"Is the Count dead?" Alban asked them in a low voice. He had taken a few steps toward the bed and there halted irresolute. "What is it, what has happened, sir?" he continued, turning to Zaniloff. That worthy merely shrugged his shoulders.
"The Count has been assassinated—we believe by a woman. The doctors will tell us by and by."
Alban shuddered at the words and took another step toward the bed. He felt giddy and faint. The words he had just heard were ringing in his ears as a sound of rushing waters. "Has Lois done this thing?"—incredible! And yet the man implied as much.
"I cannot stay here," he exclaimed presently, "I must go to my room, if you please."
He turned and reeled from the place, ashamed of his weakness, yet unable to control it. Outside upon the landing, he discovered that Zaniloff was at his elbow and had something to say to him. Speaking sharply and autocratically in the Russian tongue, that worthy realized almost immediately that he had failed to make himself understood and so called the Herr Director to his aid.
"They will require your attendance at the bureau," the Director said with an obsequious bow toward Alban—"you must dress at once, sir, and accompany this gentleman."
Alban said that he would do so. He was miserably cold and ill and trembling still. Knowing nothing of the truth, he believed that they were taking him to Lois Boriskoff and that she was already in custody.
AN INTERLUDE IN PICCADILLY
Alban had been fifteen days out of England when Anna Gessner met Willy Forrest one afternoon as she was driving a pair of chestnut ponies down Piccadilly towards the Circus. He, amiable creature, had just left a club and a bridge table which had been worth fifteen pounds to him. The gray frock suit he wore suited him admirably. He certainly looked very smart and wide-awake.
"Anna, by Jupiter," he cried, as he stepped from the pavement at the very corner of Dover Street—"well, if my luck don't beat cock-fighting. Where are you off to, Anna—what have you done with the shoving-machine? I thought you never aired the gee-gees now. Something new for you, isn't it? May I get in and have a pawt? We shall be fined forty bob and costs at Marlborough Street if we hold up the traffic. Say, you look ripping in this char a bancs, upon my soul you're killing."
She had not meant to stop for him, and half against her wish she now reined the ponies in and made room for him. There never had been a day in her life since she had known him when she was able to resist altogether the blandishments of this pleasant rogue, who made so many appeals to her interest. To-day sheer curiosity conquered her. She wished above all things to hear what he had done with the extravagant cheque her father had sent him.
"I drove the ponies for a change," she said coldly, "we must not be unkind to dumb creatures. Do you know, it is most improper that you should be seen with me in this carriage, Willy. Just think what my father would say if he heard of it."
Willy Forest, to give him his due, rarely devoted much time to unpleasant thoughts.
"What's the good of dragging your father in, Anna?" he asked her sagely. "I want to have a talk to you and you want to have a talk to me. Where shall we go, now? We can't blow the loud trumpet at a tea-shop and a hotel is inquisitive. Why not come round to my rooms? There's an old charwoman there who will do very well when rumors arise—and she'll make us a cup of tea. Why not come, Anna?"
"It's out of the question, Willy. You know that it is. Besides, I am never going to speak to you again."
"Oh, that's all right—that's what you used to say when you came over to the cottage. We're getting too old for that kind of nonsense, you and I, Anna. Suppose I tell your man to wait for us in Berkeley Square. I'll say that we are going into the Arcade to look at the motor-cars—and they won't let you keep a carriage waiting in Bond Street now. I can tell you what I've heard about your friend Alban Kennedy while you're cutting me the bread and butter."
Her attention was arrested in an instant.
"What can you know about Mr. Kennedy?" she asked quickly, while her face betrayed her interest.
"Oh, I know a lot more than most. I've struck more than one friend of his these later days, and a fine time he seems having with the girls out yonder. Come over to my rooms and I'll tell you about it. I'm just fitting up a bit of a place in the Albany since your good father began to encourage virtue. I say, Anna,—he should never have sent me that cheque, you know he shouldn't."
It was a masterpiece of impudence, but it won upon her favor none the less. She had made up her mind a week ago that Willy Forrest was a rogue, a thief, and a charlatan. Yet here she was—for such is woman—tolerating his conversation and not unwilling to hear his explanations. Upon it all came his insinuation that he had news of Alban. Certainly, she did not know how to refuse him.
"You are sure that there is some one in your rooms—I will leave them instantly if there is not," she exclaimed, surprised at scruples which never had troubled her hitherto. Forrest protested by all the gods that the very doubt was an outrage.
"There's a hag about fit to knock down a policeman," he rejoined, with a feigned indignation fine to see. "Now be sensible, Anna, and let's get out. Are we babes and sucklings or what? Don't make a scene about it. I don't want you to come if you'd rather not."
She turned the ponies round almost at the door of the Albany, which they had just passed while they talked, and drove up to the door of that somewhat dismal abode. A word to her groom to be in Berkeley Square in half-an-hour did not astonish that worthy, who was quite accustomed to "Miss Hanna's" vagaries. In the corridor before the chambers, Willy laid stress upon the point about the charwoman and made much of her.
"I'll ring the old girl up and you can cross-question her if you like. She's a regular beauty. Don't you think that I'd deceive you, Anna. Have I ever done it in all my miserable life—eh, what?" he said at the door. "Now walk right in and I'll order tea. It seems like old times to have you about, upon my word it does."
She followed him into the chambers, her anxiety about the charwoman absolutely at rest. The rooms themselves were in some little confusion, but promised to be splendidly furnished presently. Fine suites of furniture were all huddled together like policemen at a scene of public rejoicing. The rich curtains, unhung, were neatly folded upon chairs and sofas—a few sporting prints relieved the cold monotony of tinted walls—the library boasted Ruff and Wisdom for its chief masterpieces. Nothing, however, disconcerted Willy Forrest. He had produced that charwoman before you could count five.
"Make us a cup of tea, Mrs. Smiggs, will you?" he asked her boisterously. "Here's my cousin come to tell me how to plant the furniture. We shan't trouble you long—just make love to the kettle and say we're in a hurry, will you now, there's a good soul."
Mrs. Smiggs took a sidelong glance at the lady, and tossing a proud but tousled head assented to the proposition in far from becoming terms.
"I'm sure, sir, that I'm always willing to oblige," she said condescendingly, "if as the young lady wouldn't like me to step out and get no cakes nor nothing—"
"No, no, no cakes, thank you, Mrs. Smiggs—just a cup of tea as you can make it and that's all. My cousin's carriage is waiting—she won't be here ten minutes—eh, what?"
The good woman left them, carrying a retrousse nose at an angle of suspicion. Willy Forrest drew an arm-chair towards the window of that which would presently be his dining-room, and having persuaded Anna to take it, he poised himself elegantly upon the arm of a sofa near by and at once invited her confidence.
"Say, Anna, now, what's the good of nonsense? Why did you let the old man send me that cheque?"
She began to pull off her gloves, slowly and with contemplative deliberation.
"I let him send it because I did not wish to marry you."
"That's just what I thought. You got in a huff about a lot of fool's talk on the course and turned it round upon me. Just like a woman—eh, what? As if I could prevent your horse going dotty. That was Farrier's business, not mine."
"But you let me back the horse."
"Of course I did. He might have won. I was just backing my luck against yours. Of course I didn't mean you to lose anything. We were just two good pals together, and what I took out of the ring would have been yours if you'd asked me. Good Lord, what a mess your father's made of it! Me with his five thou in my pocket and you calling me a blackguard. You did call me a blackguard—now didn't you, Anna?"
It was very droll to see him sitting there and for a wonder telling her something very like the truth. This, however, had been the keystone of a moderately successful life. He had always told people that he was a scamp—a kind of admission the world is very fond of. In Anna's case he found the practice quite useful. It rarely failed to win her over.
"What was I to think?" she exclaimed almost as though her perplexity distressed her. "The people say that I have cheated them and you win my money. If I don't pay you, you say that I must marry you. Will you deny that it is the truth? You won this money from me to compel me to marry you?"
Captain Willy Forrest slapped his thigh as though she had told him an excellent joke.
"That's the best thing I've heard for a twelvemonth," cried he; "as if you were the sort to be caught that way, Anna—by an impostor too, as your Little Boy Blue told you at Henley. He said I was an impostor, didn't he? Well, he's about right there—I'm not the son of old Sir James Forrest—never was, my dear. He was my father's employer, and a devilish good servant he had. But I've some claims on his memory all the same—and why shouldn't I call myself Forrest if I want to? Now, Anna, I'll be as plain with you as a parson at a pigeon match. I do want to marry you—I've wanted to marry you ever since I knew you—but if you think I'm such a fool as to go about it in the way you say I've done, well, then, I'll put right in for the Balmy Stakes and win 'em sure and certain. Don't you see that the boot's just on the other leg right along? I win your money because I want you to think I'm a decent sort of chap when I don't take it. As for the bookies who hissed the horse on the course—who's to pity them? Didn't they see the old gee in the paddock—eh, what! Hadn't they as good a chance as any of us to spot that dotty leg. If I'd a been born with a little white choker round my swan's-down, I'd have shouted the news from the mulberry tree. But I wasn't, my dear—I'm just one of the ruck on the lookout to make a bit—and who'll grease my wheels if I leave my can at home? No, don't you think it—I wanted to marry you right enough, but that wasn't the road. What your father's paid me, he's going to have back again and pretty soon about. Let him give it to the kid who's playing Peep-bo with the Polish Venus—I shan't take it, no, not if I come down to a porcelain bath in the Poplar Union—and what's more, you know I won't, Anna."
His keen eyes searched her face earnestly, much more earnestly than their wont, as he asked her this pointed question. Anna, upon her part, knew that he had juggled cleverly with the admitted facts of the case and yet her interest in his confession waxed stronger every moment. What an odd fascination this man exercised upon her. She felt drawn toward him as to some destiny she could not possibly escape. And when he spoke of Alban, then he had her finally enmeshed.
"What do you know of Mr. Kennedy?" she asked, sitting up very straight and turning flashing eyes upon him. "He certainly wouldn't write to you. How do you know what he is doing?"
"A little fat bird in a black coat living down Whitechapel way. Oh, I don't make any secret of it. I know a man who used to be a parson. He began to stick needles into himself, and the Bishop said—what ho! They took off his pinafore and he is now teaching Latin outside Aldgate Station. He's in with the Polish crowd—I beg your pardon, the gentlemen refugees from Poland—who are sewing the buttons on our shirts not far from the Commercial Road. Those people knew more about your friend than he knows about himself. Ask 'em straight and they'll tell you that he is in Warsaw and the girl Lois Boriskoff with him. Whether they've begun to keep house, I don't pretend to say. But it's as true as the east wind and that's gospel. You ask your father to make his own inquiries. I don't want to take it on myself. If he can tell you that Master Alban Kennedy is not something like the husband of the Polish lady Lois Boriskoff, then I'll give a penny to a hospital. Now go and ask him, Anna—don't you wait a minute, you go and ask him."
"Not until I've had that cup of tea, Willy."
She turned round as the charwoman entered and so hid her face from him. Light laughter cloaked at once the deep affront her pride had received, and the personal sense of shame his words had left. Not for a moment did she question the truth of his story or seek to prove it. As women all the world over, she accepted instantly the hint at a man's faithlessness and determined that it must be true. And this was to say that her passion for Alban Kennedy had never been anything but a phase of girlish romance acceptable for the moment and to be made permanent only by persistence. The Eastern blood, flowing warm in her veins, would never have left her long satisfied with the precise and strenuous Englishman and the restraint his nationality put upon him. She hungered for the warm passionate caress which the East had taught her to desire. She was drawn insensibly toward the man who had awakened this instinct within her and ministered to it whenever he approached her.
They drank their tea in silence, each perhaps afraid to admit the hazard of their task. When the moment came, she had recovered her self-control sufficiently to refer again to the question of the cheque and to do so adroitly.
"Are you going to return that money to my father, Willy?"
"That's just as you like. When you come here for good, we could send it back together."
"What makes you think that I will come here for good, Willy?"
"Because when I kiss you—like this—you tremble, Anna."
He caught her instantly in his arms and covered her face with passionate kisses. Struggling for a moment in his embrace, she lay there presently acquiescent as he had known even before his hands touched her. An hour had passed before Anna quitted the flat—and then she knew beyond any possibility of question that she was about to become Willy Forrest's wife.
THE PRISON YARD
The great gates of the prison yard rolled back to admit the carriage in which Alban had been driven from the hotel, and a cordon of straight-backed officials immediately surrounded it. Early as the hour was, the meanest servant whom Zaniloff commanded had work to do and well understood the urgency of his task. The night had been one long story of plot and counterplot; of Revolutionaries fleeing from street to street, Cossacks galloping upon their heels, houses awakened and doors beaten down, the screams and cries of women, the savage anger of men. And all this, not upon the famous avenues which knew little of the new emeute, but down in the narrow alleys of the old city where bulging gables hid the sight from a clear heaven of stars and the crazy eaves had husbanded the cries.
There had been a civil battle fought and many were the prisoners. Not a cell about that great yard but had not its batch of ragged, shivering wretches whose backs were still bloody, whose wounds were still unbound. The quadrangle itself served, as a Cossack jocularly remarked, for the overflow meeting. Here you might perceive many types of men-students, still defiant, sage lawyers given to the parley, ragged vermin of the slums gathering their rags close about their shoulders as though to protect them from the lash; timid apostles of the gospel of humanity cowering before human fiends—thus the yard and its environment. For Alban, however, the place might not have existed. His eyes knew nothing of this grim spectacle. He followed the Chief to the upper rooms, remembering only that Lois was here.
They passed down a gloomy corridor and entered a lofty room high up on the third floor of the station. Two spacious windows gave them a fine view of the yard below with all its gregarious misery. There was a table here covered by a green baize cloth, and an officer in uniform writing at it. He stood and saluted Zaniloff with a gravity fine to see. The Chief, in turn, nodded to him and drew a chair to the table. When he had found ink and paper he began the interrogation which should help his dossier.
"You are an Englishman and your age is"—he waited and turned to Alban.
"My age is just about twenty-one."
"You were born in England?"
"In London; I was born in London."
"And you now live?"
"With Mr. Richard Gessner at Hampstead."
So it went—interminable question and answer, of the most trivial kind. It seemed an age before they came to the vital issue.
"And what do you know of this crime which has been committed?"
"I know nothing—how could I know anything."
"Pardon me, you were yesterday in company of the girl who is charged with its commission."
"The charge is absurd—I am sure of it."
"We shall decide that for ourselves. You visited her upon the barge of the German merchant, Petermann. He is now in custody and has confessed as much. What did she say to you when you were alone with her?"
"She asked me to help to set her father free."
"An honest admission—we shall do very well, I see. When she spoke of his excellency the Count, she said—"
"I am not afraid to tell you. She did not like him and asked me to take her away from Warsaw, disguised as my servant."
"That was not clever, sir. As if we should not have known—but I pass it by. You left her and then—"
"I spent the day with the Count and returned with him to the hotel at three o'clock in the morning."
"There was no one with him, then?"
"Yes, his valet was with him."
"Did you leave them together when you went to bed?"
"He always helped the Count to undress. I cannot remember where I left him."
"You have not a good memory, I perceive."
"Not for that which happened at three o'clock in the morning."
Zaniloff permitted the merest suspicion of a smile to lurk about the corners of a sensual mouth.
"It is difficult," he said dryly—and then, "your memory will be better later on. Did the girl tell you that his excellency would be assassinated?"
"You know very well that she did not."
"Certainly, you have had too much experience not to know."
"Most flattering—please do not mistake me. I am asking you these questions because I wish that justice shall be done. If you can do nothing to clear Lois Boriskoff, I am afraid that we shall have to flog her."
"That would be a cowardly thing to do. It would also be very foolish. She has many friends both here and in England. I don't think they will forget her."
"Wild talk, Mr. Kennedy, very wild talk. I see that you will not help me. We must let the Governor know as much and he will decide. I warn you at the same time that it will go very hard with you if the Count should die—and as for this woman, we will try other measures. She must certainly be flogged."
"If you do that, I myself will see that her friends in England know about it. The Governor will never be so foolish—that is, if he wishes to save Mr. Gessner."
"Gessner—Gessner—I hear the name often—pardon me, I have not the honor of his acquaintance."
"Telegraph to the Minister at St. Petersburg and he will tell you who Mr. Gessner is. I think you would be wise to do so."
Zaniloff could make nothing of it. The cool effrontery of this mere stripling was unlike anything he had heard at the bureau in all the years he had served authority. Why, the bravest men had gone down on their knees to him before now and almost shrieked for mercy. And here was this bit of an English boy plucking the venerable beard of Terror as unconcernedly as though he were a sullen-eyed Cossack with a nagaika in his hand. Assuredly he could be no ordinary traveller. And why did he harp upon this name Gessner, Richard Gessner! Reflection brought it to Zaniloff's mind that he had heard the name before. Yes, it had been mentioned in a dossier from the Ministry of Justice. He thought again and recalled other circumstances. The Government had been anxious to do the man a service—they had commanded the arrest of the Boriskoffs—why, at this very Gessner's bidding! And had not the Count warned him to treat the young Englishman as his own son—merely to play a comedian's part and to frighten him before opening the doors with profuse apologies. Zaniloff did not like the turn affairs had taken. He determined to see the Governor-General without a moment's loss of time. Meanwhile there could be no earthly reason why the girl should not be flogged. Whatever happened the Minister would approve that.
"It shall be done as you advise," he rejoined presently, the admission passing for an excellent joke. "The telegram shall be dispatched immediately. While we are waiting for an answer I will command them to bring you some breakfast to my own private room. Meanwhile, as I say, the girl must be flogged."
Alban shrugged his shoulders.
"I did not believe that you could possibly be so foolish," he said.
It puzzled Zaniloff altogether. Searching that open face with eyes accustomed to read many human stories, he could discern neither emotion nor anger, but just an honest man's faith in his own cause and a sure belief that it must triumph. Whatever Alban might really feel, the sickening apprehension of which he was the victim, the almost overmastering desire to take this ruffian by the throat and strangle him as he sat, not a trace of it could be discerned either in his speech or his attitude. "He stood before me like a dog which has barked and is waiting to bite," Zaniloff said afterwards. "I might as well have threatened to flog the statue of Sobiesky in the Castle gardens." This impression, however, he was careful to conceal from the prisoner. Official dignity never argues—especially when it is getting the worst of the deal.
"My wisdom is not for us to discuss," he snapped; "please to remember that I am in authority here and allow no one to question what I do. You will remain in my room until I return, sir. Afterwards it must be as the Governor decides."
He took up his papers and whispering a few words to the stolid secretary he left the room and went clanking down the corridor. The officer who remained seemed principally concerned in driving the flies from his bald head and from the documents he compiled so laboriously. Stopping from time to time to shape a quill pen to his liking, he would write a few lines carefully, kill a number of flies, take a peep at Alban from beneath his shaggy brows and then resume the cycle of his labors. Alban pitied him cynically. This labor of docketing scarred backs seemed wretchedly monotonous. He was really glad when the fellow spoke to him, in as amazing a combination of tongues as man had ever heard:
"Mein Herr—pardon—what shall you say—comment a dire—for the English—Moskowa?"
"We say Moscow, sir."
"Ah—Mosk—Mosk-nitchevo—je ne m'en souviens jamais."
He continued to write as though laboring under an incurable disappointment. That Alban knew what Moskowa meant was not surprising, for he had heard the word so often in Union Street. Here in this very courtyard, far below his windows, were the sons and the brothers of those who had preached revolution in England. How miserable they looked—great hordes of them, all crouching in the shadow of the wall to save their lacerated skins from the burning sunshine. Verily did they resemble sheep driven into pens for the slaughter. As for the Cossacks who moved in and out among them, there was hardly a moment which found their whips at rest. Standing or sitting, you could not escape the dreadful thongs—lashes of raw hide upon a core of wires, leaded at the end and cutting as knives. Sometimes they would strike at a huddled form as though they resented its mute confession of overwhelming misery. An upturned face almost invariably invited a cut which laid it open from forehead to chin. And not only this, but there were ordered floggings, one of which Alban must witness as he stood at the window above, too fascinated by the horror of the spectacle to move away and not unwilling to know the truth.
Many police assisted at this—driving their victims before them to a rude bench in the centre of the yard. There was neither strap nor triangle. They threw their man down and held him across the plank, gripping his wrists and ankles and one forcing his head to the floor. The whip of a single lash, wired to cut and leaded everywhere, fell across the naked flesh with a sound of a cane upon a board. Great welts were left at the very first blow, torn flesh afterwards and sights not to be recounted. The most stolid were broken to shrieks and screams despite their resolutions. The laugh upon defiant lips became instantly a terrible cry seeming to echo the ultimate misery. As they did to these poor wretches so would they do to Lois, Alban said. He was giddy when a voice called him from the window and he almost reeled as he turned.
"Well, what do you want with me?"
"I am to take you to the cell of the girl Lois Boriskoff, mein Herr. Please to follow me."
An official, well dressed in civilian's clothes, spoke to him this time and with a sufficient knowledge of the English language. The bald-headed secretary still snapped up the unconsidered insectile trifles which troubled his paper. Alban, his heart thumping audibly, followed the newcomer from the room and remembered only that he was going to Lois.
They had imprisoned many of the women in one of the stables behind the great yard of the station. So numerous were the captives that the common cells had been full and overflowing long ago. Zaniloff, charged with the command to restore order in the city at any cost, cared not a straw what the world without might say of him. The rifle, the bayonet, the revolver, the whip—here were fine tools and proved. Let but a breath of suspicion frost the burnish of a reputation and he would have that man or woman at the bar, though arrest might cost a hundred lives. Thus it came about that those within the gates were a heterogeneous multitude to which all classes had contributed. The milliner's assistant crouched side by side with the Countess, though she still feared to touch her robe. There were professors' daughters and dockers' wives, ladies from the avenue and ladies from the hovels. And just as in the great arena beyond the walls, so here Pride was the staff of the well-born, Prejudice of the weak.
Amid this trembling company, in the second of the stables, the gloom shrouding her from suspicious observation, none noticing so humble a creature, Alban found Lois and made himself known to her. The amiable civilian with his two or three hundred words of English seemed as guileless as a child when he announced Master Zaniloff's message and dwelt upon his honorable master's beneficence.
"You are to see this lady, sir, and to tell her that if she is honest with us we shall do our best to clear her of the charge. She knows what that will mean to name the others to us and then for herself the liberty. That is his excellency my master's decision."
"Much obliged to him," said Alban, dryly, and perhaps it was as well that Herr Amiability did not catch the tone of it.
"We have much prisoner," the good man went on, "much prisoner and not so much prison. That is as you say a perplexity. But it will be better; later in the time after. Here is the girl, this is the place."
He bent his head to enter the stable and Alban followed him, silently for very fear of his own excitement. There was so little light in the place that he could scarcely distinguish anything at first, nothing, indeed, but great beds of straw and black figures huddled upon them. By and by these took shape and became figures of women of all ages and types. Many, he perceived, were Jewesses, dark as night and as mysterious. Their clothes were poor, their attitude courageous and quiet. A Circassian, whose hair was the very color of the straw with which it mingled, stood out in contrast with the others. She had lately been flogged and the clothes, torn from her bleeding shoulders, had not been replaced. Near by, the wife of a professor at the University, young and distinguished and but yesterday welcomed everywhere, sat dumb in misery, her eyes wide open, her thoughts upon the child she had left. Not among these did Alban find Lois, but in the second of the great stalls still waiting its complement of prisoners. He wondered that he found her at all, so dark was this place; but a sure instinct led him to her and he stopped before he had even seen her face.
"Lois dear, I am sure it is Lois."
She started up from the straw, straining wild eyes in the shadows. Awakened from her sleep when they arrested her, she wore the dress which she had carried to her haven from the school, quite plain and pretty, with linen collars and cuffs in the old-fashioned style. Her hair had been loosely plaited and was bound about her like a cord. She rested upon the palms of her hands turned down to the pavement. There was but one other woman near her, and she appeared to be asleep. When she heard Alban's voice, she cried out almost as though they had struck her with the whip.
"Why do you come here?" she asked him wildly. "Alban, dear, whatever made you come?"
He stepped forward and kneeling down in the straw he pressed his cold lips to hers and held them there for many minutes.
"Did you not wish me to come, Lois?"
She shivered, her big eyes were casting quick glances everywhere, they rested at last upon the woman who seemed to sleep almost at her feet.
"They will hear every word we say, Alb, dear. That woman is listening, she is a spy."
"I am glad of it, she can go and give her master a message from me. Tell me, Lois, do not be afraid to speak. You knew nothing of Count Zamoyski's death. Say that you knew nothing."
She cowered and would not answer him. A dreadful fear came upon Alban. He began to tremble and could not keep his hands still upon her shoulders.
"Good God, Lois, why do you not speak to me? I must know the truth, you didn't kill him."
She shrank back, laughing horribly. The pent-up excitements of the night had broken her nerve at last. For an instant he feared almost for her reason.
"Lois, Lois dear, Lois, listen to me; I have come to help you. I can help you. Lois, will you not hear me patiently?"
He caught her to him as he spoke and pressed her burning forehead to his lips. So she lay for a little while, rocked in his arms as a child that would be comforted. A single ray of sunshine filtered through a slit in the wall above, dwelt for a moment upon her white face and showed him all the pity of it.
"Lois, why should you speak like this because I come to you? Is it so difficult to tell the truth?"
"Did they tell you to ask me that, Alban?"
"It was forced from me, Lois. I don't believe it. I would as soon believe it of myself. But don't you see that we must answer them? They are saying it, and we must answer them."
She struggled to be free, half resenting the manner of his question, but in her heart admitting its necessity.
"I knew nothing of it," she said simply, "you may tell them that, Alban. If they offered me all the riches in the world, I could not say more. I don't know who did it, dear, and I'd never tell them if I did."
A little cry escaped his lips and he caught her close in his arms again. It was not to say that he had believed the darker story at which imagination, in a cowardly mood, might hint, but this plain denial, from the lips of Lois who had never told him a lie, came as a very message of their salvation.
"You have made me very happy, Lois," he said, "now I can talk to them as they deserve. Of course, I shall get you out of here. Mr. Gessner will help me to do so. We have the whip hand of him all said and done, for don't you see, that if you don't tell your people, I shall, and that will be the end of it. Of course, it won't come to that. I know how he will act, and what they will do when the time arrives. Perhaps they will bundle us both out of Russia, Lois, thankful to see the back of us."
She shook her head, looking up to him with a wild face.
"I would not go, Alb dear. Not while my father is a prisoner. Who is there to work for him, if I don't? No, my dear, I must not think of it. I have my duty to do whatever comes. But you, it is different for you, Alban, you would be right to go."
He answered her hotly with a boyish phrase, conventional but true.
"You would make a coward of me, Lois," he said, "just a coward like the others. But I am not going to let you. You left me once before; I have never forgotten that. You went to Russia, and forgot that we had ever been friends. Was that very kind, was it your true self that did so? I'll never believe, unless you say so now."
She sat a little apart from him, regarding him wistfully as though she wondered greatly at his accusation.
"You went to live in another world, dear, and so did I. My father made me promise that I would not try to see you for six months, and I kept my word. That was better for you and better for me. If money had changed you, and money does change most of us, you would have been happier for my silence. I have told you about the letters, and that's God's truth. If I had not been ashamed, I couldn't have kept my word, for I loved you, dear, and I shall always love you. When my father sent you to Mr. Gessner's house, I think he wished to find out if his good opinion of you was right or not. He said that you were going to carry a sword into Wonderland and kill some of the giants. If you came back to us, you were to marry me, but if you forgot us, then he would never believe in any man again. There's the truth for you, my dear, I tell you because it all means nothing to me now. I could not go to London and leave my father in prison here, and they will never release him, Alban, they will never do it as things are, for they are more frightened of him than of any man in Russia. When I go away from here, it will be to Petersburg to try and see my father. There's no one else in all the world to help him, and I shall go there and try to see him. If they will let me stay with him, that will be something, dear. You can ask them that for me; when Mr. Gessner writes, you can beg it of the Ministry in Mr. Gessner's name."
"Ask them to send you to prison, Lois?"
"To send me to my father, dear."
Alban sat very silent, almost ashamed for himself and his own desires. The stupendous sacrifice of which she spoke so lightly revealed to him a page in the story of human sympathy which he had often read and as often derided. Here in the prison cell he stood face to face with human love as Wonderland knew nothing of it. Supreme above all other desires of her life, this desire to save her father, to share his sorrows, to stand by him to the end, prevailed. The riches of the world could not purchase a devotion as precious, or any fine philosophy belittle it. He knew that she would go to Petersburg because Paul Boriskoff, her father, had need of her. This was her answer to his selfish complaints during the years of their exile.
"And what am I to do if they give you the permission, Lois?"
"To go back to London and marry Anna Gessner. Won't you do that, Alban?"
"You know that I shall never do so."
"There was a time when you would not have said that, my dear."
He was greatly troubled, for the accusation was very just. The impossibility of making the whole truth plain to her had stared him in the face since the moment of her pathetic confession when he met her on the barge. Impossible to say to her, "I had an ideal and pursued it, looking to the right and the left for the figure of the vision and suffering it to escape me all the time." This he could not tell her or even hint at. The lie cried for a hearing, and the lie was detestable to him.
"There was a time, yes, Lois," he said, turning his face from her, "I am ashamed to remember it now, since you have spoken. If you love me, you would understand what all the wonders of Mr. Gessner's house meant to a poor devil, brought up as I had been. It was another world with strange people everywhere. I thought they were more than human and found them just like the rest of us. Oh, that's the truth of it, and I know it now. Our preachers are always calling upon the rich to do fine things for the poor, but the rich man is deaf as often as not, because some little puny thing in their own lives is dinning in their ears and will shut out all other sounds. I know that it must be so. The man who has millions doesn't think about humanity at all. He wages war upon trifles, his money-books are his library, he has blinded himself by reading them and lost his outlook upon the world. I thought it would all be so different, and then somebody touches me upon the shoulder and I look up and see that my vision is no vision at all, and that the true heart of it is my own all the time. Can you understand that, Lois, is it hidden from you also?"
"It is not hidden, Alban, it is just as I said it would be."
"And you did not love me less because of it?"
"I should never have loved you less, whatever you had done."
"I shall remind you of that when we are in England together."
"That will never be, Alban dear, unless my father is free."
She repeated it again and again. Her manner of speaking had now become that of one who understood that this was a last farewell.
"You cannot help us," she said, "why should you suffer because we must? In England there's a great future before you as Mr. Gessner's adopted son. I shall never hear of it, but I shall be proud because I know the world will talk about you. That will be something to take with me, dear, something they can never rob me of, whatever happens. When you remember who Lois was, say that she is thinking of you in Russia far away. They cannot separate us, dear Alban, while we love."
He had no word to answer this and could but harp again upon all the promise of his fine resolution. When the matter-of-fact official came to find him, Lois was close in his embrace and there were tears of regret in his eyes.
ALBAN RETURNS TO LONDON
They returned to the great courtyard, but not to Zaniloff's room as the promise had been. Here by the gates there stood a passable private carriage, and into this Alban perceived that he was to be hustled. The bestarred transcriber of the upper story, he who waged the battle of the flies, now stood by the carriage door and appeared to be ill at ease. Evidently his study of strange tongues still troubled him.
"Pardon, mein Herr—how in English—khorosho?" he asked very deferentially.
"It means 'that's all right,' sir." Alban answered immediately.
"It means that,—ah, nitchevo—je ne m'en souviens jamais."
He held the door open and Alban entered the carriage without a word. Apparently they still waited for someone and five minutes passed and found their attitudes unchanged. Then Zaniloff himself appeared full of bustle and business but in a temper modified toward concession.
"I am taking you back to your hotel, mein Herr," he said to Alban, "it is the Governor's order. You will leave Warsaw to-night. Those are our instructions."
He sank back in the cushions and the great gates were shut behind them with a sonorous clang. Out in the streets the outbreak of the earlier hours had been a veritable battle but was now a truce. The whole city seemed to be swarming with troops. Well might Zaniloff think of other things.
"Is the Count better, sir?" Alban ventured presently.
"He will live," was the dry response, "at least the doctors say so."
"And you have discovered the truth about the affair?"
"The man who attacked him was shot on the Rymarska half an hour ago."
"Then that is why you are taking me back to my hotel?"
"There is positively no other reason," said the Chief.
The statement was frank to the point of brutality, but it carried also such a message of hope that Alban hardly dared to repeat the words of it even to himself; there was no longer any possibility of a capital charge against the child he had just left in the wretched stable. Let the other facts be as they might, these people could not detain Lois Boriskoff upon the Count's affair or add it to the dossier in which her father's offences were narrated. Of this Zaniloff's tone convinced him. "He would never have admitted it at all if Lois were compromised," the argument ran, and was worthy of the wise head which arrived at it.
"I am glad that you have found the man," he explained presently, "it clears up so much and must be very satisfactory. Would you have any objection to telling me what you are going to do with the girl I have just left?"
"I have no objection at all. When the Ministry at St. Petersburg condescends to inform me, you shall share my information. At present I am going to keep her under lock and key, and if she is obstinate I am going to flog her."
"Do the people at St. Petersburg wish you to do that?"
"I do not consult their feelings," was the curt reply.
They fell to silence once more and the carriage rolled on through the busy streets. It had escaped Alban's notice hitherto, that an escort of Cossacks accompanied them, but as they turned into the great avenue he caught a glimpse of bright accoutrements and of horsemen going at a gentle canter. The avenue itself was almost deserted save by the ever-present infantry who lined its walks as though some great cavalcade were to pass. When they had gone another hundred paces, the need for the presence of the soldiers declared itself in a heap of blackened ruins and a great fire still smouldering. Zaniloff smiled grimly when they passed the place.
"Half an hour ago that was the palace of my namesake, the Grand Duke Sergius," he said, almost as though the intelligence were a matter of personal satisfaction to him.
Alban looked at the smouldering ruins and could not help remembering the strange threats he had heard in Union Street on the very eve of his departure from England. Had any of the old mad orators a hand in this? Those wild figures of the platforms and the slums, had they achieved so much, if indeed it were achievement at all?
"They are fools to make war upon bricks and mortar," Zaniloff remarked in his old quiet way.
"I told them so in London, sir."
"You told them; do you enjoy the honor of their acquaintance then?"
"I know as much about them as any of your people, and that is saying a good deal. They are very ignorant men who are suffering great wrongs. If your government would make an effort to learn what the world is thinking about to-day, you would soon end all this. But you will never do it by the whip, and guns will not help you."
Zaniloff laid a hand upon his shoulder almost in a kindly way.
"My honor alone forbids me to believe that," he exclaimed.
They arrived at the hotel while he spoke and passed immediately to the private apartments above. A brief intimation that Alban must consider himself still a prisoner and not leave his rooms under any circumstances, whatever, found a ready acquiescence from one who had heard an echo in Lois' words of his own farewell to Russia. That the authorities would detain him he did not believe, and he knew that his long task was not here. He must return to England and save Lois. How or by what means he could not say; for the ultimate threat, so lightly spoken, affrighted him when he was alone and left him a coward. How, indeed, if he went to the fanatics of Union Street and said to them,—"Richard Gessner is your enemy; strike at him." There would be vengeance surely, but he had received too many kindnesses at Hampstead that he should contemplate such an infamy. And what other course lay before him? He could not say, his life seemed lived. Neither ambition nor desire, apart from the prison he had left, remained to him.
The French valet Malette waited upon him in his rooms and gave him such news of the Count as the sentinels of the sick-room permitted. Oh, yes, his excellency was a little better. He had spoken a few words and asked for his English friend. Nothing was known of the madman who struck him save that which the papers in his pocket told them. The fellow had been shot as he left the Grand Duke's palace; some thought that he had been formerly in the Count's service and that this was merely an act of vengeance, mais terrible, as Malette added with emphasis. Later on his excellency would be able to tell the story for himself. His grand constitution had meant very much to him to-day.
The interview took place at three o'clock in the afternoon, the doctors having left their patient, and the perplexed Zaniloff being again at the prison. The bed had now been wheeled a little way from the window and the room set in pleasant order by clever and willing hands. The Count himself had lost none of his courage. The attack in truth had nerved him to believe that he had nothing further to fear in Warsaw, for who would think about a man already as good as buried by the newspapers. Here was something to help the surgeons and bring some little flush of color to the patient's pallid cheeks. He spoke as a man who had been through the valley of the shadow and had suffered little inconvenience by the journey.
"I am forbidden to talk," he said to Alban, and immediately began to talk in defiance of a nurse's protests.
"So you have been to prison, mon vieux; well, it is so much experience for you, and experience is useful. I have done a good morning's work, as you see. Imagine it. I open my door to a policeman, and when I ask him what he has got for me, he whips out a butcher's knife and makes a thrust at my ribs. Happily for me, I come from a bony race. The surgeons have now gone to fight a duel about it. One is for septic pneumonia, the other for the removal of the lungs. I shall be out of Poland in my beautiful France by the time they agree."
He flushed with the exertion and cast reproachful eyes upon the nurse who stood up to forbid his further eloquence. Alban, in turn, began to tell him of the adventure of the morning.
"It was a Jack and Jill business, except that Jill does not come tumbling after," he said. "What is going to happen I cannot tell you. Lois will not leave Poland until her father is released, and I have it from her that he never will be released. Don't you see, Count, that Mr. Gessner is a fool to play with fire like this. Does he believe that this secret will be kept because these two are in prison? I know that it will not. If he is to be saved, it must be by generosity and courage. I should have thought he would have known it from the beginning. Let him act fairly by old Paul Boriskoff and I will answer for his safety. If he does not do so, he must blame himself for the consequences."
"Pride never blames itself, Kennedy, even when it is foolish. I like your wisdom and shall give a good account of it. Of course, there is the other side of the picture, and that is not very pretty. How can we answer for the man, even if he be generously dealt with? More important still, how can we answer for the woman?"
"I will answer for her, Count."
"You, my dear boy. How can you do that?"
"By making her my wife."
"Do you say this seriously?"
"I say it seriously."
"But why not at Hampstead before we left England. That would have made it easier for us all."
"I would try to tell you, but you would not understand. Perhaps I did not know then what I know now. There are some things which we only learn with difficulty, lessons which it needs suffering to teach us."
A sharp spasm, almost of pain, crossed the Count's face.
"That is very true," he exclaimed, "please do not think I am deficient in understanding. It has been necessary for you to come to Poland to discover where your happiness lay?"
"Yes, it has been necessary."
"Do you understand, that this would mean the termination of your good understanding with my friend Gessner. You could not remain in his house naturally."
"I have thought of that. It will be necessary for me to leave him as you say. But I have been an interloper from the beginning, and I do not see how I could have remained. While everything was new to me, while I lived in Wonderland, I never gave much thought to it; but here when I begin to think, I am no longer in doubt. How could I shut myself up in a citadel of riches and know that so many of my poor people were starving not ten miles from my door. I would feel as though I had gone into the enemy's camp and sold myself for the gratification of a few silly desires and a whole pantomime of show which a decent man must laugh at. It is better for me to have done with it once and for all and try to get my own living. Lois will give me the right to work, if she ever wins her liberty, which I doubt. You could help her to do so, if you were willing, Count."
"I, what influence have I?"
"As much as any man in Poland, I should say."
"Ah, you appeal to my vanity. I wish it could respond. Frankly, my Government will be little inclined to clemency, just now at any rate. Why should it be? These people are burning down our houses, why should we help them to build their own? Your old friend Boriskoff was as dangerous a man as any in Poland, why should they let him go just because an English banker wishes it."
"They will let him go because he is more dangerous in prison than out of it. In London I could answer for him. I could not answer while he is at Petersburg."
"My dear lad, we must really make you Master of all these pretty ceremonies. I'll speak to Zaniloff." He laughed lightly, for the idea of this mere stripling being of any use to his Government amused him greatly. His apologies for the indulgence, however, were not to be spoken, for the blood suddenly rushed from his cheeks, and the good nurse intervened in some alarm.
"Please to leave him," she said to Alban in French. He obeyed her immediately, seeing that he had been wrong to stay so long.
"I will come again when you permit me. Please let me know when his excellency is better."
She promised him that she would do so, and he returned to his own rooms. He was not, however, to see the Count again until he met him many years afterwards in Paris. The distressed Zaniloff himself carried the amazing news, some two hours later.
"You are to leave for London by the evening mail," the Chief said shortly, "a berth has been reserved for you, and I myself will see you into the train. Do not complain of us, Mr. Kennedy. I can assure you that there are many cities more agreeable than Warsaw at the present moment."
Alban was not surprised, nor would he argue upon it. He realized that his labors in Poland had been in vain. If he could save Lois from the prison, he must do so in London, in the alleys and dens he had so long deserted. Not toward Wonderland, not at the shrines of riches, but as an exile returned to labor with the humblest, must this journey carry him.
And he bowed his head to destiny and believed that he stood alone against the world.
WE MEET OLD FRIENDS
Alban had returned some two months from Poland, when, upon a drear October evening, the Archbishop of Bloomsbury, my Lady Sarah, the flower girl, and "Betty," the half-witted boy, made their way about half-past nine o'clock to the deserted stage of the Regent Theatre, and there by the courtesy of the watchman, distantly related to Sarah, began their preparations for a homely evening meal.
To be quite candid, this was altogether a more respectable company than that which had assembled in the Caves at the springtime of the year. The Lady Sarah wore a spruce black silk dress which had adorned the back of a Duchess more than three years ago; the Archbishop boasted a coat that would have done no discredit to a Canon of St. Paul's; the boy they would call "Betty" had a flower at the button-hole of a neat gray suit, and carried himself as though all the world belonged to him. This purple and fine linen, to be sure, were rather lost upon the empty stage of that dismal theatre, nor did the watchman's lantern and two proud wax-candles which the Lady Sarah carried do much for their reputation; but, as the Archbishop wisely said, "We know that they are there, and Sarah has the satisfaction of rustling for us."
Now to be plainer, this was the occasion of a letter just received from "the Panorama," who had gone to America since June, and of joyful news from that incurable optimism.
"I gather," the Archbishop had said, as he passed the document round, "that our young friend, er—hem—having exhibited the American nation in wax, a symbol of its pliability, surely is now proceeding to melt it down and to return to England. That is a wise undertaking. Syrus, the philosopher, has told us that Fortune is like glass, when she shines too much she is broken. Let our friend take the tide at the flood and not complain afterwards that his ship was too frail. The Panorama has achieved reputation, and who is of the world does not know the pecuniary worth of that? Consider my own case and bear with me. I have the misfortune to prick myself with a needle and to suffer certain personal inconveniences thereby. The world calls me a villain. Other men, differently situated, kill thousands of their fellow-creatures and look forward to the day when they will be buried in Westminster Abbey. We envy them at the height and the depth of it. This the Panorama should remember. A successful showman is here to-day and—er—hem—melted down to-morrow. It is something to have left no debts behind him; it is much more to have remembered his old friends in these small tokens which we shall consume in all thankfulness, according to our happiness and our digestions."
He had seated himself upon a stage chair, gilt and anciently splendid, to deliver himself of this fine harangue. The lady Sarah, in her turn, hastened to take up a commanding position upon the throne that had served for a very modern Cleopatra, while the boy "Betty," accustomed to hard beds, squatted upon the bare boards and was the happier for his liberty. For inward satisfaction, the menu declared a monstrous pie from a shop near by; a plentiful supply of fried fish; three dozen oysters in a puny barrel, and a half a dozen bottles of stout, three of which protruded from the Archbishop's capacious pockets. The occasion was a great one, indeed, the memory of their old friend, the Panorama, at its zenith.
"I always did say as he'd make a noise in the world, and that's the truth, God knows," Sarah took an early occasion to remark. "Not if he were my own brother could I wish him more than I do this night. 'Tisn't all of us would care to go 'crost the ocean among the cannibals and take the King of Hingerland in a 'amper. I saw him myself, wrapped up in a piper box and lookin' beautiful, God's truth, with the crown done up in tissue beside him. That was before the Panorama left us. 'Be a good boy,' says I, 'and don't fall in love with any of them darkies as you'll find in' Mericky. So help me lucky, I'd a good mind ter come after you,' says I, 'and marry their Ole Man jess ter set 'em a good example.'"
By which it will be perceived that the Lady Sarah's knowledge of the great and mighty Republic beyond the seas was clearly limited. Such ignorance had often provoked the Archbishop of Bloomsbury to exasperation, it annoyed him not a little to-night.
"My dear child," he protested, "you are laboring under a very great delusion. Be assured that America is a very great country, where—er—hem—they may eat each other, but not as you imagine. I believe that the American ladies are very beautiful. I have met some of them—er—in the old days, when—hem—the Bishops showed their confidence in me by drinking my claret and finding it to their liking. All that we have in England they have in America—prisons, paupers, policemen, palaces. You are thinking of Africa, Sarah, darkest Africa, that used to be, but is fast disappearing. Led me add—"
Sarah, however, was already busy upon her dozen of oysters and had no patience to hear the good man out.
"Don't you take on so, Bishop," she intervened, "'Mericky ain't done much for me and precious little it's going ter do for you. What I says is, let those as have got a good 'ome stop there and be thankful. Yer may talk about your oshun wave, but I ain't taking any, no, not though there was diamonds on the sea beach the other side and 'ot-'arse roses fer nothink. Who ever sees their ole friends as is swallered up by the sea? Who ever heard of Alb Kennedy since he went ter Berling as he told us for to mike his fortune? Ho, a life on the oshun wave if yer like, but not for them as has bread and cheese ashore and a good bed to go to arterwards; that's what I shall say as long as I've breath in my body."
"Betty," the boy, answered to this earnest lamentation with a sound word of good common sense.
"You're a-goin' to sleep in one o' them boxes to-night, ain't you, Sarah?" he asked, and she admitted the truth of his conclusions.
"And sweeter dreams I would have if I knew where the Dook was a-layin' his 'ed this night," she added.
The Archbishop ate a succulent morsel and drank a long draught from the unadorned black bottle.
"Nothing is known of Kennedy at Hampstead," he interposed, "I have made diligent inquiries of the gardener there, and he assures me that our dear friend never returned from Poland and that no one knows anything of him, not even Mr. Gessner. Anna, the daughter, I understand, is married to an old acquaintance of ours and has taken a little house in Curzon Street. She liked to go the—er—hem—pace, as the people say; and she is mated to one who will not be afraid of exceeding the legal limits. Mr. Gessner himself is on his yacht, and is supposed to be cruising off the coast of Norway. That is what they tell me. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their information. Would to heaven I had. Kennedy was a friend, a true friend, while he was in England. I have known many a bitter night since he left us."
He sighed, but valiantly, and applied himself once more to the pewter pot. It was a terrible night outside, raining heavily and blowing a bitter wind. Even here on the stage of the deserted theatre a chilling draught sported with their candles and made fine ghosts for them upon the faded canvas. Talk of Alban Kennedy seemed to have depressed them all. They uttered no word for many minutes, not indeed until one of the iron doors suddenly swung open and Alban himself came in among them. He was drenched to the skin, for he had carried no umbrella, and wore but a light travelling suit, the identical one in which he had returned from Poland. Very pale and worn and thin, this, they said, was the ghost of the Alban who had left them in the early summer. And his manner was as odd as his appearance. You might almost have said that he had thrown the last shred of the aristocratic rags to the winds and put on old habits so long discarded that they were almost forgotten. When he crossed the stage to them, it was with his former air of dogged indifference and cynical self-content. Explanations were neither offered nor asked. He flung his hat aside and sat upon the corner of a crazy sofa despised by the rest of the company. A hungry look, cast upon the inviting delicacies, betrayed the fact that he was hungry. Be sure it was not lost upon the watchful Sarah.
"Good Gawd, to see him walk in amongst us like that. Why, Mr. Kennedy, whatever's up, whatever brings you here a night like this?"
Alban had always admired the Lady Sarah, he admired her more than ever to-night.
"Wind and rain, Sarah," he said shortly, "they brought me here, to say nothing of Master Betty cutting across the street as though the cops were at his heels. How are you all? How's his reverence? Speak up, my lord, how are the affairs of your extensive diocese?"
"My affairs," said the Archbishop, slowly, "are what might be called in nubibus—cloudy, my dear boy, distinctly cloudy. I am, to adopt a homely simile, at present under a neighbor's umbrella, which is not as sound as it might be. Behold me, none the less, in that state of content to which the poet Horace has happily referred—nec vixit male qui natus moriensque fefellit. At this moment you discover me upon a pleasant bridge which spans an unknown abyss. I eat, drink and am merry. What more shall I desire?"
"And Betty here, does Betty keep out of mischief?"
Sarah answered this.
"I got him a job at Covent Garden, and he's there regular at four o'clock every morning sure as the sun's in heaven. Don't you go thinking nothink about Betty, Mr. Kennedy, and so I tell you straight."
"And what have you done with the Panorama, Sarah?"
She laughed loudly.
"Panorama's among the black men, them's his oysters as we're eatin' now. Try one, Mr. Kennedy. You look as if a drop of summat would do you good, so help me you do. Take a sup o' stout and rest yourself awhile. It is a surprise to see you, I must say."
"A very pleasant surprise, indeed," added the Archbishop, emphatically. "There has been no event in my life for many months which has given me so much satisfaction. We have not so many friends that we can spare even one of them to those higher spheres, which, I must say, he has adorned with such conspicuous lustre."
"Oh, spare me, reverence, don't talk nonsense to-night. I am tired as you see, tired and hungry. And I'm going to beg food and drink from old friends who have loved me. Now, Sarah, what's it to be?"
He drew the sofa nearer to the bare table and began to eat with them. Sarah's motherly protestations induced him to take off his coat and hang it up in the watchman's office to dry. The same tender care served out to him the most delicate morsels, from a generous if uncouth table, and insisted upon their acceptance. If his old friends were hot with curiosity to know whence he came and what he had been doing, they, as the poor alone can do successfully, asked no questions nor even hinted at their desire. Not until the supper was over and the Archbishop had produced a little packet of cigars, did any general conversation interrupt that serious business of eating and drinking, so rarely indulged in, so sacred when opportunity offered.
This amiable truce to curiosity, dictated by nature, was first broken by the Archbishop, who did not possess my Lady Sarah's robust powers of self-command. Passing Alban a cigar, he asked him a question which had been upon his lips from the beginning.
"You are just returned from Poland, Kennedy?"
"I have been in England two months, reverence."
"But not at Hampstead, my dear boy, not at Hampstead, surely?"
"As you say, not at Hampstead, at least not at "Five Gables." Mr. Gessner is away yachting; I read it in the newspapers."
"You read it in the newspapers. God bless me! do you mean to say that he did not tell you himself?"
"He told me nothing. How could he? He hasn't got my address."
They all stared, open-eyed in wonder. Even the Lady Sarah had a question to ask now.
"You're not back in Whitechapel again."
"True as gold. I am living in Union Street, and going to be married."
"To be married; who's the lidy?"
"That's what I want to know; perhaps it would be little red-haired Chris Denholm. I can't exactly tell you, Sarah."
"Here none of that—you're pullin'—"
Sarah caught the Archbishop's frown, and corrected herself adroitly.
"It ain't true, Mr. Kennedy, is it now?"
"God knows, Sarah, I don't. I'm earning two pounds a week in a motor shop and living in the old ken by Union Street. Mr. Gessner has left the country and his daughter is married to Willy Forrest. I hope she'll like him. They'll make a pretty pair in a crow's nest. Pass the stout and let's drink to 'em. I must be off directly; if I don't walk home, it'll be pneumonia or something equally pleasant. But I'm glad to see you all, you know it, and I wish you luck from the bottom of my heart."
He took a long drink from a newly opened bottle and claiming his coat passed out as mysteriously as he had come. The watchman said that a man waited for him upon the pavement, but his information seemed vague. The others continued to discuss him until weariness overtook them and they slept where they lay. His going had taken a friend away from them, and their friends were few enough, God knows!
THE MAN UPON THE PAVEMENT
A well-meaning stage-door keeper for once had told the plain truth and there had been a man upon the pavement when Alban quitted the Regent Theatre.
Little more than six months ago, this identical fellow had been commissioned by Richard Gessner to seek Alban out and report upon his habits. He had visited the great ship-building yard, had made a hundred inquiries in Thrawl Street and the Commercial Road, had tracked his quarry to the Caves and carried his news thereafter triumphantly to Hampstead and his employer. To-night his purpose was otherwise. He sought not gossip but a man, and that man now appeared before him upon the pavement, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his head bent, his attitude that of utter dejection and despair.
"Mr. Kennedy, if you please."
The stranger spoke beneath the shadow of a great lamp in the Charing Cross Road. Not hearing him immediately, Alban had arrived at the next lamp before the earnest entreaty arrested him and found him erect and watchful in a moment.
"I beg your pardon, sir; you are Mr. Kennedy, are you not?"
"My name, at least the half of it."
"Mr. Alban Kennedy, shall we say. I have been looking for you for three days, sir. It is not often that I search three days for anybody when his house is known. Forgive me, it is not my fault that there has been a delay."
Alban knew no more than the man in the moon what he was driving at, and he thought it must be all a mistake.
"What's it all about, old chap?" he exclaimed, falling into the manners of the street. "Why have you been hurrying yourself on my account?"
"To give you this letter, sir, and to ask you to accompany me."
Alban whistled, but took the note nevertheless and tore it open with trembling fingers. He thought that he recognized the handwriting, but was not sure. When he had read the letter through, he turned to the man and said that he would go with him.
"Then I will call a hansom, sir."
The detective blew a shrill whistle, and a hansom immediately tried to cannon an omnibus, and succeeding came skidding to the pavement. The two men entered without a word to each other; but to the driver the direction was Hampstead Heath. He, wise merchant, demurred with chosen phrase of weight, until a fare was named and then lashed his horse triumphantly.
"My lucky's in," he cried to a friend upon another box, "it's a quid if I ain't bilked."
Alban meanwhile took a cigarette from a paper packet, and asked his companion for a light. When he struck it an observer would have noticed that his hand was still shaking.
"Did you go down yonder?" he asked, indicating generally the neighborhood east of Aldgate.
"Searched every coffee shop in Whitechapel, sir."
"Ah, you weren't lucky. I have been living three days on Hampstead Heath."
"On Hampstead Heath? My godfather, I wish I'd known."
They were driving through Regent's Park by this time, and the darkness of a tempestuous night enshrouded them. Alban recalled that unforgotten evening of spring when, with the amiable Silas Geary for his companion, he had first driven to Mr. Gessner's house and had heard the story of Wonderland, as that very ordinary cleric had described it. What days he had lived through since then! And now this news surpassing all the miracles! What must it mean to him, and to her! Had they been fooling him again or might he dare to accept it for the truth? He knew not what to think. A surpassing excitement seized upon him and held him dumb. He felt that he would give years of his life to know.
They toiled up the long hill to the Heath and entered the grounds of "Five Gables" just as the church clock was striking eleven. There were lights in the Italian Garden and in the drawing-room. Just as it had been six months ago, so now the obliging Fellows opened the door to them. Alban gave him a kindly nod and asked him where Lois was.
"The young lady is there, in the hall, sir. Pardon me saying it, she seems much upset to-night."
"Mr. Gessner is still away?"
"On his yacht, sir. We think he is going to visit South America."
Alban waited for no more, but went straight on, his eyes half blinded by the glaring lights, his hands outstretched as though feeling for other hands to grasp them.
"Lois, I am here as you wished."
A deep sob answered him, a hot face was pressed close to his own.
"Alban," she said, "my father is dead!"
IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY
Very early upon the following morning, almost before it was light, Alban entered the familiar study at "Five Gables" and read his patron's letter. It had been written the day after he himself returned from Poland, and had long awaited him, there in that great lonely house. He opened it almost as though it had been a message from the dead.
"I am leaving England to-day," the note went on, "and may be many months abroad. The unhappy death of Paul Boriskoff in the Schlusselburg will be already known to you, and will relieve you of any further anxiety upon his daughter's account. I have the assurance of the Minister of St. Petersburg that she will be released immediately and sent to "Five Gables" as I have wished. There I have made that provision for her future which I owe to my own past, and there she will live as your wife until the days of my exile are finished.
"You, Alban Kennedy, must henceforth be the agent of my fortunes. To you, in the name of humanity, I entrust the realization of those dreams which have endeared you to me and made you as my own son. If there be salvation for the outcasts of this city by such labors as you will now undertake upon their behalf, then let yours be the ministering hands, and the people's gratitude. I have lived too long in the kingdom of the money-changers either to accept your beliefs or to put them into practice. Go you out then as an Apostle in my name, that at my coming I may help you to reap a rich harvest.
"My agents will be able at all times to tell upon what sea or in what haven I am to be found. I go in quest of that peace which the world has denied to me. But I carry your name before others in my memory, and if I live, I will return to call you my son."
So the letter went on, so Alban read it as the dawn broke and the great city woke to the labors of the day.