Right, then.. Let's Try Again, Shall We?

Discussion in 'The Lamp and Sandbag II - The Tall Story Strikes B' started by Rocketeer, Jan 27, 2005.

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  1. Okay, so no one liked my attempt at ' Romance Novel' spoofing.. Fair Enuff...How's 'Bout we try a " Boys Own " bit.. An old time adventure...plot's a bit hoary. writing on the fly , you can't be too inventive and must pull something from the stockpile.. but..

    Chapter One: A Letter Home

    The Palace, St. Petersburg

    My Dear Miller: -

    You letter, which was a short as old Canfield's temper, reached me in Berlin as I was starting for here. I'm off to Khiva, this wise.

    You'll remember my old yarn about the Czar having saved my life years ago in a pig-sticking do in Germany - he shoved or kicked me into a bush just in the nick of time when the brute made his rush - and how we then discovered the strong resemblance between us? Weill, it's still true, and things have been happening in consequence.

    I ran across Burnaby's book about Khiva a while back and resolved to go there. He says that three Tartars can eat a whole sheep at a single meal, and I want to see if it's true. Any onl tag's good enough excuse for a globe-trotter, so I wrote to the Czar, reminded him of the pig incident, and asked permission to go East. As a result, I'm here as his guest; we've had a chat over the old time, and I'm to go where, when and how I like all over his dominions. he's an awfully decent sort, and I'm in for a real good time. But it's been a queer show.

    There's a woman in it of course - and a glorious woman too. A tall, queenly creature as handsome as a Greek, with the free carriage of one of our own Canadian girls. I saw her on the train, or rather she saw me and seemed particularly interested in me, and it was suiting me very nicely when out came the reason. We stopped at a station some miles from the capital, and as the girl and I were separated from the rest of the people, she said in an undertone -

    ' Your Majesty does not count the risks of travelling incognito, alone?'
    ' there are pleasures to counterbalance any risks, mademoiselle,' I answered ' Your solicitude is one of them. ' And I smiled partly at her amazing mistake and partly because she was so pretty. Then to put myself right, I added: ' but you mistake, I am no Majesty. I am a Canadian, Harper C. Dever is my name.' She lifted an eyebrow and smiled again, in obvious disbelief, and replied in French -
    ' A Canadian who understands Russian, speaks French and resembles His Najesty the Czar '
    ' A Canadian who would gladly welcome an opportunity of seeing you again, mademoiselle. '
    ' A Canadian who does not desire it more fervently than I. meanwhile, accept my warning ,sire.' She spoke with intense earnestness, and then left the train.

    How's that for an adventure, eh? But that was only scene one. I sat thinking it over until the train ran into the station at St. Petersburg, and then came scene two.

    the moment I stepped from the cars I saw that considerable preparations had been made to receive someone of importance, and while I stood looking about for him an old man, tightly bound in a somewhat rich uniform, with two or three companion volumes in attendance and a shelf of soldiers behind, came up to me. he waved everybody else out of earshot, and then with an almost reverential salute, said in a low voice -

    ' Mr. Dever, I am sure. '
    'Yes, that's my name.'
    ' Allow me to welcome you to the capital in my august master's name. I am Prince Kalkov, and His Majesty has instructed me to conduct you to the Palace. Will you accompany me?'

    By this time the people on the platform had begun to show considerable interest in the proceedings, to my intense amusement, and came crowding around a bit.
    ' I shall be dleighted,' I replied; and accordingly the Prince gave a word of command to those in attendance, a guard of soldiers was formed, and I was in this way escorted to the first of a string of carriages in waiting.

    'To the Palace at full gallop! ' called the Prince in a tone loud enough to reach the bystanders. Someone raised a shout of ' God save the emperor,' and in anoterh minute we were off to the accompayment of loud cries and ringing cheers from the crowd, which was by this time a pretty big one.

    that was my sensational entrance into the capital. Here I am at the Czar's Palace, and from what Ican judge there's a great deal more of the same kind to follow.

    Comic opera with a dash of mysticism seems about a fair description of things up to now. More, when I've time to write.

    By the way, couldn't you have managed to leave Bay Street and the dollar raking process for a while and mmet me on my return? I mean to go on from Khiva through India to China. Come and l;unch with me say in Pekin, and have a time among the pigtails, Wire me at the British Legation and our people will forward to me. Seriously, you might do many things worse.

    Your old Friend,
    Harper C. Dever.

    P.S. I'm not kidding about the Pekin business. Come and meet me like a good fellow. and hang Bay Street. HCD.
  2. Chapter II - Prince Kalkov's Proposition

    "'You mean seriously that I am to impersonate His Majesty?'
    ' For this purpose, Mr. Dever, that is my serious meaning. '
    ' Well, it's a most extraordinary proposition. '
    ' The occasion itself is quite an extraordinary one, of course. But, I repeat, you will be doing His Majesty and his Ministers a service of extreme importance. I have asked you, of course, as I said before, only because I understand you deem yourself under a deep obligation to my master. '
    ' You heard us speaking tonight of the incident. I owe him probably my life, and certainly an escape from serious injuries. We Canadians don't go back on a call, and I admit it's up to him to call now. but this is such an odd thing. '
    ' Think it over. It is a national characteristic of your countrymen to be prompt. Shall I return, say, in an hour?'
    ' Wait a minute, Prince,' I said as he rose, and, pushing my chair back, I took a few turns up and down the room.

    We were in the apartments which had been assigned to me in the Palace, and the Prince had interrupted me as I was planning out my projected journey to Khiva. It was nearly midnight, and my maps and papers lay open on the table.
    ' I am quite at your disposal, M. Dever,' he replied courteously as he resumed his chair and watched me.
    ' Let me see that I've got the hang of the thing right,' I said after a while. ' You say this man, Boreski, is really dangerous; but I thought you had a quick method of dealing with dangerous men in Russia.'
    ' It is not a case for ordinary methods, M Dever, or I should not have come to you. I wish to deal with you with complete frankness, and have spoken unreservedly as to a personal friend of my master. '
    ' We shan't pull very far together if you don't '
    ' To be candid, I am not sure what the man's secret object is - presuming, that is he has one. we know little of him beyond the fact that he is an adventurer and a musician of exceptional brilliance, and that the Duchess Stephanie has conceived a great - I suppose I should say - fondness for him. She declares she will marry him - in defiance of the Emperor's prohibition: a marriage of the kind being outside the pale of possibility, of course, owing to her relationship to the Imperial Family. '
    ' You think he's after her money?'
    ' What other conclusion can one draw? the Duchess is twenty years older than he; she is the reverse of prepossessing in appearance; and he is young, handsome and certainly clever. Apart from other reasons the marriage would be a tragedy '
    ' And then there are these papers?'
    'And then there these papers, as you say. She is certainly dominated by him, and there is no doubt she acted at his instigation and - well, purloined them and carried them to him. '
    ' He certainly is a daring fellow. '
    ' A daring scoundrel, unquestionably,' assented the Prince, accenting the ' scoundrel '.
    ' But, knowing this, why not have arrested him?'
    ' I thought I had made that clear. I tried it, but he met me too cleverly. Indeed, I believe he actually angled for the arrest. '
    ' Angled for it. how do you mean?'
    ' That he might get face to face with me and let me realize how far he could go, and would, if pressed. It was then he told me of these papers, and that he had placed them in reliable hands to be given, if he were detained, to those who must, of course, never see them. Never at any cost. '

    I smiled at the frank avowel....
  3. johnojohnson

    johnojohnson War Hero

    Just a quickie....

    The story and theme are good so far, there are a couple of "time" and gramatical points i wouldlike to make but not until I've had a chance to re-read and contribute mine own chapter.

    Reading this for the first time there are two similar films/scenes that spring to mind with like characters: "Prince and the pauper" and "Monte Carlo or Bust".

    I'm not complaining and would like to contribute. Will have my own chapter by end of day 28th.

  4. Johno:

    hadn't thought of it as a collaberative effort.. but.. hell.. fire away... as for ' plot thievery ' I was thinking more of an old Stuart Granger flick.. or the Prisoner of Zenda...but ' updated' to, say, 1900 - 05...
  5. With the Prince in the Palace apartments

    ' The papers are very awkward, then?'
    ' They might mean even war with the Powers chiefly concerned. They are extremely confidential documents. You understand, of course, M Dever, that in diplomacy,any more than in poker, we cannot always lay our cards on the table. '
    ' It was a fine bluff. '
    ' Too dangerous for me to see him,' returned the Prince with a smile, falling readily into the language of the pool room. ' And the worst of it was he knew it and claimed the jack pot. '
    ' He's a smart man. And his terms were?'
    ' Preposterous, absolutely; monstrous. The Imperial consent to his marriage; a special dowry of a million rubles; a patent of nobility; and a private interview with His Majesty. It was then I thought of you, His Majesty having told me you were coming here, and that you bore so striking a resemblance to him. I arranged the scene at the station this evening to test that/'
    'And you wish me to go to this interview, fool the man, and get the papers?'
    'Precisely. Counting upon your obligation to the Emperor, I have indeed fixed the interview for tomorrow.'
    'The deuce you have! Isn't that rather sharp work?'
    ' The matter does not admit of delay; but it is of course upon you to decline.'
    'In which case?'
    ' I have not yet considered any alternative. '
    His coolness staggard me. but he was keen enough to see that I rather enjoyed the prospect of the adventure.
    ' Now as to the risks?' I asked after a pause.
    ' I cannot even pretend to guage them,,M Dever. I don't think they should be considerable; but there is naturally the chance that the deception would be discovered. I don't think it is probable. Those who are constantly with His Majesty would know you in a moment, of course;but these people only see my master on public occasions, and, as you have had evidence, are quite ready to be deceived.'
    ' But, the risk is there.'
    ' Unquestionably,' he assented. ' The incident with the lady in the train which you described is, however, very promising. Still, as you say, the risk is there, and it is enough to make any ordinary man unwilling to run it.'
    ' You flatter me, Prince. '
    ' No, I try to judge you. An ordinary man would not be eager to rush off to Khiva. Besides, you are a Canadian,.'

    The appeal to my vanity was put astutely.
    'If I were discovered I should have to get out the best way I could?'
    'There might be some little trouble, butI don't think it would be really serious - to a man of resource, that is. You would be quite authorized to put the blame on me. '
    ' And, if the deception were not discovered?'
    ' it would be a short interview, and you would at worst have to postpone your departure for one day,'
    'You don't anticipate any treachery?' No assassination business, for instance?'
    'Boreski has too much at stake. he would lose everything - including his worthless life, of course, About the strongest guarantee for your safety that you could have.'
    He put the amazing proposal bluntly and argued the case with as much coolness as if it had been little more than a simple conventional matter of almost everyday routine.
    'You would naturally like to think it over,' he said, after I had paced the room a while in thought.
    ' You have told me everything?'
    'Yes, I think so, except, perhaps, that, of course, I don't for a moment believe Boreski made the proposition seriously.'
    ' yet, it's an odd sort of joke, isn't it?'
    ' I don't mean that. I mean that no man in his senses would believe the Emperor would consent to his conditions for an interview - that my master would go to it absolutely unattended, that the place should be determined by Boreski and known to him alone, and that my master should meet a lady at the railway station, get into a strange carriage with her and be taken wherever they pleased to take him. even in democratic countries monarch's don't act like that'
    'Then what do you mean?' I asked, puzzled.
    'That he intended to have his terms rejected in order that he might use the rejection to raise them. When I agreed - I only did so with you in my thoughts - I saw his surprise amounted almost to embarrassment.'
    ' There's this woman in it then, beside the Duchess Stephanie? Who is she?'
    'I haven't an idea - some accomplice no doubt. '
    ' Since the conditions are, as you say, so ridiculous, may he not be suspicious when we agree to them/'
    'It is very possible. But on the other hand he knows my master is as anxious as I am torecover the papers.'
    ' And, he may think the Emperor would take the risk. I see. well, I guess I'll do it, Prince, but I should like to think it over.'
    Prince Kalkov rose at once.

    ' Naturally. I need only say, monsieur, that you will be doing His Majesty and Russia a service which we shall not forget. Shall I have your decision in the morning?'
    ' tonight, if you'll come back, say, in a couple of hours. you won't find me asleep after all you've said. '
    He smiled pleasantly, and as he went to the door, said
    'You are just the man I would have chosen for the task, M Dever.'
    'That remains to be seen,' I replied; ' but there's just one question, by the by. Which are the countries concerned in those papers?'
    He paused and gave me a sharp swift look, which broke into a smile.
    'Not Canada, let me assure you., but European Powers. '
    ' That's the assurance I wished. ' said I, and then he went.

    I had virtually made up my mind before the Prince left the room, and, save for one consideration I should have consented right away. but I could not quite size up the Prince himself.

    I was almost British in my distrust of certain classes of Russian officials. I had lived in Petersburg for some years as a boy, and my father, who was at the Embassy, had inculcated this prejudice.

    I could never resist the feeling that they had some subtle undercurrent motive which made for duplicity; and I could not now shake myself free from the belief in regard to Prince Kalkov.
    I had no tangible reason for it. He stood high in the confidence of the Czar; he had gone out his way to make himself agreeable to me; he had treated me apparently with signal frankness; and had admitted the possible risks and complications of this very tangled business.
    I had another slight qualm. My sympathies were rather with than against the man Boreski. I was not a Russian aristocrat; and from my Canadian point of view I was disposed to admire the pluck of a man who was fighting single-handed against a powerful Russian Court, and giving that autocratic body a real bad time. His methods were not nice, but his adroit use of them was so smart that I could not help enjoying them. Whereas, if it came to a mere question of ethics, I couldn't see that, taking into account the shady episode of the secret papers, either side had much pull over the other.
    What really decided me was my p;d obligation to the Czar. My inclinations were all on the side of going in for the thing; and probably I gave more weight to that consideration than it deserved. But, anyway, I convinced myself that I could wipe out the old debt by doing what was aksed of me, and when the Prince came back, I met him with the statement that if the details of the thing could be fixed, I was his man.
  6. johnojohnson

    johnojohnson War Hero


    hadn't read the posters name for both articles. It's 5 in the morning now couldn't sleep so gave up, printed the current chapters and will read through them. Am willing to contribute ideas or threads as well as proof read whatever you thinks is required.

    Looks good so far

  7. Chapter II - The Prince is boxed in

    "' I cannot tell you what a pleasure your decision gives me. We shall now circumvent him completely. This is Boreski.' and he handed me a photograph.
    The man was certainly handsome and distinguished-looking. dark as a raven, with large, deep-set thoughtful eyes under straight brows, a broad ample forehead, straight nose, very shapely mouth with curved mobile lips, and a narrowing chin.
    ' A handsome fellow, and that's the truth,' I said.
    ' So the Duchess thinks,' he returned drily, handing me her portrait.
    ' You said she was twenty years his senior. This is a young woman.'
    'It was taken last year; a Court photograph.' and he smiled, ' She's all but fifty.'
    'Love at fifty may be a serious passion, Prince. Have you no scruples about blighting it? She might take it badly and pine away. '
    ' She might do much worse, monsieur, and marry the rascal.'
    'Her fortune is her own, I presume?'
    ' She would forfeit much of it if she married without Imperial consent. Boreski knows that well enough, and trades on it. I do not think we shall find him really a strong man. he has the whip hand of us for the moment through those stolen documents but when we once get those, we shall be able to frighten him, I am convinced. '
    ' Ought I to know the nature of the documents?'
    ' I have been expecting that question ' Do you press it?'
    ' not if it embarrasses you to to answer. but how shall I know them when they are given up to me?'
    ' They are very confidential.' he said, his face wrinkling in perplexed thought. he paused, and then with a sigh added, very slowly, the words seeming to be wrung from him almost; ' I suppose there is no other way. they affect Germany and Austria. they include a secret treaty with Austria and a number of plans of fortresses, and the army mobilization schemes, etc., of our neighbours.'
    ' I understand your anxiety, Prince.' I said drily.
    'they must be recovered, M Dever, at any cost or sacrifice,' he answered with intense earnestness.
    ' I will do my best, ' I replied, and then we turned to discuss details of the project. he told me his arrangements, the chief of which was his scheme to secure my safety.
    ' I shall take exactly the same precautions as if you were His Majesty himself!' he said. ' the carriage in which you travel will be followed; its description telephoned everywhere, so that it may be instantly recognized by our agents who tomorrow night will be stationed at the corner of every street in the caital. Within a minute of your entering thehouse, whereever it is, a large force will commence to converge upon it; and if there is anydelay or treachery the place will be carried by force!'
    ' Isn't that a breach of faith with Boreski?'
    ' Of course, I gave him an official pledge the carriage should not be followed.'
    'Official? Rather a nice distinction, isn't it?'
    He laughed. ' One has to do these things officially.'
    'You mean you have to give a pledge and - break it. '
    He shrugged his shoulders, ' We are dealing with a scoundrel'
    ' does that justify unclean methods?'
    'Unclean?' he caught the word angrily.
    ' I said unclean. Please understand me. I am neither a courtier nor a diplomat, but just a plain Canadian citizen; and when we Canadians pledge our word we keep it, whether it be given to an honest man or a rogue. This pledge of yours must be kept. Prince Kalkov.'
    he grew excited for the first time, and gesticulated vehemently as he answered.
    'It is impossible, impossible!' he cried. ' you cannot appreciate the importance of those papers. M Dever. hitherto we have been unable to learn their whereabouts, but we know that tomorrow night they will be in the house to which Boreski will drive you; that is why this appointment is to be kept. And when we once know where they are, not this Boreski nor ten thousand Boreskis shall prevent my recovering them.'
    This cast somewhat a fresh light on the thing, and annoyed me.
    'Then you must get someone else to keep the appointment, Prince Kalkov.' I answered.
    ' But your promise!' he cried, angry and embarrassed.
    'My promise was to play the part of the Emperor in the matter, and I'll either be obeyed as Emperor or we'll call it off, and I'll remain plain Harper C. Dever. You choose right now.'
    he sat gnawing his moustache in perplexity, and wanted to expostulate and argue the point.
    ' But ---!'
    ' there are no buts in this. you can call it off or on - but on my terms. You can choose.'
    This was just what he did not wish to do, however.
    ' Your own safety - ' he began again.
    ' You can leave that to me,' I cut in. ' It is to be on or off?' And I looked him fair and square in the eyes.
    he gave a deep-drawn sigh, twisted his moustache ends, made as if to expostulate, but stoipped on meeting my looks, and then with a shrug of the shoulders, gave way.
    ' It is an enormous responsibility, but if you insist, I must yield, '
    ' Good; then we'll be off to bed and leave the rest until tomorrow.'
    He rose and gave me his hand.
    ' Good night, M Dever, you are a strong man." he said.
    ' Good night, Prince. We'll talk about strength when the job's finished. I'll do my best, as I said.'
    He paused by the door and turned.
    ' After all the whole ting is only tricking boreski. i wish you'd let me do it my way. '
    ' It's only a trick, of course; but the casrds are on the table so far as personation is concerned. I can't give in to the rest.'
    'As you Majesty pleases,' he returned with a slow smile as he left the room.
  8. doomsayer

    doomsayer War Hero

    Rocketeer, this is really good stuff! Have you tried selling it to a publishing house?
  9. Why thank you, doomsie..

    but, I haven't even finished the damn thing.. sort of making it up as I go along...trying to write in the old style idiom is fecking ugly on the brain...

    hoping I don't write myself into a corner...and.. I don't know how long I can keep it going..mostly I'm typing after bedtime for the bonzos in the house when its just me and the dog and cat.. with the cat sitting on the keyboards ' helping' me along...

    Now that the backstory and ' expositions ' is in place I'm hoping to pick up some speed...how did Ian Fleming do it for all those books?.

  10. Chapter III: Stepping Up To The Gate

    I did not leave my rooms on the following day, and passed the chief part of it preparing for the part I was to play in the evening, and discussing the details.
    The Prince and I had several interviews, and his confidential assistant, a Frenchman named Pierre, waited on me. From him I had a number of hints as to little characteristics of the Emperor, gestures, movements, habits and so on, calculated to help out my rendering of the part.
    We arranged that I should go in ordinary morning dress, and, over this, I was to wear a semi-military cloak borrowed from the Imperial wardrobe.
    The papers I required were all prepared with scrupulous care. These were a patent of nobility making Boreski a Count - and I was instructed how to perform the little ceremony of investing him with it; a written consent to his marriage with the Duchess Stephanie; and a draft upon the Imperial Treasury for the sum of one million rubles.
    ' The draft is post dated, as you see,' said the Prince, ' as the money is intended for the Duchess's dowry, and is not payable until the marriage. You can explain this. '
    ' He'll probably look for the money down,' I objected at once.
    ' He is dealing with an Emperor who would not break faith with him,' returned the Prince with a grim smile reminiscent of our previous night's discussion.
    ' If these papers are so valuable, why not give the money at once and let me take it in bank notes?'
    ' When we have the papers we can deal with him for a tenth part of the sum. A million, indeed!'
    ' If your economic instincts lead to trouble, don't blame me,' I returned a little sharply. ' I repeat, I think you should send notes. '
    ' Your Majesty can promise him anything. If he raises any diffculty he can come to me,' he added.
    ' There is nothing else I have to take?'
    ' Nothing except this ring of the Emperor's You had better wear it, as it is well known; and perhaps had better take a revolver, although I don't think you will have any trouble calling forone. '
    ' One never knows,' said I, and decided to take his advice.
    ' You will, of course, be cautious not to attempt a word of Russian. Your accent would betray you in a moment. You can use French with absolute safety, as His Majesty's unfortunate preference for that language is well known. That is most important.'
    ' I'm not likely to forget. I can understand everything in Russian, but I know my limitations. '
    ' Then I will go and get ready to accompany you on the first part of the journey to the rendevous at the Square of St. Peter.'
    Now that the time wasso close I was a good deal excited and impatient for the curtain to go up.
    ' You have His Majesty's figure and walk remarkably, m'sieur,' said the Prince's man watching me closely. ' From behind, I myself should be deceived even at so short a distance and in so good a light as this. It is wonderful.'
    ' Unfortunately, I can't keep my back turned to people all the time.'
    ' That is true, m'sieur; but, then it it is always safer to turn the face to - dangers, is it not?' He put so much emphasis on the word that I turned and looked at him.
    ' You think a good deal of the dangers, then, Pierre?'
    ' There is always danger in this Russia;' and he grimaced to show his French dislike of it.
    ' Yet you stay here.'
    ' I am only a valet, m'sieur, they pass over my head. But I have been fifteen years in the country and have seen many strange things.'
    ' If the Emperor were really going on this business, you think he would run big risks?'
    ' It may be different with you, m'sieur; you may be discovered in time. but, if it were the Emperor, I should rub my hands with pleasure to see him return.'
    ' You take a cheerful view of things, Pierre. I expect you have a liver that troubles you.'
    He threw up his hands and shoulders.
    ' Canadians and English are the same and like mad risks. But I would not do this - no, not for the crown of Russia. I know what I know. '
    ' And I do it for the love of the thing, and, I suppose, that's about the differenece between us.'
    ' Monsieur is monsieur,' he replied, with a comical, lachrymose air. ' But you will need to be very cautious. You have friends in Petersberg, probably?'
    ' No, indeed. no one knows of my presence here,'
    ' That is strange - but, perhaps, convenient. You would not be missed. '
    ' No, not a soul, except here at the Palace.'
    He smiled mysteriously.
    ' If you are discovered, m'sieur, I should not let that fact be known. I would speak of many. A friendless man may be a helpless one.'
    ' You have apleasant imagination, Pierre. '
    ' Russia is not France, nor Canada, ' he replied, cryptically, with so lugubrious an air that I smiled.
    It was not a cheerful send-off, and in the carriage I told old Kalkov what his man had said.
    ' Pierre is a good valet, but a fool.' he answered with a grunt. ' he had his nerves twisted once in a Nihilist row, and, ever since, has seen a Nihilist conspiracy in every trouble.'
    ' You don't take these conspiracies seriously?'
    ' as a rule, no; occasionally they are dangerous of course; but, generally, little more than froth and wind - mere political dyspepsia from the soured stomach of sectional discontent.'
    ' Is this Boreski a Nihilist?'
    ' Possibly. It is always possible. But I think not. We shall know much more when you return. '
    ' If I do return, that is.'
    ' Naturally; ' and he smiled, not pleasantly.
    I began to think how the cat must have felt when she had burnt her foot in drawing the chestnuts out of the fire and saw the monkey enjoying them. But it was too late to retreat now, even if I had been so minded. the Prince felt something of this, I fancy, for he gave me the opportunity.
    ' If you have any fear, M Dever, and wish to draw back, we can return to the Palace.'
    ' not on my account.'
    ' I want you to feel, whatever happens, that you have gone into this thing quite voluntarily. I wish to feel that too.'
    ' I shall see it through, Prince.'
    ' spoken like a true Canadian, ' he replied promptly, and a minute afterwards the carriage stopped. ' We have arrived. '
    WE got out on the north side of a large square and looked about for the other carriage. None was in sight, but a hooded automobile stood in the shadow on the opposite side.
    ' Can that be it?' I asked the Prince.
    ' It would be easily traced,' he said.
    ' But not easily followed. There is no other and we are already a few minutes behind time.'
    ' we can cross and see.'
    His face was full of doubt.
    ' I had better go alone,' I replied, detaining him.
    ' As you will. God send you. May you be successful for the sake of Russia.'
    His tone was intensely ernest, and with the words ringing in my ears I swung off into the road in the direction of the autocar, andwhen I turned once I saw him watching me intently and eagerly.
    Now that the moment for action had finally come, I was as cool as could be wished. I took a mental note of everything and I was careful to assume, so far as possible, the swinging stride of the man I was personating.
  11. Chapter III

    As I neared the car a man stepped from inside it and touched his cap.
    ' Who is your master?' I asked, putting all the authority I could into my manner and staring hard at the man. He was dressed like a chauffeur, and save for his black beard and moustache, his face was almost hidden by the peak of his cap and a pair of hideous driving goggles.
    ' M boreski, m'sieur.' His French was that of an educated man, I thought.
    ' What are your instructions?'
    ' We are waiting for someone from the Palace, m'sieur.' the " we " struck me as peculiar. I stopped by the car and looked harder at him.
    ' You speak French with a good accent, my man ' I said, with some suspicion in my tone, and then the unexpected happened.
    A girl, closely veiled, put her head out from the hood which covered the back seat, and with a dash of contempt said --
    'The Canadian will scarecly be afraid to trust himself with a woman.'
    I gave a start of genuine pleasure. It was the girl who had spoken to me on the train.
    ' With you, mademoiselle, I would trust myself anywhere;' and without hesitation I took the seat be her side.
    The chauffeur got into his place and we were off at a smart pace into the darkness.
    I looked back at old Kalkov and waved my hand to him, and, as we whirled around a corner out of the square he drew himself up and gave me a smart military salute. No doubt intended to reinforce the subtrefuge but it struck me as a bit of comic opera.
    If I had my doubts before, they vanished the moment I was at the side of the girl. The advenute had taken just the turn I could have wished; and come what might, I was resolved to have a good time.
    ' That was Prince Kalkov, your Majesty?' she asked, speaking in Russian. I answered in French,
    ' Yes, my very faithful old friend and counsellor to whose planning I owe this - this excursion, shall we call it?'
    ' Your Majesty is --'
    ' Wait, please. This is a very unusual matter. I make one condition from the outset. My incognito must be maintained by everyone - by every one, if you please. I am not the Emperor, but, as I told you, yesterday, a Canadian. My name is Harper C. Dever. I do not speak the Russian language, although I can understand it, and I am travelling in Russia for pleasure.'
    She was undeniably as smart as she was pretty. She listened to me intently, and she asked in English. ' You speak and understand English then, perfectly?'
    It was a pretty trap, but I was not to be drawn, so I replied in French -
    ' A Canadian must necessarily speak his own language, mademoiselle, and in Canada we are fortunate to have two. " and , at that, she laughed softly.
    ' You are doubtless staying at the Hotel Imperial, the favoured lodgings for Foreigners.'
    ' No, I am staying at the Palace with my friend, the Emperor;' a truth which sounded so ridiculous that she laughed again.
    ' We will be careful that a friend of our Emperor has his wishes regarded so far as possible.'
    We rode some distance after that without speaking until I broke the silence.
    ' There are three questions I should like to ask mademoiselle. Have I your persmission?'
    " I cannot pledge myself to answer them,m'sieur.'
    ' Where are we going?'
    ' that will depend upon whether you have kept your faith with M Boreski.'
    ' In what way?'
    ' are we being followed?'
    ' I gave express orders to the contrary.'
    ' A Canadian citizen can give orders to the police in Russia then, m'sieur.' she put in.
    ' Under certain circumstances, a Canadian citizen can be master of the situation.,' I replied equivocally and with more truth than she could have any idea of. ' Will you answer my question?'
    ' about ten miles, if all goes well - if your orders have been obeyed, that is. We shall soon know. '
    She appeared to think for a few moments, then turned and looked at me through her veil.
    ' if you mean that, there will be no difficulty.'
    ' I give you my word of honour. Let me put my second question. Do you pledge yourself, you mademoiselle, personally, for my safety?'
    ' Unconditionally, and so will M Boreski.'
    ' I do not care about him. It is to you I trust.'
    I felt her start and her voice was unsteady as she replied -
    ' On my honour, your Majesty shall not regret that confidence.'
    'Then I will do anything and everything you ask. I put myself absolutely in your hands. '
    She rose and spoke to the chauffeur.
    ' M Boreski says your spies are dogging us and that the streets are alive with them.'
    ' that is M Boreski?' I asked indicating the chauffeur.
    'Yes, that is M Boreski. We anticipated there would be treachery of the kind.'
    There was again a spice of contempt in her tone.
    ' So far as I am concerned your suspicions are unwarranted, mademoiselle. I have been badly served, and someone shall suffer for it. But what do you propose?'
    ' Will you change from this carriage into another with me, leaving this to be followed by your police?'
    There was a touch of scorn in her manner.
    ' Certainly I will not if you continue to doubt my personal good faith. I will return to the Palace and leave the thing to be arranged in some other way. Otherwsie, I am, as I said, absolutely in your hands. '
    ' I am convinced and ashamed of my doubts. Please forgive me.' She spoke quickly and eagerly.
    'Then let us amke the change as soon as you will.'
    She spoke again to Boreski, and the machine gave a spurt forward as he increased the speed until we were flying along at a rate that made conversation almost impossible.
    After some time we swung round a corner and stopped with a sudden jerk.
    ' Now,' cried Boreski eagerly, and in a moment we two were on the ground and he had started again, while the girl drew me inside the gates of a house.
    ' You will see now how you have been obeyed,' she said, and the words were scarcely out of her lips before a vehicle driven at full gallop with a couple of mounted men close behind it, went dashing and clattering past us on the track of the automobile.
    ' They are your police, monsieur, and have now a long ride before them.'
    She referred to them with a shrug of utter contempt.
    ' We have short distance to go in the opposite direction, and shall then find a carriage. '
    her coolness was admirable, and when we started to walk she could not have been more unconcerned if I had been merely seeing her home from a pink tea.
    We passed through two or three streets, meeting only a few loungers, and as we crossed a more important thoroughfare at the corner of which a man and a woman stood talking, my companion stopped and asked the woman where we could get a drosky. She spoke in broken Russian and added -
    ' We are Americans and have lost our way.'
    ' you will find none about here,' the man answered, and spoke in English.
    ' We are in a fix, it seems.'
    'Which is the way to St. Mark's Square?' I asked.' I know my way from there.'
    He gave us minute directions and we walked on.
    ' Those are police spies,' said my companion quietly, ' and if we had not spoken to them, they would probably have followed us. But no one suspects Americans.'
    ' How well you speak English,' I said, off my guard for a moment.
    ' No better than you, monsieur,' she replied simply. ' Your question in English was a great stroke!'
    ' You have been in England?'
    ' Yes, two or three times. I was educated there and in France. What a country of freedom is England. We shall get our carriage here,' she said a little later, and presently, it came rumbling along slowly and stopped at a signal from her.
    ' We shall not be more than a few minutes now.' she said as we got in.
    'You have not told me your name, mademoiselle.'
    ' I am Helga; and take the same surname as my cousin - Boreski - until my mission is accomplished'
    ' Your mission? What is that?'
    ' I will tell you some day - if you grant me a hearing. '
    ' You may depend on that, mademoiselle,' I answered as earnestly as I felt, so earnestly indeed that she turned and looked at me in surprise.
    ' pray God your Majesty means that.'
    And I was still pondering her reply when the carriage stopped and she told me we had reached our destination.
  12. Chapter IV: Who Are We?

    As I sat in the sumptuously furnished drawing room, waiting for Helga Boreski to join me, I felt both embarrassed and puzzled.
    Who was she? What was the mysterious mission of which she had spoken? What was her connection with this Borseki affair? What part was she playing in the serio-comic drama in which I had thus suddenly been involved?
    I could see no answer to the questions. I had made as keen an observation of the house as a few rapid glances in the darkness would permit; but could see little more than that it was a large rambling building standing well secluded in extensive grounds. Inside, the place contained all the evidences of considerable wealth, and it was clear somebody connected with it must have money.
    Boreski had been described to me, however, as an adventurer, who was angling for his duchess in order to secure her private fortune. He was also unquestionably blackmailing the Government in the matter of a million rubles.
    Yet the room I was in might have been the parlour of an American millionaire, so costly and precious were many of the pictures and ornaments.
    Coffee was served to me by footmen who might have stepped straight from an English peer's household; and altogether, as I say, I was completely mystified.
    My embarrassment came from a quite different cause. It is one thing to meet an adventurer like this Boreski with his own weapons and fool him into an appreciation of his own short-sightedness; but it was something very different to treat Helga in the same way. Rightly or wrongly I had come to the fixed conviction that, although I had met her in this very questionable association with Boreski's sordid scheme, she herself was as good as she was beautiful...and the idea of cheating her, of palming myself off as the Emperor, was more repugnant than I can say.
    I was brooding over the problem with my coffee untasted when she came in, looking positively radiant. Her eyes were shining with excitement, her face was coloured with the glow of the ride; and she had gowned herself simply, but with exquisite taste, in subdued tones that set off her magnificent beauty of face and form to perfection.
    Every action and gesture were full of grace, and as she moved across the room I followed her with a glance that she must have felt expressed my intense admiration. I was hopelessly bewitched by her ravishing beauty; and that is the truth.
    ' Are you still the Canadian - as to ceremonial?' she asked.
    ' Oh, please; ' and I motioned her to a lounge, feeling abominably mean. she sank into it with a smile.
    ' Fresh coffe for --M. Dever,' she said to the servant, pausing on the threshold of the name, and glancing at me she pointed to my untouched cup.
    ' And cigarettes.'
    She lit a cigarette and I did the same.
    ' You wished it all to be informal,' she said when the servant had left the room. ' It is also very extraordinary.'
    ' And very delightful,' I could not help saying.
    ' You have no longer any hesitation as to your own safety?'
    ' I have trusted you and am content.'
    ' would god it may always be so,' she said earnestly under her breath.
    ' I should never doubt you,' I returned with an emphasis. ' But, frankly, I am completely mystified. '
    She laughed, and it was like the sound of sweet sleigh bells.
    ' This is my house; I live here with an old relative, Madame Korvata. She is what the Spaniards would call my duenna, and the English - Mrs. Grundy. But I am like those of north America -you Canadians, ' she repeated with a glance; ' in my love of personal freedom. I do as I like. '
    ' that I can believe. and M Boreski?'
    ' Is M boreski - that is all to me. He is my cousin, very distantly my cousin, and he has his plans. '
    She managed to suggest that these schemes were indifferent to her, and after a short pause added meaningly -
    ' We all have plans, haven't we? Little moves of the pawns on the chess board, leading to some great combination - perhaps, that is. '
    ' M Boreski is coming here?' I asked.
    ' You are already impatient to go.'
    The retort came quickly with just an accent of reproach and disappointment.
    ' On the contrary I am more than content to stay.'
    She gave me a sharp half-quizzical glance, with a smile in it, quickly suppressed save in her eyes.
    ' I wonder can that be true? What kind of test it would stand?'
    ' any test you could choose.'
    ' we shall see. I may remind you of that;' half challenge half banter this was. ' but my concerns are nothing to you.'
    ' Then let us make them something.' Our eyes met as I said this with an earnestness that was personal if not Imperial, and she met my gave openly and steadily. Hers were dangerous eyes for any man to look into, and especially for one who thought of her as I did.
    ' I wonder what you mean by that? What I ought to read behind your look and eager offer?'
    'Nothing but good will to you. Believe that. '
    ' You tempt me,monsieur - Canadian,' and she fell back in her chair with a half sigh and sat thinking intently. Presently she shook her head. ' No, not yet, not yet. You know nothing of me. '
    ' An ignorance you can easily correct. but no, you are right, it must not be yet,' I exclaimed hastily. I had no right to invite confidence from her until she knew who I really was. But my exclamation surprised her.
    ' Why not yet - from your side?'
    ' I cannot tell you. How long will M Boreski be?'
    She wrinkled her brow at the question.
    ' You mean you would first know what my connection with his scheme is? A somewhat shallow trust yours, after all. '
    ' It may seem so, but I did not mean that.'
    ' then what did you mean?'
    Her eyes again sought mine as if to read my thoughts. I thrtew up a blockading smile.
    ' how long will he be?'
    ' you play with me,' she exclaimed petulantly.
    ' I do not make a pleasant plaything. M Boreski will be here soon now. He will find some one to take his place and play hare to your police dogs - tghe dogs that were not to have been set upon us. '
    ' Us?' I repeated with a lift of the eyebrows. ' You do identify yourself with him then?'
    She laughed.
    ' That is a man's retort. Suspicion for suspicion; and it serves me right. Now that the time has come, I am not myself. I am too anxious. I do not understand - Canadians. You make me feel as no other man has ever yet made me feel.'
    Was this for the Emperor or myself? I did not relish the problem and made no reply.
    She sighed and rising touched the bell, and remained standing while the servants came and removed the coffee cups.
    I was glad of the interval. It gave me time to remember my part and remember, too, how unstable was the ground I stood on.
    When the servants had gone again she remained standing with one elbow resting upon an ebony column under a branch of electric lights, the soft shaded colours which fell upon her, enhancing her beauty.
    ' In the train yesterday, you said you wished to see me again,' she said very slowly in a low seductive voice. ' You have had your wish, you see. It is good to be - a Canadian. Will you have the same wish after tonight, I wonder. I wonder, ' she added musingly.
    ' It is a graver question whether you would grant the wish if I expressed it.'
    ' Do you doubt it? You need not/' And then quickly as if to get on to safer ground, ' The wishes of such a Canadian must be commands to - to Russian subjects. '
    I winced and my face clouded, and I wished my Imperial character at the bottom of the Black Sea. She was quick to notice the change.
    ' I have offended you, how?' there was eagerness in her eyes.
    ' no. I have offended myself, that's all,' I returned with a little sigh of vexation.
    ' You are hard to understand, ' she murmured softly.
    ' Without the key to the riddle, yes;' and once more we lapsed into silence. During the pause she resumed her seat.
    ' M Boreski should be here now, monsieur,' she said at length, a noticeable difference in her tone. ' You are going to grant his request?'
    'I have come to obtain the papers he holds. '
    ' I fear you will find him difficult to deal with after the police incident tonight. Police spies to him are an abomination. You had none yesterday. Why do you run the risks as to travel quite unattended?'
    ' I ran no risk. no one knew me;' I answered, rather embarrassed.
    ' I knew you.'
    ' Against what were you warning me?'
    She read suspicion in the question.
    ' I am not a Nihilist; but Russia is Russia.'
    ' You know something of these Nihilists?'
    ' I know many of them to be reckless desperate men.'
    ' One has to take chances.'
    ' Do you think this what you term a chance?'
    ' God forbid. But I am glad of your repudiation.'
    'did you need it?' she asked, her eyes on mine again.
    ' I have told you I trust you, and I think have shown it. But you are an enigma.'
    She smiled and leant forward until her face was near to mine.
    ' Do you think me worth the trouble of solving?' and she was still waiting for my answer and gazing at me when, to my chagrin, the door opened and Boreski entered.
  13. Chapter IV:

    I recognized him instantly from his photograph; an aristocrat to his finger-tips he appeared to me, with a perfect manner; as stiking a personality in his way as Helga herself.
    ' M Boreski,' said Helga, rising, and he made a courtier-like bow.
    ' I am more honoured than I can say by the condesension of this interview, you Majesty,' he said. ' Pray pardon my lateness, but it is due to circumstances beyond my control. '
    As I knew he had been leading the police on a wild goose chase I had to restrain an inclination to smile.
    ' Mademoiselle here has already anticipated your explanation, monsieur,' I said; and the two exchanged quick glances. ' It was contrary to my express orders that you were followed.'
    ' A very direct and precise pledge was given me, your Majesty, by His Highness Prince Kalkov.'
    His manner more than his words made me understand that he held he had been badly treated and resented strongly the breach of faith. This was the crossing of the weapons in the game of fence between us.
    ' It is not customary for me to explain my position twice, M Boreski,' I said with a lofty air. ' Let us get to the business of the interview, if you please.' You will be seated,' and I waved my hand to a chair.
    ' I thank your Majesty.' he replied with a deferential bow as he sat down.
    ' We understand, of course, the peculiar nature of circumstances leading to the interview and the importance attached to the papers which you have. Where are they, if you please?'
    ' Ready to be produced the moment your Majesty has settled the preliminaries. '
    ' You have named very high terms, monsieur.'
    ' His highness, in your Majesty's name, has already agreed to them,' he returned quietly.
    ' But we are now face to face, monsieur, and we can re-open the whole matter. I propose to do that, and I invite you to tell me now precisely your ultimate object and your inner motives. '
    The question surprised him, and he pursed his lips and frowned in thought and looked across at Helga.
    ' I do not understand your Majesty. '
    ' come, come, monsieur, you must do that. you are young, you have a great career before you as a maestro, they tell me, a career which means ample rewards in money these days - so that you cannot be seeking money only. What then, is it?'
    ' Your Majesty is good enough --'
    ' Stay,' I put in then. ' I have explained to Mademoiselle Helga that I am strictly incognito. regard me as no other than the Canadian, Mr. Dever, and let us talk this out as man to man. forget there is anyone present but a private individual who has influence with an absent Emperor. Now, tell me frankly what is the real object you are seeking?'
    ' you are very gracious, but my object has already been explained -- I desire to marry the Duchess Staphanie.'
    ' As a means to what end?'
    ' Marriage is an end in itself,' said Helga, speaking for the first time, and coming to his rescue.
    ' That would make M Boreski a mere fortune hunter, mademoiselle, an extremly distasteful and invidious part to play.'
    They were both surprised at the turn of things and were silent for some moments.
    ' I thought this part of the matter had been definitely settled,' said Helga; and then for the first time a suspicion crossed my mind that the man was taking his cue from her.
    He said quickly --
    ' So it has been.'
    'Are you tired of your art, monsieur? If you were to marry the Duchess Stephanie your career must of course end. What, then, do you expect to gain in its place? Money? What is a million rubles?'
    I only just avoided saying a hundred thousand dollars - ' a man with your gifts? Do you seek place, power, influence? Let me remind you, you are forcing your way into a circle which will never receive you as an equal. Political infgluence will be impossible for you -- the Emperor himself would be inflexible on that point. If I read you aright, you are a man with ambition and individuality; and neither ambition nor individuality is content to be a mere adjunct to a wife. '
    ' In Canada is not affection regarded as a possible basis of marriage, M Dever?' asked Helga; and I turned with a smile to her.
    ' My kinswoman ' -I made the slip intentionally and then corrected it - ' the Duchess Stephanie is no longer so fascinating as in her youth, mademoiselle. I am only dealing with facts. '
    ' M Dever has no wish to insult me or the Duchess, I am sure.' said Boreski, a suggestion of anger in his tone.
    ' Do I understand then that you are in love with the Duchess?'
    'That is a point which, with all deference, I will not discuss,' he returned firmly; but despite his firm tone, I thought I could discern evidence that I had struck home.
    ' M Boreski is irrevocably pledged to the Duchess,' said Helga,' and in honour he could not draw back.'
    ' The Emperor would find means to meet that difficulty,' said I. ' But, be it so. I have come with the written consent to the marriage; ' and I took out the papers which Prince Kalkov had given me, glanced at them and laid them on the table.
    Boreski's face brightened. Then I added casually - ' I should have thought, indeed, that we might have torn up the consent to the marriage and made the draft here for two millions instead of one. A fortune and individual freedom would have seemed to me prefereable - especially if coupled with it was a complete condonation of all other matters and - intrigues.'
    I paused before the word and watched him. the mention of the higher sum had brought a light of avarice into his eyes, which gave way abruptly to surprise and suspicion as I finished.
    ' Intrigues?'
    It was Helga who put the question, and Boreski looked across at her so doubtfully as to suggest fear. Then he took out his handkerchief and wiped his lips. ' Intrigues, mademoiselle,' I replied quietly. 'M Boreski knows my meaning.' This forced him to speak, and his voice was nervous.
    ' I am at a loss to understand you, monsieur'
    I paused and looked at him steadily until his eyes fell.
    ' Your sources of secret information are so many, monsieur, that I am sure you can ascertain that. Shall we say twice the amount and tear up this consent?'
    he fidgetted with his handkerchief, and then making a great effort for self-possession he put it away and answered, with a spice of doggedness.
    ' I have named my terms and they have been agreed to.'

    ' As you will. but, of course, you understand that without that condonation - or pardon - even one so highly placed as the husband of the Duchess Stephanie may be called upon to answer for his facts .'
    I waited to give him a last chance, and during the silence he was obviously embarrassed
    ' You make grave accusations very lightly. M Dever,' said Helga, coming to the rescue again.
    ' Do you think we cannot prove them, mademoiselle?' I asked looking her straight in the face. The man's manner made me very sure. But she could act much better than he; women can as a rule. Her steady look changed to a winning smile.
    ' What do men do in Canada, monsieur, when they are so fortunate as to discover a mare's nest?'
    ' They console themselves if they find in it a woman's smile, mademoiselle,' I replied lightly, ' or take her assurance that it is nothing more serious.'
    ' What can be more serious than a woman's smile, M Canadian?'
    ' A man's nihilism, mademoiselle, for one thing. But come, here are the papers, M Boreski. I shall have the pleasure of adressing you as Count, I shall hand to you the consent to your unmercenary marriage, and I shall give you the draft for a million rubles as the dowry conferred by a grateful Emperor. Where are the papers for me?'
    He put his hand to his pocket.
    ' I ---.' he paused suddenly and then said hesitatingly, ' I --I will get them. I have your permission to withdraw?'
    He had himself in hand again.
    ' And to return - with the papers. Will you also see that a carriage is ready?'
    As he rose I intercepted a very meaning glance between the two, and then once more Helga and I were alone.
    All had gone smoothly so far; but there was clearly much that I did not yet understand and I turned to Helga to question her.
  14. jockinese

    jockinese Old-Salt

    Good stuff rocketeer, you've got me hooked, keep it going :D
  15. Thanks for the kind words..

    I've got a bit more scribbled down but having trouble posting..

    compuer gli [hic ] tches..

    IT is sending over a senior technician [ age 8!!] to help me root out the problem..
    Should be back up to speed by Thursday my time...guess I'll just have to muddle through with the standard HB and a whittlin' knife 'til then...