"The best man for this lives in the Maffei Strasse," said Schmidt after a few minutes.
"Show me the way." Vjera turned as he directed. At that moment she would have lost herself in the familiar streets, had he not been there to guide her.
The hairdresser's shop was brilliantly lighted, and as good fortune would have it, there were no customers within. With an entreating glance which he obeyed, Vjera made Schmidt wait outside.
"Please do not look!" she whispered. "I can bear it better alone." The good fellow nodded and began to walk up and down.
As Vjera entered the shop, the chief barber in command waltzed forward, as hairdressers always seem to waltz. At the sight of the poor girl, however, he assumed a stern appearance which, to tell the truth, was out of character with his style of beauty. His rich brown locks were curled and anointed in a way that might have aroused envy in the heart of an Assyrian dandy in the palmy days of Sardanapalus.
"Do you buy hair?" asked Vjera, timidly offering her limp parcel.
"Oh, certainly, sometimes," answered the barber. The youth in attendance—the barber tadpole of the hairdresser frog—abandoned the cleansing of a comb and came forward with a leer, in the hope that Vjera might turn out to be pretty on a closer inspection. In this he was disappointed.
The man took the parcel and laid it on one of the narrow marble tables placed before a mirror in a richly gilt frame. He pushed aside the blue glass powder-box, the vial of brilliantine and the brushes. Vjera untied the bit of faded ribband herself and opened the package. The contents exhaled a faint, sickly odour.
A tress of beautiful hair, of unusual length and thickness, lay in the paper. The colour was that which is now so much sought after, and which great ladies endeavour to produce upon their own hair, when they have any, by washing it with extra-dry champagne, while little ladies imitate them with a humble solution of soda. The colour in question is a reddish-brown with rich golden lights in it, and it is very rare in nature.
The barber eyed the thick plait with a businesslike expression.
"The colour is not so bad," he remarked, as though suggesting that it might have been very much better.
"Surely, it is very beautiful hair!" said Vjera, her heart almost breaking at the sight of the tenderly treasured heirloom.
Suddenly the man snuffed the odour, lifted the tress to his nose, and smelt it. Then he laid it down again and took the thicker end, which was tied tightly with a ribband, in his hands, pulling at the short lengths of hair which projected beyond the knot. They broke very easily, with an odd, soft snap.
"It is worth nothing at all," said the barber decisively. "It is a pity, for it is a very pretty colour."
Vjera started, and steadied herself against the back of the professional chair which stood by the table.
"Nothing?" she repeated, half stupid with the pain of her disappointment. "Nothing? not even fifteen marks?"
"Nothing. It is rotten, and could not be worked. The hairs break like glass."
Vjera pressed her left hand to her side as though something hurt her. The tadpole youth grinned idiotically and the barber seemed anxious to end the interview.
With a look of broken-hearted despair the girl turned to the table and began to do up her parcel again. Her shawl fell to the ground as she moved. Then the tadpole nudged his employer and pointed at Vjera's long, red-brown braid, and grinned again from ear to ear.
"Is it fifteen marks that you want?" asked the man.
"Fifteen—yes—I must have fifteen," repeated Vjera in dull tones.
"I will give it to you for your own hair," said the barber with a short laugh.
"For my own?" cried Vjera, suddenly turning round. It had never occurred to her that her own tress could be worth anything. "For my own?" she repeated as though not believing her ears.
"Yes—let me see," said the man. "Turn your head again, please. Let me see. Yes, yes, it is good hair of the kind, though it has not the gold lights in it that the other had. But, to oblige you, I will give you fifteen for it."
"But I must have the money now," said Vjera, suspiciously. "You must give me the money now, to take with me. I cannot wait."
The barber smiled, and produced a gold piece and five silver ones.
"You may hold the money in your hand," he said, offering it to her, "while you sit down and I do the work."
Vjera clutched the coins fiercely and placed herself in the big chair before the mirror. She could see in the glass that her eyes were on fire. The barber loosened a screw in the back of the seat and removed the block with the cushion, handing it to his assistant.
"The scissors, and a comb, Anton," he said briskly, lifting at the same time the heavy tress and judging its weight. The reflection of the steel flashed in the mirror, as the artist quickly opened and shut the scissors, with that peculiar shuffling jingle which only barbers can produce.
"Wait a minute!" cried Vjera, with sudden anxiety, and turning her head as though to draw away her hair from his grasp. "One minute—please—fifteen and thirty-five are really fifty, are they not?"
The tadpole began to count on his fingers, whispering audibly.
"Yes," answered the barber. "Fifteen and thirty-five are fifty."
The tadpole desisted, having already got into mathematical difficulties in counting from one hand over to the other.
"Then cut it off quickly, please!" said poor Vjera, settling herself in the chair again, and giving her head to the shears.
In the silence that followed, only the soft jingle of the scissors was heard.
"There!" exclaimed the hairdresser, holding up a hand-mirror behind her. "I have been generous, you see. I have not cut it very short. See for yourself."
"Thank you," said Vjera. "You are very kind." She saw nothing, indeed, but she was satisfied, and rose quickly.
She tied up the limp parcel with the same old piece of faded ribband, and a little colour suddenly came into her face as she pressed it to her bosom. All at once, she lost control of herself, and with a sharp sob the tears gushed out. She stooped a little and drew her shawl over her head to hide her face. The tears wet her hands and the brown paper, and fell down to the greasy marble floor of the shop.
"It will grow again very soon," said the barber, not unkindly. He supposed, naturally enough, that she was weeping over her sacrifice.
"Oh no! It is not that!" she cried. "I am so—so happy to have kept this!" Then, without another word, she slipped noiselessly out into the street, clasping the precious relic to her breast.
"I have got it—I have got it all!" cried Vjera, as she came up with Schmidt on the pavement. His quick eye caught sight of the parcel, only half hidden by her shawl.
"But you have brought the hair away with you," he said, in some anxiety, and fearing a mistake or some new trouble.
"Yes," she answered. "That is the best of it." Her tears had disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and she could now hardly restrain the nervous laughter that rose to her lips.
"But how is that?" asked Schmidt, stopping.
"I gave them my own," she laughed, hysterically. "I gave them my own—instead. Quick, quick—there is no time to lose. Is it an hour yet, since I left him?" She ran along, and Schmidt found it hard to keep beside her without running, too. At last he broke into a sort of jog-trot. In five minutes they were at the door of the cafe.
The Count was sitting at a small table near the door, an empty coffee-cup before him, staring with a fixed look at the opposite wall. There were few people in the place, as the performances at the theatres had already begun. Vjera entered alone.
"I have brought you the money," she said, joyfully, as she stood beside him and laid a hand upon his arm to attract his attention, for he had not noticed her coming.
"The money?" he said, excitedly. "The fifty marks? You have got it?"
She sat down at the table, and began to count the gold and silver, producing it from her pocket in instalments of four or five coins, and making little heaps of them before him.
"It is all there—every penny of it," she said, counting the piles again.
The poor man's eyes seemed starting from his head, as he leaned eagerly forward over the money.
"Is it real? Is it true?" he asked in a low voice. "Oh, Vjera, do not laugh at me—is it really true, child?"
"Really true—fifty marks." Her pale face beamed with pleasure. "And now you can go and pay Fischelowitz at once," she added.
But he leaned back a moment in his chair, looking at her intently. Then his eyes grew moist, and, when he spoke, his voice quivered.
"May God forgive me for taking it of you," he said. "You have saved me, Vjera—saved my honour, my life—all. God bless you, dear, God bless you! I am very, very thankful."
He put the coins carefully together and wrapped them in his silk handkerchief, and rose from his seat. He had already paid for his cup of coffee. They went out together. The Cossack had disappeared.
"You have saved my life and my honour—my honour and my life," repeated the Count, softly and dwelling on the words in a dreamy way.
"I will wait outside," said Vjera as they reached the tobacconist's shop, a few seconds later.
The Count turned to her and laid both hands upon her shoulders, looking into her face.
"You cannot understand what you have done for me," he said earnestly.
He stooped, for he was much taller than she, and closing his tired eyes for a moment, he pressed his lips upon her waxen forehead. Before he had seen the bright blush that glowed in her cheeks, he had entered the shop.
Akulina was seated in one corner, apparently in a bad humour, for her dark face was flushed, and her small eyes looked up savagely at the Count. Her husband was leaning over the counter, smoking and making a series of impressions in violet ink upon the back of an old letter, with an india-rubber stamp in which the word "Celebrated Manufactory" held a prominent place. He nodded familiarly.
"Herr Fischelowitz," said the Count, regaining suddenly his dignity of manner and bearing, "in the course of the conversation last evening, I said that I would to-day refund the fifty marks which you once lent to that atrocious young man who wore green glasses. I daresay you remember the circumstance?"
"I had quite forgotten it," said Fischelowitz. "Please do not allow it to trouble you, my dear Count. I never considered you responsible for it, and of course you cannot—"
"It is a shame!" Akulina broke in, angrily. "You ought to make him pay it out of what he earns, since he took the Gigerl!"
"Madam," said the Count, addressing her with great civility, "if it is agreeable to you, we will not discuss the matter. I only reminded Herr Fischelowitz of what took place because—"
"Because you have no money—of course!" interrupted Akulina.
"On the contrary, because I have brought the money, and shall be obliged to you if you will count it."
Akulina's jaw dropped, and Fischelowitz looked up in amazement. The Count produced his knotted handkerchief and laid it on the table.
"I only wish you to understand," he said, speaking to Akulina, "that when a gentleman gives his word he keeps it. Will you do me the favour to count the money?"
"Of course, it is no business of ours to find out how he got it," observed Akulina, rising and coming forward.
"None whatever, madam," answered the Count, spreading out the coins which had been collected by loving hands from so many sources. "The only question is, to ascertain whether there are fifty marks here or not."
Fischelowitz stood looking on. He had not yet recovered from his surprise, and was half afraid that there might be something wrong. But the practical Akulina lost no time in assuring herself that the sum was complete. As she realised this fact, her features relaxed into a pleasant smile.
"Well, Count," she said, "we are very much obliged to you for this. It is very honest of you, for of course, you were not exactly called upon—"
"I understood you to say that I was," replied the Count, gravely.
"Oh, that was yesterday, and I am very sorry if I annoyed you. But let bygones be bygones! I hope there is no ill-will between us?"
"Oh, none at all," returned the other indifferently. "I have the honour to wish you a very good evening." Without waiting for more, the Count bowed and left the shop.
"Akulina," said Fischelowitz, thoughtfully, as the door closed, "that man is a gentleman, say what you please."
"A pretty gentleman," laughed Akulina, putting the money into the till. "A gentleman indeed—why, look at his coat!"
"And you are a fool, Akulina," added Fischelowitz, handling his india-rubber stamp.
"Thank you; but for my foolery you would be fifty marks poorer to-night, Christian Gregorovitch. A gentleman, pah!"
The Count had drawn Vjera's willing arm through his, and they were walking slowly away together.
"I must be going home," she said, reluctantly. "The little sister will be crying for me. I cannot leave her any longer."
"Not till I have thanked you, dear," he answered, pressing her arm to his side. "But I will go with you to your door, and thank you all the way—though the way is far too short for all I have to say."
"I have done nothing—it has really cost me nothing." Vjera squeezed her limp parcel under her shawl, and felt that she was speaking the truth.
"I cannot believe that, Vjera," said the Count. "You could not have found so much money so quickly, without making some great sacrifice. But I will give it back to you—"
"Oh no—no," she cried, earnestly. "Make no promises to me. Think what this promise has cost you. When you have the money, you may give it back if you choose—but it would make me so unhappy if you promised."
"Would it, child? And yet, my friends are waiting for me, and they have money for me, too. Then, I will only say that I will give it back to you as soon as possible. Is that right?"
"Yes—and nothing more than that. And as for thanking me—what have I done that needs thanks? Would you not have done as much for me if—if, for instance, I had been ill, and could not pay the rent of the room? And then—think of the happiness I have had!"
The words were spoken so simply and it was so clear that they were true, that the Count found it hard to answer. Not because he had nothing to express, but because the words for the expression could not be found. Again he pressed her arm.
"Vjera," he said, when they had walked some distance farther, "it is of no use to speak of this. There is that between you and me which makes speech contemptible and words ridiculous. There is only one thing that I can do, Vjera dearest. I can love you, dear, with all my heart. Will you take my love for thanks—and my devotion for gratitude? Will you, dear? Will you remember what you promised and what I promised last night? As soon as all is right, to-morrow, will you be my wife?"
"If it could ever be!" sighed the poor girl, recalled suddenly to the remembrance of his pitiful infirmity.
"It can be, it shall be and it will be," he answered in tones of conviction. "They are waiting for me now, Vjera, in my little room—but they may wait, for I will not lose a moment of your dear company for them all. They are waiting for me with the money and the papers and the orders. I have waited long for them, they can afford to have a little patience now. And to-morrow, at this time, we shall be together, Vjera, in the train—I will have a special carriage for you and me, and then, a night and a day and another night and we shall be at home—for ever. How happy we shall be! Will you not be happy with me, darling? Why do you sigh?"
"Did I sigh?" asked Vjera, trying to laugh a little.
He hardly noticed the question, but began to talk again, as he had talked on the previous evening, describing all that he meant to do, and all that they would do together. Vjera heard and tried not to listen. Her joy was all gone. The great, overwhelming pleasure she had felt in dispelling his anxiety and in averting what had seemed a near and terrible catastrophe, gave place to the old, heartrending pity for him, as he rambled on in his delusion. She had hoped that, as it was late on Wednesday evening, the time of it was passed and that, for another week, he would talk no more of his friends and his money and his return to fortune. But the fixed idea was there still, as dominant as ever. Her light tread grew weary and her head sank forward as she walked. For one short hour she had felt the glory of sacrificing all she had to give, to her love. Are there many who have felt as much, with as good reason, in a whole lifetime?
But the hour was gone, taking with it the reality and leaving in its place a memory, fair, brilliant, and dear as the tress of golden hair Vjera was carrying home in her parcel, but as useless perhaps and as valueless in the world of realities as that had proved to be.
They reached her door and stopped in their walk. She looked up sadly into his eyes, as she held out her hand. He hesitated a moment, and then threw both his arms round her and drew her to his heart and kissed her passionately again and again. She tried to draw back.
"Oh no, no!" she cried. "It cannot be so to-morrow—why should you kiss me to-day?" But he would not let her go. She loved him, though she knew he was mad, and she let her head fall upon his shoulder, and allowed herself to believe in love for a moment.
Suddenly she felt that he was startled by something.
"Vjera!" he cried. "Have you cut off your beautiful hair? What have you done, child? How could you do it?"
"It was so heavy," she said, looking up with a bright smile. "It made my head ache—it is best so."
But he was not satisfied, for he guessed something of the truth, and the pain and horror that thrilled him told him that he had guessed rightly.
"You have cut it off—and you have sold it—you have sold your hair for me—" he stammered in a broken voice.
She hung her head a little.
"I always meant to cut it off. I did not care for it, you know. And besides," she added, suddenly looking up again, "you will not love me less, will you? They said it would grow again—you will not love me less?"
"Love you less? Ah, Vjera, that promise I may make at least—never—to the end of ends!"
"And yet," she answered, "if it should all be true—if it only should—you could not—oh, I should not be worthy of you—you could never marry me."
The Count drew back a step and held out his right hand, with a strangely earnest look in his weary eyes. She laid her fingers in his almost unconsciously. Then, as though he were in a holy place, he took off his hat, and stood bareheaded before her.
"If I forsake you, Vjera," he said very solemnly, "if I forsake you ever, in riches or in poverty, in honour or in disrepute, may the God of heaven forsake me in the hour of my death."
He swore the great oath deliberately, in a strong, clear voice, and then was silent for a moment, his eyes turned upwards, his attitude unchanged. Then he raised the poor girl's thin hand to his lips and kissed it, three times, reverently, as devout persons kiss the relics of departed saints.
"Good-night, Vjera," he said, quietly. "We shall meet to-morrow."
Vjera was awed by his solemn earnestness, and strongly moved by his action.
"Good-night," she answered, lovingly. "Heaven bless you and keep you safe." She looked for a last time into his face, as though trying to impress upon her mind the memories of that fateful evening, and then she withdrew into the house, shutting the street door behind her.
The Count stood still for several minutes, unconsciously holding his hat in his hand. At last he covered his head and walked slowly away in the direction of his home. By degrees his mind fell into its old groove and he hastened his steps. From time to time, he fancied that some one was following him at no great distance, but though he glanced quickly over his shoulder he saw no one in the dimly-lighted street. The door of the house in which he lived was open, and he ran up the stairs at a great pace, sure that by this time his friends must be waiting for him in his room. When he reached it, all was dark and quiet. The echo of his own footsteps seemed still to resound in the staircase as he closed his door and struck a match. He found his small lamp in a corner, lighted it with some difficulty, set it on the table and sat down. There, beside him, propped up against two books, was the piece of paper on which he had written the few words for his friends, in case they came while he was out. He took it up, looked over it absently and began to fold it upon itself again and again.
"Dear Vjera!" he exclaimed, in a low caressing tone, as he smoothed the folded strip between his fingers.
He was thinking, and thinking connectedly, of all that had just taken place, and wondering how it was that he had been able to accept such a sacrifice from one so little able to sacrifice anything. It seemed as though it should have been impossible for him to let the poor little shell-maker take upon herself his burden, and free him of it and set him right again in his own eyes.
"I know that I love her now," he said to himself.
And he was right. There are secret humiliations to which no man would submit, as such, but from which love, when it is real, can take away the sting and the poison. The man of heart, who does not love but is loved in spite of himself, fears to accept a sacrifice, lest in so doing he should seem to declare his readiness to do as he is done by, from like motives. But when love is on both sides there is no such drawing back from love's responsibilities. The sacrifice is accepted not only with gratitude, but with joy, as a debt of which the repayment by sacrifice again constitutes in itself a happiness. And thus, perhaps, it is that they love best who love in sorrow and in want, in worldly poverty and in distress of soul, for they alone can know what joy it is to receive, and what yet infinitely greater joy lies in giving all when all is sorely needed.
But as the Count dwelt on the circumstances he saw also what it was that Vjera had done, and he wondered how she could have found the strength to do it. He did not, indeed, say to himself that for his sake she had parted with her only beauty, for he had never considered whether she were good-looking or not. The bond between them was of a different nature, and would not have been less strong had Vjera been absolutely ugly instead of being merely, what is called, plain. He would have loved her as well, had she been a cripple, or deformed, just as she loved him in spite of his madness. But he knew well enough how women, even the most wretched, value their hair when it is beautiful, what care they bestow upon it and what consolation they derive from the rich, silken coil denied to fairer women than themselves. There is something in the thought of cutting off the heavy tress and selling it which appeals to the pity of most people, and which, to women themselves, is full of horror. A man might have felt the same in those days when long locks were the distinctive outward sign of nobility in man, and perhaps the respect of that obsolete custom has left in the minds of most people a sort of unconscious tradition. However that may be, we all feel that in one direction, at least, a woman's sacrifice can go no further than in giving her head to the shears.
The longer the Count thought of this, the more his gratitude increased, and the more fully he realised at what great cost poor Vjera had saved him from what he considered the greatest conceivable dishonour, from the shame of breaking his word, no matter under what conditions it had been given. He could, of course, repay her the money, so soon as his friends arrived, but by no miracle whatever could he restore to her head the only beauty it had ever possessed. He had scarcely understood this at first, for he had been confused and shaken by the many emotions which had in succession played upon his nervous mind and body during the past twenty-four hours. But now he saw it all very clearly. He had taken only money, which he would be able to restore; she had given a part of herself, irrevocably.
So deeply absorbed was he in his thoughts that the clocks struck many successive quarters without rousing him from his reverie, or suggesting again to him the fixed idea by which his life was governed on that day of the week. But as midnight drew near, the prolonged striking of the bells at every quarter at last attracted his attention. He started suddenly and rose from his seat, trying to count the strokes, but he had not heard the first ones and was astray in his reckoning. It was very late, that was certain, and not many minutes could elapse before the door would open and his friends would enter. He hastily smoothed his hair, looked to the flame of his bright little lamp and made a trip of inspection round the room. Everything was in order. He was almost glad that they were to come at night, for the lamplight seemed to lend a more cheerful look to the room. The Turkey-red cotton counterpane on the bed looked particularly well, the Count thought. During the next fifteen minutes he walked about, rubbing his hands softly together. At the first stroke of the following quarter he stood still and listened intently.
Four quarters struck, and then the big bell began to toll the hour. It must be eleven, he thought, as he counted the strokes. Eleven—twelve—he started, and turned very white, but listened still, for he knew that he should hear another clock striking in a few seconds. As the strokes followed each other, his heart beat like a fulling-hammer, giving a succession of quick blows, and pausing to repeat the rhythmic tattoo more loudly and painfully than before. Ten—eleven—twelve—there was no mistake. The day was over. It was midnight, and no one had come. The room swam with him.
Then, as in a vision of horror, he saw himself standing there, as he had stood many times before, listening for the last stroke, and suddenly awaking from the dream to the crushing disappointment of the reality. For one brief and terrible moment his whole memory was restored to him and he knew that his madness was only madness, and nothing more, and that it seized him in the same way, week by week, through the months and the years, leaving him thus on the stroke of twelve each Wednesday night, a broken, miserable, self-deceived man. As in certain dreams, we dream that we have dreamed the same things before, so with him an endless calendar of Wednesdays was unrolled before his inner sight, all alike, all ending in the same terror of conscious madness.
He had dreamed it all, there was no one to come to him in his distress, no one would ever enter that lonely room to bring back to him the treasures of a glorious past, for there was no one to come. It had all been a dream from beginning to end and there was no reality in it.
He staggered to his chair and sat down, pressing his lean hands to his aching temples and rocking himself to and fro, his breath hissing through his convulsively closed teeth. Still the fearful memory remained, and it grew into a prophetic vision of the future, reflecting what had been upon the distant scenery of what was yet to be. With that one deadly stroke of the great church bell, all was gone—fortune, friends, wealth, dignity. The majestic front of the palace of his hopes was but a flimsy, painted tissue. The fire that ran through his tortured brain consumed the gaudy, artificial thing in the flash and rush of a single flame, and left behind only the charred skeleton framework, which had supported the vast canvas. And then, he saw it again and again looming suddenly out of the darkness, brightening into beauty and the semblance of strength, to be as suddenly destroyed once more. With each frantic beat of his heart the awful transformation was renewed. For dreams need not time to spin out their intolerable length. With each burning throb of his raging blood, every nerve in his body, every aching recess of his brain, was pierced and twisted, and pierced again with unceasing agony.
Then a new horror was added to the rest. He saw before him the poor Polish girl, her only beauty shorn away for his sake, he saw all that he had promised in return, and he knew that he had nothing to give her, nothing, absolutely, save the crazy love of a wretched madman. He could not even repay her the miserable money which had cost her so dear. Out of his dreams of fortune there was not so much as a handful of coin left to give the girl who had given all she had, who had sold her hair to save his honour. With frightful vividness the truth came over him. That honour of his, he had pledged it in the recklessness of his madness. She had saved it out of love, and he had not even—but no—there was a new memory there—love he had for her, passionate, tender, true, a love that had not its place among the terrors of the past. But—was not this a new dream, a new delusion of his shaken brain? And if he loved her, was it not yet more terrible to have deceived the loved one, more monstrous, more infamous, more utterly damnable? The figure of her rose before him, pitiful, thin, weak, with outstretched hands and trusting eyes—and he had taken of her all she had. Neither heart, nor body, nor brain could bear more.
"Vjera! God! Forgive me!" With the cry of a breaking heart the poor Count fell forward from his seat and lay in a heap, motionless upon the floor.
Only his stiffening fingers, crooked and contorted, worked nervously for a few minutes, scratching at the rough boards. Then all was quite still in the little room.
There was a noise outside, and some one opened the door. The Cossack stood upon the threshold, holding his hand up against the lamp, for he was dazzled as he entered from the outer darkness of the stairs. He looked about, and at first saw nothing, for the Count had fallen in the shadow of the table.
Then, seeing where he lay, Johann Schmidt came forward and knelt down, and with some difficulty turned his friend upon his back.
"Dead—poor Count!" he exclaimed in a low voice, bending down over the ghastly face.
The pale eyes were turned upward and inward, and the forehead was damp. Schmidt unbuttoned the threadbare coat from the breast. There was no waistcoat under it—nothing but a patched flannel shirt. A quantity of papers were folded neatly in a flat package in the inner pocket. Schmidt put down his head and listened for the beatings of the heart.
"So it is over!" he said mournfully, as he straightened himself upon his knees. Then he took one of the extended hands in his, and pressed it, and looked into the poor man's face, and felt the tears coming into his eyes.
"You were a good man," he said in sorrowful tones, "and a brave man in your way, and a true gentleman—and—I suppose it was not your fault if you were mad. Heaven give you peace and rest!"
He rose to his feet, debating what he should do.
"Poor Vjera!" he sighed. "Poor Vjera—she will go next!"
Once more, he looked down, and his eye caught sight of the papers projecting from the inner pocket of the coat, which was still open and thrown back upon the floor. It has been noticed more than once that Johann Schmidt was a man subject to attacks of quite irresistible curiosity. He hesitated a moment, and then came to the conclusion that he was as much entitled as any one else to be the Count's executor.
"It cannot harm him now," he said, as he extracted the bundle from its place.
One of the letters was quite fresh. The rest were evidently very old, being yellow with age and ragged at the edges. He turned over the former. It was addressed to Count Skariatine, at his lodging, and it bore the postmark of a town in Great-Russia, between Petersburg and Moscow. Schmidt took out the sheet, and his face suddenly grew very dark and angry. The handwriting was either in reality Akulina's, or it resembled it so closely as to have deceived a better expert than the Cossack.
The missive purported to be written by the wife of Count Skariatine's steward, and it set forth in rather servile and illiterate language that the said Count Skariatine and his eldest son were both dead, having been seized on the same day with the smallpox, of which there had been an epidemic in the neighbourhood, but which was supposed to have quite disappeared when they fell ill. A week later and within twenty-four hours of each other they had breathed their last. The Count Boris Michaelovitch was now the heir, and would do well to come home as soon as possible to look after his possessions, as the local authorities were likely to make a good thing out of it in his absence.
The Cossack swore a terrific oath, and stamped furiously on the floor as he rose to his feet. It was evident to him that Akulina had out of spite concocted the letter, and had managed to have it posted by some friend in Russia. He was not satisfied with one expletive, nor with many. The words he used need not be translated for the reader of the English language. It is enough to say that they were the strongest in the Cossack vocabulary, that they were well selected and applied with force and precision.
Johann Schmidt was exceedingly wroth with the tobacconist's wife, for it was clear that she had caused the Count's untimely death by her abominable practical joke. He went and leaned out of the window, churning and gnashing the fantastic expressions of his rage through his teeth.
Suddenly there was a noise in the room, a distinct, loud noise, as of shuffling with hands and feet. The Cossack's nerves were proof against ghostly terrors, but as he turned round he felt that his hair was standing erect upon his head.
The Count was on his feet and was looking at him.
"I thought you were dead!" gasped the Cossack in dismay.
There was no answer. The Count did not appear to hear Schmidt's voice nor to see his figure. He acted like a man walking in his sleep, and it was by no means certain to the friend who watched him that his eyes were always open. As though nothing unusual had happened, the Count calmly undressed himself and got into bed. Three minutes later he was sound asleep and breathing regularly.
For a long time Johann Schmidt stood transfixed with wonder in his place at the open window. At last it dawned upon him that his friend had not been really dead, but had fallen into some sort of fit in the course of his lonely meditations, from which he had been awakened by the Cossack's terrific swearing. Why the latter had seemed to be invisible and inaudible to him, was a matter which Schmidt did not attempt to solve. It was clear that the Count was alive, and sleeping like other people. Schmidt hesitated some time as to what he should do. It was possible that his friend might wake again, and find himself desperately ill. He had been so evidently unlike himself, that Schmidt had feared he would become a raving maniac in the night, and had entered the house at his heels, seating himself upon the stairs just outside the door to wait for events, with the odd fidelity and forethought characteristic of him. The Count's cry had warned him that all was not right and he had entered the room, as has been seen.
He determined to wait some time longer, to see whether anything would happen. Meanwhile, he thrust Akulina's letter into his pocket, reflecting that as it was a forgery it would be best that the Count should not have it, lest he should be again misled by the contents. He sat down and waited.
Nothing happened. The clocks chimed the quarters up to one in the morning, a quarter-past, half-past—Schmidt was growing sleepy. The Count breathed regularly and lay in his bed without moving. Then, at last, the Cossack rose, looked at his friend once more, blew out the lamp, felt his way to the door and left the room. As he walked home through the quiet streets he swore that he would take vengeance upon Akulina, by producing the letter and reading it in her husband's presence, and before the assembled establishment, before the Count made his appearance. It was indeed not probable that he would come at all, considering all that he had suffered, though Schmidt knew that he generally came on Thursday morning, evidently weary and exhausted, but unconscious of the delusion which had possessed him during the previous day. Possibly, he was subject to a similar fit every Wednesday night, and had kept the fact a secret. Schmidt had always wondered what happened to him at the moment when he suddenly forgot his imaginary fortune and returned to his everyday senses.
The morning dawned at last, and it was Thursday. As there was no necessity for liberating the Count from arrest to-day, Akulina roused her husband with the lark, gave him his coffee promptly and sent him off to open the shop and catch the early customer. Before the shutters had been up more than a quarter of an hour, and while Fischelowitz was still sniffing the fresh morning air, Johann Schmidt appeared. His step was brisk, his brow was dark and his boots creaked ominously. With a very brief salutation he passed into the back shop, slipped off his coat and set to work with the determination of a man who feels that he must do something active as a momentary relief to his feelings.
Next came Vjera, paler than ever, with great black rings under her tired eyes, broken with the fatigues and anxieties of the previous day, but determined to double her work, if that were possible, in order to make up for the money she had borrowed of Schmidt and, through him, of Dumnoff. As she dropped her shawl, Fischelowitz caught sight of the back of her head, and broke into a laugh.
"Why, Vjera!" he cried. "What have you done? You have made yourself look perfectly ridiculous!"
The poor girl turned scarlet, and busied herself at her table without answering. Her fingers trembled as she tried to handle her glass tube. The Cossack, whose anger had not been diluted by being left to boil all night, dropped his swivel knife and went up to Fischelowitz with a look in his face so extremely disagreeable that the tobacconist drew back a little, not knowing what to expect.
"I will tell you something," said Schmidt, savagely. "You will have to change your manners if you expect any of us to work for you."
"What do you mean?" stammered Fischelowitz, in whom nature had omitted to implant the gift of physical courage, except in such measure as saved him from the humiliation of being afraid of his wife.
"I mean what I say," answered the Cossack. "And if there is anything I hate, it is to repeat what I have said before hitting a man." His fists were clenched already, and one of them looked as though it were on the point of making a very emphatic gesture. Fischelowitz retired backwards into the front shop, while Vjera looked on from within, now pale again and badly frightened.
"Herr Schmidt! Herr Schmidt! Please, please be quiet! It does not matter!" she cried.
"Then what does matter?" inquired the Cossack over his shoulders, "If Vjera has cut off her hair," he said, turning again to Fischelowitz, "she has had a good reason for it. It is none of your business, nor mine either."
So saying he was about to go back to his work again.
"Upon my word!" exclaimed the tobacconist. "Upon my word! I do not understand what has got into the fellow."
"You do not understand?" cried Schmidt, facing him again. "I mean that if you laugh at Vjera I will break most of your bones."
At that moment Akulina's stout figure appeared, entering from the street. The Cossack stood still, glaring at her, his face growing white and contracted with anger. He was becoming dangerous, as good-tempered men will, when roused, especially when they have been brought up among people who, as a tribe, would rather fight than eat, at any time of day, from pure love of the thing. Even Akulina, who was not timid, hesitated as she stood on the threshold.
"What has happened?" she inquired, looking from Schmidt to her husband.
The latter came to her side, if not for protection, as might be maliciously supposed, at least for company.
"I cannot understand at all," said Fischelowitz, still edging away.
"You understand well enough, I think, and as for you, Frau Fischelowitz, I have something to talk of with you, too. But we will put it off until later," he added, as though suddenly changing his mind.
The Count himself had appeared in the doorway behind Akulina. Both she and her husband stood aside, looking at him curiously.
"Good-morning," he said, gravely taking off his hat and inclining his head a little. He acted as though quite unconscious of what had happened on the previous day, and they watched him as he quietly went into the room beyond, into which the Cossack had retired on seeing him enter.
He hung up his hat in its usual place, nodding to Schmidt, who was opposite to him. Then, as he turned, he met Vjera's eyes. It was a supreme moment for her, poor child. Would he remember anything of what had passed on the previous day? Or had he forgotten all, his debt, her saving of him and the sacrifice she had made? He looked at her so long and so steadily that she grew frightened. Then all at once he came close to her, and took her hand and kissed it as he had done when they had last parted, careless of Schmidt's presence.
"I have not forgotten, dear Vjera," he whispered in her ear.
Schmidt passed them quickly and again went out, whether from a sense of delicacy, or because he saw an opportunity of renewing the fight outside, is not certain. He closed the door of communication behind him.
Vjera looked up into the Count's eyes and the blush that rarely came, the blush of true happiness, mounted to her face.
"I have not forgotten, dearest," he said again. "There is a veil over yesterday—I think I must have been ill—but I know what you did for me and—and—" he hesitated as though seeking an expression.
For a few seconds again the poor girl felt the agony of suspense she knew so well.
"I do not know what right a man so poor as I has to say such a thing, Vjera," he continued. "But I love you, dear, and if you will take me, I will love you all my life, more and more. Will it be harder to be poor together than each for ourselves, alone?"
Vjera let her head fall upon his shoulder, happy at last. What did his madness matter now, since the one memory she craved had survived its destroying influence? He had forgotten his glorious hopes, his imaginary wealth, his expected friends, but he had not forgotten her, nor his love for her.
"Thank God!" she sighed, and the happy tears fell from her eyes upon the breast of his threadbare coat.
"But we must not forget to work, dear," she said, a few moments later.
"No," he answered. "We must not forget to work."
As she sat down to her table he pushed her chair back for her, and put into her hands her little glass tube, and then he went and took his own place opposite. For a long time they were left alone, but neither of them seemed to wonder at it, nor to hear the low, excited tones of many voices talking rapidly and often together in the shop outside. Whenever their eyes met, they both smiled, while their fingers did the accustomed mechanical work.
When Schmidt entered the outer shop for the second time, he found the tobacconist and his wife conversing in low tones together, in evident fear of being overheard. He came and stood before them, lowering his voice to the pitch of theirs, as he spoke.
"It is no fault of yours that the Count was not found dead in his bed this morning," he began, fixing his fiery eyes on Akulina.
"What? What? What is this?" asked Fischelowitz excitedly.
"Only this," said the Cossack, displaying the letter he had brought from the Count's rooms. "Nothing more. Your wife has succeeded very well. He is quite mad now. I found him last night, helpless, in a sort of fit, stiff and stark on the floor of his room. And this was in his pocket. Read it, Herr Fischelowitz. Read it, by all means. I suppose your wife does not mind your reading the letters she writes."
Fischelowitz took the letter stupidly, turned it over, saw the address, and took out the folded sheet. Akulina's face expressed a blank amazement almost comical in its vacuity. For once, she was taken off her guard. Her husband read the letter over twice and examined the handwriting curiously.
"A joke is a joke, Akulina," he said at last. "But you have carried this too far. What if the Count had died?"
"I would like to know what I am accused of," said Akulina, "and what all this is about."
"I suppose you know your own handwriting," observed the Cossack, taking the letter from the tobacconist's hands and holding it before her eyes. "And if that is not enough to drive the poor man to the madhouse I do not know what is. Perhaps you have forgotten all about it? Perhaps you are mad, too?"
Akulina read the writing in her turn. Then she grew very angry.
"It is an abominable lie!" she exclaimed. "I never had anything to do with it. I do not know whence this letter comes, and I do not care. I know nothing about it."
"I suppose no one can prevent your saying so, at least," retorted the Cossack.
"It is very queer," observed Fischelowitz, suddenly thrusting his hands into his pockets and beginning to whistle softly as he looked through the shop window.
"When I tell you that it is not my handwriting, you ought to be satisfied—" Akulina began.
"And yet none of us are," interrupted the Cossack with a laugh. "Strange, is it not?"
Dumnoff now came in, and a moment later the insignificant girl, who began to giggle foolishly as soon as she saw that something was happening which she could not understand.
"None of us are satisfied," continued Johann Schmidt, taking the letter from Akulina. "Here, Dumnoff, here Anna Nicolaevna, is this the Chosjaika's handwriting or not? Let everybody see and judge."
"It is outrageous!" exclaimed Akulina, trying to get possession of the letter again.
"You see how she tries to get it," laughed the Cossack, savagely. "She would be glad to tear it to pieces—of course she would."
"I wish you would all go about your business," said Fischelowitz with an approach to asperity.
Akulina was furious, but she did not know what to do. Everybody began talking together.
"Of course it is the Barina's handwriting," said Dumnoff confidently. He supposed it was always safe to follow Schmidt's lead, when he followed any one.
"Of course it is," chimed in the insignificant Anna.
"You—you minx—you flatter-cat, you little serpent!" cried Akulina, speaking three languages at once in her excitement. "Go—get along—go to your work—"
"No, no, stay!" exclaimed the Cossack authoritatively. "Do you know what this is?" he asked of all present again. "Our good mistress, here, has for some reason or other been trying to make the Count worse by having sham letters posted to him from home—"
"It is a lie! A base, abominable lie! Turn the man out, Christian Gregorovitch! Turn him out, or send for the police."
"Turn him out yourself," answered the tobacconist phlegmatically.
"Posted to him from home," continued the Cossack, "and telling him that his father and brother are dead and that he has come into property and the like. What do you think of that?"
"It is a shame," growled Dumnoff, beginning to understand.
The girl laughed foolishly.
"I swear to you," began Akulina, crimson with anger. "I swear to you by all—"
"Customers, customers!" exclaimed Fischelowitz in a stage whisper. "Quiet, I tell you!" He made a rush for the other side of the counter, and briskly assumed his professional smile. The others fell back into the corners.
Two gentlemen in black entered the shop. The one was a stout, angry-looking person of middle age, very dark, and very full about the lower part of the face, which was not concealed by the closely cut black beard. His companion was a diminutive little man, very thin and very spruce, not less than fifty years old. His face was entirely shaved and was deeply marked with lines and furrows. A pair of piercing grey eyes looked through big gold-rimmed spectacles. As he took off his hat, a few thin, sandy-coloured locks fluttered a little and then settled themselves upon the smooth surface of his cranium, like autumn leaves falling upon a marble statue in a garden.
"Herr Fischelowitz?" inquired the larger of the two customers, touching his hat but not removing it.
"At your service," answered the tobacconist. "Cigarettes?" he inquired. "Strong? Light? Kir, Samson, Dubec?"
"I am the new Russian Consul," said the stranger. "This gentleman is just arrived from Petersburg and has business with you."
"My name is Konstantin Grabofsky, and I am a lawyer," observed the little man very sharply.
Fischelowitz bowed till his nose almost came into collision with the counter. The others in the shop held their peace and opened their eyes.
"And I am told that Count Boris Michaelovitch Skariatine is here," continued the lawyer.
"Oh—the mad Count!" exclaimed Akulina with an angry laugh, and coming forward. "Yes, we can tell you all about him."
"I am sorry," said Grabofsky, "to hear you call him mad, since my business is with him, Barina, and not with you." His tone was, if possible, more incisive than before.
"Of course, we know that he is not a Count at all," said Akulina, somewhat annoyed by his sharpness.
"Do you? Then you are singularly mistaken. I shall be obliged if you will inform Count Skariatine that Konstantin Grabofsky desires the honour of an interview with him."
"Go and call him, Akulina," said Fischelowitz, "since the gentleman wishes to see him."
"Go yourself," retorted his wife.
"Go together, and be quick about it!" said the Consul, who was tired of waiting.
"And please to say that I wait his convenience," added the lawyer.
Dumnoff moved to Schmidt's side and whispered into his ear.
"Do you think they have come about the Gigerl?" he inquired anxiously. "Do you think they will arrest us again?"
"Durak!" laughed the Cossack. "How can two Russian gentlemen arrest you in Munich? This is something connected with the Count's friends. It is my belief that they have come at last. See—here he is."
The Count now entered from the back shop, calm and collected, as though not expecting anything extraordinary. The Russian Consul took off his hat and bowed with great politeness and the Count returned the salutation with equal civility. Fischelowitz and Akulina stood in the background anxiously watching events.
The lawyer also bowed and then, turning his face to the light, held his hand out.
"You have not forgotten me, Count Skariatine?" he said, in a tone of inquiry.
The Count stared hard at him as he took the proffered hand. Gradually, his face underwent a change. His forehead contracted, his eyes closed a little, his eyebrows rose, and an expression of quiet disdain settled about the lines of his mouth.
"I know you very well," he answered. "You are Doctor Konstantin Grabofsky, my father's lawyer. Do you come from him to renew the offer you made when we parted?"
"I have no offer to make," said the little man. "Will you do me the honour to indicate some place where we may be alone together for a moment?"
"I have no objection to that," replied the Count. "We can go into the street."
They passed out together, leaving the establishment of Christian Fischelowitz in a condition of great astonishment. The tobacconist hastily produced his best cigarettes and entreated the Consul to try one, making signs to the other occupants of the shop to return to their occupations in the inner room.
"How long have you known Count Skariatine?" inquired the Consul, carelessly, when he was alone with Fischelowitz.
"Six or seven years," answered the latter.
"I suppose you know his story? Your wife was good enough to inform us of that fact, though Doctor Grabofsky has reason to doubt the value of her information."
"We only know that he calls himself a Count." Fischelowitz held the authorities of his native country in holy awe, and was almost frightened out of his senses at being thus questioned by the Consul.
"He is quite at liberty to do so," answered the latter with a laugh. "The story is simple enough," he continued, "and there is no reason why you should not know it. The late Count Skariatine had two sons, of whom the present Count was the younger. Ten years ago, when barely twenty, he quarrelled with his father and elder brother, and they parted in anger. I must say that he seems to have acted hastily, though the old gentleman's views of life were eccentric, to say the least of it. For some reason or other, the elder brother never married. I have heard it said that he was crippled in childhood. Be that as it may, he was vindictive and spiteful by nature, and prevented the quarrel from being forgotten. The younger brother left the house with the clothes on his back, and steadily refused to accept the small allowance offered him, and which was his by right. And now the father and the eldest son are dead—they died suddenly of the smallpox—and Doctor Grabofsky has come to inform the Count that he is the heir. There you have the story in a nutshell."
"Then it is all true, after all!" cried Fischelowitz. "We all thought—"
"Thinking, when one knows nothing, is a dangerous and useless pastime," observed the Consul. "I will take a box of these cigarettes with me. They are good."
"Thank you most obediently, Milostivy Gosudar!" exclaimed Fischelowitz, bowing low. "I trust that the Gospodin Consul will honour me with his patronage. I have a great variety of tobaccos, Kir, Basma, Samson, Dubec Imperial, Swary—"
While Fischelowitz was recommending the productions of his Celebrated Manufactory to the Consul, Grabofsky and the Count were walking together up and down the smooth pavement outside.
"A great change has taken place in your family," Grabofsky was saying. "Had anything less extraordinary occurred, I should have written to you instead of coming in person. Your brother is dead, Count Skariatine."
"Dead!" exclaimed the Count, who had no recollection of the letter abstracted from his pocket by the Cossack. It had reached him after the weekly attack had begun, and the memory of it was gone with that of so many other occurrences.
"Dead," repeated the lawyer sharply, as though he would have made a nail of the word to drive it into the coffin.
"And how many children has he left?" inquired the Count.
"He died unmarried."
"So that I—"
"You are the lawful heir."
"Unless my father marries again." The colour rose in the Count's lean cheeks.
"That is impossible."
"Because he is dead, too."
"You are Count Skariatine, and I have the honour to offer you my services at this important juncture."
The Count breathed hard. The shock, overtaking him when he was in his normal condition, was tremendous. The colour came and went rapidly in his features, and he caught his breath, leaning heavily upon the little lawyer, who watched his face with some anxiety. Akulina's remark about the Count's madness had made him more careful than he would otherwise have been in his manner of breaking the news.
"I am not well," said the Count in a low voice. "To-day is Wednesday—I am never well on Wednesdays."
"To-day is Thursday," answered Grabofsky.
"Thursday? Thursday—" the Count reeled, and would have fallen, but for the support of the nervous little man's wiry arm.
Then, in the space of a second, took place that strange phenomenon of the intelligence which is as yet so imperfectly understood. It is called the "Transfer" in the jargon of the half-developed science which deals with suggestion and the like. Its effects are strange, sudden and complete, often observed, never understood, but chronicled in hundreds of cases and analysed in every seat of physiological learning in Europe. In the twinkling of an eye, a part or the whole of the intelligence, or of the sensations, is reversed in action, and this with a logical precision of which no description can give any idea. It is universally considered as the first step in the direction of recovery.
The action of the Count's mind was "transferred," therefore, since the word is consecrated by usage. Fortunately for him, the transfer coincided with a material change in his fortunes. Had this not been the case it would have had the effect of making him mad through the whole week, and sane only from Tuesday evening until the midnight of Wednesday. As it was, the result was of a contrary nature. Being now in reality restored to wealth and dignity, he was able to understand and appreciate the reality during six days, becoming again, in imagination, a cigarette-maker upon the seventh, a harmless delusion which already shows signs of disappearing, and from which the principal authorities confidently assert that he will soon be quite free.
He passed but one moment in a state of semi-consciousness. Then he raised his head, and stood erect, and to the great surprise of Grabofsky, showed no further surprise at the news he had just received.
"The fact is," he said, quietly, "I was expecting you yesterday. I had received a letter from the wife of the steward informing me of the death of my father and brother. I think your coming to-day must have disturbed me, as I have some difficulty in recalling the circumstances which attended our meeting here."
"A passing indisposition," suggested Grabofsky. "Nothing more. The weather is warm, sultry in fact."
"Yes, it must have been that. And now, we had better communicate the state of things to Herr Fischelowitz, to whom I consider myself much indebted."
"Our Consul came with me," said the lawyer. "He is in the shop. Perhaps you did not notice him."
"No—I do not think I did. I am afraid he thought me very careless."
"Not at all, not at all." Grabofsky began to think that there had been some truth in Akulina's remarks after all, but he kept his opinion to himself, then and afterwards, a course which was justified by subsequent events. He and the Count turned towards the shop, and, entering, found Fischelowitz and the Consul conversing together.
The Count bowed to the latter with much ceremony.
"I fear," he said, "that you must have thought me careless just now. The suddenness of the news I have received has affected me. Pray accept my best thanks for your kindness in accompanying Doctor Grabofsky this morning."
"Do not mention it, Count. I am only too glad to be of service."
"You are very kind. And now, Herr Fischelowitz," he continued, turning to the tobacconist, "it is my pleasant duty to thank you also. I looked for these gentlemen yesterday. They have arrived to-day. The change which I expected would take place has come, and I am about to return to my home. The memories of poverty and exile can never be pleasant, but I do not think that I have any just reason to complain. Will it please you, Herr Fischelowitz, and you, gentlemen, to go into the next room with me? I wish to take my leave of those who have so long been my companions."
Fischelowitz opened the door of communication and held it back respectfully for the Count to pass. His ideas were exceedingly confused, but his instinct told him to make all atonement in his power for his wife's outbursts of temper. The Count entered first, and the other three followed him, Grabofsky, the Consul, and Fischelowitz. The little back shop was very full. To judge from the last accents of Akulina's voice she had been repaying Johann Schmidt with compound interest, now that the right was on her side, for the manner in which he had attacked her. As the Count entered, however, all held their peace, and he began to speak in the midst of total silence. He stood by the little black table upon which his lean, stained fingers had manufactured so many hundreds of thousands of cigarettes.
"Herr Fischelowitz," he began, "I am here to say good-bye to you, to your good wife, and to my companions. During a number of years you have afforded me the opportunity of earning an honest living, and I have to thank you very heartily for the forbearance you have shown me. It is not your fault if your consideration for me has sometimes taken a passive rather than an active form. It was not your business to fight my battles. Give me your hand, Herr Fischelowitz. We part, as we have lived, good friends. I wish you all possible success."
The tobacconist bowed low as he respectfully shook hands.
"Too much honour," he said.
"Frau Fischelowitz," continued the Count, "you have acted according to your lights and your beliefs. I bear you no ill-will. I only hope that if any other poor gentleman should ever take my place you will not make his position harder than it would naturally be, and I trust that all may be well with you."
"I never meant it, Herr Graf," said Akulina, awkwardly, as she took his proffered hand.
He turned to the Cossack.
"Good-bye, Johann Schmidt, good-bye. I shall see you again, before long. We have always helped each other, my friend. I have much to thank you for."
"You have helped me, you mean," said the Cossack, in a rather shaky voice.
"No, no—each other, and we will continue to do so, I hope, in a different way. Good-bye, Dumnoff. You have a better heart than people think."
"Are you not going to take me to Russia, after all?" asked the mujik, almost humbly.
"Did I say I would? Then you shall go. But not as coachman, Dumnoff. Not as coachman, I think. Good-bye, Anna Nicolaevna," he said, turning to the insignificant girl, who was at last too much awed to giggle.
Then he came to Vjera's place. The girl was leaning forward, hiding her face in her hands, and resting her small, pointed elbows on the table.
"Vjera, dear," he said, bending down to her, "will you come with me, now?"
She looked up, suddenly, and her face was very white and drawn, and wet with tears.
"Oh no, no!" she said in a low voice. "How can I ever be worthy of you, since it is really true?"
But the Count put his arm round the poor little shell-maker's waist, and made her stand beside him in the midst of them all.
"Gentlemen," he said, in his calmly dignified manner, "let me present to you the Countess Skariatine. She will bear that name to-morrow. I owe you a confession before leaving you, in her honour and to my humiliation. I had contracted a debt of honour, and I had nothing wherewith to pay it. There was but an hour left—an hour, and then my life and my honour would have been gone together."
Vjera looked up into his face with a pitiful entreaty, but he would go on.
"She saved me, gentlemen," he continued. "She cut off her beautiful hair from her head, and sold it for me. But that is not the reason why she is to be my wife. There is a better reason than that. I love her, gentlemen, with all my heart and soul, and she has told me that she loves me."
He felt her weight upon him, and, looking down, he saw that she had fainted in his arms, with a look of joy upon her poor wan face which none there had ever seen in the face of man or woman.
And so love conquered.
MR. CRAWFORD'S LAST NOVEL. KATHARINE LAUDERDALE. TWO VOLUMES. CLOTH. $2.00. The first of a series of novels dealing with New York life.
"Mr. Crawford at his best is a great novelist, and in Katharine Lauderdale we have him at his best."—Boston Daily Advertiser.
"A most admirable novel, excellent in style, flashing with humor, and full of the ripest and wisest reflections upon men and women."—The Westminster Gazette.
"It is the first time, we think, in American fiction that any such breadth of view has shown itself in the study of our social framework."—Life.
"Admirable in its simple pathos, its enforced humor, and, above all, in its truths to human nature.... There is not a tedious page or paragraph in it."—Punch.
"It need scarcely be said that the story is skilfully and picturesquely written, portraying sharply individual characters in well-defined surroundings."—New York Commercial Advertiser.
"Katharine Lauderdale is a tale of New York, and is up to the highest level of his work. In some respects it will probably be regarded as his best. None of his works, with the exception of Mr. Isaacs, show so clearly his skill as a literary artist."—San Francisco Evening Bulletin.
"The book shows the inventive power, the ingenuity of plot, the subtle analysis of character, the skilfulness in presenting shifting scenes, the patient working-out of details, the aptitude of deduction, and vividness of description which characterize the Saracinesca romances."—New York Home Journal.
"Nowhere has the author shown more admirable understanding and command of the novel-writer's art.... Whoever wants an original and fascinating book can be commended to this one."—Philadelphia Evening Telegraph.
IN PRESS. A Sequel to "KATHARINE LAUDERDALE," THE RALSTONS.
MACMILLAN & CO., 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK.
UNIFORM EDITION OF F. MARION CRAWFORD'S NOVELS. 12mo, Cloth. Price, ONE DOLLAR EACH.
MARION DARCHE. A STORY WITHOUT COMMENT.
PIETRO GHISLERI. CHILDREN OF THE KING. DON ORSINO. A Sequel to "Saracinesca" and "Sant' Ilario." THE THREE FATES. THE WITCH OF PRAGUE. KHALED. A CIGARETTE-MAKER'S ROMANCE. SANT' ILARIO. A Sequel to "Saracinesca." GREIFENSTEIN. WITH THE IMMORTALS. TO LEEWARD. A ROMAN SINGER. AN AMERICAN POLITICIAN. PAUL PATOFF. MARZIO'S CRUCIFIX. SARACINESCA. A TALE OF A LONELY PARISH. ZOROASTER. DR. CLAUDIUS. MR. ISAACS.
MACMILLAN & CO., PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.
1. Punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards.
2. Typographic errors corrected in original: p. 30 hear to heard ("heard the chink") p. 129 Schimdt to Schmidt ("cried Schmidt in a tone of decision") p. 243 Fischelowizt to Fischelowitz ("Herr Fischelowitz")