
name, and from time to time warned me of your doings. With one hand she
pushed you on, helping you to power, and the friendship of those in
power, with the other she wrote me long letters advising me in detail
of your doings. I lost a good friend when she died, I can tell you,
Valdemar. In order to replace her and keep a check on you, I was forced
to seek out her second son." (He sneered bitterly.) "Ah, well, he was
not hard to seduce; the fellow was already a gambler and a thief; he
readily fell in with my suggestions; I married him to my daughter
Katherin, with whom he had fallen madly in love, and created for him a
vacancy in the inner circle. Thus for the past two years I have played
off brother on brother--a pretty plan, was it not?"

"It was the conception of a Satan!" stammered Perigord.

The Count nodded and smiled as if a compliment had been addressed
to him. "Ah, well, my son, in spite of everything, you have at last
beaten me. In my old age you have bested me. The son of Bosa Gracci has
conquered his father. The son of no other living man could have done
it. I am proud of you, my son!" The words were uttered in a manner of
such bombastic and fantastical conceit that they were really ludicrous,
but Perigord shuddered at such praise.

"Evil man!" he muttered hoarsely; "why have you told me these dreadful
things?"

"Is it cold? You are shivering. Can you not see, my son?"

"For God's sake call me anything but that! No, I see nothing."

The old man laughed grimly; then snarled out: "To think that I am
beaten by such a blunt-witted creature! I who, at the age of a hundred
and three years, have still a keener intellect than you, indeed than
any living man," he added vaingloriously.

"Answer me!" said Perigord.

"I shall, since time passes swiftly, swiftly. Every second is precious
to the aged, my son, precious as gold. I have told you what I have told
you for two reasons: firstly, because I hoped that the news would hurt
you--cursed dog that you are, fool that I was not to strangle you the
day that you were born!" The Count's eyes glowed for a second with a
fire of splenetic rage, as he spat out this sudden objurgation, but
quickly calming himself resumed in a manner of superlative sweetness:
"The second reason, my dear son, is that I wished you to arrange all
the details of my escape from this scurvy gang of yours who have me
by the heels. You see, I am old and feeble, so cannot help myself. I
dislike troubling you, but after all, to whom should a man look for
assistance if not to his own offspring?"

"You expect me to help you to escape?" said Perigord.

The Count's thin lips curled scornfully. "Be content with having ruined
me; do you wish to make yourself a parricide?"

Perigord's face went livid, then ghastly white, from the various
emotions that were raging in his bosom. "Not that," he muttered
brokenly, "my God, not that!"

"I am rich," said the Count. "Assist me to escape, and I shall make you
wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. The gold that you have taken from
me I do not want. I know it is not for you; your council will claim it,
greedy rogues that they are; kings are all greedy, and your share will
be only small. But in Paris, in Vienna, Naples, Berlin, vast funds of
mine are deposited. When I am free I shall share these with you--when I
am free!"

"You will never be free--you are mad to expect it," groaned Perigord.
"To-morrow at daylight you must die; even I cannot save you; it is
decreed."

"Nonsense, boy, you must save me."

"Ah, let me think!" Perigord started abruptly to his feet, his hand
pressed tightly to his side.

"Yes, think--think of the wealth that will be yours if you assist me.
Only thus can it be yours, for without me you can get none of it. I vow
I would rather benefit the banks and let them keep the gold for ever if
you should prove so curst a son as to let me die. Think, Valdemar, it
is your father who appeals to you, your father, boy."

"Your life has been too evil; you are not fit to live."

"I shall repent, for I am too old to engage in further wickedness.
Assist me to escape, and in some secret corner of the world I shall
spin out my few remaining days. Watch over me, guard me as you will,
you will find that I shall do as I say, that my repentance shall be
sincere. I swear to you, for a long while now I have felt remorseful of
the past; you would not have me perish in my sins, unshriven, my son?
Besides, if you are kind, when I die all that I have shall be yours."

The old man had assumed an expression of sorrow, of profound humility,
but a mocking demon lurked in the eyes that watched Perigord so
narrowly. He spoke slowly, choosing every word and marking its effect;
he was playing upon his son's heart as a musician would upon the chords
of an unfamiliar instrument. "Well, my son?" he muttered after a long
pause.

Perigord looked at him, unable to conceal the anguish that he suffered.
"I must fight this matter out alone," he cried, and hurried from the
tent. Cressingham and Oeltjen waited for him upon the sand, but he
passed them by unseeing, and they, noticing the agonized expression of
his face, did not dare to interrupt him. Like one pursued by furies, he
strode to the castle staircase, and anxious only for solitude sprang up
the steps with the speed of a chamois. It was not until he reached the
look-out that he paused; and then, casting himself face downwards upon
the ground, he gave himself up to thoughts more torturing and bitterer
than death.

His whole life passed in review before his mental vision with
phantasmagoric rapidity, but with crystal clarity. It is said that
the mind of a drowning man involuntarily condenses the whole of his
existence into a fleeting moment, during which the past is lived again,
its every incident and long forgotten happenings being reproduced and
re-enacted with supernatural faithfulness.

Anguish wrought a similar miracle in the case of Perigord. He was born
again; his sordid early youth droned through as a poor Hungarian farm
labourer yielded up its days of drudgery, its nights of ambitious
yearnings and vague dissatisfaction. Once again he was led to the
bedside of his dying mother, to hear with secret exultation the story
of his princely birth from her fever-parched and trembling lips.
Then followed the ten years of study passed at different German
universities, its joys, its trials, its fickle love affairs and more
constant periods of ennui and ambitious dreams; then the unexpected
advent of the fortune which his mother pretended was her own gift, but
for which he now knew he was indebted to his father.

Later his world-wide travellings, his ten years of Russian military
service as a volunteer against the Turk, the act of heroism which had
won for him a colonelcy, the wound which had earned for him the honour
of being despatched to head-quarters with tidings of a great victory.

His life in St. Petersburg, its flattery, adulation and tumultuous
pleasures, during which his youth had uselessly passed by.

His meeting with the one great love of his life, the infamous Sofie
Peroffskaya. His gradual drifting and abandon of ambition, until as a
Nihilist he had finally become a traitor to his birth, a traitor to his
salt.

The assassination of his benefactor, the Great Czar, in which he took
no part, but which gained for him Siberia. His dreadful life in the
mines, his despair and his gradual re-awakening and soul-sickness for
the woman who had caused his ruin.

His final mental rehabilitation, and the covenant he had made with the
Almighty. His miraculous delivery from slavery, and his years of toil
and honest effort to fulfil his pledged word with God and bring about
the dissolution and destruction of the Nihilists.

The work had always seemed so good to him, so noble, and so blessedly
unselfish. It had been by dint of unexampled patience and almost
superhuman diligence and perseverance at last crowned with success. He
had accomplished his mission, redeemed his vow, and now on the dawn
of the twelfth hour the cup of triumph was snatched from his lips and
Providence presented in its place a draught of incomparable bitterness.

For a long tale of years he had been unconsciously plotting and
planning the destruction of his own parent. His father was now his
prisoner under sentence of death passed by the council which he had
himself created. He himself was entrusted with the work of effecting
the dread decree. He remembered the old world-famed story of the
Spartan father who had condemned his own wicked son to death and
remorselessly enforced the judgment. The relative positions were in
this case reversed. He, the son, had procured his own father to be
condemned.

He wondered miserably if he could find fortitude enough in his heart
to carry his duty into execution. He had to combat no ties of natural
affection, for he owed his parent nothing but contumely and hatred,
but in spite of that and in spite of the complete and dreadful proof
he possessed of the Count d'Attala's monstrous crimes, the heart of
Perigord was so soft and prone to reverence that it appeared to him
that notwithstanding what he might elect to do he stood upon the
threshold of unescapable spiritual annihilation. He had the choice
of two ways: either to keep faith with God and man, in which case he
became a parricide, or to assist his father to escape, a course which
would make him forsworn of God and a traitor to his fellows.

For long hours he wrestled with his soul, doubting, fearing, dreaming
dreams so full of unspeakable agony that his physical frame was
troubled and the sweat poured from him so freely as to mark the ground
on which he lay. It seemed to him that the Almighty had imposed on him
a burden too great for mortal man to bear. He had devoted his life to
a mission which, from the moment of its conception, he had believed
God-inspired and God-protected. For a moment he dared to dispute the
issue and to rail at his Creator for so treacherously rewarding his
years of service and self-sacrifice.

The moment passed, and he expiated the blasphemy with a prayer so
heartfelt and entirely earnest that his spirit became at length filled
with a species of ecstacy, and he rose to his feet peaceful and
purposeful, believing that Heaven had thuswise sent its answer to his
cry.

Twilight had already drawn its mantle round the earth, and he descended
the steps in the gloaming marvelling to find how softly beautiful the
world appeared, under its awning of awakening stars, whose western
folds were still flushed faintly with a tender amber radiance, which
shot in spiral streams across the sky and gently touched the east with
gold.

He drew fresh comfort from the glory of the heavens, fresh purpose from
the peace on sea and land. His first act on arriving at the beach was
to seek out Cressingham and Oeltjen.

To the latter he said gently: "Go, my friend, to the yacht, and bring
back with you the priest and five gentlemen whom you will find awaiting
word from me."

When Oeltjen had gone, he said to Cressingham: "You, my Lord, I desire
will take a message to our prisoner. Tell him that my plans are
altered, and he must die within an hour. Should he ask for me, say that
I shall not go. Tell him further that a priest is here who will confess
him if he wills."

Cressingham departed, and presently entered the Count's tent. The old
man was still seated before the now empty champagne bottle, and his
face was flushed, his eyes glittered feverishly in the candle light.

"Ah!" he cried. "Where is Perigord?"

"He has sent me in his place to warn you to prepare yourself for death.
In an hour you will be shot. I am further to inform you that a priest
is in attendance, should you require his services."

"I must see Perigord. Beg him to visit me. I shall not detain him for a
moment."

"He refuses to see you again, sir."

"Refuses! my son dares to refuse his father's last wish on earth!
Tell him that I, Bosa Gracci, his father, command his immediate
presence here! Don't stare, sir; go and do my bidding!" The old man's
imperiousness was a sight magnificent to witness; Cressingham thought
him raving, but nevertheless, much impressed, he bowed and conveyed the
message word for word to Perigord, adding, however, apologetically: "He
must have turned crazy, sir."

Perigord smiled sadly and answered: "Would that it were as you suppose.
He is not crazy. I am the Count d'Attala's son. Until this day I knew
nought of it, but he has crushingly convinced me."

"And yet--you--will kill him?" stammered Cressingham aghast.

"I shall do my duty," replied the other with calm and simple dignity.
"Kindly return and say to the Count these words: 'Your son has made his
peace with God. He implores you to do likewise, for in an hour you will
die.'"

The Count's face on his comprehending this message became transfigured
with venomous and reckless rage. He hurled at the young man a perfect
storm of angry curses, refusingly utterly to credit the inexorability
of Perigord's determination, and only became calm when Cressingham
threatened to re-impose the gag. Then he fell to whining and miserably
entreating his enemy to enlist in his favour and endeavour to soften
his son's stubborn heart.

Cressingham listened for awhile, but becoming at last utterly disgusted
and a little unmanned at the sight of a white head stooped so low, he
retreated and sought out Perigord, that he might obtain permission to
remove Desiré as far as possible from the scene of execution, so that
she might not witness her grandfather's death.

Perigord at once consented, and immediately Oeltjen returned from the
yacht he was bidden take Desiré to the castle on a pretended errand to
the cable room, and to detain her there beyond the allotted time.

Six gentlemen followed Oeltjen ashore from the yacht. One was
the Cardinal Carnito, and to him Perigord disclosed at once the
relationship which existed between the Count and himself.

The Cardinal was deeply shocked, but after a few minutes' reflection he
unreservedly commended his friend's determination, and expressed his
own intention of at once approaching the Count with the pious idea of
attempting to prepare his soul for death.

Five minutes after he had entered the old man's tent the watchers
heard a scream of pain followed by wild peals of laughter. They rushed
forward, but before they reached the place the Cardinal emerged, his
face horribly cut and profusely bleeding.

The Count d'Attala, with fiendish cunning, had pretended to be grateful
for the prelate's kindness, and lured him into unsuspecting close
companionship; then when the Cardinal was completely off his guard
he had attacked him with the champagne bottle, the only weapon he
possessed, and the laughter which Perigord and Cressingham had heard
was his paean of triumph at the success of his plan.

By the time the prelate's wounds had been attended to, the allotted
hour had expired, and at Perigord's command the Count was carried
forth to the open beach, and at once placed opposite the five Italian
gentlemen who stood in line, their cocked revolvers in hand, awaiting
the word.

The prevailing darkness concealed the victim's face; but to render the
aim of the firers sure a lanthorn was placed behind his back upon the
sand. There followed a long silence which the Cardinal was the first to
break, for Perigord was again in the throes of spiritual agony, and he
desperately fought for strength to utter the terrible command which was
to hurl his father to perdition.

"Bosa Gracci," said the Cardinal in a low, trembling voice, "I implore
you to confess your sins, to repent before you die."

The Count d'Attala chuckled, and jeered: "Ha, ha! there's a sweet
Christian for you; I've already smacked both his cheeks, and he
implores me."

The Cardinal fell upon his knees and cried out with a humility that
touched Cressingham to the heart: "My son, I implore you to save your
immortal soul while there is time. It is the eleventh hour, but even
yet true repentance may prevail. Did not Christ pardon the thieves upon
the Cross? My son, relent, relent. Trust to the divine mercy of the
Redeemer, let your heart be touched by His supreme, eternal love. He
lived and died to save you; will you let His work, His sacrifice, His
sufferings for you go all in vain?" He paused.

The Count replied: "Signore, I could listen to you so much more
comfortably with a cigarette between my lips. You perhaps have one
about you?"

The Cardinal got slowly to his feet. "Foolish man, you dare to mock at
me, about to die!"

"On the contrary," said the old man politely. "I admire you; I think
though that you have mistaken your calling. What fame you might have
achieved--upon the stage!" and he chuckled at the jibe.

Perigord started suddenly forward at this instant, his clenched hands
pressed tightly to his sides. "Gentlemen!" he cried, "the time has
come--make ready----"

"Stop!" shouted the Count, commandingly. "At least allow me to preside
over my own funeral. I wish to say a few words first. Do not fear,
however, I shall not curse you. Curses are the vainest waste of breath.
I should of course dearly like to kill you all, but I am powerless. I
am wise enough to recognize my position, philosopher enough to accept
it with resignation. What I wish to speak of is my invention. You
will find in a square steel box among my papers a set of plans and
specifications describing a mechanism which has taken me thirty years
to perfect; a mechanism which is destined by the solved problem of
perpetual motion to provide the force of the future. You perhaps think
that my boast is wild; but I assure you, gentlemen, that over thirty
years ago I solved the problem of perpetual motion, and at that time
constructed three machines which have worked of themselves ever since.
They are all in the boat-house yonder, and a glance at them will verify
my words. Now with regard to my discoveries it is my earnest wish, my
dying wish, which as gentlemen I am sure you will respect, that they be
placed as soon as possible in the possession of and at the exclusive
service of the British Government for use in the English navy. England
is the only country which I have any esteem for, and which I should
like to benefit. I beg you to give me your assurance that you will do
as I request."

Every one replied at once in the affirmative, for with no exception
they believed him to be speaking wildly, perhaps dementedly, but they
could discover no reason why he should not be pacified since after all
he was expressing a last wish.

The Count nodded his thanks and swayed a little on his bound feet. Then
in a voice of power and dignity he calmly said: "Valdemar, farewell! I
go to dust, where one day you will follow me. Firing party, advance two
steps! Ready! Present arms! Fire!"

The revolvers cracked out their discharge, two simultaneously, the
others at desultory and sharply noticeable intervals of fragments of
seconds. The Count d'Attala threw out his arms, and doubling up his
body sank to the ground in a nerveless heap without a gasp or groan,
three bullets in his heart. He was buried where he fell, deep beneath
the still white sand of the island of his name. The tidal waters lapped
the covering of his grave, and before an hour had passed no mound or
other sign remained to mark his resting place.




CHAPTER XXVII.--FRANCINE

AS the old Count d'Attala had predicted, his capture and death
were alone sufficient to cause Nihilism as a united and coherent
organisation to be completely and immediately disrupted; for without
the recognized leadership of one powerful chief and with no one ready
or capable to assume the vacant office, the various scattered lodges
composing the society were bound to assume independent action and
administration, and thereby dwindle into separate insignificance.

But the Count had actually underrated the effects of the catastrophe
which he had so jestingly referred to. A thorough examination of his
books and papers resulted in the discovery of exhaustive registers
of all Nihilists the world over who had at any time been enrolled as
members of the society. So carefully had these volumes been compiled
that not only were names and addresses faithfully recorded, but in each
case an individual personal description accompanied the designation,
together with a noted commentary on each member's business, profession,
disposition and habits of life.

These registers formed a small but invaluable library, which Perigord
subsequently distributed amongst the governments of Russia, France,
Germany, England, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, so that in
less than a month almost every Nihilist in Europe was presently known
to the police of these different nations, who were thus provided
with an infallible weapon to use, not only in frustrating their evil
purposes, but to break up the different lodges and finally destroy the
last remnant of their decading power.

Perigord did not remain on the island of Attala longer than was
necessary to transport his late father's treasures and belongings on
board the yacht, to cut the secret cable, and thereafter to blow up the
castle with dynamite and gun-cotton.

When the work of annihilation was complete, he steamed to the Gulf of
Sighs, near Spezzia, where a final assembly of his council had been
convened to meet in the Count d'Attala's villa. On that occasion he
redeemed as far as possible his promises to Cressingham and Oeltjen.

Cressingham was invested by the German Emperor with one of the most
coveted orders of European distinction. The young King of Italy made
him a Count of the Roman Empire, and three monarchs provided him with
private letters of unqualified recommendations to the Prince of Wales
and her Majesty the Queen of England, in which they expressed the great
pleasure it would afford them to meet the young man on some future
occasion as one of England's representatives.

Oeltjen was made a Count of the Church of Rome, he received a patent
of Austrian nobility, and the Kaiser promised to reinstate him in a
similar position to that which his carelessness had forfeited.

With regard to the vast treasures of the Count d'Attala, the council
commanded them to be divided into three equal portions, one of which
was to be placed at the disposal of Cardinal Carnito to be expended
in charity, the second was conferred upon Perigord, together with the
villa of Franchia, and a patent presented him by the King of Italy
which created him and his heirs Counts of Attala--a title which he
had of all the world the greatest right to bear. The third portion
was handed over to Cressingham in trust for Desiré, the young man,
at Perigord's request, having been appointed her guardian until her
marriage with Ludwig von Oeltjen, which had been fixed to take place
three months hence in Berlin, the Kaiser graciously consenting to the
nuptials and promising to be present at the ceremony.

When the council had finished its deliberations, Perigord took leave
of his friends, informing them that circumstances of a private nature
had arisen which commanded his immediate presence in Hungary, but he
promised that if he lived he would before long seek them out again.

No news had been gleaned by the most careful inquiries concerning Miss
Elliott or Madame Viyella. The cables had flashed insistent messages to
all the Mediterranean ports, but no steamer had seen the missing ones,
nothing had been heard of them, and although Cressingham spent a month
in Perigord's yacht (which the new Count d'Attala had kindly lent him),
with Desiré and Oeltjen searching the coasts of Corsica, Elba, Pianosa,
Sivaso and the other small islands thereabouts, he was forced at last
to the conclusion that they had perished in the open sea and their boat
had sunk with them to the depths of the ocean ooze.

It became his sad task to convey the intelligence of their expedition's
hopeless failure to poor old Colonel Elliott, who was doubtless waiting
word from him in pitiable anxiety. On reaching Nice he despatched to
Francine's father a long letter of commiseration and condolence, and
ordering the yacht to return to Spezzia he proceeded with Oeltjen and
Desiré by easy stages across France to England. They spent a week in
Paris in order to show the girl the wonders of that gay city, then
arriving in London on September 14, Cressingham placed Desiré in the
care of a favourite old aunt of his, who had been previously warned,
and had cheerfully agreed to receive the girl and act as her chaperone
and instructress.

It was with a feeling of strange unreality and deep heartfelt sorrow
that the young man revisited his old rooms in Jermyn Street. Oeltjen
accompanied him as his guest, and was a sympathetic and kind companion;
but with his return to civilization and idleness, Cressingham had grown
to realize his loss more and more keenly, and his old quiet aimless
life, now about to be resumed after the whirl and excitement of a few
stirring adventure-crowded weeks, appeared to him vain, empty and
incomparably worthless. His old ambition had insensibly faded into
forgetfulness, and he scarcely thought of presenting the royal letters
which were designed to reinstate him in the diplomatic service of
England. The ship of his existence no longer possessed a helm to steer
by, he had no one to live for save himself. He certainly possessed some
tried and faithful friends, and had grown to regard Oeltjen and Desiré
with sincere affection, but he found friendship a meagre substitute for
love, and his own heart told him that no substitute was possible to
compensate him for the death of Francine.

He entered his old drawing room with the sense of one returned from the
tomb of ages to find the world's landmarks unaltered but the faces of
his compeers changed, and with a bitter heartache he recognized that
from that moment a new, untried and desolate existence stretched out
before him, robbed of the dearest dreams of other days and the joys he
had once fondly thought might have been his, a future destitute of the
hopes and ambitions which had formerly constituted the bravest and best
part of his life.

Oeltjen respected for awhile the musing silence into which he had
fallen, but at last saddened by his friend's grief he tried loyally
to cheer him and rouse him from his melancholy mood. Laying his hand
gently on Cressingham's shoulder he said softly: "Dear friend, I know
what your thoughts must be, I know their unutterable sadness, but
should you give way to them? The past is past, and in the march of
destiny many hearts are bruised and broken. You have endured a bitter
loss; but you are young, the world lies before you full of hope and
promise. Please God that in the joys of the future you will forget the
sorrows of the present!"

"Old chap!" said Cressingham brokenly, "you say you understand, but you
can't, you can't, or you couldn't say such things. I've nothing to look
forward to--nothing!"

"Nothing, Frank? Don't say that. Are you not to give to me my bride?"

"And happiness with her, Ludwig, I sincerely hope--constant happiness.
You are right, it will always be a pleasure for me to think of that.
You must try to forgive me for my selfishness, old boy, but somehow
suddenly coming back to the old place, seeing the old things about me
just as they used to be, I felt a bit outside of everything; you know,
old chap, what I mean. Look, there is her photograph!" He pointed to
a counterfeit presentment of Miss Elliott, whose sweet face smiled
at them from the wall. With quivering lips which he bit savagely to
control, he gazed at her a moment, then a blur came over his eyes, and
he hurried abruptly to the inner room in order to conceal an emotion
which he was powerless to subdue.

Oeltjen lingered, longing to go and comfort his friend, but delicately
conscious that for awhile at least he had better be left alone. But
the ensuing long and speechless silence frightened him. He had heard
of men, the bravest men, who finding life worthless had straightway
abandoned it. At the end of an hour he commenced to fear that
Cressingham had taken poison, and at last, unable to bear the stillness
any longer, he called out sharply, "Frank, there is a heap of telegrams
and letters here awaiting you."

With a feeling of relief and joy, he heard the door open and
Cressingham emerged from the bedroom, his face still melancholy indeed,
but now calm and impassive as of old. "Telegrams for me!" he said;
"from whom can they be? Perhaps my father is ill." He strode to the
open bureau, and one after another tore them open.

They were all from Colonel Elliott, and all contained the one message:
"I am bedridden. Please come and see me immediately on your receipt of
this."

The young man handed them to his friend. "My tasks are not yet over,"
he muttered sadly. "I must go and see the poor old gentleman. You will
excuse me, my friend?"

"Gladly; it is your duty, Frank."

"Ay, one that fills me with dread; but I shall get it over at once.
Good-bye, Ludwig."

"Good-bye, my friend--I shall wait here for your return."

A few moments afterwards Cressingham rapped on Colonel Elliott's door,
and was presently admitted and ushered into the library where he had
spent of old many sweet hours with Francine.

The grief which he had found so hard to repress in his own house
returned upon him in full flood then, but in acuter form. This was
Francine's favourite room, and tokens of her were everywhere in
evidence. Her tea-table rested in a corner, her work-box standing on
it open, as though she had a moment ago been interrupted and called
elsewhere. Upon the great armchair which she had used to occupy during
many a quiet chat with him, there reposed a glove which he knew was
hers, and it gave him a shock to think how much the Colonel must have
loved his daughter to have preserved undisturbed the room which she had
last quitted on the fatal evening which had been the prelude to her
strange subsequent adventures and her death.

Inspired by a sudden sentiment of romantic reverence he stooped above
the chair and silently pressed his lips to the velvet where her head
had often rested, feeling as he did so, with aching heart and eyes that
burned with the pain of unshed tears, that he was taking a last leave
of the sweet and perfect dead woman whom he had loved.

He was startled by a softly-uttered exclamation and sprang erect,
dashing his hands to his eyes, angry and ashamed that any one should
witness his emotion.

"Frank!" said the voice of a woman, a voice that made his heart stand
still with shock, with doubt and sharp unutterable fear, for it was a
voice from the grave.

He turned to see Francine as of old confronting him, only more
beautiful, more sweet, more kind, perhaps too a little more sad:
Francine, with a smile on her lips, with tears trembling on the long
black lashes of her eyes.

"My God--you, you!" he gasped hoarsely, not yet comprehending that she
was more than a phantom of his own imagination.

She held out her arms for answer, and slowly, doubtfully he advanced
towards her. But the real woman convinced him, and he had magnificent
compensation for all his grief and sadness of the past few weeks, in
drinking the sweetness of her lips, in holding her clasped to him in a
close and passionate embrace.

She told him her story soon, and its simplicity amazed him. Madame
Viyella, who, after the murder of Jibaloff and the ruthless destruction
of the Turkish yacht, had been seized with a sudden terror of her
father--a terror which had overwhelmed every other sense--in the
abandon of her mad and unreasoning panic had determined to risk
everything and fly from the accursed island, but nevertheless feared to
depart alone.

Unable to find Desiré, who was then actually embarked upon a similar
undertaking, she had forced Miss Elliott to be the companion of her
enterprise. After stealing the Count's key of the boat, and also
providing herself with a quantity of valuable jewels, she had half-led,
half-dragged Francine, who was still dazed and stupid from her swoon,
down from the castle to the beach, probably not many moments after
Cressingham had himself landed there.

Embarking on the nearest of the boats she had hoisted the sail, and in
spite of the rising gale, had fearlessly sailed out for the open sea,
steering a course to the north-west.

The night had been a dreadful one, during which Francine had lain in
the bottom of the tossing craft in all the horrors of sea-sickness, but
Madame had managed the boat with the skill and courage of a man, and
before evening of the next day they arrived without mishap safely in
the bay of San Remo.

There Madame had supplied the girl with a few pounds of ready money
and had herself departed, giving no hint of her destination. Francine
had at once made her way to London, and there arrived found to her
unutterable joy that her father had after all survived the effects
of the poison administered to him by Madame, and was then residing
in his own house, bedridden and still half paralyzed, but on a fair
way to complete recovery. She had then heard for the first time of
Cressingham's successful escape from the island, and the mission he had
undertaken to procure her own release.

Cressingham listened in speechless surprise to the girl's story,
lovingly holding her hands the while, and almost vainly endeavouring
to realize the splendid fortune which had come to him so blessedly and
unexpectedly. When all was told he was, in his turn, obliged to turn
historian and relate to Francine every detail of what had occurred to
him.

He asked smilingly at length: "Sweetheart, after my escape did you
receive a message from me?"

"By Desiré?"

"Yes."

The girl of a sudden withdrew her hands from his grasp and arose to
her feet. The hours had fled in their rapt converse, and the room was
already almost dark. "Frank," she said slowly, "what were you doing
when I came into this room and found you?"

The man flushed a little. "I'd rather not tell you," he muttered.

"You had better, if it was what I fancy, for I have a grievance against
you, dear."

"What is your grievance, sweetheart?"

"Tell me what you were doing!"

"I thought you were dead," he whispered. "I was--kissing the place
where your head had often rested. Now tell me your grievance, Francine."

The girl's eyes were luminous as she looked at him. "It is gone now,"
she murmured; "gone! that kiss of yours has washed its score away."

"It was not a great one then, sweetheart."

"Was it not? was it not? I vowed at one time never to speak to you,
never to look at you again, because of it."

"Francine, how could you make such a vow?"

"As easily as I shall again, and keep it, too--if you should ever dare
to be unfaithful to me so much as in a thought."

"You were jealous!" cried Cressingham, springing to his feet
delightedly; "jealous because I kissed Desiré. Oh, you beautiful
darling, how I love you for it!"

There was a catch in Francine's voice as she replied: "How could you do
it, Frank? Ah! your love must be different from mine! If I were to do
such a thing I would feel that I had committed the worst of crimes. Ah,
but I could not, I could not!"

Cressingham caught her passionately in his arms and his lips on hers he
whispered low: "Sweetheart, with this kiss I pledge my faith to you for
now and evermore! Darling, my darling! again, with this--and this!"

Francine was satisfied; and Cressingham--since his kisses were returned.



FINIS.


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