CHAPTER 13

ON arriving at this hotel Volenski found a telegram from Baron de Hermansthal, asking for his immediate presence at the detective office. Wishing to avoid anything that might in any way seem suspicious, he went at once, although he had ceased to care now what the police were doing in the matter; whatever they did, could not affect the candlesticks, as he would be in London long before the promptest investigations could possibly lead to the discovery of Grünebaum's agent abroad. Baron de Hermansthal had, however, quite a great deal of news for him; the night before, the woman Grete Ottlinger had been arrested outside the "Kaiser Franz" for being drunk and disorderly, and had been induced this morning, by the examining magistrate, to reveal the name of Moses Grünebaum, a well-known dealer on the Kolowrátring, as the receiver of all the stolen property she and her accomplices brought into the city. The man would probably be arrested that afternoon.

"I thought you would be relieved to hear this," the amiable baron added; "if you like to call at my office later in the day, I might give you a special permission to view the suspected articles in Grünebaum's shop, and if His Eminence's candlesticks are among them, and the police satisfied as to your claim to them, they might be handed over to you in the course of a few days."

Oh! all this bureaucracy and red-tapism, how thankful Volenski was that he was independent of it! A few days indeed! time to allow Madame Demidoff, who naturally would be communicated with at the same time as himself, to claim the candlesticks as part of her stolen property. In a few days Volenski hoped to be in Petersburg, back from London, the fatal papers handed over to Taranïew, and then his own connection severed from the brotherhood. To that he was fully resolved. The last few days had taught him a lesson that would take a lifetime to forget.

"I am exceedingly obliged to your Excellency," he remarked somewhat drily, "for the trouble you have taken in this business; as I am obliged to quit town for a few days, I will leave the matter now entirely in your hands."

"I don't think you can do better," said Baron de Hermansthal. "It is now merely a question of time, for the property is in the charge of the police, no doubt, along with the other goods in Grünebaum's shop, and I will give strict orders that no candlestick is to be tampered with, till you or Madame Demidoff have identified those belonging to His Eminence."

"I suppose," said Iván tentatively, "that Madame Demidoff has been communicated with?"

He was anxious to hear what her movements had been so far, how near she had been on his track.

"I am expecting Madame Demidoff this morning, as I sent her an official communication, asking her to favour me with a call. She came back to Vienna yesterday, having exhausted all inquiries round about Oderberg, and resolved to let us do what we could on her behalf."

"No doubt, then, she will identify His Eminence's candlesticks," said Iván, much relieved to find that Madame Demidoff could not possibly have seen Grünebaum privately in the short interval that elapsed between his own interview with the Jew and the subsequent police raid.

He took his hat and bowed politely to the amiable baron, as he once more thanked him for his kindness, then took a hasty leave, eager as he was to get away.

The quest after the fateful papers had become an all-absorbing one. Iván Volenski seemed unable to think of anything while he was on this mad chase after the compromising documents. He seemed almost to have forgotten the very existence of the prisoner in the Heumarkt, the comrades at Petersburg, who had not yet heard the news, and those at home, who would be wondering when and how he had started on his important mission, and how soon their manifesto would be placed in the Tsar's hands, and Dunajewski and the other brethren safely across the frontier; little knowing that the entire fabric, on which the Socialist brotherhood rested, was in danger of crumbling at any moment.

And delay. . .delay was so dangerous! What had Count Lavrovski done? Were the Russian detectives on the track of the conspiracy? Would they succeed in discovering the captive before any important good had resulted from the daring abduction? In any case nothing but disaster to the cause and its followers could ensue while the papers that held all their secrets were in strange hands. To get those back was life and death to one and all, and with that all-absorbing, fixed idea in his mind Volenski, having packed up a few necessaries, was ready to start for London by the afternoon express.

He had plenty of time during the forty hours' journey to England to meditate on the folly of all this plotting and planning, that inevitably led all those who indulged in it into perils of their lives and liberty. He himself, with ample means and a brilliant career before him, what a fool he had been to risk all his prospects for the sake of Utopian ideas, that would take perhaps centuries to develop, but surely could not be advanced by hot-headed coups such as Dunajewski, Taranïew, and he himself planned. Would a handful of young enthusiasts revolutionise Russia, when the moujiks, for whose benefit they were supposed to plot and plan, were the very last to lend them a helping hand?

Ay! the reform of that great country would come some day; soon, perhaps, as it came in France, violently--sweeping like a tornado a throne, a dynasty before it--but that would be when the people's hour had come, when the nation themselves knew what they were craving for, when liberty had ceased to be a word in the mouth of a few, and had become a desire in the hearts of all. Time, then, for all Russians that had pride in manhood to join in the cause of freedom and attack the throne if it stood in the way, sweep away the powers that be, if they do not tend to the desire of the people. But let it be the people that have that desire; let it be a spark in their heart, placed there by a divine hand, and not kindled slowly and forcibly by the breath of a few fanatics.

Amidst these conflicting thoughts Volenski had reached the English capital. He left his bag at Charing Cross Terminus Hotel, meaning to start back for Vienna that same evening, and, as soon as he had swallowed a light breakfast, he took a hansom and drove to No. 14, Great Portland Street.

This time he was sure of his ground; there was no occasion to exercise any diplomatic skill. He walked straight into the shop, asked to see Mr. Davies, and said in quiet, business-like tones, in fairly good English:

"I noticed in your shop, a day or two ago, a pair of antique china and gold candlesticks that took my fancy at the moment. I hadn't the time to look at them then, but would be very glad if you will show them to me. They were of gold, with very pretty vieux Vienne Cupids with bows and arrows. Do you recollect the ones I mean?"

"Perfectly, sir, perfectly. I regret, however, that I cannot oblige you, as I sold those same candlesticks to one of my customers late yesterday afternoon. He is a great collector of curios of all kinds, and, like yourself, sir, was greatly taken with the beauty of the vieux Vienne Cupids. But I have some very beautiful candlesticks, both antique and modern, that you might care to look at--"

"No," said Volenski, whose excited brain refused to take in the Jew's assertion, "I want those particular ones--I must have them--no matter what I pay for them. Here," he added, as he noticed that Davies was beginning to eye him suspiciously, "is my introduction from your Viennese partner," and he handed him Grünebaum's card; "you will see by that, that I am a friend, and if you will deal fairly with me, no harm shall come to you, but if you refuse to help me to regain my property--for those candlesticks are mine--I will find means of setting the police on your track as a receiver of stolen goods. Now bring me those candlesticks at once, and name your price for them. I am in a hurry, as I want to catch a train."

Isaac Davies took his accomplice's card, and turning it about between his fingers, still eyed Volenski with a remnant of suspicion.

"I tell you no harm shall come to you," said Iván impatiently. "I am even willing to pay you a very handsome price for those candlesticks; you see, therefore, that you can but gain by being frank with me. Grünebaum gave me this card, that you should have no fear."

"Sir, I have told you the truth," said Isaac Davies at last drily, adding with an indifferent shrug, "as for your threats, they have no weight with me; I am free from blame. Grünebaum's is a good and well-known firm in Vienna. I have a perfect right to buy goods from him without falling under suspicion of receiving stolen property; I deny that the articles Grünebaum sends me are stolen, and I defy you to prove it. Whatever information, therefore, I choose to give you, I do so because my Viennese correspondent has recommended you to me, and not from any fear of your threats or the police."

"Then," gasped Iván, who was beginning to realise that the Jew was telling the truth, and the candlesticks were really out of his reach once more, "those candlesticks are sold?"

"To a Mr. James Hudson, of 108, Curzon Street, Mayfair, a great collector of antiquities and great connoisseur. You may probably have heard of him. No? Well, I sent him those candlesticks to look at yesterday, knowing well that if he saw them, he would take a fancy to them. They were very beautiful things, sir, and if you happen to have anything more of the same class of goods I shall be very happy--"

"To the point, man. For God's sake, tell me, did he buy them?"

"He did, sir," said Isaac Davies, nettled at this curious customer's impatience. "I knew he would. What is the next thing I can do for you, sir? Nothing? Good morning, sir."

And seeing another client entering his shop, Isaac Davies turned on his heel and took no further notice of poor Volenski, annihilated by this last most cruel blow of all.

Ill-luck was, indeed, pursuing him. Every now and then a ray of hope would pierce the darkness of his misery, only to be again dimmed by some terrible difficulty, each of which seemed more insurmountable than the last.

The unfortunate young man was coming to the end of his endurance, and for one brief moment, as he reeled out of Davies' shop, the idea crossed his mind of ending all this misery, once for all, by throwing himself underneath the first omnibus that passed; but it was only for a brief moment, the next he had realised that his death now, at this point, would mean hopeless, irretrievable ruin to his friends and comrades--all the more so as they would be unaware of their danger, completely ignorant, as they were, of the loss of the compromising papers. It was still on his coolness, his pluck, and perseverance that hung the lives of his comrades, and he determined to make one more effort to save them. "The last," he thought hopefully.

His plans now would have to be more complicated, and Volenski gathered all his faculties together for the laying of these plans. He had almost mechanically walked out of the Jew's shop, and, still unconsciously, was turning his footsteps towards Curzon Street. One thing was certain, he must see Mr. James Hudson--any pretext would serve for that--he would think of one later on. What he must think out at once was, what he should say to Mr. James Hudson when he did see him. He knew him well by reputation. He was a man of boundless wealth and boundless eccentricities, generous to a fault, and had been a great favourite with the ladies in Prince Albert's days. No doubt he was a gentleman, and if-- Yes, that was it. The whole interview flashed before his fevered brain as if he saw it on a stage.

Characters: The courteous, benevolent old gentleman, a sort of modern Bayard--Mr. James Hudson. The young man with a past that involved a lady's honour--himself. Scene: A drawing-room in Curzon Street, Mayfair.

The young man with a past: "Sir, you hold in your hands the honour of a lady. Will you give me back the letter?"

Courteous old gentleman: "The letter, sir--what letter?"

The Y.M.W.P.: "It lies concealed in yon candlestick that adorns your mantlepiece. Sir, years ago we were foolish; we sinned, she and I. Having no means of approaching each other, we used the graceful toys as love's letter-box. One of those letters--hers--was forgotten, there--she is now married--I am married--we are all married, but you, sir, hold the candlesticks--you hold her fate! Will you give me back the letter?'

Courteous old gentleman: "Sir, pray take it--it is yours!" Tableau.

There is no doubt that, at this stage, poor Volenski's dreams had become the wanderings almost of a lunatic; his agitated manner, his wild, excited gestures attracted the attention of the passers-by.

He made a violent effort at self-control, and having arrived at No. 108, Curzon Street, rang the bell, and asked for the footman who opened the door whether Mr. James Hudson was at home.

The elegant specimen in knee-breeches, silk stockings, and powdered hair looked down at him from the majestic height of his six feet odd inches, and asked, in what seemed to Volenski very astonished tones:

"Mr. Hudson, sir?"

"Yes; will you please give him my card, and tell him I desire to speak with him at once?"

"Sorry I can't take the card, sir," said the footman gravely, and he added in solemn tones, "Mr. James 'Udson died, sir, this morning, suddenly, at 'alf-past two; death bein' due to hapoplexy, sir. 'E will be buried hat 'Ighgate cemetary on Thursday, sir, at eleven o'clock: no flowers, by request. The 'ousekeeper will see you, sir, if it is himportant."

The voice sounded to Volenski as if it came from very far away--so far, in fact, that it had ceased to have an earthly sound. The man's face began to dance before his eyes, then to whirl past him at terrific velocity, as did the house, the furniture, the windows. He had only just sufficient strength to tell the man to call him a cab, to get into it, shouting to the driver to take him to Charing Cross Terminus Hotel. After that his senses mercifully left him for a time; the poor, tired brain refused to grasp this last calamity, the failure of this last hope. Volenski never remembers how he got to his room at the hotel, or what happened for the next few days, as complete nervous prostration followed the intense mental and physical tension.

The people of the hotel sent for a doctor, who, under the circumstances, felt justified in opening Volenski's pocket-book, and, seeing it well filled with bank-notes and drafts, ordered a couple of hospital nurses and everything else that was needful, which was chiefly absolute quiet and rest.