The steamship Trave of the North German Lloyd docked at its Hoboken pier at eight o'clock one morning in December. Among the passengers who presently departed from the vessel was a woman who attracted unusual attention for the reason that she was accompanied by a considerable suite of retainers and servants who were for a time as busy as flies around a honey pot, caring for their mistress' baggage, and otherwise attending to the details of her arrival. Nor was it alone for this reason that all eyes were from time to time turned in her direction. There was about her a certain air of distinction, wealth, power and repose, which impressed itself upon the observers. Many there were who sought eagerly an opportunity to scan the features of this young woman's face, for that she was young, was immediately apparent, and the fact added not a little to the interest that was manifested in her.
The young woman, whoever she was, maintained an air of reserve which raised a barrier beyond which none of the curious might penetrate; and as if insolently disdainful of the attention she attracted, her face remained veiled; not too thickly, but effectively enough to set at naught these efforts of the curious throng.
A view of her face was, however, not required to determine in the minds of the beholders that she possessed more than ordinarily, the attractive feminine qualities. Her very presence told that; the air with which she moved about among her servitors; the simple gestures she made in giving her directions, and the quiet but resourceful and effective methods she used in administering her affairs, indicated that not only was she a person of great wealth, but that she was also high in place and in authority, and one who was accustomed to being obeyed.
Her costume was hidden entirely beneath the magnificent furs which enveloped her, and even the maid who attended upon her immediate wants was more elaborately gowned and wrapped than the average feminine personage of the western world is wont to be.
The immediate party of this distinguished passenger soon took its departure from the pier, leaving behind only those whose various duties consisted in caring for the seventy-odd pieces of baggage soon to be taken from the hold of the vessel; and this immediate party departed from the pier in carriages, for the hotel where accommodations had already been secured. The young woman and her maid occupied a conveyance by themselves; other maids followed in a second one, and a third contained two footmen, a courier and her official messenger.
At the hotel, where notice of her arrival in the city had been received, she was assigned to a suite of rooms which occupied the greater part of one entire floor and which included every convenience which the most illustrious personage travelling in the United States could have required, or would have found it possible to obtain.
The courier at once sought the hotel office and registered as follows:
Her Highness Princess Zara de Echeveria
and suite, St. Petersburg.
And when his attention was called to the fact that the names of the entire party were required, he shrugged his shoulders and announced:
"I regret, sir, that I do not remember the names of all the persons who comprise her highness' suite, but I will supply you presently with a list of them."
In the parlor of the apartments occupied by the princess, her maid was removing the furs and wraps and making her mistress comfortable, for there is inevitably after a sea voyage, a few hours of fatigue which nothing but restful quiet and utter idleness will overcome; and therefore an hour or more later, when a visiting card was taken to the princess she did not even give herself the trouble to examine it, but said while she peered through half closed eyelids:
"Whoever it is, Orloff, say that I will not receive until four this afternoon."
Down below, in the office of the hotel, the gentleman who had sent up the card and who received this message in reply to it, shrugged his shoulders, glanced at the face of his watch to discover that it was yet barely noon-time, crossed to the book stall where he secured something to read and thereby while away the time, and then having sought a comfortable chair in a secluded corner deposited himself in it with an air of finality which indicated that he had no idea of departing from the hotel until after he had secured the solicited audience.
At four he sent a second card to the princess; at half past four he was admitted to her presence.
If the eyes of that curious throng of people who had watched her arrival at the steamship pier could have seen her then, when this man who had waited so long was shown into her presence, they would have been amply repaid for their admiring curiosity concerning her. It is trite to speak of a woman as being radiantly beautiful, commonplace to refer to it at all, save by implication, since feminine beauty is a composite attribute, vague and indefinable, and should possess no single quality to individualize it. Beauty such as that possessed by Princess Zara can neither be defined nor described. It is the tout ensemble of her presence and her personal charm.
Zara de Echeveria needed no adornment to emphasize the attractions of her gorgeous self. She was one of those rare women who are rendered more attractive by the absence of all ornament and her dark eyes were more luminous and brilliant than any jewel she might have worn. Her gown, though rich, was simplicity itself, and inasmuch as her servants had found time during the hours since their arrival, to decorate the rooms according to the princess' tastes, she was surrounded by much the same settings that would have been contained in her own palatial home at St. Petersburg. When it is said that she was barely twenty-five in years; that her father had been a Spanish nobleman in the diplomatic service at the Russian capital, and that her mother was of royal birth, we have an explanation for the exquisitely fascinating and almost voluptuous qualities of her beauty, as well as for her royal manner of command.
She did not leave her chair when this man was taken into her presence, but extended one small and perfectly formed hand upon which gleamed a solitary ring; the only jewel she wore that afternoon save a small pin in the lace at her throat, which was fashioned precisely after the same pattern as the ring.
The man lost no time in raising that beautiful hand to his lips, and he bowed low over it, with a courtly grace as distinguished in its gesture, as was her reception of him. One wondered why such a man as this had been contented to endure five idle hours of waiting upon her serene pleasure; and yet if one had looked past him to her, one might have ceased to wonder, and have thought a lifetime of waiting would be as nothing, if possession of her at the end of it could be its reward.
"It was kind of you to come to me so quickly after my arrival," she said to him in a low voice that was perfectly modulated.
"It was kinder of you to receive me, princess," he responded, stepping back again to the center of the room and standing tall and straight—before her in his commanding manhood. He was a handsome man, past fifty, distinguished, and like the princess he greeted, had about him the unquestionable air of authority.
"I am afraid I kept you waiting."
"One does not consider moments of waiting, if Princess Zara be the object of it," he retorted, smiling.
"Won't you be seated?"
"Thank you; yes."
He drew a chair forward so that they sat nearly facing each other across a low table upon which many of the princess' personal effects had already been arranged. Among them was a box of Russian cigarettes which she now indicated by a gesture, while with a smile which lighted her face wonderfully and gave to it that added charm that is indescribable, she said:
"There are some of your favorite cigarettes, Saberevski. I had you in mind when I included them among my personal baggage, having no doubt that I should encounter you when I should arrive in this country; but little thinking that you would be the first to greet me. You will pardon me for not indulging in one of them myself, for you know that I have never acquired the habit. Nevertheless they will perhaps suggest to you the flavor of home, and may transport you for a moment to the scenes which I know you are longing for."
"Thank you, princess," he replied, and lighted one. Then he leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and for a time there was utter silence between these two. The man seemed indeed to have been transported in thought, to his native environment, not so much by the odor and flavor of the cigarette he puffed with such calm enjoyment, as by the presence of this magnificent creature who confronted him so daintily, and who received him so simply and yet so grandly. "You knew, then, that I was here in New York, princess?" he asked of her presently, peering at her through the smoke he was making; and he smiled comfortably across the distance that separated them.
"I knew you were in America, Saberevski; and to me America means New York. I believed that you would not be long in making yourself known to me after my arrival, for I knew that the papers would announce it, and that your—shall I call it your duties?—would require that you should not permit my presence here to pass unnoticed."
The man shrugged his shoulders, indulging himself in another smile as he replied:
"It is hardly kind of you to attribute this call to duty on my part. When I am in your presence I find myself wishing that there were no such things as duties to be performed. When I look at you, Zara, I wish that I were young again, and that I might throw duty to the winds and enter the list against all others who seek you."
An expression of annoyance, as fleeting as it was certain, came into her eyes, and she replied with a little show of impatience:
"Spare me that sort of thing, Saberevski. One does not always wish to hear such expressions as that; and coming from you, addressed to me, they are not pleasant."
"Not even when you know them to be sincere, Zara? I spoke in the past tense, and only of what might have been were the disparity of our years less, and if the environment by which we are respectively surrounded could have been different."
"In other words," she smiled back at him, now recovered from her impatience, "if the world had been created a different one, and if we were not ourselves; as we are."
"Precisely," he replied, and laughed.
"I did not even look at your card when it was brought to me," she said, with an abrupt change of the subject; "had I done so I would not have kept you waiting so long. Tell me something about yourself, Saberevski; and why it is that you have deemed it wise, or perhaps necessary to become an expatriate, and to deprive St. Petersburg and all who are there, of your presence and your wise counsels."
"I am afraid it is too long a story and hardly worth the telling at that. St. Petersburg has tired of me. I am better away from it, and it is much better with me away; believe me."
"And his majesty, the czar? Is he also of that opinion, my friend?"
"His majesty, the czar, does me the honor, princess, to approve of my present plans and conduct," replied Saberevski with slow and low toned emphasis.
Alexis Saberevski leaned forward in his chair to secure another of the cigarettes, and having lighted it with studied deliberation, resumed his former position gazing between half closed eyelids toward Princess Zara. It was quite evident that he had gone to her with a distinct purpose in view which he meant to fulfill before his departure; and it was plain to be seen that Zara appreciated the fact. While he was silent, she waited, but with a half smile upon her beautiful face, that was quizzical and somewhat whimsical, as if in her secret heart she was aware of the purpose of his errand but for reasons of her own did not wish to anticipate it. And he read her correctly, too. He believed that she understood him even better than he knew her; but viewed from his own standpoint he had a duty to perform in regard to her, and he had gone there to fulfill it.
"Zara," he said, "when I saw the announcement of your intended visit to this country——"
"Pardon me, Saberevski," she interrupted him; "but did the knowledge of my expected visit come to you through a printed announcement, or were you informed of it even before the printers had set the type?"
"I see that I must be quite frank with you," he laughed.
"Between friends frankness is always best," she retorted.
"In that case I will begin again, princess."
"It would be better—and wiser."
"When I was informed of your anticipated visit to this country I decided that I would be the first to welcome you here, and in making that decision I had a double purpose."
"One of them only, need interest us at this moment, and that is purely a personal one. You know, Zara, how I have always regarded you, and how I do so now. Your father was my best friend; your mother—it is perhaps unnecessary that I should be more explicit regarding her."
"Yes, Saberevski," said Zara in a low tone. "I know that you loved my mother, and that all your life you have remained true to your adoration of her, even though she never returned it; but go on."
"I love you, Zara, more perhaps than I admit to myself; more profoundly than it would be wise for me to tell you, or agreeable for you to hear; but in the admiration and esteem I feel for you, there is included no sentiment which could offend you."
"I know that, my friend."
"I would like to talk with you quite openly for once, Zara, in order that you may comprehend perfectly where I stand, and because I do not wish you to misconstrue any assertion I shall make, or to attribute to any one of them, another motive than I intend."
"I think you may be assured of that."
"You guessed correctly a moment ago, about my receiving intelligence concerning your visit here, before the compositors set the type of the announcement; but the intelligence was incorporated among other things that were conveyed to me in the same manner, and by the same message. It had no direct significance, and beyond the mere statement of the fact, there was no comment. I was not directed to call upon you, and in fact there was no suggestion made that bore directly upon your presence here. But, Zara, the mere statement of your intention conveyed to me very many suggestions which I have come here to-day to make known to you. I believe it to be my clear duty to do so."
"Well, my friend?"
"You know who and what I have been, and am. Always close to the person of the czar; for very many years deeply in his confidence, and possessing I believe his friendship to an extraordinary degree, it has been my pleasure as well as my duty to serve my emperor in many secret ways which our little world at St. Petersburg does not know or appreciate. The fact that I am at present an expatriate, as you have so aptly stated, is due to reasons which I need not explain, and which do not concern us just now. The fact that I am one, has stationed me in New York by choice, and not by direction; but I thank God that I am here to greet you upon your arrival because I hope by very plain speaking to change a course you have determined upon, and to induce you——"
"Wait one moment, Saberevski. Don't you think that you are getting rather beyond your depth? I appreciate all that you are trying so vainly to tell me. I know of your personal interest in me, and I honor you and thank you for it. But it is not like Alexis Saberevski to hesitate over a statement he has decided to make, and if I am not mistaken you began this discourse with a determination to be frank. Might I suggest that you make yourself more plain?"
"I have been called a diplomat of the first order, Zara," he replied, with a smile, "but your straight-forward methods, and my resolute purpose, make my course of procedure somewhat difficult. I will, however, be entirely frank."
"That is better."
"Zara de Echeveria, Alexis Saberevski informs you now that he knows you to be high in the councils of the nihilists."
Was there a suggestion of pallor for an instant upon the countenance of the princess? Was there a quick but imperceptible intaking of her breath? Was there a deepening in the expression of her matchless eyes, and an imperceptible widening of them, as they dwelt upon her companion? Was there a stiffening of her figure in its attitude of quiet repose, and did her muscles attain a sudden rigidity, induced by that startling announcement? Saberevski could not have answered any one of these questions. So perfectly were the features and the facial expression of Princess Zara under her control that she outwardly betrayed no sign of the effect of the announcement. And yet it might well have affected her most deeply; might have startled her even into a cry of terror; should have filled her with instant fear, because this man who made it was one, who in his former official capacity could have condemned almost any person in Russia to exile by a gesture, or a word. And Zara did not doubt that his official capacity still obtained. She knew him to be an expatriate as she had announced. She understood that for some reason, not apparent, he had become a voluntary exile from his native country and city, and might never again return to the scenes he loved best. But she also knew that he was no less closely in the confidence of the Russian emperor, and could never be any the less inimical to the enemies of the czar. A statement such as he had made, coming from him, charging her with complicity in revolutionary acts which had for their object the assassination of the Russian ruler and his possible successors, contained an implied threat more terrible in its consequences than any other one which could have been made; more terrible to her, personally, than to any other person against whom it might have been made, because she knew by the experiences of one of her girl friends, to what extremities of mental and moral torture a Siberian exile may be condemned.
She made no reply. She remained perfectly motionless and silent, waiting for him to continue.
"You need not deny me, Zara, for I know," he went on presently. "How the knowledge came to me does not matter, and has no connection with this interview. But I know. That knowledge has created the duty which I have come to you to-day to perform. I want you to abandon your present pursuits. Whatever the purpose of your visit to America may be, I beg that you will forego it. I do not seek any confession, or even a statement from you, upon this subject. Indeed I should prefer that you make none. You cannot please me better than by listening to me in silence, so that when I leave you presently, you will know and I will know, that I will have no more knowledge concerning you and your entanglements with those people, than I possessed before I came. I would have it that way. I would have it no other way."
She nodded her head, gazing at him intently, but with that same changeless expression of impersonal interest, as if she were listening to the discussion of a third party who was not known to her save by name.
"Zara," he continued, "you will receive other cards than mine to-day, and you should know that every man or woman who will call upon you in behalf of the nihilists, is marked and known. You cannot engage in the business that brought you here, and afterward return to Russia in safety. The secret police of our empire extends all over the world, and is as efficient in the city of New York, as it is in Moscow or St. Petersburg, so far as its requirements demand. I warn you, not in behalf of your party, the principals of which I despise and abhor; not in behalf of any individual member of that revolutionist sect, but wholly in behalf of Zara de Echeveria, the daughter of my best friend, the offspring of the only woman I ever loved. To-day while I talk to you, I am not Alexis Saberevski the friend of the czar, but I am Alexis Saberevski your friend. I have stepped outside my duty; I have taken it upon myself to come here to perform what may be a disloyal act to my emperor, in order to warn you against a course which can have but one end, and which can bring you to but one fate—Siberia."
He left his chair and stood beside her. He reached down and took one of her hands, pressing it between the palms of both his own.
"Zara," he said, with deep-toned feeling, "in some ways you are like a daughter to me; in others you are the reincarnation of the woman I loved so dearly. I love you for yourself, and for the sake of those two who gave you life. I shall never plead with you again. My duty will probably nevermore call me into your presence. When we part this day, it is likely to be for the last time. If danger befalls you because of the conditions you create through this entanglement, I cannot go to your rescue, or even to your assistance. I speak to you as with a voice from the grave, beseeching you in the names of your father and mother, to heed what I have said."
"You have forgotten——" She began impetuously to answer, but he unclasped one hand from hers, long enough to make a warning gesture, and enunciated the one word: "Hush! Remember, Zara, you are not to speak until I have finished, and then upon a different subject. But I will answer your unspoken thought, for I read it in your manner. I have not forgotten your little friend Yvonne; nor Stanislaus, her brother. Indeed, my child, this very scene reminds me of it, and renders all the more imperative the duty I am seeking to perform. Let the terrible fate of that poor girl appeal to you. Let the awful end of Stanislaus be a warning. Vengeance should have no part or place in your heart, even though you believe that they cry out to you from their graves to undertake it. But they do not do that, Zara, and if either or both of them could speak now, they would voice the sentiments I have expressed, and emphasize the warnings I have given. Go back to your home in St. Petersburg, my child, and leave politics alone. Alexander, the czar, admires you and esteems you, but I who am his friend, warn you that the admiration and esteem of monarchs can be no more relied upon than the shifting fogs of the Gulf of Finland."
Again Princess Zara would have spoken, for her dark eyes lighted with a sudden fire and she half started from her chair with an eagerness that was impetuously expressive. But Saberevski retained his clasp upon her hands, and without seeming to do so, restrained her where she was; after a moment he added:
"Now, if you please we will change the subject. My duty as I saw it, has been performed, and nothing remains to be said. In a few moments I will leave you, and when I do so, we will probably part for the last time. Now, Zara, tell me something about yourself."
There was a suspicion of tears in her upturned eyes as she looked at him from out of their glowing depths, but she took him at his word, and with a visible effort brought back the smile to her countenance as he returned to his chair at the opposite side of the table.
"There is little to tell you of myself, Saberevski," she replied, while he helped himself to another cigarette. "You know what my life is, even though you have been absent from home almost a year."
"Yes," he said, smiling, "one round of pleasures, and of conquest. Adorers waiting for you on every hand; lovers perhaps——"
"No; not lovers," she interrupted him. "There is no place for them, Saberevski," and a shade of sadness which he attributed to the memory of Stanislaus, clouded her eyes for a moment. Had he but known however, it was no recollection of that young officer of the czar's household, to whom reference has already been made and to whom Zara was once betrothed, that affected her. It was a deeper and more far-reaching consideration that brought the expression of pain for an instant into her eyes, and she longed to cry out the truth to her companion, then and there.
Had she done so, her statement would have been something like this:
"There is no room in my heart for a lover, for the reason that the cause I have espoused fills it completely. The people whose wrongs I seek to redress, the victims whose wandering souls cry out for vengeance, and the women exiles in frozen Siberia whose fates are too terrible to relate, fill my whole heart and being so completely as to leave no room for personal love."
She would have said that, and much more, but she restrained herself; and he rose to take his departure.
She gave him both her hands, and in a low tone that was full of suppressed feeling, she said to him, at parting:
"Do not think, my friend, that I have failed to appreciate all the goodness of your motives in coming to me to-day. From my heart I thank you, and if it should be as you say, that we may never meet again, although I see no reason for such a thing, I wish you to know that in parting, Zara de Echeveria admired and esteemed you above all other men of her acquaintance. Good-bye."
We need recite but one other interview which Princess Zara undertook that day. Several follow upon it, and there were many such during her stay of more than a week in New York City.
Many came, were received and went away again; and the princess herself was frequently abroad in the streets, or at places of amusement, or was entertained by those who worship at the shrine of nobility.
But there was one who called upon her the evening of the day of Saberevski's interview, to which it is necessary that we should refer. He came at ten o'clock, and was expected, for he was conducted to her presence immediately and was received without question, although it would have been immediately plain to an observer that these two had never met before.
The things which they discussed were largely technical, and had to do with the conduct and activities of various nihilistic agents who were scattered about over the world, outside of Russia. He was a man whose name does not appear again in this story and which therefore need not be mentioned now, but he was nevertheless one well known at the courts of Europe, and on the streets of New York and Washington.
At the end of their discussion and interchange of confidences, when he rose to leave her and she gave him her hand, he said, recurring to the subject of their conversation:
"Princess, if we had others like you, as sincere in their efforts for the betterment of our people, nihilism would soon become the dominant factor of Russian politics, and official oppression would cease to exist. If we had others like you, as good and as beautiful as you are, the czar would abdicate, or would consent to give us a parliament. As it is, the struggle has only just begun, and I greatly fear that neither I nor you, young though you are, will live to see its end."
"Thank you," she said. "I understand thoroughly what you mean. It is true that I am heart and soul in this movement. It is equally true that I am prepared to devote my fortune and my life to an attainment of the ends we seek."
"Are you an extremist?" he asked her. "We have not touched upon that part of the subject as yet, princess."
"If you mean by that expression, do I seek the life of Alexander? I could answer you in the affirmative without hesitation; but I would have to confess that my desire for vengeance upon him is more of a personal quality, than of a political character. I am mindful of the fact that we cannot destroy a tree by lopping off one of its branches, and whenever a czar is dead, another lives to take his place and to permit the injustices practiced in his name, to continue. He is like the hydra-headed monster of childhood's tales, and another head grows as fast as one may be cut off."
"You are a beautiful woman, princess, and with that aid alone you should accomplish much."
"Yes," she admitted, as calmly as if he had referred to a ring she wore on her hand; "but I find that to be the most unpleasant character of my employment. To use such beauty as I have, and such attractions as I possess, for the winning of men to our cause, whether they be officials or nobles, is hateful to me; and yet I do not hesitate."
"It is not a difficult task for men to join the nihilists because of love for you; I could, myself, almost forsake it, did you ask such a sacrifice."
"Shame on you!" she stormed at him, snatching away her hand and darting out of his reach. "Shame on you for that! Those were treacherous words, and I expected them least of all, from you. You make me ashamed; ashamed for you, and for the cause I uphold. Are all men so weak, and so easily led? Does the mere beauty of a woman make cowards of them all? Could a pair of flashing eyes, or the touch of soft hands, change the destinies of an empire?"
"They have done so more than once, princess."
"You make me hate myself—and you."
"I am afraid that you took me too literally," he said, with perfect composure, for although he knew that he had angered her, she was yet so beautiful in her impetuous resentment of his words that he was lost in admiration. Indeed he had uttered no more than the truth when he told her that he might even forsake the cause if such a woman as Zara could have been his reward; and he knew by long years of experience, that he uttered the sentiments of nine men out of ten who might fall under her influence.
"My mission is accomplished here," she told him, "and already my passage is engaged for the return voyage. I leave New York at once and I shall probably never return to it. What you have told me of the measures taken in our behalf, has encouraged me greatly; and yet because of one thing you have said, I dread the return to St. Petersburg."
"What was that, princess?"
"I must correct myself. You intimated it; you did not say it."
"What was it?"
"You suggested, in one statement you made, that you had reason to fear that the spy-system as arrayed against us at home, might be augmented by the addition of skilled operators and experts from this country. I had thought that we nihilists had a monopoly of that sort of employment, and that the czar and his nobles could claim only the loyalty of their own spies. But your suggestion fills me with doubt and dread. If Alexander were to introduce imported spies among our people——"
He interrupted the princess by laughing heartily.
"Again you took me too literally," he asserted. "Here and there, there may be one who will seek Russia and the czar for such employment, but it will be for the emolument it will bring, and cannot be induced by patriotic sentiment. We would have little cause to dread such people, since we would not be long in identifying them, and ultimately I believe they would assist, rather than retard our efforts."
"There can be no doubt of your own loyalty to our cause, princess?"
"Are the others like you? Pardon me, there can be no others like you for there could never be another so beautiful and fascinating as you are. But are there others of your acquaintance high in position, who are working for the cause as diligently as you are?"
"They are many. Their name is legion."
They parted then. He to go about his several duties among the nihilistic sympathizers who could not return to Russia without including Siberia in their itinerary, and she to stride across the room and stand for a long time facing herself in the mirror, studying the features of her own beautiful face in an effort to detect there the fascinating qualities before which all men with whom she came in contact seemed so ready to succumb.
But her eyes were cold and hard as she regarded her own reflection in the glass. There was a fire in their depths which could have attracted no man, and which would have repelled all alike, for it was threatening and sombre.
Zara de Echeveria almost hated herself at that moment. Hated the beauty which gave her such power, and which exerted the magic that made slaves of men.
The hour came when she entered a carriage again to be driven to the steamship wharf; when she stood upon the deck near the rail, and gazed, as she honestly believed, over the house tops of a city she would never see again.
Fate, however, had builded differently for her, although she did not guess it; and she was going now to meet it as fast as the throbbing engines of the mechanical monster could bear her forward.
When the great bulk of the vessel swung into the current of the North river, and she turned her eyes once more toward the wharf it had left, a waving hand attracted her attention, and she recognized the tall form of Alexis Saberevski as he bade her adieu. Beside him on the pier was another figure, as tall and as straight as Saberevski's, and she saw them turn away together and walk up the pier until they were lost in the crowd.
She did not know, then, that the other tall figure of a man was the one into whose arms she was fleeing, even though she left him there, unknown, upon that North river wharf, while she sailed away to the other side of the world.
And he could foresee as little.
But such is Fate.