The Whole Truth
"She must have been one of the Vassilitzis, and therefore Anne's near kinswoman," Pendennis said slowly. "You say she was often spoken of as Anna Petrovna? That explains nothing, for Petrovna is of course a very common family name in Russia. 'The daughter of Peter' it really means, and it is often used as a familiar form of address, just as in Scotland a married woman is often spoken of by her friends by her maiden name. My wife was called Anna Petrovna. But you say this unhappy woman's name was given as 'Vassilitzi Pendennis'? That I cannot understand! It is impossible that she could be my daughter; that the mad lady from Siberia could have been my wife,--and yet--my God--if that should be true, after all!
"They did send me word, and I believed it at the moment, though later I thought it was a trick to get me--and Anne--into their power,--part of a long-delayed scheme of revenge."
His face was white as death, with little beads of sweat on the forehead, and his hands shook slightly; though he showed no other signs of emotion.
"Treherne told you the truth about my marriage, Mr. Wynn," he continued, raising his voice a little, and looking at me with stern, troubled eyes. "Until you spoke of him I had almost forgotten his existence! But he did not know quite everything. The one point on which I and my dear wife were at variance was her connection with this fatal League. Yes, it was in existence then; and I was--I suppose I still am, in a way--a member of it; though I only became one in order that I might protect my wife as far as possible. After she died and I was banished from Russia, I severed myself from it for many years, until a few months ago, when I received a communication to the effect that my wife was still alive; that she had been released and restored to her relatives,--to her brother Stepán, I supposed. He had always hated me, but he loved her well, though he managed to make his escape at the time she was taken."
"But Stepán Vassilitzi is a young man,--younger than I am," I interrupted.
"He is the son; the father died some years back, though I only learned that after I returned to Russia. I started at once; that was how you missed me when you came to Berlin. I sent first to the old château near Warsaw, which had been the principal residence of the Vassilitzis. But I found it in possession of strangers; it had been confiscated in '81, and nothing was known of the old family beyond the name. I wasted several days in futile inquiries and then went on to Petersburg, where I got in communication with some of the League. I had to execute the utmost caution, as you will understand, but I found out that a meeting was to be held at a place I knew of old,--the ruined chapel,--and that Anna Petrovna was to be there,--my wife, as I supposed.
"The rest of that episode you know. The moment I saw Anne brought out I realized, or thought I did, for I am not so sure now, that it was a trap. That big, rough-looking man who carried Anne off--"
"He was the Grand Duke Loris."
"So I guessed when you spoke of him just now; and at the time I knew, of course, that he was not what he appeared, for he didn't act up to his disguise."
"He did when it was necessary!" I said emphatically, remembering how he had slanged the hotel servant that evening at Petersburg.
"Well, he said enough to convince me that I was right, though why he should trouble himself on our behalf I couldn't imagine.
"We hadn't gone far when we heard firing, and halted to listen. We held a hurried consultation, and I told him briefly who we were. He seemed utterly astounded; and now I understand why,--he evidently had thought Anne was that other. He decided that we should be safer if we remained in the woods till all was quiet, and then make our way to Petersburg and claim protection at the English Embassy.
"We went on again; Anne was still insensible, and he insisted on carrying her,--till we came to a charcoal burner's hut. He told us to stay there till a messenger came who would guide us to the road, where a carriage would be in waiting to take us to Petersburg.
"He left us then, and I have never seen him since. But he kept his word, though it was nearly a week before the messenger came,--a big, surly man, very lame, as the result of a recent accident, I think."
"Mishka!" I exclaimed.
"He would not tell his name, and said very little one way or the other, but he took us to the carriage, and we reached the city without hindrance. Anne was in a dazed condition the whole time,--partly, no doubt, as a result of the drugs which those scoundrels who kidnapped her and brought her to Russia had administered. She knew me, but everything else was almost a blank to her, as it still is. She has only a faint recollection of the whole affair.
"I secured a passport for her and we started at once, though she wasn't fit to travel, and the journey nearly killed her. We ought to have stopped as soon as we were over the frontier, but I wanted to get as far away from Russia as possible. She just held out till we got to Berlin, and then broke down altogether--my poor child!
"I ought to have written to Mrs. Cayley, I know; but I never gave a thought to it till Anne began to recover--"
"That's all right; Mary understood, and she's forgiven the omission long ago," Jim interposed. "But, I say, Pendennis, I was right, after all! I always stuck out that it was a case of mistaken identity, though you wouldn't believe me!"
"The woman from Siberia--what was she like?" he demanded, turning again to me.
"I can't say. I only saw her from a distance, and for a minute or so," I answered evasively. "She was tall and white-haired."
I was certain in my own mind that she was his wife, for I'd heard the words she called out,--his name, "An-thony," not the French "Antoine," but as a foreigner would pronounce the English word,--but I should only add to his distress if I told him that.
"Well, it remains a mystery; and one that I suppose we shall never unravel," he said heavily, at last.
But it was unravelled for us, and that before many weeks had passed.
One dark afternoon just before Christmas I dropped in for a few minutes, as I generally contrived to do before going down to the office; for I was on the Courier
Anne and her father were still the Cayleys' guests; for Mary wouldn't hear of their going to an hotel, and they had only just found a flat near at hand to suit them. Having at last returned to England, Anthony Pendennis had decided to remain. He'd had enough, at last, of wandering around the Continent!
Mary had other callers in the drawing-room, so I turned into Jim's study, where Anne joined me in a minute or so,--Anne, who, in a few short months, would be my wife.
The front-door bell rang, and voices sounded in the lobby; but though I heard, I didn't heed them, until Anne held up her hand.
"Hush! Who is Marshall talking to?"
The prim maid was speaking in an unusually loud voice; shouting, in fact, as English folk always do when they're addressing a foreigner,--as if that would make them more intelligible.
A moment later she came in, looking flustered, and closed the door.
"There's a foreign man outside, sir, and I think he's asking for you; but I can't make out half he says,--not even his name, though it sounds like Miskyploff!"
"Mishka!" I shouted, making for the door.
Mishka it was, grim, gaunt, and travel-stained; and as he gripped my hands I knew, without a word spoken, that Loris was dead.
I led him in, and he started slightly when he saw Anne, who stared at him with a queer expression of half-recognition. She knew who he was, for I had told her a good deal about him; though we had all agreed it was quite unnecessary that she should know the whole story of my experiences in Russia; there were a lot of details I'd never given even to her father and Jim.
She recovered herself almost instantly, and held out her hand to him with a gracious smile, saying in German:
"Welcome to England, Herr Pavloff! I have heard much of you, and have much to thank you for."
He bowed clumsily over the hand, with the deference due to a princess, and watched her as she passed out of the room, his rugged face strangely softened.
"So, she is safe, after all," he said when the door was closed. "We all hoped so, but we did not know; that is one reason why you were never told. For if she were dead what need to tell you; and also--but I will come to that later. There is a marvellous resemblance; but it is often so with twins."
" I ejaculated; and yet I think I'd known it, at the back of my mind, ever since the night of my return to England; only Pendennis had spoken so decidedly about his only child. "Why, Herr Pendennis himself doesn't know that!"
"No, it was kept from him,--from the first. It is all old history now, though I learned it within these last few months, chiefly from Natalya. It was her doing,--hers, and the old Count's, Stepán's father. The old Count had always resented the marriage; he hated Herr Pendennis, his brother-in-law, as much as he loved his sister. Herr Pendennis was away in England when the children were born; and that increased the Count's bitterness against him. He thought he should have hastened back,--as without doubt he should have done! It was but a few days later that the young mother was arrested, and, ill as she was, they took her away to prison in a litter. The Count got timely warning, and made his escape. It was impossible for his sister to accompany him; also he did not believe they would arrest her, in her condition, and as she was the wife of an Englishman. He should have known that Russians are without pity or mercy!"
"But the child! He could not take a week-old baby with him, if he had to fly for his life."
"No, Natalya did that. She escaped to the Ghetto and took the baby with her,--and young Stepán, who was then a lad of six years. There was great confusion at the château, and the few who knew that two children were born doubtless believed one had died.
"For the rest, Natalya remained in the Ghetto for some three years, and then rejoined the Count at the old house near Ziscky,--the hunting lodge. It was all he had left; though he had patched up a peace with the Government. He had friends at Court in those days. "You know what the child became. He trained her deliberately to that end as long as he lived; taught her also that her father deserted her and her mother in the hour of need,--left them to their fate. It was a cruel revenge to take."
"It was!" I said emphatically. "But when did she learn she had a sister?"
"That I do not know. I think it was not long before she came to England last; she had often been here before, for brief visits only. She came on the yacht then, with my master; it was their honeymoon, and we had been cruising for some weeks,--the only peaceful time she had ever had in her life. He wished her never to return to Russia; to go with him to South America, or live in England. But she would not; she loved him, yes, but she loved the Cause more; it was her very life, her soul!
"The yacht lay off Greenwich for the night; she meant to land next day, and come up to see Selinski. She had never happened to meet him, though he was one of the Five."
"Selinski! Cassavetti! Mishka, it was not she who murdered him!"
"No, it was Stepán Vassilitzi who killed him, and he deserved it, the hound! I had somewhat to do with it also; for I had come to London in advance, and was to rejoin the yacht that night. Near the bridge at Westminster whom should I meet but Yossof, whom I thought to be in Russia; and he told me that which made me bundle him into a cab and drive straight to Greenwich.
"The Countess Anna--she was Grand Duchess then, though we never addressed her so--made her plan speedily, as she ever did. She slipped away, with only her cousin Stepán and I. My master did not know. He thought she was in her cabin after dinner.
"We rowed swiftly up the river,--the tide was near flood,--and I waited in the boat while they went to Selinski's; Yossof had given them the key. They found his paper, with all the evidences of his treachery to the League and to her. Selinski came in at the moment when their task was finished, and Stepán stabbed him to the heart. It was not her wish; she would have spared him, vile though he was! Well, it is all one now. They are all gone; she and Stepán,--and my master--"
"He is dead, then?"
"Should I be here if he were living? No, they did not kill him. I think he really died when she did,--that his soul passed, as it were, with hers; though he made no sign, as you know. I found him,--it is more than a week since,--in the early morning, sitting at the table where she used to write, his head on his arms,--so. He was dead and cold,--and I thanked God for it. There was a smile on his face--"
His deep voice broke for the first time, and he sat silent for a space,--and I did.
"And so,--I came away," he resumed presently. "I have come to you, because he loved you. It was not his wish, but hers, that you should be deceived, made use of. I think she felt it as a kind of justice that she should press you into the service of the Cause,--as she meant to do from the moment she heard of you. And it was quite easy, since you never suspected that she was not the Fraulein you knew, and loved--hein
? She herself, too, had borne the burden so long, had toiled, and schemed, and suffered for the Cause; while this sister had always been shielded; knew nothing, cared nothing for the Cause,--though, indirectly, she had suffered somewhat through that mistake on the part of Selinski's accomplices. Therefore this sister should give her lover to the Cause; that was the thought in her mind, I am sure. She was wrong; but we must not judge her too harshly, my friend!"
"God forbid!" I said huskily.
All that was over a year ago, and now, my task done, I sit at my writing-table by a western window and watch the sun, a clear red ball, sink into the Atlantic. We are at Pencarrow, for Anthony Pendennis has at last returned to his own house. He is my father-in-law now, for Anne and I were married in the spring, and returned after a long honeymoon to Pencarrow. We found Mishka settled on a farm near, as much at home there as if he had lived in England all his life. He speaks English quite creditably,--with a Cornish accent,--and I hear that it won't be long before the farm has a mistress, a plump, bright-eyed widow who is going to change her present name of Stiddyford for that of Pavloff.
We are quite a family party just now, for Jim and Mary Cayley and the baby,--a smart little chap; I'm his godfather,--have come down to spend Easter; and Mr. and Mrs. Treherne will drive over from Morwen vicarage, for Mary's matchmaking in that direction panned out exactly as she wished.
All is well with us,--pleasant and peaceful, and homelike,--and yet--
I look at a miniature that lies on the table before me, and my mind drifts back to the unforgettable past. I am far away from Pencarrow, when--some one comes behind my chair; a pair of soft hands are laid over my eyes.
"Dreaming or working,--which?" laughs Anne.
I take the hands in mine, and draw her down till she has her chin on my shoulder, her soft cheek against my face.
The dusk is falling, but through it she sees the glint of the diamonds on the table,--and pulls her hands away.
"You have been thinking of those dreadful days in Russia again!" she says reproachfully, with a queer little catch in her voice. "Why don't you forget them altogether, Maurice? Let me put this in the drawer. I hate to look at it,--to see you looking at it!"
She picks up the miniature, gently enough, slips it into a drawer, and turns the key.
"I--I know it's horrid of me, darling, but I can't help it," she whispers, kneeling beside me, her fair face upturned,--a face crowned once more with a wealth of bright hair, which she dresses in a different way now, and I'm glad of that. It makes her look less like her dead sister.Some one comes behind my chair.
"I know how--she--suffered, and--and I'm not bitter against her, really," she continues rapidly. "But when I think of all we had to suffer because of her, I--I can't quite forgive her, or--or forget that you loved her once; though you thought you were loving me all the time!"
"I did love you all the time, sweetheart," I assure her, and that is true; but it is true also that I still love that dead woman as I loved her in life; not as I love Anne, my wife, but as the page loved the queen.
I shall never tell that to Anne, though. She would not understand.