The Petroff Treasure
The second and concluding instalment of this striking story of courage, treachery and love.
THROUGHOUT that journey across Europe Dame Fortune was a veritable godmother to me. Not only did the endorsement of my friends at Whitehall work wonders, but my railway connections fitted in with all the nicety of a jig-saw puzzle. To those with memories of pre-war Bradshaws, five days may seem a longish time to take from London to Warsaw, but as I sat before an excellent lunch in the Bruhl Hotel I was thankful to have made so good a progress. I told myself that, at a modest estimate, I must be a week at least ahead of Kurt Zander and his companion.
It was bribery— sheer, unadulterated bribery—that got me across the frontier. A few English treasury notes were all that was necessary. I fancy that the official who acted for me regarded me as a harmless lunatic, and intimated to me that it would be a far more expensive business getting out of Russia than getting in.
Any fears that I may have had as to difficulties in the way of my progress through the
country were dispelled before I had been many hours across the frontier. Lethargy, dull, despondent lethargy, was on every side. Gone were the hectoring officials of Tsardom, gone the rigid police scrutiny. The papers that I had used on my last visit to Russia, and about which I had had many qualms, served me admirably; in fact, upon the few occasions when they were demanded they were little more than glanced at. Russia, under the new order of things, had fallen apart, the delicately poised mechanism of the former system was useless, dismantled; interest in duty crushed by the hideous surroundings. Perhaps things might have been different in Petrograd and Moscow, but on my way from the frontier post at Brest Litovsk to Kiev little interest was taken in the stranger within the gates. I doubt whether, had I come under suspicion, the half-starved officials would have known quite what to do with me. But my manner, my speech, the clothes which I had bought in a shop on the Cracow Boulevard in Warsaw, together with my readiness to show my papers—such as they were—got mp safely through. With the exception of a few tense moments my journey to Kiev was uneventful, and within ten days after leaving Victoria I was standing in the Kretziatik, the great cross street of the Cossack capital, asking myself what should be the next move in the game I had set myself to play.
I called upon Monsieur Rubloff as soon as I entered the city, and found things a little better than I had expected. While 1 had been crossing Europe news had come through of the imminent signing of the trade charter :-gotiating in London. I found men who lost again taking an interest in the ■cts, and even Monsieur Rubloff was ecision as to leaving the country. This •ful state of things was of the greatest > the influence of my employer I was t gave me complete liberty of action, off was one, or had been one, of conce, and the London representative, in I)rake, who was going to do so much
ïperity again to the business, was welcomed. Monsieur Rubloff had expressed a desire that I should make my home with him in his house facing the Cathe-
dral of Saint Sophie, but, wishing for complete liberty of action, I took a room in an unpretentious hotel in the Old Quarter. It was not until the evening following my arrival in Kiev that I found myself at liberty to look into the business that had brought me to Russia and which I had, of course, kept secret even from Monsieur Rubloff. It was just after sundown when I left my hotel and set out on my walk to the suburb of Kanev.
LONG, monotonous stretch of road it was. On either hand the steppe lay snow-covered, mysterious, under the stars. It stretched away to the horizon like some great, slumbering sea, in which the patches of forest showed like rocks. Here and there a low, log-built house stood black and lifeless and clustered about it a few starved fields. At a part of the road where it entered a small patch of woodland I turned and looked back at the city I had left.
It lay in a depression of the great desolation of the plain, a city of wonder under the stars, a city of a thousand spires. Here and there the starlight picked out a cupola of copper or gold and showed the silver path of the Dnieper. Never had Kiev seemed to me so wonderful. I called to mind little cameos of its romantic history, the fierce battles that had taken place before its gates, when Tartar and Khan, Lithuanian and Pole had fought for its possession.
I thought of its spiritual history, the priceless treasures of her churches, the silk-wrapped mummies of saint and hermit in the catacombs of Saint Anthony. And then I told myself that my business was with the present, not with the dead past, and putting my best foot foremost I faced the four or five miles that still lay between myself and Kanev. And as I walked I thought.
Thought, firstly, that speed having been the essence of the business in hand, I had considered only too little the steps I must take when I had reached my journey’s end.
1 had been content to let events shapes themselves, which was all very well until I came to my destination. But now I must put my thinking-cap on.
But a few miles ahead lay the house in which Dr. Petroff had lived with his daughter and Miss Borrodaile. Now that the scene of the tragedy to which I had listened
in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was so close to me the story grew more vaguely improbable, too much like the things one reads in story books. And yet there was the evidence of the man at the wharf. There could be no doubt that the abducted lady was Helen Borrodaile.
It was beyond the bounds of possibility that an auburn-haired woman, dressed in brown, should disappear from the streets of London, and that another auburn-haired lady, similarly attired, should be carried afloat from a Gravesend wharf. Such coincidences did not happen. Moreover, had I not seen a man, who I felt sure was Kurt Zander, follow the girl when she left Lincoln’s Inn Fields? No, there could be no doubt in my mind, no reasonable doubt, but that Helen Borrodaile was in the power of the man who had felt the sting of her walking cane upon his face.
And so, being satisfied upon that score, I asked myself, as I trudged the ill-kept road leading to Kanev, what Kurt Zander would be likely to do. I had to construct, from the material I had at his probable actions. Clearly, I told myself, there would be a craft of some sort waiting to take his prisoner aboard; it was hardly likely that he would attempt to cross the North Sea in a small power boat. Granted, then, that there had been a vessel waiting for him beyond the three-mile limit.
And then the road of my thoughts forked, as it were, and I asked myself which would be more probable; whether Zander would land in Northern Europe and make his way across country to Russia, or whether the vessel would risk the journey by sea to the Baltic. The latter, undoubtedly. The war was long over, and it would not be difficult to shake off any too persistent inquiries. The seas were free again, and, once in the Baltic, all would be clear sailing. Zander’s influence with the Soviet would remove all obstacles and he could land at Libau or Reval unchallenged, and make his way south through Vilna to Kiev.
For to Kiev, I knew, beyond any doubt, he would come with his captive. At Kiev was the treasure that he was seeking—the treasure that would stand him in such good stead when the toppling edifice of Bolshevism should come crashing to the ground. I knew that the Lenin Government had set its face against looting in any shape or form; but I knew that Lenin could not govern individual action. I knew that Russia was one great storehouse of treasures, that priceless pictures, furniture, and jewels lay, dust-covered, stored in houses that were once the seats of the mighty ones of the Tsar’s kingdom. When the time came for Kurt Zander and his fellow time-servers to scuttle away from the sinking ship, I told myself that they would not go empty handed.
I did not think that Kurt Zander would mis-use his prisoner. As the only one who knew the hiding-place of the Petroff treasure, Helen Borrodaile would be far too valuable a person to treat roughly. Perhaps, if the girl held out, the man's methods might change for the worse and Zander might allow his vengeance to get the better of his discretion. But that time would not be yet.
He could not for a moment think that anyone was interesting himself in his affairs. Even if he had left tracks in London, it would be long before the formalities for a journey to Russia could be arranged. It was not to be thought for a moment that his schemes would be interfered with. As to anyone being ahead of him in the hunt —the idea would be preposterous.
I passed no one on the road that night, not even a sentry. Unbroken lay the woods and marshes about me, unbroken the silence of the night. It was dark, save for the silver light of the stars, when I entered the wide, straggling street that was the village of Kanev and made my way to a low-roofed building from the windows of which streamed a smoky light.
It was a restaurant of sorts, a miserable place with old and rotting planks for flooring, and with log rafters, blackened with age and festooned with cobwebs. A few peasants in thmr sheepskins looked up as I entered and turned away again, their stolid faces showing no interest in my coming. One of them moved aside wth a rough courtesy and made room for me near the great porcelain stove that stood in a corner of the room. The windows were covered with a thin cotton stuff and the walls were indescribably dirty, the plaster cracked and broken. Above the stove an old icon hung crookedly.
I thanked the man who had made room for me, and taking my seat, lit a cigarette and ordered a bottle of Samara beer, for which I was called upon to pay ten roubles, and sat smoking and listening to the conversation around me. I gathered that the absence of any military on the roads was due to the rising in Kronstadt. The Government had raked the villages of South Russia for Red troops and had sent them north in haste. I learnt that the rebels were threatening Petrograd. The men spoke with fatalism in every sentence. I told myself that they did not care over much which side was uppermost. Like all the others I had come in touch with since crossing the frontier, dull apathy lay like a shroud upon the men gathered about the stove in that inn in Kanev.
My friend who had made room for me was of a slightly better type than his companions; a small farmer I took him to be, or possibly a grower of sugar beet, the cultivation of which gives Kiev its greatest industry. The man accepted a cigarette from my case. It was a good brand and I could see the enjoyment with which he inhaled the fragrant tobacco. It was long, I should say, since he had tasted anything so good Also, the man took a glass of Vodka at my expense, and in a little while we were chatting like old friends If he had any suspicion of my accent or my appearance, he either did not care or he was too polite to show it.
I told him that I was of English birth but had lived long in Russia. I skirted carefully round anything political, for, in spite of their stolid looks, I thought that the men about the stove might have long ears. I was on my way to Elisabethgrr.d, I said, and had broken my journey at Kiev to make inquiries as to an old friend of mine, a Doctor Petroff. I had not seen him since the days before the war.
My companion broke in.
“But Doctor Petroff is dead.”
I showed a grieved surprise. Then I found myself listening to the story that I had heard last on a bench in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I hated myself for any doubts I had had of Helen Borrodaile’s veracity, for this was the same story told from a different angle. With his confirmation I saw my way more clearly, knew with a greater certainty than before that it would be but a question of waiting before Kurt Zander, with or without his prisoner, would cometo Kanev. Also, considering his activities in Chelsea, I told myself that the man would scarcely delay unnecessarily. Whether he had wormed the secret from Helen Borrodaile, or whether he had come upon the paper when he had killed her uncle, the way of Kurt Zander would, sooner or later, lead him to the forest road that the illfated Dr. Petroff had taken upon that night of winter when the Red Guards had come from Kiev.
That night I slept, wrapped in my sheepskins, beneath the hospitable but very dirty roof of the tavern in Kanev.
THE next morning I was early astir. Looking from the window of the loft in which I had spent the night, I saw a frost-bound countryside. The sky was blue almost as in England, and the vast solitudes of untrodden snow shone and sparkled in the rays of the newly risen sun. From the chimneys of a few of the log hovels of the village thin wisps of smoke were rising. I belted my skeepskin closely about me and descended the stairs. A breakfast of tea and rye bread staisfied my hunger, and within half an hour of my rising I was out in the village street, rather at a loss which way to turn.
I had purposely refrained from asking my friend of the night before the direction of Dr. Petroff’s late home. I had no wish to bring more publicity upon myself and my doings than was absolutely necessary. For the time being I was content to trust to the memory of the photograph that Helen Borrodaile had shown me that night in Chelsea. I called to mind a gay little villa embowered in trees and with a trim garden terracing up to the creeper-covered porch. There had been cupolas, I remembered, and turrets and cunning little shuttered windows.
Rather like a toy house it had seemed to me, and I told myself that it would in all likelihood be painted white and gilt and green. And as Helen had told me that morning in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, it had lain a little back from the road and adjacent to a wood.
With these directions it was not difficult to come upon the place, and within an hour of my leaving the tavern I was standing in the deserted garden trying to peer through the broken jalousies and the dirt-encrusted windows and trying the little green and white door under the porch. Not a soul was near, and I wondered whether the villa had been like this since that night of terror. I knew how strict were the orders against looting and the fear in which the peasants stood of Bolshevic methods of punishment. If anyone had lately entered the place it had not been through the door, for the tendrils of the vine that covered the porch had woven a network before it that was at least a year’s growth. Also, I noticed that the windows, such of them as were unshuttered, were securely fastened from within.
I remembered the stories I had heard of great mansions in Moscow and Petrograd, shuttered and dead, like this house on the steppe. The Bolshevist, it would seem, had a disdain for the treasures that symbolized the reign of hated capital, and, while not destroying them, would have none of them. I had been told of houses and hotels in the big cities where the rooms were heaped up with a costly litter. Pictures, jewels, furniture beyond price, thrown together, roughly catalogued by Lenin’s Government and left to the rats and cancer of damp and decay. Thinking of this and emboldened by the utter solitude of the place, I made up my mind that before I went further I would see the inside of the Villa Petroff.
I selected a window that was sheltered from any chance observer by an out-jutting wing of the building that formed, with the high log fence, a kind of courtyard, and inserting my pocket-knife in the crevice of the shutter, prised gently. The wood, rotted and fragile from want of paint, gave at once, and splintered away, leaving me space enougn to grip with my fingers at the rusted bolts. A tap with the handle of my knife, and I had broken the glass of the window, shot back the latch, and a moment later I was standing in what appeared to have been the kitchen of the house. I turned and drew the shutter again across the broken window.
AS I passed from room to room, I was filled with a deep sorrow. On every hand I could see evidences of the hasty departure of the family. I was more than surprised that so much that was valuable had been left by the invaders,and then I remembered that those invaders had been soldiers, no doubt with as strict a discipline as before the fall of Tsardom. True, in some of the rooms, there would seem to have been a certain wanton destruction, and I have no doubt that valuables that could be easily carried had been taken away and smuggled across the frontier to the Jews of Warsaw and Cracow. But the furniture was as it must have been that night when the doctor had gone to the girls in the drawing-room and told them to prepare for flight.
In that drawing-room there was the stove that Helen had mentioned, and on the chairs and couches were flimsy articles of feminine wear, silks and satins that had been hastily discarded for woollens and furs. By the stove a slipper lay on its side, a dainty, high-heeled little affair, its brocade stained and sodden with mildew. I picked it up, a pitiful little thing, and stood with it in my hand, wondering whether it had belonged to Sylvie Petroff or to Helen. A samovar was on one of the small tables, and beside it two cups that had contained tea. A plate or two and a few crumbs, hard as iron. If there had been bread and cakes on the plates the rats had long since disposed of them. And everywhere that fetid smell of decay, that indescribable odour of shut-up places.
In the doctor’s study it was the same. A littered desk, tobacco pipes, and a decanter in which there still remained a little dark-brownish liquid. A valuable gilt-faced clock that had stopped at some long ago twenty-past eight stood, together with two or three bronzes, on the mantelpiece, and I wondered at the restraint of the peasants of Kanev. Starvation—it was little else—down in thevillage, and here at the Villa Petroff enough to feed them all for a year, could the costly furniture and tapestries but reach some western market. Perhaps, before the rising in Kronstadt had called the soldiers north, the place had been guarded.
I passed upstairs. I remembered that Helen Borrodaile had told me that her room was above that of the doctor, I sat where she had sat when she had watched the stars over the forest, and asked herself what she could do in the matter of Kurt Zander.
The rooms had scarcely been touched, but here a window had been broken and the rains and snows of summer and winter had made sad havoc. The little bed, with its white counterpane, discolored now and stained with water that had found its way in through a rent in the roof, a wardrobe in which still hung dresses, a portmanteau that I did not open. It seemed sacrilege. But a small photograph of the girl I loved I took and placed in my pocket.
Standing at the window I, too, looked over the forest, trying to trace among the trees something that suggested a road. I could see it plainly after a moment’s search, a breaking in the mass of leafless boughs that threaded its way towards the east. I went downstairs, and, replacing the broken shutter as best I could, made my way through the gardens in which the undergrowth was knee high, and through the gates in the fence.
NO SOONER, however, did I find myself in the densetangle of that wood, but I asked myself whether, after all, I could hope to find a particular tree-trunk by the roadside after this lapse of time. All about me I saw that axes had been busy with the timber, low-growing branches lopped off, and many stumps to tell me where had stood stately trees. Cold almost more than hunger is the thing that is feared in Russia, and it seemed idle to think that felled timber could be allowed to lie untouched when there were many empty stoves in Kanev. I had hopes that perhaps themilitary would have guarded the woods as well as they had guarded the house, or that fear of reprisals had stayed the peasants’ hand. Heaven knows I did not grudge the poor people their firing, but
I came upon it at last, a heavy bole of oak, lying half embedded in the snow and undergrowth, and I saw at once why Dr. Petroff’s hiding-place had been left undisturbed. It would have required horses to drag the great log from theforest into the village, and I gathered that the branches and smaller trees had been taken by the peasants of Kanev surreptitiously under cover of dark nights. To remove the log without the arduous labor of first cutting it up. would have been too dangerous a proceeding. That was how I figured it, as I looked about me for something with, which I could roll the massive thing aside; Helen Borrodaile and the doctor had done it, I could see them now, just as she had told me the story that night in London: the doctor throwing his weight against the great log, and she, kneeling in the snow helping to fill in the cavity. But since that night the tendrils of the wild convolvulus and forest vines had done much work. It was not until I had returned to the house, and taken down one of the curtain rails from the drawing-room, which did good duty as a lever, that I was able to accomplish my task.
I sat there by the side of that forest road and looked at the mass of vegetation which I had torn and cut away.
Somewhere in that tangled little wilderness lay a king’s ransom. I took my fur cap from my head and passed a hand across my forehead. It was warm and beaded with moisture. There was something strange, bizarre, in my position. Less than a fortnight ago, I, Murray Drake, was bent over my desk in Eastcheap, with never a thought beyond my work and. when that should be finished. Papa Grodno and his botch soup. And now I was seated by the roadside in a wood on the Pripet marshes within a few feet of amazing wealth. I had but to stretch
out my hand to--Now that I had reached journey’s
end I felt a certain reluctance to stretch out that hand.
And then I laughed at myself and fell on my knees and groped—and that same evening the bag containing the fortune that was all that the Bolshevists had left to Dr. Petroff was lying among the papers in a safe in the office of Monsieur Rubloff in his house facing the Cathedral of St. Sophie in Kiev.
I MADE myself as comfortable as conditions would permit in the Villa Petroff. The first stage of my errand was accomplished, the second was a matter of waiting. I returned immediately after depositing the bag with Monsieur Rubloff, and reached the villa a few hours before dawn. I was footsore, cold, and exhausted, and slept the sleep of the proverbial top. And the next morning saw the beginning of the lonely vigil that was to last fourteen days. Lonely, save for a photograph that never left me, sleeping or waking.
Fourteen days with which I need not trouble the reader of this narrative. Fourteen days of the weary monotony of ceaseless watching. I had made up a bed of sorts, and, there being no lack of furs in the house, I wras comfortable enough. My provisions I had brought with me from Kiev. They were barely enough to keep body and soul together, butMonsieur Rubloff had done his best with the authorities, and had, I fear, sadly depleted his own slender rations for my benefit. Beyond telling him that I had a journey to take, I did not admit the good old man into my confidence. My secret, I thought, was not mine alone.
I have often wondered w-hat the good people of Kanev would have thought if, when they passed along the road on the further side of the log fence, they had known that a man was in the deserted villa keeping eternal watch upon the road that came down from the village. All day I watched that road, knowing it to be the only one that my enemy could take, provided he came by way of Kiev, and I did not see how he could do otherwise, seeing he must come from the north. Only with the coming of darkness did I give up my vigil. I did not think it likely that Zander would come during the night hours, but I took no chances. On retiring I would stretch a fine cotton between two tree trunks at the opening of the forest path, and twice, and sometimes three times, during the night I would wrap my furs about me and make sure that no one had passed that way while I slept.
And in the afternoon of the fifteenth day he came.
While yet he was a quarter of a mile away, a spot of black upon the white snow of the road, I saw that the man was a stranger. Two hundred yards from the house I recognized, by the aid of Dr. Petroff’s prismatics, that I had found in his study, that the newcomer was the man I had seen crossing Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Now, it had been my intention to allow Zander to enter the forest and to follow him, reaching my shelter of brushwood by another path which I had already mapped out. I had told myself that he would be taken by surprise, and be entirely at the mercy of my automatic. That was, of course, supposing that the man held the secret of the hiding-place. But the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, we are told, and my own particular scheme went agley as Kurt Zander came abreast of the log fence of the villa.
\A7ATCHING from the window, I saw him pause and » V bend forward as though to examine something that lay outside my range of vision. A mark, perhaps, that I may have made upon the woodwork of the gatera footprint not entirely obliterated by the snow. Whatever it was, it was sufficient to attract the attention of the military trained eye of Mr. Kurt Zander.
A moment later I saw the wooden gate leading into the small courtyard open. It opened slowly, cautiously, as though the man on the other side of it was preparing himself against surprise. Now and again it would stop, as though Zander were straining his ears to catch any sound that might be abroad. Then the fur cap and the evil eyes of the man came into view. I watched, fascinated, while, with revolver held in readiness, he crossed the yard. I saw him as he stood looking at the broken shutter. It intrigued him, that shutter, for he was frowning and tugging at his little moustache. Then he disappeared from my line of sight, and ! heard the window by which I had first entered the villa being thrust up.
And, seeing that my original plan had miscarried, I set about the making of others. I could hear Zander in the kitchen and on the stairs. He seemed now to have thrown all caution to the winds, for there was nothing stealthy a boni hi movements. Perhaps the man for Kurt Zander, where women were concerned, was cowardly to the
core—felt the want of companionship of his own footsteps. As a child entering a dark room will whistle to keep away the bogies, so, perhaps, Kurt Zander walked heavily upon the plank flooring to frighten away the ghosts with which the Villa Petroff must, to his guilty mind, have been inhabited.
There were curtains of heavy brocade before the windows, and, for want of a better, I chose these as my place of concealment. I was barely in time. As the folds fell back into place in front of me the door was kicked open to its fullest extent, and, after a moment’s pause, Kurt Zander entered the room. I could count the beats of my heart as I stood watching, my finger crooked about the trigger of my automatic.
And as I watched the man’s movements, I knew that Helen Borrodaile had been true to her trust, for Zander began what was apparently a methodical search of the place. Perhaps his duties in Petrograd and elsewhere, and the strict guard that had doubtless until latterly been placed upon the villa, had prevented an earlier return to the scene. Russia is a land of immense distances and difficulties of transport. Possibly he had been too busy with Wrangel and Deniken to find time for his private affairs. Perhaps, too, he had taken the paper from the dead body of Paul Borrodaile, and had not found the cipher so simple a matter after all.
But all this was conjecture, pure and simple. From a crevice in the curtains I watched my opportunity, thinking all the time that the man could not but hear the hammer beats of my heart. But clearly Kurt Zander had no thought of interference. He had placed his revolver on the corner of a table, while with both hands he was wrenching at one of the drawers of an old bureau, the wood of which had become swollen and warped from the damp. His back was towards me, and I told myself that I could hope for no more favorable moment.
“Turn round, Zander.”
The man wheeled about with the cry of a wounded beast who finds his hind leg between the steel jaws of a trap, to find himself looking into the blue muzzle of an automatic held, I am glad to be able to say, in a hand that had no tremor. I parted the curtains, and taking a few steps into the room tipped over the table on which lay my enemy’s pistol, and, with this menace removed, I felt that I had my time before me. I could play the moves of the little game that I had thought out without any undue haste.
“I will not keep you a moment, Kurt Zander. I want you to listen to a few words—a sort of prologue, we might call it, to our business. Stand where you are.”
The man had made a movement towards where his pistol lay upon the carpet. At the tone of my voice he started back into his original position. His face was as chalk.
“I want to tell you two things,” I went on. “Firstly, that the police of London are most anxious to find the murderer of Mr. Paul Borrodaile. Secondly, that the name of that murderer is now lying in one of the safes in the Foreign Office in Whitehall. It is in a sealed envelope, and in the care of a good friend of mine, who has instructions to open it if I am not in his office in person on the first day of May. On that date he will inform Scotland Yard.”
A sneer passed across the man’s thin lips.
“I suppose you think, Zander, that Scotland Yard has no power here in Russia. Perhaps you’re right. But my friend will also send a copy of the document in the sealed envelope to Monsieur Krassin.”
It was a bow drawn at a venture. It had been pure surmise that Zander had found his way into England under the wing of the trade delegation from Moscow. But the arrow went home. I do not think I have ever seen such stark, naked fear on a human face as I saw on the face of Kurt Zander. I had won, I knew that, and, like a good gambler, I played up my winnings. Leaning forward I picked up Zander’s weapon, and handed it to him with a smile.
“Put it in your pocket, Zander. I don’t think that I have anything to fear from you. Whitehall by the first day of May, remember, or the world won’t be quite big enough to hide Kurt Zander. Friend Lenin has rather a keen sense of honor where certain things are concerned. Your own chief also is an honest man, and would have no mercy on a man who had so disgraced his credentials in London. Looting and private enterprise are not encouraged by the Soviet. And now, Zander, the prologue being over, we’ll ring up the curtain. In other words, we’ll talk about Miss Borrodaile.”
U'OR a moment a battle royal took place within the -*■ brain of Kurt Zander. I saw the fingers tighten around the stock of his pistol, then with a laugh he broke the weapon and tipped the cartridges out into the palm of his hand. He snapped the cylinders back into place and thrust tho weapon, its teeth drawn, into his pocket.
“In case I should be tempted,” he said.
I crossed to the sideboard and brought glasses and a bottle of Dr. Petroff’s burgundy to the table. I felt the need of a little stimulant, and I knew that my companion was in like case. We drank in silence, for there was no
toast that would suit both of us. And then Kurt Zander told me his story. There was not an ounce of fight left in the man. The sealed letter at the Foreign Office was final and conclusive, as I had known it would be. There was no countering the bald fact of it. Across Europe it held its menace over the man seated before me. From now onward Murray Drake would be the care of Kurt Zander, who must make it his business to see to it that I reached Whitehall before the first day in May. He drove no bargain with me as to what I would do when I reclaimed the letter. I think he knew that if he paid the price, I would keep faith with him. And in the meantime, I had spread out my cards on the table, and he had no hand with which to gain a single trick. In the telling of his story Zander omitted no detail and I read truth in every word. I think it was in his mind that the more open he was the quicker would he be done with a very unpleasant business.
There were times when I thought that he doubted my story of the letter, and at these times I was glad that had emptied his revolver. After all, it would have been fairly easy for him to have put a bullet through my brain and left me there in the lonely villa. He would have had a month and more in which to make his plans, feather his nest, and get across into Sweden. But, as I have said, Kurt Zander was one to make war on women rather than men, and I need have had no fear.
The abducting of Helen Borrodaile had been, I learnt, a simple matter. A cab in which the girl had been riding had, by Zander’s contrivance, met with some slight mishap with a coster’s barrow in one of the quieter streets behind Portland Square. Zander had had no difficulty in obtaining accomplices.
There were many men now in power in Moscow who had had their beginnings in the half political and wholly criminal clubs that are to be found in Mile End and Bethnal Green. It had been an easy matter for Zander to get into touch with some of his compatriots, and it had been one of these who had “arranged” the collision of Helen Borrodaile’s cab with the coster’s barrow. Another, acting under Zander’s orders, had been at hand on the driver’s seat of another taxi, and the girl had been only too glad to avail herself of the vehicle on hearing that the cab in which she had been riding could not proceed. The driver had taken back streets on his way to Chelsea, and in one of these he had slowed down and allowed Kurt Zander to enter. A chloroform pad had done the rest.
On the subject of the visit to Chelsea, Zander was somewhat reticent. In fact, he would admit nothing, although I had no doubt in my mind that he had engineered it; indeed, he had taken no hand in the killing of Paul Borrodaile. But when I thought of the coster’s barrow and the taxi-driver, I told myself that the man would have had no trouble getting some one to do his dirty work for him. I wondered whether the ransacking of the flat had been productive, or whether it had been necessary to fall back upon the original plan of getting the secret of the hidden jewels from Helen herself.
And at this point I allowed myself the luxury of telling Kurt Zander that he need think no further about the gems. They were, I told him, in perfectly safe keeping, and, so far as he was concerned, might pass out of the story. I told him that I looked upon them as excellent bait in the trap that had brought him to Kanev. Dr. Petroff himself could not have wished them to have played a better part.
T RATHER admired Kurt Zander for the way in which
he took what must have been for him a bitter disappointment. He had spread out his hands and shrugged his shoulders. Like all his countrymen, Kurt Zander was a gambler—a good gambler; and the fatalism that is so pronounced a trait in the Russian character came to his aid. It had been a big stake, but the throw had been lost. That was all there was to it. There would be other pickings to be had in a land where a woman would gladly give a handful of pearls to get her children safely across the .frontier. The man had hoped to have made a big killing, and get away from what he could not but see was a sinking ship. Zander lighted a cigarette, tossed off a bumper of volny, and asked me what I was going to do about it all.
“You will take me to Miss Borrodaile—at once?”
I had not thought while we had been speaking but that Helen Borrodaile was in Kiev or at least in Russia. Zander’s answer surprised me.
“Miss Borrodaile is safe—but she is not in Russia.”
I leapt to my feet. I think that I had it in my mind to shoot the man where he sat. Zander was quite cool— irritatingly cool.
“The boat which picked us up at the Nore put us ashore on the coast of Belgium, Mr. Drake. I had intended to make my way to Amsterdam and through Germany to the frontier up East Prussia way. But Miss Borrodaile became—er—a little difficult.”
I was glad to hear this. I had an idea that Helen would be the sort of girl to become “a little difficult.”
“I regret, Mr. Drake, that the chloroform pad became again necessary. 1 kept Miss Borrodaile hidden, and travelled by car at night-only. I managed to get the young lady as far as Amsterdam. She is with a compatriot of mine at a house in the—no, Mr. Drake, I, too, must have my hostage.”
“Then you will not tell me where she is?”
Kurt Zander smiled.
“Cannot you be content to have won the game, Mr. 'Drake? If I were to tell you all I know I wonder where I would be? Lying out there in the forest, as likely as not, with a bullet through my brain. No, thank you, Mr. Drake, but I’ll take you to Amsterdam.”
I thought for a moment. Perhaps, after all, it would be as well for us to go together. I could not, in any case, bring myself to believe him if he had thought fit to tell me the address. But I could not fathom the man’s reason for wishing to accompany me. Perhaps he wanted to get out of Russia, and thought that with me as a companion it would be easier for him to do so. Kurt Zander would not dare to play me false, I told myself, and so agreed.
We left the villa within the hour, and reached Kiev the same night. I put up that night at Monsieur Rubloff’s, and when I had seen Zander safely in his room, I asked my host to give me half the jewels. Heaven only knew when again I would set foot in Russia, and Helen might be in need of money. With the assistance of Madame Rubloff, I sewed the gems into a strip of thick tape bandage, and wound it about my waist. One cluster of stones I took the liberty of disposing of to a friend of Rubloff’s, a Hebrew, who made a bargain not altogether in my favor, but ready money had become a necessity. Early the next morning Kurt Zander and myself were on the train that was to take us upon the first weary lap of our journey across Europe.
A strange journey it was, this, taken in the company of a man whom I knew for a murderer or worse. Zander’s papers were not in such good order as were mine, and carried no endorsement from a respectable Government. And so, to avoid being delayed by official scrutiny, I took the man’s advice, and kept away from the more frequented routes, crossing the Continent by devious ways. It was, as Zander told me, slower but safer.
Slower it certainly was, for, lulled into a false security by the apparent certainty of my position and by the doglike servility of the beaten bully who was my companion, I, perhaps, became a trifle over-confident, a little careless. Be that as it may, upon the seventh morning after leaving Kiev I awoke in a small town of Northern Germany, where we had elected to pass the night, to find that I had slept a round of the clock, that there was a vile taste in my mouth, and that I was penniless, paperless, and gemless, in a country where, although the war was a thing of the past,
Englishmen were none too popular. Zander had made a clean sweep. He had left me nothing but the shirt in which I had been sleeping, the drugged sleep into which he had put me, and, pinned on to the pillow, where I could not fail to find it on awakening, a little note:
MY GOOD DRAKE,—The time has come for us to part. You may think it strange that I gave up the fight too easily. That has always been my way. Give in to the victor of the moment is a good motto. Your luck was in and mine was out. I thought rapidly during those few minutes in the villa at Kanev. I felt that if only I could leave Russia with you all would be well. The things were in a safe hiding-place, you told me, but I could not see you leaving the country without them. Russia is a funny place, and one never knows what may happen. Believe me, I did not accompany you on account of your delightful companionship.
“Now that I come to think it over, I rather doubt that precious letter of yours at the Foreign Office. Curiously enough, I was not at Chelsea upon the night of the murder. In fact, I have an alibi should it become necessary to prove one. By the time you reach London I will be far afield. You will need a new outfit; I have even taken your trousers and shoes. Also, you will be required to produce papers. They are rather sticklers for papers over here in Germany—and they don’t altogether like Englishmen.
“And now, to show you that I bear no malice, I may tell you that Helen Borrodaile is at number seventeen in the Muiderstraat in Amsterdam. I tell you this that you may remember it, if ever it is in your power to do me a good turn. Moreover, the knowledge is of no further use to me. I must confess that I would willingly go from here to Holland and give myself the pleasure of wringing the fair Helen’s neck, but there is always a certain risk about murder. It draws attention to one’s movements, and when one is traveling with so fine a collection of jewels as that which I have just removed from your waist, one does not court publicity.
“You will understand, my dear cat—you will remember the fable of the cat and the chestnuts—why I am writing at such length. I’m allowing myself the luxury of what you in England call rubbing it in. I have plenty of time. You will sleep for another ten hours, and I leave by the first train in the morning, which is not for three hours yet. I don’t dare to go to sleep, and, as it’s snowing, I don’t want to walk about the streets.
“Looking at you, as you lie there on the bed, I’m almost tempted to strangle you. Your necktie would do admirably. But, as I have said, murder is an infernally risky business, and I don’t want the police on my heels until I’ve had a fair start. Perhaps you won’t send them after me at all. You will have your work cut out convincing these stupid German officials that you are what you say you are; and remember that I’ve told you where to find the girl. K. Z.”
I sat up in bed and looked out through the frost-rimed windows over the snow-covered roofs and gables of that little North German town.
“And that,” I said to myself, “is that!”
1WILL not harass my readers with a description of my difficulties, official and sartorial, before I was able to leave the scene of my discomfiture. Zander was right. Germans do not love Englishmen, and my delivery, naked, penniless, and without papers, into the hands of the rulers of that little German town was as balm to their war-wounded pride. Three days of waiting, of interviewing unimaginative tailors and impossible bootmakers. Three days during which the wires buzzed incessantly between the burgomaster and my friend in the Foreign Office. And then, reluctantly, they had to allow me to shake the dust off my ill-fitting boots and take my departure.
Ten hours later I alighted, stiff-legged an«, weary, from a train at the Weesper Poort Station at Amsterdam. Half an hour later I was between the sheets at the Hotel Amstel.
The next morning I was early astir and interviewing a sleepy assistant who was taking down the shutters from an imposing tailoring establishment in the Kalverstraat. It was necessary, I explained to him, that I have some clothes. The German atrocities which I was still wearing for lack of anything better were having a deteriorating effect upon me. Within half an hour of entering the shop I left it attired once more in something approaching the garb of a gentleman. Barber, bootmaker and hosier completed the metamorphosis. I took my breakfast at the hotel and ten o’clock was striking from a church tower facing the harbor when I asked a cabman if he could drive me to the Muiderstraat. The fare he told me would be five gulden.
I left the cab at a bridge where the Muiderstraat crosses one of the big city canals, the Prisengrachat, I think it was, and made my way on foot to number seventeen—to find myself hopelessly at fault. Again I told myself had Kurt Zander got the better of me.
The house before which I stood was one of those buildings of brown brick faced with grey stone, so common to Dutch cities. Its quaintly carved gables jutted out above lower stories, the windows of which were curtainless and grimed with dirt. It was this aspect of desolation that told me that I had come upon a fool’s errand. The sound when I knocked at the green-painted door was confirmation of my suspicions that the house was untenanted. The echoes reverberated hollowly. Then, crossing the narrow street, I spoke to a man who was at work upon the mechanism of the drawbridge that at this point spanned the canal. I had but little Dutch, but the fellow spoke German enough to make his meaning understood.
THE house on the Muiderstraat, I learnt, had been empty for three weeks. There had been a deal of excitement, happenings that were still savory tit-bits of gossip for the good burghers of the district. It had always been a place of mystery, that house on the Muiderstraat. The people who had lived there were Russian, the man thought, and there had been all sorts of midnight meetings and visitors and curious tales. A little over a month since, the street had been awakened in the early hours of the morning by the arrival oi a car, a big, highpowered car that bore the marks of a long journey. Mynheer Van Puis, “who lives, monsieur, at the corner there by the windmill,” had told a strange story of what he had seen from his window, a story of a woman half-led, half-carried into the house. Mynheer Puis had kept a still tongue. What business had it been of his? There had been enough trouble during the war for a good burgher to want to mix himself up with Russians.
But that was nothing to what had occurred a week later. Official cars from the Bureau of Police this time. Three cars in all and many policemen. Two men had been taken away, handcuffed. Everyone who lived in the Muiderstraat had been out of doors that night, Mynheer Puis among them, telling the story of what he had seen. Mynheer Puis had accompanied the police to headquarters. No, the man at work on the drawbridge had heard nothing further. The house had been officially sealed and that was all. I gave the fellow a few gulden and retraced my steps to the main street, where I had left the cab. To collect my thoughts I walked the whole of the way back to the hotel. There I lunched and that afternoon sent in my name to the chief at the police bureau.
Mynheer Heist was politeness itself. His story of the happenings of the house in the Muiderstraat confirmed that of my friend of the drawbridge. It had been—Mynheer Heist referred to a diary—upon the evening of the tenth of March that three men came to him at the office where I was now sitting. They were from Scotland Yard and were following up a clue dealing with a murder in a house at Chelsea. Mynheer Heist knew no details of the murder save that it was in some way connected with the Russian terrorists. The clue had led the English police from a point on the Belgian coast to Amsterdam. And there they had been at fault,and there Mynheer Heist could fortunately help them. There were three houses in the city that were kept under supervision, where Bolshevist propaganda was suspected. Unfortunately, the authorities had found no excuse for a search. But now that the British authorities had taken a hand, it should be easy. The Amsterdam police, indeed, were glad of the opportunity.
Continued on page 53
Continued from page 23
There had been one house in the Amstelstraat, one facing the Vandel Park, and one on the Muiderstraat. The latter was the second house to be visited, and there the Scotland Yard men had found
what they sought. It was a lady, a pretty young lady, Mynheer Heist said, and she had left for London the next morning under—no, Mynheer Heist did not think that it was a case of arrest—but under the protection of the Scotland Yard men. The others who had been arrested in the house on the Muiderstraat had been kept in prison there in Amsterdam until word had come through from London that Scotland Yard had no need of them. They had then been deported from Holland and the house shut up and sealed awaiting further inquiries. If Mynheer Heist could be of any
I thanked the genial official. No, I told him, there was nothing to keep me longer ' in Holland. And so I took my leave of Mynheer Heist to wander aimlessly about the streets and docks of Amsterdam until the time should come for the Flushing Express to leave the Central Station.
I SEARCHED the paper in vain on my journey from Folkestone to Victoria for any mention of the Chelsea murder. Either the mystery had been cleared up or had ceased further to interest the public. An impending strike of miners and a I sensational divorce monopolized between them the place of honor in the newspaper. I read, too, that things were still very uncertain for the Soviet and that in the district around Kiev the White Guard propaganda was being successfully carried on in the villages. I remembered Monsieur Rubloff speaking to me of his hopes, and of how self-styled Socialists such as Antonov and Teplov were actively against the Moscow authorities. I read that the railway between Kiev and Odessa was in the hands of the Whites—and my mind went back to a deserted villa in a forest— Mrs. Searl was glad to see me. I had told her that I would be away from Craven Street for an indefinite period, but, not hearing from me, the good soul had begun to worry. My connection with Russia had been always a sore point, with Mrs. Searl; to her it was a land of savages, a land where people fought each other for raw meat and didn’t wash. After all, she was not far wrong—they did not wash overmuch over there in the winter months, and opportunities for meat-eating, raw or otherwise, since the coming of the glorious revolution were few and far between.
And among the letters that had accumulated during my absence, and which I was turning over as I listened to my landlady, was a card bearing the name of Miss Helen Borrodaile. I schooled my voice and inquired when Miss Borrodaile had called.
“Good ’alf a dozen times altogether since you went, Mr. Drake. Seemed most anxious, sir—about this ’ere murder of ’er uncle.”
“Yes, sir. Ain’t you heard? But there, you’ve been away in furrin parts. Just about the time you went, sir. Most ’orrible murder in Chelsea. Pore gentleman--”
I broke in upon the lady’s garrulity. If Miss Helen had been mixed up in the proceedings attendant on the murder, I would hear them from her own lips and from no others. Mrs. Searl had the gluttony of her class for horrors, and I wished my version to be untouched by imagination.
“I remember reading something, Mrs. Searl. By the way, did Miss Borrodaile leave an address?”
“It’s there, sir; writ on the back of the card. She said as ’ow--”
T TURNED the square of pasteboard A over. Upon it, written in pencil, were the words Hotel Brisbane, Bloomsbury Street. I threw the card carelessly down upon the table and turned to the letters. There was nothing of consequence, and I pushed them aside. In answer to Mrs. Searl’s inquiry as to my requirements, I told her that I had dined on the train and would want nothing. I was going out, I said.
Perhaps it was that my love for Helen Borrodaile had been overshadowed by the fight I had had to put up' for her. A knight errant at the jousts may still love his fair lady, but he must, when he couches his lance, think of nothing but the man opposed to him. Kurt Zander had been my first care.
But when, an hour after my arrival back in England, I was seated taking coffee in the cosy little lounge of the Brisbane Hotel the sinister figure of the Russian faded, as it were, into the background, leaving nothing but Helen to fill the eye as she had, since the first moment that I had seen her in Papa Grodno’s, filled my heart.
She was dressed in a black gown of some soft, clinging stuff that swathed itself in graceful folds about her, accentuating the whiteness of her throat and the copper sheen of her hair. It was the hour between dinner and the return of theatre-goers and we had the lounge almost to ourselves. We said no word of love, hut her little hand rested in mine when we met and I read its message. In the fewest of words 1 told her of my journey, and when I had made an end I asked her to tell me of herself. And in this way I heard the truth about the Chelsea murder.
It had not taken Scotland Yard long to connect the Gravesend affair with the death of Paul Borrodaile, and a combing of the clubs of the East End had had its result. A man named Nikolai had been seen in Chelsea the night of the crime, and his description tallied with that given by the caretaker at Warrington Mansions. His arrest had been a matter of only two days.
“You remember the Sydney Street fight some years ago, Mr. Drake? This was another battle on a smaller scale. Nikolai’s friends rallied round him in a house in Bethnal Green, and there was a running fight over roofs. Two policemen were wounded and three foreigners shot dead. Nikolai was wounded and conveyed by his companions to a public-house in the Mile End Road. He was soon traced and put under arrest. He was badly wounded, a bullet had taken him in the lung, and he died during the night in the London Hospital, but not before he had signed a confession.”
Helen paused and drank a little coffee.
“There is a curious loyalty about these men. Nikolai said he acted alone and that robbery was the motive. He said he had been disturbed, and had not had time to get away with the valuables in the flat. I don’t think Scotland Yard believed him, and their suspicions soon turned to Zander. The trade delegates could tell nothing—or wouldn’t. They said that Zander had accompanied them as a minor secretary, and that he had disappeared. That, they said, was all they knew. It was enough for the police, and every centre of the Continent was notified. It was Dordrecht that put them on the scent.
“The car in which Zander was taking me to Amsterdam from where we landed on the Belgian coa^t broke down a mile outside Dordrecht, and Zander had to walk into the town to get help. While the tyre was being mended we went to one of the small hotels in the square. There I made an attempt to get away.”
“Zander told me that you were a little —er—difficult.”
Helen nodded reminiscently. There was a curious smile about her lips.
“I did not get far. It was a rainy night and there was a little fog. But the fog wasn’t enough. They caught me up about a hundred yards from the hotel. A policeman interfered, but Zander spoke to him in Dutch, and the man seemed satisfied. Perhaps he told him that I was an escaped lunatic. I don’t know. He gave him money, I think.
After that I had no chance and--But
you know about the house in Amsterdam. I was treated fairly kindly there, but kept closely shut up.”
“And Scotland Yard traced you through that?”
“Yes. The police at Dordrecht were notified like all the rest. The man who had seen the struggle in the square remembered it, and made his report. Within a few hours our police were in Holland, but it was a week before our
car was traced to Amsterdam. Afte that, they tell me, it was fairly simple.”
We sat a little while in silence. A curious feeling of apathy had come over me now that my work was done. _ A feeling that there was nothing to bind me any longer to this wonderful girl sitting on the settee by my side. I looked at her—and met her eyes.
It was all that was needed. We were as tinder awaiting the touch of a spark. That spark was the whispering of her name.
This is not a love story. Even if it were I would leave the telling of it to others less interested. To write of the glorious hour we spent there in the Brisbane Hotel is beyond me. Quite beyond me. As a matter of fact, I remember nothing of it, save that I was in heaven. And then the lounge began to fill. Little groups, laughing and chatting, came in from concert and theatre. Curious glances were thrown over to our corner. Helen and I came back to earth.
I learnt later that Helen had been subjected, poor girl, to a deal of inconvenience by reason of her name. The murder of Paul Borrodaile had been a cause celebre. But a visit to Doctors’ Commons and a special licence soon put that right. After all, who would associate Mrs. Murray Drake with the Chelsea crime? The disassociation will be more complete still when we are settled in Montreal, where I am to open a branch for Monsieur Rubloff. The salary is quite a good one. We will not be rich— not nearly so rich as Kurt Zander, but I dare swear we will be a deal happier.
The other half of the jewels? Without doubt they belong to Helen. Dr. Petroff, in that tragic ride through the Kanev forest had made it clear that, failing Sylvie and himself, Helen was to be his heir. But my wife will not touch a single penny—at least, not for herself.
The jewels have been converted into cash, and no doubt Rubloff’s Hebrew friend is very hapbyBut so, also, are many distracted Russian mothers safe, in Sweden or Finland, thanking God on their knees each night, and asking Him to bless the good Monsieur Rubloff. Rubloff has become Helen’s almoner. The rouble is not worth much just now, but five hundred thousand of them go quite a long way when it comes to smuggling emigres across the Russian frontier into safety. Helen is happy, but there are times when I see in her eyes a certain wistfulness, and I know then that she is thinking of the suffering over there and wishing that she could give more than money—women are like that.
In the meantime, what risk there is is cheerfully taken by Monsieur Rubloff. I think he regards each refugee that he sees safely out of Russia as a nail in the coffin of the Soviet that he so cordially hates.