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The Czar's Spy - The Mystery of a Silent Love
by William Le Queux
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"Arrest me if you like. Denounce me by means of any lie that arises to your lips, but remember that the truth is known beyond the confines of the Russian Empire, and for that reason traces will be sought of me and full explanation demanded. I have taken precaution, Xavier Oberg," I added, "therefore do your worst. I repeat again that I defy you!"

He paced the big room, his thin claw-like hands still clenched, his yellow teeth grinding, his dark, deep-set eyes fixed straight before him. If he had dared, he would have struck me down at his feet. But he did not dare. I saw too plainly that even though my wallet was gone I still held the trump-card—that he feared me.

The mention I had made of the Minister of Finance, however, seemed to cause him considerable hesitation. That high official had the ear of the Emperor, and if I were a friend there might be inquiries. As I stood before him leaning against a small buhl table, I watched all the complex workings of his mind, and tried to read the mysterious motive which had caused him to consign poor Elma to Kajana.

He was a proud bully, possessing neither pity nor remorse, an average specimen of the high Russian official, a hide-bound bureaucrat, a slave to etiquette and possessing a veneer of polish. But beneath it all I saw that he was a coward in deadly fear of assassination—a coward who dreaded lest some secret should be revealed. That concealed door in the paneling with the armed guard lurking behind was sufficiently plain evidence that he was not the fearless Governor-General that was popularly supposed. He, "The Strangler of Finland," had crushed the gallant nation into submission, ruining their commerce, sapping the country by impressing its youth into the Russian army, forbidding the use of the Finnish language, and taxing the people until the factories had been compelled to close down while the peasantry starved. And now, on the verge of revolt, there had arisen a band of patriots who resented ruin, and who had already warned his Majesty by letter that if Baron Oberg were not removed from his post he would die.

These and other thoughts ran through my mind in the silence that followed our heated argument, for I saw well that he was in actual fear of me. I had led him to believe that I knew everything, and that his future was in my hands, while he, on his part, was anxious to hold me prisoner, and yet dared not do so.

My wallet had probably been stolen by some lurking police-spy, for Russian agents abound everywhere in Finland, reporting conspiracies that do not exist and denouncing the innocent as "politicals."

The Baron had halted, and was looking through one of the great windows down upon the courtyard below where the sentries were pacing. The palace was for him a gilded prison, for he dared not go out for a drive in one or other of the parks or for a blow on the water across to Hogholmen or Dagero, being compelled to remain there for months without showing himself publicly. People in Abo had told me that when he did go out into the streets of Helsingfors it was at night, and he usually disguised himself in the uniform of a private soldier of the guard, thus escaping recognition by those who, driven to desperation by injustice, sought his life.

A long silence had fallen between us, and it now occurred to me to take advantage of his hesitation. Therefore I said in a firm voice, in French—

"I think, Baron, our interview is at an end, is it not? Therefore I wish you good-day."

He turned upon me suddenly with an evil flash in his dark eyes, and a snarling imprecation in Russian upon his lips. His hand still held the order committing me to the fortress.

"But before I leave you will destroy that document. It may fall into other hands, you know," and I walked towards him with quick determination.

"I shall do nothing of the kind!" he snapped.

Without further word I snatched the paper from his thin white fingers and tore it up before his face. His countenance went livid. I do not think I have ever seen a man's face assume such an expression of fiendish vindictiveness. It was as though at that instant hell had been let loose within his heart.

But I turned upon my heel and went out, passing the sentries in the ante-room, along the flower-filled corridors and across the courtyard to the main entrance where the gorgeous concierge saluted me as I stepped forth into the square.

I had escaped by means of my own diplomacy and firmness. The Czar's representative—the man who ruled that country—feared me, and for that reason did not hold me prisoner. Yet when I recalled that evil look of revenge on my departure, I could not help certain feelings of grave apprehension arising within me.

Returning to my hotel, I smoked a cigar in my room and pondered. Where was Elma? was the chief question which arose within my mind. By remaining in Helsingfors I could achieve nothing further, now that I had made the acquaintance of the oppressor, whereas if I returned to Abo I might perchance be able to obtain some clue to my love's whereabouts. I call her my love because I both pitied and loved the poor afflicted girl who was so helpless and defenseless.

Therefore I took the midnight train back to Abo, arriving at the hotel next morning. After an hour's rest I set out anxiously in search of Felix, the drosky-driver. I found him in his log-built house in the Ludno quarter, and when he asked me in I saw, from his face, that he had news to impart.

"Well?" I inquired. "And what of the lady? Has she been found?"

"Ah! your Excellency. It is a pity you were not here yesterday," he said with a sigh.

"Why? Tell me quickly. What has happened?"

"I have been assisting the police as spy, Excellency, as I often do, and I have seen her."

"Seen her! Where?" I cried in quick anxiety.

"Here, in Abo. She arrived yesterday morning from Tammerfors accompanied by an Englishman. She had changed her dress, and was all in black. They lunched together at the Restaurant du Nord opposite the landing stage, and an hour later left by steamer for Petersburg."

"An Englishman!" I cried. "Did you not inform the Chief of Police, Boranski?"

"Yes, your Excellency. But he said that their passports being in order it was better to allow the lady to proceed. To delay her might mean her rearrest in Finland," he added.

"Then their passports were vised here on embarking?" I exclaimed. "What was the name upon that of the Englishman?"

"I have it here written down, Excellency. I cannot pronounce your difficult English names." And he produced a scrap of dirty paper whereon was written in a Russian hand the name—

"Martin Woodroffe."



CHAPTER XIII

A DOUBLE GAME AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

I went to the railway station, and from the time-table gathered that if I left Abo by rail at noon I could be in Petersburg an hour before noon on the morrow, or about four hours before the arrival of the steamer by which the silent girl and her companion were passengers. This I decided upon doing, but before leaving I paid a visit to my friend, Boranski, who, to my surprise and delight, handed me my wallet with the Czar's letter intact, saying that it had been found upon a German thief who had been arrested at the harbor on the previous night. The fellow had, no doubt, stolen it from my pocket believing I carried my paper money in the flap.

"The affair of the English lady is a most extraordinary one," remarked the Chief of Police, toying with his pen as he sat at his big table. "She seems to have met this Englishman up at Tammerfors, or at some place further north, yet it is curious that her passport should be in order even though she fled so precipitately from Kajana. There is a mystery connected with her disappearance from the wood-cutter's hut that I confess I cannot fathom."

"Neither can I," I said. "I know the man who is with her, and cannot help fearing that he is her bitterest enemy—that he is acting in concert with the Baron."

"Then why is he taking her to the capital—beyond the jurisdiction of the Governor-General?"

"I am going straight to Petersburg to ascertain," I said. "I have only come to thank you for your kindness in this matter. Truth to tell, I have been somewhat surprised that you should have interested yourself on my behalf," I added, looking straight at the uniformed official.

"It was not on yours, but on hers," he answered, somewhat enigmatically. "I know something of the affair, but it was my duty as a man to help the poor girl to escape from that terrible place. She has, I know, been unjustly condemned for the attempted assassination of the wife of a General—condemned with a purpose, of course. Such a thing is not unusual in Finland."

"Abominable!" I cried. "Oberg is a veritable fiend."

But the man only shrugged his shoulders, saying—

"The orders of his Excellency the Governor-General have to be obeyed, whatever they are. We often regret, but we dare not refuse to carry them out."

"Russian rule is a disgrace to our modern civilization," I declared hotly. "I have every sympathy with those who are fighting for freedom."

"Ah, you are not alone in that," he sighed, speaking in a low whisper, and glancing around. "His Majesty would order reforms and ameliorate the condition of his people, if only it were possible. But he, like his officials, are powerless. Here we speak of the great uprising with bated breath, but we, alas! know that it must come one day—very soon—and Finland will be the first to endeavor to break her bonds—and the Baron Oberg the first to fall."

For nearly an hour I sat with him, surprised to find how, although his exterior was so harsh and uncouth, yet his heart really bled for the poor starving people he was so constantly forced to oppress.

"I have ruined this town of Abo," he declared, quite frankly. "To my own knowledge five hundred innocent persons have gone to prison, and another two hundred have been exiled to Siberia. Yet what I have done is only at direct orders from Helsingfors—orders that are stern, pitiless and unjust. Men have been torn from their families and sent to the mines, women have been arrested for no offense and shipped off to Saghalien, and mere children have been cast into prison on charges of political conspiracy with their elders—in order to Russify the province! Only," he added anxiously, "I trust you will never repeat what I tell you. You have asked me why I assisted the English Mademoiselle to escape from Kajana, and I have explained the reason."

We ate a hearty meal in company at the Sampalinna, a restaurant built like a Swiss chalet, and at noon I entered the train on the first stage of my slow, tedious journey through the great silent forests and along the shores of the lakes of Southern Finland, by way of Tavestehus and Viborg, to Petersburg.

I was alone in the compartment, and sat moodily watching the panorama of wood and river as we slowly wound up the tortuous ascents and descended the steep gradients. I had not even a newspaper with which to while away the time, only my own apprehensive thoughts of whither my helpless love was being conducted.

Surely to no man was there ever presented such a complicated problem as that which I was now trying so vigorously to solve. I loved Elma Heath. The more I reflected, the deeper did her sweet countenance and tender grace impress themselves upon my heart. I loved her, therefore I was striving to overtake her.

The steamer, I learned, would call at Hango and Helsingfors. Would they, I wonder, disembark at either of those places? Was the man whom I had known as Hornby, the owner of the Lola, taking her to place her again in the fiendish hands of Xavier Oberg? The very thought of it caused me to hold my breath.

Daylight came at last, cold and gray, over those dreary interminable marshes where game, especially snipe, seemed abundant, and at a small station at the head of a lake called Davidstadt I took my morning glass of tea; then we resumed our journey down to Viborg, where a short, thick-set Russian of the commercial class, but something of a dandy, entered my compartment, and we left express for Petersburg.

We had passed by a small station called Galitsina, near which were many villas occupied in summer by families from Petersburg, and were traveling through the dense gloomy pine-woods, when my fellow-traveler, having asked permission to smoke, commenced to chat affably. He seemed a pleasant fellow, and told me that he was a wool merchant, and that he had been having a pleasant vacation trout fishing in the Vuoski above the falls of the Imatra, where the pools between the rapids abound with fish.

He had told me that on account of the shore being so full of weeds and the clearness of the water, fishing from the banks was almost an impossibility, and how they had to accustom themselves to troll from a boat so small as to only accommodate the rower and the fisherman.

Then he remarked suddenly—

"You are English, I presume—possibly from Helsingfors?"

"No," I answered. "From Abo. I crossed from Stockholm, and am going to Petersburg."

"And I also. I live in Petersburg," he added. "We may perhaps meet one day. Do you know the capital?"

I explained that I had visited it once before, and had done the usual round of sight-seeing. His manner was brisk and to the point, as became a man of business, but when we stopped at Bele-Ostrof, on the opposite side of the small winding river that separates Finland from Russia proper, the Customs officer who came to examine our baggage exchanged a curious meaning look with him.

My fellow-traveler believed that I had not observed, yet, keenly on the alert as I now was, I was shrewd to detect the least sign or look, and I at once resolved to tell the fellow nothing further of my own affairs. He was, no doubt, a spy of "The Strangler's," who had followed me all the way from Abo, and had only entered my carriage for the final stage of the journey.

This revelation caused me some uneasiness, for even though I was able to evade the man on arrival in Petersburg, he could no doubt quickly obtain news of my whereabouts from the police to whom my passport must be sent. I pretended to doze, and lay back with my eyes half-closed watching him. When he found me disinclined to talk further, he took up the paper he had bought and became engrossed in it, while I, on my part, endeavored to form some plan by which to mislead and escape his vigilance.

The fellow meant mischief—that I knew. If Elma was flying in secret and he watched me, he would know that she was in Petersburg. At all hazards, for my love's sake as well as for mine, I saw that I must escape him. The ingeniousness and cleverness of Oberg's spies was proverbial throughout Finland, therefore he might not be alone, or in any case, on arrival in Petersburg would obtain assistance in keeping observation upon me. I knew that the Baron desired my death, and that therefore I could not be too wary of pitfalls. That fatal chair so cunningly prepared for me in Lambeth was still vividly within my memory.

As we passed Lanskaya, and ran through the outer suburbs of Petersburg, my fellow-traveler became inquisitive as to where I was going, but I was somewhat unresponsive, and busied myself with my bag until we entered the great echoing terminus whence I could see the Neva gleaming in the pale sunlight and the city beyond. The fellow made no attempt to follow me—he was too clever a secret agent for that. He merely wished me "sdravstvuite" raised his hat politely and disappeared.

A porter carried my bag out of the station, and I drove across the bridge to the large hotel where I had stopped before, the Europe, on the corner of the Nevski Prospect and the Michael Street. There I engaged a front room looking down into the broad Nevski, had a wash, and then watched at the window for the appearance of the spy. I had already a good four hours before the steamer from Abo was due, and I intended to satisfy myself whether or not I was being followed.

Within twenty minutes the fellow lounged along on the opposite side of the road, just as I had expected. He had changed his clothes, and presented such a different appearance that at first sight I failed to recognize him. He knew that I had driven there, and intended to follow me if I came forth. My position was one of extreme difficulty, for if I went down to the quay he would most certainly follow me.

Having watched his movements for ten minutes or so I descended to the big salle-a-manger and there ate my luncheon, chatting to the French waiter the while. I sat purposely in an alcove, so as to be away from the other people lunching there, and in order that I might be able to talk with the waiter without being overheard.

Just as I had finished my meal, and he was handing me my bill, I bent towards him and asked—

"Do you want to earn twenty roubles?"

"Well, m'sieur," he answered, looking at me with some surprise. "They would be acceptable. I am a married man."

"Well, I want to escape from this place without being observed. There is a disagreeable little matter regarding a lady, and I fear a fracas with a man who is awaiting me outside in the Nevski." Then, seeing that he hesitated, I assured him that I had committed no crime, and that I should return for my baggage that evening.

"You could pass through the kitchen and out by the servants' entrance," he said, after a moment's reflection. "If m'sieur so desires, I will conduct him out. The exit is in a back street which leads on to the Catherine Canal."

"Excellent!" I said. "Let us go. Of course you will say nothing?"

"Not a word, m'sieur," and he gathered up the notes plus twenty roubles with which I paid my bill, and taking my hat I followed him to the end of the salle-a-manger behind a high wooden screen, across the huge kitchen, and then through a long stone corridor at the end of which sat a gruff old doorkeeper. My guide spoke a word to him, and then the door opened and I found myself in a narrow back slum with the canal beyond.

My first visit was to a clothier's, where I purchased and put on a new light overcoat and then to a hatter's for a hat of different shape to that I was wearing. I carried the hat back to a quiet alley which I had noticed, and quickly exchanged the one I was wearing for it, leaving my old hat in a corner. Then I entered a cafe in order to while away the hours until the vessel from Finland was due.

At four o'clock I was out upon the quay, straining my eyes seaward for any sign of smoke, but could see nothing. The sun was sinking, and the broad expanse of water westward danced like liquid gold. The light died out slowly, the cold gray of evening crept on. A chill wind sprang up and swept the quay, causing me to shiver. I asked of a dock laborer whether the steamer was usually late, whereupon he told me that it was often five or six hours behind time, depending upon the delay at Helsingfors.

Twilight deepened into night, and the rain fell heavily, yet I still paced the wet flags in patience, my eyes ever seaward for the light of the vessel which I hoped bore my love. My presence there aroused some speculation among the loungers, I think; nevertheless, I waited in deepest anxiety whether, after all, Elma and Hornby had not disembarked at Helsingfors.

Soon after ten o'clock a light shone afar off, and the movement of the police and porters on the quay told me that it was the vessel. Then after a further anxious quarter of an hour it came, amid great shouting and mutual imprecations, slowly alongside the quay, and the passengers at last began to disembark in the pelting rain.

One after another they walked up the gangway, filing into the passport-office and on into the Custom House, people of all sorts and all grades—Swedes, Germans, Finns, and Russians—until suddenly I caught sight of two figures—one a man in a big tweed traveling-coat and a golf-cap, and the other the slight figure of a woman in a long dark cloak and a woolen tam-o'-shanter. The electric rays fell upon them as they came up the wet gangway together, and there once again I saw the sweet face of the silent woman whom I had grown to love with such fervent desperation. The man behind her was the same who had entertained me on board the Lola—the man who was said to be the lover of the fugitive Muriel Leithcourt.

Without betraying my presence I watched them pass through the passport-office and Custom House, and then, overhearing the address which Martin Woodroffe gave the isvoshtchik, I stood aside, wet to the skin, and saw them drive away.

At eleven o'clock on the following day I found myself installed in the Hotel de Paris, a comfortable hostelry in the Little Morskaya, having succeeded in evading the vigilance of the spy who had so cleverly followed me from Abo, and in getting my suit-case round from the Hotel Europe.

I was beneath the same roof as Elma, although she was in ignorance of my presence. Anxious to communicate with her without Woodroffe's knowledge, I was now awaiting my opportunity. He had, it appeared, taken for her a pleasant front room with sitting-room adjoining on the first floor, while he himself occupied a room on the third floor. The apartments he had engaged for her were the most expensive in the hotel, and as far as I could gather from the French waiter whom I judiciously tipped, he appeared to treat her with every consideration and kindness.

"Ah, poor young lady!" the man exclaimed as he stood in my room answering my questions, "What an affliction! She writes down all her orders—for she can utter no word."

"Has the Englishman received any visitors?" I asked.

"One man—a Russian—an official of police, I think."

"If he receives anyone else, let me know," I said. "And I want you to give Mademoiselle a letter from me in secret."

"Bien, m'sieur."

I turned to the little writing-table and scribbled a few hasty lines to my love, announcing my presence, and asking her to grant me an interview in secret as soon as Woodroffe was absent. I also warned her of the search for her instigated by the Baron, and urged her to send me a line in reply.

The note was delivered into her hand, but although I waited in suspense nearly all day she sent no reply. While Woodroffe was in the hotel I dared not show myself lest he should recognize me, therefore I was compelled to sham indisposition and to eat my meals alone in my room.

Both the means by which she had met Martin Woodroffe and the motive were equally an enigma. By that letter she had written to her schoolfellow it was apparent that she had some secret of his, for had she not wished to send him a message of reassurance that she had divulged nothing? This would seem that they were close friends; yet, on the other hand, something seemed to tell me that he was acting falsely, and was really an ally of the Baron's.

Why had he brought her to Petersburg? If he had desired to rescue her he would have taken her in the opposite direction—to Stockholm, where she would be free—whereas he took her, an escaped prisoner, into the very midst of peril. It was true that her passport was in order, yet I remembered that an order had been issued for her transportation to Saghalien, and now once arrested she must be lost to me for ever. This thought filled me with fierce anxiety. She was in Petersburg, that city where police spies swarm, and where every fresh arrival is noted and his antecedents inquired into. No attempt had been made to disguise who she was, therefore before long the police would undoubtedly come and arrest her as the escaped criminal from Kajana.

For several hours I sat at my window watching the life and movement down in the street below, my mind full of wonder and dark forebodings. Was Martin Woodroffe playing her false?

Just after half-past six o'clock the waiter entered, and handing me a note on a salver, said—

"Mademoiselle has, I believe, only this moment been able to write in secret."

I tore it open and read as follows:—

DEAR FRIEND.—I am so surprised. I thought you were still in Abo. Woodroffe has an appointment at eight o'clock on the other side of the city, therefore come to me at 8.15. I must see you, and at once. I am in peril.—ELMA HEATH.

My love was in peril! It was just as I had feared. I thanked Providence that I had been sent to help her and extricate her from that awful fate to which "The Strangler of Finland" had consigned her.

At the hour she named, after the waiter had come to me and announced the Englishman's departure, I descended to her sitting-room and entered without rapping, for if I had rapped she could not, alas! have heard.

The apartment was spacious and comfortable, thickly carpeted, with heavy furniture and gilding. Before the long window were drawn curtains of dark green plush, and on one side was the high stove of white porcelain with shining brass bands, while from her low lounge-chair a slim wan figure sprang up quickly and came forward to greet me, holding out both her hands and smiling happily.

I took her hands in mine and held them tightly in silence for some moments, as I looked earnestly into those wonderfully brilliant eyes of hers. She turned away laughing, a slight flush rising to her cheeks in her confusion. Then she led me to a chair, and motioned me to be seated.

Ours was a silent meeting, but her gestures and the expression of her eyes were surely more eloquent than mere words. I knew well what pleasure that re-encounter caused her—equal pleasure with that it gave to me.

Until that moment I had never really loved. I had admired and flirted with women. What man has not? Indeed, I had admired Muriel Leithcourt. But never until now had I experienced in my heart the real flame of true burning affection. The sweetness of her expression, the tender caress of those soft, tapering hands, the deep mysterious look in those magnificent eyes, and the incomparable grace of all her movements, combined to render her the most perfect woman I had ever met—perfect in all, alas! save speech and hearing, of which, with such dastard wantonness, she had been deprived.

She touched her red lips with the tip of her forefinger, opened her hands, and shrugged her shoulders with a sad gesture of regret. Then turning quickly to some paper on the little table at her side she wrote something with a gold pencil and handed to me. It read—

"Surely Providence has sent you here! Mr. Woodroffe must have followed you from England. He is my enemy. You must take me from here and hide me. They intend to send me into exile. Have you ever been in Petersburg before? Do you know anyone here?"

Then when I had read, she handed me her pencil and below I wrote—

"I will do my best, dear friend. I have been once in Petersburg. But is it not best that we should escape at once from Russia?"

"Impossible at present," she wrote. "We should both be arrested at the frontier. It would be best to go into hiding here in Petersburg. I believed Woodroffe to be my friend, but I have found only this day that he is my enemy. He knew that I was in Kajana, and was in Abo when he learned of my escape. He went with two other men in search of us, and discovered us that night when we sought shelter at the wood-cutter's hut. Without making his presence known he waited outside until you were asleep, and then he came and looked in at my window. At first I was alarmed, but quickly I saw that he was a friend. He told me that the police were in the vicinity and intended to raid the hut, therefore I fled with him, first down to Tammerfors and then to Abo, and on here. At that time I did not see the dastardly trap he had laid in order to get me out of the Baron's clutches and wring from me my secret. If I confess, he intends to give me up to the police, who will send me to the mines."

"Does your secret concern him?" I asked in writing.

"Yes," she wrote in response. "It would be equally in his interests as well as those of Baron Oberg if I were sent to Saghalien and my identity effaced. I am a Russian subject, as I have already told you, therefore with a Ministerial order against me I am in deadliest peril."

"Trust in me," I scribbled quickly. "I will act upon any suggestion you make. Have you any female friend in whom you could trust to hide you until this danger is past?"

"There is one friend—a true friend. Will you take a note to her?" she wrote, to which I instantly nodded in the affirmative.

Then rising, she obtained some ink and pen and wrote a letter, the contents of which she did not show me before she sealed it. I sat watching her beautiful head bent beneath the shaded lamplight, catching her profile and noticing how eminently handsome it was, superb and unblemished in her youthful womanhood.

I watched her write the superscription upon the envelope: "Madame Olga Stassulevitch, modiste, Scredni Prospect, 231, Vasili Ostroff." I knew that the district was on the opposite side of the city, close to the Little Neva.

"Take a drosky at once, see her, and await a reply. In the meantime, I will prepare to be ready when you return," she wrote. "If Olga is not at home, ask to see the Red Priest—in Russian, 'Krasny-pastor.' Return quickly, as I fear Woodroffe may come back. If so, I am lost."

I assured her I would not lose a single instant, and five minutes later I was tearing down the Morskaya in a drosky along the canal and across the Nicholas Bridge to the address upon the envelope.

The house was, I found, somewhat smaller than its neighbors, but not let out in flats as the others. Upon the door was a large brass plate bearing the name, "Olga Stassulevitch: modes." I pressed the electric button, and in answer a tall, clean-shaven Russian servant opened the door.

"Madame is not at home," was his brief reply to my inquiry.

"Then I will see the Red Priest," I said in a lower tone. "I come from Elma Heath." Thereupon, without further word, the man admitted me into the long, dark hall and closed the door with an apology that the gas was not lighted. But striking a match he led me up the broad staircase and into a small, cosy, well-furnished room on the second floor, evidently the sitting-room of some studious person, judging from the books and critical reviews lying about.

For a few minutes I waited there, until the door reopened, and there entered a man of medium height, with a shock of long snow-white hair and almost patriarchal beard, whose dark eyes that age had dimmed flashed out at me with a look of curious inquiry, and whose movements were those of a person not quite at his ease.

"I have called on behalf of Mademoiselle Elma Heath, to give this letter to Madame Stassulevitch, or if she is absent to place it in the hands of the Red Priest," I explained in my best Russian.

"Very well, sir," the old man responded in quite good English. "I am the person you seek," and taking the letter he opened it and read it through.

I saw by the expression on his furrowed face that its contents caused him the utmost consternation. His countenance, already pale, blanched to the lips, while in his eyes there shot a fire of quick apprehension. The thin, almost transparent hand holding the letter trembled visibly.

"You know Mademoiselle—eh?" he asked in a hoarse, strained voice as he turned to me. "You will help her to escape?"

"I will risk my own life in order to save hers," I declared.

"And your devotion to her is prompted by what?" he inquired suspiciously.

I was silent for a moment. Then I confessed the truth.

"My affection."

"Ah!" he sighed deeply. "Poor young lady! She, who has enemies on every hand, sadly needs a friend. But can we trust you—have you no fear?"

"Of what?"

"Of being implicated in the coming revolution in Russia? Remember I am the Red Priest. Have you never heard of me? My name is Otto Kampf."

Otto Kampf!

I stood before him open-mouthed. Who in Russia had not heard of that mysterious unknown person who had directed a hundred conspiracies against the Imperial Autocrat, and yet the identity of whom the police had always failed to discover. It was believed that Kampf had once been professor of chemistry at Moscow University, and that he had invented that most terrible and destructive explosive used by the revolutionists. The ingredients of the powerful compound and the mode of firing it was the secret of the Nihilists alone—and Otto Kampf, the mysterious leader, whose personality was unknown even to the conspirators themselves, directed those constant attempts which held the Emperor and his Government in such hourly terror.

Rewards without number had been offered by the Ministry of the Interior for the betrayal and arrest of the unseen man whose power in Russia, permeating every class, was greater than that of the Emperor himself—at whose word one day the people would rise in a body and destroy their oppressors.

The Emperor, the Ministers, the police, and the bureaucrats knew this, yet they were powerless—they knew that the mysterious professor who had disappeared from Moscow fifteen years before and had never since been seen was only waiting his opportunity to strike a blow that would stagger and crush the Empire from end to end—yet of his whereabouts they were in utter ignorance.

"You are surprised," the old man laughed, noticing my amazement. "Well, you are not one of us, yet I need not impress upon you the absolute necessity, for Mademoiselle's sake, to preserve the secret of my existence. It is because you are not a member of 'The Will of the People,' that you have never heard of 'The Red Priest'—red because I wrote my ultimatum to the Czar in the blood of one of his victims knouted in the fortress of Peter and Paul, and priest because I preach the gospel of freedom and justice."

"I shall say nothing," I said, gazing at the strangely striking figure before me—the unknown man who directed the great upheaval that was to revolutionize Russia. "My only desire is to save Mademoiselle Heath."

"And you are prepared to do so at risk of your own liberty—your own life? Ah! you said you love her. Would not this be a test of your affection?"

"I am prepared for any test, as long as she escapes the trap which her enemies have set for her. I succeeded in saving her from Kajana, and I intend to save her now."

"Was it you who actually entered Kajana and snatched her from that tomb!" he exclaimed, and he took my hand enthusiastically, adding—"I have no further need to doubt you." And turning to the table he wrote an address upon a slip of paper, saying, "Take Mademoiselle there. She will find a safe place of concealment. But go quickly, for every moment places you both in more deadly peril. Hide yourself there also."

I thanked him and left at once, but as I stepped out of the house and re-entered the drosky I saw close by, lurking in the shadow, the spy of "The Strangler of Finland," who had traveled with me from Abo.

Our eyes met, and he recognized me, notwithstanding my light overcoat and new hat.

Then, with heart-sinking, the ghastly truth flashed upon me. All had been in vain. Elma was lost to me.



CHAPTER XIV

HER HIGHNESS IS INQUISITIVE

Instantly the danger was apparent, and instead of driving back to the hotel, I called out to the man to take me to the Moscow railway station, in order to put the spy off the scent. I knew he would follow me, but as he was on foot, with no drosky in sight, I should be able to reach the station before he could, and there elude him.

Over the stones we rattled, leaving the lurking agent standing in the deep shadow, but on turning back I saw him dash across the road to a by-street, where, in all probability, he had a conveyance in waiting.

Then, after we had crossed the Neva, I countermanded my order to the man, saying—

"Don't go right up to the station. Turn into the Liteinoi Prospect to the left, and put me down there. Drive quickly, and I'll pay double fare."

He whipped his horses, and we turned into that maze of dark, ill-lit, narrow streets that lies between the Vosnesenski and the Nevski, turning and winding until we emerged at last into the main thoroughfare again, and then at last we turned into the street I had indicated—a wide road of handsome buildings where I knew I was certain to be able to instantly get another drosky. I flung the man his money, alighted, and two minutes later was driving on towards the Alexander Bridge, traveling in a circle back to the hotel. Time after time I glanced behind, but saw nothing of the Baron's spy, who had evidently gone to the station with all speed, expecting that I was leaving the capital.

I found Elma in her room, ready dressed to go out, wearing a long traveling-cloak, and in her hand was a small dressing-case. She was pale and full of anxiety until I showed her the slip of paper which Otto Kampf had given me with the address written upon it, and then together we hurried forth.

The house to which we drove was, we discovered, a large one facing the Fontanka Canal, one of the best quarters of the town, and on descending I asked the liveried dvornick for Madame Zurloff, the name which the "Red Priest" had written.

"You mean the Princess Zurloff," remarked the man through his red beard. "Whom shall I say desires to see her?"

"Take that," I said, handing to him the piece of paper which, beside the address, bore a curious cipher-mark like three triangles joined.

He closed the door, leaving us in the wide carpeted hall, the statuary in which showed us that it was a richly-furnished place, and when a few minutes later he returned, he conducted us upstairs to a fine gilded salon, where an elderly gray-haired lady in black stood gravely to receive us.

"Allow me to present Mademoiselle Elma Heath, Princess," I said, speaking in French and bowing, and afterwards telling her my own name.

Our hostess welcomed my love in a graceful speech, but I said—

"Mademoiselle unfortunately suffers a terrible affliction. She is deaf and dumb."

"Ah, how very, very sad!" she exclaimed sympathetically. "Poor girl! poor girl!" and she placed her hand tenderly upon Elma's shoulder and looked into her eyes. Then, turning to me, she said: "So the Red Priest has sent you both to me! You are in danger of arrest, I suppose—you wish me to conceal you here?"

"I would only ask sanctuary for Mademoiselle," was my reply. "For myself, I have no fear. I am English, and therefore not a member of the Party."

"The Mademoiselle fears arrest?"

"There is an order signed for her banishment to Saghalein," I said. "She was imprisoned at Kajana, the fortress away in Finland, but I succeeded in liberating her."

"She has actually been in Kajana!" gasped the Princess. "Ah! we have all heard sufficient of the horrors of that place. And you liberated her! Why, she is the only person who has ever escaped from that living tomb to which Oberg sends his victims."

"I believe so, Princess."

"And may I take it, m'sieur, that the reason you risked your life for her is because you love her? Pardon me for suggesting this."

"You have guessed correctly," I answered. Then, knowing that Elma could not hear, I added: "I love her, but we are not lovers. I have not told her of my affection. Hers is a long and strange story, and she will perhaps tell you something of it in writing."

"Well," exclaimed the gray-haired lady smiling, leading my love across the luxurious room, the atmosphere of which was filled with the scent of flowers, and taking off her cloak with her own hands, "you are safe here, my poor child. If spies have not followed you, then you shall remain my guest as long as you desire."

"I am sure it is very good of you, Princess," I said gratefully. "Miss Heath is the victim of a vile and dastardly conspiracy. When I tell you that she has been afflicted as she is by her enemies—that an operation was performed upon her in Italy while she was unconscious—you will readily see in what deadly peril she is."

"What!" she cried. "Have her enemies actually done this? Horrible!"

"She will perhaps tell you of the strange romance that surrounds her—a mystery which I have not yet been able to fathom. She is a Russian subject, although she has been educated in England. Baron Oberg himself is, I believe, her worst and most bitter enemy."

"Ah! the Strangler!" she exclaimed with a quick flash in her dark eyes. "But his end is near. The Movement is active in Helsingfors. At any moment now we may strike our blow for freedom."

She was an enthusiastic revolutionist, I could see, unsuspected, however, by the police on account of her high position in Petersburg society. It was she who, as I afterwards discovered, had furnished the large sums of money to Kampf for the continuation of the revolutionary propaganda, and indeed secretly devoted the greater part of her revenues from her vast estates in Samara and Kazan to the Nihilist cause. Her husband, himself an enthusiast of freedom, although of the high nobility, had been killed by a fall from his horse six years before, and since that time she had retired from society and lived there quietly, making the revolutionary movement her sole occupation. The authorities believed that her retirement was due to the painful loss she had sustained, and had no suspicion that it was her money that enabled the mysterious "Red Priest" to slowly but surely complete the plot for the general uprising.

She compelled me to remove my coat, and tea was served by a Tartar footman, whose family she explained had been serfs of the Zurloffs for three centuries, and then Elma exchanged confidences with her by means of paper and pencil.

"Who is this man Martin Woodroffe, of whom she speaks?" asked the Princess presently, turning to me.

"I have met him twice—only twice," I replied, "and under strange circumstances." Then, continuing, I told her something concerning the incidents of the yacht Lola.

"He may be in love with her, and desires to force her into marriage," she suggested, expressing amazement at the curious narrative I had related.

"I think not, for several reasons. One is because I know she holds some secret concerning him, and another because he is engaged to an English girl named Muriel Leithcourt."

"Leithcourt? Leithcourt?" repeated the Princess, knitting her brows with a puzzled air. "Do you happen to know her father's name?"

"Philip Leithcourt."

"And has he actually been living in Scotland?"

"Yes," I answered in quick anxiety. "He rented a shoot called Rannoch, near Dumfries. A mysterious incident occurred on his estate—a double murder, or murder and suicide; which is not quite clear—but shortly afterwards there appeared one evening at the house a man named Chater, Hylton Chater, and the whole family at once fled and disappeared."

Princess Zurloff sat with her lips pressed close together, looking straight at the silent girl before her. Elma had removed her hat and cloak, and now sat in a deep easy chair of yellow silk, with the lamplight shining on her chestnut hair, settled and calm as though already thoroughly at home. I smiled to myself as I thought of the chagrin of Woodroffe when he returned to find his victim missing.

"Your Highness evidently knows the Leithcourts," I hazarded, after a brief silence.

"I have heard of them," was her unsatisfactory reply. "I go to England sometimes. When the Prince was alive, we were often at Claridge's for the season. The Prince was for five years military attache at the Embassy under de Staal, you know. What I know of the Leithcourts is not to their credit. But you tell me that there was a mysterious incident before their flight. Explain it to me."

At that moment the long white doors of the handsome salon were thrown open by the faithful Tartar servitor, and there entered a man whose hair fell over the collar of his heavy overcoat, but whom, in an instant, I recognized as Otto Kampf.

Both Elma and I sprang to our feet, while advancing to the Princess he bent and gallantly kissed the hand she held forth to him. Then he shook hands with Elma, and acknowledging my own greetings, took off his coat and threw it upon a chair with the air of an accustomed visitor.

"I come, Princess, in order to explain to you," he said. "Mademoiselle fears rearrest, and the only house in Petersburg that the police never suspect is this. Therefore I send her to you, knowing that with your generosity you will help her in her distress."

"It is all arranged," was her Highness's response. "She will remain here, poor girl, until it is safe for her to get out of Russia." Then, after some further conversation, and after my well-beloved had made signs of heartfelt gratitude to the man known from end to end of the Russian empire as "The Red Priest," the Princess turned to me, saying:

"I would much like to know what occurred before the Leithcourts left Scotland."

"The Leithcourts!" exclaimed Kampf in utter surprise. "Do you know the Leithcourts—and the English officer Durnford?"

I looked into his eyes in abject amazement. What connection could Jack Durnford, of the Marines, have with the adventurer Philip Leithcourt? I, however, recollected Jack's word, when I had described the visit of the Lola to Leghorn, and further I recollected that very shortly he would be back in London from his term of Mediterranean service.

"Well," I said after a pause, "I happen to know Captain Durnford very well, but I had no idea that he was friendly with Leithcourt."

The Red Priest smiled, stroking his white beard.

"Explain to her Highness what she desires to know, and I will tell you."

My eyes met Elma's, and I saw how intensely eager and interested she was, watching the movement of my lips and trying to make out what words I uttered.

"Well," I said, "a mysterious tragedy occurred on the edge of a wood near the house rented by Leithcourt—a tragedy which has puzzled the police to this day. An Italian named Santini and his wife were found murdered."

"Santini!" gasped Kampf, starting up. "But surely he is not dead?"

"No. That's the curious part of the affair. The man who was killed was a man disguised to represent the Italian, while the woman was actually the waiter's wife herself. I happen to know the man Santini well, for both he and his wife were for some years in my employ."

The Princess and the director of the Russian revolutionary movement exchanged quick glances. It was as though her Highness implored Kampf to reveal to me the truth, while he, on his part, was averse to doing so.

"And upon whom does suspicion rest?" asked her Highness.

"As far as I can make out, the police have no clue whatever, except one. At the spot was found a tiny miniature cross of one of the Russian orders of chivalry—the Cross of Saint Anne."

"There is no suspicion upon Leithcourt?" she asked with some undue anxiety I thought.

"No."

"Did he entertain any guests at the shooting-box?"

"A good many."

"No foreigners among them?"

"I never met any. They seemed all people from London—a smart set for the most part."

"Then why did the Leithcourts disappear so suddenly?"

"Because of the appearance of the man Chater," I replied. "It is evident that they feared him, for they took every precaution against being followed. In fact, they fled leaving a big party of friends in the house. The man Woodroffe, now at the Hotel de Paris, is a friend of Leithcourt as well as of Chater."

"He was not a guest of Leithcourt when this man representing Santini was assassinated?" asked Kampf, again stroking his beard.

"No. As soon as Woodroffe recognized me as a visitor he left—for Hamburg."

"He was afraid to face you because of the ransacking of the British Consul's safe at Leghorn," remarked the Princess, who, at the same moment, took Elma's hand tenderly in her own and looked at her. Then, turning to me, she said: "What you have told us to-night, Mr. Gregg, throws a new light upon certain incidents that had hitherto puzzled us. The mystery of it all is a great and inscrutable one—the mystery of this poor unfortunate girl, greatest of all. But both of us will endeavor to help you to elucidate it; we will help poor Elma to crush her enemies—these cowardly villains who had maimed her."

"Ah, Princess!" I cried. "If you will only help and protect her, you will be doing an act of mercy to a defenseless woman. I love her—I admit it. I have done my utmost: I have striven to solve the dark mystery, but up to the present I have been unsuccessful, and have only remained, even till to-day, the victim of circumstance."

"Let her stay with me," the kindly woman answered, smiling tenderly upon my love. "She will be safe here, and in the meantime we will endeavor to discover the real and actual truth."

And in response I took the Princess's hand and pressed it fervently. Although that striking, white-headed man and the rather stiff, formal woman in black were the leaders of the great and all-powerful movement in Russia known through the civilized world as "The Terror," yet they were nevertheless our friends. They had pledged themselves to help us thwart our enemies.

I scribbled a few hasty words upon paper and handed it to Elma. And for answer she smiled contentedly, looking into my eyes with an expression of trust, devotion and love.



CHAPTER XV

JUST OFF THE STRAND

A week had gone by. The Nord Express had brought me posthaste across Europe from Petersburg to Calais, and I was again in London. I had left Elma in the care of the Princess Zurloff, whom I knew would conceal her from the horde of police-agents now in search of her.

The mystery had so increased until now it had become absolutely bewildering. The more I had tried to probe it, the more inexplicable had I found it. My brain was awhirl as I sat in the wagon-lit rushing across those wide, never-ending plains that lie between the Russian capital and Berlin and the green valleys between the Rhine-lands and the sea. The maze of mystery rendered me utterly incapable of grasping one solid tangible fact, so closely interwoven was each incident of the strange life-drama in which, through mere chance, I was now playing a leading part. I was aware of one fact only, that I loved Elma with all my soul, even though I knew not whom she really was—or her strange life story. Her sweet face, with those soft, brown eyes, so tender and intense, stood out ever before me, sleeping or waking. Each moment as the express rushed south increased the distance between us, yet was I not on my way back to England with a clear and distinct purpose? I snatched at any clue, however small, with desperate eagerness, as a drowning man clutches at a straw.

The spy from Abo had seen me on the railway platform on my departure from Petersburg. He had overheard me buy a ticket for London, and previous to stepping into the train I had smiled at him in glad triumph. My journey was too long a one for him to follow, and I knew that I had at last outwitted him. He had expected to see Elma with me, no doubt, and his disappointment was plainly marked. But of Woodroffe I had neither seen nor heard anything.

* * * * *

It was a cold but dry November night in London, and I sat dining with Jack Durnford at a small table in the big, well-lit room of the Junior United Service Club. Easy-going and merry as of old, my friend was bubbling over with good spirits, delighted to be back again in town after three years sailing up and down the Mediterranean, from Gib. to Smyrna, maneuvering always, yet with never a chance of a fight. His well-shaven face bore the mark of the southern suns, and the backs of his hands were tanned by the heat and the sea. He was, indeed, as smart an officer as any at the Junior, for the Marines are proverbial for their neatness, and his men on board the Bulwark had received many a pleasing compliment from the Admiral.

"Glad to be back!" he exclaimed, as he helped himself to a "peg." "I should rather think so, old chap. You know how awfully wearying the life becomes out there. Lots going on down at Palermo, Malta, Monte Carlo, or over at Algiers, and yet we can never get a chance of it. We're always in sight of the gay places, and never land. I don't blame the youngsters for getting off from Leghorn for two days over here in town when they can. Three years is a bigger slice out of a fellow's life than anyone would suppose. But, by the way, I saw Hutcheson the other day. We put into Spezia, and he came out to see the Admiral—got despatches for him, I think. He seems as gay as ever. He lunched at mess, and said how sorry he was you'd deserted Leghorn."

"I haven't exactly deserted it," I said. "But I really don't love it like he does."

"No. A year or two of the Mediterranean blue is quite sufficient to last any fellow his lifetime. I shouldn't live in Leghorn if I had my choice. I'd prefer somewhere up in the mountains, beyond Pisa, or outside Florence, where you can have a good time in winter."

Then a silence fell between us, and I sat eating on until the end of the meal, wondering how to broach the question I so desired to put to him.

"I shall try if I can get on recruiting service at home for a bit," he said presently. "There's an appointment up in Glasgow vacant, and I shall try for it. It'll be better, at any rate, than China or the Pacific."

I was just about to turn the conversation to the visit of the mysterious Lola to Leghorn, when two men he knew entered the dining-room, and, recognizing him, came across to give him a welcome home. One of the newcomers was Major Bartlett, whom I at once recollected as having been a guest of Leithcourt's up at Rannoch, and the other a younger man whom Durnford introduced to me as Captain Hanbury.

"Oh, Major!" I cried, rising and grasping his hand. "I haven't seen you since Scotland, and the extraordinary ending to your house-party."

"No," he laughed. "It was an amazing affair, wasn't it? After the Leithcourts left it was like pandemonium let loose; the guests collared everything they could lay their hands upon! It's a wonder to me the disgraceful affair didn't get into the papers."

"But where's Leithcourt now?" I asked anxiously.

"Haven't the ghost of an idea," replied the Major, standing astride with his hands in his pockets. "Young Paget of ours told me the other day that he saw Muriel driving in the Terminus Road at Eastbourne, but she didn't notice him. They were a queerish lot, those Leithcourts," he added.

"Hulloa! What are you saying about the Leithcourts, Charley?" exclaimed Durnford, turning quickly from Hanbury. "I know some people of that name—Philip Leithcourt, who has a daughter named Muriel."

"Well, they sound much the same. But if you know them, my dear old chap, I really don't envy you your friends," declared the Major with a laugh.

"Why not?"

"Well, Gregg will tell you," he said. "He knows, perhaps, more than I do. But," he added, "they may not, of course, be the same people."

"I first met them yachting over at Algiers," Jack said. "And then again at Malta, where they seemed to have quite a lot of friends. They had a steam-yacht, the Iris, and were often up and down the Mediterranean."

"Must be the same people," declared the Major. "Leithcourt spoke once or twice of his yacht, but we all put it down as a non-existent vessel, because he was always drawing the long bow about his adventures."

"And how did you first come to know him?" I asked of the Major eagerly.

"Oh, I don't know. Somebody brought him to mess, and we struck up an acquaintance across the table. He seemed a good chap, and when he asked me to shoot I accepted. On arrival up at Rannoch, however, one thing struck me as jolly strange, and that was that among the people I was asked to meet was one of the very worst blacklegs about town. He called himself Martin Woodroffe up there—although I'd known him at the old Corinthian Club as Dick Archer. He was believed then to be one of a clever gang of international thieves."

"When I first met him he gave me the name of Hornby," I said. "It was in Leghorn, where he was on board a yacht called the Lola, of which he represented himself as owner."

"He left Rannoch very suddenly," remarked Bartlett. "We understood that he was engaged to marry Muriel. If so, I'm sorry for her, poor girl."

"What!" cried Durnford, starting up. "That man to marry Muriel Leithcourt?"

"Yes," I said. "Why?"

But his countenance had turned pale, and he gave no answer to my question.

"If these same Leithcourts are really friends of yours, Durnford, old fellow, I'm sorry I've said anything against them," the Major exclaimed in an apologetic tone. "Only the end of my visit was so abrupt and so extraordinary, and the company such a mixed one, that—well, to tell you the truth, the people are a mysterious lot altogether."

"Perhaps our Leithcourts are not the same as those Jack knows," I remarked, in order to escape from a rather difficult situation; whereupon Durnford, as though eager to conceal his surprise, said with a forced laugh, "Oh! probably not," and reseated himself at table. Then the Major quickly changed the topic of conversation, and afterwards he and his friend passed along to their table and sat down to eat.

I could not help noticing that Jack Durnford was upset at what he had learnt, yet I hesitated just then to put any question to him. I resolved to approach the subject later, so as to allow him time to question me if he wished to do so.

After smoking an hour we went across to the Empire, where we spent the evening in the grand circle, meeting many men we knew and having a rather pleasant time among old acquaintances. If a man who had lived the club life of London returns from abroad, he can always run across someone he knows in the circle of the Empire about ten o'clock at night. Jack was, however, not his old self that he had been before dinner. His brow was now heavy and thoughtful, and he appeared deeply immersed in some intricate problem, for his eyes were fixed vacantly when opportunity was afforded him to think, and he appeared to desire to avoid his friends rather than to greet them.

After the theater I induced him to come round to the Cecil, and in the wicker chair in the big portico before the entrance we sat to smoke our final cigars. It is a favorite spot of mine when in London, for at afternoon, when the string band plays and the Americans and other cosmopolitans drink tea, there is a continual coming and going, a little panorama of life that to a student of men like myself is intensely interesting. And at night it is just as amusing to sit there in the shadow and watch the people returning from the theaters or dances and to speculate as to whom and what they are. At that one little corner of London just off the Strand you see more variety of men and women than perhaps at any other spot. All grades pass before you, from the pushful American commercial man interested in a patent medicine, to the proud Indian Rajah with his turbaned suite; from the variety actress to the daughter of a peer, or the wife of a millionaire pork-butcher doing Europe.

"You've been a bit down in the mouth to-night, Jack," I said presently, after we had been watching the cabs coming up, depositing the home-coming revelers from the Savoy or the Carlton.

"Yes," he sighed. "And surely I have enough to cause me—after what I've heard from Bartlett."

"What! Did the facts he told us convey any bad news to you?" I inquired with pretended ignorance.

"Yes," he said hoarsely, after a brief pause. Then he added: "Bartlett said you could tell me what happened up in Scotland, where Leithcourt had shooting. Tell me everything," he added with the air of a man in whom all hope is dead.

"Well," I began, "the Leithcourts took Rannoch Castle, close to my uncle's place, near Dumfries. I got to know them, of course, and often shot with his party. One day, however, I was amazed to notice in one of the rooms the photograph of a lady, the exact counterpart of that picture which, I recollect, I told you when in Leghorn I had found torn up on board the Lola. You recollect what I narrated about my strange adventure, don't you?"

"I remember every word," was his answer. "Go on. What did you do?"

"Nothing. I held my tongue. But when I discovered that the fellow who called himself Woodroffe—the man who had represented himself as the owner of the Lola, and who, no doubt, had had a hand in breaking open Hutcheson's safe in the Consulate—was engaged to Muriel, I became full of suspicion."

"Well?"

"Woodroffe, after meeting me, disappeared—went to Hamburg, they said, on business. Then other things occurred. A man and woman were found murdered up in the wood about a mile and a half from the castle. The man was made up to represent my man Olinto—I believe you've seen him in Leghorn?"

"What! They've killed Olinto?" he gasped, starting from his chair.

"No. The fellow was made up very much like him. But his wife Armida was killed."

"They killed the woman, and believed they had also killed her husband, eh?" he said bitterly through his teeth, and I saw that his strong hands grasped the arms of his chair firmly. "And Martin Woodroffe is engaged to Muriel Leithcourt. Are you certain of this?"

"Yes; quite certain."

"And is there no suspicion as to who is the assassin of the woman Santini and this mysterious man who posed as her husband?"

"None whatever."

For some time Jack Durnford smoked in silence, and I could just distinguish his white, hard face in the faint light, for it was now late, and the big electric lamps had been turned out and we were in semi-darkness.

"That fellow shall never marry Muriel," he declared in a fierce, hoarse voice. "What you have just told me reveals the truth. Did you meet Chater?"

"He appeared suddenly at Rannoch, and the Leithcourts fled precipitately and have not since been heard of."

"Ah, no wonder!" he remarked with a dry laugh. "No wonder! But look here, Gordon, I'm not going to stand by and let that scoundrel Woodroffe marry Muriel."

"You love her, perhaps?" I hazarded.

"Yes, I do love her," he admitted. "And, by heaven!" he cried, "I will tell the truth and crush the whole of their ingenious plot. Have you met Elma Heath?" he asked.

"Yes," I said in quick anxiety.

"Then listen," he said in a low, earnest voice. "Listen, and I'll tell you something.

"There is a greater mystery surrounding that yacht, the Lola, than you have ever imagined, my dear old chap," declared Jack Durnford, looking me straight in the face. "When you told me about it on the quarter-deck that day outside Leghorn, I was half a mind to tell you what I knew. Only one fact prevented me—my disinclination to reveal my own secrets. I loved Muriel Leithcourt, yet, afloat as I was, I could never see her—I could not obtain from her own lips the explanation I desired. Yet I would not prejudge her—no, and I won't now!" he added with a fierce resolution.

"I love her," he went on, "and she reciprocates my love. Ours is a secret engagement made in Malta two years ago, and yet you tell me that she has pledged herself to that fellow Woodroffe—the man known here in London as Dick Archer. I can't believe it—I really can't, old fellow. She could never write to me as she has done, urging patience and secrecy until my return."

"Unless, of course, she desired to gain time," I suggested.

But my friend was silent; his brows were deep knit.

"Woodroffe is at the present moment in Petersburg," I said. "I've just come back from there."

"In St. Petersburg!" he gasped, surprised. "Then he is with that villainous official, Baron Oberg, the Governor-General of Finland."

"No; Oberg is living shut up in his palace at Helsingfors, fearing to go out lest he shall be assassinated," was my answer.

"And Elma? What has become of her?"

"She is in hiding in Petersburg, awaiting such time as I can get her safely out of Russia," and then, continuing, I explained how she had been maimed and rendered deaf and dumb.

"What!" he cried fiercely. "Have they actually done that to the poor girl? Then they feared that she should reveal the nature of their plot, for she had seen and heard."

"Seen and heard what?"

"Be patient; we will elucidate this mystery, and the motive of this terrible infliction upon her. Muriel wrote to me saying that poor Elma, her friend, had disappeared, and she feared that some evil had also happened to her. So Oberg had sent her to his fortress—his own private Bastille—the place to which, on pretended charges of conspiracy against Russia, he sends those who thwart him to a living tomb."

"I have seen him, and I have defied him," I said.

"You have! Man alive! be careful. He's not a fellow who sticks at trifles," said Jack warningly.

"I don't fear," I replied. "Elma's enemies are also mine."

"Then I take it, old fellow, that notwithstanding her affliction, you are actually in love with her?"

"I intend to rescue, and to marry her," I answered quite frankly.

"But first we must tear aside this veil of mystery and ascertain all the facts concerning her," he said. "At present I only know one or two very vague details. The baron is certainly not her uncle, as he represents himself to be, but it seems certain that she is the daughter of Anglo-Russian parents, and was born in Russia and brought to England when a child."

"But from whom do you expect I can obtain the true facts concerning her, and the reason of the baron's desire to keep her silent?"

"Ah!" he said, twisting his mustache thoughtfully. "That's just the question. For a solution of the problem we must first fathom the motive of the Leithcourts and the reason they fled in fear before that fellow Chater. That Muriel is innocent of any complicity in their plot, whatever it may be, I feel convinced. She may be the victim of that blackleg Woodroffe, who, as Bartlett has told you, is one of the most expert swindlers in London, and who has already done two terms of penal servitude."

"But what was the motive in breaking open the Consul's safe, if not to obtain the Foreign Office or Admiralty ciphers? Perhaps they wanted to steal them and sell them to a foreign government?"

"No; that was not their object. I've thought over it many, many times since you told me, and I feel convinced that Woodroffe is too shrewd a fellow not to have known that no Consul goes away on leave and allows his ciphers to remain behind. When he leaves his post he always deposits those precious books either at the Foreign Office here or with his Consul-General, or with a Consul at another port. They'd surely ascertain all that before they made the raid, you bet. The affair was a risky one, and Dick Archer is known as a man of many precautions."

"But he is on extremely friendly terms with Elma. It was he who succeeded in finding her in Finland, and taking her beyond Oberg's sphere of influence to Petersburg."

"Then it is certainly only an affected friendship, with some sinister motive underlying it."

"She wrote a letter from her island prison to an old schoolfellow named Lydia Moreton, asking her to see Woodroffe at his rooms in Cork Street, and tell him that through all she was suffering she had kept her promise to him, and that the secret was still safe."

"Exactly. And now the fellow fears that as you are so actively searching out the truth, she may yield to your demands and explain. He therefore intends to silence her."

"What! to kill her, you mean?" I gasped, in quick apprehension.

"Well, he might do so, in order to save himself, you see," Jack replied, adding: "He certainly would have no compunction if he thought that it would not be brought home to him. Only he, no doubt, fears you, because you have found her, and are in love with her."

I admitted the force of his argument, but recollected that my dear one was safe in concealment, and that the Princess was our friend, even though I, as an Englishman, had no sympathy with the doctrine of the bomb and the knife.

I tried to get from him all that he knew concerning Elma, but he seemed, for some curious reason, disinclined to tell. All I could gather was that Leithcourt was in league with Chater and Woodroffe, and that Muriel had acted as an entirely innocent agent. What the conspiracy was, or what was its motive, I could not discern. I was as far off the solution of the problem as ever.

"We must first find Muriel," he declared, when I pressed him to tell me everything he knew. "There are facts you have told me which negative my own theories, and only from her can we obtain the real truth."

"But surely you know where she is? She writes to you," I said.

"The last letter, which I received at Gib. ten days ago, was from the Hotel Bristol, at Botzen, in the Tyrol, yet Bartlett says she has been seen down at Eastbourne."

"But you have an address where you always write to her, I suppose?"

"Yes, a secret one. I have written and made an appointment, but she has not kept it. She has been prevented, of course. She may be with her parents, and unable to come to London."

"You did not know that they had fled, and were in hiding?"

"Of course not. What I've heard to-night is news to me—amazing news."

"And does it not convey to you the truth?"

"It does—a ghastly truth concerning Elma Heath," he answered in a low voice, as though speaking to himself.

"Tell me. What? I'm dying, Jack, to know everything concerning her. Who is that fellow Oberg?"

"Her enemy. She, by mere accident, learned his secret and Woodroffe's, and they now both live in deadly fear of her."

"And for that reason she was taken to Siena, where some villainous Italian doctor was bribed to render her deaf and dumb."

He nodded in the affirmative.

"But Chater?"

"I know very little concerning him. He may have conspired with them, or he may be innocent. It seems as though he were antagonistic to their schemes, if Leithcourt and his family really fled from him."

"And yet he was on board the Lola. Indeed, he may have helped to commit the burglary at the Consulate," I said.

"Quite likely," he answered. "But our first object must be to rediscover Muriel. Paget says she is in Eastbourne. If she is there, we shall easily find her. They publish visitors' lists in the papers, don't they, like they do at Hastings?" Then he added: "Visitors' lists are most annoying when you find your name printed in them when you are supposed officially to be somewhere else. I was had once like that by the Bournemouth papers, when I was supposed to be on duty over at Queenstown. I narrowly escaped a terrible wigging."

"Shall we go to Eastbourne?" I suggested eagerly. "I'll go there with you in the morning."

"Or would it not be best to send an urgent wire to the address where I always write? She would then reply here, no doubt. If she's in Eastbourne, there may be reasons why she cannot come up to town. If her people are in hiding, of course she won't come. But she'll make an appointment with me, no doubt."

"Very well. Send a wire," I said. "And make it urgent. It will then be forwarded. But as regards Olinto? Would you like to see him? He might tell you more than he has told me."

"No; by no means. He must not know that I have returned to London," declared my friend quickly. "You had better not see him—you understand."

"Then his interests are—well, not exactly our own?"

"No."

"But why don't you tell me more about Elma?" I urged, for I was eager to learn all he knew. "Come, do tell me!" I implored.

"I've told you practically everything, my dear old fellow," was his response. "The revelation of the true facts of the affair can be made only by Muriel. I tell you, we must find her."

"Yes, we must—at all hazards," I said. "Let's go across to the telegraph office opposite Charing Cross. It's open always." And we rose and walked out along the Strand, now nearly deserted, and despatched an urgent message to Muriel at an address in Hurlingham Road, Fulham.

Afterwards we stood outside on the curb, still talking, I loth to part from him, when there passed by in the shadow two men in dark overcoats, who crossed the road behind us to the front of Charing Cross station, and then continued on towards Trafalgar Square.

As the light of the street lamp fell upon them, I thought I recognized the face of one as that of a person I had seen before, yet I was not at all certain, and my failure to remember whom the passer-by resembled prevented me from saying anything further to Jack than:

"A fellow I know has just gone by, I think."

"We seem to be meeting hosts of friends to-night," he laughed. "After all, old chap, it does one good to come back to our dear, dirty old town again. We abuse it when we are here, and talk of the life in Paris, and Vienna, and Brussels, but when we are away there is no place on earth so dear to us, for it is 'home.' But there!" he laughed, "I'm actually growing romantic. Ah! if we could only find Muriel! But we must to-morrow. Ta-ta! I shall go around to the club and sleep, for I haven't fixed on any diggings yet. Come in at ten to-morrow, and we will decide upon some plan. One thing is plainly certain; Elma must at once be got out of Russia. She's in deadly peril of her life there."

"Yes," I said. "And you will help me?"

"With all my heart, old fellow," answered my friend, warmly grasping my hand, and then we parted, he strolling along towards the National Gallery on his way back to the "Junior," while I returned to the Cecil alone.



CHAPTER XVI

MARKED MEN

"Captain Durnford?" I inquired of the hall-porter of the club next morning.

"Not here, sir."

"But he slept here last night," I remarked. "I have an appointment with him."

The man consulted the big book before him, and answered:

"Captain Durnford went out at 9:27 last night, sir, but has not returned."

Strange, I thought, but although I waited in the club nearly an hour, he did not put in an appearance. I called again at noon, and he had not come in, and again at two o'clock, but he had not even then made his appearance. Then I began to be anxious. I returned to the hotel, resolved to wait for a few hours longer. He might have altered his mind and gone to Eastbourne in search of Muriel; yet, had he done so, he would surely have telegraphed to me.

About four o'clock, as I was passing through the big hall of the hotel, I heard a voice behind me utter a greeting in Italian, and turning in surprise, found Olinto, dressed in his best suit of black, standing hat in hand.

In an instant I recollected what Jack had told me, and regarded him with some suspicion.

"Signor Commendatore," he said in a low voice, as though fearing to be overheard, "may I be permitted to speak in private with you?"

"Certainly," I said, and I took him in the lift up to my room.

"I have come to warn you, signore," he said, when I had given him a seat. "Your enemies mean harm to you."

"And who are they, pray?" I asked, biting my lips. "The same, I suppose, who prepared that ingenious trap in Lambeth?"

"I am not here to reveal to you who they are, signore, only to warn you to have a care of yourself," was the Italian's reply.

"Look here, Olinto!" I exclaimed determinedly, "I've had enough of this confounded mystery. Tell me the truth regarding the assassination of your poor wife up in Scotland."

"Ah, signore!" he answered sadly in a changed voice, "I do not know. It was a plot. Someone represented me—but he was killed also. They believed they had struck me down," he added, with a bitter laugh. "Poor Armida's body was found concealed behind a rock on the opposite side of the wood. I saw it—ah!" he cried shuddering.

"Then you are ignorant of the identity of your wife's assassin?"

"Entirely."

"Tell me one thing," I said. "Did Armida possess any trinket in the form of a little enameled cross—like a miniature cross of cavaliere?"

"Yes; I gave it to her. I found it on the floor at the Mansion House, where I was engaged as odd waiter for a banquet. I know I ought to have given it up to the Lord Mayor's servants, but it was such a pretty little thing that I was tempted to keep it. It probably had fallen from the coat of one of the diplomatists dining there."

I was silent. The faint suspicion that Oberg had been at that spot was now entirely removed. The only clue I had was satisfactorily accounted for.

"Why do you ask, Signor Commendatore?" he added.

"Because the cross was found at the spot, and was believed to have been dropped by the assassin," I said.

The police had, it seemed, succeeded in discovering the unfortunate woman after all, and had found that she was his wife.

"You know a man named Leithcourt?" I asked a few moments later. "Now, tell the truth. In this affair, Olinto, our interests are mutual, are they not?"

He nodded, after a moment's hesitation.

"And you know also a man named Archer—who is sometimes known as Hornby, or Woodroffe—as well as a friend of his called Chater."

"Si, signore," he said. "I have met them all—to my regret."

"And have you ever met a Russian—a certain Baron Oberg—and his niece, Elma Heath?"

"His niece? She isn't his niece."

"Then who is she?" I demanded.

"How do I know? I have seen her once or twice. But she's dead, isn't she? She knew the secret of those men, and they intended to kill her. I tried to prevent them taking her away on the yacht, and I would have gone to the police—only I dare not."

"Why?"

"Well, because my own hands were not quite clean," he answered after a pause, his eyes fixed upon mine the while. "I knew they intended to silence her, but I was powerless to save her, poor young lady. They took her on board Leithcourt's yacht, the Iris, and they sailed for the Mediterranean, I believe."

"Then the name and appearance of the yacht was altered on the voyage, and it became the Lola," I said.

"No doubt," he smiled. "The Iris was a steamer of many names, and had, I believe, been painted nearly all the colors of the rainbow at various times. It was a mysterious vessel, but she exists no more. They scuttled her somewhere up in the Baltic, I've heard."

"And who is this Oberg?" I inquired, urging him to reveal to me all he knew concerning him.

"He stands in great fear of the poor young lady, I believe, for it was at his instigation that Leithcourt and his friends took her on that fatal yachting cruise."

"And what was your connection with them?"

"Well, I was Leithcourt's servant," was his reply. "I was steward on the Iris for a year, until I suppose they thought that I began to see too much, and then I was placed in a position ashore."

"And what did you see?"

"More than I care to tell, signore. If they were arrested I should be arrested, too, you see."

"But I mean to solve this mystery, Olinto," I said fiercely, for I was in no trifling mood. "I'll fathom it if it costs me my life."

"If the signore solves it himself, then I cannot be charged with revealing the truth," was the man's diplomatic reply. "But I fear that they are far too wary."

"Armida has lost her life. Surely that is sufficient incentive for you to bring them all to justice?"

"Of course. But if the law falls upon them, it will also fall upon me."

I explained the terrible affliction to which my love had been subjected by those heartless brutes, whereupon he cried enthusiastically:

"Then she is not dead! She can tell us everything!"

"But cannot you tell us?"

"No; not all. The secret she knows has never been revealed. They feared she might be incautious, and for that reason Oberg made the villainous suggestion of the yachting trip. She was to be drowned—accidentally, of course."

"She is in St. Petersburg now. I left her a week ago."

"In Russia! Ah, signore, for her sake, don't allow the young lady to remain there. The Baron is all-powerful. He does what he wishes in Russia, and the more merciless he is to the people he governs, the greater rewards he receives from the Czar. I have never been in Russia, but surely it must be a strange country, signore!"

"Well," I said, sitting upon the edge of the bed and looking at him. "Are you prepared to denounce them if I bring the Signorina Heath here, to England?"

"But what is the use, if we have no clear proof?" was his evasive reply. I could see plainly that he feared being himself implicated in some extraordinary plot, the exact nature of which he so steadfastly refused to reveal to me.

We talked on for fully half an hour, and from his conversation I gathered that he was well acquainted with Elma.

"Ah, signore, she was such a pleasant and kind-hearted young lady. I always felt very sorry for her. She was in deadly fear of them."

"Because they were thieves?" I hazarded.

"Ah, worse!"

"But why did they induce you to entice me to that house in Lambeth? Why did they so evidently desire that I should be killed?"

"By accident," he interrupted, correcting me. "Always by accident," and he smiled grimly.

"Surely you know their secret motive?" I remarked.

"At the time I did not," he declared. "I acted on their instructions, being compelled to, for they hold my future in their hands. Therefore I could not disobey. You knew too much, therefore you were marked down for death—just as you are now."

"And who is it who is now seeking my life?" I inquired gravely. "I only returned from Russia yesterday."

"Your movements are well known," answered the young Italian. "You cannot be too careful. Woodroffe has been in Russia with you, has he not?"

I replied in the affirmative, whereupon he said:

"I thought so, but was not quite sure."

"And Chater?" I inquired; "where is he?"

"In London."

"And the Leithcourts?"

He shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of ignorance, adding: "The Signorina Muriel returned to London from Eastbourne this morning."

"Where can I find her?" I inquired eagerly. "It is of the utmost importance that I should see her."

"She is with a relation, a cousin, I think, at Bassett Road, Notting Hill. The house is called 'Holmwood.'"

"You have seen her?"

"No. I heard she had returned."

"And her father is still in hiding from Chater?"

"He is still in hiding, but Chater is his best friend."

"That is curious," I remarked, recollecting the hurried departure from Rannoch. "They've made it up, I suppose?"

"They never quarreled, to my knowledge."

"Then why did Leithcourt leave Scotland so hurriedly on Chater's arrival? You know all about the affair, of course?"

He nodded, saying with a grim smile, "Yes; I know. The party up there must have been a very interesting one. If the police could have made a raid on the place they would have found among the guests certain persons long 'wanted.' But the arrival of Chater and the flight of Leithcourt had an ulterior object. Chater had never been Leithcourt's enemy."

"But I can't understand that," I said. "Why should Leithcourt have attacked Chater, rendered him unconscious, and shut him up in the cupboard in the library?"

"Was it Leithcourt who did that?" he asked dubiously. "I think not. It was another of the guests who was Chater's bitterest enemy. But Philip Leithcourt took advantage of the fracas in order to make believe that he had fled because of Chater's arrival. Ah!" he added, "you haven't any idea of their ruses. They are amazing!"

"So it seems," I said, nevertheless only half convinced that the Italian was telling me the truth. If it was really, as he had said, that the arrival of Chater and the flight was merely a "blind," then the mystery was again deepened.

"Then who was the man who attacked Chater?" I asked.

"Only Chater himself knows. It was one of the guests, that is quite evident."

"And you say that the flight had been prearranged?" I remarked.

"Yes, with a distinct motive," he said; then, after a pause, he added, with a strange, earnest look in his dark eyes, "Pardon me, Signor Commendatore, if I presume to suggest something, will you not?"

"Certainly. What do you suggest?"

"That you should remain here, in this hotel, and not venture out."

"For fear of something unfortunate happening to me!" I laughed. "I'm really not afraid, Olinto," I added. "You know I carry this," and I drew out my revolver from my hip-pocket.

"I know, signore," he said anxiously. "But you might not be afforded opportunity for using it. When they lay a trap they bait it well."

"I know. They're a set of the most ingenious scoundrels in London, it is very evident. Yet I don't fear them in the least," I declared. "I must rescue the Signorina Heath."

"But, signore, have a care for yourself," cried the Italian, laying his hand upon my arm. "You are a marked man. Ah! do I not know," he exclaimed breathlessly. "If you go out you may run right into—well, the fatal accident."

"Never fear, Olinto," I said reassuringly. "I shall keep my eyes well open. Here, in London, one's life is safer than anywhere else in the world, perhaps—certainly safer than in some places I could name in your own country, eh?" at which he grinned.

The next moment he grew serious again, and said:

"I only warn the signore that if he goes out it is at his own peril."

"Then let it be so," I laughed, feeling self-confident that no one could lead me into any trap. I was neither a foreigner nor a country cousin. I knew London too well. He was silent and shook his head; then, after telling me that he was still at the same restaurant in Westbourne Grove, he took his departure, warning me once more not to go forth.

Half an hour later, disregarding his words, I strode out into the Strand, and again walked round to the "Junior." The short wintry day had ended, the gas-lamps were lit, and the darkness of night was gradually creeping on.

Jack had not been to the club, and I began now to grow thoroughly uneasy. He had parted from me at the corner of the Strand with only a five minutes' walk before him, and yet he had apparently disappeared. My first impulse was to drive to Notting Hill to inquire of Muriel if she had news of him, but somehow the Italian's warning words made me wonder if he had met with foul play.

I suddenly recollected those two men who had passed by as we had talked, and how that the features of one had seemed strangely familiar. Therefore I took a cab to the police-station down at Whitehall, and made inquiry of the inspector on duty in the big bare office with its flaring gas-jets in wire globes. He heard me to the end, then turning back the book of "occurrences" before him, glanced through the ruled entries.

"I should think this is the gentleman, sir," he said. And he read to me the entry as follows:

"P.C. 462A reports that at 2.07 a.m., while on duty outside the National Gallery, he heard a revolver shot, followed by a man's cry. He ran to the corner of Suffolk Street, where he found a gentleman lying upon the pavement suffering from a serious shot-wound in the chest and quite unconscious. He obtained the assistance of P.C.'s 218A and 343A, and the gentleman, who was not identified, was taken to the Charing Cross Hospital, where the house-surgeon expressed a doubt whether he could live. Neither P.C.'s recollect having noticed any suspicious-looking person in the vicinity. "JOHN PERCIVAL, Inspector."

I waited for no more, but rushed round to the hospital in the cab, and was, five minutes later, taken along the ward, where I identified poor Jack lying in bed, white-faced and unconscious.

"The doctor was here a quarter of an hour ago," whispered the sister. "And he fears he is sinking."

"He has uttered no words?" I asked anxiously. "Made no statement?"

"None. He has never regained consciousness, and I fear, sir, he never will. It is a case of deliberate murder, the police told me early this morning."

I clenched my fists and swore a fierce revenge for that dastardly act. And as I stood beside the narrow bed, I realized that what Olinto had said regarding my own peril was the actual truth. I was a marked man. Was I never to penetrate that inscrutable and ever-increasing mystery?



CHAPTER XVII

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE "LOLA"

Throughout the long night I called many times at the hospital, but the reply was always the same. Jack had not regained consciousness, and the doctor regarded his case as hopeless.

In the morning I drove in hot haste to Bassett Road, Notting Hill, and at the address Olinto had given me found Muriel. When she entered the room with folding doors into which I had been shown, I saw that she was pale and apprehensive, for we had not met since her flight, and she was, no doubt, at a loss for an explanation. But I did not press her for one. I merely told her that the Italian Santini had given me her address and that I came as bearer of unfortunate news.

"What is it?" she gasped quickly.

"It concerns Captain Durnford," I replied. "He has been injured in the street, and is in Charing Cross Hospital."

"Ah!" she cried. "I see. You do not explain the truth. By your face I can tell there is something more. He's dead! Tell me the worst."

"No, Miss Leithcourt," I said gravely, "not dead, but the doctors fear that he may not recover. His wound is dangerous. He has been shot by some unknown person."

"Shot!" she echoed, bursting into tears. "Then they have followed him, after all! They have deceived me, and now, as they intend to take him from me, I will myself protect him. You, Mr. Gregg, have been in peril of your life, that I know, but Jack's enemies are yours, and they shall not go unpunished. May I see him?"

"I fear not, but we will ask at the hospital." And after the exchange of some further explanations, we took a hansom back to Charing Cross.

At first the sister refused to allow Muriel to see the patient, but she implored so earnestly that at last she consented, and the distressed girl in the black coat and hat crept on tiptoe to the bedside.

"He was conscious for a quarter of an hour or so," whispered the nurse who sat there, "He asked after some lady named Muriel."

The girl at my side burst into low sobbing.

"Tell him," she said, "that Muriel is here—that she has seen him, and is waiting for him to recover."

We were not allowed to linger there, and on leaving the hospital I took her back again to Notting Hill, promising to keep her well informed of Jack's condition. He had returned to consciousness, therefore there was now a faint hope for his recovery.

Day succeeded day, and although I was not allowed to visit my friend, I was told that he was very slowly progressing. I idled at the Hotel Cecil longing daily for news of Elma. Only once did a letter come from her, a brief, well-written note from which it appeared that she was quite well and happy, although she longed to be able to go out. The Princess was very kind indeed to her, and, she added, was making secret arrangements for her escape across the Russian frontier into Germany.

I knew what that meant. Use was to be made of certain Russian officials who were secretly allied with the Revolutionists in order to secure her safe conduct beyond the power of that order of exile of the tyrant de Plehve. I wrote to her under cover to the Princess, but there had been no time yet for a reply.

I saw Muriel many times, but never once did she refer to Rannoch or their sudden departure. Her only thought was of the man she loved.

"I always believed that you were engaged to Mr. Woodroffe," I said one day, when I called to tell her of Jack's latest bulletin.

"It is true that he asked me to marry him," she responded. "But there were reasons why I did not accept."

"Reasons connected with his past, eh?"

She smiled, and then said:

"Ah, Mr. Gregg, it is all a strange and very tragic story. I must see Jack. When do you think they will allow me to go to him?"

I explained that the doctor feared to cause the patient any undue excitement, but that in two or three days there was hope of her being allowed to visit him. Several times the police made inquiry of me, but I could tell them nothing. I could not for the life of me recollect where I had before seen the face of that man who had passed in the darkness.

One afternoon, ten days after the attempt upon Jack, I was allowed to sit by his bedside and question him.

"Ah, Gordon, old fellow!" he said faintly, "I've had a narrow escape—by Jove! After I left you I walked quickly on towards the club, when, all of a sudden, two scoundrels sprang out of Suffolk Street, and one of them fired a revolver full at me. Then I knew no more."

"But who were the men? Did you recognize them?"

"No, not at all. That's the worst of it."

"But Muriel knows who they were!" I said.

"Ah, yes! Bring her here, won't you?" the poor fellow implored, "I'm dying to see her once again."

Then I told him how she had looked upon him while unconscious, and how I had taken the daily bulletin to her. For an hour I talked with him, urging him to get well soon, so that we could unite in probing the mystery, and bringing to justice those responsible for the dastardly act.

"Muriel knows, and if she loves you she will no doubt assist us," I said.

"Oh, she does love me, Gordon, I know that," said the prostrate man, smiling contentedly, and when I left I promised to bring her there on the morrow.

This I did, but having conducted her to the bed at the end of the ward I discreetly withdrew. What she said to him I am not, of course, aware. All I know is that an hour later when I returned I found them the happiest pair possible to conceive, and I clearly saw that Jack's trust in her was not ill-placed.

But of Elma? No further word had come from her, and I began to grow uneasy. The days went on. I wrote twice, but no reply was forthcoming. At last I could bear the suspense no longer, and began to contemplate returning to Russia.

Jack, when at last discharged from the hospital, came across to the Cecil and lived with me in preference to the "Junior." He was very weak at first, and I looked after him, while every day Muriel came and ate with us, brightening our lives by her smart and merry chatter. She knew that I loved Elma and was also aware of the exciting events in Russia, Jack having told her of them during their long drives in hansoms when he went out with her to take the air.

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