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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


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CHAPTER XII "THE STRANGLER"

Where was Elma? What was the cause of her inexplicable disappearance into the gloomy forest while we had slept?

I returned to the hotel where I had stayed on my arrival, a comfortable place called the Phoenix, and lunched there alone. Both Felix, the Finn, and my host, the wood-cutter, had received their douceurs and left, but to the last-named I had given instructions to return home at once and report by telegraph any news of my lost one.

A thousand conflicting thoughts arose within me as I sat in that crowded salle--manger filled with a gobbling crowd of the commercial men of Abo. I had, I recognized, now to deal with the most powerful man in that country, and I suffered a distinct disadvantage by being in ignorance of the reason he held that sweet English girl a prisoner. The tragedy of the dastardly manner in which she had been willfully maimed caused my blood to boil within me. I had never believed that in this civilized twentieth century such things could be.

Michael Boranski had given his pledge to assist me, yet he had most plainly explained to me his fears. The Baron was intent upon again getting Elma into his power. Was it at his orders, I wondered, that the sweet-faced girl had been deprived of speech and hearing? Had she fallen an innocent victim to his infamous scheming?

About me men were eating strange dishes and talking in Finnish, while others were smoking and drinking their vodka; but I was in no mood for observation. My only thought was of she who was now lost to me.

Why had she disappeared without warning I was at loss to imagine, yet I could only surmise that her flight had been compulsory. Some women possess a mysterious sense of intuition, a curious and indescribable faculty of knowing when evil threatens them, that presents a strange and puzzling problem to our scientists. It is unaccountable, and yet many women possess it in a very marked degree. Was it, therefore, possible that Elma had awakened, and being warned of her peril had fled without arousing us? The suggestion was possible, but I feared improbable.

Another very curious feature in the affair was the sudden manner in which Michael Boranski had exerted his power and influence in order to render me that service. He had actually bribed the guards of Kajana; he had instructed the faithful Felix, he had provided our boat, and he had ordered the nun to open the water-gate to me. Why?

There was, I felt convinced, some hidden motive in all that sudden and marked friendliness. That he really hated the English I had seen plainly when we had first met, and I had only compelled him to serve me by presenting the order signed by the Emperor, which made me his guest within the Russian dominions. Even that document did not account for the length he had gone to secure the release of the woman I now loved in secret. The more I thought it over, the more anxious did I become. I could discern no motive for his friendliness, and, truth to tell, I always distrust those who are too friendly. What straight and decided line of action should I take? Carefully I went over all the strange events that had happened in England, and while anxious to obtain some solution of the amazing problem, yet I could not bring myself to leave Finland, and allow Elma to fall into the clutches of that high official who so persistently sought her end. No. I would go to him and face him. I was anxious to see what manner of man was "The Strangler of Finland." Therefore, that same evening I left Abo, and traveled by rail up to the junction Toijala, whence, after a wait of six hours, I resumed by slow journey to Helsingfors. I put up at Kamp's, an elegant hotel on the long esplanade overlooking the port, and found the town, with its handsome streets and spacious squares, to be a much finer place than I had believed. When I inquired of the French director of my hotel for the residence of his Excellency, the Governor-General, he regarded me with some surprise, saying:

"The Baron lives up at the Palace, m'sieur-that great building opposite the Salutong. The driver of your drosky will point it out to you."

"Is his Excellency in Helsingfors at the present moment?" I asked.

"The Baron never leaves the Palace, m'sieur," responded the man. "This is a strange country, you know," he added, with a grin. "It is said that his Excellency is in hourly fear of assassination."

"Perhaps not without cause," I remarked in a low voice, at which he elevated his shoulders and smiled.

At noon I descended from a drosky before a long, gray, massive building, over the big doorway of which was a large escutcheon bearing the Russian arms emblazoned in gold, and on entering where a sentry stood on either side, a colossal concierge in livery of bright blue and gold came forward to meet me, asking in Russian:

"Whom do you wish to see?"

"His Excellency, the Governor-General."

"Have you an appointment?"

"No."

"His Excellency sees no one without an appointment," the man told me somewhat gruffly.

"I am not here on public business, but upon a private matter," I explained. "Perhaps I may see his Excellency's secretary?"

"If you wish, but I repeat that his Excellency sees no one without a previous appointment."

I knew this quite well, for the "Strangler of Finland," fearful of assassination, was as unapproachable as the Czar himself. Following the directions of the concierge, however, I crossed a great bare courtyard, and, ascending a wide stone staircase, was confronted by a servant, who, on hearing my inquiry took me into a waiting-room, and left with my card to Colonel Luganski, whom he informed me was the Baron's private secretary.

After ten minutes or so the man returned, saying:

"The Colonel will see you if you will please step this way," and following him he conducted me into the richly furnished private apartments of the Palace, across a great hall filled with fine paintings, and then up a long thickly-carpeted passage to a small, elegant room, where a tall bald-headed man in military uniform stood awaiting me.

"Your name is M'sieur Gregg," he exclaimed in very good French, "and I understand you desire audience of his Excellency, the Governor-General. I regret, however, that he never gives audience to strangers."

"The matter upon which I desire to see his Excellency is of a purely private and confidential nature," I said, for used as I was to the ways of foreign officialdom, I spoke with the same firm courtesy as himself.

"I am very sorry, m'sieur, but I fear it will be necessary in that case for you to write to his Excellency, and mark your letter 'personal.' It will then go into the Governor-General's own hands."

"What I have to say cannot be committed to writing," was my reply. "I must see Baron Oberg upon a matter which affects him personally, and which admits of no delay."

He glanced at me quickly, and then in a low voice inquired:

"Is it in regard to a-well, a conspiracy?"

His question instantly suggested to me a ruse, and I replied in the affirmative.

"Then you can place the facts before me without the slightest hesitation," he said, going to the door and slipping the bolt into its socket. "Anything spoken into my ear is as though it were spoken into that of his Excellency himself."

"I much regret, M'sieur the Colonel, that I must see the Baron in person."

"Has the plot assassination as its object-or revolt?" he asked pointedly.

"That I will explain to the Baron only."

"But I tell you he will not see you. We have so many persons here with secret information concerning Finnish conspiracies against our Russian rule. Why, if his Excellency saw everyone who desired to see him, he would be compelled to give audience the whole twenty-four hours round."

At a glance I saw that this elegant Colonel, who seemed to take the greatest pride over his exquisitely kept person and his spotless uniform, did not intend to allow me the satisfaction of an audience of that most hated official of the Czar. The latter was in fear of the dagger, the pistol, or the bomb, and consequently hedged himself in by persons of the Colonel's type-courteous, diplomatic, but utterly unbending. After some further argument, I said at last in a firm tone:

"I wish to impress upon you the extreme importance of the information I have to impart, and can only repeat that it is a matter concerning his Excellency privately. Will you therefore do me the favor to take my name to him?"

"His Excellency refuses to be troubled with the names of strangers," was his cold reply, as he turned over my card in his hand.

"But if I write upon it the nature of my business, and enclose it in an envelope, will you then take it to him?" I suggested.

He hesitated for a short time, twisting his mustache, and then replied with great reluctance:

"Well, if you are so determined, you may write your business upon your card."

I therefore took out one, and on the back wrote in French the words which I knew must have the effect of obtaining an audience for me:

"To give information regarding Miss Elma Heath."

This I enclosed in the envelope he handed to me, when, ringing a bell, he handed it to the footman who appeared, with orders to take it to his Excellency and await a reply. The response came in a few minutes.

"His Excellency will give audience to the English m'sieur."

Then I rose and followed the footman through several wide corridors filled with palms and flowers, which formed a kind of winter-garden, until we crossed a red-carpeted ante-room, where two statuesque sentries stood on guard, and the man conducting me rapped at the great polished mahogany doors of the room beyond.

A voice responded, the door was opened, and I found myself in a high, beautifully-painted room, with long windows hung with pastel-blue silk with heavy gilt fringe, a pastel-blue carpet, and upon the opposite wall a great canopy of rich purple velvet bearing the double-headed eagle embroidered in gold. The apartment was splendidly decorated, and in the center of the parquet floor, with his back to the light, was the thin, wiry figure of an elderly man in a funereal frock-coat, in the lapel of which showed the red and yellow ribbon of the Order of Saint Anne. His hands were behind his back, and he stood purposely in such a position that when I entered I could not at first see his face against the strong, gray light behind.

But when the footman had bowed and retired and we were alone, he turned slightly, and I then saw that his bony face, with high cheek-bones, slight gray side-whiskers, hard mouth and black eyes set closely together, was one that bore the mark of evil upon it-the keen, sinister countenance of one who could act without any compunction and without regret. Truly one would not be surprised at any cruel, dastardly action of a man with such a face-the face of an oppressor.

"Well?" he snapped in French in a high-pitched voice. "You want to see me concerning that mad English girl? What picturesque lies do you intend to tell me concerning her?"

"I have no intention of telling any untruths concerning her," was my quick response, as I faced him unflinchingly. "She has told me sufficient to-"

"She has told you something! Ah! I guessed as much. I expected this!" And I saw that his thin, crafty face went pale, while his eyes glanced evilly upon me. He believed that she had revealed to me her secret. He placed his hand upon the back of a chair wherein was concealed an electric button, and next instant a little stout man in shabby black appeared as though by magic through a secret door hidden in the dark paneling of the audience chamber-the man who was his personal guard against the plots for his assassination.

His Excellency spoke, and the words he uttered staggered me. I stood aghast.

"Seize that man!" he cried, pointing to me. "He is armed! He has just threatened to kill me! He is the man against whom we were recently warned-the Englishman!"

"Ah!" I cried, standing before the thin-faced official of the Czar, the unscrupulous man who had crushed Finland beneath the iron heel of Russia, and who, by his lying allegation, now held me in his power. "I see your object, Baron Oberg! You intend to arrest me as a conspirator!"

"Search the fellow. He has a revolver there in his hip-pocket," declared the Governor-General, and in an instant the short, ferret-eyed little man had run his hands down me and felt my weapon.

I drew it forth and handed it to him, saying:

"You are quite welcome to it if you fear that I am here with any sinister motive."

"He obtained admission by a clever ruse," the Baron explained to the police agent. "And then he threatened me."

"It's untrue," I protested hotly. "I have merely called to see you regarding the young English lady, Elma Heath-the unfortunate lady whom you consigned to the fortress of Kajana."

"The mad woman, you mean!" he laughed.

"She is not mad," I cried, "but as sane as you yourself. It is you who intended that the horrors of the castle should drive her insane, and thus your secret should be kept!"

"What do you suggest?" he demanded, stepping a few paces towards me.

"I mean, Xavier Oberg, that you would kill Elma Heath if you dared to do so," I answered plainly, as I faced him unflinchingly.

"You see?" he laughed, turning to the stout man at my side. "The fellow is insane. He does not know what he is talking about. Ah, my dear Malkoff, I've had a narrow escape! He came here intending to shoot me."

"I did not," I protested. "I am here to demand satisfaction on behalf of Miss Heath."

"Oh!-well, if the lady cares to come here herself, I will give her the satisfaction she desires," was his crafty reply.

"The lady has escaped you, and it is therefore hardly likely she will willingly return to Helsingfors," I said.

"It was you who succeeded, by throwing the guard into the water, in abducting her from the castle," he remarked. "But," he added sneeringly, with a sinister smile, "I presume your gallantry was prompted by affection-eh?"

"That is my own affair."

"A deaf and dumb woman is surely not a very cheerful companion!"

"And who caused her that affliction?" I cried hotly. "When she was at Chichester she possessed speech and hearing as other girls. Indeed, she was not afflicted when on board the Lola in Leghorn harbor only a few months ago. Perhaps you recollect the narrow escape the yacht had on the Meloria sands?"

His eyes met mine, and I saw by his drawn face and narrow brows that my words were causing him the utmost consternation. My object was to make him believe that I knew more than I really did-to hold him in fear, in fact.

"Perhaps the man whom some know as Hornby, or Woodroffe, could tell an interesting story," I went on. "He will, no doubt, when he meets Elma Heath, and finds the terrible affliction of which she has been the victim."

His thin, bony countenance was bloodless, his mouth twitched and his gray brows contracted quickly.

"I haven't the least idea what you mean, my dear sir," he stammered. "All that you say is entirely enigmatical to me. What have I to do with this mad Englishwoman's affairs?"

"Send out this man," I said, pointing to the detective Malkoff, who had appeared from behind the paneling of the audience-chamber. "Send him out, and I will tell you."

But the representative of the Czar, always as much in dread of assassination as his imperial master, refused. I saw that what I had said had upset him, and that he was not at all clear as to how much or how little of the true facts I knew.

The connection between the little miniature cross of the Order of St. Anne and that red and yellow ribbon in his button-hole struck me forcibly at that moment, and I said:

"I have no desire to make any statements before a second person. I came here to see you privately, and in private will I speak. I have certain information that will, I feel confident, be of the utmost interest to you-concerning another woman, Armida Santini."

His lips were pressed together, and I noticed how he started when I uttered the name of that woman whom I had found dead in Rannoch Wood, and whose body had so mysteriously disappeared.

"And what on earth can the woman concern me?" he asked, with a brave attempt to remain cool, still speaking in French.

"Only that you knew her," was my brief reply. Then, with my eyes still fixed upon his, I asked: "Will you not now request this gentleman to retire?"

He hesitated a moment, and then with a wave of his hand dismissed the man he had summoned to his aid. A moment later the "Strangler's" personal protector had disappeared through that secret door in the paneling by which he had entered.

"Well?" asked the Baron, turning quickly to me again, his dark, evil eyes trying to fathom my intentions.

"Well?" I asked. "And what, pray, can you profit by denouncing me as an assassin? Remember, Baron, that your secret is mine," I said in a clear voice full of meaning.

"And your intention is blackmail-eh?" he snapped, walking to the window and back again. "How much do you want?"

"My intention is nothing of the kind. My object is to avenge the outrageous injury to Elma Heath."

"Of course. That is only natural, m'sieur, if you have fallen in love with her," he said. "But are not your intentions somewhat ill-advised considering her position as a criminal lunatic?"

"She is neither," I protested quickly.

"Very well. You know better than myself," he laughed. "The offense for which she was condemned to confinement in a fortress was the attempted assassination of Madame Vakuroff, wife of the General commanding the Uleaborg Military Division."

"Assassination!" I cried. "Have you actually sent her to prison as a murderess?"

"I have not. The Criminal Court of Abo did so," he said dryly. "The offense has since been proved to have been the outcome of a political conspiracy, and the Minister of the Interior in Petersburg last week signed an order for the prisoner's transportation to the island of Saghalien."

"Ah!" I remarked with set teeth. "Because you fear lest she shall write down your secret."

"You are insulting! You evidently do not know what you are saying," he exclaimed resentfully.

"I know what I am saying quite well. You have requested her removal to Saghalien in order that the truth shall be never known. But Baron Oberg," I added with mock politeness, "you may do as you will, you may send Elma Heath to her grave, you may hold me prisoner if you dare, but there are still witnesses of your crime that will rise against you."

In an instant he went ghastly pale, and I knew that my blind shot had struck its mark. The man before me was guilty of some crime, but what it was only Elma herself could tell. That he had had her arrested for an attempted political assassination only showed how ingeniously and craftily the heartless ruler of that ruined country had laid his plans. He feared Elma, and therefore had conspired to have her sent out to that dismal penal island in the far-off Pacific.

"You do not fear arrest, m'sieur?" he asked, as though with some surprise.

"Not in the least-at least, not arrest by you. You may be the representative of the Emperor in Finland, but even here there is justice for the innocent."

A sinister smile played around the thin, gray lips of the man whose very name was hated through the great empire of the Czar, and was synonymous of oppression, injustice, and heartless tyranny.

"All I can repeat," he said, "is that if you bring the young Englishwoman here I shall be quite prepared to hear her appeal." And he laughed harshly.

"You ask that because you know it is impossible," I said, whereat he again laughed in my face-a laugh which made me wonder whether Elma had not already fallen into his hands. The uncertainty of her fate held me in terrible suspense.

"I merely wish to impress upon you the fact that I have not the slightest interest whatsoever in the person in question," he said coldly. "You seem to have formed some romantic attachment towards this young woman who attempted to poison Madame Vakuroff, and to have succeeded in rescuing her from Kajana. You afterwards disregard the fact that you are liable to a long term of imprisonment yourself, and actually have the audacity to seek audience of me and make all sorts of hints and suggestions that I have held the woman a prisoner for my own ends!"

"Not only do I repeat that, Baron Oberg," I said quickly. "But I also allege that it was at your instigation that in Siena an operation was performed upon the unfortunate girl which deprived her of speech and hearing."

"At my instigation?"

"Yes, at yours!"

He laughed again, but uneasily, a forced laugh, and leaned against the edge of the big writing-table near the window.

"Well, what next?" he inquired, pretending to be interested in my allegations. "What do you want of me?"

"I desire you to give the Mademoiselle Heath her complete freedom," I said.

"Is that all?"

"All-for the present."

"But her future is not in my hands. The Minister in Petersburg has decreed her removal to Saghalien as a person dangerous to the State."

"Which means that she will be ill-treated-knouted to death, perhaps."

"We do not use the knout in the Russian prisons nowadays," he said briefly. "His Majesty has decreed its abolition."

"But you adopt torture in Kajana and Schusselburg instead."

"My time is too limited to discuss our penal system, m'sieur," he exclaimed impatiently, while I could well see that he was anxious to escape before I made any further charges against him. I had already shown him that Elma had spoken, and he feared that she had told the truth. While this would embitter him against her and cause him to seek to silence her at all hazards, it was of course in my own interests that he should fear any revelations that I might make.

"You have posed in England as the uncle of Elma Heath, and yet you here hold her prisoner. For what reason?" I demanded.

"She is held prisoner by the State-for conspiracy against Russian rule-not by herself personally."

"Who enticed her here? Why you, yourself. Who conspired to throw the guilt of this attempted murder of the general's wife upon her? You-you, the man whom they call 'The Strangler of Finland'! But I will avenge the cruel and abominable affliction you have placed upon her. Her secret-your secret, Baron Oberg-shall be published to the world. You are her enemy-and therefore mine!"

"Very well," he growled between his teeth, advancing towards me threateningly, his fists clenched in his rage. "Recollect, m'sieur, that you have insulted me. Recollect that I am Governor-General of Finland."

"If you were Czar himself, I should not hesitate to denounce you as the tyrant and mutilator of a poor defenseless woman."

"And to whom, pray, will you tell this romantic story of yours?" he laughed hoarsely. "To your prison walls below the lake at Kajana? Yes, M'sieur Gregg, you will go there, and once within the fortress you shall never again see the light of day. You threaten me-the Governor-General of Finland!" he laughed in a strange, high-pitched key as he threw himself into a chair and scribbled something rapidly upon paper, appending his signature in his small crabbed handwriting.

"I do not threaten," I said in open defiance, "I shall act."

"And so shall I," he said with an evil grin upon his bony face as he blotted what he had written and took it up, adding: "In the darkness and silence of your living tomb, you can tell whatever strange stories you like concerning me. They are used to idiots where you are going," he added grimly.

"Oh! And where am I going?"

"Back to Kanaja. This order consigns you to confinement there as a dangerous political conspirator, as one who has threatened me-it consigns you to the cells below the lake-for life!"

I laughed aloud, and my hand sought my wallet wherein was that all-powerful document-the order of the Emperor which gave me, as an imperial guest, immunity from arrest. I would produce it as my trump-card.

Next second, however, I held my breath, and I think I must have turned pale. My pocket was empty! My wallet had been stolen! Entirely and helplessly I had fallen into the hands of the tyrant of the Czar.

His own personal interest would be to consign me to a living tomb in that grim fortress of Kajana, the horrors of which were unspeakable. I had seen enough during my inspection of the Russian prisons as a journalist to know that there, in strangled Finland, I should not be treated with the same consideration or humanity as in Petersburg or Warsaw. The Governor-General consigned me to Kajana as a "political," which was synonymous with a sentence of death in those damp, dark oubliettes beneath the water-dungeons every whit as awful as those of the Paris Bastile.

We faced each other, and I looked straight into his gray, bony face, and answered in a tone of defiance:

"You are Governor-General, it is true, but you will, I think, reflect before you consign me, an Englishman, to prison without trial. I know full well that the English are hated by Russia, yet I assure you that in London we entertain no love for your nation or its methods."

"Yes," he laughed, "you are quite right. Russia has no use for an effete ally such as England is."

"Effete or powerful, my country is still able to present an ultimatum when diplomacy requires it," I said. "Therefore I have no fear. Send me to prison, and I tell you that the responsibility rests upon yourself." And folding my arms I kept my eyes intently upon his, so that he should not see that I wavered.

"As for the responsibility, I certainly do not fear that, m'sieur," he said.

"But the exposure that will result-are you prepared to face that?" I asked. "Perhaps you are not aware that others beside myself-one other, indeed, who is a diplomatist-is aware of my journey here? If I do not return, your Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Petersburg will be pressed for a reason."

"Which they will not give."

"Then if they do not, the truth will be out," I said laughing harshly, for I saw how determined he had become to hold me prisoner. "Come, call up your myrmidon and send me to Kajana. It will be the first step towards your own downfall."

"We shall see," he growled.

"Ah! you surely do not think that I, after ten years' service in the British diplomatic service, would dare to come to Finland upon this quest-would dare to face the rotten and corrupt officialdom which Russia has placed within this country-without first taking some adequate precaution? No, Baron. Therefore I defy you, and I leave Helsingfors to-night."

"You will not. You are under arrest."

I laughed heartily and snapped my fingers, saying:

"Before you give me over to your police, first telegraph to your Minister of Finance, Monsieur de Witte, and inquire of him who and what I am."

"I don't understand you."

"You have merely to send my name and description to the Minister and ask for a reply," I said. "He will give you instructions-or, if you so desire, ask his Majesty yourself."

"And why, pray, does his Majesty concern himself about you?" he asked, at once puzzled.

"You will learn later, after I am confined in Kajana and your secret is known in Petersburg."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," I said, "I mean that I have taken all the necessary steps to be forearmed against you. The day I am incarcerated by your order, the whole truth will be known. I shall not be the sufferer-but you will."

My words, purposely enigmatical, misled him. He saw the drift of my argument, and being of course unaware of how much I knew, he was still in fear of me. My only uncertainty was of the actual fate of poor Elma. My wallet had been stolen-with a purpose, without a doubt-for the thief had deprived me of that most important of all documents, the open sesame to every closed door, the ukase of the Czar.

"You defy me!" he said hoarsely, turning back to the window with the written order for my imprisonment as a political still in his hand. "But we shall see."

"You rule Finland," I said in a hard tone, "but you have no power over Gordon Gregg."

"I have power, and intend to exert it."

"For your own ruin," I remarked with a self-confident smile. "You may give your torturers orders to kill me-orders that a fatal accident shall occur within the fortress-but I tell you frankly that my death will neither erase nor conceal your own offenses. There are others, away in England, who are aware of them, and who will, in order to avenge my death, speak the truth. Remember that although Elma Heath has been deprived of both hearing and of speech, she can still write down the true facts in black and white. The Czar may be your patron, and you his favorite, but his Majesty has no tolerance of officials who are guilty of what you are guilty of. You talk of arresting me!" I added with a smile. "Why, you ought rather to go on your knees and beg my silence."

He went white with rage at my cutting sarcasm. He literally boiled over, for he saw that I was quite cool and had no fear of him or of the terrible punishment to which he intended to consign me. Besides which, he was filled with wonder regarding the exact amount of information which Elma had imparted to me.

"There are certain persons," I went on, "to whom it would be of intense interest to know the true reason why the steam-yacht Lola put into Leghorn; why I was entertained on board her; why the safe in the British Consulate was rifled, and why the unfortunate girl, kept a prisoner on board, was taken on shore just before the hurried sailing of the vessel. And there are other mysteries which the English police are trying to solve, namely, the reason Armida Santini and a man disguised as her husband died in Scotland at the hand of an assassin. But surely I need say no more. It is surely sufficient to convince you that if the truth were spoken, the revelations would be distinctly awkward."

"For whom?" he asked, opening his eyes.

"For you. Come, Baron," I said, "can we not yet speak frankly?"

But he was silent for a moment, a fact which was in itself proof that my pointed argument had caused him to reconsider his intention of sending me under escort back to that castle of terror.

If my journey there was in order to meet my love, I would not have cared. It was the ignorance of her whereabouts or of her fate that held me in such deep, all-consuming anxiety. Each hour that passed increased my fond and tender affection for her. And yet what irony of circumstance! She had been cruelly snatched from me at the very moment that freedom had been ours.

I think it was well that I assumed that air of defiance with the man who had ground Finland beneath his heel. He was unused to it. No one dared to go against his will, or to utter taunt or threat to him. He was paramount, with all the powers of an emperor-the power, indeed, of life and death. Therefore he was not in the habit of being either thwarted or criticised, and I could see that my words had aroused within him a boiling tumult of resentment and of rage. I told him nothing of the loss of my wallet or of the precious document that it had contained. My defiance was merely upon principle.

"Arrest me if you like. Denounce me by means of any lie that arises to your lips, but remember that the truth is known beyond the confines of the Russian Empire, and for that reason traces will be sought of me and full explanation demanded. I have taken precaution, Xavier Oberg," I added, "therefore do your worst. I repeat again that I defy you!"

He paced the big room, his thin claw-like hands still clenched, his yellow teeth grinding, his dark, deep-set eyes fixed straight before him. If he had dared, he would have struck me down at his feet. But he did not dare. I saw too plainly that even though my wallet was gone I still held the trump-card-that he feared me.

The mention I had made of the Minister of Finance, however, seemed to cause him considerable hesitation. That high official had the ear of the Emperor, and if I were a friend there might be inquiries. As I stood before him leaning against a small buhl table, I watched all the complex workings of his mind, and tried to read the mysterious motive which had caused him to consign poor Elma to Kajana.

He was a proud bully, possessing neither pity nor remorse, an average specimen of the high Russian official, a hide-bound bureaucrat, a slave to etiquette and possessing a veneer of polish. But beneath it all I saw that he was a coward in deadly fear of assassination-a coward who dreaded lest some secret should be revealed. That concealed door in the paneling with the armed guard lurking behind was sufficiently plain evidence that he was not the fearless Governor-General that was popularly supposed. He, "The Strangler of Finland," had crushed the gallant nation into submission, ruining their commerce, sapping the country by impressing its youth into the Russian army, forbidding the use of the Finnish language, and taxing the people until the factories had been compelled to close down while the peasantry starved. And now, on the verge of revolt, there had arisen a band of patriots who resented ruin, and who had already warned his Majesty by letter that if Baron Oberg were not removed from his post he would die.

These and other thoughts ran through my mind in the silence that followed our heated argument, for I saw well that he was in actual fear of me. I had led him to believe that I knew everything, and that his future was in my hands, while he, on his part, was anxious to hold me prisoner, and yet dared not do so.

My wallet had probably been stolen by some lurking police-spy, for Russian agents abound everywhere in Finland, reporting conspiracies that do not exist and denouncing the innocent as "politicals."

The Baron had halted, and was looking through one of the great windows down upon the courtyard below where the sentries were pacing. The palace was for him a gilded prison, for he dared not go out for a drive in one or other of the parks or for a blow on the water across to Hogholmen or Dagero, being compelled to remain there for months without showing himself publicly. People in Abo had told me that when he did go out into the streets of Helsingfors it was at night, and he usually disguised himself in the uniform of a private soldier of the guard, thus escaping recognition by those who, driven to desperation by injustice, sought his life.

A long silence had fallen between us, and it now occurred to me to take advantage of his hesitation. Therefore I said in a firm voice, in French-

"I think, Baron, our interview is at an end, is it not? Therefore I wish you good-day."

He turned upon me suddenly with an evil flash in his dark eyes, and a snarling imprecation in Russian upon his lips. His hand still held the order committing me to the fortress.

"But before I leave you will destroy that document. It may fall into other hands, you know," and I walked towards him with quick determination.

"I shall do nothing of the kind!" he snapped.

Without further word I snatched the paper from his thin white fingers and tore it up before his face. His countenance went livid. I do not think I have ever seen a man's face assume such an expression of fiendish vindictiveness. It was as though at that instant hell had been let loose within his heart.

But I turned upon my heel and went out, passing the sentries in the ante-room, along the flower-filled corridors and across the courtyard to the main entrance where the gorgeous concierge saluted me as I stepped forth into the square.

I had escaped by means of my own diplomacy and firmness. The Czar's representative-the man who ruled that country-feared me, and for that reason did not hold me prisoner. Yet when I recalled that evil look of revenge on my departure, I could not help certain feelings of grave apprehension arising within me.

Returning to my hotel, I smoked a cigar in my room and pondered. Where was Elma? was the chief question which arose within my mind. By remaining in Helsingfors I could achieve nothing further, now that I had made the acquaintance of the oppressor, whereas if I returned to Abo I might perchance be able to obtain some clue to my love's whereabouts. I call her my love because I both pitied and loved the poor afflicted girl who was so helpless and defenseless.

Therefore I took the midnight train back to Abo, arriving at the hotel next morning. After an hour's rest I set out anxiously in search of Felix, the drosky-driver. I found him in his log-built house in the Ludno quarter, and when he asked me in I saw, from his face, that he had news to impart.

"Well?" I inquired. "And what of the lady? Has she been found?"

"Ah! your Excellency. It is a pity you were not here yesterday," he said with a sigh.

"Why? Tell me quickly. What has happened?"

"I have been assisting the police as spy, Excellency, as I often do, and I have seen her."

"Seen her! Where?" I cried in quick anxiety.

"Here, in Abo. She arrived yesterday morning from Tammerfors accompanied by an Englishman. She had changed her dress, and was all in black. They lunched together at the Restaurant du Nord opposite the landing stage, and an hour later left by steamer for Petersburg."

"An Englishman!" I cried. "Did you not inform the Chief of Police, Boranski?"

"Yes, your Excellency. But he said that their passports being in order it was better to allow the lady to proceed. To delay her might mean her rearrest in Finland," he added.

"Then their passports were visd here on embarking?" I exclaimed. "What was the name upon that of the Englishman?"

"I have it here written down, Excellency. I cannot pronounce your difficult English names." And he produced a scrap of dirty paper whereon was written in a Russian hand the name-

"Martin Woodroffe."



CHAPTER XI THE CASTLE OF THE TERROR | The Czar's Spy | CHAPTER XIII A DOUBLE GAME AND ITS CONSEQUENCES