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Countess Ida

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Countess Ida



Fred Whishaw

Author of

' The Diamond of Evil,' • A Lost Army,' • The White Witch.'

'A Tsar's Gratitade^' 'A Russian Vagabond,' 'The

Fugitives,' ' The Brothers of the People/ ' Many

Ways of Love,' ' Called Back to Tsarland,'

'Near the Tsar, near Death,'

' A Splendid Impostor^'



John Long

13 & 14 Norris Street, Haymarket

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It was at an evening party at the Maslofs that I
first met Countess Ida. Gregorief , the student with
whom I lived, and who taught me Russian, brought
me to this dance much against my will, for I had
refused all engagements hitherto on the plea of
desiring to employ the whole of my time in acquir-
ing the language for an approaching examination.
At that time, in the eighties, a substantial bonus
might be earned by British officers able to pass as
interpreters. I know not whether the system still
holds. Gregorief had good reasons, of course, for
liking to go wherever he would meet Olga Maslof ;
but I had no such inducement, and I must admit
that I did not profoundly bless Gregorief for insist-
ing upon bringing me — ^until, that is, I had seen
and been introduced to Coimtess Ida, after which
event I freely forgave him.

Countess Ida was a sweet-looking little person, of


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the artless and innocent type, with big blue eyes,
and masses of fair hair, and a small nose. Her age
was about twenty, I judged, and she had that en-
gaging manner, so common among Russian girls, of
waiving, in conversation with a stranger, every sug-
gestion of sh3niess or reserve, and of extracting from
that stranger every particle of information about
himself and all that concerns him, which he is
willing to give away in response to her artlessly
candid inquiries.

I had danced all the evening with the Coimtess.
Her dancing was a sweet dream, and her conversa-
tion was, as I have suggested, candid to a degree,
though, when I came to count up what I knew of
the girl afterwards, I discovered that this was
very little, and that she had, in fact, reversed for
her own use the old proverb which says that it
is more blessed to give than to receive, for she
had received much information and given next
to none.

We were now in the refreshment-room, sitting out
' the mazurka,' which in Russia is a long dance with
many pretty figures, like a cotillon, but mostly done
to the Polish mazurka step, of which I was utterly
ignorant, and therefore imwilling to attempt it in

* How like a proud Englishman !' said my com-
panion, laughing — 'imwilling to appear awkward.

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and therefore refusing altogether to dance f Now,
if you were a Russian, you would try it, at any rate,
and in two minutes you would succeed.*

* No thank you, Coimtess,' I said. * I have too
much respect for your good opinion.'

* And the mazurka would look so well danced
in this pretty red English tmiform. How do
you call it again ? Second Meed — Op. — ^what
was it ?'

' Second Mid-Upshires,' I said ; * but the uniform
would not appear to advantage with a clumsy fool
tr3dng to dance the mazurka in it. Let us eat ices
and chat instead.' And to the delicious Russian
ices we betook ourselves.

* So you are here to leam the language,' said the
Countess presently. * And for an examination, too !

* To pass for my interpretership,' I smiled, * if I
am clever enough.'

* You are clever enough ; you speak already — in
three months — ^wonderfully. In six you will be
like a Russian. You will pass ; and then ?'

*Then I receive the reward of the righteous — a
bonus of a hundred and fifty poimds, and forty for
my expenses.'

* One thousand five hundred roubles, and four
hundred again — ^nearly two thousand roubles,' said
the Countess, rapidly making the mental calcula-

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tion. * It is good to be paid for acquiring know-
ledge. Who will pay us here to learn English ?*

* With you it is better still. You aU learn it at
school/ I said, * and learn it pretty well, too !*

* And then, after the six months,' she said, ignor-
ing my remark — * what ? Back to England, and
never again to St. Petersburg ?'

* Back to England, certainly,' I said ; * but
whether I shall ever visit St. Petersburg again I
cannot say. I doubt it, though I should like to
come ; but unless they give me the military attache-
ship, I don't quite see what is to bring me.'

* Ah V she reflected, * it is a pity.'

* Do you really think so ?' I said, waxing affec-
tionate, as I always do under encouragement.

' Yes, I really do !' she said quite frankly. * But
you had better let go of my hand, for that waiter
has his eyes upon us. I think we should have
become great friends.'

* I think we still have time for that,' I whispered
back, stealing, in spite of the waiter, a little closer
to her.

*And this military attach&hip?' she continued.
* That would bring you here for several years, but
you would be about the Court ?'

* I should have duties about the Court, but, of
course, I should not live there,' I said.

The Countess made a grimace.

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* Bah I* she said. * You are too good for Court

At this moment there entered the room a Russian
ofl&cer with a lady upon his arm.

* That is Olga Maslof,' whispered my companion,

* and Ivanof , your friend Gregorief s rival. I know
which I should prefer if I were she.*

* Gregorief is quite as good-looking/ I said. * But
you, I know, are prejudiced against poor Gregorief.'

* Not prejudiced,' she corrected me ; * I know too
much about him. Honestly, do you like him ?'

' Well, to be absolutely honest, I don't know that
I do,' I admitted, * though he is always polite to

* He has need to be,' she laughed, * for you are
meat and drink and university fees to him, and he
cannot afford to be otherwise, feut, entre nous, do
not trust him too much.'

* I don't suppose I shall require to trust him at
all,' I laughed. * But talk of — ^here he is !'

*And looking very like the individual whose
name you so politely omitted,' added the Coimtess.

* He is not pleased with Olga, or with Ivanof, or

Gregorief certainly looked very cross, and I could
easily guess the reason. The mazurka in St. Peters-
burg is the dance par excellence of the ball. It
generally comes just before supper, lasts a full

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hour, and carries with it the additional privilege
of escorting one's partner in to supper. Naturally,
therefore, the dance is held in high honour, and the
favourite partner is reserved for it.

* Gregorief is nicely dressed for once, and looks
rather well, always excepting the storm-cloud over
his eyes,' whispered my companion.

He did look his best, and with good reason, for
the dress clothes he wore were my own, an excellent
London-made suit lent to him for the evening, his
own being too shabby for words, and I being in
uniform. I did not tell the' Countess, for I was
sorry to give the fellow away.

* He has a new suit on,' she continued ; and I
replied innocently that his clothes were excellent,
and might have been made in London.

Gregorief was now engaged in an animated con-
versation with the couple, who were, we gathered,
the cause of his anger. I coidd not catch what was
said by the two men, who did all the talking, the
lady being content to look timidly from one to the
other, and to reply monosyllabically and in an
undertone when appealed to by one or the

Apparently the matter in dispute was not one
as to which a satisfactory issue was attainable, for
after five minutes of animated argument and raised
voices — the mazurka being now in full swing in the

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adjoining room, and the music pretty loud — the
party relapsed into complete silence, and Gregorief,
who had stood over the others hitherto, now took a
chair, brought it to their little table, and sat down
beside them, determined, it appeared, that if he
were not to enjoy Olga's society by himself no one
else should.

* All the materials for a first-cla^s quarrel !' whis-
pered Ida. ' Gregorief won't forgive the other in a
hurry, nor Olga either. They will have to be care-
ful with that man.'

However, war or peace, it suited me better, and
I think my partner also, to adjourn to places which
were less overlooked by waiters and jealous lovers ;
and here my Countess and I bettered our acquaint-
ance, or rather, as I have hinted, she greatly bettered
her knowledge of me, while I, though I gained in
intimacy, and also in the development of the affec-
tion with which she had already inspired me — I knew
little more of her at the end of the dance than I had
at the beginning. I gathered, however, that she
belonged to a good family, and that, like many of
her caste, her people had been afflicted with poverty,
principally since, and largely on account of, the
emancipation of the serfs ; and I knew, which was,
of course, the crowning point, that she was inclined
to treat me with marked favour as an esteemed and
well-liked comrade, which a Russian maiden knows

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well how to do with a mingled frankness and modesty
which is very charming in the first stage of an im-
proving acquaintance.

Gregorief was in an impossible mood as together
we drove home in one of those truly terrible vehicles,
the St. Petersburg droshkies. I had seen my little
Countess safely away, with her comatose mother, in
their private droshky, which is a vastly different
matter from the fearful thing which comes rattling
up to the curb when you have called out * Isvoschick !'
Gregorief would not speak at all, and this was
perhaps just as well, for I required all my energies
to remain seated in the terrible conveyance engaged
by us for about fourpence to carry us two miles to
our home. The man was asleep cm the box —
Russian drivers generally are, night or day — but
the little horse between the shafts was a far better
manager than the poor vodka-sodden, slumbering
heap of old clothes that sat hunched up on the
perch behind it, and held the reins. It knew by
instinct which turns to take, and if it made a mis-
take it was easy for the fare behind to kick its
master, and tell him he was a drunken pig, when the
biped would wake sufficiently to set the quadruped
going once more in the right direction, which done,
his duties were over until the next kick should
awaken him to renewed energy.

Gregorief swore at the jolting ; he swore and

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kicked viciously at the sleeping isvoschick when
the wrong turn was taken ; he swore at the cold
of the April night ; he swore at many other things,
but he would not converse, and finding that there
was nothing to be made of him, I departed to my
room, on reaching our lodgings, without wasting
another word upon him. But when I was half
undressed he suddenly entered my room, and came
and sat down on my bed.

* Ferrers,' he said, * what do you do in England
when a man injures you ? Call him out ?'

* Call him out ? No, we knock him down if we
can,' I explained ; * and if that can't be done, we
take the law upon him. Why ?'

* You saw Ivanof to-night ? He sat and talked
to my mazurka partner, preventing her from dancing
with me, and declaring that Olga was tired, and
preferred to rest and sip coffee.'

* Couldn't Miss Olga have put in her word, and
said she desired to dance with you ?' I asked, in
some surprise. * It appears to me that the matter
lay in her hands.'

* She is fascinated by the fellow's swaggering way,
or more likely by his confounded Blue Lancers'
uniform,' said Gregorief hesitatingly. * She could
not give him the lie — ^at any rate, she did not.'

* Well, man, you cannot call a fellow out, even
in Russia, I should think, for dancing with your

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favourite partner. You can't expect to monopolize
a pretty girl.'

* I tell you I would call the fellow out to-morrow,
but that he would refuse to meet me. Will the
officers in your country, if called out, meet the
students ?'

* They are never asked to,' I laughed ; * but cer-
tainly our University men think themselves at
least on a par with army people.'

* Well, it's different here !' said Gregorief .
* Couldn't you call the fellow out and shoot him
for me ?' he added, somewhat hesitatingly.

' No, thanks,' I said, laughing again. * I have no
righteous cause like you. Such a duel would not
prosper ; why, I have no quarrel of any kind with
the man !'

* As you will,' said Gregorief gloomily, preparing
to leave the room, * only don't blame me if anything
happens. When my blood is up, I don't stick at

* The man's a fool !' I reflected, as I lay down to
sleep ; * but he'll be wiser to-morrow when his blood
is nmning colder !'

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I DID not succeed in falling asleep at once, for
Countess Ida's remarks about Gregorief, and his
own conduct this evening, caused me to reflect.
What, after all, did I know of this man ? Abso-
lutely nothing. ' I had taken him on trust. I had,
on my arrival in St. Petersburg, engaged a room at
the H6tel Angleterre, intending to look out for a
good teacher of Russian, and to take my lessons
when and how and- where I coidd best arrange for
them. The proprietor of the hotel had recommended
me to answer advertisements in the Peterburgsky
Lisiok, and this I had done, with the result that
Gregorief, a student of the university, and penu-
rious even among that penurious class, had appeared.
He taught well, and was an intelligent fellow, and
when he had suggested that I should learn the
language, especially the conversational side of it,
more easily and quickly were I to take up my abode
with him, I thought the idea distmctly a good one.
As a matter of fact, it had paid both of us extremely
well, for the living proved very economical in com-

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parison with that at the hotel, while my progress in
Russian was very marked. As for Gregorief, the
arrangement was very satisfactory for him, since he
now had sufficient to eat and a decent room to live
in, of which I believe he had enjoyed neither up to
the day of my advent.

But beyond the fact that Gregorief was an excel-
lent teacher of the language ; that he was going to
become a Chinovnik, or Civil Servant of the State ;
and that he was deeply in love with Olga Maslof,
who apparently did not as deeply return the senti-
ment, I knew nothing of the man.

However, it is my principle to believe no evil of
people unless I see or have reason to suspect it for
myself, and therefore, since Gregorief had behaved
himself respectably for all I personally knew to the
contrary, I preferred to take him as I found him,
and not as others professed to know him.

In the morning my friend was all the meek and
studious individual I had hitherto known him, and
betrayed none of the longing for vengeance which
he had shown last night ; and even when I foolishly
ventured to ask whether he still thought of calling
out his rivals he shrugged his shoulders and flushed,
but disclaimed the intention.

* It would be useless,' he said ; and there the
matter dropped, while we betook ourselves to the
more profitable subject of Russian grammar.

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But if Gregorief did not progress very rapidly in
his affaire de cceur, I did wonders in that line. As
a matter of fact, my little Comitess would have
placed no difficulties in the way of a rapid develop-
ment of our acquaintance ; but my policy was
Festina lente^ and though I liked her well enough, I
was inclined to display some of that caution for
the possession of which, as one of my most cherished
attributes, I have ever gratefully thanked a bene-
volent Providence.

She was a mysterious little person, was my
Countess, and I never could wholly understand
her, for she was not communicative as to her own
aifairs. But this much I did gather about her —
that my first idea of her possible occupation or
position was entirely erroneous.

It had occurred to me — ^perhaps because one had
been accustomed on the English stage and in
English literature to associate every attractive
Russian lady with such things — that Ida was a spy,
and I even confessed to her one day that this notion
had suggested itself to me.

Ida blushed and looked amazed ; then she

* Thank you very much,' she said. *A spy, I
suppose you mean, in the pay of the State, and
employed to further its persecution of innocent
persons ? Thank you again !'


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* I really beg your pardon,' I said lamely, * but
in English novels pretty Russian girls are always
spies or Nihilists, and Russian G>untesses on the
stage embody the same idea. Of course, I ought
to have known better, and I humbly apologize. It
is your own fault, after all, for being a Russian
Countess, and pretty.'

Ida laughed, and the blush lingered on her

' Do the English know much about NihiUsm, and
the grievances of Russians ?' she said.

*They know what Stepniak and others have
thought proper to teach them — ^more, in fact, of
the NihiUstic point of view than of the other,' I
said. * I don't know much myself, but the ordmary
Englishman's opinion of Russia is that it is a kind
of menagerie of bears and NihiUsts and wolves, with
all the animals escaped and at large — ^a place quite
imfit for a foreigner to travel in, because of the
bombs and bears, and especially the bugbear of an
autocratic Government, which may send you off to
Siberia at a moment's notice, and for nothing.'

The Countess smiled.

* It is not so very far out on the whole,' she said.
' But the Nihilists know what to do with their
bombs. They are not for innocent foreigners, nor
for anyone who is innocent. As for authority in
this coimtry, it is a bugbear, as you say, and when

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you accuse me of being the spy of Authority, you
pay me the worst compliment you could invent. I
hate and loathe Authority with all my soid.'

Ida's eyes were all ablaze as she spoke. I was
quite astonished by her vehemence.

* You speak as though your sympathies were with
the enemies of the Government I' I said, laughing.
* You will make me think you are a bit of a Nihilist
yourself. Is the Tsar unpopular in the coimtry ?*
I ended.

* Oh, ask his people !' said Ida fiercely. * Pve
no doubt that personally he is a most estimable
individual — for those who like Tsars.'

It was plain that Ida was not one of these latter,
though what her grievance could be I was entirely
imable to guess. However, I did not take my little
friend's politics very seriously, and thought of her
admitted hatred of authority — if I thought of it at
aU — ^as a good joke. Her attractiveness as a pretty
girl was quite a different matter, and when, about
half-way through May, the Countess informed me
she was about to leave St. Petersburg, like all the
rest of the world at that season, for ' the village,' I
was dismayed by the idea of losing her, and
said so.

* Why should you lose me ?' she said, rather un-
expectedly. * My father can easily let you have a
cottage for the summer season, furnished. We have

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several which are let every year. Gregorief can
accompany you. He will be delighted, for the
Maslofs live within a mile or two of us.'

The arrangement certainly seemed very feasible,
and most desirable. Gregorief took to it at once,
as well he might, for the imiversity vacation had
begun, and he would be far better off in the country
than in blazing St. Petersburg, where the white
houses and pavements give off forty per cent, of the
heat they take in, to the destruction of all comfort
and of the deUght of life.

So to Krasny Lugach6k we migrated, Gregorief
and I, a village over a hundred miles from St. Peters-
burg, in the government of Tver, and here we soon
settled down to Russian coimtry existence, leavened
with a modicum of study. We fished in the big
lake which lay just without the village, and abounded
with pike and large perch, and we took tea daily
with the Countess or with the Maslofs, though, so
far as I could see, the encouragement poor Gregorief
received in that quarter was most limited. The
fair Olga appeared to me to have nothing but the
cold shoulder to offer him, though, as I reflected,
one never knows.

For all I could affirm to the contrary, her coldness
might be assumed before others, to give way to a
very different attitude when Gregorief and the girl
were by themselves. Girls, I am informed, have

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been known to dissemble when in the company of
those they love if others axe also present.

Not that Coimtess Ida ever did. She never took
the trouble to disguise^her partiality for me, though I
sometimes wondered whether her friendship was not,
after all, wholly platonic, so averse was she, gener-
ally, to the display by me of any warmth. Indeed,
her manner was of a kind to drive a man mad, sup-

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Online LibraryFrederick J. WhishawCountess Ida → online text (page 1 of 17)