Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Verisschenzko had come straight through from Petrograd to England. He had
been delayed and had never returned to Paris since September. He knew
nothing of Harietta's sacrilege as yet. But he had at last accumulated
sufficient proof against her to have her entirely in his hands.
He thought over the whole matter as he came down in the train to Ardayre.
She was a grave danger to the Allies and had betrayed them again and
again. He must have no mercy. Her last crimes had been against France,
her punishment would be easier to manage there.
The strain of cruelty in his nature came uppermost as he reviewed the
evil which she had done. Stanislass' haunted face seemed to look at him
out of the mist of the half-lit carriage. What might not Poland have
accomplished with such a leader as Boleski had been before this baneful
passion fell upon him! Then he conjured up the? imaged faces of the brave
Frenchmen who were betrayed by Harietta to Hans, and shot in Germany.
A spy's death in war time was not an ignoble one, and they had gone there
with their lives in their hands. Had Harietta been true to that side, and
had she been acting from patriotism, he could have desired to save her
the death sentence now. But she had never been true; no country mattered
to her; she had given to him secrets as well as to Hans! Then he laughed
to himself grimly. So her _danseur_ at the Ardayre ball was the first
husband! The man who used to beat her with a stick--and who had let her
divorce him in obedience to the higher command!
How clever the whole thing was! If it had not all been so serious, it
would have been interesting to allow her to live longer to watch what
next she would do, but the issues at stake were too vital to delay. He
would not hesitate; he would denounce her to the French authorities
immediately on his return to Paris, and without one qualm or regret. She
had lived well and played "crooked"--and now it was meet that she should
pay the price.
Filson announced him in the green drawing room when he reached Ardayre,
but only Denzil rose to greet him and wrung his hand. He noticed that his
friend's face looked stern and rather pale.
"I'm so awfully glad that you have come, St�pan," and they exchanged
handshakes and greetings. "You are about the only person I should want to
see just now, because you know the whole history. Something unprecedented
has happened. A communication has come apparently from John to Amaryllis
from a prisoners' camp in Germany, and yet as far as one can be certain
of anything I am certain that I saw him die--"
Verisschenzko was greatly startled. What a frightful complication it
would make should John be alive!
"The letter--merely a postcard enclosed in an envelope--came by this
afternoon's post--and as you can understand, it has frightfully upset us
all. It is a sort of thing about which one cannot analyse one's feelings.
John had a right to his life and we ought to be glad--but the idea of
giving up Amaryllis--of having all the suffering and the parting
again--St�pan, it is cruelly hard."
Verisschenzko sat down in one of the big chairs, and Euterpe, the lesser
tawny dog, came and pushed her nose into his hand. He patted her silky
head absently. He was collecting his thoughts; the shock of this news was
considerable and he must steady his judgment.
"John wrote to her himself, you say? It is not a message through a third
"It appears to be in his own writing." Denzil stood leaning on the
mantelpiece, and his face seemed to grow more haggard with each word.
"Merely saying that he was taken prisoner by the enemy when they made the
counter attack, and that he had been too ill to write or speak until now.
I can't understand it--because they did not make the counter attack until
after I was carried in--and even though I was unconscious then, the
stretcher bearers must have seen John when they lifted me if he had been
there. Nothing was found but his glasses and we concluded another shell
had burst somewhere near his body after I was carried in. St�pan, I swear
to God I saw him die."
"It sounds extraordinary. Try to tell me every detail, Denzil."
So the story of John's last moments was gone over again, and all the most
minute events which had occurred. And at the end of it the two solid
facts stood out incontrovertibly--John's body was never found, but Denzil
had seen him die.
"How long will it take to communicate with him, I wonder? We can through
the American Ambassador, I suppose, because he gives no address. It must
be awful for him lying there wounded with no news. I say this because I
suppose I must accept his own writing, but I, cannot yet bring myself to
believe that he can be alive."
Verisschenzko was silent for a moment, then he asked:
"May I see my Lady Amaryllis?"
"Yes, she told me to bring you to her as soon as I should have explained
to you the whole affair. Come now."
They went up the stairs together, and they hardly spoke a word. And
when they reached the cedar parlour Denzil let Verisschenzko go in in
front of him.
"I have brought St�pan to you," he told Amaryllis. "I am going to leave
you to talk now."
Amaryllis was white as milk and her grey eyes were disturbed and very
troubled. She held out her two hands to Verisschenzko and he kissed them
with affectionate worship.
"Lady of my Soul!"
"Oh! St�pan,--comfort me--give me counsel. It is such a terrible moment
in my life. What am I to do?"
"It is indeed difficult for you--we must think it all out--"
"Poor John--I ought to be glad that he is alive, and I am--really--only,
oh! St�pan, I love Denzil so dearly. It is all too awfully complicated.
What so greatly astonishes me about it is that John has not written
deliriously, or as though he has lost his memory, and yet if we had
carried out his instructions and wishes we should be married now, Denzil
and I,--and he never alludes to the possibility of this! It is written as
though no complications could enter into the case--"
"It sounds strange--may I see the letter?"
She got up and went over to the writing table and returned with a packet
and the envelope which contained the card. It was not one which prisoners
use as a rule; it had the picture of a German town on it and the
postmark on the envelope was of a place in Holland. Verisschenzko read it
"I have been too ill to write before--I was taken prisoner in the counter
attack and was unconscious. I am sending this by the kindness of a nurse
through Holland. Everyone must have believed that I was dead. I am
longing for news of you, dearest. I shall soon be well. Do not worry. I
am going to be moved and will write again with address.
The writing was rather feeble as a very ill person's would naturally be,
but the name "John" was firm and very legible.
"You are certain that it is his writing?"
"Yes"--and then she handed him another letter from the packet--John's
last one to her. "You can see for yourself--it is the same hand."
St�pan took both over to the lamp, and was bending to examine them when
he gave a little cry:
"Sapristi!"--and instead of looking at the writings he sniffed strongly
at the card, and then again. Amaryllis watched him amazedly.
"The same! By the Lord, it is the work of Ferdinand. No one could mistake
his scent who had once smelt it. The muskrat, the scorpion! But he has
Amaryllis grew paler as she came close beside him.
"St�pan, oh, tell me! What do you mean?"
"I believe this to be a forgery--the scent is a clue to me. Smell
it--there is a lingering sickly aroma round it. It came in an envelope,
you see,--that would preserve it. It is an Eastern perfume, very
heavy,--what do you say?"
She wrinkled her delicate nose:
"Yes, there is some scent from it. One perceives it at first and then it
goes off. Oh, St�pan, please do not torture me. Can you be quite sure?"
"I am absolutely certain that whether it is in John's writing or not,
Ferdinand, or some one who uses his unique scent, has touched that card.
Now we must investigate everything."
He walked up and down the room in agitation for a few moments; talking
rapidly to himself--half in Russian--Amaryllis caught bits.
"Ferdinand--how to his advantage? None. What then? Harietta?
Harietta--but why for her?"
Then he sat down and stared into the fire, his yellow-green eyes blazing
with intelligence, his clear brain balancing up things. But now he did
not speak his thoughts aloud.
"She is jealous. I remember--she imagined that it is my child. She
believes I may marry Amaryllis. It is as plain as day!"
He jumped up and excitedly held out his hands.
"Let us fetch Denzil," he cried joyously. "I can explain everything."
Amaryllis left the room swiftly and called when she got outside his door:
He joined them in a second or two--there as he was, in a blue silk
dressing gown, as he had just been going to dress for dinner.
He looked from one face to the other anxiously and St�pan
"I think that the card is a forgery, Denzil. I believe it to have been
written by Ferdinand Ardayre--at the instigation of Harietta Boleski.
She would have means to obtain the postcard, and have it sent through
"But why--why should she?" Amaryllis exclaimed in wonderment. "What
possible reason could she have for wishing to be so cruel to us. We were
always very nice to her, as you know."
Verisschenzko laughed cynically.
"She was jealous of you all the same. But Denzil, I track it by the
scent. I know Ferdinand uses that scent," he held out the card. "Smell."
Denzil sniffed as Amaryllis had done.
"It is so faint I should not have remarked it unless you had told me--but
I daresay if it was a scent one had smelt before, one would be struck by
it! But how are you going to prove it, St�pan? We shall have to have
convincing proof--because I am the only witness of poor John's death, and
it could easily be said that I am too deeply interested to be reliable.
For God's sake, old friend, think of some way of making a certainty."
"I have a way which I can enforce as soon as I reach Paris. Meanwhile say
nothing to any one and put the thought of it out of your heads. The
evidence of your own eyes convinced you that John is dead; you found it
difficult to accept that he was alive even when seeing what appeared to
be his own writing, but if I assure you that this is forged you can be at
peace. Is it not so?"
Amaryllis' lips were trembling; the shock and then this counter
shock were unhinging her. She was horrified at herself that she
should not catch at every straw to prove John was alive, instead of
feeling some sense of relief when Verisschenzko protested that the
postcard was a forgery.
Poor John! Good, and kind, and unselfish. It was all too agitating. But
was just life such a very great thing? She knew that had she the choice
she would rather be dead than separated now from Denzil. And if John were
really to be alive--what misery he would be obliged to suffer, knowing
"Quite apart from what to me is a convincing proof, the scent,"
Verisschenzko went on, "the card must be a forgery because of John's
seeming oblivion of the possibility that you two might have already
carried out his wishes. All this would have been very unlike him. But if
it is, as I think, Ferdinand's and Harietta Boleski's work, they would
not be likely to know that John had desired that Denzil should marry you,
Amaryllis, and so would have thought a short card with longings to see
you would be a natural thing to write. Indeed you can be at rest. And now
I will go and dress for dinner, and we will forget disturbing thoughts."
Amaryllis and Denzil will always remember St�pan's wonderful tact and
goodness to them that evening; he kept everything calm and thrilled them
all with his stories and his conversation and his own wonderfully
magnetic personality. And after dinner he played to them in the green
drawing room and, as Mrs. Ardayre said, seemed to bring peace and healing
to all their troubled souls.
But when he was alone with Denzil late, after the two women had retired
to bed, he sunk into a deep chair in the smoking room and suddenly burst
into a peal of cynical laughter.
"What the devil's up?" demanded Denzil, astonished.
"I am thinking of Harietta's exquisite mistake. She believes the baby is
mine! She is mad with a goat's jealousy; she supposes it is I who will
marry Amaryllis--hence her plot! Does it not show how the good are
protected and the evil fall into their own traps!"
"Of course! She was in love with you!"
"In love! Mon Dieu! you call that love! I mastered her body and was
unobtainable. She was never able to draw me more than a person could to
whom I should pay two hundred francs. She knew that perfectly--it enraged
her always. The threads are now completely in my hands. Conceive of it,
Denzil! The man at the Ardayre ball was her first husband for whom she
always retained some kind of animal affection--because he used to beat
her. They married her to Stanislass just to obtain the secrets of Poland,
and any other thing which she could pick' up. Her marvellous stupidity
and incredible want of all moral restraint has made her the most
brilliant spy. No principles to hamper her--nothing. She has only tripped
up through jealousy now. When she felt that she had lost me she grew to
desire me with the only part of her nature with which she desires
anything, her flesh--then she became unbalanced, and in September before
I left, gave the clue into my hands. I shall not bore you with all the
details, but I have them both--she and Ferdinand Ardayre. The first
husband has gone back to Germany from Sweden, but we shall secure him,
too, presently. Meanwhile I shall hand Harietta to the French
authorities--her last exploits are against France. She has enabled the
Germans to shoot six or seven brave fellows, besides giving information
of the most important kind wormed from foolish elderly adorers and above
all from Stanislass himself."
"She will be shot, I suppose."
"Probably. But first she shall confess about the postcard from the
prison camp. I shall go to Paris immediately, Denzil; there must be
"You will not feel the slightest twinge because she was your mistress, if
she is shot, St�pan? I ask because the combination of possible emotions
is interesting and unusual."
"Not for an instant--" and suddenly Verisschenzko's yellow-green eyes
flashed fire and his face grew transfigured with fierce hate. "You do not
know the affection I had for Stanislass from my boyhood--he was my
leader, my ideal. No paltry aims--a great pioneer of freedom on the
sanest lines. He might have altered the history of our two countries--he
was the light we need, and this foul, loathsome creature has destroyed
not only his soul and his body, but the protector and defender of a
conception of freedom which might have been realised. I would strangle
her with my own hands."
"Stanislass must have been a weakling, St�pan, to have let her destroy
him. He could never have ruled. It strikes me that this is the proof of
another of your theories. It must be some debt of his previous life that
he is paying to this woman. He was given his chance to use strength
against her and failed."
The hate died out of Verisschenzko's face--and the look of calm
"Yes, you are right, Denzil. You are wiser than I. So I shall not give
her up, for punishment of her crimes. I shall only give her up because of
justice--she must not be at large. You see, even in my case,--I who pride
myself on being balanced, can have my true point of view obsessed by
hate. It is an ignoble passion, my son!"
"You will catch Ferdinand too?"
"Undoubtedly--he is just a rotten little snipe, but he does mischief as
Harietta's tool--and through his business in Holland."
"He loathes the English--that is his reason, but Madame Boleski has no
incentive like that."
"Harietta has no country--she would be willing to betray any one of them
to gratify any personal desire. If she had been a patriot exclusively
working for Germany, one could have respected her, but she has often
betrayed their secrets to me--for jewels--and other things she required
at the moment. No mercy can be shown at all."
"In these days there is no use in having sentiment just because a spy is
a woman--but I am glad it is not my duty to deliver her up."
"I cannot help my nature, Denzil,--or rather the attributes of the nation
into which in this life I am born. I shall hand Harietta over to justice
without a regret."
Then they parted for the night with much of the disturbance and the
complex emotions removed from Denzil's heart.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.