Frederick J. Whishaw.

Countess Ida online

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Coimtess, do you seriously believe that I could
ever be persuaded, even though refusal should
mean a himdred deaths to me, to undertake this
devil-designed, infernal, unspeakably vile com-
mission which, I understand, the Ori61s expect me
to imdertake ? Come, let me carry away a better
opinion of you ; tell me that there is no truth in
that which I have been led to believe of you — ^you
must know well to what I refer.'

* I know nothing,' said Ida, ' excepting that you
swore to love me and to repay me for the service
I did you, and that you have broken both pledges.
What is this ridiculous thing, and who is the bab-
bling fool that has told you ? The student,
doubtless ! Well, the idiot shall regret his garrulity.
But what did he tell you ?'

* In a word,'^that Prince Lebedef and his daughter


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having been "condemned " are to be " removed "—
I use your Ori6l jargon, you perceive — ^and that of
all unlikely people under God's sun / have been,
or am to be, selected to " remove them !" '

Countess Ida laughed, but her laugh had little
mirth in it.

* Their names have long been upon the list of
the condemned,' she said. * I think I told you or
hinted that much before. As to the other part of
your information, he who imparted it to you must
have been a fool to expect you to beUeve it ; you
also are not too wise to have been so easily deceived,
if deceived you were ! Do you suppose anyone
possessing a grain of sense would ask you, you
who are at the present moment madly in love
with the girl, to be the instrument of death to her ?
Bah ! from beginning to end the idea is silly and
ridiculous. The girl will be removed, maybe, but
the Ori61s know their business, my friend, better
than to place the job in your hands. Be com-
forted ; we shall wait until you are safely in Siberia,
well out of the way, before we take the matter in
hand. Your affair will come first, then hers.'

My heart went cold at her words ; they were so
utterly heartless and inhmnan.

' You little tigress !' I cried, * what is to prevent
me putting you at least out of mischief's way oy
fetching the nearest pristaf of police, and lodging

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information against you, tigress and murderess
that you are ?*

• TTiere are several things/ said Ida coolly. * In
the first place, it would be a foolish act, for the
pristaf of the district is my very good friend and
an admirer of mine ; he would not believe you if
you were an angel from heaven, instead of the
branded, passportless, escaped convict and mur-
derer that you are. You would be locked up for
your pains, and to-morrow you should be en route
for Saghahen. You are bound for that part of the
world soon enough, my friend ; why hasten the day
of your departure ? Take a few days for exchanging
farewell vows with friends, and so on. This will
be, after all, a final farewell, for you wiU certainly
not escape a second time ; and as for the young
woman, there is no return from the destination to-
wards which she is bound.*

I suppose there was something convincing in
Ida's tone or in the manner in which she made her
conununication, for I suddenly began to lose
heart. Hitherto all this secret society jargon, as I
had considered it, of * sentences ' and ^ removals,*
had not really convinced me. I had not seri-
ously believed Liuba to be in any real danger
of her Ufe. But now my spirit seemed suddenly
about to collapse. I think the consideration
which made a coward of me was this — that it was

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so utterly horrible, unendurable, to reflect that if
I were recaptured and sent back to Siberia, which
might easily happen any moment now that I had
again been deprived of my passport, there would
remain no line of defence between Liuba and these
terrible people. The horrors of Siberia would be
trebled by the haimting fears which would continu-
ally assail me on Liuba's account. I should go
mad — I could not bear the strain of it.

* Ida,' I said, * for God's sake, if ever you loved
me, as you have declared you once did *

* I still do,' she interrupted ; * you know that !'

* If you love me, then, tell me, are you speaking
God's absolute truth when you affirm that the
Ori61s would murder that poor innocent girl, sup-
posing my back were turned ?'

* Don't flatter yourself!' she said. * Whether
your back were turned or not the girl would not be
permitted to live ; the matter is finally settled.
Their names — ^hers and her father's — are posted.
You would have gone the same way as they but for
me ; I would not have you die because, as I say, I
still love you.'

* I do not beUeve it,' I raved. ' If you did, you
would not conspire to condemn me to certain mad-
ness, or plot against the life of this poor child who
has done you no harm. I am not to be blamed.
How can I help loving her ?'

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* I tell you you lied to me, though it was I who
saved your life. As for the girl, she has done me
harm Plough, Heaven knows I For the rest, I am
nbt the Ori6k, and the Ori61s are not I. I am one
member ; what can I do ?'

* You say you have saved my life ; save hers

* Oh, that is a different thing. I have no power ;
they are political offenders ; you are, or were, to suffer
because you are dangerous and unrehable. Their
case might not have come on so soon but that it
is thought they may have learned certain matters
from you.*

* Do you tell me, then, that there is no hope for
their lives ?' I said. ' Beware what you say, Ida ;
I will have the truth.'

' It is the truth I am telling you. They are
scheduled ; the death-warrant is out.*

* I don't beUeve it !* I cried. * TTie Ori61s would
not dare ; these people, the Lebedefs, are grandees
of Russia. The thing would make such a stir that
your whole Society would be hunted down and
worried like rats ; every decent hand in Russia
would be against you. In twenty-four hours every-
one of you would be lynched ; you *

'As to that, neither you nor I can foretell the
future. We run risks, but our arrangements are
careful. Possibly the executioner would be caught

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and punished, unless he had first put himself out
of the danger of capture, which he certainly would
do. To what end is all this idle talk ? You have
brought judgment upon yourself. Oh, blame neither
me nor anyone else ; you might have been safe in
England by this time, and my love is as good as
hers. You would not have it. Ebben ! then you
have this instead. You do not believe, say you ?
Very well ; then go to Siberia unbelieving, if you
desire it. Nevertheless, the girl and her father will
not live. If I chose I could show you the very
man to whom has been committed the duty of
executing sentence.'

I seized the girl's wrist ; it must have hurt her,
but she gazed back at me without flinching.

* Ida, show me that man !' I raved. * I will
tear him limb from limb before your eyes. I will

make No ; see here, Ida : you say you love me.

Persuade the Ori61s to leave us in peace for a few
days, a week, and then to murder me as well as
her ; I would rather have it that way.'

*No,' she gaid; *you shall not die. You shall
live in the world that I inhabit, not in the place
to which she goes. Come, we have talked folly
enough ; go now. I see that you are hopelessly
blind with love for the doU-faced Lebedef . Go to
her, make the most of one another ; you have not
much time to spare !'

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* Ida,* I raved, going on my knees to the giri and,
I believe, bursting into tears, * save her !'

* How can I ?* she said. * Am I God to go
between the Ori61s and their word ?*

* Is there no way ? Think. You are omnipotent
with these murdering, pitiless, demented creatures ;
you can do everjrthing.*

* No* ; I cannot, and will not. There is one Way,
but you have refused it. You may be free, and
possibly she may be saved ; but there is only this
one way, and it you have spumed.*

* Let me think it over, Ida ; give me a day ; do
nothing — ^at least — for twenty-four hours. Is it a
bargain ? It may be that I shall agree to your
terms. Have this much pity— let me take a full
day to reflect.*

* TTien stay here to reflect,* said Ida, more softly,
^ I can love as well as she. If you go to her and
take counsel with her, her doll's face wiU fascinate
you, and she will persuade you to risk all things
rather than give her up for me. Tell her she is as good
as dead if you do not act as I advise — she and her
father — ^yes, and yourself rotting in Siberia ! On the
other hand, freedom and life in your own England,
for you, and the gift of life too, for her; for you, again,
love — such love as I shall give you, not a doll's love
like hers ! Think, now, are not all these things better
than the misery of Siberia, more doubly miserable

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by the knowledge cankering at your heart, that by
your foolishness she had died, though you could
have saved her ? Stay here and reflect, if you will.*

I paced the room awhile, thinking hard. She
would never allow me to return to the Lebedefs
with this question imdecided. Yet I felt that my
brain was too fogged to think out the matter for
myself without counsel with Liuba. It might be
that the drug had so besotted me that I was in-
capable of forming an accurate judgment ; but the
dangers surrounding us both certainly seemed this
evening tenfold more real and more imminent
than before. If only I could see Liuba and take
coimsel with her ! She might put matters in a
different light. As for me, I could see no safety
at this crisis but in accepting or sieeming to accept
Ida's terms.

How would it be to reflect awhile here^ and after
reflection to inform her that I had decided to give
up Liuba — to sell myself to Ida, body and soul, in
return for Liuba*s life and my liberty, stipulating
only that I must return for an hour to the Lebedefs
to bid them farewell — a last farewell before escap-
ing with Ida to England ? I took this course. I
told Ida presently that I accepted her offer. I
would escape to England with her. I would give
up Liuba. I did this, I said, because I saw no
other way of saving the girl's life.

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Ida flushed a deep red.

* My love/ she murmured, * I swear that you
shall never regret it. At this moment you love
her, I know, but it shall not always be so !'

* God knows, Ida,' I said wearily, * At present,
as you say, and as I fully admit, I do love her ; in
time I may come to regard you more kindly than
now. But you are not to be deceived ; I will not
pretend that I feel any love for you to-day. Now
I will go to the Lebedefs and bid them a last fare-

* Oh, do not go I' she said — * do not go, for think
what may happen ! You will see her and lose
heart, and the matter will be set back to the start-
ing-point, or she will persuade you. No, do not go ;
be strong, and remain ! Think. It is her life and
your freedom — sanity — ^happiness, everjrthing, that
hang upon this decision ! You shall not love me
until love comes of itself — I will wait ; only stay
now — stay, I entreat you !'

* No, Ida ; I will go, but I swear that I will
return in an hour. There, is not that enough ? I
cannot leave my friends in this way without fare-

She allowed me to go under promise to return
within an hour.

I went with a heart like lead within me. The
fearful risk — ^and fearful I was now persuaded the

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danger really was — or the alternative : which was
it to be ?

I could think no more. My brain refused ^ act.
What with the drug and the terror which Ida's
threats had aroused in me, I felt utterly incapable
of any kind of intellectual effort.

Liuba should decide for me — my poor beloved
Liuba, who, according to this terrible Ida, must
either be surrendered by me or done to death by
the Ori61s, for Heaven knows what reason, unless
it were that I loved her, and Ida would have me love
no one but herself.


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I WAS fortunate enough to find Liuba alone, her
father being in attendance this evening at his
Department. She was playing some gentle tune
at the piano, and I stole by her side unnoticed and
raised her hands from the notes. Liuba looked up
in my face with the smile I love, but it changed
instantly into an expression of alarm.

* What is it ?* she exclaimed — ' what is it ? Has
anything happened ? What has gone wrong ?*

* Everything, my love ; it's all up with us,' I
groaned. * I have come to say good-bye ; after
this hour we shall never meet again on this earth.*

* You rave,' she murmured ; * something has
alarmed you. Tell me, have the police threatened
you ?'

* Oh, a thousand times worse !' I cried. * The
police have threatened me — ^yes, in a way, but a
worse thing has happened. Can you bear it ?
Shall I tell you aU ?'

* Yes, tell me all — all ; sit down, and we wiU take


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counsel together. There is nothing so dark but
that God's mercy may throw the light of comfort
mto it.'

We sat down, and I told my dear girl the whole
story of the afternoon from beginning to end.

To my utter surprise and unspeakable relief
Liuba laughed quite merrily at the end of the

* My poor Karloosha/ she said, ^ the drug must
have been strong indeed to produce so wonderful
an effect. These bogey people have frightened
you, but I think quite without adequate cause.
There is nothing to fear.'

* Alas, Liuba I you do not know,' I said, * you
do not understand the terrible passions of semi-
insane women such as this Ida ; there is nothing she
would not do in the moments of her fury. Then
^e has a squad of half-insane fellows in love and
in league with her, every one of whom is prepared
at any time to obey her orders. I tell you she vowed
by all her gods that the very man is chosen who
is to murder the Prince and yourself.*

*I don't doubt that part of the matter — her
amiable intentions, I mean, and those of her friends
and lovers ; it is her power and theirs that I dis-
believe. What is to prevent us informing the police
of all this, and putting ourselves under their pro-
tection ? Though, mind, I do not think even this


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much precaution necessary. They dare not do
these things. You must not suppose that they are
able to perform all the mischief they would like
to do. So this threadbare student suggested a
way out of the difficulty ; is he, too, one of her
admirers ?'

Liuba laughed again quite merrily. I began to
feel ashamed of the craven spirit I had shown.

' I think he was her agent in the matter of the
passport, though, of course, the advice was his own
contribution,' I said, blushing. * I love your spirit,
Liuba ; do you think I have been a coward ?

Heaven knows Yes, the student is obviously one

of her admirers ; but what is to be done ? Mind,
if I return and tell her that I have reconsidered
this matter I shall be arrested for certain, and sent
back to Saghalien ; then who will see to your safety ?
I cannot go and leave you in peril, Liuba — I really
cannot ; that is the crux — ^you must see it is ! God
only knows what we ought to do ; my brain has
gone all wrong — I can't think — I don't know what
I am saying ; it may be the drug '

* Listen,' said Liuba : * I will tell you what must
be done. You have forgotten Gregorief. It is
Gregorief who shall justify you. Go from this
house to him now and tell him the position. If I
understand his present state of mind he will be
glad of the chance to justify you ; his soul thirsts

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for atonement, thanks to remorse and to Father
Ivan acting conjomtly.'

It was true that I had forgotten Gregorief . Or,
more correctly, I suppose, I scarcely believed in
his sincerity sufficiently to trust to it for my salva-
tion. But Liuba was right ; here was something —
a straw at least, but perhaps a strong support for
drowning me to catch hold of. I would go to

But the time passed in talking and in the bliss of
being with Liuba, and my hour was nearly up. It
was too late to go to Gregorief now ; I must go
back to Ida, and see Gregorief afterwards.

*No,* said Liuba; 'you shall go to her, and I
shall see Gregorief !'

And so we parted — ^parting as lovers who will
meet again in a short while, or on the morrow ; for
Liuba's attitude towards the crisis which had come
so suddenly upon me had, during the last half-hour
of our interview, made a new man of me, and I was
again full of hope and confidence that all these
troubles would pass from us in the end.

Yet, had I known it, this parting came near to
being our final farewell, this side of the Styx.

Emboldened as I now felt, I was nevertheless
somewhat anxious as I drew near Ida's lodging.
The meeting with her was sure to be painful, and
at the least stormy, if not absolutely violent on her

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part. Ida met me in the entrance hall, opening
the door herself in response to my ring. She took
me by the hand and led me into the salon which
opened out of the hall. Here she gazed into my
face in the stronger light.
She dropped my hand suddenly.

* I see by your expression that you have allowed
yourself to be persuaded,* she muttered. * Very
well, so be it ; we shall see who is right and who
is wrong. You have come to defy me — is it so ?*

* Not to defy you, Ida,' I said, glad, however,
that the initiative had been taken by herself. * I
have come to tell you that it is my duty to resist
evil, and to entreat you to use your influence with
the Society to attempt no murderous enterprises.
There is no just reason for their fury and vengeance
against the Lebedefs ; neither father nor daughter
have done or intended harm to living soul. The
malice of the Ori61s will recoil upon their own heads.
In a word, Ida : I cannot love you in the way that
you desire, but if you will take the right course
now I shall honour and respect you for ever.*

* Honour and respect ! Tfu ! I want neither
respect nor honour ; I will have love or nothing.
See here : I ask you again, and this is the last time,
will you go with me, or will you not ? On the one
side freedom and love and life ; on the other. Heaven
knows what for you — ^Siberia at any rate, and for

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the woman certain death. Now, shall it be I — or
that other ?'

* I cannot love you, Ida ; you know it,' I said.

* Do what you wiU in the matter. I shall have God
on my side, at any rate ; your ally is the devil.*

* Then it is decided,' she said, stamping her foot.

* Go ; I will have no more to do with you. Why
did I love a fool ? Go where you will ; you have
signed your own condemnation — ^go !'

I bowed, and retired from the room. I had
reached the front-door, when she suddenly pursued

* Wait r she cried ; and before I had guessed her
intention she flung herself upon my breast, and
kissed me upon the lips. * Farewell,' she said,

* you that might have known the happiness of the
well-beloved I'

I muttered a farewell and departed, releasing her
arms from about my neck, for the girl dung there
and cried.

What would be the next move ?

It came early in the morning before the family
were up and about. The pristaf of the Department
arrived with a squad of gendarmes, and carried me

* Where are you taking me to ?' I asked, as we
marched through the untenanted streets.

* To the Department, which is the same as saying

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the first stage on the road to Siberia,* said the
man, grinning unpleasantly, * if our informations
are correct.'

I had no opportimity of seeing Liuba before
being hurried forth, nor, indeed, was I permitted
to send a message to her. I was arrested and
hustled away, and had hardly time to whisper to
the shocked and wondering * Swiss,* Alexis, the
keeper of the great door : ' Tell the Princess " Gre-
gorief " ; she will know.'

At the oochastoky or police-court of the district,
I was questioned and requestioned, and my shoulder
was examined ; the whole history of my crime and
of my escape from Siberia was read over to me, and
I was asked to explain many things. But I would
not speak. Why should I ? I had no witnesses,
no passport, no support for any statements or
contradictions I might make ; it was better to
remain silent, and to trust to Gregorief for justifi-
cation, would he but come and tender it.

Countess Ida appeared in court, but I do not
think she came as a witness.

When at last the inquiry was over, and I was
led away by my gendarmes — ^not having spoken
a word in my defence or produced a single witness —
I saw the girl clasp her hands and burst into tears.
Also I distinctly overheard her say, * My God,
what have I done ?'

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Yes, indeed, what had she done !

If Gregorief did not turn up, or should they refuse
to accept his statements, then I was a lost soul.
I should be hounded back to Siberia, and there —
this time — I should remain till I died. Ye gods!
she had done enough.

I heard no more of what was said or done at this
time to incriminate or justify me. I suppose about
a week passed, and then I was told that my case
had been completed.

I had been fully identified as the escaped criminal
Gregorief, the murderer, who had been despatched
to Siberia for his crime, but who had contrived to
elude the vigilance of the guard at some outlying
station, and had, like a fool, run to earth at St.

' You have been dug out, my friend,' said a talka-
tive gendarme, * and recaptured ; you that managed
so well in the beginning made a mess of it in the
end. It is often the case. You murderers and
thieves and rascals generally are never quite clever
enougli ; you are as cimning as the devil up to a
certain point, and there you do some silly thing
which spoils all the rest !'

So, then, on the day when my spirit had given
way, and I went to Liuba with my mind nearly
made up to leave the coimtry with Ida, in order
that both she and I might be saved from the dangers

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which threatened us, I had been right after all, and
she wrong I What would happen ? I wondered —
what, in Heaven's name, would happen ? My own
fate was already decided — I was a lost soul ; but
what would become of Liuba ? That was the horror
that made of every hour of my life a waking night-
mare, and rendered even the prospect of Siberia
an insignificant disaster by comparison.

And Gregorief had funked. I always half-believed
him a Vaurien ! I had been a fool to trust him.
All that foolery of remorse and passion for atone-
ment, all the preaching of Father Ivan of Cron-
stadt and Gregorief s awakening to a state of grace,
had not availed to bring him to the scratch and
make a man of him — curse him !

During this period of anguish of mind I believe
that if I had foimd the means I should certainly
have put an end to my miserable life. I should
have thought it no wrong to do so then. I had lost,
for the time, my moral focus, and believed neither
in right nor in wrong. No- one else ever respected
the one or eschewed the other — ^why should I ?

I was the football of an accursed destiny, and the
sooner I got myself kicked into the goal of death,
and the game of life over, the better for me.

I left St. Petersburg with the fires of hell raging
within my heart. From the van I caught a glimpse
of the winter palace, and knew that within a quarter

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of a mile of that huge edifice stood the Lebedef
mansion. Was Liuba still within it safe and well ?
or had that tigress fulfilled her threats ?

Yet what, after all, did it matter to me ? I was
a lost soul. The things of this earth had no further
interest for me^ I belonged no more to the race
of living men, happy average human beings, with
a modicimi of hope and joy to keep their hearts
alive — ^my heart had none of these ; it was dead !

I had few fellow-prisoners — ^not more than two or
three, to which fact I attributed our rapid journey.
We were, I suppose, to overtake a convict party

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Online LibraryFrederick J. WhishawCountess Ida → online text (page 15 of 17)