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Title: Number 187 Author: Baroness Orczy * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000241h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2020 Most recent update: March 2020 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Published in Pearson's Magazine, January 1899
“187,” shouted the moujik in charge of the division. “Now then, there, 187, why don’t you come when you are called?”
A young man, who had been crouching in a corner by himself, apart from the group of other prisoners, looked up wearily, as the moujik shook him roughly by the shoulder. He was a very young man, almost a boy, not a trace yet of moustache over his finely-cut mouth, his great blue eyes staring straight in front of him, despair—hopeless, abject despair—written on every feature of the young face. The boy rose, and with weary steps followed the moujik across the wide hall, where some fourscore or so men of all ages, and apparently all conditions, were huddled together.
They had all stood their trial—a mockery—and had been condemned wholesale to the mercury mines in Eastern Siberia—the capital punishment practically, but a punishment that sometimes takes three years to complete; a daily, hourly torture, a fight against privations, disease, ignominy, with a felon’s grave as ultimate goal. They were all leaving Moscow on the following day, to begin their weary trudge across miles of arid plains, scantily fed, scantily clothed, perishing by dozens on the wayside through cold and hunger.
And young Count Wladimir Rostopchine was one of these poor wretches. Wealthy, high-born, the idol of St. Petersburg society, he saw himself transformed, after three months imprisonment, into No. 187, one of gang No. 2, en route for Irkutsk on the morrow.
Eh! what would you? He had conspired, at any rate had been sadly mixed up in that last attempt against the life of the Tsar, therefore he must die. Oh, yes! that is inevitable, but not for three years, Count Wladimir, not till you have brought to the surface enough mercury to pay for this gracious prolongation of your existence: after that you may pay your debt to Nature; your death will lie at her door, not at that of the paternal Government of your country.
The moujik, having reached the entrance of the hall, handed over 187 to four cosaques, who, having secured the young man’s wrists with handcuffs, led him through interminable stone passages, dimly lighted by occasional paraffin lamps, to a massive oak door, over which hung a fine wrought-iron bracket that bore the sign: “His Excellency the Governor’s Office.” Hardly had they led their prisoner before this door, when it was opened from the inside, and a voice said:
“Have you brought 187, sergeant?”
“Yes, your Excellency.”
“Bring him in, then, and wait outside with your men, till you are required again.”
The sergeant of cosaques pushed the young man within the room, and left him standing there, while he himself retired, closing the massive doors with a loud bang.
Count Wladimir Rostopchine, whom all these proceedings did not appear to interest in the least, waited patiently to hear what his Excellency wished to say to him. No doubt more examinations, more questions to answer; he was used to these by now, and had ceased to fear, or hope for them.
“Count Wladimir Rostopchine!” said his Excellency after a slight pause, during which he had been contemplating the young man with more curiosity than compassion.
The boy started. It was three months since he had heard his name, since he had ceased to be a man and had become a number.
“As you are fully aware,” added his Excellency, “you have been tried for high treason and lèse-majesté, and condemned to the mercury mines of Eastern Siberia—that is to say, to death.”
“I am aware of that fact, your Excellency, and need not be reminded,” said the boy bitterly.
“To-morrow,” resumed the Governor, “Count Wladimir Rostopchine will cease to exist. His goods and moneys become the property of the Crown, his name is erased from the list of His Majesty’s subjects. . .”
The young man gave a slight shudder as the old Governor paused for one moment, and, if possible, a look of still greater despair overspread his haggard features, but this time he said nothing.
“And to-morrow,” continued his Excellency imperturbably, “No. 187 will start from Moscow, together with two hundred more felons, on their way to Irkutsk, their ultimate destination, there—”
“You need not tell me more, your Excellency,” interrupted the young man impetuously. “I know what awaits me there; I know of the horrors, the privations, the agonies of a Siberian living tomb. Is it to tell me of them you have summoned me here?”
“I merely wished to assure myself,” said his Excellency blandly, “that you are fully aware of what awaits you to-morrow, unless—”
“Unless?” said Count Wladimir, in amazement. “Is there an unless?”
His Excellency paused for some time. He was studying the young man’s wan-looking face through his gold-rimmed spectacles. Evidently, experienced man of the world as he was, he was somewhat at a loss as to the best way of wording what he was about to say.
“Count Wladimir,” he said, at last, “it is in my power to offer you an alternative. Through your rebellion against the authority of the Tsar, your crime against his sacred person, you have forfeited your liberty, your great wealth, your illustrious name. I am prepared to offer you, in the name of His Most Excellent Majesty, whom may God continue to save, a new name, wealth that will place you beyond ordinary needs, and the right to go freely among your fellow-men, if—”
The effect of his Excellency’s last words on Count Wladimir Rostopchine was startling in its intensity; hope that refused to be crushed struggled for mastery over the now vanishing look of despair; all the young man’s faculties seemed centred in the one urging intreaty to the Governor to proceed.
“If,” resumed his Excellency, “you will agree to the one condition His Most Excellent Majesty the Tsar will ask you to fulfil in exchange.”
“And that condition?” asked Count Wladimir breathlessly.
“Is, that you will freely give that name, over which after to-day you will have no further right, to such person as His Majesty will designate.”
“And that person?”
“Is a lady.”
“You mean that the Tsar wishes me to marry some—”
“His Majesty offers you any name you might choose, and complete liberty outside the frontier of Russia, together with a substantial portion of your confiscated wealth, if you will undertake to go through the ceremony of marriage with a lady whose reputation is spotless and will always remain so.”
“And is that all?” asked Count Wladimir, not daring to trust his senses.
“No, not quite all,” said the Governor, “but practically so; you must remember that henceforth Count Wladimir Rostopchine is dead; that after the ceremony is performed there will be a widowed Countess Rostopchine who will go into society, to Court. That lady you must never approach, she must never see or know him by whose side she will stand at the altar. To her you will be as dead as to the rest of the world.
“Outside Russia, you will be free to begin life anew, under whichever name or nationality you may wish to select. You are young; all Europe is open to you; you will still be comparatively wealthy; you have to the best of my belief no near kinsfolk, and your friends will mourn you, as they already are doing, as one practically dead. Do you accept?”
“Yes, I accept,” said the young man, with a tinge of bitterness. “You have shown me hell, hideous, terrible, and now you give me a glimpse of earth again; I would be a fool not to accept the alternative. I am ready to fulfil His Majesty’s conditions.”
“It is well,” said the Governor; “but remember one thing,” and his Excellency’s manner became solemn and emphatic, he was pronouncing sentence of death: “Count Wladimir Rostopchine is condemned for high treason and as such doomed to torture and death; if at any time in the future, anyone—be he or she who they may—should know that he has so far escaped that doom, then the Russian police, whose arm is long, and whose eye is far-seeing, will know how to reach and punish him, even if he have built an empire and set himself upon a throne. Once more, do you accept?
Count Wladimir, who could not repress a shudder and was choking with emotion, dropped his head on his breast and whispered:
* * * * * * * *
That same night, at the hour of midnight, the gloomy prison chapel presented a curious appearance. The candles on the high altar threw an intermittent and flickering light on two young forms kneeling devoutly on a double prie-Dieu, their heads bent under the benediction of an old bearded pope who had just passed a gold ring on the third finger of the right hand of each: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
There were no flowers, no music, no incense, and there was no joy. There was one broken heart—a young man’s, almost a boy’s, who at the foot of the throne of God bade adieu to home, kindred, name. The other figure—an enigma—swathed in white, her face concealed beneath a white satin mask, through which a pair of dark eyes looked somewhat compassionately from time to time at the bent figure by her side. Once the eyes of the two met, as, the pope having given the last benediction, their hands were joined for the first and only time. A look of inquiry was answered by one of pity, and the mouth beneath the mask smiled a trifle contemptuously. He who had been Count Wladimir Rostopchine looked at that mouth: it was finely chiselled, as that of the Medici Venus and on the left side, just above the upper lip, a little mole gave it an arch and childlike expression.
The next moment the white figure had disappeared.
His Excellency the Governor, who had assisted at the marriage ceremony in the capacity of witness, now touched the young man on the shoulder. He pulled himself together, as if waking from a dream.
“The blessing of God be with thee, my son,” said the old pope.
“Amen,” said the young man fervently, and followed Count Gulohoff through the dark chapel, at the door of which four cosaques stood in readiness to escort him out of Moscow, and then beyond the frontier.
Count Wladimir Rostopchine was dead.
The year 1889 was, without doubt, the most brilliant that that gay little city Budapesth had known for some time. The exhibition was an unqualified success, and the town was thronged with visitors of all nationalities, thus realising the dreams of the worthy town councillors, which was to make Budapesth the Paris of the East.
As for the “Hotel Hungaria,” it certainly became dazzling in its cosmopolitan magnificence when, after seven o’clock, the czigány band of Rácz Pali began playing in the dining-room, and a brilliant medley of notabilities of every clime and country assembled to enjoy the best cuisine and finest music in the world. Russians, Turks, French and English, Germans and Chinese, Roumanians and Albanians, elbowed each other to secure good tables, and till past midnight conversation in every civilised and most barbaric tongues nearly drowned the lively csàrdás and pathetic love songs.
His Excellency Prince Radovitch, the Transbalkanian ambassador, himself attracted by the gay crowds, mostly dined downstairs. He knew so many people, and was constantly exchanging handshakes and greeting with his various diplomatic friends, while his secretary, M. André Zaika, silent and taciturn as usual, would sit and gaze absently round, a sad, almost yearning, expression in his eyes.
His Excellency, with characteristic kindliness, would from time to time attempt to drag him into conversation, or offer to introduce him to some of his younger friends, but M. Zaika appeared to be almost morbidly sensitive, and to shrink from intercourse with his fellow-men; and yet his Excellency held him in great esteem, gave him his fullest confidence, and consulted him in most matters, both political and otherwise, for he knew Zaika’s judgment was clear, and his counsels well worth following.
It was now nearly ten years since André came to him in Belgrade, without friends, without introductions, but possessed of a face and bearing that invited confidence, and a nature that was worthy of keeping it. He seldom spoke, and never smiled; true he never frowned either, emotion seemed to have died in him. Once only did his Excellency see him start, and that was a day or two ago, when merry laughter sounded in the hall of the “Hungaria,” and the dining-room door being thrown open, there walked in a beautiful woman. She was a Russian apparently, for she spoke in that language to her companions, whom his Excellency knew well, for they were diplomats mostly. Her face was peculiarly lovely, her expression sweet, almost childlike, and at the comer of her mouth, just above the upper lip, there was a little mole that gave the face the most piquant expression imaginable.
Zaika certainly turned pale then, and the glass he was holding smashed to pieces in his hand. The next moment he had recovered himself, and his Excellency, with the discretion peculiar to his office, made no remark on the subject.
“I am going to Her Majesty’s little soirée to-night, André,” said his Excellency on the following day; “the hotel seems more crowded than ever, and I must impress upon you that His Majesty’s draft of the secret treaty will remain in my bureau. I should be afraid to take it about with me at night.”
“Your Excellency need have no fear,” answered André Zaika; “I shall in all probability sit and read in the room until your return.”
“Ah, that will be very kind of you. Good-night, André!”
And his Excellency stepped into his carriage, en route for Buda, leaving Zaika standing in the hall. It was a lovely, clear frosty night, with a brilliant moon shining overhead. The young man watched the ambassador’s carriage out of sight, then turned to go in again, but the keen air tempted him. A walk along the embankment seemed most enticing, and at this early hour of the evening—it was not more than ten o’clock—with the keys of the rooms in his pocket, all within was quite safe.
When he came home it was a quarter or so before midnight. He mounted the broad staircase leading to his Excellency’s suite of rooms on the first floor, buried in thoughts of ten years ago. To his astonishment, hardly had he reached the top of the stairs when it seemed to him that at the further end of the passage someone had just disappeared within the door of the room his Excellency used as study—the key of which was at that moment in his own pocket.
Filled with some vague foreboding, he crept noiselessly along the passage, and having reached the door, pushed it gently open. The room was dark, save for a tiny bull’s-eye lantern that lit up a space no larger than the hand. But what he did discern in that small space, and by that dim light, made Zaika shudder with apprehension.
Apparently sitting at his Excellency’s desk was a person, whose form the young man could not distinguish, but in whose hands was the draft of the secret treaty. Zaika made a rush for the electric light button, turning it full on; the figure rose with a violent start, and faced him. It was a woman—a woman in a rich evening dress partly hidden under a dark fur cloak. A woman radiantly beautiful—she whose hand he had once touched ten years ago—in a gloomy prison chapel when he slipped a wedding ring on her finger, and the old pope had blessed them: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
“Countess Wladimir Rostopchine!” he gasped, quite unable to understand what he saw.
The lady, who at first had almost fallen under the weight of an overmastering terror, now looked at him, and as she looked an icy cold veil of perfect composure seemed gradually to overspread her features. She gathered up her cloak round her, took her gloves, fan, even the little tell-tale lantern, and walked across the room, to the door; evidently she did not intend to deign an explanation.
“Madame, you cannot go!” said André Zaika, struggling with his emotion, “until—”
“Until what, Monsieur?” said the Countess with a slightly impertinent elevation of the eyebrows.
“Until you have explained to me your presence in this room,” replied the young man resolutely, and, closing the door, he put the key in his pocket.
“I have no explanation to give to you, Monsieur,” said the Countess, with imperturbable sangfroid; “have the goodness to allow me to pass.”
“No explanation?” said André, who, full of excitement himself, was unable to understand the apparent equanimity of a lady found in so compromising a position. “I represent his Excellency the Transbalkanian ambassador; that bureau at which I found you sitting contained his papers, private papers—”
“What of that, Monsieur? I knew it,” was the calm reply.
“And,” asked André—“you read them?”
“I read them.”
“For what purpose: surely—”
The young man paused. In a moment the whole truth flashed across his brain. Ten years ago the Russian Government had need of a spy; it employs many; but it wanted one who would be admitted in every society, one whose name and rank would place above suspicion. He himself, condemned to death, was asked for that name and rank with which to hide this infamy, and in exchange was offered his life and freedom. He had accepted. And now he stood face to face with his wife, the Countess Wladimir Rostopchine, a spy!
A look of such unutterable scorn overspread his face that the lady winced; but still she said nothing, and stood, proud and calm, gazing at him with a look, half of pity and half of contempt, that he had seen in her eyes once—so long ago.
“Madame,” he said at last, trying in vain to imitate her sangfroid, “do you know that at this moment I could ring the bell, and expose and denounce you as a thief?”
She shrugged her shoulders, almost imperceptibly, and smiled somewhat as she said:
“I think, Monsieur, you would find it a trifle difficult to prove that the wealthy Countess Wladimir Rostopchine was in the act of stealing some 1000 guldens from a stranger’s room in an hotel.”
“Are you really under the impression, Madame,” asked the young man, who had now quite lost what little self-control he had, “that I shall allow you to leave this room as you came, and not cry shame and scandal about you to the four corners of Europe? Do you really think that I shall not, after this, brand you as a spy, warning all against you, and rendering you powerless to injure my master and friend?”
“No, Monsieur,” she said quietly; “I do not think that you will do that.”
“Because?” he asked defiantly.
She looked at him for two or three moments; the childlike expression on her mouth hardened; the look of pity died out of her eyes. They were enemies now.
“Because, Monsieur, the dead cannot speak,” she said.
“We in Russia,” she said, with emphasis, “have never much believed in ghosts; still children do say that the spirits of those who lie unburied sometimes come to earth—and speak. Then, Monsieur, it becomes the duty of the friends and relatives—or of the widow —to see that the dead is really buried, and the ghost is heard of no more.”
The young man shuddered. It seemed to him as if once more he heard the death sentence pronounced on him ten years ago. Once more he saw the great Moscow prison, the herds of half-starving prisoners, the chains, the gates, and the prison chapel, where the old pope had blessed him. He did not speak. What answer was there to give? This woman, with the enigmatical smile and the childlike mouth, had said all there was to say:
“The dead cannot speak.”
Mechanically he drew the key from his pocket, and opened the door. Countess Wladimir Rostopchine—his wife or his widow—which?—walked out past him without deigning to give him another look, and she disappeared from his view along the gaily lighted corridor, while from below Rácz Pali’s band struck up the joyous notes of the “Blue Danube” waltz.
A week later the negotiations for the secret treaty, that the Transbalkanian Government desired to sign with His Catholic and Apostolic Majesty, were quite complete. Many alterations had been made to the original draft, but now it stood in its entirety: and the Emperor’s signature having been obtained, his Excellency the Ambassador would start for Yiddiz the next morning, where His Majesty the King of Transbalkania would affix to the treaty his own hand and seal.
It had been a very great blow to the Ambassador when André Zaika suddenly told him, that as soon as his Excellency could dispense with his services, he would like to leave, as he had the intention of going to America for an indefinite time. Zaika had been more than usually taciturn for the last day or two, and, when the Ambassador pressed him with questions, as to the reason of this sudden determination, Andre was so reticent that his Excellency, discomfited and a little huffed, was forced to be content with some palpably lame excuse.
“I presume,” said his Excellency a trifle irritated, “that you will not leave me till after the secret treaty is signed on both sides.”
“As long as your Excellency requires me, I am at your service,” said the young man; “but I am longing to leave Europe, where I have no friends save your Excellency.”
“I need not remind you,” replied the Ambassador, “that if you have any desire for friends, or intercourse with people of birth or distinction, I will help you in any way I can, but you have always refused my offers in that quarter. But we won’t refer to that now. I have important matters to discuss with you; in fact, I must have your help in a very serious difficulty in which I am placed.”
André Zaika took the chair his Excellency pushed towards him, and listened.
“For some days now,” said the Ambassador, “I have been under grave apprehension that a spy has been set upon my track.”
André turned very pale, his hand clutched the arm of his chair, his mouth quivered, his eyes were riveted on the Ambassador’s lips, as if life and death hung upon his next words.
“As you know, Russia is ever on the alert where matters which might endanger her interests are concerned; she, more than any other European country, carries on an elaborate system of espionage, which enables her to know all the sayings and doings of every personage of importance, both diplomatic and otherwise. I think, therefore, it is Russia who, through one of her numerous spies, has obtained the knowledge that I am negotiating an important and secret treaty between the Court of Vienna and the Transbalkanian Government; and having obtained this information, all her energies will be devoted to endeavouring to gain knowledge of the various clauses of the treaty. On one or two occasions it has seemed to me that the lock of my bureau had been tampered with. I pointed the fact out to you at the time, and we have both, I am sure, doubled our watchfulness, but, up to this moment, we have neither of us had the slightest clue that might lead us to the discovery of the spy. That is so, is it not?”
André bowed in acquiescence. He dared not trust himself to speak for fear that his voice might betray his emotion.
“I think, however,” said his Excellency after a thoughtful pause, “that I have arranged a plan that will, without imperilling our secrets, place the spy within our power—that is to say, if he fall into the trap I have laid for him.”
“Will your Excellency expose that plan to me?” said André Zaika eagerly.
“Most certainly I will, Andre, as your help will be quite indispensable. What I intend to do is very simple. I shall give out that both you and I will be out to-night until very late. I will then start out, taking the document with me, you remaining behind. The spy, whoever he may be, is evidently well acquainted with all my movements. As I am leaving for Yiddiz to-morrow, he will undoubtedly wish to take the opportunity of making a copy of the secret treaty, as it now stands, knowing that alterations in such treaties are often made at the eleventh hour; we may therefore safely presume that, sometime after my departure, he will be in my study, and with his false keys try to gain access to my bureau.
“Baron de Hermansthal, the chief of the police, and half-a-dozen of his men, will in the meantime be stationed in my bedroom, the door of which is, as you know, exactly opposite to the study door. As soon as they have seen that the spy is within, they will line the passage guarding every exit, Baron de Hermansthal will enter the study by one door, while you, whom I shall ask to remain in the adjoining room, will enter by the other; and I think,” added his Excellency, rubbing his hands with delight, “that when our spy finds himself thus confronted, he will be only too willing to sell us himself and his silence for whatever we choose to offer him.”
Zaika had listened to his Excellency’s discourse silently and attentively; he did not wish to lose a single word of the plan that was to expose the spy to infamy. That spy was his wife, the Countess Wladimir Rostopchine, the bearer of his own historic name.
What he said in answer to his Excellency he did not know; it was evidently satisfactory, for the Ambassador appeared not to notice anything peculiar in his secretary’s demeanour; how he spent the early part of the evening he knew still less; all he was distinctly conscious of was the all-pervading thought: “Count Wladimir Rostopchine must save his wife’s honour, his own, at any cost, but how?” By warning her, of course. But she was not in the hotel; the young man had seen her going out radiantly beautiful, laughing and chatting gaily. She had not dined in the hall. Would he have an opportunity of speaking to her? If he had, would she listen? He had written to her a guarded, carefully-worded epistle, which she alone would understand, and he had bribed one of the hotel servants to place the letter in her room.
Would she get the letter? Would she read it? were the eternal questions that recurred to his fevered brain, as his Excellency, very excited, was giving him some final instructions, and then left him in the room next to the study, face to face for half-an-hour, with torturing hopes and fears, while the clock ticked mercilessly on.
* * * * * * * * *
How short, and yet how interminably long, the minutes seemed! All at once André Zaika jumped up, every nerve tingling with emotion; he had heard in the study a faint noise—a mere nothing, the rustle of a silk dress. It was curious that he should feel so calm suddenly; his emotion had vanished, his nerves seemed to have gone to rest. He pushed open the door of the study and turned up the electric light. The Countess did not seem frightened or even astonished at seeing him; she raised her eyebrows slightly, and her lips were once more parted in that curious, half-contemptuous smile.
The young man seized her hand, and with utmost calm drew her to the sofa, forcing her by gentle pressure to sit down near him.
“Monsieur—” she began.
“Hush!” he whispered commandingly; “there is no time now.”
Truly there was none, for he heard Baron de Hermansthal’s men lining the passage outside, and presently the door was thrown open, and the officer himself entered the room. The lady had turned very pale—she understood at once; the hand that still lay in André Zaika’s was icy cold.
“By order of his Excellency the Transbalkanian Ambassador—” began Baron de Hermansthal.
“I am afraid, Monsieur,” said André, who had risen, very calmly and somewhat ironically, “that there is some mistake.”
“Mistake?” said the chief of the police, who had been a little taken aback on seeing a beautiful, richly-dressed woman and his Excellency’s secretary the only occupants of the room. “I and my men saw a person surreptitiously entering this door, and I certainly—”
“You certainly were set here by his Excellency,” said André, “to watch for a spy whom the Ambassador suspects of breaking open his bureau. You do not, I presume, imagine that the Countess Wladimir Rostopchine is here for that purpose.”
“It is just as easy to suppose,” said Baron de Hermansthal, highly nettled, and still doubting, “that the Countess Wladimir Rostopchine is in a gentleman’s room at twelve o’clock at night for political purposes as for—”
“As for what, Monsieur?” said André icily. “Pray continue. Why should not the Countess Wladimir Rostopchine be at any hour she chooses, of the day or of the night, in her husband’s rooms?”
“Her husband—you, M. Zaika?” said Baron Hermansthal, struggling to retain official sangfroid.
“My name, Monsieur, is Wladimir Rostopchine,” said the young man proudly; “an outcast and an exile from my country, one condemned to death, but still with the right to his own privacy and the society of his own wife. Madame,” he added, turning to the Countess, who had stood impassive at first, but on whose face now a look of pity spread as her eyes met those of André, “will you allow me to conduct you to your own rooms, while we leave Monsieur to effect the capture of the spy, who surely will not tarry if he means to come at all?”
She took his arm, and he led her away past Baron de Hermansthal and his men, who saluted them both as they went. At the door of her own room she stopped; evidently she meant, wished, to say something; Andre took her hand, forcing her to look him straight in the eyes.
“Monsieur—” she began.
“Ah, Madame!” he said, “do not speak to the dead, bid them good-bye, and wish them Godspeed, and let them go whence they came.”
“I owe you my safety and my honour, Monsieur.”
“You owe me nothing, Madame,” said the young man simply; “the name you bear is still mine, and it was but the ghost of Wladimir Rostopchine who came to defend what was his own.”
“You are not going, Monsieur?” she said in intreaty, as the young man turned away.
She held out her hand to him, and once more their hands were joined, as they had been ten years ago, and their eyes met, but pity and contempt had faded from her enigmatical face now; she could read in his that their parts had been exchanged.
He bent low and kissed her icy cold fingers, close to the spot where the old pope had placed the narrow gold band—“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The next moment Countess Wladimir Rostopchine was alone.
* * * * * * * * * *
The arrest of Count Wladimir Rostopchine, whom everyone had believed to be dead, and his subsequent trial on a charge preferred against him ten years previously, became the talk of St. Petersburg society that winter. It was said that high influence was being exerted on his behalf; that his Excellency the Transbalkanian ambassador, accredited to the Court of Vienna, moved heaven and earth on behalf of the young man, who had been his friend and secretary for years. Therefore, when Count Wladimir received from His Majesty a gracious pardon, mitigated by an order that he should continue to live out of Russia, no one was particularly astonished.
As usual, rumour had been altogether on the wrong scent. The young Count’s chief advocate was a beautiful woman whom society had long known and admired as the widowed Countess Rostopchine, and whose honour her husband had so bravely saved by his noble self-sacrifice. And as her honour also entailed that of Russia, whose prestige would have gravely suffered, had her agent been exposed and compromised, the paternal Government was obliged to grant the young man in return both his life, and the use of his name.
He now lives in Paris with his young wife, whom he is said to idolise. They both go a great deal into society, but neither of them has ever touched on politics since the night when Countess Rostopchine so narrowly escaped being branded as a spy.
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