Frederick J. Whishaw.

Countess Ida online

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that I can do, then, to oblige so amiable a body of
persons ?'

* Well,' said the student, 'you may think it officious
of me to suggest such a thing, and, for all I know,
you may find it impossible to adopt the suggestion.
Life and Uberty are good ; indeed, though there are
not many things better than love, as some people
think, yet hfe and Uberty! these two are surely
more desirable, for without either or both where
would love come in ?'


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The student gazed at me as though he would gather
from the expression of my face how this conununica-
tion affected me ; but I did not follow his argument ;
I had no idea as to what he was driving at.

* Explain, please/ I said.
He continued.

' There is a complication in the matter which
might otherwise be arranged very simply. I have
mentioned the Lebedefs. You are living, it is
known, at the Prince's house, and thus enjoy, natur-
aUy, many opportunities of seeing both father and
daughter by themselves. Now, these people have
long since been marked as impossible.'

* Again I must ask for explanation,' I said.
*They have shown themselves enemies to the

Society, which, therefore, only awaits opportunity
to remove them. Now, your presence in the house
and intimacy with the delinquents affords the
Society the very opportunity desired.'

' Oh, I see,' I said, feeling an almost irresistible

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desire to laugh in spite of the intense anger which
boiled at my heart — ' I see. I am to be deputed by
the Ori61s, am I ? to murder my host and hostess
as a kind of expression of gratitude for their hospi-
tality and so qn. Gratitude is irksome, certainly —
one of the worst of grievances ; how very good of
the Society to show me so short and easy a way to
rid myself of a burden !'

* Ah, you speak in irony !* said my companion,
fixing his bright eyes upon me. * You do not deceive
me. I am like you, generous. I am disposed to
look at matters from your standpoint. In spite of
your words, I discern that you would loathe such a
commission as the " removal ** — you use a harder
expression — of those who have been kind to you.
That is why I am here, and you with me. I am here
to suggest — to advise. Now, see : I cannot answer
for what may happen to the father, but the lady can,
I think, be saved, and by you. This is my sugges-
tion. Undertake, if ypu will, to remove this girl,
as the Ori61s desire and intend, I know, to ask of
you ; but, instead of removing, marry her.'

'Marry her!' I repeated, staggered for the

* Just that ; marry her, and go right away. It
may be a wrench to you to give up our own little
Countess — as to that I know nothing — ^but the
Oridls willy I believe, accept this arrangement in lieu

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of the other. Moreover, as a matter of fact, the
lady is not ill-looking, and you might find a worse

I gazed at the man. Should I wring his neck, and
have done with it ? Was this a gigantic joke ? I,
of all people, to be commissioned to assassinate
Liuba, and this little worm actually suggesting
marriage in lieu of assassination ! It was really too
rich for words. Was this man a delegate from his
employers the Ori61s, or was he a genius in his own
right ? Controlling my mingled emotions, I put the
question to him. He answered with great pride that
he represented no one ; he had evolved the idea un-
aided either by individual or Committee, but he was
pretty sure the Society would endorse it, if I should
think fit to entrust him with a kind of message
agreeing to the suggestion. He had thought out
the matter solely for my benefit, he said, chiefly, to
be frank, in the hope of obtaining a reward in case
I should think well of his idea.

* And what of Coimtess Ida herself ?'

"Coimtess Ida will suppose that the original ar-
rangement holds, and that you will presently remove
the Prince and his daughter. It may be that she
will await that consummation with anxiety — ^love
again, you see, that will brook no rivals.'

'But stay!* I said; * I have received no conmiission
of the kind you refer to. At whose hands am I to

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expect it ? You are right ; I have some spark of
generosity in my disposition. These people have been
kind to me, you see ; if the lady is to be removed, the
job should certainly be entrusted to me. I must
think the matter over. Maybe I shall marry, and may-
be choose the other way ; at any rate, I can promise
you that I shall not risk my skin, since the Ori61s aie
against me, by courting the Countess in opposition
to their will. This, as you may imagine, will be a
great wrench, but I recognise the necessity for the
step. Self-preservation is the first law. Whom can
I see about it ? you have alarmed me ; I should
like the thing settled as soon as possible. I shall
stand in terror for my life until I have assured some
prominent Ori61 that I am ready to renounce the
lady. To whom shall I go ?'
The student reflected.

* I should go to Stay, you know them all, I

suppose ?*

' Oh yes, I have met them all at the Countess's ;
the old fellow in the general's uniform appeared to
be the chief man. What's his name, and where does
he live ?'

* We call him Starik (the old man), but we are not
supposed to know any addresses,' said my companion,
looking very cmmingly at me. * I don't know his real
name ; I doubt if anyone does — any of ours, I mean
— but I happen to have discovered his address.'

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* Ah, been doing a little shadowing, I suppose ?'
I said.

My heart was all a-flutter, though I endeavoured
to control myself and give no sign of the agitation
I felt. I believed myself to be on the very verge of
an important secret, and was prepared to out-
Macchiavelli that astute diplomatist himself in order
to win the odd trick from the student.

The fellow nodded his head.

* Just that,' he said ; * and it took a lot of shadow-
ing, for the old man is as cunning as the devil, and
never goes home without a good hour's dodging
and doubling that would do credit to a march

' Well, how much ?' I said as quietly as possible,
fumbling for my purse, and laying it upon the table
before me. * Will a krasninkaya do it ?'

I took out a note for ten roubles, and flourished it
before his eyes.

The student gazed hungrily at the slip of red
paper, representing the value of ten excellent
dinners, each as good as this he had enjoyed.

* Are you rich ?' he said ; * make it twenty. No ?
WeU, fifteen ?'

I made a show of hesitating, but I would have
given ten times the amount.

* Take fifteen, then,' I said, producing a second
note — B. blue one this time — from the case.

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There was still a goodly bundle of notes left, for
the Prince had lately paid me for my tutoring work,
and the student's eyes fixed themselves upon this
evidence of wealth with a stare of undisguised

He pocketed his fifteen roubles quickly, and gave
me the address required, looking round the room
first very cautiously, and listening, and then mur-
muring it in my ear so softly that I could scarcely
catch the words.

' Can't you write it down ? I shall forget it,' I

He shook his head.

* That's your look-out,' he said ; ' I've told you,
and you must remember it. If I were to write it
down, and old Starik saw my handwriting, my life
wouldn't be worth a day's purchase.'

* But what if he asks me how I found out his
address ?'

' Good Lord ! you wouldn't tell him the truth ?'
my companion muttered, his face turning as pale as
paper. ' Why, man, he'd himt me into my grave
before the sun had set this very evening !'


*Tell him you accidentally saw him enter the
house, or, if you have an enemy, give your enemy's
name as your informant. The Starik will see that
the gentleman worries you no longer. But never

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dare so much as hint that you have seen or spoken
to meP

* Dare ?' I laughed. * Tell me the worst. What
would happen to me ? You terrify me.'

* Ah, you mock me ; but believe me, even the
humblest Ori6l can use his talons if need be.'

' Well, my friend, your mind may be easy on that
score,' I said ; ' for, you see, I don't know your
name, never having had the honour to make your
acquaintance until this day. For the rest, I shall use
all the discretion that Nature-endowed me withal.'

* Good !' said the student ; ' it is better to be dis-
creet than to quarrel unnecessarily with friends.
You are an Englishman, and proud — ^you know, we
Russians have a saying that all Enghshmen are
proud, and nearly all are mad — ^but perhaps misfor-
tune has taught you a lesson. Those that have
stings are best left alone, though humble they may
be. I am humble, but I have a sting. Bah ! devil
take it ! you frightened me, and I was angry.
Swear that you will not give me away as your
informant ?'

* I tell you I don't know your name,' I laughed.
*By description, or by hint, or in any manner

whatever ?'

* Oh, be quite easy,' I said ; * you shall be for-
gotten. No one shall know of the honour I have
enjoyed this day in making your acquaintance.'

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^ Good I' said my friend. ^ I believe that English-
men, for all their madness, are accustomed to keep
their word. Is it necessary to add threats, in case
you should fail to do so ?*

* Not in the least,' I laughed. * But pray relieve
your mind in that way if a little threatening or
cursing would be comforting to you I'

* No ; I prefer to accept your oath in a friendly
spirit. -We will part good friends. Come, now,
show me that you are inclined to treat me as such
by drinking a glass of wine with me. You have sat
there and watched me eat and drink without allow-
ing a morsel to pass your lips ; that is not friendly —
it is almost offensive.

I laughed, and bade him order what he pleased.

The student's taste was port wine. I dreaded
being obliged to swallow a glassful of the concoction
likely to be sold under that name at a small re-
staurant in this part of the town ; but I felt the
elation of the successful diplomatist, and determined
to offer myself a living sacrifice in token of my

For, indeed, I had done a good day's work. I had
learned that these Ori61 people actually cherished
the idea of ' removing ' my beloved Liuba and
her father. In all probability they would never
have proceeded any further than to include theix
names in some foolish ' black list ' of condenmed

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persons but for the accident of my being domiciled
with the Prince and his daughter. I, being on the
spot, was to be utilized to do their dirty work for
them — so, at least, the student declared.

Could they really suppose that I, or anyone else
in my position, would consent to such a proceeding ?
Puobably not. It was a * try-on.' The Society,
like all secret societies of its type, was composed
mostly of madmen, but conducted and governed by
a small body of knaves who used the brotherhood
for their own ends. God only knew what pleasure
the wretched dupes, the members, hoped to derive
from their membership, or what good end they hoped
to serve. So far as I could see, the Ori61s had no
plan and no settled object — in fact, no raison d^etre.
It would be a charity to assist in the capture of the
chief rascal of the crew — ^the man whose address I
had by heart. In case of need I should certainly use
my knowledge. Let the Society really seriously
interfere with me in any way whatever, and Starik
should sleep that night at the police-station ; this I
promised myself, at any rate. As for danger to
Liuba and her father, I did not believe in it ; I could
not consider it seriously.

Meanwhile, a waiter brought the port wine, and
my student, doing the honours, pledged me in a glass
of that noxious fluid.

It was very nasty, of course — I had anticipated

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that — hut I did not expect the immediate result
which followed the emptying of my glass.

For my head suddenly seemed to burst into
flames. My knees at the same moment failed to
support my weight. Loud sounds rang and boomed
in my ears, and before I could say a word to my
companion — ^whom I could no longer see for t)ie
blackness that hung like a veil before my eyes— I
became unconscious.

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When I recovered my senses, I could at first remem-
ber nothing whatever. What had happened to me ?
I was conscious of an aching and throbbing head,
and of a feeling of intense lassitude and nausea. I
lay upon a sofa — comfortable enough — but in a
room which I did not recognise. About my head
was a white handkerchief moistened with cold

I lay and reflected, struggling, with an obstinate
sluggishness of brain, to remember something which
should at least afford a footing for greater efforts of
recollection. But it was useless ; my brain refused
to work. Then I fell asleep.

When I awoke someone was replacing a cool
bandage upon my head. They were soft hands that
did it. Could they be Liuba's ? I wondered.

I dared not open my eyes lest Liuba, if she it
were, should desist from her delicious minis-
trations. But presently the bandage was satis-
factorily arranged, and I began to fear she would


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now leave me. I had not the energy to open
my eyes.

' Is it you, dear Liuba ?' I said, lying still with
closed lids.

There was the stamp of a small foot upon the
carpet, and a rustle as someone moved a pace or two
from the sofa-side. I opened my eyes, restored to
sudden energy. It was Ida.

' Countess !* I exclaimed, ' is it you ? What am
I doing here ? How came I into your house ?'

She turned and looked back at me. Dazed and
stupid as I felt at the moment, I could see that she
was furious.

' If it were not that I know you to be blinded with
love, and obstinate as a fool to boot,' she said, ' I
should say it was Destiny that brought you here
for your salvation.'

* I don't understand,' I said ; ' how came I here,
in the plain sense of the words ? I do not remember

' You were deposited at the door with a message,'
said Ida ; * I did not see the student who left you and
the message, but my servant thought you simply
tipsy. I soon discovered that you had been

* Drugged ?' I repeated, half rising ; * by whom ?'

* How should I know ? The student, perhaps.
Who was your frigid ? What is his name ?'

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* Stop — my head buzzes — what friend — a student
— did you say ? And drugged ? Who drugged

* Oh, Heaven knows — some student, as I tell you.
You had better reflect awhile quietly. Is your head
very painful ?' she added, more softly.

She returned to the sofa-side, and, removing the
handkerchief from my head, dipped another in a
bowl of water, and substituted it for the first. I lay
with closed eyes ; the touch of the cold water was
delicious. Then, to my surprise, I felt Ida's lips
touq^ my forehead, and instantly after she sobbed
and hurried out of the room.

* Well,' I reflected, ' it is time I began to under-
stand something of all this !' and I harked back
upon my doings of the earlier part of the day. My
memory escorted me as far as the beginning of my
walk upon the ' islands,' and there, for a space, it
left me. Then I thought of Ida's account of my
arrival at her house — tipsy, as her man declared —
drugged, as she had quickly understood. And ' left,
with a message, by a student !'

The last word gave my memory a healthy jog. I
remembered now that I had spoken to a student as
I stood and watched the skating from Petrovsky
Bridge. This stage reached, I was soon upon the
track of my subsequent doings. Point "by point I
recalled our conversation — ^his hearty dinner, my

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purchase, for fifteen roubles, of the chief Ori6rs
address (a cunning move that, I reflected !). I even
recalled the fact that I had consented to drink a
glass of port wine with the fellow. Either he
must have drugged the wine, then, or the port
itself must have been of so vile a quality that
it needed no addition to the poisons it already
contained. Fool that I was to drink it ! I might
have known.

Why, after all, should the student drug me ? He
had enjoyed his dinner, and had cashed fifteen roubles
besides— enough to keep him a month. Stay ; had
he robbed me ? Without the necessity of under-
going the exertion of feeling in my inside pocket, I
could see my porte-monnaie — a kind of letter-case —
bulging in its usual place. He had not robbed
me. The port must have done its work without
outside drugs.

It was, as a matter of fact, rather sensible of
the fellow to bring me here. Better here — since
I was unconscious an4, as some might hastily
conclude, a victim to drjpk — than to the Lebedefs'
mansion I

I should not have liked to be taken there in such
a condition, though, of course, Liuba would never
jump to false conclusions, to my disadvantage. The
servants, however, might have done so, just as Ida's
man had done.


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Then, if he had left me at the restaurant,
the police would have been conununicated with
by the proprietor, and awkward questions and
situations might — nay, assuredly would — have

On the whole, the student had done the best he
could for me ; I was grateful to him.

Presently Ida returned, and I told her as much
as I thought expedient of my adventure with the
student. Naturally, I said nothing of the comical
advice he had proffered with regard to Liuba, or of
his hints as to the desire of certain members of the
Ori61 to have me married and out of mischief's way
as the favoured swain of Ida herself, towards whose
affections some of themselves aspired.

But I told her how I had found this hungry
student, an Ori61, like myself, and had fed him.

* In return for which kindness he drugged and,
doubtless, robbed you !' she said. * You were right
to feed the poor fellow, but you should beware of the
lower order of the Ori61s ; we have some of the very
sciun of the earth in our ranks i'

* I don't think he robbed me,' I said ; * for here is
my port^-mofifiaie, safe and sound.'

I produced the case as I spoke, and op^ied it. In
an instant I saw that I had spoken too soon. My
money — a hundred roubles, more or less — had
vanished. What was worse, the opposite pocket,

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which had contamed my passport, was empty

Raising my face quickly at the discovery, about
to utter an exclamation of dismay, I surprised a
peculiar expression upon Ida's face — ^was it triumph
or slyness or satisfaction ? I could not tell

* What is it ?' she murmured ; * is your money"
gone ?*

* That's nothing !' I exclaimed ; * it's the pass-
port. Countess Ida, if I thought •

* Well,' she said, * continue — ^if you thought that
I had robbed you of your wretched money '

* Not the money I' I stamped ; * who cares for
that ? In a word, I am here at your mercy. The
student has my money, of course, but it may be that
you have my passport. Come, I will know.'

* You shall know. I will tell you what was the
student's message when he left you at the door and
drove away : " Here is your lover ; he will require
a passport." There ! he was both right and wrong :
you are not my lover, but, as you see, your passport
has disappeared.'

I sat down to think, my still aching head within
my hands.

* I do not apologize for my mistake,' I said pre-
sently ; * for you sent an agent to rob me of my
passport but the other day.'


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" I admit that.'

* Are you in collusion with this student ?' I

* Bah ! I have nothing to do with his class. We
have several of them. I avoid them — they are
dangerous. You observed that he called you my
lover ; that is jealousy. You may thank Heaven
he only drugged and robbed, and did not murder

' Oh, well,' I laughed. * I should say the courage
of most of your Ori61s would extend to about the
length of drugging a man, and then robbing him
when helpless !'

' Maybe,' she said ; * but there are some of us who
have a better spirit.'

* Yes, sufficient to lay an ambush for some unsus-
pecting Gregorief, and pounce upon him unawares.
I do not believe in the teeth of your wolves. Countess
Ida ; I have no respect for beasts that can rob farm-
yards and snarl and threaten, but have not the
spirit to rend.'

* You speak foolishly, because you know nothing
of the matter you speak of,' said Ida.

' Nay, I know something,' I said. * I will tell you
a few things. Fact number one : that the Countess
Ida is to certain members of the Society as the light is
to the moths. There are some that will not be con-
tent until they have scorched their wings. These are

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they whom you would employ — ^have employed,
perhaps, this very day ; but they lack spirit,

Countess. Believe me, I do not fear such '

Ida interrupted me :

* Come,' she said, * we do but waste time in foolish
talk. I will tell you what is your present position,
little as you guess it, and perhaps little as you may
believe it : you are like him who stands at the edge
of the cHff , and the ground about to give way beneath
his feet. You must be aware that, your passport
gone, you are in the hands of your enemies — if
enemies you have. I would be your friend, as you
know, but you will none of me. Even now I am
ready to forgive. You are helpless, and the net is
ready to be thrown over you.'

* Oh, I am not quite helpless,' I laughed. * I hold
a trump card that you do not guess. You would
hand me to the police as an escaped convict. Very
well; do so, and the police shall learn something
that I think they will be glad to know. The old
wolf has been tracked to his den, and shall be given
over into the hands of the hunters.*

I laughed as I spoke these words, for I thought I
had scored heavily.

* Who is the old wolf ? Do you mean the presi-
dent of the Society ?' asked Ida quite coolly.

I nodded.

* Dear friend,' she said, * if you have learned his

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address, which is possible, be advised, and unlearn
it, or, at any rate, make no parade of your know-
ledge. Our good president is well known to the
police as a most zealous and devoted servant of the
Tsar, and one of the most respectable of our citizens.
Do you suppose they would suffer the word of a
passportless and branded individual like yourself to
weigh against his known respectability ? They
would laugh at you. Moreover, the knowledge you
claim to possess is a most dangerous possession. If
you were really to do as you threaten, and reveal his
address to the police, you would, of course, be ar-
rested ; that would be the first result of the move.
But all the paternal care of all the punitive agents of
the Tsar would assuredly not avail to bring you alive
to Siberia ; you would die on the way.'

' No great calamity that !' I laughed, though I
felt somewhat chilled by her words, little as I desired
to believe them. It was a weird reflection that the
malice of this old villain, the president, might pursue
me even to Saghalien, and hunt me down — should I
have earned the man's hatred — even in the sanctuary
of a penal establishment.

' No, no ; do not risk it,' she continued. * I am
angry with you, but I cannot hate you. I would
not have you die ; you shall live, even though you
be no nearer to love and the joy of life than the mines
of Siberia.'

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* Thank you, Ida/ I laughed ; * but at present I
am not yet on my way. If I understand rightly,
you have a reason for desiring my contmued pre-
sence here, for you have work for me in St. Peters-
burg — ^is it not so ?*

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Countess Ida looked surprised.

' What work ?' she asked ; * I do not understand.'
*0h, some of the Society's dirty work. Come,

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Online LibraryFrederick J. WhishawCountess Ida → online text (page 14 of 17)