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When Verisschenzko reached Paris and discovered the desecration of the
Ikon, an icy rage came over him. He knew, even before questioning his old
servant, that it could only be the work of Harietta. Jealousy alone would
be the cause of such a wanton act. It revealed to him the certainty of
his theory that she had imagined the little Benedict to be his child. No
further proof that the postcard was a forgery was really needed, but he
would see her once more and obtain extra confirmation.
His yellow-green eyes gleamed in a curious way as he stood looking at the
That her ridiculous and accursed hatpin should have dared to touch the
eyes of his soul's lady, and scratch out the face of the child!
But he must not let this emotion of personal anger affect what he
intended in any case to do from motives of justice. In the morning he
would give all his proofs of her guilt to the French authorities, and let
the law take its course--but to-night he would make her come there to his
apartment and hear from him an indictment of her crimes.
He sat down in the comfortable chair in his own sitting room and
began to think.
His face was ominous; all the fierce passions of his nation and of his
nature held him for a while.
His dog, an intelligent terrier whom he loved, sat there before the fire
and watched him, wagging his stump of a tail now and then nervously, but
not daring to approach. Then, after half an hour had gone by, he rose and
went to the telephone. He called up the Universal and asked to be put
through to the apartment of Madame Boleski, and soon heard Harietta's
voice. It was a little anxious--and yet insolent too.
"Yes? Is that you St�pan! Darling Brute! What do you want?"
"You--cannot you come and dine with me to-night--alone?"
His voice was honey sweet, with a spontaneous, frank ring in it, only his
face still looked as a fiend's.
"You have just arrived? How divine!"
"This instant, so I rushed at once to the telephone. I long for
He allowed passion to quiver in the last notes--he must be sure that she
would be drawn.
"He cannot have opened the doors of the Ikon," Harietta thought. "I will
go--to see him again will be worth it anyway!"
"All right!--in half an hour!"
"_Soit_,"--and he put the receiver down.
Then he went again to the Ikon and examined the doors; by slamming them
very hard and readjusting one small golden nail, he could give the
fastening the appearance of its having been jammed and impossible to
open. He ordered a wonderful dinner and some Ch�teau Ykem of 1900.
Harietta, he remembered, liked it better than Champagne. Its sweetness
and its strength appealed to her taste. The room was warm and
delightful with its blazing wood fire. He looked round before he went
to dress, and then he laughed softly, and again Fin nervously wagged
his stump of a tail.
Harietta arrived punctually. She had made herself extremely beautiful.
Her overmastering desire to see Verisschenzko had allowed her usually
keen sense of self-preservation partially to sleep. But even so,
underneath there was some undefined sense of uneasiness.
St�pan met her in the hall, and greeted her in his usual abrupt way
"You will leave your cloak in my room," he suggested, wishing to give her
the chance to look at the Ikon's jammed doors and so put her at her ease.
The moment she found herself alone, she went swiftly to the shrine. She
examined it closely--no the bolt had not been mended. She pulled at the
doors but she could not open them, and she remembered with relief that
she had slammed them hard. That would account for things. He certainly
could not yet know of her action. The evening would be one of pleasure
after all! And there was never any use in speculating about to-morrows!
Verisschenzko was waiting for her in the sitting-room, and they went
straight in to dinner. A little table was drawn up to the fire; all
appeared deliciously intimate, and Harietta's spirits rose.
To her Verisschenzko appeared the most attractive creature on earth.
Indeed, he had a wonderful magnetism which had intoxicated many women
before her day. He was looking at her now with eyes unclouded by glamour.
He saw that she was painted and obvious, and without real charm. She
could no longer even affect his senses. He saw nothing but the reality,
the animal, blatant reality, and in his memory there remained the pierced
out orbs of the Virgin and the scratched face of the Christ child.
Everything fierce and cunning in his nature was in action--he was
glorying in the torture he meant to inflict, the torture of jealousy and
He talked subtly, deliberately stirring her curiosity and arousing her
apprehension. He had not mentioned Amaryllis, and yet he had conveyed to
her, as though it were an unconscious admission, that he had been in
England with her, and that she reigned in his soul. Then he used every
one of his arts of fascination so that all Harietta's desires were
inflamed once more, and by the time she had eaten of the rich Russian
dishes and drank of the Ch�teau Ykem she was experiencing the strongest
emotion she had ever known in her life, while a sense of impotence to
move him augmented her other feelings.
Her eyes swam with passion, as she leaned over the table whispering words
of the most violent love in his ears.
Verisschenzko remained absolutely unstirred.
"How silly you were to send that postcard to Lady Ardayre," he remarked
contemplatively in the middle of one of her burning sentences. "It was
not worthy of your usual methods--a child could see that it was a
forgery. If you had not done that I might have made you very happy
to-night--for the last time--my little goat!"
"St�pan--what card? But you are going to make me happy anyway, darling
Brute; that is what I have come for, and you know it!"
Her eyes were not so successfully innocent as usual when she lied. She
was uneasy at his stolidity, some fear stayed with her that perhaps he
meant not to gratify her desires just to be provoking. He had teased her
more than once before.
Verisschenzko went on, lighting his cigarette calmly:
"It was a silly plot--Ferdinand Ardayre wrote it and you dictated it; I
perceived the whole thing at once. You did it because you were jealous of
Lady Ardayre--you believe that I love her--"
"I do not know anything about a card, but I _am_ jealous about that
hateful bit of bread and butter," and her eyes flashed. "It is so unlike
you to worry over such a creature--I'm what you like!"
He laughed softly. "A man has many sides--you appeal to his lowest.
Fortunately it is not in command of him all the time--but let me tell you
more about the forgery. You over-reached yourselves--you made John ignore
something which would have been his first thought, thus the fraud was
exposed at once."
Her jealousy blazed up, so that she forgot herself and prudence.
"You mean about the child--your child--"
The ominous gleam came into Verisschenzko's eyes.
"My child--you spoke of it once before and I warned you--I never
She got up from the table and came and flung her arms round his neck.
"St�pan, I love you--I love you! I would like to kill Amaryllis and the
child--I want you--why are you so changed?"
He only laughed scornfully again, while he disengaged her arms.
"Do you know how I found out? By the perfume--the same as you told me
must be that of Stanislass' mistress--on the handkerchief marked 'F.A.'
The whole thing was dramatically childish. You thought to prove her
husband was still alive, would stop my marriage with Amaryllis Ardayre!"
"Then you are going to marry her!"
Harietta's hazel eyes flashed fire, her face had grown distorted with
passion and her cheeks burned beyond the rouge.
She appeared a most revolting sight to St�pan. He watched her with cold,
critical eyes. As she put out her hands he noticed how the thumbs turned
right back. How had he ever been able to touch her in the past! He
shivered with disgust and degradation at the thought.
She saw his movement of repulsion, and completely lost her head.
She flung herself into his arms and almost strangled him in her furious
embrace, while she threw all restraint to the winds and poured out a
torrent of passion, intermingled with curses for one who had dared to try
and rob her of this adored mate.
It was a wonderful and very sickening exhibition, Verisschenzko thought.
He remained as a statue of ice. Then when she had exhausted herself a
little, he spoke with withering calm.
"Control yourself, Harietta; such emotion will leave ugly lines, and you
cannot afford to spoil the one good you possess. I have not the least
desire for you--I find that you look plain and only bore me. But now
listen to me for a little--I have something to say!" His voice changed
from the cynical callousness to a deep note of gravity: "You need not
even tell me in words that you sent the forgery--you have given me ample
proof. That subject is finished--but I will make you listen to the
recital of some of your vile deeds." The note grew sterner and his eyes
held her cowed. "Ah! what instruments of the devil are such women as
you--possessing the greatest of all power over men you have used it only
for ill--wherever you have passed there is a trail of degradation and
slime. Think of Stanislass! A man of fine purpose and lofty ideals. What
is he now? A poor lifeless semblance of a man with neither brain nor
will. You have used him--not even to gratify your own low lust, but to
betray countries--and one of them your husband's country, which ought to
have been your own."
She sank to her knees at his side; he went on mercilessly. He spoke of
many names which she knew, and then he came to Ferdinand Ardayre.
"They tell me he is drinking and sodden with morphine, and raves wildly
of you. Think of them all--where are they now? Dead many of them--and you
have survived and prospered like a vampire, sucking their blood. Do you
ever think of a human being but your own degraded self? You would
sacrifice your nearest and dearest for a moment's personal gain. You are
not caught and strangled because the outside good natures come easily to
you. It makes things smooth to smile and commit little acts of showy
kindness which cost you nothing. You live and breathe and have your being
like a great maggot fattening on a putrid corpse. I blush to think that I
have ever used your body for my own ends, loathing you all the time. I
have watched you cynically when I should have wrung your neck."
She sobbed hoarsely and held out her hands.
"For all these things you might still have gone free, Harietta--and fate
would punish you in time, but you have committed that great crime for
which there can be no mercy. You have acted the part of a spy. A wretched
spy, not for patriotism but for your own ends--you have not been faithful
to either side. Have you not often given me the secrets of your late
husband Hans? Do you care one atom which country wins? Not you. The
whole sordid business has had only one aim--some personal gratification."
He paused--and she began to speak, now choking with rage, but he motioned
her to be silent.
"Do you think so lightly of the great issues which are shaking the world
that you imagine that you can do these things with impunity? I tell you
that soon you must pay the price. I am not the only one who knows of
She got up from the floor now and tossed her head. Important things had
never been to her realities--her fear left her. What agitated her now was
that St�pan, whom she adored, should speak to her in such a tone. She
threw herself into his arms once more, passionately proclaiming her love.
He thrust her from him in shrinking disgust, and the cruel vein in his
character was aroused.
"Love!--do not dare to desecrate the name of love. You do not know what
it means. I do--and this shall always remain with you as a remembrance. I
love Amaryllis Ardayre. She is my ideal of a woman--tender and restrained
and true--I shall always lay my life at her feet. I love her with a love
such beings as you cannot dream of, knowing only the senses and playing
only to them. That will be your knowledge always, that I worship and
reverence this woman, and hold you in supreme contempt."
Harietta writhed and whined on the sofa where she had fallen.
"Go," he went on icily. "I have no further use for you, and my car is
waiting below. You may as well avail yourself of it and return to your
hotel. In the morning the last proof of the interest I have taken in you
may be given, but to-night you can sleep."
Harietta cried aloud--she was frightened at last. What did he mean? But
even fear was swallowed up in the frantic thought that he had done with
her, that he would never any more hold her in his arms. Her world lay in
ruins, he seemed the one and only good. She grovelled on the floor and
kissed his feet.
"Master, Master! Keep me near you--I will be your slave--"
But Verisschenzko pushed her gently aside with his foot and going to a
table near took up a cigarette. He lighted it serenely, glancing
indifferently at the dishevelled heap of a woman still crouching on
"Enough of this dramatic nonsense," and he blew a ring of smoke. "I
advise you to go quietly to bed--you may not sleep so softly on
Fear overcame her again--what could he mean? She got up and held on to
the table, searching his face with burning eyes.
"Why should I not sleep so softly always?" and her voice was thick.
He laughed hoarsely.
"Who knows? Life is a gamble in these days. You must ask your interesting
She became ghastly white--that there was real danger was beginning
to dawn upon her. The rouge stood out like that on the painted face
of a clown.
Verisschenzko remained completely unmoved. He pressed the bell, and his
Russian servant, warned beforehand, brought him in his fur coat and hat,
and assisted him to put them on.
"I will take Madame to get her cloak," he announced calmly. "Wait here
to show us out."
There was nothing for Harietta to do but follow him, as he went towards
the bedroom door. She was stunned.
He walked over to the Ikon, and slipping a paper knife under them opened
wide the doors; then he turned to her, and the very life melted within
her when she saw his face.
"This is your work," and he pointed to the mutilations, "and for that and
many other things, Harietta, you shall at last pay the price. Now come, I
will take you back to your lover, and your husband--both will be waiting
and longing for your return. Come!"
She dropped on the floor and refused to move so that he was obliged to
call in the servant, and together they lifted her, the one holding her
up, while the other wrapped her in her cloak. Then, each supporting her,
they made their way down the stairs, and placed her in the waiting motor,
Verisschenzko taking the seat at her side--and so they drove to the
Universal. She should sleep to-night in peace and have time to think over
the events of the evening. But to-morrow he must no longer delay about
giving information to the authorities.
She cowered in the motor until they had almost reached the door, when she
flung her arms round his neck and kissed him wildly again, sobbing with
rage and terror:
"You shall not marry Amaryllis; I will kill you both first."
He smiled in the darkness, and she felt that he was mocking her, and
suddenly turned and bit his arm, her teeth meeting in the cloth of his
He shook her off as he would have done a rat:
"Never quite apropos, Harietta! Always a little late! But here we have
arrived, and you will not care for your admirers, the concierge, and the
lift men, to see you in such a state. Put your veil over your face and go
quietly to your rooms. I will wish you a very good-night--and farewell!"
He got out and stood with mock respect uncovered to assist her, and she
was obliged to follow him. The hall porter and the numerous personnel of
the hotel were looking on.
He bowed once more and appeared to kiss her hand:
"Good-bye, Harietta! Sleep well."
Then he re-entered the car and was whirled away.
She staggered for a second and then moved forward to the lift. But as she
went in, two tall men who had been waiting stepped forward and joined
her, and all three were carried aloft, and as she walked to her salon she
saw that they were following her.
"There will be no more kicks for thee, my Angel!" the maid, peeping
from a door, whispered exultingly to Fou-Chow! "Thy Marie has saved
thee at last!"
* * * * *
When Verisschenzko again reached his own sitting room he paced up and
down for half an hour. He was horribly agitated, and angry with himself
for being so.
Denzil had been right; when it came to the point, it was a ghastly thing
to have to do, to give a woman up to death--even though her crimes amply
justified such action.
And what was death?
To such a one as Harietta what would death mean?
A sinking into oblivion for a period, and then a rebirth in some sphere
of suffering where the first lessons of the meanings of things might be
learned? That would seem to be the probable working of the law--so that
she might eventually obtain a soul.
He must not speculate further about her though, he must keep his nerve.
And his own life--what would it now become? Would the spirit of freedom,
stirring in his beloved country, arrive at any good? Or would the red
current of revolution, once let loose, swamp all reason and flow in
rivers of blood?
He would be powerless to help if he let weakness overmaster him now.
The immediate picture looked black and hopeless to his far-seeing eyes.
But his place must be in Petrograd now, until the end. His activities,
which had obliged him to be away from Russia, were finished, and new ones
had begun which he must direct, there in the heart of things.
"The world is aching for freedom, God," his stormy thoughts ran, "but we
cannot hope to receive it until we have paid the price of the �ons of
greed and self-seeking which have held us, the ignorance, the low
material gain. We must now reap that sowing. The divine Christ--one
man--was enough as a sacrifice in that old period of the world's day--but
now there must be a holocaust of the bravest and best for our
He threw himself into his chair and gazed into the glowing embers. What
pictures were forming themselves there? Nations arising glorified by a
new religion of common sense, education universally enjoyed, the great
forces studied, and Nature's fundamental principles reckoned with and
To hunt his food.
To recreate his species.
_And to kill his enemy._
A bright blade sheathed but ready, a clear judgment trained and used,
ideals nobly striven for, and Wisdom the High Priest of God.
These were the visions he saw in the fire, and he started to his feet and
stretched out his arms.
"Strength, God! Strength!" that was his prayer.
"That we may go--
Armoured and militant,
New-pithed, new-souled, new-visioned, up the steeps
To those great altitudes whereat the weak
Live not, but only the strong
Have leave to strive, and suffer, and achieve."
Then he sat down and wrote to Denzil.
"I have all the needed proofs, my friend. Marry my soul's lady in peace
and make her happy. There come some phases in a man's life which require
all his will to face. I hope I am no weakling. I return to Russia
immediately. Events there will enable me to blot out some disturbing
"The end is not yet. Indeed, I feel that my real life is only just
"Ferdinand Ardayre is deeply incriminated with Harietta; it is only a
question of a little time and he will be taken too. Then, Denzil, you, in
the natural course of events, would have been the Head of the Family. You
will need all your philosophy never to feel any jar in the situation with
your son as the years go on. You will have to look at it squarely, dear
old friend, and know that it is impossible to have interfered with
destiny and to have gone scott free. Then you will be able to accept
title affair with common sense and prize what you have obtained, without
spoiling it with futile regrets. You have paid most of your score with
wounds and suffering, and now can expect what happiness the agony of the
world can let a man enjoy.
"My blessings to you both and to the Ardayre son.
"And now adieu for a long time."
He had hardly written the last line when the telephone rang, and the
frantic voice of Stanislass, his ancient friend, called to him!
Harietta had been taken away to St. Lazare--her maid had denounced her.
What could be done?
A great wave of relief swept over St�pan. So he was not to be the
instrument of justice after all!
How profoundly he thanked God!
But the irony of the thing shook him.
Harietta would pay with her life for having maltreated a dog!
Truly the workings of fate were marvellous.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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