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The Czar's Spy - The Mystery of a Silent Love
by William Le Queux
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One day I received a brief note from the Princess in Petersburg, urging me to remain patient and saying Elma was quite safe and well. There were reasons, however, why she was unable to write, she added. What were they, I wondered? Yet I could only wait until I received word to travel back to Russia and fetch her home. The Princess had promised to arrange everything.

December came, and we still remained on at the hotel. Once Olinto had written me repeating his warning, but I did not heed it. I somehow distrusted the fellow.

Jack, now thoroughly recovered, called almost daily at Bassett Road, and would often bring Muriel to the Cecil to tea or to luncheon. Often I inquired the whereabouts of her father and of Hylton Chater, but she declared herself in entire ignorance, and believed they were abroad.

One afternoon, shortly before Christmas, as we were idling in the American bar of the hotel, my friend told me that Muriel had invited us to tea at her cousin's that afternoon, and accordingly we went there in company.

The drawing-room into which we were ushered was familiar to me as the apartment wherein I had told Muriel of the attempt upon her lover's life.

As we sat together Muriel, a smart figure in a pale blue gown, poured tea for us and chatted more merrily, I thought, than ever before. She seemed quick and nervous and yet full of happiness, as she should indeed have been, for Jack Durnford was one of the best fellows in the world, and his restoration to health little short of miraculous.

"Gordon," he said to me with a sudden seriousness when tea had ended and we had placed down our cups. "I want to tell you something—something I've been longing always to tell you, and now I have got dear Muriel's consent. I want to tell you about her father and his friends."

"And about Elma, too?" I said in quick eagerness. "Yes, tell me everything."

"No, not everything, for I don't know it myself. But what I know I will explain as briefly as I can, and leave you to form your own conclusions. It is," he went on, "a strange—most amazing story. When I myself became first cognizant of the mystery I was on board the flagship the Renown, under Admiral Sir John Fisher. We were lying in Malta when there arrived the English yacht Iris, owned by Mr. Philip Leithcourt, and among those on board cruising for pleasure were Mr. Martin Woodroffe, Mr. Hylton Chater, and the owner's wife and daughter Muriel.

"Muriel and I met first at a tennis-party, and afterwards frequently at various houses in Malta, for anyone who goes there and entertains is soon entertained in return. A mutual attachment sprang up between Muriel and myself," he said, placing his hand tenderly upon hers and smiling, "and we often met in secret and took long walks, until quite suddenly Leithcourt said that it was necessary to sail for Smyrna to pick up some friends who had been traveling in Palestine. The night they sailed a great consternation was caused on the island by the news that the safe in the Admiral Superintendent's office had been opened by expert safe-breakers, and certain most important secret documents stolen."

"Well?" I asked, much interested.

"Again, two months later, when the villa of the Prince of Montevachi, at Palmero, was broken into and the whole of the famous jewels of the Princess stolen, it was a very strange fact that the Iris was at the moment in that port. But it was not until the third occasion, when the yacht was at Villefranche, and our squadron being at Toulon I got four days' leave to go along the Riviera, that my suspicions were aroused, for at the very hour when I was dining at the London House at Nice with Muriel and a schoolfellow of hers, Elma Heath—who was spending the winter there with a lady who was Baron Oberg's cousin—that a great robbery was committed in one of the big hotels up at Cimiez, the wife of an American millionaire losing jewels valued at thirty thousand pounds. Then the robberies, coincident with the visit of the yacht, aroused my strong suspicion. I remarked the nature of those documents stolen from Malta, and recognized that they could only be of service to a foreign government. Then came the Leghorn incident of which you told me. The yacht's name had been changed to the Lola, and she had been repainted. I made searching inquiry, and found that on the evening she was purposely run aground in order to strike up a friendship at the Consulate, a Russian gunboat was lying in the vicinity. The Consul's safe was rifled, and the scheme certainly was to transfer anything obtained from it to the Russian gunboat."

"But what was in the safe?" I asked.

"Fortunately nothing. But you see they knew that our squadron was due in Leghorn, and that some extremely important despatches were on the way to the Admiral—secret orders based upon the decision of the British Cabinet as to the vexed question of Russian ships passing the Dardanelles—they expected that they would be lodged in the safe until the arrival of the squadron, as they always are. They were, however, bitterly disappointed because the despatches had not arrived."

"And then?"

"Well, the only Russian who appeared to have any connection with them was Baron Oberg, the Governor-General of Finland, whose habit it was to spend part of the winter in the Mediterranean. From Elma Heath's conversation at dinner that evening at Nice I gathered that she and her uncle had been guests on the Iris on several occasions, although I must say that Muriel was extremely reticent regarding all that concerned the yacht."

"Of course," she said quickly. "Now that I have told you the truth, Jack, don't you think it was only natural?"

"Most certainly, dear," he answered, still holding her hand. "Yours was not a secret that you could very well tell to me until you could thoroughly trust me, especially as your father had been implicated in the theft of those documents from Malta. The truth is," he said, turning to me, "Philip Leithcourt has all along been the catspaw of Baron Oberg. A few years ago he was a well-known money-lender in the city, and in that capacity met the Baron, who, being in disgrace, required a loan. He was also in the habit of having certain shady transactions with that daring gang of continental thieves of whom Dick Archer and Hylton Chater were leaders. For this reason he purchased a yacht for their use, so that they might not only use it for the purpose of storing the stolen goods, but for the purpose of sailing from place to place under the guise of wealthy Englishmen traveling for pleasure. Upon that vessel, indeed, was stored thousands and thousands of pounds' worth of jewels and objects of value, the proceeds of many great robberies in England, France and Belgium. Sometimes they traveled for the purpose of disposing of the jewels in various inland towns where the gems, having been recut, were not recognized, while at other times, Chater and Archer, assisted by Mackintosh, the captain, and Olinto Santini, the steward, sailed for a port, landed, committed a robbery, and then sailed away again, quite unsuspected, as rich Englishmen."

"And the crew?" I asked, after a pause.

"They were, of course, well paid, and were kept in ignorance of what the supposed owner and his friends did ashore."

"But Oberg's connection with it?" I asked, surprised at those revelations.

"Ah!" exclaimed Muriel. "The ingenuity of that crafty villain is fiendish. Before he got into the Czar's favor he owed my father a large sum, and then sought how to evade repayment. By means of his spies he discovered the real purpose of the cruises of the Iris—for I was often taken on board with a maid in order to allay any suspicion that might arise if only men were cruising. Then he not only compelled my father to cancel the debt, but he impressed the vessel and those who owned and navigated it into the secret service of Russia. A dozen times did we make attempts to obtain secret papers from Italian, French and English dockyards, but only once in the case of Malta and once at Toulon did we succeed. Ah! Mr. Gregg," she added, "you do not know all the anxiety I suffered, how at every hour we were in danger of betrayal or capture, and of the hundred narrow escapes we have had of Custom House officers rummaging the yacht for contraband. You will no doubt recollect the sensation caused by the theft of the jewels of the Princess Wilhelmine of Schaumbourg-Lippe from the lady's-maid in the rapide between Cannes and Les Arcs, the robbery from the Marseilles branch of the Credit Lyonnais, and the great haul of plate from the chateau of Bardon, the Paris millionaire, close to Arcachon."

"Yes," I said, for they were all robberies of which I had read in the newspapers a couple of years before.

"Well," she said, "they were all committed by Archer or Woodroffe and his gang—with accomplices ashore, of course—and never once did it seem that any suspicion fell upon us. While the police were frantically searching hither and thither, we used to weigh anchor and calmly steam away with our booty on board. We had with us an old Dutch lapidary, and one of the cabins was fitted as a workshop, where he altered the appearance of the stones, and prepared them ready for sale, while the gold was melted in a crucible and put ashore to be sent to agents in Hamburg."

"But that night in Leghorn?" I said. "What happened to poor Elma?"

"I do not know," was Muriel's reply. "We were both on board together, and standing at the crack of the door watched you sitting at dinner that evening. Elma told me that she believed that there was a plot against your life, but why she would not tell me. She evidently knew of the proposed rifling of the safe at the Consulate. Oberg himself was also on board, locked in his own cabin. Elma must have overheard some conversation between the Baron and one of the others, for she was in great fear the whole time lest they might injure you. Yet it seemed, after all, as though their idea was the same as always, to worm themselves into your confidence. The instant, however, you went ashore, Chater, Woodroffe—whom you called Hornby—and Mackintosh, the captain—who, by the way, was an old ticket-of-leave man—went ashore, and, of course, broke into the Consulate. Then, as soon as they returned, Elma came to my cabin, awoke me, and said that the Baron was taking her ashore, and that they were to travel overland back to London. She was ready dressed to go, therefore I kissed her, and promising to meet her soon, we parted. That was the last I saw of her. What happened to her afterwards only she alone can tell us."

"But she is not the Baron's niece?" I said.

"No. There is some mystery," declared Muriel. "She holds some secret which he fears she may divulge. But of what nature, I am in ignorance."

"Then you say that your father has never taken any active part in the robberies?" I remarked.

"No. He commenced by lending money, and amassed a considerable fortune. Then avarice seized him, as it does so many men, and coming into contact with Archer and his friends, he saw that the idea of the yacht was a safe and profitable one. Therefore he purchased the vessel, and ran it at the disposition of the thieves, and subsequently under compulsion in the secret service of Russia, as I have already described to you. The profits were colossal. In one year my father's share was eighty thousand pounds."

"And where is your father now?" I asked.

"Ah!" she exclaimed sadly, her face pale and haggard.

"I have heard that the vessel was scuttled somewhere in the Baltic."

"That is true. Oberg's purpose having been served, he demanded half the property on board, or he would give notice to the Russian naval authorities that the pirate yacht was afloat. He attempted to blackmail my father, as he had already done so many times, but his scheme was frustrated. My father, because of his inhuman treatment of poor Elma, defied him, when it appears that Oberg, who was in Helsingfors, telegraphed to the admiral of the Russian fleet in the Baltic. The crew from the Iris were at once landed at Riga, and only Mackintosh and my father put to sea again. Ah! my father was desperate, for he knew the merciless character of that man whose victim he had been for so long. They watched a Russian cruiser bearing down upon them, when, just as it drew near, they got off in a boat and blew up the yacht, which sank in three minutes with its ill-obtained wealth on board."

"And your father?"

She was silent, and I saw tears standing in her eyes.

"There was a tragedy," Jack explained in a low, hoarse voice. "He and the captain did not, unfortunately, get sufficiently far from the yacht when they blew her up, and they went down with her."

And I looked in silence at Muriel, who stood with her head bent and her white face covered with her hands.

Almost at the same moment there was a low tap at the door, and the servant-maid announced:

"Mr. Santini, miss."

"Ah!" exclaimed Jack quickly, as Olinto entered the room. "Then you had my note! We have asked you here to reveal to us this dastardly plot which seemed to have been formed against Mr. Gregg and myself. As you know, I've had a narrow escape."

"I know, signore. And the Signor Commendatore is also threatened."

"By whom?"

"By those who killed my poor wife, and who intended also to silence me," was his answer.

"The same who compelled you take me to that house where the fatal chair was prepared, eh?"

"It was Archer, who, fearing that you came to London in search of them, devised that devilish contrivance," he said in his broken English. Then continuing, he went on fiercely: "Now that I have discovered why my poor Armida was killed, I will tell the truth, and not spare them. Since you left Scotland, signore, I have been up in Dumfries, and have discovered several facts which prove that for some reason known only to himself, Leithcourt, while at Rannoch, wrote to both Armida and myself separately, making an appointment to see us at the same time at that spot on the edge of the wood, as he had some secret commission to entrust to us. The letter addressed to me apparently fell into someone else's hands—probably one of the secret agents of Baron Oberg, who were always watching Leithcourt's doings, and he, anxious to learn what was intended, made himself up to look like me, and kept the appointment in my place. Armida, having received the letter unknown to me, went up to Scotland, and was also there at the appointed time. What actually transpired can only be surmised, yet it seems that Leithcourt was in the habit of going up to that spot and loitering there in the evening in order to meet Chater in secret, as the latter was in hiding in a small hotel in Dumfries. Therefore those who formed the plot must have endeavored to throw suspicion upon Leithcourt. It is plain, however, as both myself and Armida knew the gang, it was to their interest to get rid of us, because the suspicions of the police had at last become aroused. Poor Armida was therefore deliberately enticed there to her death, while the inquisitive man whom the assassin took to be myself was also struck down."

"By whom?"

"Not by Chater, for he was in London on that night."

"Then by Woodroffe?" Durnford said.

"Without a doubt. It was all most cleverly thought out. It was to his advantage alone to close our lips, because in that same fatal chair in Lambeth old Jacob Moser, the Jew bullion-broker of Hatton Garden, met his death—a most dastardly crime, with which none of his friends were associated, and of which we alone held knowledge. He therefore wrote to us as though from Leithcourt, calling us up to Rannoch, in order to strike the blows in the darkness," he added in his peculiar Italian manner. "Besides, he feared we would tell the signore the truth."

"You have not told the police?"

"I dare not, signore. Surely the less the police know about this matter the better, otherwise the Signorina Leithcourt must suffer for her father's avarice and evil-doing."

"Yes," cried Jack anxiously. "That's right, Olinto. The police must know nothing. The reprisals we must make ourselves. But who was it who shot me in Suffolk Street?"

"The same man, Martin Woodroffe."

"Then the assassin is back from Russia?"

"He followed closely behind the Signor Commendatore. Markoff, a clever secret agent of Baron Oberg's, came with him."

Then for the first time I recollected that the man I had recognized in the Strand was a fellow I had seen lounging in the ante-room of the palace of the Governor-General of Finland. The pair, fearing that I should reveal what I knew, were undoubtedly in London to take my life in secret. Now that Leithcourt was dead, Woodroffe had united forces with Oberg, and intended to silence me because they feared that Elma, besides escaping them, had also revealed her secret.

"I trust that the Signorina Leithcourt has explained the story of the yacht and its crew," Olinto remarked. "And has also shown you how I was implicated. You will therefore discern the reason why I have hitherto feared to give you any explanation."

"Yes," I said, "Miss Leithcourt has told me a great deal, but not everything. I cannot yet gather for what reason she and her father fled from Rannoch."

"Then I will tell you," said Muriel quickly. "My father suspected Woodroffe of being the assassin in Rannoch Wood, for he knew that he had broken away from the original compact, and had now allied himself with Oberg. Yet it was also my father's object to appear in fear of them, because he was only awaiting an opportunity to lay plans for poor Elma's rescue from Finland. Therefore one evening Woodroffe called, and my father encountered him in the avenue, and admitted him with his own latchkey by one of the side doors of the castle, afterwards taking him up to the study. He knew that he had come to try and make terms for Oberg, therefore he saw that he must fly at once to Newcastle, where the Iris was lying, get on board, and sail away.

"With some excuse he left him in the study, and then warned my mother and myself to prepare to leave. But while we were packing, it appeared that Chater, who had followed, was shown into the study by the butler, or rather he entered there himself, being well acquainted with the house. Thus the two men, now bitter enemies, met. A fierce quarrel must have ensued, and Chater was poisoned and concealed, Woodroffe, of course, believing he had killed him. My father entered the study again, and seeing only Woodroffe there, did not know what had occurred. Some words probably arose, when my father again turned and left. Then we fled to Carlisle and on to Newcastle, and next morning were on board the yacht out in the North Sea, afterwards landing at Rotterdam. Those," she added, "are briefly the facts, as my poor father related them to me."

"And what of poor Elma—and of her secret? When, I wonder, shall I see her?" I cried in despair.

"You will see her now, signore," answered Olinto. "A servant of the Princess Zurloff brought her to London this afternoon, and I have just conveyed her from the station. She is in the next room, in ignorance, however, that you are here."

And without another word I fled forward joyfully, and threw open the folding-doors which separated me from my silent love.

Silent, yes! But she could, nevertheless, tell her story—surely the strangest that any woman has ever lived to tell.



CHAPTER XVIII

CONTAINS ELMA'S STORY

Before me stood my love, a slim, tragic, rather wan figure in a heavy dark traveling-coat and felt toque, her sweet lips parted and a look of bewildered amazement upon her countenance as I burst in so suddenly upon her.

In silence I grasped her tiny black-gloved hand, and then, also in silence, raised it passionately to my eager lips. Her soft, dark eyes—those eyes that spoke although she was mute—met mine, and in them was a look that I had never seen there before—a look which as plainly as any words told me that my wild fevered passion was reciprocated.

She gazed beyond into the room where the others had assembled, and then looked at me inquiringly, whereupon I led her forward to where they were, and Muriel fell upon her and kissed her with tears streaming from her eyes.

"I prepared this surprise for you, Mr. Gregg," Muriel said, laughing through her tears of joy. "Olinto learnt that she was on her way to London, and I sent him to meet her. The Princess has managed magnificently, has she not?"

"Yes. Thank God she is free!" I exclaimed. "But we must induce her to tell us everything."

Muriel was already helping my love out of her heavy Russian coat, a costly garment lined with sable, and when, after greeting Jack and Olinto, she was comfortably seated, I took some notepaper from the little writing-table by the window and scribbled in pencil the words:

"I need not write how delighted I am that you are safe—that the Almighty has heard my prayers for you. Jack and Muriel have told me all about Leithcourt and his scoundrelly associates. I know, too, dear—for I may call you that, may I not?—how terribly you must have suffered in silence through it all. Leithcourt is dead. He sank the yacht with all the stolen property on board, but by accident was himself engulfed."

Bending and watching intently as I wrote, she drew back in horror and surprise at the words. Then I added: "We are all four determined that the guilty shall not go unpunished, and that the affliction placed upon you shall be adequately avenged. You are my own love—I am bold enough to call you so. Some strong but mysterious bond of affinity between us caused me to seek you out, and your pictured face seemed to call me to your side although I was unaware of your peril. I was sent to you by the unseen power to extricate you from the hands of your enemies. Therefore tell us everything—all that you know—without fear, for now that we are united no harm can assail us."

She took the pencil, and holding it in her white fingers sat staring first at us, and then looking hesitatingly at the white paper before her. Her position, amid a hundred conflicting emotions, was one of extreme difficulty. It seemed as though even now she was loth to reveal to us the absolute truth.

Muriel, standing behind her chair, tenderly stroked back the wealth of chestnut hair from her white brow. Her complexion was perfect, even though her face was pale and jaded, and her eyes heavy, consequent upon her long, weary journey from the now frozen North.

Presently, when by signs both Jack and Olinto had urged her to write, she bent suddenly, and her pencil began to run swiftly over the paper.

All of us stood exchanging glances in silence, neither looking over her, but each determined to wait in patience until the end. Once started, however, she did not pause. Sheet after sheet she covered. The silence for a long time was complete, broken only by the rapid running of the pencil over the rough surface of the paper. She had apparently become seized by a sudden determination to explain everything, now that she saw we were in real, dead earnest.

I watched her sweet face bent so intently, and as the firelight fell across it found it incomparable. Yes; she was afflicted by loss of speech, it was true, yet she was surely inexpressibly sweet and womanly, peerless above all others.

With a deep-drawn sigh she at last finished, and, her head still bowed in an attitude of humiliation, it seemed, she handed what she had written to me.

In breathless eagerness I read as follows:

"Is it true, dear love—for I call you so in return—that you were impelled towards me by the mysterious hand that directs all things? You came in search of me, and you risked your life for mine at Kajana, therefore you have a right to know the truth. You, as my champion, and the Princess as my friend, have contrived to effect my freedom. Were it not for you, I should ere this have been on my way to Saghalien, to the tomb to which Oberg had so ingeniously contrived to consign me. Ah! you do not know—you never can know—all that I have suffered ever since I was a girl."

Here the statement broke off, and recommenced as follows:

"In order that you should understand the truth, I had better begin at the beginning. My father was an English merchant in Petersburg, and my mother, Vera Bessanoff, who, before her marriage with my father, was celebrated at Court for her beauty, and was one of the maids-of-honor to the Czarina. She was the only daughter of Count Paul Bessanoff, ex-Governor of Kharkoff, and before marrying my father she had, with her mother, been a well-known figure in society. Immediately after her marriage her father died, leaving her in possession of an ample fortune, which, with my father's own wealth, placed them among the richest and most influential in Petersburg.

"Among my father's most intimate friends was Baron Xavier Oberg—who, at that time, held a very subordinate position in the Ministry of the Interior—and from my earliest recollections I can remember him coming frequently to our house and being invited to the brilliant entertainments which my mother gave. When I was thirteen, however, my father died of a chill contracted while boar-hunting on his estate in Kiev, and within a few months a further disaster happened to us. One night, while I was sitting alone reading aloud to my mother, two strangers were announced, and on being shown in they arrested my dear mother on a charge of complicity in a revolutionary plot against the Czar which had been discovered at Peterhof. I stood defiant and indignant, for my mother was certainly no Nihilist, yet they said that the bomb had been introduced into the palace by the Countess Anna Shiproff, one of the ladies-in-waiting, who was an intimate friend of my mother's and often used to visit her. They alleged that the conspiracy had been hatched in our house, color being lent to that theory by the fact that a year before a well-known Russian with whom my father had had many business dealings had been proved to be the author of the plot by which the Czar's train was blown up near Lividia. They tore my mother away from me and placed her in that gray prison-van, the sight of which in the streets of Petersburg strikes terror into the heart of every Russian, for a person once in that rumbling vehicle is, as you know, lost for ever to the world. I watched her from the window being placed in that fatal conveyance, and then I think I must have fainted, for I recollect nothing more until I found myself upon the floor, with the gray dawn spreading, and all the horrible truth came back to me. My mother was gone from me for ever!

"In sheer desperation I went to the Ministry of the Interior and sought an interview with the Baron, who, when I told him of the disaster, appeared greatly concerned, and went at once to the Police Department to make inquiry. Next day, however, he came to me with the news that the charge against my mother had been proved by a statement of the woman Shiproff herself, and that she had already started on her long journey to Siberia—she had been exiled to one of those dreaded Arctic settlements beyond Yakutsk, a place where it is almost eternal winter, and where the conditions of life are such that half the convicts are insane. The Baron, however, declared that, as my father's friend, it was his duty to act as guardian to me, and that as my father had been English I ought to be put to an English school. Therefore, with his self-assumed title of uncle, he took me to Chichester. For years I remained there, until one day he came suddenly and fetched me away, taking me over to Helsingfors—for the Czar had now appointed him Governor-General to Finland. There, for the first time, he introduced me to his son Michael, a pimply-faced lieutenant of cavalry, and said in a most decisive manner that I must marry him. I naturally refused to marry a man of whom I knew so little, whereupon, finding me obdurate, he quickly altered his tactics and became kindness itself, saying that as I was young he would allow me a year in which to make up my mind.

"A week later, while living in the palace at Helsingfors, I overheard a conversation between the Governor-General and his son, which revealed to me a staggering truth that I had never suspected. It was Oberg himself who had denounced my mother to the Minister of the Interior, and had made those cruel, baseless charges against her! Then I discerned the reason. She being exiled, her fortune, as well as that of my father, came to me. The reason they were scheming for Michael to marry me was in order to obtain control of my money. I saw at once how helpless I was in the hands of that unscrupulous pair, and I recognized, too, sufficient of the Baron's methods as 'The Strangler of Finland,' to show me what kind of character he was beneath that calm, eminently respectable black-coated exterior. After deliberately sending my poor mother to Siberia, he had assumed the role of my guardian in order that he might, when I came of age, obtain control of my inheritance, the idea no doubt being that I should marry Michael, and then, after the necessary legal formalities, I should, on a trumped-up charge of conspiracy, share the same fate as my mother had done."

"The infernal scoundrel!" I ejaculated, when I read her words, while from Jack, who had been looking over my shoulder, escaped a fierce and forcible vow of vengeance.

"The Baron took me with him to Petersburg when he went on official business, and we remained there nearly a month," the narrative went on. "While there I received a secret message from 'The Red Priest,' the unseen and unknown power of Nihilism, who has for so many years baffled the police. I went to see him, and he revealed to me how Oberg had contrived to have my mother banished upon a false charge. He warned me against the man who had pretended to be my father's friend, and also told me that he had known my father intimately, and that if I got into any further difficulty I was to communicate with him and he would assist me. Oberg took me back to Helsingfors a few months later, and in summer we went to England. He was a marvelously clever diplomatist. His tactics he could change at will. When I was at school he was rough and brutal in his manner towards me, as he was to all; but now he seemed to be endeavoring to inspire my confidence by treating me with kindly regard and pleasant affability.

"In London, at Claridge's, we met my old schoolfellow Muriel and her father—a friend of Oberg's—and in response to their invitation went for a cruise on their yacht, the Iris, from Southampton. Our party was a very pleasant one, and included Woodroffe and Chater, while our cruise across the Bay of Biscay and along the Portuguese coast proved most delightful. One night, while we were lying outside Lisbon, Woodroffe and Chater, together with Olinto, went ashore, and when they returned in the early hours of the morning they awoke me by crossing the deck above my head. Then I heard someone outside my cabin-door working as though with a screwdriver, unscrewing a screw from the woodwork. This aroused my interest, and next day I made a minute examination of the paneling, where, in one part, I found two small brass screws that had evidently been recently removed. Therefore I succeeded in getting hold of a screwdriver from the carpenter's shop, and next night, when everyone was asleep, I crept out and unscrewed the panel, when to my surprise I saw that the secret cavity behind was filled with beautiful jewelry, diamond collars, tiaras, necklets, fine pearls, emeralds and turquoises, all thrown in indiscriminately.

"I replaced the panel and kept careful watch. At Marseilles, where we called, more jewelry and a heavy bagful of plate was brought aboard and secreted behind another panel. Then I knew that the men were thieves.

"But surely," continued the strange story my mute love had written, "I need not describe all that occurred upon that eventful voyage, except to tell you of one very curious incident which occurred. I had spoken confidentially with Muriel regarding my suspicions of the men who were our fellow-guests, and when in secret I showed her several places on board the yacht where valuables were secreted, she also became convinced that the men were expert thieves to whom her father, for some unexplained reason, rendered assistance and asylum. She told me that since she had left school she had been on quite a number of cruises, and that the same party always accompanied her father. She had, however, never suspected the truth until I pointed it out to her. Well, one hot summer's night we were lying off Naples, and as it was a grand festa ashore and there was to be a gala performance at the theater, Leithcourt took a box and the whole party were rowed ashore. The crew were also given shore-leave for the evening, but as the great heat had upset me I declined to accompany the theater-party, and remained on board with one sailor named Wilson to constitute the watch. We had anchored about half a mile from land, and earlier in the evening the Baron had gone ashore to send telegrams to Russia, and had not returned.

"About ten o'clock I went below to try and sleep, but I had a slight attack of fever, and was unable. Therefore I redressed and sat with the light still out, gazing across the starlit bay. Presently from my port-hole I saw a shore-boat approaching, and recognized in it the Baron with a well-dressed stranger. They both came on board, and the boatman, having been paid, pulled back to the shore. Then the Baron and his friend—a dark, middle-aged, full-bearded man, evidently a person of refinement—went below to the saloon, and after a few moments called to the man Wilson who was on the watch, and gave him a glass of whisky and water, which he took up on deck to drink at his leisure.

"The unusual character of my fellow-guests on board that craft was such that my suspicion was constantly on the alert, therefore curiosity tempted me to creep along and peep in at the crack of the door standing ajar. A closer view revealed the fact that the stranger was a high Russian official to whom I had once been introduced at the Government Palace at Helsingfors, the Privy-Councillor and Senator Paul Polovstoff. They were smoking together, and were discussing in Russian the means by which he, Polovstoff, had arranged to obtain plans of some new British fortifications at Gibraltar. From what he said, it seemed that some Russian woman, married to an Englishman, a captain in the garrison, had been impressed into the secret service against her will, but that she had, in order to save herself, promised to obtain the photographs and plans that were required. I heard the Englishman's name, and I resolved to take some steps to inform him in secret of the intentions of the Russian agent.

"Presently the two men took fresh cigars, ascended on deck, and cast themselves in the long cane chairs amidships. Still all curiosity to hear further details on the ingenious piece of espionage against my own nation, I took off my shoes and crept up to a spot where I could crouch concealed and overhear their conversation, for the Italian night was calm and still. They talked mainly about affairs in Finland, and with some of Oberg's expressions of opinion Polovstoff ventured to differ. This aroused the Baron's anger, and I knew from the cold sarcasm of his remarks, and the peculiarly hard tone of his voice, that he was more incensed than he outwardly showed himself to be. He rose and stood with his back to the bulwarks facing his friend, who still sat leaning back in his deck-chair insisting upon his own views. He was quite calm, and not in the least perturbed by the evil glint in the Baron's eye. Perhaps he did not know him so well as I did. He did not know what that look meant. Suddenly, while the Privy-Councillor lay back in his chair pulling thoughtfully at his cigar, there was a bright, blood-red flash, a dull report, and a man's short agonized cry. Startled, I leaned around the corner of the deck-house, when, to my abject horror, I saw under the electric rays the Czar's Privy-Councillor lying sideways in his chair with part of his face blown away. Then the hideous truth in an instant became apparent. The cigar which Oberg had pressed upon him down in the saloon had exploded, and the small missile concealed inside the diabolical contrivance had passed upwards into his brain. For a moment I stood utterly stupefied, yet as I looked I saw the Baron, in a paroxysm of rage, shake his fist in the dead man's face, and cry with a fearful imprecation: 'You hound! You have plotted to replace me in the Czar's favor. You intended to become Governor-General of Finland! You knew certain facts which you intended to put before his Majesty, knowing that the revelations would result in my disgrace and downfall. But, you infernal cur, you did not know that those who attempt to thwart Xavier Oberg either die by accident or go for life to Kajana or the mines!' And he spurned the body with his foot and laughed to himself as he gloated over his dastardly crime.

"I watched his rage, unable to utter a single word. I saw him, after he had searched the dead man's pockets, raise the inert body with its awful featureless face and drag it to the bulwarks. Then I rushed forward and faced him.

"In an instant he sprang at me, and I screamed. But no aid came. The man Wilson was sleeping soundly in the bows, for the whisky he had given him had been doctored," went on the narrative. "Upon his face was a fierce, murderous look such as I had never seen before. 'You!' he screamed, his dark eyes starting from their sockets as he realized that I had been a witness of his cowardly crime. 'You have spied upon me, girl!' he hissed, 'and you shall die also!' I sank upon my knees imploring him to spare me, but he only laughed at my entreaty. 'See!' he cried, 'as you saw how he enjoyed his cigar, you may as well see this!' And with an effort he raised the dead body in his arms, poised it for a moment on the vessel's side, and then, with a hoarse laugh of triumph, heaved it into the sea. There was a splash, and then we were alone. 'And you!' he cried in a fierce voice—'you who have spied upon me—you will follow! The water there will close your chattering mouth!' I shrieked, begged, and implored, but his trembling hands were upon my throat. First he dragged me to my feet, then he threw me upon my knees, and at last, with that grim brutality which characterizes him, he directed me to go and get a mop and bucket from the forecastle and remove the dark red stains from the chair and deck. This he actually forced me to do, gloating over my horror as I removed for him the traces of his cowardly crime. Then, with his hand upon my shoulder, he said, 'Girl! Recollect that you keep to-night's work secret. If not, you shall die a death more painful than that dog has died—one in which you shall experience all the tortures of the damned. Recollect, not a single word—or death! Now, go to your cabin, and never pry into my affairs again.'

"I went back to my cabin as I was bid, and sat speechless in abject horror. The fiendish actions of the man who was my guardian frightened me. And yet I was utterly helpless. What could I do? Who in holy Russia would hear me? Oberg was a power in the Empire; the Czar himself trusted him. If I spoke, who would believe me; who would heed the words of a defenseless girl whom he would at once declare to be hysterical? Thus I waited alone in the darkness, watching the lights of the port gleaming across the placid waters until nearly one o'clock, when the gay party returned, and the Baron greeted them merrily as though nothing had happened. But my heart was frozen within me by the recollection of the awful crime that had been committed."

* * * * *

"Why! Now I remember!" cried Muriel, amazed. "I remember that night quite well, how white you were when you came to my cabin and asked to be allowed to sleep in my spare berth. You would tell me nothing, and only said you were ill. None of us had any idea that such a terrible tragedy had been enacted. But of course the Baron had arranged it all, for it was at his instigation, I recollect, that the crew had been given shore-leave. Mackintosh suggested that only half the crew should go, but he declared that if Wilson alone were left it would be sufficient."

"I, too, recollect the affair quite well," Jack declared, tugging at his mustache, utterly amazed at my love's strange story. It was a plain statement of hard, astounding facts, and she now stood clinging to me, looking eagerly into my eyes, reading every thought that passed through my mind. "A great sensation was caused when the body was discovered. The squadron was lying off Naples about a week after the Iris had left, and while we were there the body was washed up near Sorrento. At first but little notice was taken of it, but by the marks on the dead man's linen it was discovered that he was Polovstoff, one of the highest Russian officials who had, it was said, been warned on several occasions by the Nihilists. It was, therefore, concluded that his death had been due to Nihilist vengeance."

Elma pointed to the paper, and made a sign that I was to read on. This I did, and the statement ran as follows:

"The real reason why the Baron spared my life was because, if I died, my fortune would pass to a distant cousin living at Durham. Yet his manner towards me was now most polite and pleasant—a change that I felt boded no good. He intended to obtain my money by marrying me to his son Michael, whose evil reputation as a gambler was well known in Petersburg. We traveled back to Finland in the autumn, and in the winter he took me to stay with his sister in Nice. Yet almost daily he referred to that tragedy at Naples, and threatened me with death if ever I uttered a single word, or even admitted that I had ever seen the man who was his rival and his victim."

"Last June," commenced another paragraph, "we were in Helsingfors, when one day the Baron called me suddenly and told me to prepare for a journey. We were to cross to Stockholm and thence to Hull, where the Iris was awaiting us, for Mr. Leithcourt and Muriel had invited us for a summer cruise to the Greek Islands. We boarded the yacht much against my will, yet I was powerless, and dare not allege the facts that I had already established concerning our fellow-guests. Muriel and I, it seems, were taken merely in order to blind the shore-guards and Customs officials as to the real nature of the vessel, which when safely out of the Channel, was repainted and renamed the Lola, until her exterior presented quite a different appearance from the Iris.

"The port of Leghorn was our first place of call, and for some reason we ran purposely upon a sandbank and were towed off by Italian torpedo-boats. Next evening you came on board and dined, Muriel and myself having strict orders not to show ourselves. We, however, watched you, and I saw you pick up my photograph which I had that day torn up. Then immediately after you had left, Woodroffe, Chater and Mackintosh went ashore and were away a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Just before they returned the Baron rapped at the door of my cabin saying that he must go ashore, and telling me to dress and accompany him. He would never allow me the luxury of a maid, fearing, I suppose, that she might learn too much. In obedience I rose and dressed, and when I went forth he told me to get my traveling-cloak and dressing-bag, adding that he was compelled to go north, as to continue the cruise would occupy too much time. He was due back at his official duties, he said. As soon as I had finished packing, the three men returned to the vessel, all of them looking dark-faced and disappointed. Woodroffe whispered some words to the Baron, after which I went to Muriel's cabin and wished her good-bye, and we went ashore, taking the train first to Colle Salvetti, thence to Pisa, and afterwards to the beautiful old city of Siena, which I had so longed to see. One of my teeth gave me pain, and the Baron, after a couple of days at the Hotel de Sienne, took me to a queer-looking little old Italian—a dentist who, he said, enjoyed an excellent reputation. I was quick to notice that the two men had met before, and as I sat in the chair and gas was given to me I saw them exchange meaning glances. In a few moments I became insensible, but when I awoke an hour later I was astounded to feel a curious soreness in my ears. My tongue, too, seemed paralyzed, and in a few moments the awful truth dawned upon me. I had been rendered deaf and dumb!

"The Baron pretended to be greatly concerned about me," it went on, "but I quickly realized that I had been the victim of a foul and dastardly plot, and that he had conceived it, fearing lest I might speak the truth concerning the Privy-Councillor Polovstoff, for of exposure he lived in constant fear. To encompass my end would be against his own interests, as he would lose my fortune, so he had silenced me lest I should reveal the terrible truth concerning both him and his associates. He was not rich, and I have reason to believe that from time to time he gave information as to persons who possessed valuable jewels, and thus shared in the plunder obtained by those on the yacht.

"From Italy we traveled on to Berlin, thence to Petersburg, and back to dreary Helsingfors, journeying as quickly as we could, yet never allowing me opportunity of being with strangers. Both my ears and tongue were very painful, but I said nothing. He was surely a fiend in a black coat, and my only thought now was how to escape him. From the moment when that so-called dentist had ruined my hearing and deprived me of power of speech, he kept me aloof from everyone. The fear that I should reveal everything had apparently grown to haunt him, and he had conceived that terrible mode of silencing my lips. But the true depth of his villainy was not yet apparent until I was back in Finland.

"On the night of our arrival he called in his son, who had traveled with us from Petersburg, and in writing again demanded that I should marry him. I wrote my reply—a firm refusal. He struck the table angrily with his fist and wrote saying that I should either marry his son or die. Then next day, while walking alone out beyond the town of Helsingfors, as I often used to do, I was arrested upon the false charge of an attempt upon the life of Madame Vakuroff and transported, without trial, to the terrible fortress of Kajana, some of the horrors of which you have yourself experienced. The charge against me was necessary before I could be incarcerated there, but once within, it was the scheme of the Governor-General to obtain my consent to the marriage by threats and by the constant terrors of the place. He even went so far as to obtain a ministerial order for my banishment to Saghalien and brought it to me to Kajana, declaring that if in one month I did not consent he should allow me to be sent to exile. While I was in Kajana he knew that his secret was safe, therefore by every means in his power he urged me to consent to the odious union.

"All the rest is known to you—how Providence directed you to me as my deliverer, and how Woodroffe followed you in secret, and pretending to be my friend took me with him to Petersburg. He had learnt of my fortune from the Baron, and intended to marry me himself. But now that all is over it appears to me like some terrible dream. I never believed that so much iniquity existed in the world, or that men could fight a defenseless woman with such double-dealing and cruel ingenuity. Ah! the tortures I endured in Kajana are beyond human conception. Yet surely Oberg and Woodroffe will obtain their well-merited deserts—if not in this world, then in the world to come. Are we not taught by Holy Writ to forgive our enemies? Therefore, let us forgive."

* * * * *

There my silent love's strange story ended. A bald, straightforward narrative that held us all for some moments absolutely speechless—one of the strangest and most startling stories ever revealed.

She watched every expression of my countenance, and then, when I had finished reading and placed my arm tenderly about her slim waist, she raised her beautiful face to mine to receive the passionate kiss I imprinted upon those soft, full lips.

"This, of course, makes everything plain," exclaimed Jack. "Polovstoff was a very liberal-minded and upright official who was greatly in the favor of the Czar, and a serious rival to Oberg, whose drastic and merciless methods in Finland were not exactly approved by the Emperor. The Baron was well aware of this, and by ingeniously enticing him on board the Iris he succeeded by handing that small bomb concealed in a cigar—a Nihilist contrivance that had probably been seized by his police in Finland—in freeing himself from the rival who was destined to occupy his post."

"Yes," I said with a sigh. "The mystery is cleared up, it is true, yet my poor Elma is still the victim." And I kissed my love passionately again and again upon the lips.



CONCLUSION

Nearly two years have now gone by.

There have been changes in holy Russia—many great and amazing changes consequent upon war and its disasters. Russia is no longer the great power that she once was supposed to be. Many events that have startled the world have occurred since that day when I first enfolded my silent love within my arms. One of them is known to you all.

You read in the newspapers, without a doubt, how the Baron Xavier Oberg, the persecutor of Finland, the enemy of education, the relentless foe of the defenseless, the man who ordered women to be knouted to death in Kajana, the heartless official whom the Finns called "The Strangler," was blown to pieces by a bomb thrown beneath his carriage as he drove to the railway station at Helsingfors on his way to have audience with the Emperor.

The secret truth was that the "Red Priest" decreed that Oberg should die, and the plot was swiftly put into execution, and although five hundred arrests were made the police are unaware to this day of the identity of the person who directed it, or of who threw the fatal missile. From pillar to post the revolutionists have been hunted by the bloodhounds of police, yet the "Red Priest" still lives on quietly in Petersburg, and the Princess Zurloff, still unsuspected, devotes the greater part of her enormous income to the cause of freedom.

Of Jack and Muriel I need only say they were married about three months after Elma's return from Russia, and at the present time they are living on the outskirts of Glasgow, where Jack has secured the shore appointment which he so long coveted.

By some means—exactly how is not quite certain—the police discovered that Dick Archer, alias Woodroffe, alias Hornby, was concerned in the clever robbery of a dressing-bag, containing the Dowager Lady Lancashire's jewels, from her footman on Euston platform, and after a long search they found him hiding at an hotel in Liverpool. When, however, they went to arrest him, he laughed in the faces of the detectives, placed something swiftly in his mouth and swallowed it before they could prevent him—then ten minutes later he fell dead. He knew what terrible revelations must be made if we gave evidence against him, and he therefore preferred death by his own hand to that following a judicial sentence.

Chater, although one of the most expert jewel thieves in Europe, had never been actually guilty of any graver offense, and when we heard that he was in San Francisco, where he had opened a small bar and was trying to live honestly, we resolved to allow him to remain there. Indeed, Jack wrote to him about nine months ago warning him never to set foot on English soil again on pain of arrest.

Olinto Santini has recently opened a small restaurant in Western Road, Brighton, and is, I believe, doing very well.

And ourselves! Well, what can I really tell you? Mere words fail to tell you of the completeness of our happiness. It is idyllic—that is all I can say.

My proposal of marriage was made to Elma a very few days after she wrote down her startling and romantic story, and a year ago at a little village church in Hertfordshire we became man and wife, there being present at our wedding Madame Heath, my bride's mother, to whom, by my exertions in official quarters in Petersburg, the Czar's clemency was extended, and she was released from that far-off Arctic prison to which she had been sent with such cruel injustice.

Two of the greatest London specialists have continually treated my dear wife, and under them she has already recovered her speech—so far, indeed, that she can now whisper in a low, soft voice. But they tell me they are hopeful that ere long her voice will become stronger, and speech practically restored. Already, too, she can begin to hear.

After all the storms and perils of the past, our lives are now indeed full of a calm, sweet peace. In our own comfortable little house, with its trellised porch covered with roses and honeysuckle, that faces the blue Channel at St. Margaret's Bay, beyond Dover, we lead a life of mutual trust and boundless love. We are supremely content—the happiest pair in all the world, we think.

Often as we sit together at evening, gazing out upon the great ships passing darkly away into the mysterious afterglow, our hands clasp mutually in a silence more eloquent than words, and as we gaze into each other's eyes there occurs to us the Divine injunction: "WHOM GOD HATH JOINED, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER."

THE END

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