ILLUSTRATIONS BY BERT KNIGHT
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1908-09 by W. J. WATT & COMPANY
Published January, 1909
Two shall be born the whole wide world apart; And speak in different tongues, and have no thought Each of the other's being, and no heed; And these o'er unknown seas to unknown lands Shall cross, escaping wreck, defying death, And all unconsciously shape every act And lend each wandering step to this one end,— That, one day, out of darkness, they shall meet And read life's meaning in each other's eyes.
SUSAN MARR SPALDING.
I. A LADY OF QUALITY 11
II. A WARNING 22
III. TWO SHALL BE BORN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD APART 36
IV. DAN DERRINGTON'S STORY 45
V. IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CZAR 61
VI. A NIHILIST SPY 69
VII. FOR LOVE OF A WOMAN 85
VIII. THE PRINCESS' ORIENTAL GARDEN 101
IX. A SECRET INTERVIEW 122
X. SENTENCED TO DEATH 143
XI. FOR THE SAKE OF THE CZAR 159
XII. WHEN LOVE WAS BORN 177
XIII. LOVE WILL FIND A WAY 191
XIV. THE SCORN OF A WOMAN 205
XV. THE MURDER OF A SOUL 216
XVI. THE MOMENT OF VENGEANCE 234
XVII. LOVE, HONOR AND OBEY 249
XVIII. THE POWER OF THE FRATERNITY 265
XIX. PRINCE MICHAEL'S ANGER 276
XX. IN DEFIANCE OF THE CZAR 288
XXI. ONE EVENTFUL NIGHT 299
XXII. THE COMBAT IN THE SNOW 312
XXIII. WHAT THE CZAR FORGOT 322
XXIV. SABEREVSKI'S PROPHECY 335
A LADY OF QUALITY
The steamship Trave of the North German Lloyd docked at its Hoboken pier at eight o'clock one morning in December. Among the passengers who presently departed from the vessel was a woman who attracted unusual attention for the reason that she was accompanied by a considerable suite of retainers and servants who were for a time as busy as flies around a honey pot, caring for their mistress' baggage, and otherwise attending to the details of her arrival. Nor was it alone for this reason that all eyes were from time to time turned in her direction. There was about her a certain air of distinction, wealth, power and repose, which impressed itself upon the observers. Many there were who sought eagerly an opportunity to scan the features of this young woman's face, for that she was young, was immediately apparent, and the fact added not a little to the interest that was manifested in her.
The young woman, whoever she was, maintained an air of reserve which raised a barrier beyond which none of the curious might penetrate; and as if insolently disdainful of the attention she attracted, her face remained veiled; not too thickly, but effectively enough to set at naught these efforts of the curious throng.
A view of her face was, however, not required to determine in the minds of the beholders that she possessed more than ordinarily, the attractive feminine qualities. Her very presence told that; the air with which she moved about among her servitors; the simple gestures she made in giving her directions, and the quiet but resourceful and effective methods she used in administering her affairs, indicated that not only was she a person of great wealth, but that she was also high in place and in authority, and one who was accustomed to being obeyed.
Her costume was hidden entirely beneath the magnificent furs which enveloped her, and even the maid who attended upon her immediate wants was more elaborately gowned and wrapped than the average feminine personage of the western world is wont to be.
The immediate party of this distinguished passenger soon took its departure from the pier, leaving behind only those whose various duties consisted in caring for the seventy-odd pieces of baggage soon to be taken from the hold of the vessel; and this immediate party departed from the pier in carriages, for the hotel where accommodations had already been secured. The young woman and her maid occupied a conveyance by themselves; other maids followed in a second one, and a third contained two footmen, a courier and her official messenger.
At the hotel, where notice of her arrival in the city had been received, she was assigned to a suite of rooms which occupied the greater part of one entire floor and which included every convenience which the most illustrious personage travelling in the United States could have required, or would have found it possible to obtain.
The courier at once sought the hotel office and registered as follows:
Her Highness Princess Zara de Echeveria and suite, St. Petersburg.
And when his attention was called to the fact that the names of the entire party were required, he shrugged his shoulders and announced:
"I regret, sir, that I do not remember the names of all the persons who comprise her highness' suite, but I will supply you presently with a list of them."
In the parlor of the apartments occupied by the princess, her maid was removing the furs and wraps and making her mistress comfortable, for there is inevitably after a sea voyage, a few hours of fatigue which nothing but restful quiet and utter idleness will overcome; and therefore an hour or more later, when a visiting card was taken to the princess she did not even give herself the trouble to examine it, but said while she peered through half closed eyelids:
"Whoever it is, Orloff, say that I will not receive until four this afternoon."
Down below, in the office of the hotel, the gentleman who had sent up the card and who received this message in reply to it, shrugged his shoulders, glanced at the face of his watch to discover that it was yet barely noon-time, crossed to the book stall where he secured something to read and thereby while away the time, and then having sought a comfortable chair in a secluded corner deposited himself in it with an air of finality which indicated that he had no idea of departing from the hotel until after he had secured the solicited audience.
At four he sent a second card to the princess; at half past four he was admitted to her presence.
If the eyes of that curious throng of people who had watched her arrival at the steamship pier could have seen her then, when this man who had waited so long was shown into her presence, they would have been amply repaid for their admiring curiosity concerning her. It is trite to speak of a woman as being radiantly beautiful, commonplace to refer to it at all, save by implication, since feminine beauty is a composite attribute, vague and indefinable, and should possess no single quality to individualize it. Beauty such as that possessed by Princess Zara can neither be defined nor described. It is the tout ensemble of her presence and her personal charm.
Zara de Echeveria needed no adornment to emphasize the attractions of her gorgeous self. She was one of those rare women who are rendered more attractive by the absence of all ornament and her dark eyes were more luminous and brilliant than any jewel she might have worn. Her gown, though rich, was simplicity itself, and inasmuch as her servants had found time during the hours since their arrival, to decorate the rooms according to the princess' tastes, she was surrounded by much the same settings that would have been contained in her own palatial home at St. Petersburg. When it is said that she was barely twenty-five in years; that her father had been a Spanish nobleman in the diplomatic service at the Russian capital, and that her mother was of royal birth, we have an explanation for the exquisitely fascinating and almost voluptuous qualities of her beauty, as well as for her royal manner of command.
She did not leave her chair when this man was taken into her presence, but extended one small and perfectly formed hand upon which gleamed a solitary ring; the only jewel she wore that afternoon save a small pin in the lace at her throat, which was fashioned precisely after the same pattern as the ring.
The man lost no time in raising that beautiful hand to his lips, and he bowed low over it, with a courtly grace as distinguished in its gesture, as was her reception of him. One wondered why such a man as this had been contented to endure five idle hours of waiting upon her serene pleasure; and yet if one had looked past him to her, one might have ceased to wonder, and have thought a lifetime of waiting would be as nothing, if possession of her at the end of it could be its reward.
"It was kind of you to come to me so quickly after my arrival," she said to him in a low voice that was perfectly modulated.
"It was kinder of you to receive me, princess," he responded, stepping back again to the center of the room and standing tall and straight—before her in his commanding manhood. He was a handsome man, past fifty, distinguished, and like the princess he greeted, had about him the unquestionable air of authority.
"I am afraid I kept you waiting."
"One does not consider moments of waiting, if Princess Zara be the object of it," he retorted, smiling.
"Won't you be seated?"
"Thank you; yes."
He drew a chair forward so that they sat nearly facing each other across a low table upon which many of the princess' personal effects had already been arranged. Among them was a box of Russian cigarettes which she now indicated by a gesture, while with a smile which lighted her face wonderfully and gave to it that added charm that is indescribable, she said:
"There are some of your favorite cigarettes, Saberevski. I had you in mind when I included them among my personal baggage, having no doubt that I should encounter you when I should arrive in this country; but little thinking that you would be the first to greet me. You will pardon me for not indulging in one of them myself, for you know that I have never acquired the habit. Nevertheless they will perhaps suggest to you the flavor of home, and may transport you for a moment to the scenes which I know you are longing for."
"Thank you, princess," he replied, and lighted one. Then he leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and for a time there was utter silence between these two. The man seemed indeed to have been transported in thought, to his native environment, not so much by the odor and flavor of the cigarette he puffed with such calm enjoyment, as by the presence of this magnificent creature who confronted him so daintily, and who received him so simply and yet so grandly. "You knew, then, that I was here in New York, princess?" he asked of her presently, peering at her through the smoke he was making; and he smiled comfortably across the distance that separated them.
"I knew you were in America, Saberevski; and to me America means New York. I believed that you would not be long in making yourself known to me after my arrival, for I knew that the papers would announce it, and that your—shall I call it your duties?—would require that you should not permit my presence here to pass unnoticed."
The man shrugged his shoulders, indulging himself in another smile as he replied:
"It is hardly kind of you to attribute this call to duty on my part. When I am in your presence I find myself wishing that there were no such things as duties to be performed. When I look at you, Zara, I wish that I were young again, and that I might throw duty to the winds and enter the list against all others who seek you."
An expression of annoyance, as fleeting as it was certain, came into her eyes, and she replied with a little show of impatience:
"Spare me that sort of thing, Saberevski. One does not always wish to hear such expressions as that; and coming from you, addressed to me, they are not pleasant."
"Not even when you know them to be sincere, Zara? I spoke in the past tense, and only of what might have been were the disparity of our years less, and if the environment by which we are respectively surrounded could have been different."
"In other words," she smiled back at him, now recovered from her impatience, "if the world had been created a different one, and if we were not ourselves; as we are."
"Precisely," he replied, and laughed.
"I did not even look at your card when it was brought to me," she said, with an abrupt change of the subject; "had I done so I would not have kept you waiting so long. Tell me something about yourself, Saberevski; and why it is that you have deemed it wise, or perhaps necessary to become an expatriate, and to deprive St. Petersburg and all who are there, of your presence and your wise counsels."
"I am afraid it is too long a story and hardly worth the telling at that. St. Petersburg has tired of me. I am better away from it, and it is much better with me away; believe me."
"And his majesty, the czar? Is he also of that opinion, my friend?"
"His majesty, the czar, does me the honor, princess, to approve of my present plans and conduct," replied Saberevski with slow and low toned emphasis.
Alexis Saberevski leaned forward in his chair to secure another of the cigarettes, and having lighted it with studied deliberation, resumed his former position gazing between half closed eyelids toward Princess Zara. It was quite evident that he had gone to her with a distinct purpose in view which he meant to fulfill before his departure; and it was plain to be seen that Zara appreciated the fact. While he was silent, she waited, but with a half smile upon her beautiful face, that was quizzical and somewhat whimsical, as if in her secret heart she was aware of the purpose of his errand but for reasons of her own did not wish to anticipate it. And he read her correctly, too. He believed that she understood him even better than he knew her; but viewed from his own standpoint he had a duty to perform in regard to her, and he had gone there to fulfill it.
"Zara," he said, "when I saw the announcement of your intended visit to this country——"
"Pardon me, Saberevski," she interrupted him; "but did the knowledge of my expected visit come to you through a printed announcement, or were you informed of it even before the printers had set the type?"
"I see that I must be quite frank with you," he laughed.
"Between friends frankness is always best," she retorted.
"In that case I will begin again, princess."
"It would be better—and wiser."
"When I was informed of your anticipated visit to this country I decided that I would be the first to welcome you here, and in making that decision I had a double purpose."
"One of them only, need interest us at this moment, and that is purely a personal one. You know, Zara, how I have always regarded you, and how I do so now. Your father was my best friend; your mother—it is perhaps unnecessary that I should be more explicit regarding her."
"Yes, Saberevski," said Zara in a low tone. "I know that you loved my mother, and that all your life you have remained true to your adoration of her, even though she never returned it; but go on."
"I love you, Zara, more perhaps than I admit to myself; more profoundly than it would be wise for me to tell you, or agreeable for you to hear; but in the admiration and esteem I feel for you, there is included no sentiment which could offend you."
"I know that, my friend."
"I would like to talk with you quite openly for once, Zara, in order that you may comprehend perfectly where I stand, and because I do not wish you to misconstrue any assertion I shall make, or to attribute to any one of them, another motive than I intend."
"I think you may be assured of that."
"You guessed correctly a moment ago, about my receiving intelligence concerning your visit here, before the compositors set the type of the announcement; but the intelligence was incorporated among other things that were conveyed to me in the same manner, and by the same message. It had no direct significance, and beyond the mere statement of the fact, there was no comment. I was not directed to call upon you, and in fact there was no suggestion made that bore directly upon your presence here. But, Zara, the mere statement of your intention conveyed to me very many suggestions which I have come here to-day to make known to you. I believe it to be my clear duty to do so."
"Well, my friend?"
"You know who and what I have been, and am. Always close to the person of the czar; for very many years deeply in his confidence, and possessing I believe his friendship to an extraordinary degree, it has been my pleasure as well as my duty to serve my emperor in many secret ways which our little world at St. Petersburg does not know or appreciate. The fact that I am at present an expatriate, as you have so aptly stated, is due to reasons which I need not explain, and which do not concern us just now. The fact that I am one, has stationed me in New York by choice, and not by direction; but I thank God that I am here to greet you upon your arrival because I hope by very plain speaking to change a course you have determined upon, and to induce you——"
"Wait one moment, Saberevski. Don't you think that you are getting rather beyond your depth? I appreciate all that you are trying so vainly to tell me. I know of your personal interest in me, and I honor you and thank you for it. But it is not like Alexis Saberevski to hesitate over a statement he has decided to make, and if I am not mistaken you began this discourse with a determination to be frank. Might I suggest that you make yourself more plain?"
"I have been called a diplomat of the first order, Zara," he replied, with a smile, "but your straight-forward methods, and my resolute purpose, make my course of procedure somewhat difficult. I will, however, be entirely frank."
"That is better."
"Zara de Echeveria, Alexis Saberevski informs you now that he knows you to be high in the councils of the nihilists."
Was there a suggestion of pallor for an instant upon the countenance of the princess? Was there a quick but imperceptible intaking of her breath? Was there a deepening in the expression of her matchless eyes, and an imperceptible widening of them, as they dwelt upon her companion? Was there a stiffening of her figure in its attitude of quiet repose, and did her muscles attain a sudden rigidity, induced by that startling announcement? Saberevski could not have answered any one of these questions. So perfectly were the features and the facial expression of Princess Zara under her control that she outwardly betrayed no sign of the effect of the announcement. And yet it might well have affected her most deeply; might have startled her even into a cry of terror; should have filled her with instant fear, because this man who made it was one, who in his former official capacity could have condemned almost any person in Russia to exile by a gesture, or a word. And Zara did not doubt that his official capacity still obtained. She knew him to be an expatriate as she had announced. She understood that for some reason, not apparent, he had become a voluntary exile from his native country and city, and might never again return to the scenes he loved best. But she also knew that he was no less closely in the confidence of the Russian emperor, and could never be any the less inimical to the enemies of the czar. A statement such as he had made, coming from him, charging her with complicity in revolutionary acts which had for their object the assassination of the Russian ruler and his possible successors, contained an implied threat more terrible in its consequences than any other one which could have been made; more terrible to her, personally, than to any other person against whom it might have been made, because she knew by the experiences of one of her girl friends, to what extremities of mental and moral torture a Siberian exile may be condemned.
She made no reply. She remained perfectly motionless and silent, waiting for him to continue.
"You need not deny me, Zara, for I know," he went on presently. "How the knowledge came to me does not matter, and has no connection with this interview. But I know. That knowledge has created the duty which I have come to you to-day to perform. I want you to abandon your present pursuits. Whatever the purpose of your visit to America may be, I beg that you will forego it. I do not seek any confession, or even a statement from you, upon this subject. Indeed I should prefer that you make none. You cannot please me better than by listening to me in silence, so that when I leave you presently, you will know and I will know, that I will have no more knowledge concerning you and your entanglements with those people, than I possessed before I came. I would have it that way. I would have it no other way."
She nodded her head, gazing at him intently, but with that same changeless expression of impersonal interest, as if she were listening to the discussion of a third party who was not known to her save by name. _ "Zara," he continued, "you will receive other cards than mine to-day, and you should know that every man or woman who will call upon you in behalf of the nihilists, is marked and known. You cannot engage in the business that brought you here, and afterward return to Russia in safety. The secret police of our empire extends all over the world, and is as efficient in the city of New York, as it is in Moscow or St. Petersburg, so far as its requirements demand. I warn you, not in behalf of your party, the principals of which I despise and abhor; not in behalf of any individual member of that revolutionist sect, but wholly in behalf of Zara de Echeveria, the daughter of my best friend, the offspring of the only woman I ever loved. To-day while I talk to you, I am not Alexis Saberevski the friend of the czar, but I am Alexis Saberevski _your_ friend. I have stepped outside my duty; I have taken it upon myself to come here to perform what may be a disloyal act to my emperor, in order to warn you against a course which can have but one end, and which can bring you to but one fate—Siberia."
He left his chair and stood beside her. He reached down and took one of her hands, pressing it between the palms of both his own.
"Zara," he said, with deep-toned feeling, "in some ways you are like a daughter to me; in others you are the reincarnation of the woman I loved so dearly. I love you for yourself, and for the sake of those two who gave you life. I shall never plead with you again. My duty will probably nevermore call me into your presence. When we part this day, it is likely to be for the last time. If danger befalls you because of the conditions you create through this entanglement, I cannot go to your rescue, or even to your assistance. I speak to you as with a voice from the grave, beseeching you in the names of your father and mother, to heed what I have said."
"You have forgotten——" She began impetuously to answer, but he unclasped one hand from hers, long enough to make a warning gesture, and enunciated the one word: "Hush! Remember, Zara, you are not to speak until I have finished, and then upon a different subject. But I will answer your unspoken thought, for I read it in your manner. I have not forgotten your little friend Yvonne; nor Stanislaus, her brother. Indeed, my child, this very scene reminds me of it, and renders all the more imperative the duty I am seeking to perform. Let the terrible fate of that poor girl appeal to you. Let the awful end of Stanislaus be a warning. Vengeance should have no part or place in your heart, even though you believe that they cry out to you from their graves to undertake it. But they do not do that, Zara, and if either or both of them could speak now, they would voice the sentiments I have expressed, and emphasize the warnings I have given. Go back to your home in St. Petersburg, my child, and leave politics alone. Alexander, the czar, admires you and esteems you, but I who am his friend, warn you that the admiration and esteem of monarchs can be no more relied upon than the shifting fogs of the Gulf of Finland."
Again Princess Zara would have spoken, for her dark eyes lighted with a sudden fire and she half started from her chair with an eagerness that was impetuously expressive. But Saberevski retained his clasp upon her hands, and without seeming to do so, restrained her where she was; after a moment he added:
"Now, if you please we will change the subject. My duty as I saw it, has been performed, and nothing remains to be said. In a few moments I will leave you, and when I do so, we will probably part for the last time. Now, Zara, tell me something about yourself."
There was a suspicion of tears in her upturned eyes as she looked at him from out of their glowing depths, but she took him at his word, and with a visible effort brought back the smile to her countenance as he returned to his chair at the opposite side of the table.
"There is little to tell you of myself, Saberevski," she replied, while he helped himself to another cigarette. "You know what my life is, even though you have been absent from home almost a year."
"Yes," he said, smiling, "one round of pleasures, and of conquest. Adorers waiting for you on every hand; lovers perhaps——"
"No; not lovers," she interrupted him. "There is no place for them, Saberevski," and a shade of sadness which he attributed to the memory of Stanislaus, clouded her eyes for a moment. Had he but known however, it was no recollection of that young officer of the czar's household, to whom reference has already been made and to whom Zara was once betrothed, that affected her. It was a deeper and more far-reaching consideration that brought the expression of pain for an instant into her eyes, and she longed to cry out the truth to her companion, then and there.
Had she done so, her statement would have been something like this:
"There is no room in my heart for a lover, for the reason that the cause I have espoused fills it completely. The people whose wrongs I seek to redress, the victims whose wandering souls cry out for vengeance, and the women exiles in frozen Siberia whose fates are too terrible to relate, fill my whole heart and being so completely as to leave no room for personal love."
She would have said that, and much more, but she restrained herself; and he rose to take his departure.
She gave him both her hands, and in a low tone that was full of suppressed feeling, she said to him, at parting:
"Do not think, my friend, that I have failed to appreciate all the goodness of your motives in coming to me to-day. From my heart I thank you, and if it should be as you say, that we may never meet again, although I see no reason for such a thing, I wish you to know that in parting, Zara de Echeveria admired and esteemed you above all other men of her acquaintance. Good-bye."
TWO SHALL BE BORN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD APART
We need recite but one other interview which Princess Zara undertook that day. Several follow upon it, and there were many such during her stay of more than a week in New York City.
Many came, were received and went away again; and the princess herself was frequently abroad in the streets, or at places of amusement, or was entertained by those who worship at the shrine of nobility.
But there was one who called upon her the evening of the day of Saberevski's interview, to which it is necessary that we should refer. He came at ten o'clock, and was expected, for he was conducted to her presence immediately and was received without question, although it would have been immediately plain to an observer that these two had never met before.
The things which they discussed were largely technical, and had to do with the conduct and activities of various nihilistic agents who were scattered about over the world, outside of Russia. He was a man whose name does not appear again in this story and which therefore need not be mentioned now, but he was nevertheless one well known at the courts of Europe, and on the streets of New York and Washington.
At the end of their discussion and interchange of confidences, when he rose to leave her and she gave him her hand, he said, recurring to the subject of their conversation:
"Princess, if we had others like you, as sincere in their efforts for the betterment of our people, nihilism would soon become the dominant factor of Russian politics, and official oppression would cease to exist. If we had others like you, as good and as beautiful as you are, the czar would abdicate, or would consent to give us a parliament. As it is, the struggle has only just begun, and I greatly fear that neither I nor you, young though you are, will live to see its end."
"Thank you," she said. "I understand thoroughly what you mean. It is true that I am heart and soul in this movement. It is equally true that I am prepared to devote my fortune and my life to an attainment of the ends we seek."
"Are you an extremist?" he asked her. "We have not touched upon that part of the subject as yet, princess."
"If you mean by that expression, do I seek the life of Alexander? I could answer you in the affirmative without hesitation; but I would have to confess that my desire for vengeance upon him is more of a personal quality, than of a political character. I am mindful of the fact that we cannot destroy a tree by lopping off one of its branches, and whenever a czar is dead, another lives to take his place and to permit the injustices practiced in his name, to continue. He is like the hydra-headed monster of childhood's tales, and another head grows as fast as one may be cut off."
"You are a beautiful woman, princess, and with that aid alone you should accomplish much."
"Yes," she admitted, as calmly as if he had referred to a ring she wore on her hand; "but I find that to be the most unpleasant character of my employment. To use such beauty as I have, and such attractions as I possess, for the winning of men to our cause, whether they be officials or nobles, is hateful to me; and yet I do not hesitate."
"It is not a difficult task for men to join the nihilists because of love for you; I could, myself, almost forsake it, did you ask such a sacrifice."
"Shame on you!" she stormed at him, snatching away her hand and darting out of his reach. "Shame on you for that! Those were treacherous words, and I expected them least of all, from you. You make me ashamed; ashamed for you, and for the cause I uphold. Are all men so weak, and so easily led? Does the mere beauty of a woman make cowards of them all? Could a pair of flashing eyes, or the touch of soft hands, change the destinies of an empire?"
"They have done so more than once, princess."
"You make me hate myself—and you."
"I am afraid that you took me too literally," he said, with perfect composure, for although he knew that he had angered her, she was yet so beautiful in her impetuous resentment of his words that he was lost in admiration. Indeed he had uttered no more than the truth when he told her that he might even forsake the cause if such a woman as Zara could have been his reward; and he knew by long years of experience, that he uttered the sentiments of nine men out of ten who might fall under her influence.
"My mission is accomplished here," she told him, "and already my passage is engaged for the return voyage. I leave New York at once and I shall probably never return to it. What you have told me of the measures taken in our behalf, has encouraged me greatly; and yet because of one thing you have said, I dread the return to St. Petersburg."
"What was that, princess?"
"I must correct myself. You intimated it; you did not say it."
"What was it?"
"You suggested, in one statement you made, that you had reason to fear that the spy-system as arrayed against us at home, might be augmented by the addition of skilled operators and experts from this country. I had thought that we nihilists had a monopoly of that sort of employment, and that the czar and his nobles could claim only the loyalty of their own spies. But your suggestion fills me with doubt and dread. If Alexander were to introduce imported spies among our people——"
He interrupted the princess by laughing heartily.
"Again you took me too literally," he asserted. "Here and there, there may be one who will seek Russia and the czar for such employment, but it will be for the emolument it will bring, and cannot be induced by patriotic sentiment. We would have little cause to dread such people, since we would not be long in identifying them, and ultimately I believe they would assist, rather than retard our efforts."
"There can be no doubt of your own loyalty to our cause, princess?"
"Are the others like you? Pardon me, there can be no others like you for there could never be another so beautiful and fascinating as you are. But are there others of your acquaintance high in position, who are working for the cause as diligently as you are?"
"They are many. Their name is legion."
They parted then. He to go about his several duties among the nihilistic sympathizers who could not return to Russia without including Siberia in their itinerary, and she to stride across the room and stand for a long time facing herself in the mirror, studying the features of her own beautiful face in an effort to detect there the fascinating qualities before which all men with whom she came in contact seemed so ready to succumb.
But her eyes were cold and hard as she regarded her own reflection in the glass. There was a fire in their depths which could have attracted no man, and which would have repelled all alike, for it was threatening and sombre.
Zara de Echeveria almost hated herself at that moment. Hated the beauty which gave her such power, and which exerted the magic that made slaves of men.
The hour came when she entered a carriage again to be driven to the steamship wharf; when she stood upon the deck near the rail, and gazed, as she honestly believed, over the house tops of a city she would never see again.
Fate, however, had builded differently for her, although she did not guess it; and she was going now to meet it as fast as the throbbing engines of the mechanical monster could bear her forward.
When the great bulk of the vessel swung into the current of the North river, and she turned her eyes once more toward the wharf it had left, a waving hand attracted her attention, and she recognized the tall form of Alexis Saberevski as he bade her adieu. Beside him on the pier was another figure, as tall and as straight as Saberevski's, and she saw them turn away together and walk up the pier until they were lost in the crowd.
She did not know, then, that the other tall figure of a man was the one into whose arms she was fleeing, even though she left him there, unknown, upon that North river wharf, while she sailed away to the other side of the world.
And he could foresee as little.
But such is Fate.
DAN DERRINGTON'S STORY
I had known Alexis Saberevski in St. Petersburg; I had known him again in Paris. I had, in fact, encountered him at one time or another in almost every capital of Europe, and I was therefore not greatly surprised when, having just left the dining table at my club in my own native city, New York, his card was given to me with the information that the gentleman was waiting in the reception room.
I had him up at once, with the courtesies of the club extended to him, and finding that he had dined, we ensconced ourselves in the depths of a pair of huge chairs which occupied one of the secluded corners of the library, each equally delighted to be again in the company of the other. We had never known each other intimately, and yet we were friends; friends after that fashion which sometimes comes between men of pronounced characteristics, and which finds its expression in the form of a silent confidence, and an undoubted pleasure in each other's company.
I knew Saberevski to be a particularly strong man. Strong in the highest and best acceptation and meaning of that word, for he was a giant in intellect and in character.
He was also a mystery, and this fact possibly rendered him all the more interesting to one whose business it had always been to solve mysteries. I do not mean by that that I had ever made any effort to delve into the secrets of Saberevski's past, or to read without his knowledge and consent, any portion of that history which he kept so carefully veiled; but the mere fact that an air of mystery did pervade his presence, imparted to him a certain fascinating quality which might not otherwise have been apparent.
I had not encountered him for several years, and our last parting had occurred in front of Browne's hotel, Piccadilly, standing near the entrance from Albemarle street. As I received his card from the club servant, the words he had uttered at that hour of parting returned to me, for I had made a mental note of them, at the time regarding them as being of much more import than was nakedly expressed, coming from such a man. He had said: "I shall probably never return to St. Petersburg or pass across the border of Russia again, Derrington; but I may, and probably will some day, find myself in New York; when I do, you shall know of it." That day when I received his card, the last words he had uttered to me recurred to my mind, and it was with unmixed pleasure that I presently greeted him. I knew that there had been a time when he was high in place at the court of his native city, St. Petersburg; I knew that he had been prominent in the favor of Czar Alexander, and I had no doubt that he was so still, notwithstanding the positive assertion once made by him that he would probably never pass the borders of Russia again. But this was only another phase of the mystery that surrounded him, and it belittled not at all my estimation of the man's character, and the power he could sway if he chose to do so. How deeply he was, even at that moment, in the confidence of the Russian emperor, I was one day to understand, although the moment of comprehension was many months distant from me then.
He had dined and so we had cigars served to us in that cozy corner where, with a table which held a box of them, together with some liquid refreshments and other conveniences, we settled ourselves for an uninterrupted chat.
"It is good to see you, old chap," he told me in his frank and hearty way; "good to be with you again; to feel the clasp of your hand and to hear your hearty laugh. I have been thinking about you considerably of late, and this morning when I found that my wandering life had dropped me down in your city, I determined to look you up at once. In my baggage I found your card which contained this club address; and here I am." His big, hearty, infectious laugh rang through the room.
There was no need to tell him of my own delight in his presence. My manner of greeting him had demonstrated that without any question of doubt. Presently he asked me:
"What is your particular avocation just now, Derrington? Are you still at the old game?"
"Still at the old game," I replied, nodding my head solemnly. "I suppose I will always be at it in one way or another."
"Your government won't let you go very far away from its reach," he said, with a quizzical smile.
"Oh, the government! I have cut it, Alexis."
"What? Left the service?"
"Temporarily," I replied, and he laughed again as loudly as before. There was reason for his levity, because placing my resignation in the hands of the secretary had become a habit with me. I was periodically depressed by the duties of a secret service agent and as often determined to leave the service for good. But as often, I had returned to it upon the request of one department or another of my government, when my services were required in the line of some particular duty which officialdom was pleased to assure me could not be so well accomplished by any other person of its acquaintance. That was why Alexis Saberevski laughed.
"Is your resignation still on file? Or is it only lying on the table awaiting action, Daniel?" he asked me, and there was just a touch of ironic suggestion in his manner, which nettled me.
"The resignation is a fact this time," I replied. "I have earned a period of rest, and I propose to take it."
"Going abroad, Derrington?"
"Prefer to undergo the process of dry rot, here in New York?"
"Yes; for a time at least."
"Is there nothing on the other side of the water, that attracts you?"
"Nothing at all."
He switched his right leg to his left knee and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
"You're not a lazy chap, Dan," he remarked, as if he were deeply considering the verity of that statement. "One wouldn't pick you out as a blase individual who is tired of everything the world has to offer. You are as filled with energy and nervous force as any chap I ever knew; and you are not yet thirty-five."
"Quite true," I admitted.
"Yet, like a craft that has fought its way through stormy seas around the world, you sit there and try to assure me that you are content to tie up against a rotting wharf, in an odorous slip, and pass the rest of your days in inaction. It isn't like you, Dan."
"It looks very enticing to me just now, however."
"The trouble is," he said, "that your American diplomacy and your amazing politics over here, offer no opportunities to a man of your talents. You should go against the pricks of European intrigue. You ought to butt in, as you fellows express it, upon French statecraft which leaves nothing to be desired in the way of double dealings. You should try Austrian lies, or German brutalities, or Italian and Spanish sophistry, or English stupidity. Believe me, one of these would offer many points of interest which should interest and engage your attention."
"Why not Russian cruelty?" I asked. "That seems to be the only important nationality you have omitted."
"Why not?" he repeated after me.
"You seem to have tired of it yourself, Saberevski."
He shrugged his shoulders, leaning back in his chair, and the suggestion of a shadow passed across his handsome face.
"Dan," he said with an entire change of tone that startled me into renewed interest, "I haven't any doubt that you have always regarded me as a queer sort of chap, more or less shrouded by a mystery you could not fathom. And you were right."
"I have never——" I began. But he raised a hand to arrest me.
"I know it," he said. "You do not need to assure me of that. You are too much of a man, and your character is too broad and deep, for you ever to attempt an intimacy which was not invited. But it is my pleasure just now, old man, to give you a little bit of my history. It may interest you. And it may lead to a change in your views; not regarding you, but in connection with myself. I am a much older man than you are; fifteen years and more, I should say. All my life, up to the time we last parted, has been passed in the personal service of his majesty, the czar. I have been as close to him as any man can ever obtain, and I am probably the only one who has enjoyed his confidence to the extent of retaining it in the face of studied opposition on the part of the greatest nobles of the empire. But I have retained it, Dan, and to such an extent that I suppose myself to be the only man living to-day, against whom Alexander would not permit himself to be influenced. There is a reason for it and a good one, but I need not go into that."
"No," I said. "You need not tell me this at all, Alexis. I am quite glad enough to see you and to have you here, without explanation."
He made a gesture of impatience.
"As if I did not know that," he added; "but as I said a moment ago, it is my pleasure to recite some of these things to you, because since I came into this room and grasped your hand I have been impressed by the idea that there is a great work for you to do; a great duty for you to perform. A stupendous obstacle to human development exists in one part of Europe to-day, which I believe you could overcome and demolish, if only you could be convinced of it. I wonder, Dan, if you would give the subject any thought if I were to suggest it to you?"
"Try," I said.
"I wonder if you would seriously consider one of the greatest achievements that remains undone in Europe to-day," he added, meditatively.
"The obstacle to which you just now referred?" I asked.
"What is it?"
"Hell!" I replied with emphasis.
But he took me literally, and not even the suggestion of a smile showed in his face as he replied:
"That is the fitting word, Dan. It is hell. It is worse than that to hundreds of thousands of human beings, from the lowest mujik of the steppes, to the czar himself. It is a word which carries with it a certain magic which always spells the word death. It is death to those who antagonize it, and it is death to them that uphold it. It is death to the minister, the governor, the official, and it is death to the poor devil who plots in the dark, secretly with his fellows, against the powers that rule him. Nihilism is well named, for it means nothing and it ends in nothing. Nihilo nihil fit! Whoever named the revolutionists of Russia so, builded better than they knew."
I was watching Saberevski with some amazement. I had never heard him express himself in such terms before, and I had not supposed him capable, sympathetically, of doing so. I was not without a certain fund of knowledge regarding the subject he had introduced, for my professional duties had taken me more than once into Russia, and I had encountered much of the conditions he described. But I regarded them, as well as Saberevski himself, with the American idea and from an American standpoint. It had always seemed to me so unnecessary that conditions should exist as I had heard them described over there. I had always believed that if the government of Russia would only go about the work differently, it would be so easy to eradicate every phase of the so-called nihilism, and especially that branch of it practiced by those who are called extremists. Evidently Saberevski entertained something of this view himself, although from the standpoint of a Russian, for he ended a short silence between us by saying:
"I have not finished what I was going to tell you, Dan. I have served Alexander, the czar, many years, and served him faithfully. There are reasons now why I can serve him no longer, in the capacity and at the places where he needs me most. My life which is of small moment, and his who is my royal master, would not be worth the weight of a feather if I were to show my face at St. Petersburg again. There is nothing remaining for me to do save to sit down quietly in some far country of the world, and watch from a distance the passing of events which some day, near or far as the case may be, will end in his assassination. What my work has been and what it would still be if I could remain near to his imperial majesty, you can guess, and I need not give it a name. But Dan, if I could succeed in convincing you of the opportunity that would be yours if you should go there, and if I could know that you had gone, determined to offer your services where they are most needed, then that far corner of the world where I would wait and watch events, would become a peaceful spot to me, for I know that you could succeed where all others have failed."
Alexis Saberevski and I had many such conversations as that one, after that, in which we discussed pro and con the suggestion he had made.
It grew upon me and grew upon me until I became obsessed by the idea although I did not think that he guessed my eagerness.
He remained in New York, and virtually became my guest at the club, during more than two months, and we were as constantly together as was possible and convenient.
One afternoon while we were chatting as usual, I called his attention to a paragraph I had seen in the Herald of that morning which announced the arrival in New York of a Russian princess. The fact had not interested me, but recalling at the instant the idea that she was most likely known to my friend, I said:
"Saberevski, one of your countrywomen, a princess whose name escapes me for I did not notice it particularly, arrived in the city this morning, and is at one of the hotels. I mention it because you may not have seen the notice, and might like to pay your respects to her. You will find her name and a column or more of other information concerning her, in this morning's Herald."
"Thank you," he said, "I will look it up."
More than a week later while I was walking down Fifth avenue, a hansom cab stopped at the curb beside me, and Saberevski's face looked out.
"Jump in, Dan," he said. "I want you to take a ride with me;" and with no thought of hesitation, I complied. I did not even ask to be told our destination and was somewhat surprised when our conveyance stopped at one of the North river steamship piers.
"You are not leaving the country, are you, Alexis?" I asked, as we got down.
"No," he replied; "but someone I know is leaving. Will you walk to the end of the pier with me, or will you wait here?" I recalled, later, that even then he left the choice to me.
I accompanied him to the end of the pier. I asked no question concerning the person he had referred to, as sailing that day, and thought it rather strange that he seemed to seek no one, and expressed no desire to go aboard the vessel then about ready to steam away.
When it had swung into the stream I ran my glance along the decks of the vessel from stem to stern, seeking a waving hand or a gesture of farewell directed towards my friend. But I saw none to which he seemed to respond, until the ship was well into the current, when he suddenly raised his hand and waved it.
At the same instant he took me by the arm and we returned to our conveyance.
The following day at the club he came to me and placed a sealed envelope in my hand. It bore no address or superscription of any kind; but he said in giving it to me:
"Dan, I wish you would put this sealed envelope inside one of your pockets and carry it with you carefully until the time arrives to open it."
"When will that be?" I asked him.
"It will be when, some day in the future, you shall be about to depart from the city of St. Petersburg." And as I showed some astonishment in my face, he continued: "Fate, or inclination, will take you there again, sometime, and the day will naturally follow when you will leave it. Count this sealed envelope as one of the mysteries in which I delight to wrap myself. But remember what I have asked you to do."
"Repeat it," I said to him.
"When you are about to take your departure from the city of St. Petersburg, if you should go there again, break the seal of this envelope and read the contents of a message I have written; or if your business should detain you there continuously, read it anyhow after six months. That is all."
"And if I should not go there?" I asked him.
"In that case, keep the letter until you see me again, and return it unopened."
Some months later I was in St. Petersburg.
IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CZAR
I had been in St. Petersburg less than an hour and was still pondering over the uncertainty of what first to do in order to begin the difficult task that I had set for myself, when I was startled by a sharp summons at my door.
It opened before I could respond, and a total stranger entered the room. That he was an officer of that mysterious force known as the Russian Secret Police I had not a doubt, but I greeted him courteously, pretending not to see that there were others with him, who waited in the hallway.
"I believe I have the honor of addressing Mr. Derrington," he said in perfect English, making use of my true name which however, was not the one mentioned in my passports, for I had crossed the border under the name of Smith. I bowed and indicated a chair which he declined with a wave of his hand but with a smile that was as genial as his face was masterful and handsome. "Perhaps you prefer to be called Mr. Smith," he continued. "It is, I understand, the name that is mentioned in your papers."
"For the present, yes," I replied.
"I regret that I am compelled to place you under arrest, Mr. Smith, but such is my unfortunate duty. You will have to take a short drive with me. I hope that you will not be detained beyond your patience. Take your wraps, and we will go at once if you please."
"Certainly. Shall I leave the keys to my baggage here?" I knew Russia and I did not protest.
"Thank you, yes; it will simplify matters. I have friends here who will take charge of your rooms until you return, or——" He did not finish the sentence but that inimitable smile shone upon me again and somewhat assured me, in spite of the fact that my perfect knowledge of Russian affairs rendered me thoroughly aware of my peril.
We were presently in the street and driving rapidly away; whither, I did not know, for my companion pulled down the curtains so that I could see nothing of the scenes through which we were passing. I tried to keep note in my mind of the turns we made, and to remember the streets we traversed, but it was useless and I was convinced that my conductors were purposely confusing me. This conviction forced upon me another; that my escort, or the people who had sent him to me, were informed regarding my past, and had somehow learned that I knew St. Petersburg as well as they did.
During the drive which lasted nearly an hour we remained perfectly silent. I knew how utterly useless it would be to question the man at my side, and he volunteered not a word. Presently the pace was increased until the horses were on a run through the streets; then suddenly we flew around a corner at breakneck speed and stopped so abruptly that I was thrown forward on my face in spite of the robes in which I was swaddled. At the same moment I heard a gate clang shut behind us and was respectfully bidden to alight.
Night had just fallen when we left the hotel, and in the grim courtyard where I found myself after the ride there was nothing discernible save the shadowy forms of my abductors, the champing, foam-flecked horses, and the somber walls of a huge building which loomed up on three sides of me. I had very little time for thought, for my companion took me familiarly by one arm and led me forward until we passed through a door which I did not see until it swung open before us. Then it closed as silently and as magically as it had opened, and I was led onward through darkness that was absolute, through corridors and rooms, at last emerging upon a dimly lighted hall, which seemed almost brilliant by comparison. There we paused and waited.
"This does not seem like a prison," I said.
"No; but it has often led to one," he replied grimly. "One word of advice to you before we proceed."
"I shall appreciate it. Heaven knows I need it."
"Do not on any account ask a single question during the experiences of the next half hour. Forget that there is such a thing as an interrogation. Perhaps, if you heed what I say, I may have the pleasure of riding back to your hotel with you."
I did not have time to reply, for a door opened and we started forward again, passing from room to room, each better lighted than the last, until finally we entered one that was occupied. A man—a very large man—was seated at a desk, and he raised his eyes as we entered his presence. Never in my life was I so astonished as at that moment for I recognized him at a glance.
I was in the presence of the czar.
There was a very good reason for my astonishment. I had gone to St. Petersburg in the hope of obtaining an audience with the Emperor of all the Russias, but I had anticipated some difficulty in securing it, nor did I even wish for it in such a forcible and unsought manner. It was because I desired to keep the object of my visit a close secret that I had travelled incognito, and as I had imparted my secret to no living human being, I was naturally astounded that my object should be so quickly attained. A mental question shot through me in that instant when I realized where I was: In what manner could any person have learned of the true reason for my visit? and if it had not been learned and transmitted to the czar, why was I conducted to the august presence? At the same instant I comprehended that it would be the best policy for me to appear not to know in whose presence I was, so I simply inclined my head in the coldest bow I could master.
"You speak Russian?" he demanded imperiously, advancing a step towards me.
"Perfectly," I replied.
"Daniel Derrington." I purposely made my reply as curt as his question, and I saw the shadow of a smile flit across his features. I knew then that I had taken the right course with him.
"What is your nationality?"
"I am an American."
"Do you know who I am?"
"I do, your majesty." This time I bowed with more show of ceremony, but he waved his hand commandingly, and in a voice much softer than he had used before, went on:
"Forget that you do know. It is more than likely that we will have many interviews of this kind and I wish them all to be on the plane of equals. That, I believe, is a condition which will come quite naturally to an American although it would be utterly impossible to a European. Are you as well acquainted with the identity of your companion?"
"I regret to say that I am not," I replied, relapsing into my former manner.
"Then permit me to introduce you. Mr. Derrington, the Prince Michael Michaelovitch Gortshakoff. And now that you know each other, we will proceed. But first, be seated."
My business during several years had taken me into astonishing situations, but never into one so astounding as this. I racked my brain in wondering what it could portend; in conjecturing if it were real, or if it were only the "hearty meal before the execution." I longed to ask a few questions, but remembering the advice that had been given me just before entering the room, I refrained.
"You will be surprised to learn that I am entirely aware of the object of your presence in Russia," continued his majesty, "for unless I am mistaken you believed your errand to be an inviolate secret. Is that true?"
"And yet it is known to me. The best proof of that is that you are here."
"I knew a few hours after you left your own country, that you had started. I was fully acquainted with your mission. My eyes, or the eyes of those who are in my confidence, have not been off you one moment since you arrived in Europe. They followed you to Paris, across Germany, and even into the hotel where our friend called upon you and where you are known as Mr. Smith." He paused an instant, and turning to the prince, added: "Tell him the prospective fate of Mr. Smith, prince."
"Siberia," came the reply in one word, uttered calmly and coldly.
"Siberia?" I repeated after him, and shrugged my shoulders; and the czar added:
THE NIHILIST SPY
The hackneyed simile of the cat and the mouse seemed to me to be especially applicable in the present instance. In one breath I was told that there would be many interviews of the kind I was then enjoying (?), and in the next that my destination was Siberia. It was certainly paradoxical and somewhat threatening, but I still refrained from asking questions. Presently, as I made no further comment, the emperor resumed the conversation.
"What brought you to Russia?" he demanded, but in a tone that was not unkind.
"The desire to obtain an interview with you," I replied, remembering his caution for me to ignore his rank.
"For what purpose?"
"To enter your service."
"In what capacity?"
"In any capacity for which I seem most fitted."
His majesty smiled broadly as if my replies suited the humor he was in. I knew that I had made an impression that was not detrimental to me in his eyes, and thought that I began to see through the puzzle. The succeeding few moments convinced me that I was not mistaken.
"Whose was the suggestion that determined your visit to Russia?" he continued.
"The suggestion came to me a long time ago—more than a year," I responded. "Since then it has been constantly in my mind, and at last I decided to act upon it."
"That does not answer my question, Mr. Derrington."
"The idea first came to me through an old friend; one whom I used to know here, in this country; one who afforded me very great assistance when I was here three years ago on a secret mission for my government."
"What is his name?"
"I have forgotten it."
"You are troubled with a poor memory, sir."
"Yes; concerning the names of friends who have assisted me when they have been compelled to place their own interests in jeopardy in order to do so."
"Do you know Alexis Saberevski?"
"Can you tell me where he is now?"
"In New York, I think."
"Did you not have a definite proposition to make to me, in case you were successful in securing an audience?"
"Very well, you have secured the audience. I will hear the proposition."
I hesitated. Here before me ready at my hand was the very opportunity I had so eagerly sought and which I had determined to go to many lengths to obtain. Already I had undertaken great expense to arrive at this moment and to encounter a circumstance very like the one by which I was now confronted; and yet I hesitated to take his majesty at his word and to render up the proposition he required of me, and which I had travelled so far and gone to such pains to submit. But you will admit that the circumstance was an unusual one, and that the very manner of my introduction to the Czar of all the Russias was calculated to be confounding to me and to place at naught my customary determined poise, and unswerving self-reliance. The abrupt mention of Alexis Saberevski, coupled with other insinuations already brought forward in our conversation, confirmed me in the idea already half formed, that my apparent arrest at the hotel, my strange and mysterious journey through the night, and the threat of Siberia, were all in the nature of what we Americans call a "bluff"; were only intended to conceal the real purpose of this enforced interview. During that moment of hesitation, which was so short that it would not have been noticeable to a disinterested party, I decided that the perfectly frank and open course would be the best one to adopt with this giant of a man who confronted me; a giant not only in physique and stature, and in strength of purpose as well as in muscle, but in the wonderful power he swayed by the mere exertion of his will.
I glanced upward into his eyes, which were bent half quizzically and not at all unkindly upon me, and then in words that flowed easily, and which came to me like an inspiration, I stated almost in one sentence, and certainly in one paragraph, the concise explanation of my presence in St. Petersburg at that moment. I said:
"I believe that I can organize and maintain a secret service bureau in your majesty's interest, which will be more effective than all the present police force put together. In order to do so I must have my own way entirely, must be absolute master of the situation, as far as my men are concerned, and can have no superior officer—not even the czar himself. My plans have been formulated with care, and I can go into minute details whenever I am directed to do so."
"Modesty is not one of your accomplishments, Mr. Derrington."
"Possibly not; but thorough familiarity with the work I would do is one. Interference with my duties by any one no matter how high in place, would render my efforts impotent, and I should decline under such circumstances to undertake the task I have set for myself."
"What is that task?"
"The utter dismemberment and destruction of an organization of anarchists known as nihilists against whom I have already been twice pitted, and both times successfully."
The czar arose from his chair and crossed the room to the window where he stood for some time peering out into the darkness, in the interim drumming ceaselessly on the pane with the tips of his fingers. During that time there was not a word spoken. Presently he turned and came back to the chair where I was seated, towering over me like a veritable giant, the most magnificent specimen of masculine humanity I have ever seen; and according to his lights, as good as he was great in stature. When ultimately the nihilists succeeded in destroying him, they killed the best friend that Russia ever had on the throne. They did not, could not know it; but I do.
"Mr. Derrington," he said, speaking with great deliberation, as though he weighed each word he uttered, "we will end this farce of questions and answers. They are unnecessary as far as I am concerned, and are unworthy of you. A long time ago I held a conversation in this very room with your friend Alexis Saberevski who possesses my entire confidence. In that conversation he recommended you to me, and I directed him to put the bee in your bonnet that has been buzzing there ever since; so you see that I really sent for you, although you did not know it. It was necessary that I should first be entirely convinced that I could trust you implicitly, before entering into negotiations with you. I am convinced. I accept your service. You will sleep in the palace to-night, and to-morrow we will discuss your plans in detail. Mr. Smith has been arrested as a nihilist, and the morning papers will announce that he has started on his journey to Siberia. Mr. Derrington will remain in St. Petersburg and to-morrow he will decide what disposition to make of himself. The prince will act as your host for to-night."
I got upon my feet and bowed to him, but he extended his hand in the most cordial manner; and with a genial smile upon his face which rendered it handsome, and which won my affection as well as my respect, said:
"It will be a pleasure to me to be upon terms of familiarity with one who wears no title and who does not wish for one. Henceforth we will count ourselves as friends, and forget relative positions and rank. Give me your hand."
I was nearly as tall as he but much more slight in build, and my hand was almost lost in his great palm when they were clasped together. I forgot the czar in the magnificence of the man, and as I gave him my hand, I said:
"My life goes with it, sir, if the necessity arises."
"I believe you, Mr. Derrington. In the morning I will send for you. Good night."
Then I followed the prince from the room and was presently conducted to an apartment which evidently had been designed for me; at least I so decided when I had an opportunity to examine it and to familiarize myself with all that it contained. The prince found some Russian cigarettes on the table, and lighted one while he said laughingly: "I see that you are prepared to entertain your guests, Mr. Derrington. Shall we chat together a little before we part for the night?"
"If you will be so good as to remain with me, at least until I catch my breath, I will esteem it a great favor," I replied. "Is the boycott of the interrogation removed?"
"Then will you please tell me how the dev——"
A hearty laugh interrupted me.
"I know all that you would ask," he said. "Our mutual friend Alexis is more in the confidence of his majesty than any other man in the world, and this plot to induce you to come here and offer your services to the czar, was deliberately planned between them nearly three years ago. From time to time Alexis dropped little hints to you which set you to thinking, and the thought finally blossomed into action. Had you confided your plans to anybody, even to Alexis, your services would not have been accepted. As it is, after to-morrow I tremble for you in the power that you will have, for in many ways it will be as great as that of the czar himself. Shall I give you a bit of history in order that you may know something of what is expected of you?"
"If you will do so."
"Peter the Great organized a system of police which still endures, though to-day it contains only three members, the emperor, Alexis and myself. It is called the Fraternity of Silence. During all these years its members have been selected with the greatest care and with increasing difficulty so that now it has dwindled to nothing. In the mean time the necessity for it has grown greater, for nihilism infests the country like a plague. Without nihilism in Russia, Siberia would be unnecessary. The very faults which nihilism seeks to remedy are kept alive by its existence. If it were eradicated Russia would take its place among the liberal nations of the world, and it is the ambition of Alexander to perform that service for the empire he controls, just as it was his idea to free the serfs. But the character of our people is different from that of any other people in the world, and your task is not so much to find out and banish those who conspire against the czar, as it will be to convert the men who organize such conspiracies. You are to reorganize the Fraternity of Silence on a new plan, and the power to act upon your own judgment will be absolute. It may seem strange to you that considering yourself almost unknown you should have been selected for this work, but you must remember that you have been recommended by one whose word is entirely respected by the emperor, and that you have been under careful espionage for three years. Does the outline that I have given you accord with the plans which you thought of submitting to the czar?"
"Plots for the assassination of the emperor are hatching every day. Our present system is not adequate. You must fill the breach."
"Is the existence of this organization of which you speak known to anybody, prince?"
"To nobody save those whom I have mentioned."
"Not to any nihilist?"
"Alexander, Alexis, you and I are the only living beings who ever heard of it. No one else has ever known of it."
"Will you pardon me, prince, if I tell you that you are mistaken?"
"Mistaken! Do you mean, Mr. Derrington, that you doubt my word?"
He got upon his feet and I saw that he was angry, believing that I had wantonly offended him. I arose also and began to pace up and down the room taking care that each turn would bring me nearer to the heavy curtains which hung about one of the great windows. The prince repeated his question, this time in a louder and angrier tone than before, and when I made no reply was about to leave the room; but I made a sign that compelled him to pause. At the same instant, being sufficiently near the curtain, I made a quick leap forward and with all my strength struck with my fist the exact point behind which I thought the head of the concealed person should be located.
My aim was true and the blow was sufficient, for the body behind the curtain crashed against the hardwood casing of the window and then sank to the floor, motionless, and in another instant I had dragged into view the senseless form of a man in the livery of the palace servants—a man whom the prince instantly recognized as a trusted servitor of the czar—one who had been told that a guest was expected to occupy that chamber, and who had been detailed to wait upon me—one who had been especially selected for his loyalty and discretion.
"That man heard and knew, and to-morrow the nihilists would have heard and known. Let us hope that they do not already know more than they should," I said, indicating the spy, and smiling up at the prince.
The fellow was evidently not a Russian. He was a tall man, lithe and sinewy rather than muscular, but he had a handsome, Patrician face; and despite his condition of insensibility, or perhaps because of it, he seemed strangely out of place in the predicament in which he was now discovered.
It was an extremely fortunate thing that I had become sensible of his presence in the room almost from the first, and that I had been able, therefore, to direct the conversation and my line of conduct, to the point of the present denouement. I could realize just how shocked Prince Michael was by the event; just how puzzled his own reasoning powers were for the moment, because of this discovery of a spy concealed in the private room of the palace, who might, if I had not so fortunately discovered him, have betrayed the real purpose of my presence there, even before the accomplishment of any results.
I had expected to find a net work of spies surrounding the palace of the Czar of all the Russias, as well as inside it, and I knew because of my former experiences in the Moscovite capital, with what I would have to contend if circumstances permitted me, as they now promised to do, to take up and to perform what I considered would be the greatest work of my life. There before me on the floor, prostrate and senseless, although rapidly returning to consciousness, was the undoubted personal proof of the deadly danger of my mission; but as I had foreseen and forestalled this incident, so I believed I would be able to foresee and forestall others that would be like unto it; and I determined to make the most of this one, by using it to an advantage which had instantly occurred to me when I saw and read the physiognomy, and behind that, the character of the man on the floor. His features and the general air of refinement about him, notwithstanding his dress and position, suggested refinement, and I believed that I could appeal to him in a way that would call forth some response if I were given the opportunity to do so. He was lying on his back with his right arm outstretched, and while the prince and I stood there regarding him with such different emotions, his eyelids fluttered and parted and he once more became conscious of his surroundings.
Beside him on the floor, was a long knife, which I have no doubt he would have used upon me had my attack been less sudden and violent. As it was, he opened his eyes and gazed sullenly upon us, realizing better than I did, the fate that was in store for him now. I used the silken curtain cords with which to bind him, and when that was accomplished, placed him on one of the couches.
"Was it your intention to commit suicide when you entered this room to spy upon us?" I asked; but he did not reply. "Prince," I added, turning to my companion, "I think if you will leave me alone with this man, I will find a way to make him talk. Will you return in half an hour?"
"Would it not be better to——"
"Must I wait until to-morrow for my authority?" I asked, smiling. So the prince bowed and left me alone with the spy.
FOR LOVE OF A WOMAN
I had discovered at a glance that the spy was not a Russian; and that being the case he was presumably engaged in his present occupation for pay only, and I believed that I could turn what seemed to be a catastrophe into a decided advantage. Experience had taught me long ago that the Russian nihilist is a fanatic who possesses distorted ideas of patriotism upon which he builds a theory of government, and that nothing short of death can turn him from his purpose. But with the foreigners who ally themselves with the fortunes of the nihilists—Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, etc.—it is different. They are always open to argument—for pay—although they are hardly to be relied upon even then, for they will sell out to another with the same celerity with which they formerly disposed of themselves to you.
"You are a Frenchman, are you not?" I asked this man, as soon as we were alone together.
"Yes," he replied, reluctantly.
"Do you know what is in store for you now?"
"Siberia, or death; one is as bad as the other. I'm only sorry that I did not have a chance to use my knife before you struck me; that's all."
"I have not a doubt of it. And yet you may escape both, Siberia and death, if you are reasonable."
"How? I'll be reasonable fast enough if you can prove that to me."
"Do you speak English?"
"Yes; as well as I do French, and Russian, and German, and half a dozen other languages."
"Then you heard and understood everything that passed between the prince and me?"
"Certainly. I might have pretended that I did not, if I had thought to do so. Still it would have made no difference, any way."
"Not much, that's a fact. Why did you hide in this room?"
"To hear what you said. To get what information I could. I certainly did not do it for the fun of the thing."
"Well, my man, I will make a bargain with you. If you will tell me all that I want to know and answer truthfully every question I ask, I will engage that you shall neither go to Siberia nor to your death. You will go to prison, and I will keep you there long enough to find out if your information is correct. If it is, I will set you free as soon as I can afford to do so; if it is not, then Siberia, and the worst that there is in that delightful country, too. What do you say?"
"How long will you keep me in prison?"
"A month—six months—a year—as long as I deem it necessary. I shall want you near me where I can talk to you frequently, whenever the fancy takes me."
"I'll see you damned first."
"Very well. I'm sorry for you. A few months in a comfortable prison, with the best of food, books to read, paper and pens at your disposal, permission to communicate with your friends as often as you please so long as I see your letters before they are sent away, ought to be preferable to ending your life in the mines of frozen Siberia; but the choice is yours."
"Then why don't you accept my offer?"
"Because I don't believe you. You will get all that you want out of me, and then I will travel East any way."
"That is a chance that you will have to take." I arose and walked across the room to give him an opportunity to think it over. "You look to me like one who has seen better days," I said, when I returned. "You evidently came from a very good family; you are an educated man, and you are young. In all probability you joined the nihilists without really meaning to do so, and having later been selected for this work here, on account of your ability, you were afraid to refuse it. Suppose that I should keep you imprisoned a year, or even two, what is that to the fate that awaits you if you refuse to do as I ask, or to that which you would have met, if you had refused to obey the men who commanded you to come here? Answer me."
"Precisely. Now, here is another question. If I should let you go free after you betray those men to me, what would your life be worth the moment you got upon the street, even if I provided you with passports out of the country?"
"They would find you, wouldn't they?"
"To a certainty."
"And kill you?"
"As surely as you stand there."
"On the other hand, if I send you to a prison here in St. Petersburg, as I have proposed, you will be thought by them to be dead, or in Siberia, which is about the same thing. In the mean time you can write to any one whom you wish to have know that you are still alive; you can receive replies under an assumed name, and——"
"Enough, sir. I accept. You guessed rightly when you said that I am not a nihilist at heart. I am one because I love a woman who is one. That will suffice for the present. Later, I may tell you more about it. I am disposed to make another condition concerning her but I see that it would be useless; and perhaps you will grant me a favor if I ask it, when you discover that I have not deceived you in what I shall tell you."
"You may be quite sure of it, if it is a reasonable one. Now tell me your name."
"You do not care about my true name, I suppose?"
"I want the one by which you are known among the nihilists."
"And here, in the palace?"
"I shall send you to your prison now. I cannot promise what it will be for to-night. To-morrow I will see you and will keep my word in every respect. In the mean time I want you to think over all that you have to say to me so that we may lose as little time as possible when we meet again."
I left him then and went to the door. Outside, waiting in the corridor was the prince, and in a few words I explained to him what had taken place during his absence at the same time apologizing for having sent him from the room. Then I asked that the captain of the palace guard be sent for, and in a few moments Jean Moret was placed in his care. After that the prince and I smoked another cigarette together and then parted for the night.
"Mr. Derrington," he said, as he was about to take his leave, "I am more than ever convinced that you are the right man in the right place. Tell me how you discovered the presence of that spy. I had no idea that he was there, and thought that we were entirely alone."
"I knew he was there the moment we entered the room," I replied. "It is my habit to glance at everything in sight whenever I enter an apartment, and I do it now without realizing that I do so, if you can understand the seeming paradox. When we passed the threshold I saw instantly that one of the curtains did not hang properly, so I seated myself in a position from which I could keep it in view. Twice I saw that it moved; a very little to be sure, but enough to satisfy me that somebody was concealed behind it That is the reason why I rather forced the conversation in English. The rest you know. I am convinced that the man we captured is the victim of circumstances, and I think I can make him very valuable."
"Well," acknowledged the prince, "there might have been a man behind every one of the curtains and I would not have thought to suspect it. This service alone, Mr. Derrington, is worth all the pay you will draw from Russia."
"Yes," I replied, "for I believe that the spy will confess to me that he was sent there with orders to murder the czar."
"My God! And even now there may be others of the same sort in the palace."
"No; I hardly think that. The nihilists would not be likely to send more than one at a time on such a dangerous errand."
Moret confessed to me the following day, and I speedily was convinced that my suppositions concerning him were correct. He had not had the brutal courage to carry out his orders; and already he had received several warnings from his compatriots that if another week passed without his accomplishment of the design, his own life would pay the forfeit. He was in that room awaiting my arrival when he heard me approaching with the prince, and had concealed himself behind the curtain without any definite purpose other than to hear all that he could.
It is hardly necessary, and there is not space, for me to go into the details of my subsequent talks with Moret. Suffice it to say that the information I gleaned in that way, proved of inestimable value to my work. From it I learned the names of all the leading nihilists of St. Petersburg and Moscow, their meeting places, their passwords, and several of their ciphers. Concerning their plans for the future, beyond those in which he was personally engaged, Moret knew almost nothing; but he did put me in the way of finding out nearly all that I wished to know. Nor is it necessary that I should describe my subsequent interviews with the emperor. My plans were adopted almost without a correction—and most of those I suggested myself—so that by the time I had been an inmate of the palace for a week, the reorganization of the Fraternity of Silence was well under way, and ere a month had passed it was an established fact.
There was one point upon which Moret stubbornly refused to talk, and that was concerning the woman who had led him into the difficulty, and who, he confessed, was the brains and the real head of the society. I questioned him very closely and so decided in my own mind that she was prominent at the capital; but at the last he positively refused to answer any further questions concerning her, saying that he would rather go to Siberia and have done with it at once, than to betray her. I desisted, therefore, believing that ultimately he would denounce her to me without knowing that he had done so, and events proved that I was right although they also demonstrated that it would have been much better for all concerned had he trusted me implicitly in the beginning.
Thus, at the end of a month succeeding the night of my ride from the hotel to the palace with the prince, I was prepared to commence work in earnest; but it must not be supposed that I had been idle, personally, during that time.
In fact I was never so busy in all my life as during those four weeks of preparation for the stupendous task I had set myself; and you will understand that there were countless things to do, unnumbered details to arrange, and a thousand and one ramifications of the work to be planned and plotted and thoroughly comprehended, not alone by myself, but by the men I would gather around me to work under my direction.
The organization of a secret service bureau, no matter how general may be its duties, is at least a monumental task; but the organization of such a bureau as this one whose very existence must remain a secret from all the world, presented difficulties not to be met with or contended against under any other circumstances.
It was necessary that I should become the chief over an army of men, and it was equally imperative that not one person among the rank and file of that army should know of my existence, as it was related to them. With the chiefs of departments and sections, it was necessary that I should have intercourse and interviews, but I had already made my mental selection of persons to fill those positions, when I arrived in St. Petersburg, and the organization of the several departments was to be left in their hands.
I was determined that there should be no phase of Russian life which could hide itself away from the skill of my investigating forces; from palace to hovel, from the highest official in the Russian diplomatic service and in the army to the meanest servant or laborer, my sources of knowledge must extend, and every detail of it all must necessarily be so complete as to render it not only exact, but absolutely under my personal control and direction, without however in any way creating the suspicion that I was personally interested. Presently you will understand more perfectly how this all came about, and in quite a natural way it would seem, for always things accomplished seem easy enough to the casual observer; and you who read are only observers after all. You are receiving a bit of unwritten history which closely concerned the Russian empire and without which the assassination of Alexander would undoubtedly have happened many years before it did, for I give to myself the credit of having extended the days of that really great but much misunderstood Moscovite gentleman.
At the time of my appearance in St. Petersburg the forces of nihilism had assumed proportions greater than they had ever attained before or will ever attain to again, thanks to my activities. The palace itself was a hotbed of conspiracy; the rank and file of the army was so disaffected that the officers never knew whom they could depend upon or whom they might trust; a secret pressure of the thumb, indeterminate in its character but nevertheless significant, was likely to be received from any hand clasp, no matter where given or with whom exchanged, and a princess or a countess was as likely to bestow it upon you as any ordinary person whom you might chance to meet. The pressure itself was merely a tentative question which might be translated by the words: "Are you a nihilist?" and you might understand it and reply to it by a returning pressure of acquiescence, or ignore it utterly, as you pleased. The pressure itself was so slight, was carelessly given and might so readily be attributed to a careless motion of the hand that it could not betray the person who made it; nor could the answering pressure do so.
I had not been long at the palace before I discovered that many of the high officials who had ready and constant access there had become inoculated with the nihilistic bacilli and although I had no doubt that many of them were at heart loyal to the emperor, I already knew better than they did the immensity of the obligation they had undertaken in swearing allegiance to an association of persons dominated by fanatics and by actual criminals whose trade was murder and whose chiefest pleasures and relaxation was the study of how best to bring about entire social upheaval.
The confession of Moret enabled me to read every sign however slight that was made by these persons and the four weeks of my domicile in the apartment of the palace that had been assigned to me served me as nothing else could have done in this respect.
You have already been told that this was by no means my first experience in St. Petersburg and with nihilism; but I must confess that extensive as my information had been and was I had never for a moment contemplated the vast resources of this revolutionary order, its unlimited ramifications and its boundless possibilities for evil. To discover as I speedily did that princes of the blood, that ladies high in place, that generals in the army and lesser officers under them were among the ranks of the nihilists, was an astounding fact which I had not contemplated and which I was ill prepared to receive so soon after my arrival. It extended the requirements of my operation; it increased ten fold, nay a hundred fold, my obligations to the czar in whose service I was now sworn.
It seems difficult to imagine a beautiful woman as being at the head and front of such an organization which discusses murder and which arranges for wholesale assassination with the same equanimity of conscience that a hunting party at an English country estate would arrange for the slaughter of rabbits and pheasants.
But I was destined soon to discover that even this could be true. I was destined soon to be brought in contact with a beautiful woman who was not only high in place and a favorite with the czar himself, but who was veritably a leader in the plots against him.
THE PRINCESS' ORIENTAL GARDEN
In order better to carry out the plans I had made it was necessary that I should depart from the palace and I secured apartments in a respectable but quiet section of the city, where I established myself under the name of Dubravnik; and it was generally understood by those who came in contact with me that I was a pardoned exile who had been permitted to return under stipulated conditions, as such men are sometimes, though rarely, allowed to do. In the mean time I had gathered around me several certain individuals whom I had known and employed in the past, and whom I knew from experience that I could trust; and there was not one Russian among them. The Russian may be trusted always wherever his heart is involved and his political conscience is at rest, but never unless those forces are working in sympathy with the employment of his hands and head.
I sent to Paris for Michael O'Malley whose long residence there had outwardly transformed him from an Irishman to a Frenchman, and who for convenience spelled his name Malet, thus retaining the sound without the substance. He opened a cafe, which because of its excellence speedily became the resort of the higher officers of the Russian army stationed at St. Petersburg. Every one of the waiters in his establishment were spies in his employ brought with him from Paris, and not one of them knew of my existence. Thus they did their work in the dark, but they did it well. Another Irishman, Tom Coyle, who looked like a Russian, established a cab stand on the English plan, and he had a small army of men under him who worked in the same way as Malet's servants. A Frenchman and his wife—their names were St. Cyr—ran a high class intelligence office, and furnished valets, maids, cooks, coachmen, etc., for the best families at the Russian capitol. I had one assistant who taught singing to the nobility, and another who was a master at arms and gave lessons in the science of handling all kinds of weapons. In the less pretentious quarters of the city I had proprietors of fourth rate cafes on my list; also loungers, loafers, seeming drunkards, laborers. But more important than these I succeeded in securing for one of my best men—an American—the management of the city Messenger Service; and one by one he contrived to replace the messengers by others of his own selection, until many of them were unknowingly members of my staff. Unknowingly, mind you, for therein existed much of the secret of my power. My workers did not know what they did. Canfield really did great work for me while he held that position, and I must not neglect to give him credit for it.