A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter X. Calamity Unseen
The habit of industry practised from childhood to maturity is not obliterated by an unexpected shower of gold. Dorothy was an early riser, and one morning, entering the parlor from her room she saw, lying upon the table, a letter with a Russian stamp, but addressed in an unknown hand to her friend Katherine Kempt. She surmised that here was the first communication from the Prince, and expected to learn all about it during the luncheon hour at the latest. But the morning and afternoon passed, and Katherine made no sign, which Dorothy thought was most unusual. All that day and the next Katherine went about silent, sedate and serious, never once quoting the humorous Mr. Gilbert. On the third morning Dorothy was surprised, emerging from her room, to see Katherine standing by the table, a black book in her hand. On the table lay a large package from New York, recently opened, displaying a number of volumes in what might be termed serious binding, leather or cloth, but none showing that high coloring which distinguishes the output of American fiction.
"Good-morning, Dorothy. The early bird is after the worm of science." She held forth the volume in her hand. "Steele's 'Fourteen-Weeks' Course in Chemistry,' an old book, but fascinatingly written. Dorothy," she continued with a sigh, "I want to talk seriously with you."
"About chemistry?" asked Dorothy.
"About men," said Katherine firmly, "and, incidentally, about women."
"An interesting subject, Kate, but you've got the wrong text-books. You should have had a parcel of novels instead."
Dorothy seated herself, and Katherine followed her example, Steele's "Fourteen-Weeks' Course" resting in her lap.
"Every man," began Katherine, "should have a guardian to protect him."
"From all things that are deceptive, and not what they seem."
"That sounds very sententious, Kate. What does it mean?"
"It means that man is a simpleton, easily taken in. He is too honest for crafty women, who delude him shamelessly."
"Whom have you been deluding, Kate?"
"Dorothy, I am a sneak."
"Indeed, Katherine, you are anything but that. You couldn't do a mean or ungenerous action if you tried your best."
"You think, Dorothy, I could reform?" she asked, breathlessly, leaning forward.
"Reform? You don't need to reform. You are perfectly delightful as you are, and I know no man who is worthy of you. That's a woman's opinion; one who knows you well, and there is nothing dishonest about the opinion, either, in spite of your tirade against our sex."
"Dorothy, three days ago, be the same more or less, I received a letter from John Lamont."
"Yes, I saw it on the table, and surmised it was from him."
"Did you? You were quite right. The reading of that letter has revolutionized my character. I am a changed woman, Dorothy, and thoroughly ashamed of myself. When I remember how I have deluded that poor, credulous young man, in making him believe I understood even the fringe of what he spoke about, it fills me with grief at my perfidy, but I am determined to amend my ways if hard study will do it, and when next I see him I shall talk to him worthily like a female Thomas A. Edison."
Again Dorothy laughed.
"Now, that's heartless of you, Dorothy. Don't you see I'm in deadly earnest? Must my former frivolity dog my steps through life? When I call to mind that I made fun to you of his serious purpose in life, the thought makes me cringe and despise myself."
"Nonsense, Kate, don't go to the other extreme. I remember nothing you have said that needs withdrawal. You have never made a malicious remark in your life, Kate. Don't make me defend you against yourself. You have determined, I take it, to plunge into the subjects which interest the man you are going to marry. That is a perfectly laudable ambition, and I am quite sure you will succeed."
"I know I don't deserve all that, Dorothy, but I like it just the same. I like people to believe in me, even if I sometimes lose faith in myself. May I read you an extract from his letter?"
"Don't if you'd rather not."
"I'd rather, Dorothy, if it doesn't weary you, but you will understand when you have heard it, in what a new light I regard myself."
The letter proved to be within the leaves of the late Mr. Steele's book on Chemistry, and from this volume she extracted it, pressed it for a moment against her breast with her open hand, gazing across at her friend.
"Dorothy, my first love-letter!"
She turned the crisp, thin pages, and began:
"'You may recollect that foot-note which you marked with red ink in the book you so kindly gave me on the subject of Catalysis, which did not pertain to the subject of the volume in question, and yet was so illuminative to any student of chemistry. They have done a great deal with Catalysis in Germany with amazing commercial results, but the subject is one so recent that I had not previously gone thoroughly into it.'"
Katherine paused in the reading, and looked across at her auditor, an expression almost of despair in her eloquent eyes.
"Dorothy, what under heaven is Catalysis?"
"Don't ask me," replied Dorothy, suppressing a laugh, struck by the ludicrousness of any young and beautiful woman pressing any such sentiments as these to her bosom.
"Have you ever heard of a Catalytic process, Dorothy?" beseeched Katherine. "It is one of the phrases he uses."
"Never; go on with the letter, Kate."
"'I saw at once that if I could use Catalytic process which would be instantaneous in its solidifying effect on my liquid limestone, instead of waiting upon slow evaporation, I could turn out building stone faster than one can make brick. You, I am sure, with your more alert mind, saw this when you marked that passage in red.'"
"Oh, Dorothy," almost whimpered Katherine, leaning back, "how can I go on? Don't you see what a sneak I am? It was bad enough to cozen with my heedless, random markings of the book, but to think that line of red ink might have been marked in his blood, for I nearly sent the poor boy to his death."
"Go on, Katherine, go on, go on!"
"'In my search for a Catalytic whose substance would remain unchanged after the reaction, I quite overlooked the chemical ingredients of one of the materials I was dealing with, and the result was an explosion which nearly blew the roof off the shop, and quite startled poor Drummond out of a year's growth. However, no real harm has been done, while I have been taught a valuable lesson; to take into account all the elements I am using. I must not become so intent on the subject I am pursuing as to ignore everything else.' And now, Dorothy, I want to ask you a most intimate question, which I beg of you to answer as frankly as I have confided in you."
"I know what your question is, Kate. A girl who is engaged wishes to see her friend in the same position. You would ask me if I am in love with Alan Drummond, and I answer perfectly frankly that I am not."
"You are quite sure of that, Dorothy?"
"Quite. He is the only man friend I have had, except my own father, and I willingly confess to a sisterly interest in him."
"Well, if that is all--"
"It is all, Kate. Why?"
"Because there is something about him in this letter, which I would read to you if I thought you didn't care."
"Oh, he is in love with Jack's sister, very likely. I should think that would be a most appropriate arrangement. Jack is his best friend, and perhaps a lover would weaken the influence which Tolstoi exerts over an emotional person's mind. Lieutenant Drummond, with his sanity, would probably rescue a remnant of her estates."
"Oh, well, if you can talk as indifferently as that, you are all right, Dorothy. No, there is no other woman in the case. Here's what Jack says:
"'It is amazing how little an Englishman understands people of other nations. Here is my tall friend Drummond marching nonchalantly among dangers of which he has not the least conception. The authorities whom he thinks so courteous are fooling him to the top of his bent. There is, of course, no danger of his arrest, but nevertheless the eyes of the police are upon him, and he will not believe it, any more than be will believe he is being hoodwinked by the Foreign Minister. What I fear is that he will be bludgeoned on the street some dark night, or involved in a one-sided duel. Twice I have rescued him from an imminent danger which he has not even seen. Once in a restaurant a group of officers, apparently drunk, picked a quarrel and drew swords upon him. I had the less difficulty in getting him away because he fears a broil, or anything that will call down upon him the attention of his wooden-headed cousin in the Embassy. On another occasion as we were coming home toward midnight, a perfectly bogus brawl broke out suddenly all around us. Drummond was unarmed, but his huge fists sent sprawling two or three of his assailants. I had a revolver, and held the rest off, and so we escaped. I wish he was safely back in London again.' What do you think of that, Dorothy?"
"I think exactly what Mr. Lamont thinks. Lieutenant Drummond's mission to Russia seems to me a journey of folly."
"After all, I am glad you don't care, Dorothy. He should pay attention to what Jack says, for Jack knows Russia, and he doesn't. Still, let us hope he will come safely out of St. Petersburg. And now, Dot, for breakfast, because I must get to work."
Next morning Dorothy saw a letter for herself on the table in the now familiar hand-writing, and was more relieved than perhaps she would have confessed even to her closest friend, when she saw the twopence-halfpenny English stamp on the envelope. Yet its contents were startling enough, and this letter she did not read to Katherine Kempt, but bore its anxiety alone.
DEAR MISS AMHURST:
I write you in great trouble of mind, not trusting this letter to the Russian post-office, but sending it by an English captain to be posted in London. Two days ago Jack Lamont disappeared; a disappearance as complete as if he had never existed. The night before last, about ten o'clock, I thought I heard him come into his shop below my room. Sometimes he works there till daylight, and as, when absorbed in his experiments, he does not relish interruptions, even from me, I go on with my reading until he comes upstairs. Toward eleven o'clock I thought I heard slight sounds of a scuffle, and a smothered cry. I called out to him, but received no answer. Taking a candle, I went downstairs, but everything was exactly as usual, the doors locked, and not even a bench overturned. I called aloud, but only the echo of this barn of a room replied. I lit the gas and made a more intelligent search, but with no result. I unlocked the door, and stood out in the street, which was quite silent and deserted. I began to doubt that I had heard anything at all, for, as I have told you, my nerves lately have been rather prone to the jumps. I sat up all night waiting for him, but he did not come. Next day I went, as had been previously arranged, to the Foreign Office, but was kept waiting in an anteroom for two hours, and then told that the Minister could not see me. I met a similar repulse at the Admiralty. I dined alone at the restaurant Jack and I frequent, but saw nothing of him. This morning he has not returned, and I am at my wit's end, not in the least knowing what to do. It is useless for me to appeal to the embassy of my country, for, Jack being a Russian, it has no jurisdiction. The last letter I received from you was tampered with. The newspaper extract you spoke of was not there, and one of the sheets of the letter was missing. Piffling business, I call it, this interfering with private correspondence.
Such was the last letter that Alan Drummond was ever to send to Dorothy Amhurst.