Frederick J. Whishaw.

Countess Ida online

. (page 11 of 17)
Online LibraryFrederick J. WhishawCountess Ida → online text (page 11 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at the moment when I was compelled by the circimi-
stances of the hour to make this promise I had never
intended to keep it, and had registered a mental
reservation to the effect that a promise thus forced
upon me was no promise at all, and that it would be
less dishonourable to break it, under the circum-
stances, than to abide by it. Whether I ought to
have made a show of pledging myself at all is another
question. There are some who will blame me, no
doubt, but I should like to hear from purists how
they would themselves have acted in this emer-
gency. When one has the ill-luck to find one's self
between the devil and the deep sea, it is better — if
one is no swimmer — to make some arrangement with
the other party, and slip out of it at the first oppor-
tunity when his back is turned.

So I hurried homewards merrily enough, consider-
ing all things. I had not much, as the saying goes.

Digitized by



* to be thankful for/ but — but, I should see Liuba in
five minutes ; and it had come to this — that the
present moment was quite good enough for me, how-
soever the future might frown, so long as Liuba was
by, to be gazed at and listened to.

Then, of a sudden, I turned a comer and walked
into a new crisis.

Digitized by



Turning sharply round the comer of the street, I
collided with a man, and slpologized. The fellow
started at the sound of my voice and averted his
face, but almost as quickly as I realized that he
avoided recognition I had actually recognised him :
it was Gregorief .

In the impulse of the moment, I laid hold of him,
and, I suppose, looked about for a policeman, for
he instantly entreated me to let go of him and be

* I will not attempt to escape,' he said ; * only, for
the love of Heaven, don't let the police into our

' That is a pretty cool request,' I said, scarcely
able to speak ioi excitement and suppressed rage.
The sight of the man had aroused every nerve in
my body ; I thrilled to have instant vengeance for
the perfidy he had wrought upon me and the long
train of misfortune which had been the result.
* That's a pretty cool request, my friend ; I have


Digitized by



nothing to fear from the police, though your case is
very different/

' Stop,' he said ; * I fully admit my guilt. I shall
not attempt to escape — it would be useless, for you
would not lose sight of me ; you would raise a hue
and cry — but for God's sake do not do anything in
a hurry. You are wrong about the police. We are
in Russia ; it is better to arrange matters without
police interference, if possible ; a mistake at this
crisis might ruin us both.'

' Upon my word, you speak like a book !' I said,
still boiUng over with indignation. 'What, then,
do you propose — an amicable consultation, with
apologies and tears of reconciliation, and vows of
renewed affection and brotherly love, and so on ?
No, my friend ; the day is past for that kind of thing.
You sent me to hell upon earth, by which I mean the
mines ; I have suffered ever since for your detestable
crime. Now I have caught you, and the balance is
going to be set right ; it is your turn for hell, my

' It may be that the scale can be set right without
hurt to me — at all events, without the utter ruin
which I admit to be my desert. If matters were
arranged satisfactorily for you, you would not re-
quire my ruin besides, would you ?'

* I don't know that I shouldn't,' I said ; ' think
what an accoimt I have against you.'

Digitized by



* Oh, I know all that ! I behaved like an mfemal
scoundrel — I admit it freely. But you know nothing
of the circumstances. To you I appeared, naturally,
the vilest of murderers and the basest of friends ; but
before God there was more in the matter than you
knew or guessed.'

* Oh, as to that, there was quite enough in it for
me,' I said, laughing bitterly ; * you murdered a man
and bolted, having previously persuaded me to wear
clothes like yours and to meander about the wood
close to the spot in which your victim lay bleeding.
The thing is plain enough. I assure you no further
light is required ; the meanest imderstanding can
cope with the facts, for it is the simplest and most
patent case of heartless villainy.'

* Excuse me, you are wrong. You have stated
the matter as it appears to the outsider ; there is an
inside aspect also. I was base enough, God knows,
but not so base as you thought and think. Will you
believe me if I explain what I mean ?'

I laughed.

* Oh, speak on,' I said ; * I shall believe or not as
I think fit — ^probably not. Why should I, after
all ? You know you have been a liar from beginning
to end, Gregorief ; wjay should I believe anything
whatever that falls from your Ups ?'

* Well, at least listen. I think you believed me to
have murdered my victim for private motives. So

Digitized by



I did in part, but the private motive was made use
of by — certain political f riends, by whom I was com-
pelled to kill the man (I being already half willing
for my own ends), whom they desired removed for
theirs. Even the way was pointed out to me, and
the shifting of suspicion upon yourself was a part of
their design, not my own.'

*Stop,' I said. *Am I to imderstand that this
man, your victim, besides being your rival in love,
happened to be also in the black books of some
secret society to which you belong, and that you
received orders from this society to remove — or
execute him ?'

* Just that ; he was obnoxious to the society for
reasons which do not concern us, and the society was
well aware also that he was obnoxious to me. Well,
it is the habit of the society to allow circumstances
as far as possible to work with and for them. The
man required killing, and I was obviously the man
to kill him.'

* I see,' I said. * And you, being a murderer
already in intention, were charmed to accept the
commission, and still more charmed to throw the
burden of your guilt upon an innocent person.
Upon my word, Gregorief, I don't see that your re-
sponsibiUty is in any way shifted or your crime
palliated by all this complication. By the way, is
your society the Ori61s ?'

Digitized by



* Yes, it is/ said Gregorief, rather unexpectedly.
* And, though you may not believe me, I should not
perhaps have consented to depart with the burden of
my crime resting upon your shoulders had not the
Society undertaken to guarantee that you should
not be allowed to reach Siberia ; they promised me
that you should be assisted to escape, and I see that
they have kept their promise.'

* Did you not know I was in town V I asked.
' I could not know it, but I hoped it.'

* But if you are an Ori61, why did you not learn
the fact from them ? They know it ; why, they
have, only this evening, acclaimed me a member —
curse them ! — ^and drunk my health in sickly-sweet
champagne. They would never withhold so impor-
tant a fact from you. You take me for a fool,
Gregorief, when you tell me that you did not know
of my arrival, but hoped for it. Make things more
probable, my friend, if you want them believed.'

* I am not now in touch with the Ori61s,' said
Gregorief, * and I beg of you, for God's sake, not to
tell them that you have seen me. I have no right
here. I am now, of course, a danger to the Society,
having been implicated in a crime, and being,
nominally, an escaped convict ; for, of course, you
were convicted in my name. The danger is that the
police might get hold of me, and this the Society will
not hazard. Therefore my strict orders are to

Digitized by



remain away from St. Petersburg on pain of punish-
ment, which means death. I am running, you see,
a double risk : I am braving both the police and the

*Why?' I interrupted ; 'to what end? Are you
still in love ? You would scarcely be such a fool as
to venture into the country — supposing your tale to
be true— on so hopeless an errand ? The girl never
cared a brass farthing for you, and would not be
Ukely to love you the better for having murdered the
man she adored. Come, now, Gregorief, you have
concocted a good tale, plausible enough in some
respects, weak in others ; you are such an infernal
rascal that I don't know whether to believe a little
or to condemn the whole as a tissue of lies invented
on the spot to deceive me. The weakest point of all
is your presence in town. Why are you here ?'

* You think so ill of me,* said Gregorief — * for
which, however, of course, I cannot blame you— that
you will not believe when I tell you ; nevertheless, I
shall tell you the truth. You say you have been in
hell ; I, too, have been in hell, and perhaps a more
terrible hell than your own — the hell of remorse, and
the helpless longing to imdo what is done. To have
killed a man in cold blood is an awful thing — there
was no fight, you see ; I murdered him very meanly,
from an ambush. At first I felt no remorse and very
Uttle regret. I was sorry that you should be treated

Digitized by



so ill — I was, before Heaven, believe it or reject it.
As for the murder, I was at first glad I had killed
the man who stole my girl from me. But this did
not last. Remorse came ; I could not sleep at
nights. I did not see ghosts or indulge in any super-
natural foolery of that kind, but the weight of the
crime seemed to grow upon my soul until it became
intolerable. I wished to Heaven I was in Siberia
instead of you ; expiation would be a relief. Besides,
the knowledge that you suffered for my sin added
greatly to the weight of the sin upon my soul. At
last I determined to come to Russia in order to find
out for myself whether the Society had fulfilled its
promise to undertake your escape. That is why I
said that I hoped you were here.'

I looked Gregorief over. Could it be possible that
the fellow spoke the truth ?

He looked haggard enough to have undergone all
the hauntings of remorse which he had described.
He appeared to be ten or fifteen years older than
when we last met, not much more than a year ago.
Poor wretch ! there was no doubt as to his having
been through the mills of suffering.

* Wait a minute, Gregorief,' I said. * Do I under-
stand you rightly ? Have you, then, come back to
this country in order to make your confession of the
murder, to set me straight, and to receive the
punishment due for your crime ? To begin with,

Digitized by



are you prepared to accompany me to the police-
office at once in order to establish my innocence ?'

Gregorief hesitated. He flushed and paled again.
He opened his mouth to speak, but remained silent.
He reflected. There was war waging within the
man's soul, or he was the finest actor that ever made
or missed a fortune on the stage.

* If it were absolutely necessary,' he stammered at
length, ' I think I would do it. But will not — does
not it make a difference that you are free and appar-
ently safe ?'

Now, I liked this answer. If the fellow had been
too gushing I should have distrusted him. If he
had said, ' For God's sake, come to the nearest
police-office, and let me ease my mind with confes-
sion !' I should have expected him to trip me up
and bolt round the comer long before we reached our
destination. I was now quite inclined to believe
him, though I said nothing.

' If you were in danger of being recaptured and
sent back to Siberia,' he continued, half apologetic-
ally, ' I should, of course, interfere — I would not
allow you to suffer another hour of punishment

for my offence — ^but if you are safe, why

My God!' he ended, breaking into a different
tone, which was very convincing, ' I thought I had
the courage of my conscience and convictions, but
as soon as I set foot in this police-ridden country,

Digitized by



that moment I lost heart, and my resolution began
to faU. This is what I now feel : I would go to
Siberia rather than have you return there ! But if
both of us can escape, why, I would rather not be
forced to suffer.'

* Then the expiation craze has passed ?' I said
somewhat cruelly.

Gregorief shook his head.

* My blood has turned to water — that's what has
happened ; there is something in the feel of the very
air in this country that relaxes the muscles and un-
hinges the spirit. I am a coward here, and that's
the truth !'

* Look here, Gregorief,' I said, an idea occurring to
me : * what about my passport ? It seems to me that
if your repentance is equal to the test, you will at
least hand over my papers. If you were to meet me
so far, I think I might let the rest stand over, on your
assurance that, in case of emergency, you would come

* I agree,' he said. * You shall have your passport ;
I have it by me. I have spent your money, but one
day I will repay it, if all's well. If you will let the
rest stand over until emergency, I will bless you night
and morning.'

' Oh, come,' I laughed, * I will do without your
prayers ; let me have the passport. Also, let me
know your address, or, better, let me see your lodging,


Digitized by



for, with all deference, I will not trust you more
than I need. It is so easy to give another man's

Gregorief flushed.

* I have deserved all this, of course,' he said ; * I
cannot complain. We are dose to my lodging ;
come now at once, and you shall see that I am speak-
ing only the truth. Your passport is there, and you
shall have it at once.'

Digitized by



I MUST admit that I kept my eyes.wide enough open
during the walk to Gregorief s lodging, and more
especially upon the dark and unsavoury stone stair-
case by which his den was approached. I made him
walk in front of me, for, I thought, Heaven only
knows what villainy the fellow may not suddenly
hatch, if it should occur to him. There might be no
single word of truth in all he had told me, and his
ready acquiescence in my demand for the passport
might easily have been made in the hope of getting
me into his rooms, and of there seizing me at a dis-

But I did Gregorief an injury in thus suspecting
him. He made no attempt to harm me. He gave
me my passport, and repeated his undertaking that
in no case should I be allowed to suffer for him a
second time. I left the fellow with the conviction,
none the weaker because arrived at most imwillingly,
that he was really in a state of grace. The recovery
of my passport was an unspeakable gain and relief

211 14—2

Digitized by



to me. I now felt that in case of emergency I could
escape at will. Neither the police nor the weird
Society of Oridls, who had made me an unwilling
member, need have further terrors for me. The
British Embassy would be obliged to take me under
its protection should I claim the assistance of His
Excellence the Ambassador or his Charg6 d* Affaires.
It was therefore with a light heart that I returned
home, for I felt securer to-night than I had felt for
many weary months, and there was now a sanguine
hope in my soul that I should one day recover my
position, and in this hope lay another far dearer.
The thought of Liuba as mine — my own adored and
loving wife — was an ideal I had never dared to
ccHitemplate up to this time, by reason of its
utter hopelessness.

This very night there was to be a grand skating
ffete at the Usupof Gardens — a flooded skating-
ground much patronized by the aristocracy. The
occasion was some Imperial birthday, and I had
looked forward to it as a good opportunity for a long
talk with my little Princess.

There exists, perhaps, no function more delight-
fully propitious from the point of view of young
lovers than the evening skating party. Gliding along
hand in hand, to the strains of soft music, stars
shining overhead, scientifically prepared ice beneath
the feet, lights glimmering, not too brightly, on every

Digitized by



side, surely the conditions are the very most romantic
and delightful that can be imagined.

At any rate, I thought so as, having secured my
charming little Princess for a skate, we gUded to-
gether with crossed hands in and out the groups
of other skaters, avoiding the comers where some
remarkable performer executed his solo feats for
the delectation of a select company of admiring

I had had to wait for Liuba, for she had many
male friends upon the ground, and several of these
had engaged * turns * with her before I enjoyed an
opportunity of securing her.

* Now I've got you at last, Liuba Andreyevna, I
do not mean to allow you to go in a hurry,* I whis-
pered. * Are you engaged to anyone after this ?'

* Oh yes, to several,' she laughed ; * but I pro-
mised nothing as to the length or shortness of the
turns preceding theirs.'

* May I make this a long one ?' I asked ; * I have
so much to say to you to-night.'

* At any rate, we will go on until you have said all
you have to say,' she replied.

And I laughed, and declared that in this case it
was a bad look-out for her other partners, for, under
such conditions, naturally I should not stop talking
at all. -

And away we glided together, in and out and

Digitized by



backwards and forwards, now resting for a few
moments upon some seat as remote as possible from
the fashionable end of the gardens, now starting once
more upon our delicious travels. For me that
evening was a paradise indeed. What we spoke of
Heaven knows ; I only remember that it was during
our hundred and one meanderings through the
length and breadth of the gardens that night that I
bade Liuba tell me whether, supposing that I should
one day find it possible to dear m3^elf entirely from
the miserable suspicions which, as she well knew,
overshadowed my career, she would help me to make
a new start in life by linking hers to mine, and that
Liuba replied, very simply and charmingly, that
she would and always did pray every morning- and
night for my vindication, but that whether Destiny
should treat me well or ill, her heart was my own,
and had been so from the first day of our acquaint-

« « « « «

Some scowling, bowing nuisance of a Russian
Guardsman found us eventually, and paradise was
lost. He scowled at me, and bowed to Liuba<
reminding her that he had the happiness to be
engaged to skate round the gardens with her. There
was nothing for it. Etiquette required of my
beloved little Princess that she should obey, and,
with a great squeeze of both my hands and a

Digitized by



steady look into my eyes which conveyed much
to me, she left me.

After paradise came the deluge.

I was skating about alone, moodily watching
Liuba from a distance, and wondering whether I
should have the opportunity of another tiun with
her, when I felt someone tap me upon the arm from
behind, and, turning, I saw. • . •

I saw one whose presence instantly took the light
from my heart and the glory from the night. I saw
Countess Ida, her face, so far as I could discern it
in the semi-darkness of Usupof s, gloomy and for-
bidding, her eyes aglow with a Ught which was not

* Well,' she said, * am I not to be asked to skate ?'

* Most assuredly you are, Countess,' I said, as
cordially as I could bring m)^f to frame the words ;
* I did not know you were present. May I take your
hands ?'

She gave me her hands, and we glided along

For a few minutes she was silent ; when she spoke
it was in a kind of subdued tone that reminded me,
I don't know why, of a suppressed scream.

* You have been skating all night with that pink-
and-white little fool of a Lebedef ,' she began. * Did
I not tell you she was forbidden fruit ?'

* Really, Countess,' I said laughingly, but feeling

Digitized by



extremely angry, nevertheless, * it is very good of
you to be so careful of my welfare, but I think I am
old enough to attend to my own affairs without
interference from without.'

* I shall prove to you that you are not capable of
doing this. In the first place, you have lied to me.
You denied that you loved this girl. Oh, never think
a new he will deceive me a second time ! You love
her. She has bewitched you ; any fool can see it.
Why did you tell me that you did not and would
never aspire to win her love ? It was a lie, and you
know it.'

I did know it. I had intentionally deceived Ida
because there was no other way at the moment. I
would deceive her now again, if I could ; but the
question was. What had she heard ?

'Those who spy upon others, being suspicious*
often interpret that which they do not clearly
overhear in the way their suspicions incline them
to hear it,' I said sententiously.

* Maybe,' she said ; * but I have gone beyond sus-
picion this night. He who makes love in a public
skating-ground should beware which seats he chooses
to rest upon while he speaks to the object of '

* Countess!' I exclaimed, letting go her hands,
* you are a spy — ^an eavesdropper ! I despise such
more than I can say !'

* Be still, and take my hands again,' she said ; ' do

Digitized by



not make a scene. You are right ; I have both seen
and heard much to-night, and intentionally. In
love all is fair ; you forget that we are pUghted lovers.
G>me, unsay all the lies you told that doU-faced girl
to-night ; it is I that you love — ^you know it, you
have said it many times, your lips have sealed it.*

* How can I love a spy V I exclaimed. * You
have lost my love, Countess, by your own mis-

' Nonsense !* she said ; * if I have lost it, it was not
to-night, but earlier. I have suspected this. Yet
remember, it was I that saved you from the mines of
Siberia ; once there, you would never have been un-
earthed. It was I saved you. For this you promised
me — ^yourself, soul and body. Is it true ?*

* It is true,' I faltered ; ' in great emergencies one
sometimes promises more than one can perform. I
am not ungrateful, but I cannot fulfil to the letter
all that you seem to expect of me.'

* Stop ! You shall fulfil it. Do you know what
will happen in case you refuse to perform the
vows you have taken, whether to myself or to the
Society ?'

* Oh, you will do your best to send me back to the
mines ; I know that well enough. It may be that
you will not succeed.'

* Do not so far flatter yourself. We succeed ; we
have always succeeded, and we shall succeed. But

Digitized by



much may happen besides that which you have

* I do not care to guess your meaning,' I said ;
* God will protect the innocent.*

* Cant phrases never preserved a life yet. You
need not guess, but I warn you that there are sur-
prises in the air. You say you love the Lebedef

* Do I ?* I laughed ; * have you heard me say so ?'

* You have told me the same thing, so that you
may as well have lied to her as to me. Come, now,
which do you love ? You cannot love us both ;
before you answer, weigh the matter. See here :
you cannot do without my assistance — ^that is
certain ; with me you can escape from Russia to-
morrow, if you will. Moreover, I love you — I love
you ; do you understand the word ? I think you
do not, for you believe that pink doll capable of
loving. Bah ! the thing she would give you is not
love. Now, consider the other side of the picture :
you love this girl, who is forbidden fruit ; shall I tell
you what that means ? It means that you are a lost
soul, or shall be ; you shall be lost for ever in Siberia,
and she '

* Well,' I said, for the Uttle tiger-woman had
paused. I was restraining myself with difficulty ; a
little more provocation, and my fury must burst its

Digitized by



* She would not survive to mourn her beloved ; if
there were no other hand to ease her of her sorrow,
my own should do the work of mercy ! Come,
choose between us ; your choice must be made
to-night — ^Ufe and love and Uberty, or '

* Yes, Ufe and love ! I take these !' I exclaimed,
losing at length all control over myself — * Liuba's
loye and the life that God has given me for my use
and deUght — ^not for your marring, Uttle tigress that
you are ! Love you ? I was a liar when I said I

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryFrederick J. WhishawCountess Ida → online text (page 11 of 17)