Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter IV. The Man From the Old Testament
Bernadine, sometimes called the Count von Hern, was lunching at the Savoy with the pretty wife of a Cabinet Minister, who was just sufficiently conscious of the impropriety of her action to render the situation interesting.
"I wish you would tell me, Count von Hern," she said, soon after they had settled down in their places, "why my husband seems to object to you so much. I simply dared not tell him that we were going to lunch together, and as a rule he doesn't mind what I do in that way."
Bernadine smiled slowly.
"Ah, well," he remarked, "your husband is a politician and a very cautious man. I dare say he is like some of those others, who believe that, because I am a foreigner and live in London, therefore I am a spy."
"You a spy," she laughed. "What nonsense!"
She shrugged her shoulders. She was certainly a very pretty woman, and her black gown set off to fullest advantage her deep red hair and fair complexion.
"I suppose because I can't imagine you anything of the sort," she declared. "You see, you hunt and play polo, and do everything which the ordinary Englishmen do. Then one meets you everywhere. I think, Count von Hern, that you are much too spoilt, for one thing, to take life seriously."
"You do me an injustice," he murmured.
"Of course," she chattered on, "I don't really know what spies do. One reads about them in these silly stories, but I have never felt sure that as live people they exist at all. Tell me, Count, what could a foreign spy do in England?"
Bernadine twirled his fair moustache and shrugged his shoulders.
"Indeed, my dear lady," he admitted, "I scarcely know what a spy could do nowadays. A few years ago, you English people were all so trusting. Your fortifications, your battleships, not to speak of your country itself, were wholly at the disposal of the enterprising foreigner who desired to acquire information. The party who governed Great Britain then seemed to have some strange idea that these things made for peace. To-day, however, all that is changed."
"You seem to know something about it," she remarked.
"I am afraid that mine is really only the superficial point of view," he answered, "but I do know that there is a good deal of information, which seems absolutely insignificant in itself, for which some foreign countries are willing to pay. For instance, there was a Cabinet Council yesterday, I believe, and some one was going to suggest that a secret, but official, visit be paid to your new harbor works up at Rosyth. An announcement will probably be made in the papers during the next few days as to whether the visit is to be undertaken or not. Yet there are countries who are willing to pay for knowing even such an insignificant item of news as that, a few hours before the rest of the world."
Lady Maxwell laughed.
"Well, I could earn that little sum of money," she declared gayly, "for my husband has just made me cancel a dinner-party for next Thursday, because he has to go up to the stupid place."
Bernadine smiled. It was really a very unimportant matter, but he loved to feel, even in his idle moments, that he was not altogether wasting his time.
"I am sorry," he said," that I am not myself acquainted with one of these mythical personages that I might return you the value of your marvelous information. If I dared think, however, that it would be in any way acceptable, I could offer you the diversion of a restaurant dinner-party for that night. The Duchess of Castleford has kindly offered to act as hostess for me and we are all going on to the Gaiety afterwards."
"Delightful!" Lady Maxwell exclaimed. "I should love to come."
"You have, then, dear lady, fulfilled your destiny," he said. "You have given secret information to a foreign person of mysterious identity, and accepted payment."
Now, Bernadine was a man of easy manners and unruffled composure. To the natural insouciance of his aristocratic bringing up, he had added the steely reserve of a man moving in the large world, engaged more often than not in some hazardous enterprise. Yet, for once in his life, and in the midst of the idlest of conversations, he gave himself away so utterly that even this woman with whom he was lunching - a very butterfly lady, indeed could not fail to perceive it. She looked at him in something like astonishment. Without the slightest warning his face had become set in a rigid stare, his eyes were filled with the expression of a man who sees into another world. The healthy color faded from his cheeks, he was white even to the parted lips, the wine dripped from his raised glass onto the tablecloth.
"Why, whatever is the matter with you?"she demanded. "Is it a ghost that you see?"
Bernadine's effort was superb, but he was too clever to deny the shock.
"A ghost, indeed," he answered, "the ghost of a man whom every newspaper in Europe has declared to be dead."
Her eyes followed his. The two people who were being ushered to a seat in their immediate vicinity were certainly of somewhat unusual appearance. The man was tall, and thin as a lath, and he wore the clothes of the fashionable world without awkwardness, yet with the air of one who was wholly unaccustomed to them. His cheek-bones were remarkably high, and receded so quickly towards his pointed chin that his cheeks were little more than hollows. His eyes were dry and burning, flashing here and there as though the man himself were continually oppressed by some furtive fear. His thick black hair was short cropped, his forehead high and intellectual. He was a strange figure, indeed, in such a gathering, and his companion only served to accentuate the anachronisms of his appearance. She was, above all things, a woman of the moment - fair, almost florid, a little thick-set, with tightly-laced, yet passable figure. Her eyes were blue, her hair light-colored. She wore magnificent furs, and, as she threw aside her boa, she disclosed a mass of jewelry around her neck and upon her bosom, almost barbaric in its profusion and setting.
"What an extraordinary couple!" Lady Maxwell whispered.
"The man looks as though he had stepped out of the Old Testament," he murmured.
Lady Maxwell's interest was purely feminine, and was riveted now upon the jewelry worn by the woman. Bernadine, under the mask of his habitual indifference, which had easily reassumed, seemed to be looking away out of the restaurant into the great square of a half-savage city, looking at that marvelous crowd, numbered by their thousands, even by their hundreds of thousands, of men and women whose arms flashed out toward the snow-hung heavens, whose lips were parted in one chorus of rapturous acclamation; looking beyond them to the tall, emaciated form of the bare-headed priest in his long robes, his wind-tossed hair and wild eyes, standing alone before that multitude, in danger of death, or worse, at any moment - their idol, their hero. And again, as the memories came flooding into his brain, the scene passed away, and he saw the bare room with its whitewashed walls and blocked-up windows; he felt the darkness, lit only by those flickering candles. He saw the white, passion-wrung faces of the men who clustered together around the rude table, waiting; he heard their murmurs, he saw the fear born in their eyes. It was the night when their leader did not come.
Bernadine poured himself out a glass of wine and drank it slowly. The mists were clearing away now. He was in London, at the Savoy Restaurant, and within a few yards of him sat the man with whose name all Europe once had rung - the man hailed by some as martyr, and loathed by others as the most fiendish Judas who ever drew breath. Bernadine was not concerned with the moral side of this strange encounter. How best to use his knowledge of this man's identity was the question which beat upon his brain. What use could be made of him, what profit for his country and himself? And then a fear - a sudden, startling fear. Little profit, perhaps, to be made, but the danger - the danger of this man alive with such secrets locked in his bosom! The thought itself was terrifying, and even as he realized it a significant thing happened - he caught the eye of the Baron de Grost, lunching alone at a small table just inside the restaurant.
"You are not at all amusing," his guest declared. "It is nearly five minutes since you have spoken."
"You, too, have been absorbed," he reminded her.
"It is that woman's jewels," she admitted. "I never saw anything more wonderful. The people are not English, of course. I wonder where they come from."
"One of the Eastern countries, without a doubt," he replied, carelessly.
Lady Maxwell sighed.
"He is a peculiar-looking man," she said, "but one could put up with a good deal for jewels like that. What are you doing this afternoon - picture-galleries or your club?"
"Neither, unfortunately," Bernadine answered. "I have promised to go with a friend to look at some polo ponies."
"Do you know," she remarked, "that we have never been to see those Japanese prints yet?"
"The gallery is closed until Monday," he assured her, falsely. "If you will honor me then, I shall be delighted."
She shrugged her shoulders but said nothing. She had an idea that she was being dismissed, but Bernadine, without the least appearance of hurry, gave her no opportunity for any further suggestions. He handed her into the automobile, and returned at once into the restaurant. He touched Baron de Grost upon the shoulder.
"My friend, the enemy!" he exclaimed, smiling.
"At your service in either capacity," the Baron replied. Bernadine made a grimace and accepted the chair which De Grost had indicated.
"If I may, I will take my coffee with you," he said. "I am growing old. It does not amuse me so much to lunch with a pretty woman. One has to entertain, and one forgets the serious business of lunching. I will take my coffee and cigarettes in peace.
De Grost gave an order to the waiter and leaned back in his chair.
"Now," he suggested, " tell me exactly what it is that has brought you back into the restaurant?"
Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not the pleasure of this few minutes' conversation with you?" he asked.
The Baron carefully selected a cigar, and lit it.
"That," he said, "goes well, but there are other things."
"As, for instance?"
De Grost leaned back in his chair, and watched the smoke of his cigar curl upwards.
"One talks too much," he remarked. "Before the cards are upon the table, it is not wise."
They chatted upon various matters. De Grost himself seemed in no hurry to depart, nor did his companion show any signs of impatience. It was not until the two people whose entrance had had such a remarkable effect upon Bernadine, rose to leave, that the mask was, for a moment, lifted. De Grost had called for his bill and paid it. The two men strolled out together.
"Baron," Bernadine said, suavely, linking his arm through the other man's as they passed into the foyer, "there are times when candor even among enemies becomes an admirable quality."
"Those times, I imagine," De Grost answered, grimly, "are rare. Besides, who is to tell the real thing from the false?"
"You do less than justice to your perceptions, my friend," Bernadine declared, smiling.
De Grost merely shrugged his shoulders. Bernadine persisted.
"Come," he continued, "since you doubt me, let me be the first to give you a proof that on this occasion, at any rate, I am candor itself. You had a purpose in lunching at the Savoy to-day. That purpose I have discovered by accident. We are both interested in those people." The Baron de Grost shook his head slowly.
"Really," he began -
"Let me finish," Bernadine insisted. "Perhaps when you have heard all that I have to say, you may change your attitude. We are interested in the same people, but in different ways. If we both move from opposite directions, our friend will vanish - he is clever enough at disappearing, as he has proved before. We do not want the same thing from him, I am convinced of that. Let us move together and made sure that he does not evade us."
"Is it an alliance which you are proposing?" De Grost asked, with a quiet smile.
"Why not? Enemies have united before to-day against a common foe."
De Grost looked across the palm court to where the two people who formed the subject of their discussion were sitting in a corner, both smoking, both sipping some red-colored liqueur.
"My dear Bernadine," he said, "I am much too afraid of you to listen any more. You fancy because this man's presence here was an entire surprise to you, and because you find me already on his track, that I know more than you do and that an alliance with me would be to your advantage. You would try to persuade me that your object with him would not be my object. Listen. I am afraid of you - you are too clever for me. I am going to leave you in sole possession."
De Grost's tone was final and his bow valedictory. Bernadine watched him stroll in a leisurely way through the foyer, exchanging greetings here and there with friends, watched him enter the cloakroom, from which he emerged with his hat and overcoat, watched him step into his automobile and leave the restaurant. He turned back with a clouded face, and threw himself into an easy chair.
Ten minutes passed uneventfully. People were passing backwards and forwards all the time, but Bernadine, through his half-closed eyes, did little save watch the couple in whom he was so deeply interested. At last the man rose, and, with a word of farewell to his companion, came out from the lounge, and made his way up the foyer, turning toward the hotel. He walked with quick, nervous strides, glancing now and then restlessly about him. In his eyes, to those who understood, there was the furtive gleam of the hunted man. It was the passing of one who was afraid.
The woman, left to herself, began to look around her with some curiosity. Bernadine, to whom a new idea had occurred, moved his chair nearer to hers, and was rewarded by a glance which certainly betrayed some interest. A swift and unerring judge in such matters, he came to the instant conclusion that she was not unapproachable. He acted immediately and upon impulse. Rising to his feet, he approached her, and bowed easily but respectfully.
"Madame," he said, "it is impossible that I am mistaken. I have had the pleasure, have I not, of meeting you in St. Petersburg?"
Her first reception of his coming was reassuring enough. At his mention of St. Petersburg, however, she frowned.
"I do not think so," she answered, in French. "You are mistaken. I do not know St. Petersburg."
"Then it was in Paris," Bernadine continued, with conviction. "Madame is Parisian, without a doubt."
She shook her head, smiling.
"I do not think that I remember meeting you, Monsieur," she replied, doubtfully, "but perhaps - "
She looked up, and her eyes dropped before his. He was certainly a very personable looking man, and she had spoken to no one for so many months.
"Believe me, Madame, I could not possibly be mistaken," Bernadine assured her, smoothly. "You are staying here for long?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Heaven knows!" she declared. "My husband he has, I think, what you call the wander fever. For myself, I am tired of it. In Rome we settle down, we stay five days, all seems pleasant, and suddenly my husband's whim carries us away without an hour's notice. The same thing at Monte Carlo, the same in Paris. Who can tell what will happen here? To tell you the truth, Monsieur," she added, a little archly, "I think that if he were to come back at this moment, we should probably leave England to-night."
"Your husband is very jealous?" Bernadine whispered, softly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Partly jealous, and partly, he has the most terrible distaste for acquaintances. He will not speak to strangers himself, or suffer me to do so. It is sometimes - oh! it is sometimes very triste."
"Madame has my sympathy," Bernadine assured her. "It is an impossible life - this. No husband should be so exacting."
She looked at him with her round, blue eyes, a touch of added color in her cheeks.
"If one could but cure him!" she murmured.
"I would ask your permission to sit down," Bernadine remarked, "but I fear to intrude. You are afraid, perhaps, that your husband may return."
She shook her head.
"It will be better that you do not stay," she declared. "For a moment or two he is engaged. He has an appointment in his room with a gentleman, but one never knows how long he may be."
"You have friends in London, then," Bernadine remarked, thoughtfully.
"Of my husband's affairs," the woman said, "there is no one so ignorant as I. Yet since we left our own country, this is the first time I have known him willingly speak to a soul."
"Your own country," Bernadine repeated, softly. "That was Russia, of course. Your husband's nationality is very apparent."
The woman looked a little annoyed with herself. She remained silent.
"May I not hope," Bernadine begged, "that you will give me the pleasure of meeting you again?"
She hesitated for a moment.
"He does not leave me," she replied. "I am not alone for five minutes during the day."
Bernadine scribbled the name by which he was known in that locality, on a card, and passed it to her.
"I have rooms in St. James's Street, quite close to here," he said. "If you could come and have tea with me to-day or to-morrow, it would give me the utmost pleasure."
She took the card, and crumpled it in her hand. All the time, though, she shook her head.
"Monsieur is very kind," she answered. "I am afraid - I do not think that it would be possible. And now, if you please, you must go away. I am terrified lest my husband should return."
Bernadine bent low in a parting salute.
"Madame," he pleaded, "you will come?"
Bernadine was a handsome man, and he knew well enough how to use his soft and extraordinarily musical voice. He knew very well, as he retired, that somehow or other she would accept his invitation. Even then, he felt dissatisfied and ill at ease, as he left the place. He had made a little progress, but, after all, was it worth while? Supposing that the man with whom her husband was even at this moment closeted, was the Baron de Grost! He called a taxicab and drove at once to the Embassy of his country.
Even at that moment, De Grost and the Russian - Paul Hagon he called himself - were standing face to face in the latter's sitting-room. No conventional greetings of any sort had been exchanged. De Grost had scarcely closed the door behind him before Hagon addressed him breathlessly, almost fiercely.
"Who are you, sir," he demanded, "and what do you want with me?"
"You had my letter?" De Grost inquired.
"I had your letter," the other admitted. "It told me nothing. You speak of business. What business have I with any here?"
"My business is soon told," De Grost replied, "but in the first place, I beg that you will not unnecessarily alarm yourself. There is, believe me, no need for it, no need whatever, although, to prevent misunderstandings, I may as well tell you at once that I am perfectly well aware who it is that I am addressing."
Hagon collapsed into a chair. He buried his face in his hands and groaned.
"I am not here necessarily as an enemy," De Grost continued. "You have very excellent reasons, I make no doubt, for remaining unknown in this city, or wherever you may be. As yet, let me assure you that your identity is not even suspected, except by myself and one other. Those few who believe you alive, believe that you are in America. There is no need for any one to know that Father -"
"Stop!" the man begged, piteously. "Stop!"
De Grost bowed.
"I beg your pardon," he said.
"Now tell me," the man demanded, "what is your price? I have had money. There is not much left. Sophia is extravagant and traveling costs a great deal. But why do I weary you with these things?" he added. "Let me know what I have to pay for your silence."
"I am not a blackmailer," De Grost answered, sternly. "I am myself a wealthy man. I ask from you nothing in money - I ask you nothing in that way at all. A few words of information, and a certain paper, which I believe you have in your possession, is all that I require."
"Information," Hagon repeated, shivering.
"What I ask," De Grost declared, "is really a matter of justice. At the time when you were the idol of all Russia and the leader of the great revolutionary party, you received funds from abroad."
"I accounted for them," Hagon muttered. "Up to a certain point I accounted for everything."
"You received funds from the Government of a European power," De Grost continued, "funds to be applied towards developing the revolution. I want the name of that Power, and proof of what I say."
Hagon remained motionless for a moment. He had seated himself at the table, his head resting upon his hand and his face turned away from De Grost.
"You are a politician, then?" he asked, slowly.
"I am a politician," De Grost admitted. "I represent a great secret power which has sprung into existence during the last few years. Our aim, at present, is to bring closer together your country and Great Britain. Russia hesitates because an actual rapprochement with us is equivalent to a permanent estrangement with Germany."
"I understand," he said, in a low tone. "I have finished with politics. I have nothing to say to you."
"I trust," De Grost persisted, suavely, "that you will be better advised."
Hagon turned round and faced him.
"Sir," he demanded, "do you believe that I am afraid of death?"
De Grost looked at him steadfastly.
"No," he answered, "you have proved the contrary."
"If my identity is discovered," Hagon continued, "I have the means of instant death at hand. I do not use it because of my love for the one person who links me to this world. For her sake I live, and for her sake I bear always the memory of the shameful past. Publish my name and whereabouts, if you will. I promise you that I will make the tragedy complete. But for the rest, I refuse to pay your price. A great power trusted me, and whatever its motives may have been, its money came very near indeed to freeing my people. I have nothing more to say to you, sir.
The Baron de Grost was taken aback. He had scarcely contemplated refusal.
"You must understand," he explained, "that this is not a personal matter. Even if I myself would spare you, those who are more powerful than I will strike. The society to which I belong does not tolerate failure. I am empowered even to offer you its protection, if you will give me the information for which I ask."
Hagon rose to his feet, and, before De Grost could foresee his purpose, had rung the bell.
"My decision is unchanging," he said. "You can pull down the roof upon my head, but I carry next my heart an instant and unfailing means of escape."
A waiter stood in the doorway.
"You will take this gentleman to the lift," Hagon directed.
There was once more a touch in his manner of that half divine authority which had thrilled the great multitude of his believers. De Grost was forced to admit defeat.
"Not defeat," he said to himself, as he followed the man to the lift, "only a check."
Nevertheless, it was a serious check. He could not, for the moment, see his way further. Arrived at his house, he followed his usual custom and made his way at once to his wife's rooms. Violet was resting upon a sofa, but laid down her book at his entrance.
"Violet," he declared, "I have come for your advice."
"He refuses, then?" she asked, eagerly.
"Absolutely. What am I to do? Bernadine is already upon the scent. He saw him at the Savoy to-day, and recognized him."
"Has Bernadine approached him yet?" Violet inquired.
"Not yet. He is half afraid to move. I think he realizes, or will very soon, how serious this man's existence may be for Germany."
Violet was thoughtful for several moments, then she looked up quickly.
"Bernadine will try the woman," she asserted. "You say that Hagon is infatuated?"
"Blindly," De Grost replied. "He scarcely lets her out of his sight."
"Your people watch Bernadine?"
"Very well, then," Violet went on, "you will find that he will attempt an intrigue with the woman. The rest should be easy for you."
De Grost sighed as he bent over his wife.
"My dear," he said, "there is no subtlety like the subtlety of a woman."
Bernadine's instinct had not deceived him, and the following afternoon his servant, who had already received orders, silently ushered Madame Hagon into his apartments. She was wrapped in magnificent sables and heavily veiled. Bernadine saw at once that she was very nervous and wholly terrified. He welcomed her in as matter-of-fact a manner as possible.
"Madame," he declared, "this is quite charming of you. You must sit in my easy-chair here, and my man shall bring us some tea. I drink mine always after the fashion of your country, with lemon, but I doubt whether we make it so well. Won't you unfasten your jacket? I am afraid that my rooms are rather warm."
Madame had collected herself, but it was quite obvious that she was unused to adventures of this sort. Her hand, when he took it, trembled, and more than once she glanced furtively toward the door.
"Yes, I have come," she murmured. "I do not know why. It is not right for me to come. Yet there are times when I am weary, times when Paul seems fierce and when I am terrified. Sometimes I even wish that I were back - "
"Your husband seems very highly strung," Bernadine remarked. "He has doubtless led an exciting life."
"As to that," she replied, gazing around her now and gradually becoming more at her ease, "I know but little. He was a student professor at Moschaume, when I met him. I think that he was at one of the universities in St. Petersburg."
Bernadine glanced at her covertly. It came to him as an inspiration that the woman did not know the truth.
"You are from Russia, then, after all," he said, smiling. "I felt sure of it."
"Yes," reluctantly. "Paul is so queer in these things. He will not let me talk of it. He prefers that we are taken for French people. Indeed, it is not I who desire to think too much of Russia. It is not a year since my father was killed in the riots, and two of my brothers were sent to Siberia."
Bernadine was deeply interested.
"They were among the revolutionaries?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"And your husband?"
"He, too, was with them in sympathy. Secretly, too, I believe that he worked among them. Only he had to be careful. You see, his position at the college made it difficult."
Bernadine looked into the woman's eyes and he knew then that she was speaking the truth. This man was, indeed, a great master; he had kept her in ignorance!
"Always," Bernadine said, a few minutes later, as he passed her tea, "I read with the deepest interest of the people's movement in Russia. Tell me, what became eventually of their great leader - the wonderful Father Paul?"
She set down her cup untasted, and her blue eyes flashed with a fire which turned them almost to the color of steel.
"Wonderful indeed!" she exclaimed "Wonderful Judas! It was he who wrecked the cause. It was he who sold the lives and liberty of all of us for gold."
"I heard a rumor of that," Bernadine remarked, "but I never believed it."
"It was true," she declared passionately.
"And where is he now?" Bernadine asked.
"Dead!" she answered fiercely. "Torn to pieces, we believe, one night in a house near Moscow. May it be so!"
She was silent for a moment, as though engaged in prayer. Bernadine spoke no more of these things. He talked to her kindly, keeping up always his role of respectful but hopeful admirer.
"You will come again soon?" he begged, when, at last, she insisted upon going.
"It is so difficult," she murmured. "If my husband knew - "
Bernadine laughed, and touched her fingers caressingly.
"Need one tell him?" he whispered. "You see, I trust you. I pray that you will come-"
Bernadine was a man rarely moved towards emotion of any sort. Yet even he was conscious of a certain sense of excitement, as he stood looking out upon the Embankment from the windows of Paul Hagon's sitting-room, a few days later. Madame was sitting on the sofa, close at hand. It was for her answer to a certain question that he waited.
"Monsieur," she said at last, turning slowly towards him, "it must be no. Indeed, I am sorry, for you have been very charming to me, and without you I should have been dull. But to come to your rooms and dine alone to-night, it is impossible."
"Your husband cannot return before the morning, Bernadine reminded her.
"It makes no difference," she answered. "Paul is sometimes fierce and rough, but he is generous, and all his life he has worshiped me. He behaves strangely at times, but I know that he cares - all the time more, perhaps, than I deserve."
"And there is no one else," Bernadine asked softly, "who can claim even the smallest place in your heart?"
"Monsieur," the woman begged, "you must not ask me that. I think that you had better go away."
Bernadine stood quite still for several moments. It was the climax towards which he had steadfastly guided the course of this mild intrigue.
"Madame," he declared, "you must not send me away. You shall not."
She held out her hand.
"Then you must not ask impossible things," she answered.
Then Bernadine took the plunge. He became suddenly very grave.
"Sophia," he said, "I am keeping a great secret from you and I can do it no longer. When you speak to me of your husband you drive me mad. If I believed that you really loved him, I would go away and leave it to chance whether or not you ever discovered the truth. As it is - "
"Well?" she interposed breathlessly.
"As it is," he continued, "I am going to tell you now. Your husband has deceived you - he is deceiving you every moment."
She looked at him incredulously.
"You mean that there is another woman?"
Bernadine shook his head.
"Worse than that," be answered. "Your husband stole even your love under false pretenses. You think that his life is a strange one, that his nerves have broken down, that he flies from place to place for distraction, for change of scene. It is not so. He left Rome, he left Nice, he left Paris, for one and the same reason. He left because he was in peril of his life. I know little of your history, but I know as much as this. If ever a man deserved the fate from which he flees, your husband deserves it."
"You are mad," she faltered.
"No, I am sane," he went on. "It is you who are mad, not to have understood. Your husband goes ever in fear of his life. His real name is one branded with ignominy throughout the world. The man whom you have married, to whom you are so scrupulously faithful, is the man who sent your father to death and your brothers to Siberia."
"Father Paul!" she screamed.
"You have lived with him, you are his wife," Bernadine declared.
The color had left her cheeks; her eyes, with their penciled brows, were fixed in an almost ghastly stare; her breath was coming in uneven gasps. She looked at him in silent terror.
"It is not true," she cried at last; "it cannot be true."
"Sophia," he said, "you can prove it for yourself. I know a little of your husband and his doings. Does he not carry always with him a black box which he will not allow out of his sight?"
"Always," she assented. "How did you know? By night his hand rests upon it. By day, if he goes out, it is in my charge."
"Fetch it now," Bernadine directed, "and I will prove my words."
She did not hesitate for a moment. She disappeared into the inner room; and came back, only a few moments absent, carrying in her hand a black leather despatch-box.
"You have the key?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, looking at him and trembling, "but I dare not - oh, I dare not open it!"
"Sophia," he said, "if my words are not true, I will pass out of your life for always. I challenge you. If you open that box you will know that your husband is, indeed, the greatest scoundrel in Europe."
She drew a key from a gold chain around her neck.
"There are two locks," she told him. "The other is a combination, but I know the word. Who's that?"
She started suddenly. There was a loud tapping at the door. Bernadine threw an antimacassar half over the box, but he was too late. De Grost and Hagon had crossed the threshold. The woman stood like some dumb creature. Hagon, transfixed, stood with his eyes riveted upon Bernadine, His face was distorted with passion, he seemed like a man beside himself with fury. De Grost came slowly forward into the middle of the room.
"Count von Hern," he said, "I think that you had better leave."
The woman found words.
"Not yet," she cried, "not yet! Paul, listen to me. This man has told me a terrible thing."
The breath seemed to come through Hagon's teeth like a hiss.
"He has told you!"
"Listen to me," she continued. "It is the truth which you must tell now. He says that you - you are Father Paul."
Hagon did not hesitate for a second.
"It is true," he admitted.
Then there was a silence - short, but tragical. Hagon seemed suddenly to have collapsed. He was like a man who has just had a stroke. He stood muttering to himself.
"It is the end - this - the end!" he said, in a low tone. "Sophia!"
She shrank away from him. He drew himself up. Once more the great light flashed in his face.
"It was for your sake," he said simply, "for your sake, Sophia. I came to you poor and you would have nothing to say to me. My love for you burned in my veins like fever. It was for you I did it - for your sake I sold my honor, the love of my country, the freedom of my brothers. For your sake I risked an awful death. For your sake I have lived like a hunted man, with the cry of the wolves always in my ears, and the fear of death and of eternal torture with me day by day. No other man since the world was made has done more. Have pity on me!"
She was unmoved; her face had lost all expression. No one noticed in that rapt moment that Bernadine had crept from the room.
"It was you," she cried, "who killed my father, and sent my brothers into exile."
"God help me!" he moaned.
She turned to De Grost.
"Take him away with you, please," she said. "I have finished with him."
"Sophia!" he pleaded.
She leaned across the table and struck him heavily upon the cheek.
"If you stay here," she muttered, "I shall kill you myself ... "
That night, the body of an unknown foreigner was found in the attic of a cheap lodging-house in Soho. The discovery itself and the verdict at the inquest occupied only a few lines in the morning newspapers. Those few lines were the epitaph of one who was very nearly a Rienzi. The greater part of his papers De Grost mercifully destroyed, but one in particular he preserved. Within a week the much delayed treaty was signed at Paris, London and St. Petersburg.