That evening, when the lamps were lit and the curtains drawn in the library at Alanmere, in the same room in which Tremayne had seen the Vision of Armageddon, Natas told the story of Israel di Murska, the Jewish Hungarian merchant, and of Sylvia Penarth, the beautiful English wife whom he had loved better than his own faith and people, and how she had been taken from him to suffer a fate which had now been avenged as no human wrongs had ever been before.
“Twenty-five years ago,” he began, gazing dreamily into the great fire of pine-logs, round the hearth of which he and his listeners were sitting, “I, who am now an almost helpless, half-mutilated cripple, was a strong, active man, in the early vigour of manhood, rich, respected, happy, and prosperous even beyond the average of earthly good fortune.
“I was a merchant in London, and I had inherited a large fortune from my father, which I had more than doubled by successful trading. I was married to an English wife, a woman whose grace and beauty are faithfully reflected in her daughter”—
As Natas said this, the fierce light that had begun to shine in his eyes softened, and the hard ring left his voice, and for a little space he spoke in gentler tones, until sterner memories came and hardened them again.
“I will not deny that I bought her with my gold and fair promises of a life of ease and luxury. But that is done every day in the world in which I then lived, and I only did as my Christian neighbours about me did. Yet I loved my beautiful Christian wife very dearly — more dearly even than my people and my ancient faith — or I should not have married her.
“When Natasha was two years old the black pall of desolation fell suddenly on our lives, and blasted our great happiness with a misery so utter and complete that we, who were wont to count ourselves among the fortunate ones of the earth, were cast down so low that the beggar at our doors might have looked down upon us.
“It was through no fault of mine or hers, nor through any circumstance over which either of us had any control, that we fell from our serene estate. On the contrary, it was through a work of pure mercy, intended for the relief of those of our people who were groaning under the pitiless despotism of Russian officialism and superstition, that I fell, as so many thousands of my race have fallen, into that abyss of nameless misery and degradation that Russian hands have dug for the innocent in the ghastly solitudes of Siberia, and, without knowing it, dragged my sweet and loving wife into it after me.
“It came about in this wise.
“I had a large business connection in Russia, and at a time when all Europe was ringing with the story of the persecution of the Russian Jews, I, at the earnest request of a committee of the leading Jews in London, undertook a mission to St. Petersburg, to bring their sufferings, if possible, under the direct notice of the Tsar, and to obtain his consent to a scheme for the payment of a general indemnity, subscribed to by all the wealthy Jews of the world, which should secure them against persecution and official tyranny until they could be gradually and completely removed from Russia.
“I, of course, found myself thwarted at every turn by the heartless and corrupt officialism that stands between the Russian people and the man whom they still regard as the vicegerent of God upon earth.
“Upon one pretext and another I was kept from the presence of the Tsar for weeks, until he left his dominions on a visit to Denmark.
“Meanwhile I travelled about, and used my eyes as well as the officials would permit me, to see whether the state of things was really as bad as the accounts that had reached England had made it out to be.
“I saw enough to convince me that no human words could describe the awful sufferings of the sons and daughters of Israel in that hateful land of bondage.
“Neither their lives nor their honour, their homes nor their property, were safe from the malice and the lust and the rapacity of the brutal ministers of Russian officialdom.
“I conversed with families from which fathers and mothers, sons and daughters had been spirited away, either never to return, or to come back years afterwards broken in health, ruined and dishonoured, to the poor wrecks of the homes that had once been peaceful, pure, and happy.
“I saw every injury, insult, and degradation heaped upon them that patient and long-suffering humanity could bear, until my soul sickened within me, and my spirit rose in revolt against the hateful and inhuman tyranny that treated my people like vermin and wild beasts, for no offence save a difference in race and creed.
“At last the shame and horror of it all got the better of my prudence, and the righteous rage that burned within me spoke out through my pen and my lips.
“I wrote faithful accounts of all I had seen to the committee in England. They never reached their destination, for I was already a marked man, and my letters were stopped and opened by the police.
“At last I one day attended a court of law, and heard one of those travesties of justice which the Russian officials call a trial for conspiracy.
“There was not one tittle of anything that would have been called evidence, or that would not have been discredited and laughed out of court in any other country in Europe; yet two of the five prisoners, a man and a woman, were sentenced to death, and the other three, two young students and a girl who was to have been the bride of one of them in a few weeks’ time, were doomed to five years in the mines of Kara, and after that, if they survived it, to ten years’ exile in Sakhalin.
“So awful and so hideous did the appalling injustice seem to me, accustomed as I was to the open fairness of the English criminal courts, that, overcome with rage and horror, I rose to my feet as the judge pronounced the frightful sentence, and poured forth a flood of passionate denunciations and wild appeals to the justice of humanity to revoke the doom of the innocent.
“Of course I was hustled out of the court and flung into the street by the police attendants, and I groped my way back to my hotel with eyes blinded with tears of rage and sorrow.
“That afternoon I was requested by the proprietor of the hotel to leave before nightfall. I expostulated in vain. He simply told me that he dared not have in his house a man who had brought himself into collision with the police, and that I must find other lodgings at once. This, however, I found to be no easy matter. Wherever I went I was met with cold looks, and was refused admittance.
“Lower and lower sank my heart within me at each refusal, and the terrible conviction forced itself upon me that I was a marked man amidst all-powerful and unscrupulous enemies whom no Russian dare offend. I was a Jew and an outcast, and there was nothing left for me but to seek for refuge such as I could get among my own persecuted people.
“Far on into the night I found one, a modest lodging, in which I hoped I could remain for a day or two while waiting for my passport, and making the necessary preparations to return to England and shake the mire of Russia off my feet for ever. It would have been a thousand times better for me and my dear ones, and for those whose sympathy and kindness involved them in my ruin, if, instead of going to that ill-fated house, I had flung myself into the dark waters of the Neva, and so ended my sorrows ere they had well begun.
“I applied for my passport the next day, and was informed that it would not be ready for at least three days. The delay was, of course, purposely created, and before the time had expired a police visit was paid to the house in which I was lodging, and papers written in cypher were found within the lining of one of my hats.
“I was arrested, and a guard was placed over the house. Without any further ceremony I was thrown into a cell in the fortress of Peter and Paul to await the translation of the cypher. Three days later I was taken before the chief of police, and accused of having in my possession papers proving that I was an emissary from the Nihilist headquarters in London.
“I was told that my conduct had been so suspicious and of late so disorderly, that I had been closely watched during my stay in St. Petersburg, with the result that conclusive evidence of treason had been found against me.
“As I was known to be wealthy, and to have powerful friends in England, the formality of a trial was dispensed with, and after eating my heart out for a month in my cell in the fortress, I was transferred to Moscow to join the next convict train for Siberia. Arrived there, I for the first time learned my sentence — ten years in the mines, and then ten in Sakhalin.
“Thus was I doomed by the trick of some police spy to pass what bade fair to be the remainder of a life that had been so bright and full of fair promise in hopeless exile, torment, and degradation — and all because I protested against injustice and made myself obnoxious to the Russian police.
“As the chain-gang that I was attached to left Moscow, I found to my intense grief that the good Jew and his wife who had given me shelter were also members of it. They had been convicted of ‘harbouring a political conspirator,’ and sentenced to five years’ hard labour, and then exile for life, as ‘politicals,’ which, as you no doubt know, meant that, if they survived the first part of their sentence, they would be allowed to settle in an allotted part of Southern Siberia, free in everything but permission to leave the country.
“Were I to talk till this time tomorrow I could not properly describe to you all the horrors of that awful journey along the Great Siberian road, from the Pillar of Farewells that marks the boundary between Europe and Asia across the frightful snowy wastes to Kara.
“The hideous story has been told again and again without avail to the Christian nations of Europe, and they have permitted that awful crime against humanity to be committed year after year without even a protest, in obedience to the miserable principles that bade them to place policy before religion and the etiquette of nations before the everlasting laws of God.
“After two years of heartbreaking toil at the mines my health utterly broke down. One day I fell fainting under the lash of the brutal overseer, and as I lay on the ground he ran at me and kicked me twice with his heavy iron-shod boots, once on the hip, breaking the bone, and once on the lower part of the spine, crushing the spinal cord, and paralysing my lower limbs for ever.
“As this did not rouse me from my fainting-fit, the heartless fiend snatched a torch from the wall of the mine-gallery and thrust the burning end in my long thick beard, setting it on fire and scorching my flesh horribly, as you can see. I was carried out of the mine and taken to the convict hospital, where I lay for weeks between life and death, and only lived instead of died because of the quenchless spirit that was within me crying out for vengeance on my tormentors.
“When I came back to consciousness, the first thing I learnt was that I was free to return to England on condition that I did not stop on my way through Russia.
“My friends, urged on by the tireless energy of my wife’s anxious love, had at last found out what had befallen me, and proceedings had been instituted to establish the innocence that had been betrayed by a common and too well-known device used by the Russian police to secure the conviction and removal of those who have become obnoxious to the bureaucracy.
“Whether my friends would ever have accomplished this of themselves is doubtful, but suddenly the evidence of a pope of the Orthodox Church, to whom the spy who had put the forged letters in my hat had confessed the crime on his deathbed, placed the matter in such a strong clear light that not even the officialism of Russia could cloud it over. The case got to the ears of the Tsar, and an order was telegraphed to the Governor of Kara to release me and send me back to St. Petersburg on the conditions I have named.
“Think of the mockery of such a pardon as that! By the unlawful brutality of an official, who was not even reprimanded for what he had done, I was maimed, crippled, and disfigured for life, and now I was free to return to the land I had left on an errand of mercy, which tyranny and corruption had wilfully misconstrued into a mission of crime, and punished with the ruin of a once happy and useful life. That was bad enough, but worse was to come before the cup of my miseries should be full.”
Natas was silent for a moment, and as he gazed into the fire the spasm of a great agony passed over his face, and two great tears welled up in his eyes and overflowed and ran down his cheeks on to his breast.
“On receiving the order the governor telegraphed back that I was sick almost to death, and not able to bear the fatigue of the long, toilsome journey, and asked for further orders. As soon as this news reached my devoted wife she at once set out, in spite of all the entreaties of her friends and advisers, to cross the wastes of Siberia, and take her place at my bedside.
“It was winter time, and from Ekaterinenburg, where the rail ended in those days, the journey would have to be performed by sledge. She, therefore, took with her only one servant and a courier, that she might travel as rapidly as possible.
“She reached Tiumen, and there all trace was lost of her and her attendants. She vanished into that great white wilderness of ice and snow as utterly as though the grave had closed upon her. I knew nothing of her journey until I reached St. Petersburg many months afterwards.
“All that money could do was done to trace her, but all to no avail. The only official news that ever came back out of that dark world of death and misery was that she had started from one of the post-stations a few hours before a great snow-storm had come on, that she had never reached the next station — and after that all was mystery.
“Five years passed. I had returned to find my little daughter well and blooming into youthful beauty, and my affairs prospering in skilful and honest hands. I was richer in wealth than I had ever been, and in happiness poorer than a beggar, while the shadow of that awful uncertainty hung over me.
“I could not believe the official story, for the search along the Siberian road had been too complete not to have revealed evidences of the catastrophe of which it told when the snows melted, and none such were ever found.
“At length one night, just as I was going to bed, I was told that a man who would not give his name insisted on seeing me on business that he would tell no one but myself. All that he would say was that he came from Russia. That was enough. I ordered him to be admitted.
“He was a stranger, ragged and careworn, and his face was stamped with the look of sullen, unspeakable misery that men’s faces only wear in one part of the world.
“‘You are from Siberia,’ I said, stretching out my hand to him. ‘Welcome, fellow-sufferer! Have you news for me?’
“‘Yes, I am from Siberia,’ he replied, taking my hand; ‘an escaped Nihilist convict from the mines. I have been four years getting from Kara to London, else you should have had my news sooner. I fear it is sad enough, but what else could you expect from the Russian prison-land? Here it is.’
“As he spoke, he gave me an envelope, soiled and stained with long travel, and my heart stood still as I recognised in the blurred address the handwriting of my long-lost wife.
“With trembling fingers I opened it, and through my tears I read a letter that my dear one had written to me on her deathbed four years before.
“It has lain next my heart ever since, and every word is burnt into my brain, to stand there against the day of vengeance. But I have never told their full tale of shame and woe to mortal ears, nor ever can.
“Let it suffice to say that my wife was beautiful with a beauty that is rare among the daughters of men; that a woman’s honour is held as cheaply in the wildernesses of Siberia as is the life of a man who is a convict.
“The official story of her death was false — false as are all the ten thousand other lies that have come out of that abode of oppression and misery, and she whom I mourned would have been well-favoured of heaven if she had died in the snowdrifts, as they said she did, rather than in the shame and misery to which her brutal destroyer brought her.
“He was an official of high rank, and he had had the power to cover his crime from the knowledge of his superiors in St. Petersburg.
“If it was ever known, it was hushed up for fear of the trouble that it would have brought to his masters; but two years later he visited Paris, and was found one morning in bed with a dagger in his black heart, and across his face the mark that told that he had died by order of the Nihilist Executive.
“When I read those awful tidings from the grave, sorrow became quenchless rage, and despair was swallowed up in revenge. I joined the Brotherhood, and thenceforth placed a great portion of my wealth at their disposal. I rose in their councils till I commanded their whole organisation. No brain was so subtle as mine in planning schemes of revenge upon the oppressor, or of relief for the victims of his tyranny.
“In a word, I became the brain of the Brotherhood which men used to call Nihilists, and then I organised another Society behind and above this which the world has known as the Terror, and which the great ones of the earth have for years dreaded as the most potent force that ever was arrayed against the enemies of humanity. Of this force I have been the controlling brain and the directing will. It was my creature, and it has obeyed me blindly; but ever since that fatal day in the mine at Kara I have been physically helpless, and therefore obliged to trust to others the execution of the plans that I conceived.
“It was for this reason that I had need of you, Alan Tremayne, and this is why I chose you after I had watched you for years unseen as you grew from youth to manhood, the embodiment of all that has made the Anglo–Saxon the dominant factor in the development of present-day humanity.
“I have employed a power which, as I firmly believe, was given to me when eternal justice made me the instrument of its vengeance upon a generation that had forgotten alike its God and its brother, to bend your will unconsciously to mine, and to compel you to do my bidding. How far I was justified in that let the result show.
“It was once my intention to have bound you still closer to the Brotherhood by giving Natasha to you in marriage while you were yet under the spell of my will; but the Master of Destiny willed it otherwise, and I was saved from doing a great wrong, for the intention to do which I have done my best to atone.”
He paused for a moment and looked across the fireplace at Arnold and Natasha, who were sitting together on a big, low lounge that had been drawn up to the fire. Natasha raised her eyes for a moment and then dropped them. She knew what was coming, and a bright red flush rose up from her white throat to the roots of her dusky, lustrous hair.
“Richard Arnold, in the first communication I ever had with you, I told you that if you used the powers you held in your hand well and wisely, you should, in the fulness of time, attain to your heart’s desire. You have proved your faith and obedience in the hour of trial, and your strength and discretion in the day of battle. Now it is yours to ask and to have.”
For all answer Arnold put out his hand and took hold of Natasha’s, and said quietly but clearly —
“Give me this!”
“So be it!” said Natas. “What you have worthily won you will worthily wear. May your days be long and peaceful in the world to which you have given peace!”
And so it came to pass that three days later, in the little private chapel of Alanmere Castle, the two men who held the destinies of the world in their hands, took to wife the two fairest women who ever gave their loveliness to be the crown of strength and the reward of loyal love.
For a week the Lord of Alanmere kept open house and royal state, as his ancestors had done five hundred years before him. The conventional absurdity of the honeymoon was ignored, as such brides and bridegrooms might have been expected to ignore it. Arnold and Natasha took possession of a splendid suite of rooms in the eastern wing of the Castle, and the two new-wedded couples passed the first days of their new happiness under one roof without the slightest constraint; for the Castle was vast enough for solitude when they desired it, and yet the solitude was not isolation or self-centred seclusion.
Tremayne’s private wire kept them hourly informed of what was going on in London, and when necessary the Ithuriel was ready to traverse the space between Alanmere and the capital in an hour, as it did more than once to the great delight and wonderment of Tremayne’s bride, to whom the marvellous vessel seemed a miracle of something more than merely human skill and genius.
So the days passed swiftly and happily until the Christmas bells of 1904 rang out over the length and breadth of Christendom, for the first time proclaiming in very truth and fact, so far as the Western world was concerned, “Peace on earth, Goodwill to Man.”
On the 8th of January a swift warship, attended by two dynamite cruisers, left Portsmouth, bound for Odessa. She had on board the last of the Tsars of Russia, and those of his generals and Ministers who had been taken prisoners with him on Muswell Hill. A thousand feet overhead floated the Ariel, under the command of Alexis Mazanoff.
From Odessa the prisoners were taken by train to Moscow. There, in the Central Convict Depot, they met their families and the officials whose share in their crimes made it necessary to bring them under the sentence pronounced by Natas. They were chained together in squads, Tsar and prince, noble and official, exactly as their own countless victims had been in the past, and so they were taken with their wives and children by train to Ekaterinenburg.
Although the railway extended as far as Tomsk, Mazanoff made them disembark here, and marched them by the Great Siberian road to the Pillar of Farewells on the Asiatic frontier. There, as so many thousands of heart-broken, despairing men and women had done before them, they looked their last on Russian soil.
From here they were marched on to the first Siberian etapé, one of a long series of foul and pestilential prisons which were to be the only halting-places on their long and awful journey. The next morning, as soon as the chill grey light of the winter’s dawn broke over the snow-covered plains, the men were formed up in line, with the sleighs carrying the women and children in the rear. When all was ready Mazanoff gave the word: “Forward!” the whips of the Cossacks cracked, and the mournful procession moved slowly onward into the vast, white, silent wilderness, out of which none save the guards were destined ever to emerge again.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08