A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter XI. The Snow
Summer waned; the evenings became chill, although the sun pretended at noon that its power was undiminished. Back to town from mountain and sea shore filtered the warm-weather idlers, but no more letters came from St. Petersburg to the hill by the Hudson. So far as our girls were concerned, a curtain of silence had fallen between Europe and America.
The flat was now furnished, and the beginning of autumn saw it occupied by the two friends. Realization in this instance lacked the delight of anticipation. At last Katherine was the bachelor girl she had longed to be, but the pleasures of freedom were as Dead Sea fruit to the lips. At last Dorothy was effectually cut off from all thoughts of slavery, with unlimited money to do what she pleased with, yet after all, of what advantage was it in solving the problem that haunted her by day and filled her dreams by night. She faced the world with seeming unconcern, for she had not the right to mourn, even if she knew he were dead. He had made no claim; had asked for no affection; had written no word to her but what all the world might read. Once a week she made a little journey up the Hudson to see how her church was coming on, and at first Katherine accompanied her, but now she went alone. Katherine was too honest a girl to pretend an interest where she felt none. She could not talk of architecture when she was thinking of a man and his fate. At first she had been querulously impatient when no second communication came. Her own letters, she said, must have reached him, otherwise they would have been returned. Later, dumb fear took possession of her, and she grew silent, plunged with renewed energy into her books, joined a technical school, took lessons, and grew paler and paler until her teachers warned her she was overdoing it. Inwardly she resented the serene impassiveness of her friend, who consulted calmly with the architect upon occasion about the decoration of the church, when men's liberty was gone, and perhaps their lives. She built up within her mind a romance of devotion, by which her lover, warning in vain the stolid Englishman, had at last been involved in the ruin that Drummond's stubbornness had brought upon them both, and unjustly implicated the quiet woman by her side in the responsibility of this sacrifice. Once or twice she spoke with angry impatience of Drummond and his stupidity, but Dorothy neither defended nor excused, and so no open rupture occurred between the two friends, for a quarrel cannot be one-sided.
But with a woman of Katherine's temperament the final outburst had to come, and it came on the day that the first flurry of snow fell through the still air, capering in large flakes past the windows of the flat down to the muddy street far below. Katherine was standing by the window, with her forehead leaning against the plate glass, in exactly the attitude that had been her habit in the sewing-room at Bar Harbor, but now the staccato of her fingers on the sill seemed to drum a Dead March of despair. The falling snow had darkened the room, and one electric light was aglow over the dainty Chippendale desk at which Dorothy sat writing a letter. The smooth, regular flow of the pen over the paper roused Katherine to a frenzy of exasperation. Suddenly she brought her clenched fist down on the sill where her fingers had been drumming.
"My God," she cried, "how can you sit there like an automaton with the snow falling?"
Dorothy put down her pen.
"The snow falling?" she echoed. "I don't understand!"
"Of course you don't. You don't think of the drifts in Siberia, and the two men you have known, whose hands you have clasped, manacled, driven through it with the lash of a Cossack's whip."
Dorothy rose quietly, and put her hands on the shoulders of the girl, feeling her frame tremble underneath her touch.
"Katherine," she said, quietly, but Katherine, with a nervous twitch of her shoulders flung off the friendly grasp.
"Don't touch me," she cried. "Go back to your letter-writing. You and the Englishman are exactly alike; unfeeling, heartless. He with his selfish stubbornness has involved an innocent man in the calamity his own stupidity has brought about."
"Katherine, sit down. I want to talk calmly with you."
"Calmly! Calmly! Yes, that is the word. It is easy for you to be calm when you don't care. But I care, and I cannot be calm."
"What do you wish to do, Katherine?"
"What can I do? I am a pauper and a dependent, but one thing I am determined to do, and that is to go and live in my father's house."
"If you were in my place, what would you do Katherine?"
"I would go to Russia."
"What would you do when you arrived there?"
"If I had wealth I would use it in such a campaign of bribery and corruption in that country of tyrants that I should release two innocent men. I'd first find out where they were, then I'd use all the influence I possessed with the American Ambassador to get them set free."
"The American Ambassador, Kate, cannot move to release either an Englishman or a Russian."
"I'd do it somehow. I wouldn't sit here like a stick or a stone, writing letters to my architect."
"Would you go to Russia alone?"
"No, I should take my father with me."
"That is an excellent idea, Kate. I advise you to go north by to-night's train, if you like, and see him, or telegraph to him to come and see us."
Kate sat down, and Dorothy drew the curtains across the window pane and snapped on the central cluster of electric lamps.
"Will you come with me if I go north?" asked Kate, in a milder tone than she had hitherto used.
"I cannot. I am making an appointment with a man in this room to-morrow."
"The architect, I suppose," cried Kate with scorn.
"No, with a man who may or may not give me information of Lamont or Drummond."
Katherine stared at her open-eyed.
"Then you have been doing something?"
"I have been trying, but it is difficult to know what to do. I have received information that the house in which Mr. Lamont and Mr. Drummond lived is now deserted, and no one knows anything of its former occupants. That information comes to me semi-officially, but it does not lead far. I have started inquiry through more questionable channels; in other words, I have invoked the aid of a Nihilist society, and although I am quite determined to go to Russia with you, do not be surprised if I am arrested the moment I set foot in St. Petersburg."
"Dorothy, why did you not let me know?"
"I was anxious to get some good news to give you, but it has not come yet."
"Oh, Dorothy," moaned Katherine, struggling to keep back the tears that would flow in spite of her. Dorothy patted her on the shoulder.
"You have been a little unjust," she said, "and I am going to prove that to you, so that in trying to make amends you may perhaps stop brooding over this crisis that faces two poor lone women. You wrong the Englishman, as you call him. Jack was arrested at least two days before he was. Nihilist spies say that both of them were arrested, the Prince first, and the Englishman several days later. I had a letter from Mr. Drummond a short time after you received yours from Mr. Lamont. I never showed it to you, but now things are so bad that they cannot be worse, and you are at liberty to read the letter if you wish to do so. It tells of Jack's disappearance, and of Drummond's agony of mind and helplessness in St. Petersburg. Since he has never written again, I am sure he was arrested later. I don't know which of the two was most at fault for what you call stubbornness, but I believe the explosion had more to do with the arrests than any action of theirs."
"And I was the cause of that," wailed Katherine.
"No, no, my dear girl. No one is to blame but the tyrant of Russia. Now the Nihilists insist that neither of these men has been sent to Siberia. They think they are in the prison of 'St. Peter and St. Paul.' That information came to me to-day in the letter I was just now answering. So, Katherine, I think you have been unjust to the Englishman. If he had been arrested first, there might be some grounds for what you charge, but they evidently gave him a chance to escape. He had his warning in the disappearance of his friend, and he had several days in which to get out of St. Petersburg, but he stood his ground."
"I'm sorry, Dorothy. I'm a silly fool, and to-day, when I saw the snow-- well, I got all wrought up."
"I think neither of the men are in the snow, and now I am going to say something else, and then never speak of the subject again. You say I didn't care, and of course you are quite right, for I confessed to you that I didn't. But just imagine-- imagine-- that I cared. The Russian Government can let the Prince go at any moment, and there's nothing more to be said. He has no redress, and must take the consequences of his nationality. But if the Russian Government have arrested the Englishman; if they have put him in the prison of 'St. Peter and St. Paul,' they dare not release him, unless they are willing to face war. The Russian Government can do nothing in his case but deny, demand proof, and obliterate all chance of the truth ever being known. Alan Drummond is doomed: they dare not release him. Now think for a moment how much worse my case would be than yours, if-- if--" her voice quivered and broke for the moment, then with tightly clenched fists she recovered control of herself, and finished: "if I cared."
"Oh, Dorothy, Dorothy, Dorothy!" gasped Katherine, springing to her feet.
"No, no, don't jump at any false conclusion. We are both nervous wrecks this afternoon. Don't misunderstand me. I don't care-- I don't care, except that I hate tyranny, and am sorry for the victims of it."
"We need a sane man in the house, Kate. Telegraph for your father to come down and talk to us both. I must finish my letter to the Nihilist."
"Dorothy!" said Katherine, kissing her.