“ JOHN, dear, may I come in ? ” asked Mrs. Carvel, opening the door of her husband’s library, and standing on the threshold.
“ By all means,” exclaimed John, looking up. “Anything wrong?” he inquired, observing the expression of his wife’s face.
“John,” said Mrs. Carvel, coming near to him and laying her hand gently on his shoulder, “ tell me — do you think there is likely to be anything between Paul and Hermy ? ”
“ Gracious goodness ! what put that into your head ? ” asked Carvel.
“ I have been with Chrysophrasia ” — began Mary.
“ Chrysophrasia! Oh ! Is that it ? ” cried Jolrn in discontented tones. “ I wish Chrysophrasia would mind her own business, and not talk nonsense ! ”
“ It is nonsense, is it not ? ”
“ Of course, — absolute rubbish! I would not hear of it, to begin with ! ” he exclaimed, as though that were sufficient evidence that the thing was impossible.
“ No, indeed,” echoed Mrs. Carvel, but in more doubtful tones. “ Of course, Paul is a very good fellow. But yet ” — She hesitated. “ After all, they are cousins,” she added suddenly, “ and that is a great objection.”
“ I hope you will not think seriously of any such marriage, Mary,” said John Carvel, with great decision. “ They are cousins, and there are twenty other reasons why they should not marry.”
“ Are there ? I dare say you are right, and of course there is no probability of either of them thinking of such a thing. But after all, Paul is a very marriageable fellow, John.”
“ I would not consent to his marrying my daughter, though,” returned Carvel. “ I have no doubt it is all right about his brother, who disappeared on a dark night in Constantinople. But I would not let Hermy marry anybody who had such a story connected with his name.”
“Surely, John, you are not so unkind as to give any weight to that spiteful accusation. It was very dreadful, but there never was the slightest ground for believing that Paul had a hand in it. Even Professor Cutter, who does not like him, always said so. That was one of the principal proofs of poor Annie’s madness.”
“ I know, my dear. But to the end of time people will go on asking where Paul’s brother is, and will look suspicious when he is mentioned. Cutter, whom you quote, says the same thing, though he believes Paul perfectly innocent, as I do myself. Do you suppose I would have a man in the house whom I suspected of having murdered his brother ? ”
“ What a dreadful idea ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Carvel. “ But if you liked him very much, and wanted him to marry Hermy, would you let that silly bit of gossip stand in the way of the match ? ”
“ I don’t know what I should do. Perhaps not. But Hermy shall marry whom she pleases, provided she marries a gentleman. She has no more idea of marrying Paul than Chrysophrasia has, or than Paul has of marrying her. Besides, she is far too young to think of such things.”
“ Really, John, Hermy is nineteen. She is nearly twenty.”
“ My dear,” retorted Carvel, “ you will make me think you want them to marry.”
“ Nonsense, John ! ”
“Well, nonsense, if you like. But Chrysophrasia has been putting this ridiculous notion into your head. I believe she is in love with Paul herself.”
“ Oh, John ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Carvel, smiling at the idea.
But John rose from his chair, and indulged in a hearty laugh at the thought of Chrysophrasia’s affection for Patoff. Then he stirred the fire vigorously, till the coals broke into a bright blaze.
“ Annie is better,” he said presently, without looking round. “ You know she recognized Paul, and Griggs thought she knew him, too, when he went in with Cutter, the other night.”
“Would you like me to go and see her to-day ? ” asked Mrs. Carvel. Her husband had already told her the news, and seemed to be repeating it now out of sheer satisfaction.
“Perhaps she may know you,” he answered. “ Have you seen Mrs. North this morning ? ”
“Yes. She says Annie has not slept very well since that day.”
“ The meeting excited her. Better wait a day or two longer, before doing anything else. At any rate, we ought to ask Cutter before making another experiment.”
“ Why did you not go to the meet today ? ” asked Mrs. Carvel suddenly.
“ I wanted to have a morning at my books,” answered John. His wife took the answer as a hint to go away, and presently left the room, feeling that her mind had been unnecessarily troubled by her sister. But in her honest self-examination, when she had returned to her own room and to the perusal of Jeremy Taylor’s sermons, she acknowledged to herself that she had a liking for Paul Patoff, and that she could not understand why both her sister and her husband should at the very beginning scout the idea of his marrying Hermione. Of course there was not the slightest reason for supposing that Hermione liked him at all. but there was nothing to show that she would not like him hereafter.
Late in the afternoon we three came back from our long day with the hounds, hungry and thirsty and tired. When I came down from my room to get some tea, I found that Patoff had been quicker than I; he was already comfortably installed by the fireside, with Fang at his feet, while Hermione sat beside him. Mrs. Carvel was at the teatable, at some little distance, with her work in her hands, but neither John nor Chrysophrasia was in the room. As I sat down and began to drink my tea, I watched Paul’s face, and it seemed to me that he had changed since I had seen him in Teheran, six months ago. I had not liked him much. I am not given to seeking acquaintance, and had certainly not sought his, but in the Persian capital one necessarily knew every one in the little European colony, and I had met him frequently. I had then been struck by the stony coldness which appeared to underlie his courteous manner, and I had thought it was part of the strange temper he was said to possess. Treating his colleagues and all whom he met with the utmost affability, never sullenly silent and often even brilliant in conversation, he nevertheless had struck me as a man who hated and despised his fellow-creatures. There had been then a sort of scornful, defiant look on his large features, which inevitably repelled a stranger until he began to talk. But he understood eminently the science of making himself agreeable, and, when he chose, few could so well lead conversation without imposing themselves upon their hearers. I well remembered the disdainful coldness of Ids face when he was listening to some one else, and I recollected how oddly it contrasted with his courteous and forbearing speech. He would look at a man who made a remark with a cynical stare, and then in the very next moment would agree with him, and produce excellent arguments for doing so. One felt that the man’s own nature was at war with itself, and that, while forcing himself to be sociable, he despised society. It was a thing so evident that I used to avoid looking at him, because his expression was so unpleasant.
But as I saw him seated by Hermione’s side, playing with the great hound at his feet, and talking quietly with his companion, I was forcibly struck by the change. His face could not be said to have softened ; but instead of the cold, defiant sneer which had formerly been peculiar to him, his look was now very grave, and from time to time a pleasant light passed quickly over his features. Watching him now, I could not fancy him either violent or eccentric in temper, as he was said to be. It was as though the real nature of the man had got the better of some malady.
“ This is like home,”I heard him say. “ How happy you must be ! ”
“ Yes, I am very happy,” answered Hermione. “ I have only one unhappiness in my life.”
“ What is that ? ”
“ Poor aunt Annie,” said the girl. “ I am so dreadfully sorry for her.” The words were spoken in a low tone, and Mrs. Carvel said something to me just then, so that I could not hear Patoff’s answer. But while talking with my hostess I noticed his earnest manner, and that he seemed to be telling some story which interested Hermione intensely. His voice dropped to a lower key, and I heard no more, though he talked for a long time, as I thought. Then Macaulay Carvel and Professor Cutter entered the room. I saw Cutter look at the pair by the fire, and, after exchanging a few words with Mrs. Carvel, he immediately joined them. Paul’s face assumed suddenly the expression of stony indifference, once so familiar to me, and I did not hear his voice again. It struck me that his more gentle look might have been wholly due to the pleasure he took in Hermione’s society; but I dismissed the idea as improbable.
Macaulay sat down by his mother, and began telling the incidents of the day’s hunting in his smooth, unmodulated voice. He was altogether smooth and unmodulated in appearance, in conversation, and in manner, and he reminded me more of a model schoolboy, rather vain of his acquirements and of the favor he enjoyed in the eyes of his masters, than of a grown Englishman. It would be impossible to imagine a greater contrast than that which existed between the two cousins, and, little as I was inclined to like Patoff at first, I was bound to acknowledge that he was more manly, more dignified, and altogether more attractive than Macaulay Carvel. It was strange that the sturdy, active, intelligent John should have such a son, although, on looking at the mother, one recognized the sweet smile and gentle features, the dutiful submission and quiet feminine forbearance, which, in her face, so well expressed her character.
But in spite of the vast difference between them in temperament, appearance, and education, Macaulay was destined to play a small part in Patoff’s life. He had from the first taken a fancy to his big Russian cousin, and admired him with all his heart. Paul seemed to be his ideal, probably because he differed so much from himself ; and though Macaulay felt it was impossible to imitate him, he was content to give him his earnest admiration. It was to be foreseen that if Paul fell in love with Hermione he would find a powerful ally in her brother, who was prepared to say everything good about him, and to extol his virtues to the skies. Indeed, it was likely that during their short acquaintance Macaulay had only seen the best points in his cousin’s character; for the principal sins imputed to Patoff were his violence of temper and his selfishness, and it appeared to me that he had done much to overcome both since I had last seen him. It is probable that in the last analysis, if this reputation could have been traced to its source, it would have been found to have arisen from the gossip concerning his quarrel with his brother in Constantinople, and from his having once or twice boxed tlie ears of some lazy Persian servant in Teheran. None of the Carvel family knew much of Paul’s antecedents. His mother never spoke, and before she was brought home in her present state, by Professor Cutter, there had been hardly any communication between her and her sisters since her marriage. Time had effaced the remembrance of what they had called her folly when she married Patoff, but the breach had never been healed. Mrs. Carvel had made one or two efforts at reconciliation, but they had been coldly received ; she was a timid woman, and soon gave up the attempt. It was not till poor Madame Patoff was brought home hopelessly insane, and Macaulay had conceived an unbounded admiration for his cousin, that the old affection was revived, and transferred in some degree to this son of the lost sister.
As I sat with Mrs. Carvel listening to Macaulay’s nerveless, conscientious description of the day’s doings, I thought over all these things, and wondered what would happen next.
The days passed much as usual at Carvel Place after the first excitement of Paul’s arrival had worn off; but I regretted that I saw less of Hermione than formerly, though I found Cutter’s society very interesting. Remembering my promise to see Madame Patoff again, I visited her once more, but, to my great disappointment, she seemed to have forgotten me ; and though I again spoke to her in Russian, she gave no answer to my questions, and after a quarter of an hour I retired, much shaken in my theory that she was not really as mad as was supposed. It was reserved for some one else to break the spell, if it could be broken at all, and I felt the hopelessness of making any further attempt. Though I was not aware of it at the time, I afterwards learned that Paul visited her again within a week of his arrival. She behaved very much as on the first occasion, it appears, except that her manner was more violent than before, so that Cutter deemed it imprudent to repeat the experiment.
One morning, three weeks after the events last recorded, I was walking with Hermione in the garden. She was as fond of me as ever, though we now saw little of each other. But this morning she had seen me alone among the empty flower-beds, smoking a solitary cigar after breakfast, and, having nothing better to do, she wrapped herself in a fur cloak and came out to join me. For a few minutes we talked of the day, and of the prospect of an early spring, though we were still in January. People always talk of spring before the winter is half over. I said I wondered whether Paul would stay to the end of the hunting season.
“ I hope so,” said Hermione.
“ By the bye,” 1 remarked, “ you seem to have overcome your antipathy for your cousin. You are very good friends.”
“ Yes, be is interesting,” she answered. “ I wonder ” — She paused, and looked at me rather wistfully. “ Have you known him long ? ” she asked, suddenly.
“ Not very long.”
“ Do you know anything of his past life?”
“ Nothing,” I answered. “ Nobody does, I fancy, unless it be Professor Cutter.”
“ He has been very unhappy, I should think,” she said, presently.
“ Has he ? Has he told you so ? ” I resented the idea of Paul’s confiding his woes, if he had any, to the lovely girl I had known from a child. It is too common a way of making love.
“ No — that is—yes. He told me about his childhood; how his brother was the favorite, and he was always second best, and it made him very unhappy.”
“ Indeed ! ” I ejaculated, indifferently enough. I knew nothing about his brother except that he was dead, or had disappeared and was thought to be dead. The story had never reached my ears, and I did not know anything about the circumstances.
“ How did his brother die ? ” I asked.
“ Oh, he is dead,” answered Hermione gravely. “ He died in the East eighteen months ago. Aunt Annie worshiped him; it was his death that affected her mind. At least, I believe so. Professor Cutter says it is something else, — something connected with cousin Paul; but papa seems to think it was Alexander’s death.”
“ What does the professor say ? ” I inquired.
“ He will not tell me. He is a very odd person. He says it is something about Paul, and that it is not nice, and that papa would not like me to know it. And then papa tells me that it was only Alexander’s death.”
“ That is very strange,” I said. “ If I were you, I would believe your father rather than the professor.”
“ Of course ; how could I help believing papa ? ” Hermione turned her beautiful blue eyes full upon my face, as though wondering at the simplicity of my remark. Of course she believed her father.
“ You would not think Paul capable of doing anything not nice, would you ? ” I asked.
Hermione blushed, and looked away towards the distant woods.
“ I think he is very nice,” she said. _
I am Hermione’s old friend, but I saw that I had no right to press her with questions. No friendship gives a man the right to ask the confidence of a young girl, and, moreover, it was evident from her few words and from the blush which accompanied them that this was a delicate subject. If any one were to speak to her, it must be her father. As far as I knew there was no reason why she should not love her cousin Paul, if she admired him half as much as her brother was inclined to do.
“ There is only one thing about him which I cannot understand,” she continued, after a short pause. “ He seems not to care in the least for his mother ; and yet,” she added thoughtfully, “ I cannot believe that he is heartless. I suppose it is because she did not treat him well when he was a child. I cannot think of any other reason.”
“No,” I echoed mechanically, “ I cannot think of any other reason.”
And indeed I could not. I had known nothing of his unhappy childhood before Hermione had told me of it, and though that did not afford a sufficient explanation of his evident indifference in regard to his mother, it was better than nothing. The whole situation seemed to me to be wrapped in impenetrable mystery, and I was beginning to despair of ever understanding what was going on about me. John Carvel treated me most affectionately, and delighted in entrapping me into the library to talk about books ; but he scarcely ever referred to Madame Patoff. Cutter would walk or ride with me for hours, talking over the extraordinary cases of insanity he had met with in his experience; but he never would give me the least information in regard to the events which had preceded the accident at Weissenstein. I was entirely in the dark.
A catastrophe was soon to occur, however, which led to my acquaintance with all the details of Alexander’s disappearance in Stamboul. I will tell what happened as well as I can from what was afterwards told me by the persons most concerned.
A week after my conversation with Hermione. the train was fired which led to a very remarkable concatenation of circumstances. You have foreseen that Paul would fall in love with his beautiful young cousin. Chrysophrasia foresaw it from the first moment of his appearance at Carvel Place, with that keen scent for romance which sometimes characterizes romantic old maids. If I were telling you a love story, I could make a great deal out of Paul’s courtship. But this is the history of the extraordinary things which befell Paul Patoff, and for the present it is sufficient to say that he was in love with Hermione, and that he had never before cared seriously for any woman. He was cold by nature, and his wandering life as a diplomatist, together with his fixed determination to excel in his career, had not been favorable to the development of love in his heart. The repose of Carvel Place, the novelty of the life, and the comparative freedom from all responsibility had relaxed the hard shell of his sensibilities, and the beauty and grace of Hermione had easily fascinated him. She, on her part, had distinguished with a woman’s natural instinct the curious duality of his character. The grave, powerful, dominating man attracted her very forcibly; the cold, impenetrable, apparently heartless soul, on the other hand, repelled her, and almost inspired her with horror when it showed itself.
One afternoon in the end of January, Paul and Hermione were walking in the park. The weather was raw and gusty, and the ground hard frozen. They had been merely strolling up and down before the house, as they often did, but, being in earnest conversation, had forgotten at last to turn back, and had gone on along the avenue, till they were far from the old mansion, and quite out of sight. They had been talking of Paul’s approaching departure, and they were both in low spirits at the prospect.
“ I am like those patches of snow,” said Paul. “ The clouds drop me in a beautiful place, and I feel very comfortable ; and then I have to melt away again, and the clouds pick me up and carry me a thousand miles off, and drop me somewhere else. I wish they would leave me alone for a while.”
“ Yes,” said Hermione. “ I wish you could stay with us longer.”
“ It is of no use to wish,” answered Paul bitterly. “ I am always wishing for things I cannot possibly have. I would give anything to stay here. I have grown so fond of you all, and you have all been so kind to me — it is very hard to go, Hermione ! ”
He looked almost tenderly at the beautiful girl beside him, as he spoke. But she looked down, so that he could hardly see her face at all.
“ I have never before felt as though I were at home,” he continued. “ I never had much of a home at the best. Latterly I have had none at all. I had almost forgotten the idea when I came to England. It is hard to think how soon I must forget it again, and all the dear people I have known here.”
“ You must not quite forget us,” said Hermione. Her voice trembled a little.
“ I will never forget you — Hermione — for I love you with all my heart.”
He took her little gloved hand in his, and held it tightly. They stood still in the midst of the lonely park. Hermione blushed like an Alp-rose in the snow, and turned her head away from him. But her lip quivered slightly, and she left her hand in his.
“ I love you, my darling,” he repeated, drawing her to him, till her head rested for a moment on his shoulder. “ I cannot live without you, — I cannot leave you.”
Wliat could she do ? When he spoke in that tone his voice was so very gentle ; she loved him, and she was under the fascination of his love. She said nothing, but she looked up into his face, and her blue eyes saw themselves in his. Then she bent her head and hid her face against his coat, and her small hand tightened convulsively upon his fingers.
“ Do you really love me ? ” he asked as he bent down and kissed her white forehead.
“You know I do,” she answered in a low voice.
That was all they said, I suppose. But it was quite enough. When a man and a woman have told each other their love, there is little more to say. They probably say it again, and repeat it in different keys and with different modulations. I can imagine that a man in love might find many pretty expressions, but the gist of the thing is the same. Model conversation as follows, in fugue form, for two voices : —
He. I love you. Do you love me ? (Theme.)
She. Very much. I love you more than you love me. (Answer.)
He. No. I love you most. (Subtheme.)
She. Not more. That is impossible. (Sub-answer.)
He and She. Then we love each other very much. (A due voci.)
She. Yes. But I am not sure that you can love me as much as I do you. (Stretto.) Etc., etc., etc.
By using these simple themes you may easily write a series of conversations in at least twenty-four keys, on the principle of Bach’s Wohltemperirtes Klavier, but your fugues must be composed for two voices only, unless you are very clever. A third voice increases the difficulty, a fourth causes a high degree of complication, five voices are distracting, and six impossible.
It is certain that when Paul and Hermione returned from their walk they had arranged matters to their own satisfaction, or had at least settled the preliminaries. 1 think every one noticed the change in their manner. Hermione was radiant, and talked better than I had ever heard her talk before. Paul was quiet, even taciturn, but his silence was evidently not due to bad temper. His expression was serene and happy, and the cold look seemed to have left his face forever. His peace of mind, however, was destined to be short-lived.
Chrysophrasia and Professor Cutter watched the couple with extreme interest when they appeared at tea, and each arrived at the same conclusion. They had probably expected for a long time what had now occurred, and, as they were eagerly looking for some evidence that their convictions were well founded, they did not overlook the sudden change of manner which succeeded the walk in the park. They did not communicate their suspicions to each other, however. Chrysophrasia had protested again and again to Mary Carvel and to John that things were going too far. But Paul was a favorite with the Carvels, and they refused to see anything in his conduct which could be interpreted to mean love for Hermione. Chrysophrasia resolved at once to throw a bomb into the camp, and to enjoy the effect of the explosion.
Cutter’s position was more delicate. He was very fond of John, and was, moreover, his guest. It was not his business to criticise what occurred in the house. He was profoundly interested in Madame Patoff, but he did not like Paul. Indeed, in his inmost heart he had never settled the question of Alexander’s disappearance from the world, and in his opinion Paul Patoff was a man accused of murder, who had not sufficiently established his innocence. In his desire to be wholly unprejudiced in judging mankind and their mental aberrations, he did not allow that the social position of the individual was in itself a guarantee against committing any crime whatever. On the contrary, he had found reason to believe, from his own experience, that people belonging to the higher classes have generally a much keener appreciation of the construction which will be put upon their smallest actions, and are therefore far more ingenious in concealing their evil deeds than the common ruffian could possibly be. John Carvel would have said that it was impossible that a gentleman should murder his brother. Professor Cutter said it was not only possible, but, under certain circumstances, very probable. It must also be remembered that he had got most of his information concerning Paul from Madame Patoff and from Alexander, who both detested him, in the two summers when he had met the mother and son at Wiesbaden. His idea of Paul’s character had therefore received a bias from the first, and was to a great extent unjust. Conceiving it possible that Patoff might be responsible for his brother’s death, he therefore regarded the prospect of Paul’s marriage with Hermione with the strongest aversion, though he could not make up his mind to speak to John Carvel on the subject. He had told the whole story to him eighteen months earlier, when he had brought home Madame Patoff; and he had told it without ornament, leaving John to judge for himself. But at that time there had been no prospect whatever of Paul’s coming to Carvel Place. Cutter might easily have turned his story in such a way as to make Paul look guilty, or at least so as to cast a slight upon his character. But he had given the plain facts as they occurred. John had said the thing was absurd, and a great injustice to the young man ; and he had, moreover, told his wife and sister, as well as Cutter, that Hermione was never to know anything of the story. It was not right, he said, that the young girl should ever know that any member of the family had even been suspected of such a crime. She should grow up in ignorance of it, and it was not untruthful to say that Madame Patoff’s insanity had been caused by Alexander’s death.
But now Cutter regretted that he had not put the matter in a stronger light from the first, giving John to understand that Paul had never really cleared himself of the imputation. The professor did not know what to do, and would very likely have done nothing at all, had Miss Dabstreak not fired the mine. He had, indeed, endeavored to stop the progress of the attachment, but, in attempting always to intervene as a third person in their conversations, he had roused Paul’s obstinacy instead of interrupting his love-making. And Paul was a very obstinate man.
As we sat at dinner that evening, the conversation turned upon general topics. Chrysophrasia sat opposite to Paul, as usual, and her green eyes watched him with interest for some time. As luck would have it, our talk approached the subject of crime in general, and John Carvel asked me some question about the average number of murders in India, taking ten years together, as compared with the number committed in Europe. While I was hesitating and trying to recollect some figures I had once known, Chrysophrasia rushed into the conversation in her usual wild way.
“ I think murders are so extremely interesting,” said she to Patoff. “ I always wonder what it must be like to commit one, don’t you ? ”
“No,” said Paul, quietly. “I confess that I do not generally devote much thought to the matter. Murder is not a particularly pleasant subject for contemplation.”
“ Oh, do you think so ? ” answered Chrysophrasia. “Of course not pleasant, no, but so very interesting. I read such a delightfully thrilling account this morning of a man who killed his own brother, — quite like Cain.”
Paul made no answer, and continued to eat his dinner in silence. Though at that time I knew nothing of his story, I remember noticing how Professor Cutter slowly turned his face towards Patoff, and the peculiar expression of his gray eyes as I saw them through the goldrimmed spectacles. Then he looked at John Carvel, who grew very red in the pause which followed. Mrs. Carvel looked down at her plate, and her features showed that her sister’s remark had given her some pain; for she was quite incapable of concealing her slightest emotions, like many extremely truthful and sensitive people. But Chrysophrasia had launched herself, and was not to be silenced by an awkward pause. Not understanding the situation in the least, I nevertheless tried to relieve the unpleasantness by answering her.
“ I think it is a great mistake that the newspapers should publish the horrible details of every crime committed,” I said. “ It is bad for the public morals, and worse for the public taste.”
“ Really, we must be allowed some emotion,” answered Chrysophrasia. “ It is so very thrilling to read about such cases. Now I can quite well imagine what it must be like to kill somebody, and then to hear every one saying to me, ‘ Where is thy brother ? ’ Poor Cain ! He must have had the most deliciously complicated feelings ! ”
She fixed her green eyes on Paul so intently as she spoke that I looked at him, too, and was surprised to see that he was very pale. He said nothing, however, but he looked up and returned her gaze. His cold blue eyes glittered disagreeably. At that moment, John Carvel, who was redder than ever, addressed me in loud tones. I thought his voice had an artificial ring in it as he spoke.
“Well, Griggs,” he cried, “without going into the question of Cain and Abel, can you tell me anything about the figures ? ”
I said something. I gave some approximate account, and, speaking loudly, I ran on readily with a long string of statistics, most of them, I grieve to say, manufactured on the spur of the moment. But I knew that Carvel was not listening, and did not care what I said. Hermione was watching Paul with evident concern ; Mrs. Carvel and Macaulay at once affected the greatest interest in what I was saying, while Professor Cutter looked at Chrysophrasia, as though trying to attract her attention.
“ What a wonderful memory you have, Mr. Griggs ! ” said Macaulay Carvel, in sincere admiration.
“ Oh, not at all,” I answered, with perfect truth. “ Statistics of that kind are very easily got.”
By this time the awkwardness had disappeared, and by dint of talking very loud and saying a great many things which meant very little, John and I succeeded in making the remainder of the dinner pass off very well. But every one seemed to be afraid of Chrysophrasia, and when, once or twice, she was on the point of making a remark there was a general attempt made to prevent her from leading the conversation. As soon as dinner was over we scattered in all directions, like a flock of sheep. Chrysophrasia retired to her room. John Carvel went to the library, whither his wife followed him in a few minutes. Macaulay, Patoff, and I went to the smoking-room, contrary to all precedent; but as Macaulay led the way, we followed with delight. The result of this general separation was that Hermione and Professor Cutter were left alone in the drawing-room.
“ I want to ask you a question,” said the young girl, as they stood before the great fireplace.
“ Yes,” answered the scientist, anticipating trouble. “ I am at your service.”
“ Why did Paul turn so pale when aunt Chrysophrasia talked about Cain at dinner, and why did everybody feel so uncomfortable ? ”
“ It is not surprising. But I cannot tell you the story.”
“ You must,” said Hermione, growing pale, and laying her hand upon his arm. “ I must know. I insist that you shall tell me.”
“If I tell you, will you promise not to blame me hereafter ? ” asked Cutter.
“ Certainly, — of course. Please go on.”
“ Do not be shocked. There is no truth in the story, I fancy. When Alexander Patoff was lost on a dark night in Constantinople, the world said that Paul had made away with him. That is all.”
Hermione did not scream nor faint, as Cutter had expected. The blood rushed to her face, and then sank again as suddenly. She steadied herself with one hand on the chimney-piece before she answered.
“ What a horrible, infamous lie ! ” she exclaimed in low tones.
“ You insisted upon knowing it, Miss Carvel,” said the professor quietly. “You must not blame me for telling you. After all, it was as well that you should know it.”
“ Yes — it was as well.” She turned away, and with bent head left the room. So it came about that both Chrysophrasia and Cutter on the same evening struck a blow at the new-found happiness of the cousins, raising between them, as it were, the spectre of the lost man.
After what had occurred in the afternoon, Paul had intended to seek a formal interview with John Carvel. He had no intention of keeping his engagement a secret, and indeed he already felt that, according to his European notions, he had done wrong in declaring his love to Hermione before asking her father’s consent. It had been an accident, and he regretted it. But after the scene at the dinner-table, he felt that he must see Hermione again before going to her father. Chrysophrasia’.s remarks had been so evidently directed against him that he had betrayed himself, and he knew that Hermione had noticed his expression, as well as the momentary stupefaction which had chilled the whole party. He had no idea whether Hermione had ever heard his story or not. She had of course never referred to it, and he thought it was now his duty to speak to her, to ascertain the extent of her information, and, if necessary, to tell her all the circumstances ; honestly avowing that, although he had never been accused openly of his brother’s death except by his mother, he knew that many persons had suspected him of having been voluntarily concerned in it. He would state the case plainly, and she might then decide upon her own course. But the question, “Where is your brother ? ” had been asked again, and he was deeply wounded, — far more deeply than he would acknowledge to himself. As we three sat together in the smokingroom, keeping up a dry, strained conversation, the old expression returned to his face, and I watched him with a kind of regret as I saw the cold, defiant look harden again, where lately there had been nothing but gentleness.
Hermione left the drawing-room, and glided through the hall towards the passage which led to Madame Patoff’s rooms. She had formed a desperate resolution, — one of those which must be carried out quickly, or not at all. Mrs. North, the nurse, opened the door at the end of the corridor, and admitted the young girl.
“ Can I see my aunt ? ” asked Hermione, trying to control her voice.
“ Has anything happened, Miss Carvel?” inquired Mrs. North, scrutinizing her features and noticing her paleness.
“No—yes, dear Mrs. North, something has happened. I want to see aunt Annie,” answered Hermione. “ Do let me go in ! ”
The nurse did not suppose that anything Hermione could say would rouse Madame Patoff from her habitual apathy. After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded, and opened the door into the sitting-room. Hermione passed her in silence, and entered, closing the door behind her. Her aunt sat as usual in a deep chair near the fire, beneath the brilliant light, the rich folds of her sweeping gown gathered around her, her face pale and calm, holding a book upon her knee. She did not look up as the young girl came in, but an uneasy expression passed over her features. Hermione had never believed that Madame Patoff was mad, in spite of Professor Cutter’s assurances to the contrary. On this occasion she resolved to speak as though her aunt were perfectly sane.
“ Dear aunt Annie,” she began, sitting down beside the deep chair, and laying her hand on Madame Patoff’s apathetic fingers, — “ dear aunt Annie, I have something to tell you, and I am sure you will listen to me.”
“ Yes,” answered the lady, in her mechanical voice.
“ Aunt Annie, Paul is still here. I love him, and we are going to be married.”
“ No,” said Madame Patoff, in the same tone as before. Hermione’s heart sank, for her aunt did not seem to understand in the least. But before she could speak again, a curious change seemed to come over the invalid’s face. The features were drawn into an expression of pain, such as Hermione had never seen there before, the lip trembled hysterically, the blood rushed to her face, and Madame Patoff suddenly broke into a fit of violent weeping. The tears streamed down her cheeks, bursting between her fingers as she covered her eyes. She sobbed as though her heart would break, rocking herself backwards and forwards in her chair. Hermione was frightened, and rose to call Mrs. North ; but to her extreme surprise her aunt put out her hand, all wet with tears, and held her hack.
“No, no,” she moaned, “let me cry.”
For several minutes nothing was heard in the room but her passionate sobs. It seemed as though they would never stop, and again Hermione would have called the nurse, but again Madame Patoff prevented her.
“ Aunt Annie, — dear aunt Annie ! ” said the young girl, trying to soothe her, and laying her hand upon the thick gray hair. “What is the matter? Can I do nothing ? I cannot bear to see you cry like this ! ”
Gradually the hysteric emotion spent itself, and Madame Patoff grew more calm. Then she spoke, and, to Hermione’s amazement, she spoke connectedly.
“ Hermione, you must not betray my secret, — you will not betray me ? Swear that you will not, my child! ” She was evidently suffering some great emotion.
“ Aunt Annie,” said Hermione in the greatest excitement, “ you are not mad ! I always said you were not! ”
Madame Patoff shook her head sorrowfully.
“ No, child, I am not mad, — I never was. I am only unhappy. I let them think so, because I am so miserable, and I can live alone, and perhaps die very soon. But you have found me out.”
Again it seemed as though she would burst into tears. Hermione hastened to reassure her, not knowing what she said, in the anxiety of the moment.
“ You are safe with me, aunt Annie. I will not tell. But why, why have you deceived them all so long, a year and a half, — why ? ”
“ I am the most wretched woman alive,” moaned Madame Patoff. Then, looking suddenly into Hermione’s eyes, she spoke in low, distinct tones. “ You cannot marry Paul, Hermione. You must never think of it again. You must promise me never to think of it.”
“ I will not promise that,” answered the young girl, summoning all her courage. “ It is not true that he killed his brother. You never believed it, — nobody ever believed it! ”
“ It is true — true — truer than anything else can be ! ” exclaimed Madame Patoff, lowering her voice to a strong, clear whisper.
“ No,” said Hermione. “ You are wrong, aunt Annie ; it is an abominable lie.”
“ I tell you I know it is true,” retorted her aunt, still whispering, but emphasizing every word with the greatest decision. " If you do not believe it, go to him and say, ‘ Paul, where is your brother ? ’ and you will see how he will look.”
“ I will. I will ask him, and I will tell you what he says.”
“ He murdered him, Hermione,” continued Madame Patoff, not heeding the interruption. " He murdered him in Constantinople,— he and a Turkish soldier whom lie hired. And now he has come here to marry you. He thinks I am mad — he is the worst man that ever lived. You must never see him again. There is blood on his hands, — blood, do you hear ? Rather than that you should love him, I will tell them all that I am a sane woman. I will confess that I have imposed upon them in order to be alone, to die in peace, or, while I live to mourn for my poor murdered boy, — the boy I loved. Oh ! how I loved him ! ”
This time her tears could not be controlled, and at the thought of Alexander she sobbed again, as she had sobbed before. Hermione was too much astonished and altogether thrown off her mental balance to know what to do. Her amazement at discovering that her aunt had for more than a year imposed upon Professor Cutter and upon the whole household was almost obliterated in the horror inspired by Madame Patoff’s words. There was a conviction in her way of speaking which terrified Hermione, and for a moment she was completely unnerved.
Meanwhile, Madame Patoffs tears ceased again. In the strange deception she had practiced upon all around her for so long, she had acquired an extraordinary command of her features and voice. It was only Hermione’s discovery which had thrown her off her guard, and once feeling that the girl knew her secret, she had perhaps enjoyed the luxury of tears and of expressed emotion. But this stage being past, she regained her self-control. She had meditated so long on the death of her eldest son that the mention of his name had ceased to affect her, and though she had been betrayed into recognizing Paul, she had cleverly resumed her play of apathetic indifference so soon as he had left her. Had Hermione known of the early stages which had led to her present state, she would have asked herself how Madame Patoff could have suddenly begun to act her part so well as to deceive even Professor Cutter from the first. But Hermione knew nothing of all those details. She only realized that her aunt was a perfectly sane woman, and that she had fully confirmed the fearful accusation against Paul.
“ Go now, my child,” said Madame Patoff. “ Remember your promise. Remember that I am a wretched old woman, come here to be left alone, to die. Remember what I have told you, and beware of being deceived. You love a murderer — a murderer — remember that.”
Hermione stood a moment and gazed at her aunt’s face, grown calm and almost beautiful again. Her tears had left no trace, her thick gray hair was as smooth as ever, her great dark eyes were deep and full of light. Then, without another word, the young girl turned away and left the room, closing the door behind her, and nodding a good-night to Mrs. North, who sat by her lamp in the outer room, gray and watchful as ever.
If her aunt was sane, was she human ? The question suggested itself to Hermione’s brain, as she walked along the passage ; but she had not time to frame an answer. As she went out into the hall she saw Paul standing by the huge carved fireplace, his back turned towards her, his tall figure thrown into high relief by the leaping flames. She went up to him, and as he heard her step he started and faced her. He had finished his cigar with us, and was about to go quietly to his room in search of solitude, when he had paused by the hall fire. His face was very sad as he looked up.
“Paul,” said the young girl, taking both his hands and looking into his eyes, “ I believe in you, — you could not do anything wrong. People would never suspect you if you answered them, if you would only take the trouble to defend yourself.”
“ Defend myself ? ” repeated Paul. “ Against what, Hermione ? ”
“ When people say, ‘ Where is your brother ? ’ — or mean to say it, as aunt Chrysophrasia did this evening, — you ought to answer ; you ought not to turn pale and be silent.”
“You too!” groaned the unhappy man, looking into her eyes. “ You too, my darling ! Ah, no ! It is too much.” He dropped her hands, and turned again, leaning on the chimney-piece.
“ How can you think I believe it ? Oh, Paul! how unkind ! ” exclaimed Hermione, clasping her hands upon his shoulder, and trying to look at his averted face. “ I never, never believed it, dear. But no one else must believe it either ; you must make them not believe it.”
“ My dearest,” said Paul, almost sternly, but not unkindly, “ this thing has pursued me for a long time. I thought it was dead. It has come between you and me on the very day of our happiness. You say you believe in me. I say you shall not believe in me without proof. Good-by, love, — goodby!”
He drew her to him and kissed her once; then he tried to go.
“ Paul,” she cried, holding him, “ where are you going ? ” She was terrified by his manner.
“ I am going away,” he said slowly. “ I will find my brother, or his body, and I will not come back until then.”
“ But you must not go ! I cannot bear to let you go! ” she cried, in agonized tones.
“ You must,” he answered, and the color left his cheeks. “ You cannot marry a man who is suspected. Goodby, my beloved! ”
Once more he kissed her, and then he turned quickly away and left the hall. Hermione stood still one moment, staring at his retreating figure. Then she sank into the deep chair by the side of the great fire, and burst into tears. She had good cause for sorrow, for she had sent Paul Patoff away, she knew not whither. She had not even the satisfaction of feeling that she had been quite right in speaking to him as she had spoken, and above all she feared lest he should believe, in spite of her words, that in her own mind there was some shadow of suspicion left. But he was gone. He would probably leave the house early in the morning, and she might never see him again. What could she do but let her tears flow down as freely as they could ?
Late at night I sat in my room, reading by the light of the candles, and watching the fire as it gradually died away in the grate. It was very late, and I was beginning to think of going to bed, when some one knocked at the door. It was Paul Patoff. I was very much surprised to see him, and I suppose my face showed it, for he apologized for the intrusion.
“ Excuse me,” he said. “ It is very late, but could you spare me half an hour before going to bed ? ”
“ Certainly,” I answered, noticing his pallor, and fancying that something had happened.
“ Thank you,” said he. “ I believe I have heard you say that you know Constantinople very well ? ”
“ Tolerably well — yes. I know many of the natives. I have been there very often.”
“ I am going back there,” said Patoff. “ They sent me to Persia for a year and more, and now I am to return to my old post. I want to ask your advice about a very delicate matter. You know — or perhaps you do not know — that my brother disappeared in Stamboul, a year ago last summer, under very strange circumstances. I did all I could to find him, and the ambassador did more. But we never discovered any trace of him. I have made up my mind that I will not be disappointed this time,”
“ Could you tell me any of the details ? ” I asked.
Paul looked at me once, and hesitated. Then he settled himself in his chair, and told me his story very much as I have told it, from the afternoon of the day on which Alexander disappeared to the moment when Paul left his mother at Teinach in the Black Forest. He told me also how Professor Cutter had written to him his account of the accident at Weissenstein, when Madame Patoff, as he said, had attempted to commit suicide.
“ Pardon me,” I said, when he had reached this stage. “ I do not believe she tried to kill herself.”
“Why not? " asked Patoff, in some surprise.
“ I was the man with the rope. Cutter has never realized that you did not know it.”
Paul was very much astonished at the news, and looked at me as though hardly believing his senses.
“ Yes,” I continued. “ I happened to he leaning out of the window immediately over the balcony, and I saw your mother fall. I do not believe she threw herself over; if she had done that, she would probably not have been caught on the tree. The parapet was very low, and she is very tall. I heard her say to Professor Cutter, ‘ I am coming; ’ then she stood up. Suddenly she grew red in the face, tottered, tried to save herself, but missed the parapet, and fell over with a loud scream of terror.”
“ I am very much surprised,” said Paul, “ very grateful to you, of course, for saving her life. I do not know how to thank you; but how strange that Cutter should never have told me ! ”
“ He saw that we knew each other,” I remarked. “ He supposed that I had told you.”
“ So it was not an attempt at suicide, after all. It is amazing to think how one may be deceived in this world.”
For some minutes he sat silent in his chair, evidently in deep thought. I did not disturb him, though I watched the melancholy expression of his face, thinking of the great misfortunes which had overtaken him, and pitying him, perhaps, more than he would have liked. " Griggs,” he said at last, “ do you know of any one in Constantinople who would help me, — who could help me if he would ? ”
“ To find your brother ? It is a serious affair. Yes, I do know of one man ; if he could be induced to take an interest in the matter, he might do a great deal.”
“ What is his name ? ”
“ Balsamides Bey,” I answered.
“ I have seen him, but I do not know him,” said Paul. “ Could you give me a letter ? ”
“ It would not be of the slightest use. You can easily make his acquaintance, but it will be a very different matter to get him to help you. He is one of the strangest men in the world. If he takes a fancy to you, he will do anything imaginable to oblige yon.”
“ And if not ? ”
“ If not, he will laugh at you. He is a queer fellow.”
“ Eccentric, I should think. I am not prepared to be laughed at, but I will risk it, if there is any chance.”
“ Look here, Patoff,” I said. “ I have nothing to do this spring, and the devil of unrest is on me again. I will go to Constantinople with you, and we will see what can be done. You are a Russian, and those people will not trust you; your nationality will be against you at every turn. Balsamides himself hates Russians, having fought against them ten years ago, in the last war.”
Paul started up in his chair, and stretched out his hand. “ Will you really go with me ? ” he cried, in great excitement. “ That would be too good of you. Shall we start to-morrow ? ”
“ Let me see, — we must have an excuse. Could you not telegraph to your chief to recall you at once ? You must have something to show to Carvel. He will be startled at our leaving so suddenly.”
“ Will he ? ” said Paul, absently. “ I suppose so. Perhaps I can manage it.”
It was very late when he left my room. I went to bed, but slept little, thinking over all he had told me, but knowing that he had not told me all. I guessed then what I knew later, — that he had asked Hermione to marry him, and that, in consequence of Chrysophrasia’s remark at dinner, she had asked him about his brother. It was easy to understand that the question, coming from her, would produce a revival of his former energy in the search for Alexander. But it was long before I knew all the details of Hermione’s visit to Madame Patoff.
The matter was arranged without much difficulty. Paul received a dispatch the next day from Count Ananoff, requesting him to return as soon as possible, and I announced my determination to accompany him. The news was received by the different members of the household in different ways, according to the views of each. Poor Hermione was pale and silent. Chrysophrasia’s disagreeable eyes wore a greenish air of cat-like satisfaction. Mrs. Carvel herself was sincerely distressed, and John opened his eyes in astonishment. Professor Cutter looked about with an inquiring air, and Macaulay expressed a hope that he might be appointed to Constantinople very soon, adding that he should take pains to learn Turkish as quickly as possible. That fellow regards everything in life as a sort of lesson, and takes part in events as a highly moral and studious undergraduate would attend a course of lectures.
I think Paul and I both breathed more freely when we had announced our departure. He looked ill, and it was evident that he was sorry to go, but it was also quite clear that nothing could move him from his determination. Even at the last minute he kept himself calm, and though he was obliged to part from Hermione in the presence of all the rest, he did not wince. Every one joined in saying that they hoped he would pay them another visit, and even Chrysophrasia drawled out something to that effect, though I have no doubt she was inwardly rejoicing at his going away; and just as we were starting she ostentatiously kissed poor Hermione, as though to reassert her protectorate, and to show that Hermione’s safety was due entirely to her aunt Chrysophrasia’s exertions on her behalf.
Paul would have been willing to go to his mother once again before parting, but Cutter thought it better not to let him do so, as his presence irritated her beyond measure. Hermione looked as though she would have said something, but seemed to think better of it. At last we drove away from the old place in the chilly February afternoon, and I confess that for a moment I half repented of my sudden resolution to go to the East. But in a few minutes the old longing for some active occupation came back, and though I thought gratefully of John Carvel’s friendly ways and pleasant conversation, I found myself looking forward to the sight of the crowded bazaars and the solemn Turks, smelling already the indescribable atmosphere of the Levant, and enjoying the prospect almost as keenly as when I first set my face eastwards, many years ago.
These were the circumstances which brought me back to Constantinople last year. If, in telling my story, I have dwelt long upon what happened in England, I must beg you to remember that it is one thing to construct a drama with all possible regard for the unities and no regard whatever for probability, whereas it is quite another to tell the story of a man’s life, or even of those years which have been to him the most important part of it.
It was not an easy matter to make Balsamides Bey take a fancy to Paul, for he was, and still is, a man full of prejudice, if also full of wit. In his well-shaped head resides an intelligence of no mean order, and the lines graven in his pale face express thought and study, while suggesting also an extreme love of sarcasm and a caustic, incredulous humor. His large and deep-set blue eyes seem to look at things only to criticise them, never to enjoy them, and his arched eyebrows bristle like defenses set up between the world with its interests on the one side and the inner man Balsamides on the other. Though he wears a heavy brown mustache, it is easy to see that underneath it his thin lips curl scornfully, and are drawn down at the extremities of his mouth. He is very scrupulous in his appearance, whether he wears the uniform of a Sultan’s adjutant, or the morning dress of an ordinary man of the world, or the official evening coat of the Turks, made like that of an English clergyman, but ornamented by a string of tiny decorations attached to the button-hole on the left side. Gregorios Balsamides is of middle height, slender and well built, a matchless horseman, and long inured to every kind of hardship, though his pallor and his delicate white hands suggest a constitution anything but hardy.
He is the natural outcome of the present state of civilization in Turkey; and as it is not easy for the ordinary mind to understand the state of the Ottoman Empire without long study, so it is not by any means a simple matter to comprehend the characters produced by the modern condition of things in the East. Balsamides Bey is a man who seems to unite in himself as many contradictory qualities and characteristics as are to he found in any one living man. He is a thorough Turk in principle, but also a thorough Western Frank in education. He has read immensely in many languages, and speaks French and English with remarkable fluency. He has made an especial study of modern history, and can give an important date, a short account of a great battle, or a brief notice of a living celebrity, with an ease and accuracy that many a student might envy. He reads French and English novels, and probably possesses a contraband copy of Byron, whose works are proscribed in Turkey and confiscated by the custom-house. He goes into European society as well as among Turks, Greeks, and Armenians. Although a Greek by descent, he loves the Turks and is profoundly attached to the reigning dynasty, under whom his father and grandfather lived and prospered. A Christian by birth and education, he has a profound respect for the Mussulman faith, as being the religion of the government he serves, and a profound hatred of the Armenian, whom he regards as the evil genius of the Osmanli. He is a man whom many trust, but whose chief desire seems to be to avoid all show of power. He is often consulted on important matters, but his discretion is proof against all attacks, and there is not a journalist nor correspondent in Pera who can boast of ever having extracted the smallest item of information from Balsamides Bey.
These are his good qualities, and they are solid ones, for he is a thoroughly well-informed man, exceedingly clever, and absolutely trustworthy. On the other hand, he is cold, sarcastic, and possibly cruel, and occasionally he is frank almost to brutality.
On the very evening of our arrival in Pera I went to see him, for he is an old friend of mine. I found him alone in his small lodgings in the Grande Hue, reading a yellow-covered French novel by the light of a German student-lamp. The room was simply furnished with a table, a divan, three or four stiff, straightbacked chairs, and a book-case. But on the matted floor and divan there were two or three fine Siné carpets; a couple of trophies of splendidly ornamented weapons adorned the wall; by his side, upon a small eight-sided table inlaid with tortoise-shell and mother-of-pearl, stood a silver salver with an empty coffee-cup of beautiful workmanship, — the stand of beaten gold, and the delicate shell of the most exquisite transparent china. He had evidently been on duty at the palace, for he was in uniform, and had removed only his long riding - boots, throwing himself down in his chair to read the book in which he was interested.
On seeing me, he rose suddenly and put out his hand.
“ Is it you ? Where have you come from ? ” he cried.
“ From England, to see you,” I answered.
“ You must stay with me,” he said at once. “The spare room is ready,” he added, leading me to the door. Then he clapped his hands to call the servant, before I could prevent him.
But I have already been to the hotel,” I protested.
“ Go to Missiri’s with a hamál, and bring the Effendi’s luggage, " he said to the servant, who instantly disappeared.
Caught,” he exclaimed, laughing, as he opened the door and showed me my little room. I had slept there many a night in former times, and I loved his simple hospitality.
“ You are the same as ever,” I said. “ A man cannot put his nose inside your door without being caught, as you call it.”
“ Many a man may,” he answered. " But not you, my dear fellow. Now — you will have coffee and a cigarette. We will dine at home. There is piláff and kebabi and a bottle of champagne. How are you ? I forgot to ask.”
“ Very well, thanks,” said I, as we came back to the sitting-room. " I am always well, you know. You look pale, but that is nothing new. You have been on duty at the palace ? ”
“ Friday,” he answered laconically, which meant that he had been at the Selamlek, attending the Sultan to the weekly service at the mosque.
“ You used to get back early in the day. Have the hours changed ? ”
“ Man of Belial,” he replied, “ with us nothing changes. I was detained at the palace. So you have come all the way from England to see me ? ”
“ Yes, — and to ask you a question and a favor.”
“ You shall have the answer and my services.”
“ Do not promise before you have heard. ' Two acrobats cannot always dance on the same rope,’ as your proverb says.”
“ And ‘ Every sheep hangs by its own heels,’ ” said he. “ I will take my chance with you. First, the question, please.”
“ Did you ever hear of Alexander Patoff ? ”
Balsamides looked at me a moment, with the air of a man who is asked an exceedingly foolish question.
“ Hear of him ? I have heard of nothing else for the last eighteen months. I have an indigestion brought on by too much Alexander Patoff. Is that your errand, Griggs ? How in the world did you come to take up that question ? ”
“ You have been asked about him before ? ” I inquired.
“ I tell you there is not a dog in Constantinople that has not been kicked for not knowing where that fellow is. I am sick of him, alive or dead. What do I care about your Patoffs ? The fool could not take care of himself when he was alive, and now the universe is turned upside down to find his silly body. Where is he ? At the bottom of the Bosphorus. How did he get there ? By the kind exertions of his brother, who then played the comedy of tearing his hair so cleverly that his ambassador believed him. Very simple : if you want to find his body, I can tell you how to do it.”
“ How ? ” I asked eagerly.
“ Drain the Bosphorus,” he answered, with a sneer. “ You will find plenty of skulls at the bottom of it. The smallest will be his, to a dead certainty.”
“ My dear fellow,” I protested, “ his brother did not kill him. The proof is that Paul Patoff has come back swearing that he will find some trace of Alexander. He came with me, and I believe his story.”
“ He is only renewing the comedy, — tearing his hair on the anniversary of the death, like a well-paid mourner. Of course, somebody has accused him again of the murder. He will have to tear his hair every time he is accused, in order to keep up appearances. He knows, and he alone knows, where the dead man is.”
“ But if he killed him the kaváss must have known it,—must have helped him. You remember the story ? ”
“ I should think so. What does the kaváss prove ? Nothing. He was probably told to go off for a moment, and now will not confess it. Money will do anything.”
“ There remains the driver of the carriage,” I objected. “ He saw Alexander go into Agia Sophia, but he never saw him come out.”
“ And is anything easier than that ? A man might learn those few words in three minutes. That proves nothing.”
“ There is the probability,” I argued. “ Many persons have disappeared in Stamboul before now.”
“ Nonsense, Griggs,” he answered. “You know that when anything of the kind has occurred it has generally turned out that the missing man was bankrupt. He disappeared to reappear somewhere else under another name. I do not believe a word of all those romances. To you Franks we are a nation of robbers, murderers, and thieves ; we are the Turkey of Byron, always thirsting for blood, spilling it senselessly, and crying out for more. If that idiot allowed his brother to kill him without attracting a crowd, — in Stamboul, in the last week of Ramazán, when everybody is out of doors, — he deserved his fate, that is all.”
“ I do not believe he is dead,” I said, “ and I have come here to ask you to make the acquaintance of Paul Patoff. If you still believe him to be a murderer when you have heard him tell his story, I shall be very much surprised.”
“I should tear him to pieces if I met him,” said Balsamides, with a laugh. “ The mere sight of anybody called Patoff would bring on an attack of the nerves.”
“ Be serious,” said I. “Do you think I would be so foolish as to interest myself in this business unless I believed that it could be cleared of all mystery and explained ? ”
“You have been in England,” retorted Gregorios. “ That will explain any kind of insanity. Do you want me to pester every office in the government with new inquiries ? It will do no good. Everything has been tried. The man is gone without leaving a trace. No amount of money will produce information. Can I say more ? Where money fails, a man need not be so foolish as to hope anything from his intelligence.”
“ I am foolish enough to hope something,” I replied. “ If you will not help me, I must go elsewhere. I will not give up the thing at the start.”
“ Well, if I say I will help you, what do you expect me to do ? Can I do anything which has not been done already ? If so, I will do it. But I will not harness myself to a rotten cart, as the proverb says. It is quite useless to expect anything more from the police.”
“ I expect nothing from them. I believe that Alexander is alive, and has been hidden by somebody rich enough and strong enough to baffle pursuit.”
“What put that into your head?” asked my companion, looking at me with sudden curiosity.
“Nothing but the reduction of the thing to the last analysis. Either he is dead, or he is alive. As you say, he could hardly have been killed on such a night without attracting attention. Besides, the motives for Paul’s killing him were wholly inadequate. No, let me go on. Therefore, I say that he was taken alive.”
“ Where ? ”
“ In Santa Sophia.”
“But then,” argued Balsamides, “the driver would have seen him carried out.”
“ Yes,” I admitted. “ That is the difficulty. But he might perhaps have been taken through the porch; at all events, he must have gone down the stairs alone, taking the lantern.”
“They found the lantern,” said Gregorios. “ You did not know that ? A long time afterwards the man who opens the towers confessed that when he had gone up with the brothers and the kaváss he had found that his taper was burnt out. He picked up the kaváss’s lantern and carried it down, meaning to return with the next party of foreigners. No other foreigners came, and when he went up to find the Patoffs they were gone and the carriage was gone. He kept the lantern, until the offers of reward induced him to give it up and tell his story.”
“ That proves nothing, except that Alexander went down - stairs in the dark.”
“ I have an idea, Griggs ! ” cried Balsamides, suddenly changing his tone. “ It proves this, — that Alexander did not necessarily go down the steps at all.”
“ I do not understand.”
“ There is another way out of that gallery. Did you know that ? At the other end, in exactly the same position, hidden in the deep arch, there is a second door. There is also a winding staircase, which leads to the street on the opposite side of the mosque. Foreigners are never admitted by that aide, but it is barely possible that the door may have been open. Alexander Patoff may have gone down that way, thinking it was the staircase by which he had come up.”
“ You see,” I said, delighted at this information, “ everything is not exhausted yet.”
“ No, I begin to think we are nearer to an explanation. If that door was open, —which, however, is very improbable, — he could have gone down and have got into the street without passing the carriage, which stood on the other side of the mosque. But, after all, we are no nearer to knowing what ultimately became of him.”
“Would it be possible to find out whether the door was really open, and, if so, who passed that way ? ” I inquired.
“ We shall see,” said Gregorios. “ I will change my mind. I will make the acquaintance of your Russian friend. I know him by sight, though I never spoke to him. When I have talked the matter over with him I will tell you what I think about it. Let us go to dinner.”
I felt that I had overcome the first great difficulty in persuading Balsamides to take some interest in my errand. He is one of those men who are very hard to move, but who, when once they are disposed to act at all, are ready to do their best. Moreover, the existence of the second staircase, leading from the gallery to the street, at once explained how Alexander might have left the church unobserved by the coachman. I wondered why no one had thought of this. It had probably not suggested itself to any one. because strangers are never admitted from that side, and because the door is almost always closed.
Gregorios did not refer to the subject again that evening, but amused himself by asking me all manner of questions about the state of England. We fell to talking about European politics, and the hours passed very pleasantly until midnight.
F. Marion Crawford.