And the strange, fierce light in Gritzko's eyes did not decrease.
The night before the Ardcheff ball they were going to a reception at one of the Embassies for a foreign King and Queen, who were paying a visit to the Court, and Tamara dressed with unusual care, and fastened her high tiara in her soft brown hair.
The Prince should see her especially attractive, she thought.
But when they arrived at the great house and walked among the brilliant throng no Prince was to be seen!—It might be he had no intention to come.
Presently Tamara went off to the refreshment room with her friend Valonne.
The conversation turned to Gritzko with an easy swing.
He seemed on the brink of one of his maddest fits. Valonne had seen him in the club just before dinner.
"If you really go to England I think he will follow you, Madame," he said.
"How ridiculous!" and Tamara laughed. "How can it make a difference to him whether I go or no? We do not exist for one another," and she fanned herself rather rapidly, while Valonne smiled a fine smile.
"I should not be quite sure of that," he said. "If I might predict, I should say you will be lucky if you get away from here without being the cause of a duel of some sort."
"A duel!" Tamara was startled. "How dreadful, and how silly! But why? I thought dueling had quite gone out in all civilized countries; and in any case, why fight about me? And who should fight? Surely you are only teasing me, Count Valonne."
"Duels are real facts here, I am afraid," he said. "Gritzko has already engaged in two of them. He is not quarrelsome, but just never permits any one to cross his wishes or interfere with his game."
"But what is his game? You speak as though it were some kind of cards or plot. What do you mean?" and Tamara, with heightened color, lifted her head.
"The game of Gritzko?" and Count Valonne laughed. "Frankly, I think he is very much in love with you, Madame," he said. "So by that you can guess what would be any man's game."
"You have a vivid imagination, and are talking perfect nonsense." Tamara laughed nervously. "I refuse to be the least upset by such ideas!"
At the moment up came Count Boris Varishkine, and after a while she went off with him to a sofa by the window, and there was seated in deep converse when the Prince came in.
He looked at them for a second and then made straight for the Princess Ardcheff, who was just about to arrange her rubber of bridge.
"Tantine, I want to talk to you," he said.
And the Princess at once left the cardroom and returned with him. They found a quiet corner opposite Tamara and her Garde, and there sat down.
"Tantine, I brought you here to look over there.—What does that mean?"
The Princess put up her glasses to gain time.
"Nothing, dear boy. Tamara is merely amusing herself like all the rest of us at a party. Are you jealous, Gritzko?" she asked.
He looked at her sharply, and for a moment unconsciously fingered the dagger in his belt.
"Yes, I believe I am jealous. I am not at all sure that I do not love your charming friend," he said.
"Well, why don't you marry her then?" suggested the Princess.
"Perhaps I shall—if she does not drive me to doing something mad first. I don't know what I intend. It may be to go off to the Caucasus, or to stay and make her love me so deeply that she will forgive me—no matter what I do."
He paused a moment, and his great eyes filled with mist, and then the wild light grew.
"If ever she becomes my Princess, she shall be entirely for me. I will not let her have a look or thought for any other man. All must be mine—unshared, and then she shall be my queen."
Princess Ardcheff leant back and looked at him. He was in his blue uniform with the scarlet underdress; and even she—old woman and fond friend—could not help picturing the gorgeous joy such a fate would give—to have him for a lover! to see his fierce, proud head bent in devotion, to feel his tender caress. Tamara must be an unutterable fool if she should hesitate.
But what he had said was not reassuring in its prospect of calm. She felt she must put in some small word of admonition.
"You will be careful won't you, Gritzko?" she ventured to suggest. "Remember, Tamara is an Englishwoman, and not accustomed to your ways."
"It will depend upon herself," he said. "If she goes on teasing me I do not know what I shall do. If she does not—"
"You will be good?"
"Possibly. But one thing, Tantine, I will not be interfered with either by her friend the Englishman or Boris Varishkine."
At this moment Tamara looked up and caught the two pairs of eyes fixed upon her. And into her spirit flowed a devilment.—Duels! They were all nonsense. She should certainly play a little with her new friend.
In her whole life before she came to Russia she had never been really flirtatious. She was in no way a coquette, rather a simple creature who recked little of men. But the simplest woman develops feline qualities under certain provocation; and her pride was deeply hurt.
Count Boris Varishkine asked nothing better than to fall in with her views. He was, however, like most of his countrymen, sincere, and not merely passing the time.
Jack Courtray came up, too, and joined them, his Countess Olga had sent him temporarily from her side. And Tamara scintillated and sparkled as she talked to them both in a way which surprised herself.
This society was very diplomatic, and it amused her to watch the representatives of the different nations—the English and the Russians standing out as so much the finest men.
Presently the little group was joined by Stephen Strong.
"Isn't this an amusing party, Mrs. Loraine?" he said.
"Yes," said Tamara. "And I am beginning to be able to place the members of the different countries. Don't you think the Russians look much the most like us, Mr. Strong?"
"The Russians, dear lady? When you have traveled a little more you will see that term covers half the types of the earth—but I agree. What we see here in Petersburg are very much like us—a trifling difference in the way the eyes are set, and the way the hair is brushed; and, given the same uniforms, half these smart young men might be our English Guards."
"We do not resemble you in character, though," said Count Varishkine. "You can feel just what you like, or not at all, whereas we are storm-tossed, and have not yet learnt the arts of pretence."
"We're a deuced cold-blooded race, aren't we, Tamara?" Jack Courtray said, and he grinned his happy grin.
The little party looked so merry and content Princess Ardcheff hardly liked to disturb them, but was impelled to by a look in Gritzko's face.
"Tamara, dear," she said, as she joined them, "I am so very tired after last night, for once shall we go home reasonably early?"
And Tamara rose gladly to her feet.
"Of course, Marraine, I too am dropping with fatigue," she said.
The Prince spoke a few words to Stephen Strong, and Jack joined in; so that the three were a pace or so to one side when the two ladies wished them goodnight.
"Come and see me early tomorrow, Jack," Tamara said. "I want to show you Tom's letter from home," and she looked up with an alluring smile, feeling the Prince was watching her; then, turning to Count Boris, "I am sure you will regret your bargain in having asked me to dance the Mazurka tomorrow night," she said. "I do not know a single figure or a step—but I hope we shall have some fun. I am looking forward to it."
"More than fun!" the young man said, with devotion, as he kissed her hand.
Then they walked to say goodnight to the hostess, and Gritzko seemed to disappear. But when they got down into the hall they saw him already in his furs.
The Princess' footman began to hand Tamara her snowboots and cloak, but Gritzko almost snatched them from the man's hand. She made no protest, but let him help her to put them on and wrap her up, while her godmother thought it advisable to walk toward the door.
"Tonight was your moment, Madame," he said, in a low voice. "But the gods are often kind to me, and my hour will come!"
Tamara summoned everything she knew of provokingness into her face as she looked up and answered:
"Tant pis! et bon soir! Monsieur le dmon de Lermontoff!"
Then she felt it prudent to run quickly after the Princess and get into the automobile!
It was twenty-four hours later. The night of the Ardcheff ball had come. The glorious house made the background of a festive scene. The company waited all round the galleries for the arrival of the Grand Dukes and the foreign King and Queen.
And Tamara stood by her godmother's side at the top of the stairs, a strange excitement flooding her veins.
Since the night before they had heard nothing of the Prince. And as each guest came in view, past the splendid footmen grouped like statues on every six steps, both women watched with quickening pulses for one insouciant Cossack face.
The Royalties arrived in a gorgeous train, and yet neither Gritzko nor Count Varishkine.
It might mean nothing, but it was curious all the same. The opening contre-danse was in full swing, and still they never came, and by the time of the second valse after it Tamara was a prey to a vague fear. While the Princess' uneasiness grew more than vague.
Tamara could not enjoy herself. She talked at random, she made her partners continually promenade through the salons, and her eyes constantly scanned the doors.
The immense ballroom, quite two stories high, presented a brilliant sight with its stately decorations of the time of Alexander I. And all the magnificent jewels and uniforms, and the flowers. Somehow a riot of roses takes an extra charm when outside the thermometer measures zero. And no one would have believed, looking at this dignified throng, that they could be the same people who could frolic wildly at a Bohemian supper.
There is a great deal in breeding, after all, and the knowledge of the fitness of things which follows in its train.
Tamara was valsing with Jack Courtray, and they stopped to look at the world.
"Are they not a wonderful people, Jack? Could anything be more decorous and dignified than they are tonight? And yet if you watch, in the contre-danse their eyes have the same excited look as when we wildly capered after supper in Prince Milaslvski's house."
"Which reminds me—why is he not here?" asked Jack.
"I wish I knew," Tamara said. "Jack, be a dear and go and forage about and get hold of Serge Grekoff, if you can see him, or Mr. Strong, or Sasha Basmanoff, or some one who might know—but it seems as if none of them are here."
"As interested as that?" and Lord Courtray laughed. "Well, my child, I'll do my best," so he relinquished her for the next turn and left her with Valonne, who had just arrived.
"Apparently I shall have to go partnerless for the Mazurka," Tamara carelessly said while she watched the Frenchman's face with the corner of her eye. "I was engaged for it to Count Varishkine, and he has never turned up. I do wonder what has happened to him. Do you know?"
"I told you you would be lucky if you got away from here without some row of sorts, Madame," and Valonne smiled enigmatically.
"What do you mean? Please tell me?" and Tamara turned pale.
"I mean nothing; only I fancy you will only see one of them tonight; which it will be is still on the cards."
A cold, sick feeling came over Tamara.
"You are not insinuating that they have been fighting?" she asked, with a tremble in her voice which she could not control.
But Valonne reassured her.
"I am insinuating nothing," he said, with a calm smile. "Let us have one more turn before this charming valse stops."
And, limp and nerveless, Tamara allowed herself to be whirled around the room; nor could she get anything further out of Valonne.
When it was over she sought in vain for her godmother or Jack or Stephen Strong. The Princess was engaged with the Royalties and could not be approached, and neither of the men were to be seen.
The next half-hour was agony, in which, with a white face and fixed smile, Tamara played her part, and then just before the Mazurka was going to begin Gritzko came in.
It seemed as if her knees gave way under her for a moment, and she sat down in a seat. The relief was so great. Whatever had happened he at least was safe.
She watched him securing two chairs in the best place, and then he crossed over to where she sat by the door to the refreshment room.
"Bon soir, Madame," he said. "Will you take me as a substitute for your partner, Count Varishkine?" and he bowed with a courtly grace which seemed suited to the scene. "He is, I regret to say, slightly indisposed, and has asked me to crave your indulgence for him, and let me fill his place."
For a moment Tamara hesitated; she seemed to have lost the power of speech; she felt she must control her anxiety and curiosity, so at last she answered gravely:
"I am so very sorry! I hope it is nothing serious. He is so charming, Count Varishkine."
"Nothing serious. Shall we take our places? I have two chairs there not far from Olga and your friend," and the Prince prepared to lead the way. Tamara, now that the tension was over, almost thought she would refuse, but the great relief and joy she felt in his presence overcame her pride, and she meekly followed him across the room.
They passed the Princess on the way, and as she apparently gave some laughing reply to the Ambassador she was with, she hurriedly whispered in Tamara's ear:
"Pour l'amour de Dieu! Be careful with Gritzko tonight, my child."
When they were seated waiting for the dance to begin Tamara noticed that the Prince was very pale, and that his eyes, circled with blue shadows, seemed to flame.
The certainty grew upon her that some mysterious tragic thing had taken place; but, frightened by the Princess' words, she did not question him.
She hardly spoke, and he was silent, too. It seemed as though now he had gained his end and secured her as a partner it was all he meant to do.
Presently he turned to her and asked lazily:
"Have you been amused since the Moravian reception? How have you passed the time? I have been at Tsarski again, and could not come to see Tantine."
"We have been quite happy, thanks, Prince," Tamara said. "Jack Courtray and I have spent the day studying the lovely things in the Hermitage. We must see what we can before we both go home."
Gritzko looked at her.
"I like him—he is a good fellow—your friend," and then he added reflectively: "But if he spends too much time with you I hope the bears will eat him!"
This charitable wish was delivered in a grave, quiet voice, as though it had been a blessing.
"How horrible you are!" Tamara flashed. "Jack to be eaten by bears! Poor dear old Jack! What has he done?"
"Nothing, I hope,—as yet; but time will tell. Now we must begin to dance."
And they rose, called to the center by the Master of the Ceremonies to assist in a figure.
While the Prince was doing his part she noticed his movements seemed languid and not full of his usual wild entrain, and her feeling of unease and dread of she knew not what increased.
Tamara was very popular, and was hardly left for a moment on her chair when the flower figures began, so their conversations were disjointed, and at last almost ceased, and unconsciously a stiff silence grew up between them, caused, if she had known it, on his side, by severe physical pain.
She was surprised that he handed all his flowers to her but did not ask her to dance, nor did he rise to seek any other woman. He just sat still, though presently, when magnificent red roses were brought in in a huge trophy, and Serge Grekoff was seen advancing with a sheaf of them to claim Tamara, he suddenly asked her to have a turn, and got up to begin.
She placed her hand on his arm, and she noticed he drew in his breath sharply and winced in the slightest degree. But when she asked him if something hurt him, and what it was, he only laughed and said he was well, and they must dance; so away they whirled.
A feverish anxiety and excitement convulsed Tamara. What in heaven's name had occurred?
When they had finished and were seated again she plucked up courage to ask him:
"Prince, I feel sure Count Varishkine is not really ill. Something has happened. Tell me what it is."
"I never intended you to dance the Mazurka with him," was all Gritzko said.
"And how have you prevented it?" Tamara asked, and grew pale to her lips.
"What does it matter to you?" he said. "Are you nervous about Boris?"
And now he turned and fully looked at her, and she was deeply moved by the expression in his face.
He was suffering extremely, she could distinguish that, but underneath the pain there was a wild triumph, too. Her whole being was wrung. Love and fear and solicitude, and, yes, rebellion also had its place. And at last she said:
"I am nervous, not for Count Varishkine, but for what you may have done."
He leaned back and laughed with almost his old irresponsible mirth.
"I can take care of my own deeds, thanks, Madame," he said.
And then anger rose in Tamara beyond sympathy for pain.
She sat silent, staring in front of her, the strain of the evening was beginning to tell. She hardly knew what he said, or she said, until the Mazurka was at an end, all the impression it left with her was one of tension and fear. Then the polonaise formed, and they went in to supper.
Here they were soon seated next their own special friends, and Gritzko seemed to throw off all restraint. He drank a great deal, and then poured out a glass of brandy and mixed it with the champagne.
He had never been more brilliant, and kept the table in a roar, while much of his conversation was addressed to Tatiane Shbanoff, who sat on his left hand.
Tamara appeared as though she were turned into stone.
And so the night wore on. It was now four o'clock in the morning. The company all went to the galleries again to watch the departure of the King and Queen. And, leaning on the marble balustrade next the Prince, Tamara suddenly noticed a thin crimson stream trickle from under his sleeve to his glove.
He saw it, too, and with an impatient exclamation of annoyance he moved back and disappeared in the crowd. The rest of the ball for Tamara was a ghastly blank, although they kept it up with immense spirit until very late.
She seemed unable to get near the Princess, she was always surrounded, and when at last she did come upon her in deep converse with Valonne.
"Tamara, dear," she said, "you must be so dreadfully tired. Slip off to bed. They will go on until daylight," and there was something in her face which prevented any questions.
So, cold and sick with apprehension, poor Tamara crept to her room, and, dismissing her weary maid, sat and rocked herself over her fire.
What horrible thing had occurred?
What was the meaning of that thin stream of blood?
Tamara and her godmother did not meet until nearly lunchtime next day. A little before that meal the Princess came into her room. Tamara was still in bed, perfectly exhausted with the strain of the night. The Princess wore an anxious look of care, as she walked from the window to the dressing table and then back again. Finally she sat down and took up a glove which was lying on a cushion near.
"Tamara, you saw I talked last night with Valonne, and this morning I sent for Serge Grekoff, but he would not come, so I got Valonne again." She paused an instant. "I was extremely worried last night about Gritzko. I dare say you were not to blame, dear, but—"
"Please tell me, Marraine," and poor Tamara sat up and pushed her hair back.
"It appears, as far at I can gather, they all dined at the Fontonka house—Boris Varishkine and Gritzko have always been great friends—and at the end of dinner—Valonne imagines, because no one is sure what took place between them at this stage—Gritzko, it is supposed, said to Boris in quite an amiable way that he did not wish him to dance the Mazurka with you, but to relinquish his right in his—Gritzko's— favor."
She paused again, and Tamara's eyes fixed themselves in fascinated fear on her face. The Princess, after smoothing out the glove in her hand with a nervous energy, went on:
"They had all had quite enough champagne, of course, and apparently Boris refused, and suggested that they should toss up, and whoever won the toss should have first shot in the dark."
"Yes," said Tamara faintly.
"You know, dear, our boys are often very wild, and they have a game they play when they are at the end of their tether for something to do when quartered in some hopeless outpost—a kind of blind-man's-buff— only it is all in the dark, and the blind man stands in the middle of the room and the rest clap hands and then dodge, and he fires his revolver at the point the sound seems to come from, and the object is not to get shot. You may have noticed Sasha Basmanoff has no left thumb? He lost it last year on just such a night."
"Oh! Marraine, how dreadful!" Tamara said.
"It is perhaps not a very civilized game," the Princess continued, "but we are not discussing that, I am telling you what occurred. Well, from this point Valonne and the rest were eyewitnesses. Gritzko and Boris, still laughing in rather a strained way, said they had some slight difference of opinion to settle, and had decided to do it in the ballroom, in the dark. I won't go into details of how many steps to the right or left, the impromptu seconds arranged, only it was settled when Sasha at one end and Serge at the other should shut the doors they should both fire, and if in three times neither was shot, both should give up their claim."
"It is too horrible! and for such a trifle," Tamara said, clutching the bedclothes, and the Princess went on.
"Valonne said they were both hit in the first round, and all the company burst into the room. Nothing seemed very serious, and they laughed and shook hands. So Valonne left to be in time for the ball, but this morning, he told me, he found Boris Varishkine had had a shoulder wound which bled very badly and quite prevented his coming, while Gritzko was shot through the flesh of the right arm, and as soon as they could bind it up decently, as you know, he came on."
Tamara's face was as white as her pillow. She clasped her hands with a movement of anguish.
"Oh! Marraine, I am too unhappy," she wailed. "Indeed, indeed, I did nothing to cause this. You heard me, I only said to Count Varishkine I was looking forward to the dance. He is impossible, Gritzko. Oh! let me go home!"
"Alas! my child, what would be the good of that? If you went off tonight instead of coming to Moscow, it might create a talk; what we want is to prevent a scandal, to hush everything up. None of these men will tell, and your name will not be dragged into it. And if we go on our trip amicably as was arranged it will discountenance rumor. Gritzko and Boris are quite friends again. And if anything about the shooting does leak out, if no one has further cause for connecting you with it, they will generally think it merely one of Gritzko's mad parties. For heaven's sake let it all blow over, and after Moscow and a reasonable time, not to appear too hurried, you shall go home."
"But meanwhile, how can I know that he won't shoot at Jack? or do some other awful thing! He does not love me really a bit, Marraine. It is all out of pride and devilment because he wants to win and conquer me and add me to his scalps, and I won't be conquered. I tell you I won't!" and Tamara clenched her hands.
The Princess did not know what to say, she was not perfectly sure in her own mind as to Gritzko's feelings, and she was too thoroughly acquainted with his ways to hazard any theory as to his possible acts. She felt it might not be fair to assure her godchild that he truly loved her. She could only think of tiding over matters for the time being.
"Tamara, dearest, could you at least try to keep the peace on our trip?" she asked. "Be gentle with him, and do not excite him in any way."
Tamara buried her face in her pillows, she was too English to be dramatic and sob; but when she spoke her soft voice trembled a little and her eyes glistened with tears.
"He is horribly cruel, Marraine," she said.
"Why should he treat me as he does. I won't—I won't bear it."
The Princess sighed.
"Tamara, forgive me for asking you, but I must, I feel I must. Do you— love him, child?"
Then passion flamed up in Tamara's white face, her secret was her own, and she would defend it even from this kind friend—so—"I believe I hate him!" she said.
After a while the Princess left her, they having come to the agreement that Tamara should do all that she could to keep the peace; but when she was alone she decided to speak to Gritzko as little as possible herself, and to ignore him completely. There would be no Boris and no one to make him jealous. She would occupy herself with Stephen Strong, and the sight-seeing, and even Sonia's husband, who was a bore and old, too; but the prospect held out no charms for her. She knew that she loved him deeply—this wild, fierce Gritzko—more deeply than ever today, and the tears, one after another, trickled down her pale cheeks.
If there was not a chance of any happiness, at least she must go home keeping some rag of self-respect. She firmly determined that he should not see the slightest feeling on her side, it should be restrained or perhaps capricious even, as his own.
Their train for Moscow started at nine o'clock, and the whole party had arranged to dine at the Ardcheff house at seven and then go to the station.
Nothing of the scandal of the night seemed to have transpired, for no one even hinted at anything about it.
Gritzko was still very pale, but appeared none the worse, and the atmosphere seemed to have resumed a peaceful note.
The five sleeping compartments reserved for this party of ten were all in a row in one carriage, and Tamara and the Princess, on the plea of fatigue, immediately retired to their berths for the night, Tamara not having addressed a single direct word to Gritzko. So far, so well. But when she was comfortably tucked into the top berth, and an hour or so later was just falling off to sleep, he knocked at the door, and the Princess believing it to be the ticket-collector opened it, and he put his head in. The shade was drawn over the lamp and the compartment was in a blue gloom. Tamara was startled by hearing her godmother say:
"Gritzko! Thou! What do you want, dear boy, disturbing us like this?"
"I came to ask you to tie up my arm," he said. "I was practising with a pistol yesterday, and it went off and the bullet grazed the skin, and the damned thing has begun bleeding again. I know you are a trained nurse, Tantine. Serge, who is with me, has tried and made a ridiculous mess of it, so I brought the bandage to you."
He now pulled back the shade and they saw he was standing there quite sans gne in the same kind of blue silk pyjamas Tamara remembered to have seen once before, and his eyes, far from being tragic or serious, had the naughtiest, most mischievous twinkle in them, while he whispered to the Princess and enlisted her sympathy for his pain.
"Gritzko, dearest child, but you are suffering! But let me see! only wait in the passage until I have my dressing-gown, and then come in again."
Tamara now thought it prudent to crouch down in the clothes and pretend to be asleep, while the kind Princess got up and arranged herself.
Then with a gentle tap this poor wounded one came in.
Tamara was conscious that her godmother was murmuring horrified and affectionate solicitations, as she busily set to work. She was also conscious that Gritzko was standing with his shoulder leant against her berth. He was so tall he could look at her, in spite of her retirement to the farthest side, and she was horribly conscious of the magnetic power exercised by his eyes. She longed quite to open hers, she longed really to look. She felt so nervous she almost gave a silly little laugh, but her will won, and her long eyelashes remained resting on her cheek.
"You darling. You are doing it beautifully!" he presently said, and then more softly, "I had no idea how pretty your friend is! and how soundly she sleeps! Do you think I might kiss her, Tantino? I have always wanted to, only she is of such a severity I have been too frightened. May I, Tantine?" And his voice sounded coaxing and sweet, and Tamara felt sure he was caressing the Princess' hair with his free hand, for that lady kept murmuring.
"Tais toi!—Gritzko—have done! How can I bind your arm if you conduct yourself so! Not a moment of stillness! Truly what a naughty child— keep still!" Then she spoke more severely to him in Russian, and he laughed while he answered, and then presently the bandage was done, and standing on tip-toe he looked full at Tamara.
"And you think I must not kiss her? Oh! you are a most cruel Tantine! She is sound asleep and would never know, and it would be just one of the things which could cool my fever and help my arm."
But the Princess interposed, sternly, and getting really annoyed with him, he was forced to go. But first he kissed her hand and thanked her and purred affection and gratitude with his astonishing charm, and the Princess' voice grew more and more mollified as she said: "There— there—what a boy! Gritzko, dear child, begone!"
And all this while, with her long eyelashes resting upon her cheek, Tamara apparently slept peacefully on.
But when the door was safely shut and bolted, the Princess addressed her.
"You are not really asleep, Tamara, I suppose," she said. "You have heard? Is he not difficult. What is one to do with him? I can never remain angry long. Those caresses! Mon Dieu! I wish you would love each other and marry and go and live at Milaslv, and then we others might have a little peace and calm!"
"Marry him," and Tamara raised herself in bed. "One might as well marry a panther in a jungle, it would be quite as safe!" she said.
But the Princess shook her head. "There you are altogether wrong," she replied. "Once there were no continuous obstacles to his will, he would be gentle and adoring, he would be as tender and thoughtful as he is to me when I am ill."
Then into Tamara's brain there rushed visions of the unutterable pleasure this tenderness would mean, and she said:
"Don't let us talk;—I want to sleep, Marraine."
And in the morning they arrived at Moscow.
The whole day of the sight-seeing passed with comparative smoothness, Tamara persistently remained with Sonia's husband or Stephen Strong, when any moment came that she should be alone with any man.
She was apparently indifferent to Gritzko,—considering that she was throbbing with interest in his every movement and inwardly longing to talk to him—she kept up the rle she had set herself to play very well. It was not an agreeable one, and but for the inward feverish excitement she would have suffered much pain.
Gritzko for his part seemed whimsically indifferent for most of the time, but once now and then the Princess, who watched things as the god in the car, experienced a sense of uneasiness. And yet she could not suggest any other line of conduct for Tamara to pursue. But on the whole the day was a success.
The two young English guests had both been extremely interested in what they saw. Stephen Strong was an old hand and knew it intimately, and the whole party was so merry and gay. The snow fortunately had held, and they rushed about in little sleighs seeing the quaint buildings and picturesque streets and the churches with their bright gilt domes. Moscow was really Russian, Prince Solentzeff-Zasiekin told them, unlike Petersburg, which at a first glance might be Berlin or Vienna, or anywhere else; but Moscow is like no other city in the world.
"How extremely good you Russians must be," Tamara said. "The quantities of churches you have, and everywhere the people seem so devout. Look at them kissing that Ikon in the street! Such faith is beautiful to see."
"Our faith is our safeguard," her companion said. "When the people become sufficiently educated to have doubts then, indeed, a sad day will come."
"They have such grave patient faces, don't you think?" said Stephen Strong. "It is not exactly a hopeless expression, it is more one of resignation. Whenever I come here I feel of what use is strife, and yet after a while they make one melancholy."
They were waiting by the house of the Romanoffs, for their guide to open the door, and just then a batch of beggars passed, their wild hair and terribly ragged sheepskins making them a queer gruesome sight. They craved alms with the same patient smile with which they thanked when money was given. Misery seemed to stalk about a good deal.
"How could a great family have lived in this tiny house?" Tamara asked. "Really, people in olden times seem to have been able to double up anywhere. Pray look at this bedroom and this ridiculous bed!"
"It will prepare you for what you are coming to at Milaslv," Gritzko said. "A row of tent stretchers for everyone together in the hall!"
Tamara made no answer, she contrived to move on directly he spoke, and her reply now was to the general company, as it had been all day.
If she had looked back then she would have seen a gleam in his eyes which boded no peace. She thought she was doing everything for the best, but each rebuff was adding fuel to that wild fire in his blood.
By the end of the day, after walks through the Treasury and museums, and what not, and never having been able to speak to Tamara, his temper was at boiling point. But he controlled it, and his face wore a mask, which disarmed even the Princess' fears.
Their dinner was very gay, and the Russians asked Lord Courtray what had impressed him most.
"I like the story of Ivan the Terrible putting his jolly old alpenstock through the fellow's foot on the stairs when he came with the letter," Jack said. "Sensible sort of thing to do. Kept the messenger in place."
Meanwhile Tamara was conversing in a lower voice with Stephen Strong.
"The more you stay in this country, the more it fascinates you," he said. "And you feel you have got back to some of the fierce primitive passions of nature. Here, in Moscow, the whole earth must be stained with wild orgies and blood, and yet they are full of poetry and romance. Even Ivan the Terrible had his religious side, and every creature of them believes in the saints and the priests. It is said the impostor who posed as Ivan's son might have succeeded had he not been too kind, he showed clemency to Shuisky and his enemies and did not have them torn to pieces, so the people would not believe he could be the Terrible's son! And they chased him to that window you remember we saw in the old palace of the Kremlin and there he had to throw himself out."
"It makes one wonder what can arise from a history of such horrible crimes," Tamara said.
"You must not forget that the country is practically three hundred years behind the times, though," Stephen Strong went on. "No doubt quite as great horrors marked others if we look at them at an equivalent stage of development. It is missing this point which makes most strangers, and many foreign historians, so unjust to Russia and her people. The national qualities are immeasurably great, but as a civilized nation they are so very young."
"I believe one could grow to love them," Tamara said. "I have never had the feeling that I am among strangers since I have been here."
Then she wondered vaguely why Stephen Strong smiled softly to himself.
By the end of dinner, Gritzko's eyes were blazing, and he suggested every sort of astonishing way to spend the night. But Princess Ardcheff, as the doyenne of the party, prudently put her foot down, and insisted upon bed. For had they not a whole morning of sight-seeing still to do on the morrow, and then their thirty versts in troikas to arrive at Milaslv. So the ladies all trouped off to rest.
"Leave your door open into my room, Tamara dear, if you do not mind," her godmother said. "I am always nervous in hotels—"
"I trust everything is going quietly," she added to herself, "but one never can tell."
Next day the whole sky was leaden with unfallen snow. Nothing more strange and gloomy and barbaric than Moscow looked could have been imagined, Tamara thought. It brought out the gilt domes and the unusual colors of things in a lurid way.
Their first visit was to the Church of the Assumption, where the emperors are crowned. Its great beauty and rich colors pleased the eye. The totally different arrangement of things from any other sort of church—the shape and the absence of chairs or seats—the hidden altar behind the doors of the sanctuary—the numerous pictures and frescoed walls—all gave it a mysterious, wonderful charm, and here again the two English were struck by the people's simple faith.
"We would catch every sort of disease kissing those Ikons after filthy ulcerated beggars," Stephen Strong said to Tamara. "But the belief that only good can come to them brings only good. The study of these people makes one less materialistic and full of common sense. One puts more credence in things occult."
A service was just beginning, it was some high saint's day, and the beautiful singing, the boys' angel voices and the deep bass of the priests, unaccompanied by any instruments or organ, impressed Tamara far more in this old temple than the services had done in any of the St. Petersburg churches.
A peace fell on her soul, and just as the gipsies' music had been of the devil, so this seemed to come from heaven itself. She felt calmed and happier when they came out.
After an early lunch they saw from the hotel windows three troikas drawn up. Two of them Gritzko's, and one belonging to Prince Solentzeff Zasiekin, who had also a country place in the neighbourhood.
The two, which had come a day or so before from Milaslv, were indeed wonderful turn-outs. The Prince prided himself upon his horses, which were renowned throughout Europe.
The graceful shaped sleighs, with the drivers in their quaint liveries standing up to drive, always unconsciously suggest that their origin must have been some chariot from Rome.
Gritzko's colors were a rich greenish-blue, while the reins and velvet caps and belts of the drivers were a dull cerise; the caps were braided with silver, while they and the coats and the blue velvet rugs were lined and bordered with sable. One set of horses was coal black, and the others a dark gray. Everything seemed in keeping with the buildings, and the semi-Byzantine scene with its Oriental note of picturesque grace.
"Which will you choose to go in, Madame?" Gritzko asked. "Shall you be drawn by the blacks or the grays?"
"I would prefer the blacks," Tamara replied. "I always love black horses, and these are such beautiful ones." And so it was arranged.
"If you will come with Stephen and me, Tantino," the Prince said, "we shall be the lighter load and get there first. Madame Loraine and Olga can go with Serge and Lord Courtray, they will take the blacks; that leaves Valonne for Sonia and her husband. Will this please everyone?"
Apparently it did, for thus they started. It was an enchanting drive over the snow. They seemed to fly along, once they had left the town, and the weird bleak country, unmarked by any boundaries, impressed both Tamara and Jack. And while Tamara was speculating upon its mystical side, Lord Courtray was gauging its possibilities for sport.
They at last skirted a dark forest, which seemed to stretch for miles, and then after nearly three hours' drive arrived at the entrance to Milaslv.
They went through a wild, rough sort of park, and then came in view of the house—a great place with tall Ionic pillars supporting the front, and wings on each side—while beyond, stretching in an irregular mass, was a wooden structure of a much earlier date.
It all appeared delightfully incongruous and a trifle makeshift to Tamara and Jack when they got out of their sleigh and were welcomed by their host.
A bare hall, at one side showing discolored marks of mould on the wall, decorated in what was the Russian Empire style, a beautiful conception retaining the classic lines of the French and yet with an added richness of its own. Then on up to a first floor above a low rez de chausse by wide stairs. These connecting portions of the house seemed unfurnished and barren,—walls of stone or plaster with here and there a dilapidated decoration. It almost would appear as if they were meant to be shut off from the living rooms, like the hall of a block of flats. The whole thing struck a strange note. There were quantities of servants in their quaint liveries about, and when finally they arrived in a great saloon it was bright and warm, though there was no open fireplace, only the huge porcelain stove.
Here the really beautiful, though rather florid Alexander I. style struggled from the walls with an appalling set of furniture of the period of Alexander II. But the whole thing had an odd unfinished look, and a fine portrait of the Prince's grandfather in one panel was entirely riddled with shot!
Some splendid skins of bears and wolves were on the floor, and there was a general air of the room being lived in—though magnificence and dilapidation mingled everywhere. The very rich brocade on one of the sofas had the traces of great rents. And while one table held cigarette cases and cigar boxes in the most exquisitely fine enamel set with jewels, on another would be things of the roughest wood. And a cabinet at the side filled with a priceless collection of snuff boxes and bon-bonnires of Catherine's time had the glass of one door cracked into a star of splinters.
Tamara had a sudden sensation of being a million miles away from England and her family: it all came as a breath of some other life. She felt strangely nervous, she had not the least notion why. There was a reckless look about things which caused a weird thrill.
"If it were only arranged, what capabilities it all has," she thought; "but as it is, it seems to speak of Gritzko and fierce strife."
Tea and the usual quantities of bonnes bouches and vodka waited them and a bowl of hot punch.
And all three English people, Stephen Strong, Tamara and Jack, admired their host's gracious welcome, and his courtly manners. Not a trace of the wild Gritzko seemed left.
Tamara wondered secretly what their sleeping accommodation would be like.
"Tantine, you must act hostess for me. Will you show these ladies their rooms," the Prince said. "Dinner is at eight o'clock, but you have lots of time before for a little bridge if you want."
He took them through the usual amount of reception-rooms—a billiard-room and library, and small boudoir—and then they came out on another staircase which led to the floor above. Here he left them and returned to the men.
"This was done up by the late Princess, Tamara," her godmother said. "Even twenty years ago the taste was perfectly awful, as you can see. The whole house could be made beautiful if only there was someone who cared—though I expect we shall be comfortable enough."
The top passage proved to be wide, but only distempered in two colors, like the walls of a station waiting-room. Not the slightest attempt to beautify or furnish with carved chairs, and cabinets of china, and portraits and tapestry on the walls, as in an English house. In the passage all was as plain as a barrack.
Tamara's room and the Princess' joined. They were both gorgeously upholstered in crude blue satin brocade, and full of gilt heavy furniture, but in each there was a modern brass bed.
They were immense apartments, and warm and bright, monuments of the taste of 1878.
"Is it not incredible, Marraine, that with the beautiful models of the eighteenth century in front of them, people could have perpetrated this? Waves of awful taste seem to come, and artists lose their sense of beauty and produce the grotesque."
"This is a paradise compared to some," the Princess laughed. "You should see my sister-in-law's place!"
One bridge table was made up already when they got back to the saloon, and Sonia, Serge Grekoff and Valonne, only waited the Princess' advent to begin their game.
It seemed to be an understood thing that Gritzko and his English guest should be left out, and so practically alone.
"I feel it is my duty to learn to play better," Tamara said, "so I am going to watch."
He put down his hand and seized her wrist. "You shall certainly not," he said. "You cannot be so rude as deliberately to controvert your host. It is my pleasure that you shall sit here and talk."
His eyes were flashing, and Tamara's spirit rose.
"What a savage you are, Prince," she laughed. "Everything must be only as you wish! That I want to watch the bridge does not enter into your consideration."
"Not a bit."
"Well, then, since I must stay here I shall be disagreeable and not say a word."
And she sat down primly and folded her hands.
He lit a cigarette, and she noticed his hand trembled a little, but his voice was quite steady, and in fact low as he said:
"I tell you frankly, if you go on treating me as you have done today, whatever happens is on your head."
"Do you mean to strangle me then?—or have me torn up by dogs?" and Tamara smiled provokingly. With all the others in the room, and almost within earshot, she felt perfectly safe.
She had suffered so much, it seemed good to oppose him a little, when it could not entail a duel with some unoffending man!
"I do not know yet what I shall be impelled to do, only I warn you, if you tease me, you will pay the price." And he puffed a cloud of smoke.
"He can do nothing tonight," Tamara thought, "and tomorrow we are going back to Moscow, and then I am returning home." A spirit of devilment was in her. Nearly always it had been he who regulated things, and now it was her turn. She had been so very unhappy, and had only the outlook of dullness and regret. Tonight she would retaliate, she would do as she felt inclined.
So she leaned back in her chair and smiled, making a tantalizing moue at him, while she said, mockingly:
"Aren't you a barbarian, Prince! Only the days of Ivan the Terrible are over, thank goodness!"
He took a chair and sat down quietly, but the tone of his voice should have warned her as he said:
"You are counting upon the unknown."
She peeped at him now through half-closed alluring lids, and she noticed he was very pale.
In her quiet, well-ordered life she had never come in contact with real passion. She had not the faintest idea of the vast depths she was stirring. All she knew was she loved him very much, and the whole thing galled her pride horribly. It seemed a satisfaction, a salve to her wounded vanity, to be able to make him feel, to punish him a little for all her pain.
"Think! This time next week. I shall be safe in peaceful England, where we have not to combat the unknown."
"No. Marraine and I have settled everything. I take the Wednesday's Nord Express after we get back to Petersburg."
"And tomorrow is Friday, and there are yet five days. Well, we must contrive to show you some more scenes of our uncivilized country, and perhaps after all you won't go."
Tamara laughed with gay scorn. She put out her little foot and tapped the edge of the great stove.
"For once I shall do as I please, Prince. I shall not ask your leave!"
His eyes seemed to gleam, and he lay perfectly still in his chair like some panther watching its prey. Tamara's blood was up. She would not be dominated! She continued mocking and defying him until she drove him gradually mad.
But on one thing she had counted rightly, he could do nothing with them all in the room.
First one and then another left their game, and joined them for a few minutes, and then went back.
And so in this fashion the late afternoon passed and they went up to dress.
No one was down in the great saloon when Tamara and the Princess descended for dinner, but as they entered, Stephen Strong and Valonne came in from the opposite door and joined them near the stove, and Tamara and Valonne talked, while the other two wandered to a distant couch.
"Have you ever been to any of these wonderful parties one hears have taken place, Count Valonne?" she asked.
Valonne smiled his enigmatic smile. "Yes," he said. "I have once or twice—perhaps you think this room shows traces of some rather violent amusements, and really on looking round, I believe it does!"
Tamara shivered slightly. She had the feeling known as a goose walking over her grave.
"It is as if wild animals played here—hardly human beings," she said. "Look at that cabinet, and the sofa, and—and—that picture! One cannot help reflecting upon what caused those holes. One's imagination can conjure up extraordinary things."
"Not more extraordinary than the probable facts," and Valonne laughed as if at some astonishing recollection. "You have not yet seen our host's own rooms though, I expect?"
"Why?" asked Tamara. "But can they possibly be worse than this?"
"No, that is just it. He had them done up by one of your English firms, and they are beautifully comfortable and correct. His sitting-room is full of books, and a few good pictures, and leads into his bedroom and dressing-room; and as for the bathroom it is as perfect as any the best American plumber could invent!"
Valonne had spent years at Washington, and in England too, and spoke English almost as a native.
"He is the most remarkable contrast of wildness and civilization I have ever met."
"It always seems to me as though he were trying to crush something—to banish something in himself," said Tamara. "As though he did these wild things to forget."
"It is the limitless nature warring against an impossible bar. If he were an Englishman he would soar to be one of the greatest of your country, Madame," Valonne said. "You have not perhaps talked to him seriously; he is extraordinarily well read; and then on some point that we of the Occident have known as children, he will be completely ignorant, but he never bores one! Nothing he does makes one feel heavy like lead!"
Tamara looked so interested, Valonne went on.
"These servants down here absolutely idolize him; they have all been in the house since he or they were born. For them he can do no wrong. He has a gymnasium, and he keeps two or three of them to exercise him, and wrestle with him, and last year Basil, the second one, put his master's shoulder out of joint, and then tried to commit suicide with remorse. You can't, until you have been here a long time, understand their strange natures. So easily moved to passion, so fierce and barbaric, and yet so full of sentiment and fidelity. I firmly believe if he were to order them to set fire to us all in our beds tonight, they would do it without a word! He is their personal 'Little Father.' For them there is a trinity to worship and respect—the Emperor, God, and their Master."
Tamara felt extremely moved. A passionate wild regret swept over her. Oh! why might not fate let him love her really, so that they could be happy. How she would adore to soothe him, and be tender and gentle and obedient, and bring him peace!
But just at that moment, with an air of exasperating insouciant insolence, he came into the room and began chaffing with Valonne, and turning to her said something which set her wounded pride again all aflame, and burning with impotence and indignation she, as the strange guest, put her hand on his arm to go in to dinner.
Zacouska was partaken of, and then the serious repast began. Every one was in the highest spirits. Countess Olga and Lord Courtray looked as though they were getting on with giant strides. Jack had got to the whispering stage, which Tamara knew to be a serious one with him. The whole party became worked up to a point of extra gaiety. On her other hand sat Sonia's husband, Prince Solentzeff-Zasiekin. But Gritzko sparkled with brilliancy and seemed to lead the entire table.
There was something so extremely attractive about him in his character of host that Tamara felt she dared hardly look at him or she could not possibly keep up this cold reserve if she did!
So she turned and talked, and apparently listened, with scarcely a pause to her right-hand neighbor's endless dissertations upon Moscow, and while she answered interestedly, her thoughts grew more and more full of rebellion and unrest.
It was as if a needle had an independent will, and yet was being drawn by a magnet against itself. She had to use every bit of her force to keep her head turned to Prince Solentzeff-Zasiekin, and when Gritzko did address her, only to answer him in monosyllables, stiffly, but politely, as a stranger guest should.
By the end of dinner he was again wild with rage and exasperation.
When they got back to the great saloon, they found the end of it had been cleared and a semicircle of chairs arranged for them to sit in and watch some performance. It proved to be a troupe of Russian dancers and some Cossacks who made a remarkable display with swords, while musicians, in their national dress, accompanied the performance.
Tamara and Lord Courtray had seen this same sort of dancing in London when Russian troupes gave their "turns," but never executed with such wonderful fire and passion as this they witnessed now. The feats were quite extraordinary, and one or two of the women were attractive-looking creatures.
Gritzko's attitude toward them was that of the benevolent master to highly trained valued hounds. Indeed this feeling seemed to be mutual, the hounds adoring their master with blind devotion, as all his belongings did.
During most of the time he sat behind the Princess, and whispered whatever conversation he had in her ear; but every now and then he would move to Princess Sonia or Countess Olga, and lastly subsided close to Tamara, and bending over leaned on the back of her chair.
He did not speak, but his close proximity caused her to experience the exquisite physical thrill she feared and dreaded. When her heart beat like that, and her body tingled with sensation, it was almost impossible to keep her head.
His fierceness frightened her, but when he was gentle, she knew she melted at once, and only longed to be in his arms. So she drew herself up and shrank forward away from him, and began an excited conversation with Stephen Strong.
Gritzko got up abruptly and strode back to the Princess. And soon tables and supper were brought in, and there was a general move.
Tamara contrived to outwit him once more when he came up to speak. It was the only way, she felt. No half-measures would do now. She loved him too much to be able to unbend an inch with safety. Otherwise it would be all over with her, and she could not resist.
They had been standing alone for an instant, and he said, looking passionately into her eyes:
"Tamara, do you know you are driving me crazy—do you think it wise?"
"I really don't care whether my conduct is wise or not, Prince," she replied. "As I told you, tonight, and from now onward, I shall do as I please." And she gathered all her forces together to put an indifferent look on her face.
"So be it then," he said, and turned instantly away, and for the rest of the time never addressed her again.
The long drive in the cold had made every one sleepy, and contrary to their usual custom, they were all ready for bed soon after one o'clock, and to their great surprise Gritzko made no protest, but let the ladies quietly go.
Tamara's last thoughts before she closed her weary eyes were, what a failure it all had been! She had succeeded in nothing. She loved him madly, and she was going back home. And if she had made him suffer, it was no consolation! She would much rather have been happy in his arms!
Meanwhile, Gritzko had summoned Ivan, his major domo, and the substance of his orders to that humble slave was this. That early on the morrow the stove was to be lit in the hut by the lake, where at the time when the woodcock came in quantities he sometimes spent the night waiting for the dawn.
"And see that there is fodder for the horses," he added. "And that Stpan drives my troika with the blacks, and let the brown team be ready, too, but neither of these to come round until the grays have gone. And in the hut put food—cold food—and some brandy and champagne."
The servant bowed in obedience and was preparing to leave the room.
"Oil the locks and put the key in my overcoat pocket," his master called again. And then he lit another cigarette and drawing back the heavy curtains looked out on the night.
It was inky black, the snow had not yet begun to fall.
All promised well.
Tamara had just begun to dress when her godmother came into her room next day.
"There is going to be a terrible snow storm, dear," she said. "I think we should get down fairly early and suggest to Gritzko that we start back to Moscow before lunch. It is no joke to be caught in this wild country. I will send you in Katia."
Tamara's maid had been left in Petersburg, and indeed her godmother's, an elderly Russian accustomed to these excursions, had been the only one brought.
"I won't be more than half an hour dressing," she said. "Don't go down without me, Marraine."
And the Princess promised and returned to her room.
"It has been a real success, our little outing, has it not?" she said, when later they were descending the stairs. "Gritzko has been so quiet and nice. I am so happy, dear child, that you can go away now without that uncomfortable feeling of quarreling. There was one moment when he got up from behind your chair last night I feared you had angered him about something, but afterward he was so gentle and charming when we talked I felt quite reassured."
"Yes, indeed," feebly responded Tamara. "The party has been positively tame!"
They found their host had gone with Jack and the rest of the men to the stables to inspect his famous teams. But Princess Sonia and Countess Olga were already down. They were smoking lazily, and had almost suggested a double dummy of their favorite game.
They hailed the two with delight, and soon the four began a rubber, and Tamara, who hated it, had to keep the whole of her attention to try and avoid making some mistake.
Thus an hour past, and first Stephen Strong and then the other men came in.
Jack Courtray was enthusiastic about the horses, and indeed the whole thing. He and Gritzko had arranged to go on a bear-hunt the following week, and everything looked couleur de rose—except the sky, that continued covered with an inky pall.
The Princess beckoned to Gritzko and took him aside. She explained her fears about the storm, and the necessity of an earlier start, to which he agreed.
"I am going to ask you to let us take Katia with us, we have only the one maid, and must have her in Moscow when we arrive," she said.
So thus it was arranged. The Princess and Stephen Strong and Katia were to start first, and Sonia and her husband would take both Serge and Valonne, leaving Gritzko to bring Tamara, Olga and Lord Courtray last.
All through the early lunch, which was now brought in, nothing could have been more lamblike than their host. He exerted himself to be sweetly agreeable to every one, and the Princess, generally so alert, felt tranquil and content, while Tamara almost experienced a sense of regret.
Only Count Valonne, if he had been asked, would have suggested—but he was not officious and kept his ideas to himself.
The snow now began to fall, just a few thin flakes, but it made them hurry their departure.
In the general chatter and chaff no one noticed that Gritzko had never once spoken directly to Tamara, but she was conscious of it, and instead of its relieving her, she felt a sudden depression.
"You will be quite safe with Olga and your friend, dearest," the Princess whispered to her as she got into the first troika which came round. "And we shall be only just in front of you."
So they waved adieu.
Then Princess Sonia's party started. The cold was intense, and as the team of blacks had not yet appeared, the host suggested the two ladies should go back and wait in the saloon.
"Don't you think our way of herding in parties here is quite ridiculous," he said to Jack, when Olga and Tamara were gone. "After the rest get some way on, I'll have round the brown team too. It is going to be a frightful storm, and we shall go much better with only two in each sleigh."
Jack was entirely of his opinion, from his English point of view, a party of four made two of them superfluous. Countess Olga and himself were quite enough. So he expressed his hearty approval of this arrangement, and presently as they smoked on the steps, the three brown horses trotted up.
"I'll go and fetch Olga," Gritzko said, and as luck would have it he met her at the saloon door.
"I had forgotten my muff," she said, "and had just run up to fetch it."
Then he explained to her about the storm and the load, and since it was a question of duty to the poor horses, Countess Olga was delighted to let pleasure go with it hand in hand. And she allowed herself to be settled under the furs, with Jack, without going back to speak to Tamara. Indeed, Gritzko was so matter of fact she started without a qualm.
"We shall overtake you in ten minutes," he said. "The blacks are much the faster team." And they gaily waved as they disappeared beyond the bend of the trees. Then he spoke to his faithful Ivan. "In a quarter of an hour let the blacks come round." And there was again the gleam of a panther in his eyes as he glanced at the snow.
All this while Tamara, seated by the saloon stove, was almost growing uneasy at being left so long alone. What could Olga be doing to stay such a time?
Then the door opened, and the Prince came in.
"We must start now," he said, in a coldly polite tone. "The storm is coming, and four persons made too heavy a load; so Lord Courtray and Olga have gone on."
Tamara's heart gave a great bound, but his face expressed nothing, and her sudden fear calmed.
He was ceremoniously polite as he helped her in. Nor did he sit too near her or change his manner one atom as they went along. He hardly spoke; indeed they both had to crouch down in the furs to shelter from the blinding snow. And if Tamara had not been so preoccupied with keeping her woollen scarf tight over her head she would have noticed that when they left the park gate they turned to the right, in the full storm, not to the left, where it was clearer and which was the way they had come.
At last the Prince said something to the coachman in Russian, and the man shook his head—the going was terribly heavy. They seemed to be making tracks for themselves through untrodden snow.
"Stpan says we cannot possibly go much further, and we must shelter in the shooting hut," Gritzko announced, gravely; and again Tamara felt a twinge of fear.
"But what has become of the others?" she asked. "Why do we not see their tracks?"
"They are obliterated in five minutes. You do not understand the Russian storm," he said.
Tamara's heart now began to beat again rather wildly, but she reasoned with herself; she was no coward, and indeed why had she any cause for alarm? No one could be more aloof than her companion seemed. She was already numb with cold too, and her common sense told her shelter of any sort would be acceptable.
They had turned into the forest by now, and the road—if road it could be called—was rather more distinct.
It was a weird scene. The great giant pine trees, and the fine falling flakes penetrating through, the quickly vanishing daylight, and the mist rising from the steaming horses as they galloped along; while Stpan stood there urging them on like some northern pirate at a ship's prow.
At last the view showed the white frozen lake, and by it a rough log hut. They came upon it suddenly, so that Tamara could only realize it was not large and rather low, when they drew up at the porch.
At the time she was too frozen and miserable to notice that the Prince unlocked the door, but afterward she remembered she should have been struck by the strangeness of his having a key.
He helped her out, and she almost fell she was so stiff with cold, and then she found herself, after passing through a little passage, in a warm, large room. It had a stove at one end, and the walls, distempered green, had antlers hung round. There was one plain oak table and a bench behind it, a couple of wooden armchairs, a corner cupboard, and an immense couch with leather cushions, which evidently did for a bed, and on the floor were several wolf skins.
The Prince made no explanation as to why there was a fire, he just helped her off with her furs without a word; he hung them up on a peg and then divested himself of his own.
He wore the brown coat to-day, and was handsome as a god. Then, after he had examined the stove and looked from the window, he quietly left the room.
The contrast of the heat after the intense cold without made a tingling and singing in Tamara's ears. She was not sure, but thought she heard the key turn in the lock. She started to her feet from the chair where she sat and rushed to try the door, and this time her heart again gave a terrible bound, and she stood sick with apprehension.
The door was fastened from without.
For a few awful moments which seemed an eternity, she was conscious of nothing but an agonized terror. She could not reason or decide how to act. And then her fine courage came back, and she grew more calm.
She turned to the window, but that was double, and tightly shut and fastened up. There was no other exit, only this one door. Finding escape hopeless, she sat down and waited the turn of events. Perhaps he only meant to frighten her, perhaps there was some reason why the door must be barred; perhaps there were bears in this terribly lonely place.
She sat there reasoning with herself and controlling her nerves for moments which appeared like hours, and then she heard footsteps in the passage, breaking the awful silence, and the door opened, and Gritzko strode into the room.
He locked it after him, and pocketed the key; then he faced her. What she saw in his passionate eyes turned her lips gray with fear.
And now everything of that subtle thing in womankind which resists capture, came uppermost in Tamara's spirit. She loved him—but even so she would not be taken.
She stood holding on to the rough oak table like a deer at bay, her face deadly white, and her eyes wide and staring.
Then stealthily the Prince drew nearer, and with a spring seized her and clasped her in his arms.
"Now, now, you shall belong to me," he cried. "You are mine at last, and you shall pay for the hours of pain you have made me suffer!" and he rained mad kisses on her trembling lips.
A ghastly terror shook Tamara. This man whom she loved, to whom in happier circumstances she might have ceded all that he asked, now only filled her with frantic fear. But she would not give in, she would rather die than be conquered.
"Gritzko—oh, Gritzko! please—please don't!" she cried, almost suffocated.
But she knew as she looked at him that he was beyond all hearing.
His splendid eyes blazed with the passion of a wild beast. She knew if she resisted him he would kill her. Well, better death than this hideous disgrace.
He held her from him for a second, and then lifted her in his arms.
But with the strength of terrified madness she grasped his wounded arm, and in the second in which he made a sudden wince, she gave an eel-like twist and slipped from his grasp, and as she did so she seized the pistol in his belt and stood erect while she placed the muzzle to her own white forehead.
"Touch me again, and I will shoot!" she gasped, and sank down on the bench almost exhausted behind the rough wooden table.
He made a step forward, but she lifted the pistol again to her head and leant her arm on the board to steady herself. And thus they glared at one another, the hunter and the hunted.
"This is very clever of you, Madame," he said; "but do you think it will avail you anything? You can sit like that all night, if you wish, but before dawn I will take you."
Tamara did not answer.
Then he flung himself on the couch and lit a cigarette, and all that was savage and cruel in him flamed from his eyes.
"My God! what do you think it has been like since the beginning?" he said. "Your silly prudish fears and airs. And still I loved you—madly loved you. And since the night when I kissed your sweet lips you have made me go through hell—cold and provoking and disdainful, and last night when you defied me, then I determined you should belong to me by force; and now it is only a question of time. No power in heaven or earth can save you—Ah! if you had been different, how happy we might have been! But it is too late; the devil has won, and soon I will do what I please."
Tamara never stirred, and the strain of keeping the pistol to her head made her wrist ache.
For a long time there was silence, and the great heat caused a mist to swim before her eyes, and an overpowering drowsiness—Oh, heaven!—if unconsciousness should come upon her!
Then the daylight faded quite, and the Prince got up and lit a small oil lamp and set it on the shelf. He opened the stove and let the glow from the door flood through the room.
Then he sat down again.
A benumbing agony crept over Tamara; her brain grew confused in the hot, airless room. It seemed as if everything swam round her. All she saw clearly were Gritzko's eyes.
There was a deathly silence, but for an occasional moan of the wind in the pine trees. The drift of snow without showed white as it gradually blocked the window.
Were they buried here—under the snow? Ah! she must fight against this horrible lethargy.
It was a strange picture. The rough hut room with its skins and antlers; the fair, civilized woman, delicate and dainty in her soft silk blouse, sitting there with the grim Cossack pistol at her head—and opposite her, still as marble, the conquering savage man, handsome and splendid in his picturesque uniform; and just the dull glow of the stove and the one oil lamp, and outside the moaning wind and the snow.
Presently Tamara's elbow slipped and the pistol jerked forward. In a second the Prince had sprung into an alert position, but she straightened herself, and put it back in its place, and he relaxed the tension, and once more reclined on the couch.
And now there floated through Tamara's confused brain the thought that perhaps it would be better to shoot in any case—shoot and have done with it. But the instinct of her youth stopped her—suicide was a sin, and while she did not reason, the habit of this belief kept its hold upon her.
So an hour passed in silence, then the agonizing certainty came upon her that there must be an end. Her arm had grown numb.
Strange lights seemed to flash before her eyes—Yes,—surely—that was Gritzko coming toward her—!
She gave a gasping cry and tried to pull the trigger, but it was stiff, her fingers had gone to sleep and refused to obey her. The pistol dropped from her nerveless grasp.
So this was the end! He would win.
She gave one moan—and fell forward unconscious upon the table.
With a bound Gritzko leaped up, and seizing her in his arms carried her into the middle of the room. Then he paused a moment to exult in his triumph.
Her little head, with its soft brown hair from which the fur cap had fallen, lay helpless on his breast. The pathetic white face, with its childish curves and long eyelashes, resting on her cheek, made no movement. The faint, sweet scent of a great bunch of violets crushed in her belt came up to him.
And as he fiercely bent to kiss her white, unconscious lips, suddenly he drew back and all the savage exultation went out of him.
He gazed at her for a moment, and then carried her tenderly to the couch and laid her down. She never stirred. Was she dead? Oh, God!
In frightful anguish he put his ear to her heart; it did not seem to beat.
In wild fear he tore open her blouse and wrenched apart her fine underclothing, the better to listen. Yes, now through only the bare soft skin he heard a faint sound. Ah! saints in heaven! she was not dead.
Then he took off her boots and rubbed her cold little silk-stockinged feet, and her cold damp hands, and presently as he watched, it seemed as if some color came back to her cheeks, and at last she gave a sigh and moved her head without opening her eyes—and then he saw that she was not unconscious now, but sleeping.
Then the bounds of all his mad passion burst, and as he knelt beside the couch, great tears suffused his eyes and trickled down his cheeks.
"My Doushka! my love!" he whispered, brokenly. "Oh, God! and I would have hurt you!"
He rose quickly, and going to the window opened the ventilator at the top, picked up the pistol from the table and replaced it in his belt, and then he knelt once more beside Tamara, and with deepest reverence bent down and kissed her feet.
"Sleep, sleep, my sweet Princess," he said softly, and then crept stealthily from the room.
The light was gray when Tamara awoke, though the lamp still burned— more than three parts of the window was darkened by snow—only a peep of daylight flickered in at the top.
Where was she! What had happened? Something ghastly—but what?
Then she perceived her torn blouse, and with a terrible pang remembrance came back to her.
She started up, and as she did so realized she was only in her stockinged feet.
For a moment she staggered a little and then fell back on the couch.
The awful certainty—or so it seemed to her—of what had occurred came upon her, Gritzko had won—she was utterly disgraced.
The whole training of her youth thundered at her. Of all sins, none had been thought so great as this which had happened to her.
She was an outcast. She was no better than poor Mary Gibson whom Aunt Clara had with harshness turned from her house.
She—a lady!—a proud English lady! She covered her face with her hands. What had her anguish of mind been before, when compared with this! She had suffered hurt to her pride the day after he had kissed her, but now that seemed as nothing balanced with such hideous disgrace.
She moaned and rocked herself to and fro. Wild thoughts came—where was the pistol? She would end her life.
She looked everywhere, but it was gone.
Presently she crouched down in a corner like a cowed dog, too utterly overcome with shame and despair to move.
And there she still was when Gritzko entered the room.
She looked up at him piteously, and with unconscious instinct tried to pull together her torn blouse.
In a flash he saw what she thought, and one of those strange shades in his character made him come to a resolve. Not until she should lie willingly in his arms—herself given by love—should he tell her her belief was false.
He advanced up the room with a grave quiet face. His expression was inscrutable. She could read nothing from his look. Her sick imagination told her he was thus serene because he had won, and she covered her face with her hands, while her cheeks flamed, and she sobbed.
Her weeping hurt him—he nearly relented—but as he came near she looked up.
No! Not in this mood would he win her! and his resolve held.
She did not make him any reproaches; she just sat there, a crumpled, pitiful figure in a corner on the floor.
"The snowstorm is over," he said in a restrained voice; "we can get on now. Some of my Moujiks got here this morning, and I have been able to send word to the Princess that she should not be alarmed."
Then, as Tamara did not move, he put out his hand and helped her up. She shuddered when he touched her, and her tears burst out afresh. Where was all her pride gone—it lay trampled in the dust.
"You are tired and hungry, Madame," he said, "and here is a looking-glass and a comb and brush," and he opened a door of the tall cupboard which filled the corner opposite the stove, and took the things out for her. "Perhaps you might like to arrange yourself while I bring you some food."
"How can I face the others,—with this blouse!" she exclaimed miserably, and then her cheeks crimsoned again, and she looked down.
He did not make any explanation of how it had got torn—the moment was a wonderful one between them.
Over Tamara crept some strange emotion, and he walked to the door quickly to prevent himself from clasping her in his arms, and kissing away her fears.
When she was alone the cunning of all Eve's daughters filled her. Above all things she must now use her ingenuity to efface these startling proofs. She darted to the cupboard and searched among the things there, and eventually found a rough housewife, and chose out a needle and coarse thread. It was better than nothing, so she hurriedly drew off the blouse, then she saw her torn underthings—and another convulsive pang went through her—but she set to work. She knew that however she might make even the blouse look to the casual eyes of her godmother, she could never deceive her maid. Then the thought came that fortunately Johnson was in Petersburg, and all these things could be left behind at Moscow. Yes, no one need ever know.
With feverish haste she cobbled up the holes, glancing nervously every few moments to the door in case Gritzko should come in. Then she put the garment on again—refastened her brooch and brushed and recoiled her hair. What she saw in the small looking-glass helped to restore her nerve. Except that her eyes were red, and she was very pale, she was tidy and properly clothed.
She sat down by the table and tried to think. These outside things could still look right, but nothing could restore her untarnished pride.
How could she ever take her blameless place in the world again.
Once more it hurt Gritzko terribly to see the woebegone, humbled, hopeless look on her face as he came in and put some food on the table. He cut up some tempting bits and put them on her plate, while he told her she must eat—and she obeyed mechanically. Then he poured out a tumbler of champagne and made her drink it down. It revived her, and she said she was ready to start. But as she stood he noticed that all her proud carriage of head was gone.
"My God! what should I feel like now?" he said to himself, "if it were really true!"
He wrapped her in her furs with cold politeness, his manner had resumed the stiffness of their yesterday's drive.
Suddenly she felt it was not possible there could be this frightful secret between them. It must surely be all a dreadful dream.
She began to speak, and he waited gravely for what she would say; but the words froze on her lips when she saw the pistol in his belt—that brought back the reality. She shuddered convulsively and clenched her hands. He put on his furs quietly and then opened the door.
He lifted her into the troika which was waiting outside. Stpan's face, as he stood holding the reins, was as stolid as though nothing unusual had occurred.
So they started.
"I told the messenger to tell Tantine that we were caught in the snow," he said, "and had to take shelter at the farm.—There is a farm a verst to the right after one passes the forest. It contains a comfortable farmer's wife and large family, and though you found it too confoundedly warm in their kitchen you passed a possible night.
"Very well," said Tamara with grim meekness.
Then there was silence.
Her thoughts became a little confused with the intense cold and the effect of the champagne, and once or twice she dozed off; and when he saw this he drew her close to him and let her sleep with her head against his arm, while he wrapped the furs round her so that she felt no cold. Then he kept watch over her tenderly, fondest love in his eyes. She would wake sometimes with a start and draw herself away, but soon fell off again, and in this fashion, neither speaking, the hours passed and they gradually drew near Moscow.
Then she woke completely with a shudder and sat up straight, and so they came to the hotel and found the Princess and the others anxiously waiting for them.
"What an unfortunate contretemps, Tamara, dear child," her godmother said, "that wicked storm! We only just arrived safely, and poor Olga and your friend fared no better than you! Imagine! they, too, had to take shelter in that second village in a most horrible hovel, which they shared with the cows. It has been too miserable for you all four I am afraid."
But Gritzko was obliged to turn quickly away to hide the irrepressible smile in his eyes—really, sometimes, fate seemed very kind.
So there was no scandal, only commiseration, and both Countess Olga and Tamara were petted and spoilt—while, if there was a roguish note in Valonne's sympathetic condolences, none of them appeared to notice it.
However, no petting seemed to revive Tamara.
"You have caught a thorough chill, I fear, dearest," the Princess said; and as they had missed their sleeping berths engaged for the night before, and were unable to get accommodation on the train again for the night, they were forced to remain in Moscow until the next day, so the Princess insisted upon her godchild going immediately to bed, while the rest of the party settled down to bridge.
"It is a jolly thing, a snowstorm!" Lord Courtray said to Gritzko. "Isn't it? 'Pon my soul I have never enjoyed the smell of cows and hay so much in my life!"
But upstairs in the stiff hotel bedroom Tamara sobbed herself to sleep.
The journey back to Petersburg passed in a numb, hopeless dream for Tamara. She did her best to be natural and gay, but her white face, pinched and drawn, caused her godmother to feel anxious about her.
Gritzko had bidden them goodbye at the train—he was going back to Milaslv to arrange for his and Jack's bear-hunt—and would not be in the capital for two more days. That would be the Tuesday, and Tamara was to leave on Wednesday evening by the Nord Express.
He had kissed her hand with respectful reverence as he said farewell, and the last she saw of him was standing there in his gray overcoat and high fur collar, a light in his eyes as they peered from beneath his Astrakhan cap.
The Princess sent for the doctor next day—they arrived late at night at the Ardcheff house.
"Your friend has got a chill, and seems to have had a severe shock," he said when he came from Tamara's room. "Make her rest in bed today, and then distract her with cheerful society."
And the Princess pondered as she sat in the blue salon alone. A shock—what had happened? Could fear of the storm have caused a shock? She felt very worried.
And poor Tamara lay limp in her bed; but every now and then she would clench her hands in anguish as some fresh aspect of things struck her. The most ghastly moment of all came when she remembered the eventual fate of Mary Gibson.
What if she also should have—
"No! Oh, no!" she unconsciously screamed aloud; and her godmother, coming into the room, was really alarmed.
From this moment onward the horror of this thought took root in her brain, and she knew no peace. But her will and her breeding came to her rescue. She would not lie there like an invalid; she would get up and dress and go down to tea. She would chaff with the others who would all swarm to see her. No one should pity or speculate about her. And she made Johnson garb her in her loveliest teagown, and then she went to the blue salon.
And amidst the laughter and fun they had talking of their adventure, no one but Stephen Strong remarked the feverish unrest in her eyes, or the bright, hectic flush in her cheeks.
When night came and she was alone again, her thoughts made a hell; she could not sleep; she paced her room. If Gritzko should not return on Tuesday. If she should never see him again. What—what would happen— if—she—too—like poor Mary Gibson—
Next day—the Tuesday—at about eleven o'clock, a servant in the Milaslvski livery arrived with a letter, a stiff-looking, large, sealed letter. She had never seen Gritzko's writing before and she looked at it critically as she tremblingly broke it open.
It was written from Milaslv the day they had left Moscow. It was short and to the point, and her eyes dilated as she read.
It began thus:
"To Madame Loraine,
"Madame,—I write to ask you graciously to accord me the honor of your hand. If you will grant me this favor I will endeavor to make you happy.
"I have the honor, Madame, to remain,
"Your humble and devoted serviteur,
"Gregoir[Footnote 1: "Gritzko" is the diminutive of "Gregoir."] Milaslvski."
And as once before in her life Tamara's knees gave way under her, and she sat down hurriedly on the bed—all power of thought had left her.
"The messenger waits, ma'am," her maid said, stolidly, from the door.
Then she pulled herself together and went to the writing-table. Her hand trembled, but she steadied it, and wrote her answer.
"To Prince Milaslvski,—
"Monsieur,—I have no choice. I consent
And she folded it, and placing it in the envelope, she sealed it with her own little monogram seal, in tender blue wax, and handed it to her maid, who left the room.
Then she stared in front of her—her arms crossed on the table—but she could not have analyzed the emotions which were flooding her being.
Her godmother found her there still as an image when presently she came to ask after her health.
"Tamara! dearest child. You worry me dreadfully. Confide in me, little one. Tell me what has happened?" and she placed her kind arms around her goddaughter's shoulders and caressed and comforted her.
Tamara shivered, and then stood up. "I am going to marry Gritzko, Marraine," she said. "I have just sent him my answer."