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The Shadow of the Czar, Page 2

John R. Carling



  Walking onward a few paces they came to the path mentioned in theguide-book.

  Few words were spoken, for Paul, knowing that his fair companion wastired, famished, and sleepy, purposely refrained from conversation.

  Once, however, the silence was broken, when the lady timidly venturedto ask his name, which being given, he in turn requested the likefavor from her.

  "I have been taught to call myself Barbara," was her answer, whichPaul could not but think was a somewhat odd way of expressing herself.

  Barbara! If he had not thought it a pretty name before, he certainlythought it such now.

  "And Barbara," he murmured, more to himself than to his companion,"means 'strange.'"

  "I fear you will find my character correspondent."

  "But you have a second name?" smiled Paul.

  "Presumably, but I am in ignorance respecting it, for my parentage isunknown to me. Indeed, signor, it is true," she added sadly. "I am amystery to myself."

  Her statement filled Paul with wonder, but though desirous of learningher history he recognized that the time was scarcely yet ripe to pressfor confidences.

  The path traversed by them formed a gradual descent, in parts so steepthat Barbara would often have slipped but for Paul's strong arm. Themurmur of the sea was now heard; a faint breeze blew coldly; finallyemerging from the wood, they found themselves on an open grassy spaceshelving down to the beach.

  There, distant about a hundred yards, stood the building that theysought--Castel Nuovo.

  The retention of the epithet "Nuovo" was perhaps intended as a joke onthe part of the Dalmatians. Like the rest of earthly things the castlemust once have been new, but that once, judging by appearances, was along time ago. The greater part of the edifice was in ruins, the starsglimmering through the vacant window spaces and through the gaps thatyawned in the ivy-mantled walls.

  A massive, square built tower perched on a rock that overhung the sea,seemed the portion likeliest to be tenanted, if tenanted at all, forsigns of human presence were wanting. Neither light nor sound camefrom it.

  Silent and ghostly in the cold starlight rose the gray tower, the seasplashing with melancholy murmur at the foot of the crag.

  The brief notice contained in the guide-book--"Castel Nuovo, an oldmansion, residence of the Marquis Orsino"--did not suggest a placelike this, a place seeming to be desolated by the curse of some pasttragedy; and as Paul contemplated the scene, a feeling of misgivingstole over him,--a misgiving which found reflection in Barbara's face.

  Seating his companion upon a fallen column, Paul went forward toreconnoitre. Crossing the grass-grown pavement of what had once been astately loggia, he mounted the mossy fractured steps leading to thedoor of the tower. On the lintel was sculptured, "Marino Faliero,1348"--proof that the castle dated from the days when the Venetiansheld sway in Dalmatia.

  No sooner had Paul rapped upon the massive oaken door than a terribledin arose from within. His summons had startled into wakefulness amenagerie of dogs, and these, judging by their deep bass, brutes ofthe largest size.

  A casement high above the portal opened immediately, and an old man'svoice cried,--

  "Is that you, Master?"

  The question was spoken in Romaic, a language with which Paul hadbecome familiar by reason of his residence in Corfu.

  He directed his eyes upward, but the speaker was invisible. Familiarperhaps with the attacks of banditti, he was too cautious to exposehis person as a target for a pistol-shot.

  Stepping back, the better to be heard, and speaking in Romaic, thebetter to be understood, Paul explained his object in knocking,withholding the fact, however, that the lady with him had escaped froma convent, lest it should dispose the old man to decline so dangerousa fugitive.

  "You cannot stay here," was the answer, when Paul had finishedspeaking.

  "I will pay you, and that handsomely, for the trouble we give."

  "It's not a question of money. This house is not mine, and I cannotopen it to whom I will. I have received strict orders from the Masterto admit no one during his absence. If he should return and find meentertaining strangers, I should suffer."

  "Your master, whoever he may be, never meant that you should turn awayat midnight a young lady exhausted by a twelve hours' wandering in theforest without food. I ask not for myself, but for her. It is but fora single night."

  "A single hour would be too long."

  Paul stood dismayed by the old man's churlishness. He picturedBarbara's look of distress on announcing that he had brought her on abootless errand.

  "You a Greek," he cried, "to refuse hospitality to an Englishman,whose uncle fought for Greece--"

  This appeal wrought a remarkable change in the old man.

  "What do you say you are?"

  "An Englishman, nephew of Colonel Graysteel, commandant of the Britishforces at Corfu, and--"

  "An Englishman! Why the devil didn't you say so before? I took you fora damned Austrian. And you are the nephew of old 'Fighting Graysteel'?I was with him at Missolonghi. Wait. I'll be down in a moment. Hi,Jacintha, Jacintha," he added, addressing some one within. "Get up, orI'll throw something at your head."

  The old man withdrew from the casement, and Paul concluded that he wascoming downstairs, for the baying of the dogs gradually ceased; therewere sounds suggestive of the idea that he was kicking them into someplace of safety.

  "Jacintha?" thought Paul. "The old fellow's wife, daughter, orservant? Whoever she may be, I am glad for the young lady's sake thata woman lives here."

  Footsteps were now audible in the passage. A little panel in the upperpart of the door slid aside revealing an iron grating, behind whichappeared a man's face set in a square of light.

  "No tricks with me. Now, mylordos, if you are what you say you are,speak to me in English, for though I don't talk the language myself Iunderstand it when spoken by others."

  "Open the door, and give me some supper--" began Paul.

  "Ah! you're an Englishman, all over," interrupted the other with a drychuckle. "The first thing he thinks of is his belly."

  And the inmate, apparently satisfied with this credential ofnationality, swung open the great iron-studded door and revealedhimself.

  He was a little man, and though past seventy years of age, his formhad lost little of the elasticity and strength of youth. His thincurved nose was extremely suggestive of the beak of an eagle, aresemblance increased by his bright piercing eyes. His hair was whiteand flowing, and his moustaches were of such a length that he had tiedthem together at the back of his head.

  His attire was gorgeous in the extreme, and he was evidently veryproud of the fact. He wore an open jacket that was a perfect marvel ofsilk, velvet, and rows of silver buttons; a white fustanella or kiltglittering with embroidery of gold; and gaiters and slippers rich withthe same decoration. Altogether he was one of the strangest creaturesthat Paul had ever beheld.

  In one hand he carried a yataghan, and in the other a lighted lamp,and he bowed low with theatrical grace.

  "Since you are an Englishman, enter. Welcome, ten thousand welcomes,"he cried, waving his sparkling yataghan around, as if inviting Paul totake entire possession of the castle. "Every Englishman is my brother,for did not your countrymen fight for the liberation of Greece? Can weever forget Navarino? You see before you the friend, thecompanion-in-arms of General Church and Lord Cochrane. You must haveheard your uncle talk of me,--Lambro the Turcophage, with whose nameOttoman mothers still frighten their children, by telling them howLambro, whenever food ran short in the camp, never hesitated to roastand eat his Turkish prisoners. Ah!" Like a ghoul he smacked his lipsat the memory of those repasts. "Yes, to me, and to men like me,Greece owes the freedom that she now enjoys. I should be great to-day,and hold high office under King Otho: but what am I? What you see. Thecustodian of an old ruin. This is national gratitude, mylordos. It isthus that Hellas rewards those who have shed their blood for

  Paul immediately recognized in the speaker one of the class calledPalicars, men who had fought for the independence of Greece in thetwenties; in their youth half soldiers and half brigands, but alwaysfull of patriotism and bold as lions against the Turk; in old age toooften apt to be garrulous, boastful, vain.

  Muttering some words of gratitude for the proffered hospitality, Paulimmediately flew off for Barbara, whom he found asleep. In a state ofweariness she had rested her arm on a stone balustrade, pillowed hercheek on her sleeve, and without intending it had fallen asleep inthat attitude.

  "Fie, signorina," said Paul with chiding smile, as he gently rousedher. "Sleeping in the open air! Do you court malaria? Come, there isbetter rest for you in yon tower, where you will not be the only lady.Our host is a somewhat queer character, but--'any port in a storm,' asour English proverb has it."

  He assisted her to rise, and helped her across the dilapidated loggia,and up the steps to the entrance of the hall where Lambro stoodwaiting to receive them.

  But no sooner had the old Palicar obtained a clear view of Barbarathan his eyes almost started from their sockets. His shaking handdropped the lamp, and the hall was plunged into sudden darkness. Withthe ejaculation of "Kyrie eleison" the warrior, who was wont to boastthat he had fought in a hundred battles, fled at the sight of a youngmaiden's face.

  At the end of the corridor he recovered himself, and shouted,"Jacintha, Jacintha, come down."

  "What is the matter?" said a voice at his elbow.

  "Matter enough," replied Lambro, grasping the woman's shoulders andwhispering in her ear. "The dead have returned to life. Walk to thedoor, pick up the lamp, re-light it, and look at the lady that theEnglishman has brought with him."

  Jacintha did as bidden. The lamp, re-kindled, showed her as a littlefair-haired woman of subdued demeanor, her face retaining traces offormer good looks.

  She cast one glance at Barbara, and immediately gave a strange gasp.

  "In God's name," she murmured, "who are you?"

  "A hard question," returned Barbara, with a touch of bitterness in hervoice, "seeing that I myself cannot answer it."

  This reply seemed to enhance Jacintha's fear. She stood mutely staringat Barbara, who began to feel something of resentment at the woman'sstrange manner.

  "I will depart if you wish it," she said, turning away with quietdignity, though her heart sank within her at the thought of passingthe night out of doors.

  "Oh! no, no. Pardon me, my lady, if I seem rude," replied Jacintha,assuming an humble manner, and stepping forward as if to interceptBarbara's departure. "Do not go. We shall be glad if you will stay.Stay here as long as you will--at least--that is--till--till--"

  "Till the Master returns," chimed in Lambro, "and then--well, it's hisrule to have no strangers here."

  He had apparently plucked up his courage, for he had come forward tothe entrance again, where he and Jacintha stood staring curiously,first at Barbara, then at each other.

  "You seem to know me," said Barbara, "though I do not think that youcan ever have seen me before to-night."

  Receiving no reply, she glanced at Paul as if seeking an explanationfrom him, who had none to give, for he was as much perplexed asBarbara herself to account for the singular behavior of this couple.

  "At first sight of you," began Lambro, "we thought--But no matter whatwe thought; we see now we were wrong."--He cast at the woman a glancewhich Paul interpreted as a warning for her to be reticent, andcontinued: "Now, Jacintha, show our guests the way upstairs. Thenephew of the man who fought for Greece shall have no cause tocomplain of our hospitality."

  "A queer couple," whispered Paul to Barbara, "but trustworthy, Ibelieve. I think you will be safe here."

  Barbara, almost ready to sink to the ground with fatigue, had no othercourse than to accept the shelter of Castel Nuovo, however strange herentertainers; and accordingly still resting upon Paul's arm, shefollowed Jacintha up the staircase, while Lambro, having locked thedoor, brought up the rear.

  "Your wife?" Paul asked of him and referring to Jacintha.

  "She answers the purpose," replied Lambro. "We've done without apriest so far. She's mine because I bought her. Five hundred beshliksshe cost me in the slave-mart of Janina. A deal of money, a great dealof money," continued the old fellow, wincing as if he had had a toothdrawn. "I'm doubtful whether I've had the value of it. I could havebought a lovely young Circassian at the price. But since she waswarranted to be a splendid nurse and an excellent cook, I took her asa helpmeet for my old age."

  Paul trusted that Barbara did not understand Romaic, for the oldPalicar's society was not exactly of the sort that a matronly duennawould have chosen as suitable for a young maiden.

  The interior of Castel Nuovo formed a pleasant and striking contrastwith its dilapidated exterior. The apartment to which the visitorswere conducted was stamped with an air of wealth and dignity,--lofty,composed of dark oak, and furnished with stained-glass casements,blazoned in their centre with the Winged Lion of St. Mark. The roofwas richly fretted; the pictures painted on the panelling of the wallswere in a fine state of preservation. On the wide tesselated hearthbeneath a beautifully carved mantelpiece were pine logs disposed asfor a fire. To these Jacintha applied a match, and soon a blaze sprangup, so bright as to render any other light superfluous.

  "The Master's dining-hall," remarked Lambro.

  "Let me help you, my lady," said Jacintha, observing Barbaraembarrassed with the fastenings of her capote.

  She assisted in untying the hood, and having removed the cloak, seatedBarbara in a comfortable arm-chair by the fire.

  Despite the Romaic costume worn by Jacintha, and the golden coinstwisted in her hair, Paul had no difficulty in fixing her nationality.

  "You are an Englishwoman?" he said, with a smile.

  "Yes, sir, I am," was her reply, accompanied by a submissive littlecurtsey.

  A few words on her part sufficed to give her history. Nurse in theservice of an English doctor at Constantinople, she had, whenreturning home, been captured by Turkish pirates, and carried toJanina for sale, where she was purchased by Lambro, and brought toCastel Nuovo. Paul's ears tingled at the thought of an Englishwomanbeing sold in an Albanian slave-mart. He wondered whether she knewthat she was now living in a free country. Her real name was WinifredPower, but Lambro would persist in calling her Jacintha.

  It so happened that Paul was well acquainted with her native town,inasmuch as his school-days had been passed in its neighborhood. Hisallusions to places with which both were familiar drew tears to thewoman's eyes.

  "Ah! do not talk of home," she said. "Every week I can see from thewindows here the steamer from Trieste on its way to England; a fewdays' sail only, and yet as impossible for me to reach as the stars."

  "You're better off here," growled the old Greek. "I bought you, and byGod I'll keep you. You are not to leave me till I--I--die--" Hewinced as if not liking the prospect presented by the last word.--"Youhave promised as much. I have treated you better than any Turk would.You live in a castle with fine dresses and plenty to eat and drink;and when I'm a--gone you'll have my savings, and can then go back toEngland. What more do you want?"

  "Shall I be permitted to leave here after your death?" asked Jacintha,darting a strange look upon Lambro, who frowned, and said,--

  "Who is to prevent you? What nonsense you talk! Why don't you ask ourguests what they'll have for supper?"

  "What would my lady like?" inquired Jacintha turning to Barbara, andenumerating the contents of her larder.

  "You are very good," smiled Barbara. "Anything will do for me."

  "Except, of course, roast Turk," said Paul, turning to Lambro. "Wemust draw the line at that."

  The Turcophage grinned and withdrew in company with Jacintha; and asthey called no servant to their aid, Paul concluded, and rightly, thatthese two were the sole tenants of the castle.

  Paul had now a better opportunity than heretofore for observing hisfair companio
n as she sat by the hearth, the bright firelight playingover her silken attire with its shimmer of chain-work and jewels. Herfigure was beautifully shaped; her features were of pure, classictype, as clear and delicate as if sculptured from alabaster. There wassomething peculiarly noble in the pose of her head, which disposedPaul to the belief that when the mystery of her origin became solved,it would be found that she was of high birth.

  She had spread out her hands to the fire, and with her face upturnedto Paul, she said with charming _naivete_,--

  "I am so glad that you insisted upon me accompanying you, for this iscertainly more cheerful than the dark forest."

  The light of gratitude sparkling in her soft dusky eyes completelycaptivated Paul. He began to think that it would be a pleasant thingif she would always smile so upon him, and upon none other.

  "Our new friends," he remarked, "are evidently expecting visitors, andthose--two in number--to judge from the cutlery." He pointed to thedining-table and its snowy cloth set with Majolica-ware, cut-glass,and silver. "The Master and his wife I presume. Unpleasant for us ifthey should arrive to-night, and should object to the proceedings oftheir hospitable seneschal."

  Lambro and his partner now entered, bringing in a repast.

  Barbara and Paul drew to the table. The humble Jacintha acted aswaitress and seemed to take pleasure in the office.

  Though Barbara ate but sparingly, her companion amply atoned for anydeficiencies on her part; and when Lambro, going down to the castlecellar, returned with a bottle of delicious maraschino, and a boxcontaining cigars of ambrosial flavor, Paul's satisfaction wascomplete.

  Lambro having called for his chibouque, perched himself upon a chairand sat cross-legged upon it in oriental fashion, while Jacintha athis command took a live coal from the fire by aid of the tongs, andapplied it to the bowl of his pipe. Then the old Palicar puffed awayin placid contentment while Jacintha went off to prepare a room forBarbara.

  "Those cigars," Lambro presently remarked, addressing Paul, "havenever paid Austrian duty. Whence do I procure them? From the sea,--myconstant friend. A toast, a toast," he cried, raising his glass ofmaraschino. "Here's to the storm-fiend, and may he never cease tosend us rich flotsam and jetsam. The dress I wear," he added, pattinghis gay costume with pride, "comes from the body of a drownedcompatriot. If the signorina requires a new dress we can supply herwith one as rich as that she now has. No, I am not a wrecker," hecontinued, as if in answer to Paul's suspicions. "I simply take thegifts the waves send me, and they send them pretty frequently on thiswild rocky coast. Sometimes it is a Turkish vessel that goes to pieceson the reef out yonder," he went on, nodding in the direction of thesea. "Jacintha and I can hear their cries, but we are unable to helpthem. I would not help them if I could," he exclaimed with a fierceflash of energy, and taking the pipe from his mouth. "Are not theTurks the enemies of Greece? When I hear their shrieks rising abovethe sound of the storm--A-a-h!" He finished the sentence with a smackof his lips.

  It would be impossible to imagine any being more weird than thislittle Greek, as he sat there cross-legged, tricked out in the fineryof the dead, his eye glittering wildly, and his moustaches tied at theback of his head.

  Paul deemed it advisable on Barbara's account to give a different turnto the conversation.

  "This must have been a grand old castle when entire," he said. "Theproperty, is it not, of the Italian Marquis Orsino?"

  "Not so," replied Lambro, with a shake of his head. "The marquis soldit seven years ago to my present Master--"

  "My guide-book is evidently not up to date."

  "Though," added Lambro, "the sale was kept a secret."

  "Why so?"

  "All the Master's ways are secret."

  "May one ask his name?"

  "He has forbidden me to reveal it."

  Paul, though conscious that he was treading on delicate ground, couldnot repress his further curiosity.

  "Where does he live when not here?"

  "He has never told me."

  "What is his nationality?"

  "That is equally a mystery to me."

  Paul's interest in the Master increased, and as Lambro did not seem toresent his questioning, he continued,--

  "How often does he visit this place?"

  "It may be once only in the year, it may be twice or thrice."

  "I gather from your first words when I knocked at the door, and alsofrom the previous state of this table, that you are expecting him atthe present time?"

  "Expecting him!" echoed Lambro. "I am always expecting him. He nevergives warning of his coming, either by letter or messenger. A loudknock of the door, and there he is! He may arrive to-night, he may notarrive for six months. But present or absent the larder must always befull, and the dining-room and the bedroom ready for his immediatereception. A hard man is the Master."

  "And how long do his visits last?"

  "That depends upon the mood of his companion."

  "His companion? Do you mean his wife?"

  "His wife?" repeated Lambro, with a peculiar laugh. "The Master is abachelor and will always remain such. He is a member of a peculiarbrotherhood pledged to the repudiation of women."

  "What is the object of his visits?"

  But Lambro was not disposed to be more communicative.

  "Captain Cressingham," he said with a deprecatory shake of his head,"you must not ask me to betray my Master's secrets."

  Paul accepted the rebuke with a good grace.

  "You speak truth. I have no right to pry into his affairs. Iapologize."

  Secrecy is always suspicious. Lambro's reticence served but to whetPaul's curiosity. A weird interest began to gather around the unknownowner of Castel Nuovo, who was so studious of concealing his identity,who without previous warning came and vanished at irregular intervalson errands that necessitated a reserve in speaking of them.

  At this point Jacintha reappeared carrying a lighted lamp.

  "Would my lady like to retire now?"

  Yes, my lady would, and arose for that purpose. Paul held the door asshe passed forth.

  "Good night, signorina."

  She returned the valediction, accompanying it with a gracefulinclination of her head, and a grateful smile that said as plainly aswords could say, "But for you I should now be without bed."

  The room to which Jacintha conducted Barbara was intended as a lady'sbedchamber, as the toilet accessories sufficiently proved. A princesscould not have found fault with its dainty tasteful appointments. And,surprising to relate, not a particle of dust was visible anywhere; theplace was clean, swept, and garnished as if prepared that very day forthe reception of a visitor.

  "You are not giving up your own room to me, I hope?" said Barbara.

  "Oh, no, my lady. I do not sleep here."

  Barbara stared hard at the speaker. Seeing that the "Master,"according to Lambro's statement, was a foe to womankind, it wassingular, to say the least of it, that Castel Nuovo should contain achamber of this description.

  Tired as Barbara was, her curiosity would not let her rest, and shewandered about the room asking a variety of questions. Had this been abridal-chamber, or a death-chamber, or both? Had the mysterious"Master," mourning the loss of a wife or a daughter, given commandthat this apartment should be attended to every day, preserved in thesame order as that in which it was when last occupied? Barbara couldextract nothing from the reticent Jacintha, who seemed troubled by hervisitor's catechism.

  In her course round the apartment Barbara's quick eyes detected acircular piece of violet-colored sealing-wax adhering to one of thewalls. She inquired how it came there, but Jacintha professedignorance. Attracted by an indefinable feeling, Barbara asked that thelamp might be brought near. The wax was situated at a point just wherea horizontal band of carving that formed the upper border of a paneltouched upon the smooth plain oak above. A closer inspection showedthat the wax bore the image of a paschal lamb,--an image, tiny indeed,yet perfectly clear. The wax had been stamped with a seal.
Why?Children might perhaps find pleasure in fixing a piece of wax upon awall and in stamping it with a seal, but as there were no children atCastel Nuovo this explanation would not suffice. If it were the workof adults what was its purport? Jacintha averred that it was not herdoing; she could not say whose it was or assign any reason for itsorigin.

  "Can you not put me in another room?"

  "The other rooms are somewhat damp. Why, my lady, what do you fear?"she asked in reproachful surprise.

  A hard question. It was impossible to link this piece of wax with anyharm to herself, so Barbara turned away. The dainty little bed invitedher to repose. Why trouble further?

  When at last Barbara with a delicious sense of relief had slipped hertired and aching limbs beneath the sheets, Jacintha brought to thebedside a glass containing a dark-colored liquid.

  "Only quinine, my lady."

  In a moment Barbara was sitting up in manifest fear, her eyes largeand ghost-like.

  "You don't think I have caught malaria?"

  "It is best to take precautions," replied Jacintha, evasively.

  "Fever? I have been dreading that," exclaimed Barbara, clasping herhands. "And I must be at Zara to-morrow. If I linger here I shall becaught by--Give me the quinine; give me double, treble the ordinarydraught, if it will act as an antidote."

  Barbara, after taking the potion, fell asleep almost immediately, andJacintha returned to the dining-hall, where in answer to her eagerquestioning Paul gave an account of the meeting in the forest andrelated all he knew concerning Barbara, which, in truth, was not verymuch.

  "And now tell me, Jacintha," he said, when he had finished, "why didyou start so on first seeing the signorina?"

  Jacintha seemed absolutely terror-stricken at this question. The oldPalicar who had been drinking somewhat freely of the maraschino turnedupon his consort with a fierce frown, drew his yataghan and shook itfuriously at her.

  "If ever you let that matter out--you know what I mean--by God, I'llcut your throat. Be off, woman! Go to bed; and remember what I say."

  And Jacintha, who evidently stood thoroughly in awe of the fierylittle Greek, withdrew without a word.

  "Captain Cressingham," continued Lambro in a quieter tone, "you maybelieve me or not, as you will, but it is a fact that Jacintha andmyself have never seen the signorina till to-night."

  "Nor her portrait?"

  "Nor her portrait."

  Something in his manner convinced Paul that the old Palicar wasspeaking the truth, which only made the matter more perplexing.Despite the repudiation there was evidently some mystery connectedwith Barbara, a mystery known to Lambro and his consort. Paulintuitively felt that the Palicar's reticence could never be overcome,but he was not without hope of extracting the secret from Jacintha ifhe should have an opportunity of speaking with her alone.

  "Paul Cressingham," he murmured, when he found himself left in thedining-hall for the night, "you came to Dalmatia in quest of thestrange, the romantic, the wild. I am beginning to think you havefound them." He drew his chair to the fire, composed himself forsleep, and dreamed of Barbara till morning gleamed through thecasement.