A Knight Of The Legion Of Honor by Francis Hopkinson Smith

Story type: Literature

It was in the smoking-room of a Cunarder two days out. The evening had been spent in telling stories, the fresh-air passengers crowding the doorways to listen, the habitual loungers and card-players abandoning their books and games.

When my turn came,–mine was a story of Venice, a story of the old palace of the Barbarozzi,–I noticed in one corner of the room a man seated alone wrapped in a light shawl, who had listened intently as he smoked, but who took no part in the general talk. He attracted my attention from his likeness to my friend Vereschagin the painter; his broad, white forehead, finely wrought features, clear, honest, penetrating eye, flowing mustache and beard streaked with gray,–all strongly suggestive of that distinguished Russian. I love Vereschagin, and so, unconsciously, and by mental association, perhaps, I was drawn to this stranger. Seeing my eye fixed constantly upon him, he threw off his shawl, and crossed the room.

“Pardon me, but your story about the Barbarozzi brought to my mind so many delightful recollections that I cannot help thanking you. I know that old palace,–knew it thirty years ago,–and I know that cortile, and although I have not had the good fortune to run across either your gondolier, Espero, or his sweetheart, Mariana, I have known a dozen others as romantic and delightful. The air is stifling here. Shall we have our coffee outside on the deck?”

When we were seated, he continued, “And so you are going to Venice to paint?”

“Yes; and you?”

“Me? Oh, to the Engadine to rest. American life is so exhausting that I must have these three months of quiet to make the other nine possible.”

The talk drifted into the many curious adventures befalling a man in his journeyings up and down the world, most of them suggested by the queer stories of the night. When coffee had been served, he lighted another cigar, held the match until it burned itself out,–the yellow flame lighting up his handsome face,–looked out over the broad expanse of tranquil sea, with its great highway of silver leading up to the full moon dominating the night, and said as if in deep thought:–

“And so you are going to Venice?” Then, after a long pause: “Will you mind if I tell you of an adventure of my own,–one still most vivid in my memory? It happened near there many years ago.” He picked up his shawl, pushed our chairs close to the overhanging life-boat, and continued: “I had begun my professional career, and had gone abroad to study the hospital system in Europe. The revolution in Poland–the revolt of ’62–had made traveling in northern Europe uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for foreigners, even with the most authentic of passports, and so I had spent the summer in Italy. One morning, early in the autumn, I bade good-by to my gondolier at the water-steps of the railroad station, and bought a ticket for Vienna. An important letter required my immediate presence in Berlin.

“On entering the train I found the carriage occupied by two persons: a lady, richly dressed, but in deep mourning and heavily veiled; and a man, dark and smooth-faced, wearing a high silk hat. Raising my cap, I placed my umbrella and smaller traps under the seat, and hung my bundle of traveling shawls in the rack overhead. The lady returned my salutation gravely, lifting her veil and making room for my bundles. The dark man’s only response was a formal touching of his hat-brim with his forefinger.

“The lady interested me instantly. She was perhaps twenty-five years of age, graceful, and of distinguished bearing. Her hair was jet-black, brushed straight back from her temples, her complexion a rich olive, her teeth pure white. Her lashes were long, and opened and shut with a slow, fan-like movement, shading a pair of deep blue eyes, which shone with that peculiar light only seen when quick tears lie hidden under half-closed lids. Her figure was rounded and full, and her hands exquisitely modeled. Her dress, while of the richest material, was perfectly plain, with a broad white collar and cuffs like those of a nun. She wore no jewels of any kind. I judged her to be a woman of some distinction,–an Italian or Hungarian, perhaps.

“When the train started, the dark man, who had remained standing, touched his hat to me, raised it to the lady, and disappeared. Her only acknowledgment was a slight inclination of the head. A polite stranger, no doubt, I thought, who prefers the smoker. When the train stopped for luncheon, I noticed that the lady did not leave the carriage, and on my return I found her still seated, looking listlessly out of the window, her head upon her hand.

“‘Pardon me, madame,’ I said in French, ‘but unless you travel some distance this is the last station where you can get anything to eat.’

“She started, and looked about helplessly. ‘I am not hungry. I cannot eat–but I suppose I should.’

“‘Permit me;’ and I sprang from the carriage, and caught a waiter with a tray before the guard reclosed the doors. She drank the coffee, tasted the fruit, thanking me in a low, sweet voice, and said:–

“‘You are very considerate. It will help me to bear my journey. I am very tired, and weaker than I thought; for I have not slept for many nights.’

“I expressed my sympathy, and ended by telling her I hoped we could keep the carriage to ourselves; she might then sleep undisturbed. She looked at me fixedly, a curious startled expression crossing her face, but made no reply.

“Almost every man is drawn, I think, to a sad or tired woman. There is a look about the eyes that makes an instantaneous draft on the sympathies. So, when these slight confidences of my companion confirmed my misgivings as to her own weariness, I at once began diverting her as best I could with some account of my summer’s experience in Venice, and with such of my plans for the future as at the moment filled my mind. I was younger then,–perhaps only a year or two her senior,–and you know one is not given to much secrecy at twenty-six: certainly not with a gentle lady whose good-will you are trying to gain, and whose sorrowful face, as I have said, enlists your sympathy at sight. Then, to establish some sort of footing for myself, I drifted into an account of my own home life; telling her of my mother and sisters, of the social customs of our country, of the freedom given the women,–so different from what I had seen abroad,–of their perfect safety everywhere.

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“We had been talking in this vein some time, she listening quietly until something I said reacted in a slight curl of her lips,–more incredulous than contemptuous, perhaps, but significant all the same; for, lifting her eyes, she answered slowly and meaningly:–

“‘It must be a paradise for women. I am glad to believe that there is one corner of the earth where they are treated with respect. My own experiences have been so different that I have begun to believe that none of us are safe after we leave our cradles.’ Then, as if suddenly realizing the inference, the color mounting to her cheeks, she added: ‘But please do not misunderstand me. I am quite willing to accept your statement; for I never met an American before.’

“As we neared the foothills the air grew colder. She instinctively drew her cloak the closer, settling herself in one corner and closing her eyes wearily. I offered my rug, insisting that she was not properly clad for a journey over the mountains at night. She refused gently but firmly, and closed her eyes again, resting her head against the dividing cushion. For a moment I watched her; then arose from my seat, and, pulling down my bundle of shawls, begged that I might spread my heaviest rug over her lap. An angry color mounted to her cheeks. She turned upon me, and was about to refuse indignantly, when I interrupted:–

“‘Please allow me; don’t you know you cannot sleep if you are cold? Let me put this wrap about you. I have two.’

“With the unrolling, the leather tablet of the shawl-strap, bearing my name, fell in her lap.

“‘Your name is Bosk,’ she said, with a quick start, ‘and you an American?’

“‘Yes; why not?’

“‘My maiden name is Boski,’ she replied, looking at me in astonishment, ‘and I am a Pole.’

“Here were two mysteries solved. She was married, and neither Italian nor Slav.

“‘And your ancestry?’ she continued with increased animation. ‘Are you of Polish blood? You know our name is a great name in Poland. Your grandfather, of course, was a Pole.’ Then, with deep interest, ‘What are your armorial bearings?’

“I answered that I had never heard that my grandfather was a Pole. It was quite possible, though, that we might be of Polish descent, for my father had once told me of an ancestor, an old colonel, who fell at Austerlitz. As to the armorial bearings, we Americans never cared for such things. The only thing I could remember was a certain seal which my father used to wear, and with which he sealed his letters. The tradition in the family was that it belonged to this old colonel. My sister used it sometimes. I had a letter from her in my pocket.

“She examined the indented wax on the envelope, opened her cloak quickly, and took from the bag at her side a seal mounted in jewels, bearing a crest and coat of arms.

“‘See how slight the difference. The quarterings are almost the same, and the crest and motto identical. This side is mine, the other is my husband’s. How very, very strange! And yet you are an American?’

“‘And your husband’s crest?’ I asked. ‘Is he also a Pole?’

“‘Yes; I married a Pole,’ with a slight trace of haughtiness, even resentment, at the inquiry.

“‘And his name, madame? Chance has given you mine–a fair exchange is never a robbery.’

“She drew herself up, and said quickly, and with a certain bearing I had not noticed before:–

“‘Not now; it makes no difference.’

“Then, as if uncertain of the effect of her refusal, and with a willingness to be gracious, she added:–

“In a few minutes–at ten o’clock–we reach Trieste. The train stops twenty minutes. You were so kind about my luncheon; I am stronger now. Will you dine with me?’

“I thanked her, and on arriving at Trieste followed her to the door. As we alighted from the carriage I noticed the same dark man standing by the steps, his fingers on his hat. During the meal my companion seemed brighter and less weary, more gracious and friendly, until I called the waiter and counted out the florins on his tray. Then she laid her hand quietly but firmly upon my arm.

“‘Please do not–you distress me; my servant Polaff has paid for everything.’

“I looked up. The dark man was standing behind her chair, his hat in his hand.

“I can hardly express to you my feelings as these several discoveries revealed to me little by little the conditions and character of my traveling companion. Brought up myself under a narrow home influence, with only a limited knowledge of the world, I had never yet been thrown in with a woman of her class. And yet I cannot say that it was altogether the charm of her person that moved me. It was more a certain hopeless sort of sorrow that seemed to envelop her, coupled with an indefinable distrust which I could not solve. Her reserve, however, was impenetrable, and her guarded silence on every subject bearing upon herself so pronounced that I dared not break through it. Yet, as she sat there in the carriage after dinner, during the earlier hours of the night, she and I the only occupants, her eyes heavy and red for want of sleep, her beautiful hair bound in a veil, the pallor of her skin intensified by the sombre hues of her dress, I would have given anything in the world to have known her well enough to have comforted her, even by a word.

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“As the night wore on the situation became intolerable. Every now and then she would start from her seat, jostled awake by the roughness of the road,–this section had just been completed,–turn her face the other way, only to be awakened again.

“‘You cannot sleep. May I make a pillow for your head of my other shawl? I do not need it. My coat is warm enough.’

“‘No; I am very comfortable.’

“‘Forgive me, you are not. You are very uncomfortable, and it pains me to see you so weary. These dividing-irons make it impossible for you to lie down. Perhaps I can make a cushion for your head so that you will rest easier.’

“She looked at me coldly, her eyes riveted on mine.

“‘You are very kind, but why do you care? You have never seen me before, and may never again.’

“‘I care because you are a woman, alone and unprotected. I care most because you are suffering. Will you let me help you?’

“She bent her head, and seemed wrapped in thought. Then straightening up, as if her mind had suddenly resolved,–

“‘No; leave me alone. I will sleep soon. Men never really care for a woman when she suffers.’ She turned her face to the window.

“‘I pity you, then, from the bottom of my heart,’ I replied, nettled at her remark. ‘There is not a man the length and breadth of my land who would not feel for you now as I do, and there is not a woman who would misunderstand him.’

“She raised her head, and in a softened voice, like a sorrowing child’s, it was so pathetic, said: ‘Please forgive me. I had no right to speak so. I shall be very grateful to you if you can help me; I am so tired.’

“I folded the shawl, arranged the rug over her knees, and took the seat beside her. She thanked me, laid her cheek upon the impromptu pillow, and closed her eyes. The train sped on, the carriage swaying as we rounded the curves, the jolting increasing as we neared the great tunnel. Settling myself in my seat, I drew my traveling-cap well down so that its shadow from the overhead light would conceal my eyes, and watched her unobserved. For half an hour I followed every line in her face, with its delicate nostrils, finely cut nose, white temples with their blue veins, and the beautiful hair glistening in the half-shaded light, the long lashes resting, tired out, upon her cheek. Soon I noticed at irregular intervals a nervous twitching pass over her face; the brow would knit and relax wearily, the mouth droop. These indications of extreme exhaustion occurred constantly, and alarmed me. Unchecked, they would result in an alarming form of nervous prostration. A sudden lurch dislodged the pillow.

“‘Have you slept?’ I asked.

“‘I do not know. A little, I think. The car shakes so.’

“‘My dear lady,’ I said, laying my hand on hers,–she started, but did not move her own,–‘it is absolutely necessary that you sleep, and at once. What your nervous strain has been, I know not; but my training tells me that it has been excessive, and still is. Its continuance is dangerous. This road gets rougher as the night passes. If you will rest your head upon my shoulder, I can hold you so that you will go to sleep.’

“Her face flushed, and she recovered her hand quickly.

“‘You forget, sir, that’–

“‘No, no; I forget nothing. I remember everything; that I am a stranger, that you are ill, that you are rapidly growing worse, that, knowing as I do your condition, I cannot sit here and not help you. It would be brutal.’

“Her lips quivered, and her eyes filled. ‘I believe you,’ she said. Then, turning quickly with an anxious look, ‘But it will tire you.’

“‘No; I have held my mother that way for hours at a time.’

“She put out her hand, laid it gently on my wrist, looked into my face long and steadily, scanning every feature, as if reassuring herself, then laid her cheek upon my shoulder, and fell asleep.

* * * * *

“When the rising sun burst behind a mountain-crag, and, at a turn in the road, fell full upon her face, she awoke with a start, and looked about bewildered. Then her mind cleared.

“‘How good you have been. You have not moved all night so I might rest. I awoke once frightened, but your hands were folded in your lap.’

“With this her whole manner changed. All the haughty reserve was gone; all the cynicism, the distrust, and suspicion. She became as gentle and tender as an anxious mother, begging me to go to sleep at once. She would see that no one disturbed me. It was cruel that I was so exhausted.

“When the guard entered, she sent for her servant, and bade him watch out for a pot of coffee at the next station. ‘To think monsieur had not slept all night!’ When Polaff handed in the tray, she filled the cups herself, adding the sugar, and insisting that I should also drink part of her own,–one cup was not enough. Upon Polaff’s return she sent for her dressing-case. She must make her toilet at once, and not disturb me. It would be several hours before we reached Vienna; she felt sure I would sleep now.

“I watched her as she spread a dainty towel over the seat in front, and began her preparations, laying out the powder-boxes, brushes, and comb, the bottles of perfume, and the little knickknacks that make up the fittings of a gentlewoman’s boudoir. It was almost with a show of enthusiasm that she picked up one of the bottles, and pointed out to me again the crest in relief upon its silver top, saying over and over again how glad she was to know that some of her own blood ran in my veins. She was sure now that I belonged to her mother’s people. When, at the next station, Polaff brought a basin of water, and I arose to leave the car, she begged me to remain,–the toilet was nothing; it would be over in a minute. Then she loosened her hair, letting it fall in rich masses about her shoulders, and bathed her face and hands, rearranging her veil, and adding a fresh bit of lace to her throat. I remember distinctly how profound an impression this strange scene made upon my mind, so different from any former experience of my life,–its freedom from conventionality, the lack of all false modesty, the absolute absence of any touch of coquetry or conscious allurement.

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“When it was all over, her beauty being all the more pronounced now that the tired, nervous look had gone out of her face, she still talked on, saying how much better and fresher she felt, and how much more rested than the night before. Suddenly her face saddened, and for many minutes she kept silence, gazing dreamily down into the abysses white with the rush of Alpine torrents, or hidden in the early morning fog. Then, finding I would not sleep, and with an expression as if she had finally resolved upon some definite action, and with a face in which every line showed the sincerest confidence and trust,–as unexpected as it was incomprehensible to me,–she said:–

“‘Last night you asked me for my name. I would not tell you then. Now you shall know. I am the Countess de Rescka Smolenski. I live in Cracow. My husband died in Venice four days ago. I took him there because he was ill,–so ill that he was carried in Polaff’s arms from the gondola to his bed. The Russian government permitted me to take him to Italy to die. One Pole the less is of very little consequence. A week ago this permit was revoked, and we were ordered to report at Cracow without delay. Why, I do not know, except perhaps to add another cruelty to the long list of wrongs the government have heaped upon my family. My husband lingered three days with the order spread out on the table beside him. The fourth day they laid him in Campo Santo. That night my maid fell ill. Yesterday morning a second peremptory order was handed me. I am now on my way home to obey.’

“Then followed in slow, measured sentences the story of her life: married at seventeen at her father’s bidding to a man twice her age; surrounded by a court the most dissolute in eastern Europe; forced into a social environment that valued woman only as a chattel, and that ostracized or defamed every wife who, reverencing her womanhood, protested against its excesses. For five years past–ever since her marriage–her husband’s career had been one long, unending dissipation. At last, broken down by a life he had not the moral courage to resist, he had succumbed and taken to his bed; thence, wavering between life and death, like a burnt-out candle flickering in its socket, he had been carried to Venice.

“‘Do you wonder, now, that my faith is gone, my heart broken?’

“We were nearing Vienna; the stations were more frequent; our own carriage began filling up. For an hour we rode side by side, silent, she gazing fixedly from the window, I half stunned by this glimpse of a life the pathos of which wrung my very heart. When we entered the station she roused herself, and said to me half pleadingly:–

“‘I cannot bear to think I may never see you again. To-night I must stay in Vienna. Will you dine with me at my hotel? I go to the Metropole. And you? Where did you intend to go?’

“‘To the Metropole, also.’

“‘Not when you left Venice?’

“‘Yes; before I met you.’

“‘There is a fate that controls us,’ she said reverently. ‘Come at seven.’

“When the hour arrived I sent my card to her apartment, and was ushered into a small room with a curtain-closed door opening out into a larger salon, through which I caught glimpses of a table spread with glass and silver. Polaff, rigid and perpendicular, received me with a stiff, formal recognition. I do not think he quite understood, nor altogether liked, his mistress’s chance acquaintance. In a moment she entered from a door opposite, still in her black garments with the nun’s cuffs and broad collar. Extending her hand graciously, she said:–

“‘You have slept since I left you this morning. I see it in your face. I am so glad. And I too. I have rested all day. It was so good of you to come.’

“There was no change in her manner; the same frank, trustful look in her eyes, the same anxious concern about me. When dinner was announced she placed me beside her, Polaff standing behind her chair, and the other attendants serving.

“The talk drifted again into my own life, she interrupting with pointed questions, and making me repeat again and again the stories I told her of our humble home. She must learn them herself to tell them to her own people, she said. It was all so strange and new to her, so simple and so genuine. With the coffee she fell to talking of her own home, the despotism of Russia, the death of her father, the forcing of her brothers into the army. Still holding her cup in her hands, she began pacing up and down, her eyes on the floor (we were alone, Polaff having retired). Then stopping in front of me, and with an earnestness that startled me:–

“‘Do not go to Berlin. Please come to Cracow with me. Think. I am alone, absolutely alone. My house is in order, and has been for months, expecting me every day. It is so terrible to go back; come with me, please.’

“‘I must not, madame. I have promised my friends to be in Berlin in two days. I would, you know, sacrifice anything of my own to serve you.’

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“‘And you will not?’ and a sigh of disappointment escaped her.

“‘I cannot.’

“‘No; I must not ask you. You are right. It is better that you keep your word.’

“She continued walking, gazing still on the floor. Then she moved to the mantel, and touched a bell. Instantly the curtains of the door divided, and Polaff stood before her.

“‘Bring me my jewel-case.’

“The man bowed gravely, looked at me furtively from the corner of his eye, and closed the curtains behind him. In a moment he returned, bearing a large, morocco-covered box, which he placed on the table. She pressed the spring, and the lid flew up, uncovering several velvet-lined trays filled with jewels that flashed under the lighted candles.

“‘You need not wait, Polaff. You can go to bed.’

“The man stepped back a pace, stood by the wall, fixed his eye upon his mistress, as if about to speak, looked at me curiously, then, bowing low, drew the curtains aside, and closed the door behind him.

“Another spring, and out came a great string of pearls, a necklace of sapphires, some rubies, and emeralds. These she heaped up upon the white cloth beside her. Carefully examining the contents of the case, she drew from a lower tray a bracelet set with costly diamonds, a rare and beautiful ornament, and before I was aware of her intent had clasped it upon my wrist.

“‘I want you to wear this for me. You see it is large enough to go quite up the arm.”

“For a moment my astonishment was so great I could not speak. Then I loosened it and laid it in her hand again. She looked up, her eyes filling, her face expressive of the deepest pain.

“‘And you will not?’

“‘I cannot, madame. In my country men do not accept such costly presents from women, and then we do not wear bracelets, as your men do here.’

“‘Then take this case, and choose for yourself.’

“I poured the contents of a small tray into my hand, and picked out a plain locket, almond-shaped, simply wrought, with an opening on one side for hair.

“‘Give me this with your hair.’

“She threw the bracelet into the case, and her eyes lighted up.

“‘Oh, I am so glad, so glad! It was mine when I was a child,–my mother gave it to me. The dear little locket–yes; you shall always wear it.’

“Then, rising from her seat, she took my hands in hers, and, looking down into my face, said, her voice breaking:–

“‘It is eleven o’clock. Soon you must leave me. You cannot stay longer. I know that in a few hours I shall never see you again. Will you join me in my prayers before I go?’

“A few minutes later she called to me. She was on her knees in the next room, two candles burning beside her, her rich dark hair loose about her shoulders, an open breviary bound with silver in her hands. I can see her now, with her eyes closed, her lips moving noiselessly, her great lashes wet with tears, and that Madonna-like look as she motioned me to kneel. For several minutes she prayed thus, the candles lighting her face, the room deathly still. Then she arose, and with her eyes half shut, and her lips moving as if with her unfinished prayer, she lifted her head and kissed me on the forehead, on the chin, and on each cheek, making with her finger the sign of the cross. Then, reaching for a pair of scissors, and cutting a small tress from her hair, she closed the locket upon it, and laid it in my hand.

“Early the next morning I was at her door. She was dressed and waiting. She greeted me kindly, but mournfully, saying in a tone which denoted her belief in its impossibility:–

“‘And you will not go to Cracow?’

“When we reached the station, and I halted at the small gate opening upon the train platform, she merely pressed my hand, covered her head with her veil, and entered the carriage followed by Polaff. I watched, hoping to see her face at the window, but she remained hidden.

* * * * *

“I turned into the Ringstrasse, still filled with her presence, and tortured by the thought of the conditions that prevented my following her, called a cab, and drove to our minister’s. Mr. Motley then held the portfolio; my passport had expired, and, as I was entering Germany, needed renewing. The attache agreed to the necessity, stamped it, and brought it back to me with the ink still wet.

“‘His excellency,’ said he, ‘advises extreme caution on your part while here. Be careful of your associates, and keep out of suspicious company. Vienna is full of spies watching escaped Polish refugees. Your name’–reading it carefully–‘is apt to excite remark. We are powerless to help in these cases. Only last week an American who befriended a man in the street was arrested on the charge of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and, despite our efforts, is still in prison.’

“I thanked him, and regained my cab with my head whirling. What, after all, if the countess should have deceived me? My blood chilled as I remembered her words of the day before: recalled by the government she hated, her two brothers forced into the army, the cruelties and indignities Russia had heaped upon her family, and this last peremptory order to return. Had my sympathetic nature and inexperience gotten me into trouble? Then that Madonna-like head with angelic face, the lips moving in prayer, rose before me. No, no; not she. I would stake my life.

“I entered my hotel, and walked across the corridor for the key of my room. Standing by the porter was an Austrian officer in full uniform, even to his white kid gloves. As I passed I heard the porter say in German:–

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“‘Yes; that is the man.’

“The Austrian looked at me searchingly, and, wheeling around sharply, said:–

“‘Monsieur, can I see you alone? I have something of importance to communicate.’

“The remark and his abrupt manner indicated so plainly an arrest, that for the moment I hesitated, running over in my mind what might be my wisest course to pursue. Then, thinking I could best explain my business in Vienna in the privacy of my room, I said stiffly:–

“‘Yes; I am now on my way to my apartment. I will see you there.’

“He entered first, shut the door behind him, crossed the room; passed his hand behind the curtains, opened the closet, shut it, and said:–

“‘We are alone?’


“Then, confronting me, ‘You are an American?’

“‘You are right.’

“‘And have your passport with you?’

“I drew it from my pocket, and handed it to him. He glanced at the signature, refolded it, and said:–

“‘You took the Countess Smolensk! to the station this morning. Where did you meet her?’

“‘On the train yesterday leaving Venice.’

“‘Never before?’


“‘Why did she not leave Venice earlier?’

“‘The count was dying, and could not be moved. He was buried two days ago.’

“A shade passed over his face, ‘Poor De Rescka! I suspected as much.’

“Then facing me again, his face losing its suspicious expression:–

“‘Monsieur, I am the brother of the countess,–Colonel Boski of the army. A week ago my letters were intercepted, and I left Cracow in the night. Since then I have been hunted like an animal. This uniform is my third disguise. As soon as my connection with the plot was discovered, my sister was ordered home. The death of the count explains her delay, and prevented my seeing her at the station. I had selected the first station out of Vienna. I tried for an opportunity this morning at the depot, but dared not. I saw you, and learned from the cabman your hotel.’

“‘But, colonel,’ said I, the attache’s warning in my ears, ‘you will pardon me, but these are troublous times. I am alone here, on my way to Berlin to pursue my studies. I found the countess ill and suffering, and unable to sleep. She interested me profoundly, and I did what I could to relieve her. I would have done the same for any other woman in her condition the world over, no matter what the consequences. If you are her brother, you will appreciate this. If you are here for any other purpose, say so at once. I leave Vienna at noon.’

“His color flushed, and his hand instinctively felt for his sword; then, relaxing, he said:–

“‘You are right. The times are troublous. Every other man is a spy. I do not blame you for suspecting me. I have nothing but my word. If you do not believe it, I cannot help it. I will go. You will at least permit me to thank you for your kindness to my sister,’ drawing off his glove and holding out his hand.

“‘The hand of a soldier is never refused the world over,’ and I shook it warmly. As it dropped to his side I caught sight of his seal-ring.

“‘Pardon me one moment. Give me your hand again.’ The ring bore the crest and motto of the countess.

“‘It is enough, colonel. Your sister showed me her own on the train. Pardon my suspicions. What can I do for you?’ He looked puzzled, hardly grasping my meaning.

“‘Nothing. You have told me all I wanted to know.’

“‘But you will breakfast with me before I take the train?’ I said.

“‘No; that might get you into trouble–serious trouble, if I should be arrested. On the contrary, I must insist that you remain in this room until I leave the building.’

“‘But you perhaps need money; these disguises are expensive,’ glancing at his perfect appointment.

“‘You are right. Perhaps twenty rubles–it will be enough. Give me your address in Berlin. If I am taken, you will lose your money. If I escape, it will be returned.’

“I shook his hand, and the door closed. A week later a man wrapped in a cloak called at my lodgings and handed me an envelope. There was no address and no message, only twenty rubles.”

* * * * *

I looked out over the sea wrinkling below me like a great sheet of gray satin. The huge life-boat swung above our heads, standing out in strong relief against the sky. After a long pause,–the story had strangely thrilled me,–I asked:–

“Pardon me, have you ever seen or heard of the countess since?”


“Nor her brother?”

“Nor her brother.”

“And the locket?”

“It is here where she placed it.”

At this instant the moon rolled out from behind a cloud, and shone full on his face. He drew out his watch-chain, touched it with his thumb-nail, and placed the trinket in my hand. It was such as a child might wear, an enameled thread encircling it. Through the glass I could see the tiny nest of jet-black hair.

For some moments neither of us spoke. At last, with my heart aglow, my whole nature profoundly stirred by the unconscious nobility of the man, I said:–

“My friend, do you know why she bound the bracelet to your wrist?”

“No; that always puzzled me. I have often wondered.”

“She bound the bracelet to your wrist, as of old a maid would have wound her scarf about the shield of her victorious knight, as the queen would pin the iron cross to the breast of a hero. You were the first gentleman she had ever known in her life.”

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