THE PETROFF TREASURE
This is a two-part serial—completed in the November I issue.
Was it love of Helen Borrodaile that brought Kurt Zander across Europe to meet in London? It masqueraded as love, but there was that ugly sight at 36 Warrington Mansions.
WHEN first I made acquaintance with the little Russian eating-house, it was an eating-house and nothing more. Its days as a restaurant were yet to come. That was away back in the dim ages, nineteen hundred and ten to be exact, and the sign: Cafe Trepok. Proprietor, Ivan Grodno
hung precariously from rusty staples above the broken flight of steps leading to the basement of one of the smaller houses in Greek Street, Soho. There, if one was so minded, one could dine off pirozhki and schachlik, and like delicacies dear to the Near Eastern palate, and sip vodka and kvass to one’s heart’s, if not to one’s stomach’s content.
In those days the tables were covered with cloths of barbaric design, crudely patterned in red and white, the china and glass were more than a little grubby, and the walls adorned with woodcuts from divers periodicals, depicting gentlemen, for the most part with soulful eyes and wearing bushy, black beards, patriots who had worked, and, in all probability, died, for the regeneration of their country. And beneath them were grease patches where rested each evening the unshorn, and too often unwashed, locks of their brethren still in the flesh who were carrying on the good work, dreaming their dreams as others had dreamed them in the basement of Papa Grodno’s eating house.
That was, as I have said, in nineteen hundred and ten. As correspondence clerk to the firm of Rubloff’s Sons, sugar merchants in Eastcheap, it has been my custom, now and again, to take the Underground from Mark Lane
after business hours and eat my meal with Ivan Grodno. It was the simplest plan, and a most agreeable one, whereby I was able to keep myself au fait with the speaking of Russian. All day and every day I was kept busy in the writing and translating, either of the various letters that passed back and forth between the Eastcheap office and the headquarters of the firm in Kiev or of documents at the censor’s office where I held a small appointment, but, apart from the yearly visits that business compelled me to take to Russia, I had little opportunity of perfecting myself conversationally. Also I may confess to a certain weakness for bortch, a soup that friend Grodno prepared every bit as well as they did at the Metropole in Moscow.
It was while I was upon one of these annual business trips that the war had broken out, and I—I will not dwell upon my war career; this is not a war story, and the war is over these two years and more, and that career may be summed up by half a dozen episodes— Tannenberg, where I fought in the company of other Englishmen whom war had caught in Petrograd; a bed in the Alexandra Hospital in Moscow; the Revolution; the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva, where I inhabited a cell together with about half a score of other unfortunates; exchange of prisoners; invalided out; and back again to my desk in Eastcheap, and to my bortch soup with Papa Grodno.
EVERYTHING had been changed. The Cafe Trepok has now become the Hotel Romanoff, and occupies •the entire first floor of a corner building in Dean Street. Papa Grodno, too, has changed, and now beams and radiates from among gleaming fruit epergnes and plate glass and crimson plush with a splendour of which one would never have thought him capable. There are no grease patches now from long-haired, enthusiastic heads, for Papa Grodno has no manner of use for any patriot who would so abuse the delicate pastel shades of the satin paper that had cost hi n t velve-and-sixpence the piece in Berners Street. Besides, the patriots would seem to have gone, drive" away, perhaps, by the amended tariff that proclaims itself from Grodno’s dainty shell-shaped menus. Perhaps they had gone to take up some lucrative and exalted post in the comicopera Government that their friends had set up over there in Moscow. Be that as it may, the tables of Papa Grodno knew them no more.
An ill wind to so many, the new order of things had wafted the breeze of prosperity to Ivan Grodno in gusts of plenty. From being a rendezvous for undesirable exiles and impecunious students, his restaurant had become the very hub of the new Russian life that was springing up in the metropolis. Exiles still, his patrons might be, but not the hang-dog refugees of leaner years. Counts, barons, sometimes a Grand Duke, passed through the revolving doors of the Romanoff. Kerensky, I believe, dined there fairly often when in London. Princes of commerce, with estates over in Russia as big as Yorkshire. Officers without commissions, diplomats without portfolios. And all with the tastes of better days upon their palates, spending carefully but adequately the shreds of the great fortunesthat had once been theirs. Rumor had it, too, that old Grodno possessed a keen business eye in the matter of any trifling heirloom that, having been enshrined in some noble family for a couple of centuries, was now for disposal. The wily old Russian had not lived twenty years among the shifting population of Soho without knowing enough to enable him to be of assistance to any of his aristocratic patrons who might find themselves temporarily in financial embarrassment. Provided the security was adequate, Ivan Grodno was very much at their service.
T j PON one of those evenings in the early spring of Lv this present year of 1921, that made one think that winter had forgotten us, I was seated at my little table set between the two big windows that faced Dean Street alone with a Russian newspaper and my thoughts— both gloomy. In particular, I was depressed that evening by reason of a letter I had received from Kiev. My employer, Monsieur Rubloff, had decided—and I wondered at that decision being so long delayed—to retire from the unequal contest with business under Soviet conditions and emigrate into Sweden, his sole means being what he had been able to smuggle out of the country, a pitiable little sum enough after he had paid a friend in Lenin’s Government for his passport. I was sorry for Monsieur Rubloff, a courteous old gentleman, whom on my visits to Kiev I had grown to like, but I consoled myself with the thought that, after all, he was more fortunate than most, and that if I was handing out sympathy I might spare a little nearer home. With the closing of the Eastcheap office, I, Murray Drake, would soon have to take my place in the army of ex-service men who—and then my dreams of a barrel organ and a mask in Victoria Street were broken into by something that was happening at the door of the restaurant.
A girl in, I should say, the earliest of twenties, in earnest, almost agitated conversation with Papa Grodno. Framed in the doorway, silhouetted against the golden twilight of the spring evening, they made a strange pair—the girl, slim in her close-fitting coat and toque, the big Russian in his squat frock-coat and square-cut beard. As I looked towards them Grodno was shrugging his shoulders and_beginning to thread his way between the tables towards that part of the room where I was sitting. He paused about three feet from me and drew back a chair.
“But, mademoiselle, it is an hour since you were here. I have had others at this table. I have been full to-night—see, there is nothing!”
Eagerly the girl bent forward, raising the cloth and peering beneath the table and the adjacent chairs. Now, for the first time, I could see the pure oval of cheek and chin, the big eyes alive with something very like fear. The sun, striking through the big windows, made a glory of her hair.
“But it must be somewhere!” And I, not a yard away, gathered the gist of what was troubling her. Dining at the table by which she now stood, a very picture of despair, she had left behind her a letter—a letter written in Russian, she was saying, on thin paper, and enclosed in an envelope. It was a private letter, and could be of no value to anyone but herself. Would Monsieur Grodno be so good as to question the waiters?
Again Papa Grodno shrugged expressively. If it would satisfy mademoiselle, he would question the entire establishment staff. But his garçons were honest. He would stake his life upon that. More likely that someone who had come to the table after mademoiselle —and mademoiselle had gone white as he said this, and had clutched at the back of the chair as though for support.
The staff had emerged from the cross-examination unshaken. No one of them had seen anything approaching a letter. They said that they could not very well have missed seeing it. There had been two parties at the table since mademoiselle had left, Jules said, an English journalist entertaining friends, the other a stranger who had dined alone. Then the party turned towards the door and passed out of earshot. I turned to my reading of the “Krasnaia Gazeta.”
Ten minutes later, when I refolded the paper preparatory to departure, the thing happened that, had I given the matter due thought, was exceedingly likely to happen. The envelope that had been the subject of so much anxiety fell from between the folds and lay staring up at me from the tablecloth. I called to my mind how, as I had entered the restaurant, I had picked up the copy of the “Gazeta” lying where some previous diner had left it upon one of the tables. I remembered now from which table I had taken it. Feeling vaguely foolish, I carried it over to Papa Grodno.
“Ah, and the pretty young lady has gone!
She took a taxi from the corner there. The address is there—yes? Then Jules shall take it when we have closed.”
“But that will be eleven o’clock,” I said.
“So, But Jules cannot leave before.
There will be suppers to serve--”
I glanced down at the writing on the
envelope that lay on the little mahogany ledge of old Grodno’s desk.
“Warrington Mansions, Chelsea.”
“Not much out of the way, Grodno. I think I’ll take it. After all, I’m partly to blame—and I’ve nothing better to do.”
The old fellow looked at me quizzingly. The lady in the toque had been very pretty. But he said nothing, only shrugged those big shoulders of his and raised his bushy eyebrows the very fraction of an inch. I placed the envelope in my breast pocket and nodded goodnight to Jules. Then I passed out through the revolving doors into Dean Street.
WARRINGTON Mansions I found to be one of those modem blocks of flats that appear to be doing their best to elbow Romance out of the little niche it has made for itself in Chelsea. Tier upon tier it raises its stuccoed arrogance to the river, the dead eyes of a hundred windows look unmoved upon a riverside beloved of Whistler and Carlyle. I stood leaning upon the parapet of the Embankment looking up at those windows, wondering which of those patches of ochre in the purple night belonged to 366, and asking myself what sort of a fool I had been to come upon my present errand.
After all, what shadow of right had I to thrust myself into the affairs of an unknown girl with glorious hair and big, frightened eyes? Could not a District Messenger have performed with greater dignity and far more despatch the office I had taken upon myself? Certainly he would not have done as I had done, made the errand an excuse for a spring evening’s saunter.
A lot I had cared for any anxiety that might be felt by girls with big frightened eyes. A cab and a shilling messenger, I told myself, would have fitted the picture far better than an interfering correspondence clerk with an idle hour on his hands.
And yet, having gone so far, I was in no mind to turn back. Something seemed to whisper that there was Romance afoot that night. It whispered in the cool breeze that came sighing across the river; it was there in the tracery of the leaves thrown on the pavement by the arc light above my head, in the shadowy shapes of the barges as they drifted past me—in the memory of big, blue eyes set in the oval of a face.
No. 366 proved to be a second floor flat facing the river, and as I stood waiting for an answer to my ring,
I wondered what manner of person would open to me, and how I should introduce myself and my errand. Would Miss Borrodaile herself - Helen Borrodaile was the name on the envelope—or would —
AND then, whether it was some shadow or some > slight sound I do not know, but I became suddenly aware of that curious feeling that I was being watched by unseen eyes. I felt that there was someone behind the thick, stained glass panel of the door standing very still. Then the door was slowly opened.
Opened by a man barely five feet in height, clad in evening-dress, but over it a snuff-coloured dressinggown that had seen many a better day—a man with the most disconcerting face I ever remember to have set eyes upon. A large brow from which the silver hair was brushed straight back, and the mildest of blue eyes, gave the lie to an atrocious mouth, thin and looselipped.
“Miss Borrodaile---” I began.
“My niece. You wish to see Miss Borrodaile?”
The man held the door wider, and I passed into the tiny hallway.
“Our maid is out, Mr.
He paused inquiringly.
“Drake— Mr. Murray Drake. I am afraid that Miss Borrodaile will not know my name. I have called to return to her an envelope that I think is her property.”
I had taken a card from my case—a business-card was all I had with me—as I spoke, and after a glance at it the old gentleman had placed it upon a small silver salver that stood on the hall-table.
He was about to speak, when a door on my left, behind which a light had been burning, was thrown open and my lady of the blue eyes ran almost into my arms. Miss Helen Borrodaile was in a negligee of some pale blue stuff with a lot of laciness about it, and the lamp-light in the room behind her showed the wonder of her air. Auburn it was, that rich mahogany tint that
Currie and Banting gTRIKING, vigorous feature articles by these two Canadian leaders in their respective fields, General Sir A. W. Currie and Dr. F. G. Banting, will appear in early issues of MacLean s.
But I was allowed little time for registering impressions.
“I told you it would turn up, uncle. Here have we
been worrying--” She broke off and turned to me
with a bewitching little smile of apology. “I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Drake—it was Drake I heard, wasn’t it? Do tell me how you found it.”
A little hand had slid out from the laciness and taken the envelope from me.
“In a copy of the ‘Gazeta’ that I picked up in the Romanoff,” I said.
“You—you are Russian?”
It was the old man who spoke, and in his voice was an eagerness that I was far from understanding.
“Not Russian,” I said, “but I know Russia.”
“And speak—I mean, read it?”
It was not eagerness now, but fear—a real, gripping fear.
“Well enough,” I replied; an$ then, to place the old fellow at his ease, “I could have sent a messenger with it,” I said, “but the envelope is open, and I thought that perhaps a messenger might not have the scruples as to privacy that I have.”
It was a little badly put, but it served its purpose, for I saw the relief that my words brought to the old man. In fact, this uncle of my lady of the blue eyes became quite affable. He held the door leading to the lamp-lit room open, with the remark that his niece and himself were about to take an after-dinner cup of tea, and it would be an honour were I to join them.
It was a pleasant hour that I spent in that room facing the night and the river, with all its mysteries of purple and blue. Surely the “horns of elfland were faintly blowing” that night.
The tea was served in the Russian fashion, from a samovar, and yet there was nothing other than English about my hosts, although it was plain that they both were well acquainted with the Land of Mystery. Old Mr. Borrodaile was a man of the world, and had I known which to trust, his eyes or his mouth, I might have liked him well enough. As it was, I reserved my judgment.
WE SPOKE of many things, principally, perhaps, of Russia and of what was taking place there. News had begun to leak through that day of the big rising in Kronstadt, and of the counter-revolution that had spread through the country. Mr. Borrodaile’s remarks were as enigmatic as his features, and for the life of me I could not make out whether he was glad or sorry that the doom of Bolshevism seemed imminent. Perhaps he trusted me as little as I trusted him.
Miss Borrodaile made the tea, chatted, and showed me photographs of the places she had visited in Russia. She sang, too, a plaintive little ballad of the Ukraine, a haunting melody that tuned well with the glamour with which I was determined to endow that night.
Was I falling in love? I wondered. All I knew was that my lines had fallen in the pleasantest of pleasant places, and I was more than content to let it go at that. The awakening was to come soon enough.
A clock somewhere in the network of streets behind the river-front was striking ten when I rose to take my departure, and to my great disappointment—although 1 had no manner of excuse for hoping otherwise—I saw that it was to be “good-bye.” There was nothing that I could construe into expressing a desire on the part of either of my hosts that they had any idea of seeing me again. The episode, I told myself, was ended. It had been a pleasant episode, but it had ended.
That is, until I was out in the hall-way at the top of the wide flight of stairs leading down to the entrance of the building.
Old Borrodaile had accompanied me to the door of the flat, and as I turned I saw thaff he had taken a step back and was shutting the door of the room where we had left Miss Borrodaile. Then, leaning forward so that his breath fanned my cheek:
“I would be more than glad, Mr. Drake,” he said, “if you would meet me in the Cafe Royal on Tuesday night at nine.”
And, before I could answer, this extraordinary old man had stepped back into the passage of the flat and had shut the door. The light within the hall was switched off immediately.
FROM half-past eight until near upon closing time I sat upon one of the plush seats of the Cafe Royal, drinking coffee and waiting the coming of Mr. Paul Borrodaile. But that gentleman did not put in an appearance. I was slightly annoyed. It seemed to me a scurvy trick for the man to play upon one who had put himself out to do a good turn. Borrodaile had the card with my business address and telephone number that I had left on the hall table, and it would have been a simple matter for him to have sent me a message. Two days had passed since my visit to the flat. I had half a mind to take a taxi out to Chelsea, and then I put the thing from my mind, played and lost three games of dominoes with a chance companion, and walked back to my rooms in Craven Street, to learn from my landlady that a young lady had called shortly after I had gone out.
“And the lady left no name?”
The landlady shook her head.
“No, sir. Leastways, the second time she came--”
“So she called more than once?”
“Three times altogether, Mr. Drake. The third time she said I was to say as ’ow she would be in the gardens at Lincoln’s Inn Fields at eleven to-morrow morning. She told me she got your address from the caretaker at the office.”
I thanked Mrs. Searl and made my way upstairs. I was telling myself that I had not been very far wrong when I had scented Romance—with a big R—in the air of Chelsea. I had no doubt as to who my visitor had been. A visit to my rooms, an assignation in Lincoln’s Inn Fields—what more, if one were seeking adventure, could one ask for?
And then my thoughts took a saner turn. Helen Borrodaile had not struck me as a girl who would wear her heart upon her sleeve; certainly she was not the girl to come three times to a man’s rooms without a very good and urgent reason. I wondered whether she had shown any signs of agitation? I would have liked to question Mrs. Searl as to that, but I thought it better not. Helen Borrodaile could scarcely have come three times to tell me that her uncle would be unable to keep the appointment he had made with me, neither would it call for a meeting in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to tell me the old man had not turned up. And then, tired of arguing in a circle, I mixed myself a strong whisky-andsoda and went to bed.
It still wanted half an hour of the appointed time when I seated myself upon one of the benches that surround the summer house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Around me the grubby little children from Clare Market played noisily. The brown sparrows hopped within a few feet of me, cocking their knowing little heads as though wondering whether I would bring from my pocket a luncheon package from which might fall a few crumbs. It was a morning of sun, with a cool wind that stirred the dust into little eddies about my feet. Through the leafless branches of the trees the tall building of the College of Surgeons loomed cold and grey.
She came into the square from the gate nearest to Holborn, and I could not fail to notice the pallor of her face as she walked to where I was sitting. I saw, too, that she was continually looking behind her, as though she feared to be followed. I rose and went to meet her, and we shook hands and walked back to the bench. “I am sorry that I was out last night,” I said.
“I wonder what you must think of me, Mr. Drake?” I could have told her there and then what I thought of her. I ached to do so, but it did not seem opportune.
And so I said nothing, there seemed nothing to be said. I was feeling very sorry for this pale-faced girl with the dark rims beneath the blue eyes. She was silent for a little while as, with downcast eyes, she traced patterns in the dust with the ferrule of her parasol. Then : “I wonder whether you have time to listen to a story, Mr. Drake? It won’t take long to tell.”
“A story of Russia?”
“Of Russia—yes—and of a villain.”
I remembered the backward glances the girl had given as she entered the gardens.
“Please tell me,” I said.
And after a little pause Helen Borrodaile began in a low voice to tell me her story. The sparrows hopped about us, the children screamed and laughed at their games, but, after the girl’s first few sentences, I heeded them not. I was far away, away in that land that had always held for me so great a fascination.
“The summer of 1915, I think it was, when the letter came,” she was saying, “I could not at first remember the name of Petroff, but' then I called to mind a timid little slip of a girl with whom I had been at school at Roedean. Her name had been Petroff—Sylvie Petroff —and we had been friends of sorts. I remembered her as a shy, dark-eyed little maiden who did not make friends easily, and I took her under my wing. Three years had passed, and I told myself that Sylvie must now be about twenty. The letter from Dr. Petroff—her father —was to tell me that his daughter had been attacked by a severe nervous breakdown, following strenuous war-work in a hospital in Moscow. Her mother was dead, and now that Sylvie was convalescent, her thoughts had flown back to England and to me. These things do happen in nervous disorders, especially in convalescence. Dr. Petroff, with many apologies and pleading his great love for his daughter, begged me to come to Russia and stay a little while with Sylvie.
“At first uncle would not hear of it. He said it was too dangerous. Anything might happen in Russia. But I overcame his scruples, and I think he was rather willing that I should complete my education by the learning of Russian, and it would improve my French as well. And so I went. That was in the autumn of 1915. I arrived at Dr. Petroff’s house in Kanev about seven miles from Kiev, in the first week of October. You know Kiev, Mr. Drake?”
“Then you will know Kanev. It was half an hour by train from Kiev. A pretty little place, and the doctor’s house one of those quaint, gay little places one sees in Russia. I showed you a photograph of it when you were at the flat. It lay back from the road built in a clearing of a forest. I used to think how bizarre it was with its gaudy minarets and towers against the black trees. I was very happy at Kanev.
“I found Sylvie practically recovered from her breakdown, and back again at her war work. This time it was nearer home, in the Nicolas Hospital in the Kreshchatik in Kiev. She went back and forth every day.' It was in the Nicolas that she met Kurt Zander, an officer of noble birth who was recovering from a wound he got at Tannenberg.
He was nearly well, and Dr. Petroff, whose house was home for all convalescent officers, asked him to come for a week or so to Kanev before rejoining his regiment. You can guess what happened, Mr. Drake?”
“The old story,” I said with a smile.
“Yes. Within three days of Zander’s arrival the engagement was announced. I think it had been agreed upon while he had been in the hospital. And then—I hardly know how to go on—one day I was returning to the house from a walk in the forest, when I found Zander waiting for me. He was sitting upon a fallen trunk by the side of the forest road. It was a lonely spot, and there was something in Zander’s face that frightened me. It was half dark, and the great trees loomed up like ghosts. I had heard rumours concerning Kurt Zander, terrible things that he had done during the occupation of East Prussia. I had not believed them—but they came back to me as I saw Zander rise from the tree-trunk and come towards me.
“He made love to me, Mr. Drake, there in the wood. Horrible things he said to me, things that told me plainly that he had no love for my little friend, but that he was thinking only of the money. Dr. Petroff was a very rich man, one of the wealthiest sugar kings in Kiev, and Sylvie was an only daughter. Sometimes I think Zander was mad that day—I cannot speak of it now. I don’t want to .remember that time.
I know only that I struck at his evil face with the stick I was carrying, and that somehow the twisting path and the growing darkness helped me--
“That night I sat in my little room watching the stars over the forest, and trying to make up my mind how I should act. Dinner had passed as usual, and Zander had explained the weal that scarred his cheek as having been caused by a low-hanging branch as he had come home through the forest. Two or three times I found his eyes upon mine, and although I knew that they held some message, I could not read it. I think Zander was one of those men who have an influence over women. The thought that I would betray him I do not think entered his head. But upstairs in my room, away from his sinister presence, I knew where lay my duty.
“I went to the head of the stairs and looked down into the hall. There was a stream of light coming from beneath the door where I knew Dr. Petroff would be at his writing. I had made up my mind what I had to do, and I did not hesitate. I crept downstairs past Sylvie’s door and down into the hall. And when I entered the study I saw that the doctor was not alone. Kurt Zander was seated before him at the table, and the two men were playing chess. The doctor looked up.
“ ‘Why, Miss Borrodaile!’ And then something seemed to come to me, to give me strength. I had come to tell Dr. Petroff a story, and I would do so. I think the cool dignity, the suggestion of strength in the doctor’s face, dispelled any fears I might have had. I was rather glad than otherwise that Kurt Zander was there to defend himself if he could. It seemed fairer than going behind his back.' And so, standing there before them both, I told everything that had happened in the forest. I spoke, too, of the things that I had heard about East Prussia, and I could see that this told on the man more than the other. His face blanched and he turned to the doctor as though he would speak. Dr. Petroff silenced him with a gesture, and I went on to the end of the story. And when I had finished, Dr. Petroff took me by the hand and led me from the room. In the hall he called a maid and directed that I should be taken to my room. Then he turned and went back into his study. I heard the door close as I turned the corner of the staircase.
“The room was just below mine, and I sat at the window for a long while wondering what was happening downstairs. The light from the windows cut little squares of radiance on the terrace, and once or twice I heard voices raised in anger. When I had been in bed perhaps an hour, I was awakened by the noise of sleigh runners on the snow. In the morning Kurt Zander was gone. Sylvia was told that orders had come for him to rejoin his regiment at Kharkof. A week later the poor girl was shown a paper reporting that Kurt Zander had been killed in action. It was a noble deception, and Dr. Petroff told me the truth. The East Prussian scandals hadjbeen proved to the hilt, and Zander, dismissed the service, was now in the fortress of Peter and Paul in Petrograd. You are interested in my story, Mr. Drake?” “Very. But I am wondering why you tell it to me, a stranger. Forgive me, Miss Borrodaile, but, interested as I am, I——”
She leant towards me. The sweet scent of her hair came to me.
“I am telling you this because you are the only friend I have in England. We have a few acquaintances —but you, Mr. Drake, know Russia, and I want advice. We are in great trouble. I saw by the card you left that you represented a firm in Kiev, and it seemed somehow as though Heaven had sent you——”
“I am here to help you, Miss Borrodaile,” I said, “in any way that is possible.”
She smiled her thanks.
“A/TAY I go on with the story?” she asked. And, after a moment’s thought: “Dr. Petroff sent us away after that, Sylvie and myself, to a friend in Odessa. Sylvie was very ill. I think the news of Kurt’s death was more than she could bear. Sometimes we thought of telling her the truth, but it seemed kinder, somehow, to let her fight out her battle. To know that her lover was false, that his hands were stained with innocent blood of East Prussian women and children, would be harder for her than to think of him as one of the heroes of her country. We were away a month, and then, on our return, things went on much as they had done before, the coming of Zander. And then came the revolution— the first revolution, and although my uncle implored me to return to England I could not leave Sylvie. I did not think the girl had long to live, and I think that her father knew also. It seemed cowardly to leave them. Besides, there was no danger with Kerensky in power, only a little discomfort. Then came the real debacle.
“You know, Mr. Drake, how the professional classes were hit by the coming of Bolshevism. For a little while, by means of heavy bribes, Dr. Petroff was able to live unmolested. His sugar refineries in Kiev were taken over by the workmen, and the doctor never went near them. It was seldom that he left Kanev. But things could not go on like that. As the Soviet grew in power it extended its net. Food must be found for Moscow and Petrograd. Bands were sent out under Red Guards to commandeer all that might be useful to the Government in allaying the discontent in the capital. And when the blow fell it fell with ghastly suddenness.
“Sylvie and I were in the drawing room, seated before the stove when the doctor came to us and told us that we must make ready for departure. He had been in Kiev that day, and had refused to come to terms with those in power, and he had nothing to expect from them but the harshest treatment. It had been only by the faithfulness of a few of his former workmen that he had been able to leave Kiev. He told us that we had, perhaps, an hour in which to make final preparations. There had been heavy falls of snow, and it had, in places, drifted so deeply that the road was practically impassable. In all probability the Red Guards who had left Kiev would have to make a detour and pass through Redak to reach Kanev.
“Sylvie was my care. When, half an hour later, we stood in the porch I saw that the doctor had long seen what was coming. For weeks a sleigh had stood harnessed and provisioned in the outhouse, and horses kept fit and ready. They stood now pawing the hard snow, their breath making thin spirals in the frosty air. The doctor was to drive himself, and he was already at the horses’ heads removing the bells from the harness. Within a few minutes we were heading for the forest, Dr. Petroff leaning forward, urging the horses, and Sylvie, almost in a fainting condition, lying in my arms. We had not got away a moment too soon.
“As soon as the forest had closed about us we heard shoutings behind us. The doctor pulled up, curiously enough, within sight of the fallen tree-trunk where I had met Kurt Zander. It would be dangerous, he said, to proceed further, as no doubt the road to Ostrog where it emerged from the forest on to the marshes, would be guarded. The voices behind us grew louder, and Dr. Petroff took from beneath his fur coat a bag, a leather bag about the size of those you see on bank counters, tied about its opening with thongs and heavily sealed. In a few words he told us that for months past he had been converting such of his wealth as had escaped the clutches of the Soviet into portable size. It had meant heavy sacrifices, as the Jews had been grasping and only too eager to take advantage of his misfortunes. But, nevertheless, the bag contained treasure of enormous value. And then, as he was speaking, we heard movements in the undergrowth near us. Our enemies were beating the woods for us. We could see the glimmer from their lanterns on the branches of the trees.
“And then a thought came to me. Signing to the doctor. I left the sleigh and ran to the fallen tree-trunk. By our united efforts, using as a lever a smaller bole we found lying near, we were able to roll it slightly, and in the cavity beneath it the doctor dropped the bag. We packed snow about it and a few handfuls of undergrowth, and then allowed the log to roll back into place. It was a strange hiding place but one that could easily be recognized.
“Safer, too, than digging a hole, even had there been time or the ground not so frost bound. The undergrowth was thick and the heavily falling snow would in a few minutes obliterate any signs of our work. Then we returned to the sleigh and waited. In a little while we knew that the searchers had taken a road that forked to the right, and that for a few precious moments the hunt had been diverted from us. And with that the doctor decided to make a bid for safety. In the morning, if possible, Dr. Petroff would return alone and reclaim his treasure.
“But there was to be no morning for Dr. Petroff. We won clear of the forest and were speeding across the Pripet Marshes wyhen, at the entrance to a small belt of woodland, w7e wrere called upon by a party of men to stop. They were soldiers, for they carried rifles and had some sort of uniform beneath their sheepskins, and seeing this, the doctor called to his horses and sped on, trusting to the vague light and the whirling snow-sheet for safety. I heard cries behind and a bullet sang past my ear. Another and Sylvie’s father fell forward with a little strangled cry and lay shapelessly across the rugs. Maddened at the shots the horses leapt forwrard, and in a few minutes we were out of rifle shot. Then we saw that Dr. Petroff was dead. Sylvie, too, lay like death, her sweet oval face white as the snow that fell upon her furs.”
A/flSS BORRODAILE paused for a moment, and I did not disturb her thoughts. I knew that she w7as again living through that night of horror. To me, who knew Russia, it was all very vivid. I knew those vast distances, the marshes of the Pripet lying like a never ending sea under the whirl of the snow. I knew the dark forests.
“I need not tell you the rest at length. We reached Kresta, and the horses pulled up before the door of a friend of Dr. Petroff’s. I do not know whether it was the destination that Sylvie’s father had had in mind, but the horses evidently knew the road, and old Ivan Trebtitch was a friend indeed. I fancy that he had been of some use to the Bolshevists and that they paid him handsomely and left him unmolested. WTiat it was I do not know; I know only that Ivan was our friend from the moment that the horses drew up at his gate with the dead body of his friend to the time when he himself drove me to the frontier and saw me safely across to where a friend of his was waiting to take me on to Warsaw. Sylvie, I heard later, died at Trebtitch’s house a month after I had left and a week before my letter reached her telling her that preparations had been made for her to come to England. That, Mr. Drake, is my story—vp to yesterday afternoon.” “Yesterday afternoon, Miss Borrodaile? I do not understand.”
The girl leant forward, and, although we were quite alone, her next words were spoken in a whisper.
“Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Drake, I saw Kurt Zander in Oxford Street.”
“He followed me. I’m sure of it, for last night I saw him watching the entrance to the flats. It was then that I thought of your card and of your connection with Kiev. I do not think he saw me leave to come to Craven Street.” “But what is he doing out of Russia?”
She shook her head.
“That I cannot say. Uncle and I sat up half the night thinking it out. Uncle thinks that with the release of the prisoners of Peter and Paul, Kurt Zander will have regained his liberty and joined the Reds. Perhaps he is over here with the Soviet delegates. He would spare no pains to come to England, and there must be plenty of chances for one who can speak both English and Russian to come as secretary or something with the delegation. I suppose, too, that he will have money. The wealth of Russia is in strange hands now.”
“And why do you think he wants to come to England?” “I saw his eyes in Dr. Petroff’s study that night. He said nothing, but his eyes spoke. They told me that, sooner or later, he would claim his revenge. Also, he must know that. 1 am the only one living who can have any knowledge of the hiding-place of the Petroff wealth. It be:there safely beneath the tree-trunk in the forest of Kanev. You see, Mr. Drake, why I came to you—a stranger—for help?”
“Yes, I see that. How can I help you?”
“I want you to come to the Warrington Mansions tonight and talk it over with uncle. There is a door used by tradesmen in the street behind the flats. I will be there at ten.”
“And why not come back with you now?”
“I think not, Mr. Drake.”
I saw her eyes turn towards the entrance to the Fields. She rose and drew her blue fox furs closer about her.
“One moment, Miss Borrodaile. The paper I returned to you yesterday. Is it anything to do with what you have told me?”
“It is an inventory of the treasure we hid that day in the forest. Sylvie thought it better that the list which we found on her father’s body should be copied out and a note of the hiding-place attached. It’s in a very bad cypher, and it would not take Zander a moment to read it if he could obtain the paper. Uncle is keeping it now for me. It’s safer with him, and he does not leave the flat. I will wait for you at ten, Mr. Drake.”
I walked with her as far as the railings of the square, and stood watching while she passed through the Turnstile into Holborn. As I, too, walked in the same direction I still felt the warm pressure of her little hand in mine. As I crossed the road a man walked quickly past me, giving me a glance as he passed. In Holborn I saw him hail a taxi, and as it was the only one in sight I was powerless to follow.
To one who has been in Russia it is no difficult matter to recognize the Muscovite. F or all that the man who had passed me was dressed in the very best of English clothes, I knew him immediately for a native of Eastern Europe. In all probability, I told myself, I had been permitted a sight of Mr. Kurt Zander.
A thought that somehow left me vaguely troubled.
I LEFT my rooms in Craven Street at nine o’clock for my walk to Chelsea. It was dry underfoot, but since sundown a fog had been creeping up over the metropolis. It was not thick except at the low-lying places, and along the Embankment it had collected in little puff balls of cotton wool, against which the tram-cars and passers-by were curiously silhouetted. The vast bulk of Warrington Mansions looked ghost-like with its patches of pale yellow windows.
Miss Borrodaile had not mentioned the name of the street where the tradesmen’s entrance, but I took the first turning leading away from the river, and, after a little search came upon it. I had timed myself well, for the clock that I remembered having heard striking on my former visit was sending out ten low, vibrant strokes. I was rather sorry that I had timed it so closely, for I saw with regret that the big public-house on the corner was already closing its doors, and I was thirsty after my walk, and the fog had got into my throat. I turned up the collar of my coat and waited for the coming of Helen Borrodaile. Like her uncle, I told myself. Miss Borrodaile would appear to be an indifferent keeper of appointments. But one easily forgives a woman with whom one is in— dare I say love?
Two or three people passed in and out of the little door, but none of them bore any resemblance in the fog to my lady of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I began again to ask myself questions. Was I not some sort of a fool? Were not the papers full of cases where the unwary had been trapped? After all, the story I had listened to that morning was all very well when told by a girl with big, frightened eyes. But was it logical? Did one really meet with these magazine plots in real life? Also, as I stood there shivering in the wet blanket of fog, I called to mind the face of Mr. Borrodaile. And then I told myself that I would soon find out where I stood. I would wait no longer.
I walked round to the front of the flats. The janitor was in his little cubby hutch, reading the evening paper. He looked up at me over his glasses when I spoke to him. Miss Borrodaile was not in; she had gone out that morning and had not returned. He had been there all the time, and it would not have been possible for Miss Borrodaile to have come in without his knowing. Besides, her uncle had been making inquiries. He had been very anxious. Yes, Mr. Borrodaile was in. A gentleman had called to see him about seven o’clock. Perhaps it was about Miss Borrodaile, because the old gentleman had not made any inquiries since the gentleman went. He was sorry, but the lift was not working. Would I walk up?
I made my way up the wide, palm-fringed staircase to the second floor. There was a light in the hall of 36B, and I pressed the bell; and, there being no answer, pressed it again, and this time accompanied it with a gentle tap of the little brass knocker. Still there was no sound, no movement from the hall beyond.
It is curious how one senses tragedy. Suddenly I felt the chi') of something uncommonly like fear about my heart. The flat in Warrington Mansions became the abode of something evil. I rang again, knocked loudly, and tried the handle of the door. To my surprise it turned and the door opened. I stood there for a moment in the dim-lit hall, wondering what I should do. The presence of evil was now more pronounced. I felt as though, somewhere behind the doors that ringed the hall, lurked tragedy, perhaps someone waiting to spring. A grandfather’s clock in an alcove near me ticked sonorously. I pushed open the door of the room in which I had spent so pleasant an evening two nights before. It was in darkness, and, groping on the wall near the lintel of the door, I found the switch of the electric light.
Although what I saw was vividly impressed on my mind I find a certain difficulty in writing about it. Hell itself had been loosed in that room. Just that. Furniture had been overturned, drawers dragged from their places and their contents strewn about the floor. Even the pictures had been torn from their places and hung brokenly on half-severed cords, and among the litter, sprawling shapelessly, the body of Paul Borrodaile.
HOW long I stood there, I did not know until later, when I left the block of flats and noted that, roughly ten minutes had passed between my talking with the janitor and passing out again into the fog. But, at the time, it seemed to be hours, so much did I seem to have to occupy me in that room of horror. I remember kneeling by the side of old Mr. Borrodaile and ascertaining that he was dead—had been dead, I should say, two hours, or perhaps since the time when the gentleman who had called on him had left. I remember looking vaguely at the litter about me, at the torn curtains and at the blanket of fog outside the windows. I pushed up the sash of one of them and looked out, and it was as if I was lookingjnto a pit of grey shadows, fathomless. From somewhere out over the river a siren moaned dismally. I remember, too, picking up my card—the card that had prompted Helen Borrodaile’s call upon me—and slipping it in my pocket. I did not quite know why I did it, but I suppose that in my inner self I knew that, for Helen’s sake, the less I had to do with the tragedy of Warrington Mansions, the better. I wanted to have time to arrange the welter of my mind into some sort of order.
I took one last look at Mr. Borrodaile. He had been strangled, I should say, for his neck gear was disarrayed and there were dark marks about the chin and throat. I did not cover up the staring eyes, although I would have liked to. I did not wish to leave any suggestion of any visit to 36B after the departure of the visitor who had called upon Mr. Borrodaile. As I say, I noticed that only ten minutes had passed since I had gone upstairs when I again, having closed the door of the flat, paused at the janitor’s box.
“It seems as though Mr. Borrodaile is out, too,” I said. “I knocked three times and waited about five minutes. Please tell him I called.” I passed out into the porch. “A wretched night,” I said; and, glad that the ordeal was over, crossed to the Embankment.
And now I was asking myself why I had acted as I had done? I knew well that, did suspicion once point to me, I might have difficulty in explaining my actions. At the same time, what was more natural than that I should knock and wait and go away? And then I remembered that I had switched off the light in the hall. Would there not be someone who would come forward and give evidence that at, say, ten o’clock there had been a light, and that later the hall had been in darkness? An old friend at the “Yard” had told me once that a criminal always left something undone. I was no criminal, and yet it might be very difficult to impress a jury of my own fellow men and women that I was not.
Better if I had called the janitor and telephoned for the police. It would have been nothing other than my clear duty to have done so. But even as I told myself this, I knew why I had acted otherwise. Helen Borrodaile had not been seen since the morning. Knowing her story, I could put one construction, and one only on her disappearance. Zander had followed her on leaving Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and had somehow—-Heaven alone knew how -—got. her into his power. Then had followed his visit to the flat to search for the paper that Zander no doubt had wrung from Helen was in existence. Whether he had been successful or not, there was no way of telling; but, in defence of his secret, old Mr. Borrodaile had gone to his death.
I say, looking back on what I now know, that these were my thoughts as I stood leaning against the stone parapet of the Embankment, listening to the muted “lap, lap” of the water beneath me; and foremost in my mind was the thought that if I identified myself in any way with the tragedy of the flat across the road, I would be powerless to act for Helen Borrodaile. I alone knew her history, her peril, and I alone could help her. Once I communicated with the police, I would be powerless. I would have to devote myself to them, to be wound about with red tape and lose all individuality of action. I might even be held on suspicion of having committeed the murder. No; I said that Scotland Yard had their work to do, and Murray Drake had his. Paul Borrodaile was dead, and nothing could bring him back to life; and in the task of bringing his murderer to justice, I considered that I, working independently, had more chance than all the police in the world. And with this solace to my conscience, I turned and walked back to Craven Street.
Continued on page 74
Continued from page 28
At any rate, I would sleep upon the matter. The morrow would perhaps show me more clearly the way I ought to take.
THERE was a case in the papers not so very long ago where suspicion was first drawn to a man accused, and afterwards convicted, of a crime by the eagerness shown in obtaining possession of a morning newspaper, in which was a detailed account of the crime. I remembered this as I made my way down to breakfast not a moment earlier than my usual hour, and showing no signs of hurry. I even stood for a few minutes at the window talking with Mrs. Searl about the weather which by the way was damnable, and went slowly and methodically through my morning letters, with never a glance at the “Daily Echo” lying folded beside my plate. Only when my garrulous landlady had shut the door behind her did I throw my letters aside and seize the newspaper. I knew as I opened it that in all probability there would be no mention, yet of the Chelsea tragedy. I had left the flat at about a quarter to eleven, and I knew that morning papers were generally upon the press by about two o’clock. There would be hardly time for the crime to have been discovered, and police and journalist to have been at work.
I turned the pages and scanned every headline. There was nothing. I read with interest the reports from certain Continental centres that revolt had broken out in Kronstadt against Bolshevist dictatorship, and that a certain measure of success had attended the rising. I had been expecting news of this description for a long time, knowing that, sooner or later, the edifice erected by Lenin and his friends must crumble—fall to the ground.
And then, as I was putting the paper aside to give my attention to my breakfast a paragraph caught my eye. It did not relate to the Chelsea murder, or at least not upon the face of it, but something told me that there was a connection, and a very sinister one. The paragraph read:
“STRANGE AFFAIR AT GRAVESEND
“At the moment of going to press, our correspondent at Tilbury telephones us that an outrage of a most desperate character occurred last night at a wharf on Thames-side, a mile below Gravesend. Shortly after midnight a clerk, .having occasion to visit the wharf, was horrified to find the night watchman lying bound in his office. At first he thought the man was dead, but on cutting his bonds, and removing the cloth with which the man had been gagged, he quickly recovered. He told a strange story. About ten o’clock a motor-car had driven up to the gates of the wharf, and inquired the way to Rochester. The driver told him that he had lost his way in the maze of narrow river-side streets, having come over from Tilbury on the ferry. It was while the watchman was directing the driver that he was suddenly attacked from behind, bound and gagged, and thrown into his little office. There was a fog at the time, but by means of the wharf lights he was able to see two men carrying between them the figure of a woman. The men clearly knew the wharf, for they made straight for a small jetty, where was moored a power launch that was used by the wharfingers for intercourse between the shore and boats lying out in the river. There were steps leading down to this launch, and the men and the woman passed from the watchman’s view, but after half an hour, he distinctly heard the chugging of the engine as the launch put out from the jetty. The man’s story is borne out by the disappearance of the launch and the finding of the deserted motor-car, a car without a number-plate, and with all marks obliterated that might lead to identification. The watchman is suffering severely from shock, and can give no fuller particulars, except to say that the man who addressed him was undoubtedly a foreigner, although speaking very good English, and that the woman, who was hatless, had auburn hair, and was dressed in a light brown coat and skirt and dark furs. The trade from the wharf is principally with Archangel and the Northern European ports, and the victim of the outrage had had a great deal of intercourse with the masters of sailors of the foreign boats. He thinks that the man who asked him the way to Rochester was Russian. The authorities, assisted by the very vigilant river police, are making all inquiries possible, but the perpetrators of the outrage have had a good start.
I LEANT back in my chair, and stared at my untasted bacon. “Shrouded in mystery!” To some, perhaps, that might apply, butnot to me. The time fitted in to nicety. Also the description of the victim. If Zander had been, as the janitor told me, at the flat at seven, he could have made Gravesend in a good car easily by ten o’clock, having picked Helen Borrodaile up from the place where she had lain hidden since her abduction in the morning. Surmise, some may say, but to me it was clear as noonday. It spread itself out before me like one of those warmaps, with which we used to play at the beginning of the war. Chelsea was on the map, and Gravesend. The North Sea and Kiev. And on the map were little mental flags, one for Helen, one for Zander, and one for poor old Paul Borrodaile. Borrodaile’s flag was pinned on the map at Chelsea, flying half-mast, and of no further use in the game. Helen’s and Zander’s were together at a spot somewhere near the mouth of the Thames
estuary, and Murray Drake’s--
Within a few hours, I told myself, I must be on my way to Russia. Murray Drake’s little flag must be planted at Kiev as soon as it could possibly be planted. The hunt was up, and the next act in the drama would be played out on the steppes and in the cities of the Land of Shadows. I knew there was but one thing for me to do, and that was to get ahead of the hunt. I knew, too, that I was in love with Helen Borrodaile—that she, of all the world, was all that mattered. I saw quite clearly Kurt Zander’s game. I did not for one moment think that the man would allow his revenge to stand in the way of his greed. Helen Borrodaile was, I told myself, safe until such time as Zander had forced her to lead him to the hiding-place of the Petroff treasure. The news from Moscow as to the rising of Kronstadt would send many of the Bolshevist camp scurrying to feather their nests before slipping across the border into Finland or Poland. Doubtless, Zander, in his more or less official capacity had had wind of the coming storm, and the knowledge had forced his hand. Hence the risk of the very dangerous expedient of abducting a girl from the streets of London in broad daylight, and the murder of poor Borrodaile.
By eleven o’clock I was at work. My war experiences in Russia had, upon my return to England, fortunately been of some small service to the Government, and I had spent many hours in assisting the censor, and in informal conferences at the various Government departments. And so eleven o’clock found me closeted with a gentleman, who shall be nameless, in a room that shall be numberless, upon a floor that need not be designated, in the Foreign Office.
I MADE out a good case, if scarcely a truthful one. The letter that I had received from my employer in Kiev stood me in good stead. I worked upon the feelings of my friend the official. I pointed, out that my working knowledge of Russia had been of service to him at certain times, had even helped him to his O.B.E., now it was the turn of the Foreign Office to assist me. I spoke vaguely of property in Kiev, and of how it was imperative that I see M. Rubloff before he left Russia for Sweden. It would make all the difference, I told
him, between a competence and abject poverty. Yes, it was a good story, and I flatter myself that I told it well. My requests were, after all, simple; I had my passport, and all I needed was a visa in the shortest possible time, that moment if possible, and an endorsement to the effect that Murray Drake was traveling upon important business, and requesting that foreign Governments should facilitate in any way they conveniently could the said journey of the said Murray Drake.
The official looked at me shrewdly, and tapped his pencil on the top of his desk. This ruthless cutting through of red tape was not at all to his liking—but, fortunately, Murray Drake was. Also there was the O.B.E. I could see from the_ moment I began to talk that his friendship for me was having a stern battle with official dignity. But friendship won.
It was not until I was seated in the Continental boat train at Charing Cross that the news burst upon London. I was just in time to snatch a copy of the “Evening News” from a paper-boy as the train pulled out of the station. I read:
DASTARDLY MURDER IN CHELSEA
Gruesome Discovery this Afternoon in a London Flat.
Warrington Mansions, the newlyerected block of flats facing the river on the Chelsea Embankment, was the scene this afternoon of a terrible discovery. No. 36B, a well-appointed flat upon the second floor of the building, has been since October of last year in the tenancy of a Mr. Paul Borrodaile and his niece, Miss Helen Borrodaile. Miss Borrodaile, it appears, left the house yesterday morning, intending to be back at one o’clock for lunch. Her uncle, according to the caretaker of the buildings, showed signs of great anxiety as the day advanced and his niece did not return. This anxiety was apparently allayed about seven o’clock by the calling upon Mr. Borrodaile of a foreign gentleman, who stayed about an hour, or a little less. After his departure Mr. Borrodaile was not seen. There was another caller about ten-thirty, but upon receiving no answer to his knock this caller went away.
As nothing was heard of Mr. Borrodaile by midday, and as Miss Borrodaile did not return, the caretaker decided upon making inquiries. There was no response to his repeated knockings, and before forcing the door the housekeeper felt constrained to obtain a sanction from Mr. Byfield, the owner of the propery. This caused a delay, and it was not until four o’clock that an entrance was forced. The discovery was then made that Mr. Paul Borrodaile had been brutally murdered, and that the whole of the flat was in the utmost confusion. Clearly a search for something had been made, and it is understood that this must have been some specific object, as various things of value were left behind or had been wantonly destroyed.
And there, for the moment, all details fail. The metropolis is again face to face with one of those mysterious crimes that calls for the exercise of the highest detective skill. The police are anxious to trace the visitor who called about ten-thirty. It is clear that this gentleman could have had no hand in the crime, and it is expected that he will come forward gladly when he reads the account of the murder. The police are also anxious to trace the movements of Miss Borrodaile, When she left home in the morning the young lady was wearing a brown costume. It is thought that the mysterious affair reported this morning from Gravesend may have some connection with this most baffling mystery..
I folded the paper and dropped it out of the window. If the authorities hoped to obtain any assistance from the gentleman who had called about ten-thirty they were on the wrong horse. As I had already told myself, Scotland Yard had its business and Murray Drake had his. And as Mr. Murray Drake’s first business was to conserve his bodily health, and as Mr. Murray Drake had had a trying and arduous day, that gentleman passed along the corridor and seated himself in the dining-car. They serve an excellent dinner on the Dover Express, and a half-bottle of Pommard is not a bad companion when one has a knotty problem to unravel.
To be Concluded