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a gentleman whose face was familiar to me, although I could not recall the name. The two were speaking together earnestly, so intently indeed, that though. they passed tolerably near, neither saw
All the way home I puzzled myself over the familiar face. I made a careful mental revision of all the acquaintances I had had at Yalta, but no, this somewhat peculiar countenance did not belong to any one I had known here.
When I re-entered my rooms, Serge was diligently at work, as if he had never been away, and when I questioned him as to whom he had been talking with at Villa P—, it struck me that he was inclined to deny the fact of having been there. At any rate he hesitated a moment, and then said he had been asking the owner of the carriage about some alterations that were needed. As he spoke, however, full recognition of the face flashed upon me. The stranger was Count Xavier Perètekoff, somewhat aged, of course, and therefore to a certain extent altered, but the countenance was too remarkable to be ever completely changed.
"No, no!" I exclaimed, "the gentleman I saw is Count Perètekoff, an old acquaintance whom I have not met for years. Should he be in Yalta, I should like much to see him. Take my card at once, and ask him to do me the favor of calling upon me this evening.'
"The gracious lady shall be obeyed, but there is no one of that name now in Yalta. The person to whom your servant was speaking is Alexis Petewitch Strogoff, and he by this time is already on his way to Sevastopol."
I said no more, but I was nevertheless convinced the stranger whom I had seen was my former acquaintance Count Perètekoff. I could not be mistaken. Not only were the features similar, but the figure, movements and the peculiar turn of the head were identical.
I hardly know why I wished to see Count Perètekoff again. I had never known him well, nor had I much liked him. The wish probably arose from his being associated with days long past, and also I thought he might have told me something about my old friend Nadine.
I hoped, however, to see her erelong,
and in the bustle and business of preparing for a long journey I speedily forgot this little incident.
Serge proved himself an invaluable. courier. But notwithstanding all his care my health suffered from the journey. Far from the change being of use, the attacks of fever were more frequent and more severe, and rendered me day by day weaker and more depressed.
On the evening of the fourth day I felt so ill, that continued travelling seemed almost insupportable, and yet, where to stop? The post-house at which we had arrived was the most miserable place I had yet seen. The house belonged to the staroste, or chief man of the village.
His wife had died but a
few hours previous to our arrival, and her corpse was lying in an adjoining chamber. The women assembled were crying and howling in a frightful manner; of the men, including the bereaved husband, not one seemed even partially sober. The brandy-bottles were handed about, drink being offered liberally to all newcomers. I never saw so revolting, so degrading a scene. To remain there was impossible.
I groaned forth my desire to continue our journey, though I knew the next post was a distant one, the roads were terrible, and every jolt caused me exquisite pain.
The horses were being harnessed, when Sarah jumped out to see if the carriage could not be drawn into some yard, a little removed from the noisy crowd, so that I might rest quiet, at any rate, for the night; but even that comfort was unattainable; the village was squalid even beyond the generality of small Russian villages. It was a mass of mud and dirt, and reeked with evil smells. It would not be safe to remain in the forest, for the wolves were about, and great packs of them had already been seen in the neighborhood.
While Sarah was thus occupied, Serge came to the carriage, and said in a low voice, as if anxious not to be heard by the people about,
"If the gracious lady would not object, only a few versts from here is the great property of Vlovna, where her Excellency would find herself admirably placed. It belongs to the family Nariscki, and doubtless Nadine Fedorovna
would be glad to receive so distinguished a guest.
What!' I cried in astonished delight, and feeling better in a moment from having such good news, "the Countess Nariscka lives near here! she is the friend whom I hope to see in Moscow. Let us go there at once. Serge gave some orders to the coachman, who was already in his place, and said he would drive on before us to choose the best road, and also to inform the Countess Nariscka of my coming.
In another minute he had jumped into a little telega that was standing near, and had driven off.
I sank back in the carriage, inexpressibly relieved at the prospect of having some comfortable rest under the roof of a kind friend, instead of having to pass the night in a wretched post-house, or else being obliged to endure for many hours the jolts and jerks of an ill-built carriage.
Even this little excitement, however, had made me feel weak and faint, and Sarah returning at this moment, shaking her head, and pulling a long face at the ill-success of her search, devoted herself for the next quarter of an hour to administering sal-volatile, and rubbing my cold hands. At last I fell asleep, and slept until rudely awakened by the violent movements of the carriage. I roused myself, and called to the driver to go more carefully, and also slower, for we were being dragged at headlong speed over a track that did not deserve the name of road, being but a series of holes and sloughs of mud.
The man answered in a patois I did not understand, and only whipped his horses into a more furious pace. I looked out for Serge, but he and his telega had disappeared. By the fading light I saw we were surrounded by forest. As far as eye could reach were interminable vistas of stunted fir-trees. We were evidently traversing one of those desolate tracts that in some parts of Russia extend over thousands of versts, and through which one may travel for hours without finding human habitation.
A sudden terror seized me. Two women in such a lonesome place, absolutely in the power of such a wild creature as the driver, who now, by loud
cries and fierce gestures, was urging his horses to increased exertion. Again I called to him, and now to entreat to be taken back to the village we had left. It would be better to endure miseries we knew, rather than continue this journey through so dark and ugly a forest. But my entreaties were useless. The man either could not or would not understand.
Why had I allowed Serge to go? Why, indeed, had he left us in such a position? Alas! we were helpless. We could but be patient, and hope the best.
A drizzling rain was now falling, adding to the gloom of approaching night. To give myself courage, and also to comfort Sarah, I told her of our unexpected good luck in finding ourselves so near an old friend, for we were going to Countess Nariscka. Sarah expressed herself greatly pleased, and for some time we talked about the comforts we should have later, and so consoled ourselves for present pains.
Countess Nariscka is such a true friend," said I, ' and she is so accustomed to our English ways, that I dare say we shall find ourselves quite at home at Vlovna, and so—”
I was going on, when Sarah with a stifled shriek caught my arm. Oh! dear Miss Selina, my dear, dear child, don't go there! Whatever we do, don't go there! You think I can't understand, but I do. I pick up many things. That is a wicked place. A horrible place. People shudder when it is spoken of. For God's sake, don't go there!" and Sarah, trembling violently, held me tight in an agony of nervous terror.
Such words were not only an unexpected shock, but a dreadful one. remembering my dear old friend, I could not believe they could relate to her. "Tell me all you know at once,' said I decidedly. What have you heard? What do you know?" Closely did I cross-question Sarah, but her answers were both incoherent and incredible. gathered, however, that her alarm was principally caused by fear of ghosts, vampires, and such other evil creatures, so, knowing that, like many Highlanders she was a profound believer in witchcraft, evil omens, and sinister portents, my mind was somewhat relieved.
In little more than another hour we were evidently approaching the confines of the forest. Large irregular patches of ill-cultivated ground were now visible in the moonlight. Here and there was a miserable hovel, but at this hour of the night neither man nor beast were seen. As we passed through the collection of cabins that might be called the village, we could hear in the sheds an occasional stamping of horses' feet, and from the dwellings alongside, larger, though scarcely perhaps more cleanly than the stables, we could also hear the heavy snores of their probably intoxicated owners. The place we had left was squalid and wretched, but how much better than that where we now were ! But a short distance from the village appeared a great mass of buildings, and the carriage passing through some lofty wooden doors and entering a courtyard, drew up before the portico of an immense house, a palace apparently in extent.
The white façade glittered in the moonlight, great pillars encircled the court, but the same light showed how ruined and dilapidated were the buildings, and all the many ornaments belonging to them. The plaster was peeling off the walls; of the pillars, many were broken; some, indeed, had fallen, and were lying unheeded on the ground.
The wooden roof was partly bleached from age, and was partly green from the mass of weeds and moss with which it was in many places covered. Several of the windows were boarded. In short, this grand house was but a fitting adjunct to the wretched village that belonged to it. Everything testified to hopeless neglect. The very air seemed tainted by the mould and decay around.
Alas! poor Nadine, can this be your home? I thought. It was piteous to think one so brilliant, so gifted, so calculated to shine in the world, should be compelled to pass even a portion of her life in so deplorable a dwelling, and I gave a sigh for her and another for myself, that we should be obliged to remain, even one night, in a place that seemed little better than a ruin.
Several servants in shabby liveries soon appeared, and I was conducted into the house, of which the interior was more comfortable, and better kept than NEW SERIES.-VOL. XLV., No. 5
the exterior led one to expect. The vast salon into which I was ushered looked however very bare and cheerless, but then the five large windows without curtains or blinds allowed the dismal landscape without to be seen in all its dreariness. Immediately beneath these windows was a sort of garden, if ragged patches of grass, a few half-empty flower-beds, and some groups of stunted bushes, can deserve to be so called. Between this and the dark line of forest the moon's rays glittered upon sundry patches of water, stagnant pools oozing. from the boggy ground, and the moonlight, mingling with the light of the lamps in the salon, gave a curiously weird character to the desolate scene.
"Nadine Fedorovna will speedily wait upon her Excellency," said a servant.
I murmured the necessary civilities in reply, though feeling somewhat pained at so ceremonious and chilling a reception from a friend, once so much attached to me. For some minutes after the servant left I waited patiently; but as time went on, and the mistress of the mansion did not appear, I became nervous and uneasy. So, rising from my chair, I began pacing up and down the immense apartment. The floor and walls were of yellow marble. Huge chairs, sofas, and tables were arranged along these walls. Of other signs of habitation there were none, but the air was warm and agreeable from the gilded stove that stood in one corner.
I had made a few turns, and was at the extreme end of the room, when I heard approaching footsteps. I turned quickly, as the doors were thrown open somewhat ceremoniously by a chamberlain or groom of the chambers, with other servants, and a lady entered.
I stood petrified. Could this be Nadine ? This aged, yellow, faded woman? She was wrapped in a dressing-gown of magnificent silk. Costly lace hung about her arms and throat; but gown and lace had been carelessly thrown on, and her hair had been negligently twisted beneath a chenille net. Round her waist was knotted a common rope, and to this was attached a multitude of crosses and little images of saints, some adorned with jewels of considerable value, others coarsely fash
ioned in lead or tin. Her whole appearance was untidy and ill-cared for; but it was the changed face that struck me with such infinite pain and amazement. The brilliant, wild, bright beauty had absolutely gone. Not a trace was left. Sallow and sunken, the once lovely countenance had lost all its fresh and beautiful outlines. The features were exaggerated; the nose pinched, the mouth swollen; the cast in the eye, once quite bewitching in its strange peculiarity, was now simply a defect and a deformity. The figure had lost all youthfulness of shape, and the hair was streaked with many lines of white.
But even worse than the loss of mere beauty was the haggard expression, the hopeless misery denoted by that careworn face. It told alike of severe physical. pain, and even greater mental suffering.
I was stricken dumb. I was motionless with amazed distress. But great as was my surprise, my pain, it seemed nothing as compared with that of Nadine.
She stared at me for a moment in bewildered astonishment, then throwing her arms wildly in the air, she uttered a sharp cry.
Merciful Heaven! is it possible, can it really be Selina Brownlow!"
In spite of the cry, the amazement, the changed person, I recognized the loving feeling of my old friend.
I hastened toward her. I seized her outstretched hands. I kissed her with the hearty enthusiasm of old days.
as her dame de compagnie, Mademoiselle Tatjana Durscka.
The young lady bowed silently, looked askance at me, and proceeded to make the tea.
Nadine also relapsed into moody silence. Occasionally she clenched her hand, and muttered something to herself; but she did not speak again to me, and seemed preoccupied with anxious thought.
I, feeling singularly uncomfortable and distressed, also remained silent. Even the hot and refreshing tea failed to have its usual restorative effect, and I only felt anxious to go to bed, in order that as early as possible on the morrow I might quit this inhospitable dwelling.
As soon as the opportunity occurred, therefore, I shortly and ceremoniously asked Nadine if she would give me hospitality for that night, as I feared the next station was too far to permit of mv journey being continued at so late an hour.
Mademoiselle Durscka, who was leaving the table, pushed the tray hastily aside, and one of the beautiful teacups falling to the ground was broken to pieces. The dame de compagnie exhausted herself in the most humble excuses and apologies, to which Nadine paid no sort of attention, but darting an angry glance at her, she took my arm, and begged me to accompany her to the bedchamber prepared for me.
I was convinced the accident was intentional, either to attract Nadine's attention, or to recall something to her memory.
We passed through several salons and antechambers, until we arrived at that where I was to sleep. Comfortable portières hung over the doors and windows. The bed, in German fashion, stood at a considerable distance from
Several servants now appeared, bringing all the materials for supper, and having arranged a table for two, and placed on it dishes that sent forth a most appetizing odor, they withdrew.
To my extreme surprise, before giving any of the meat to me, Nadine examined it most critically; then, with a sudden exclamation, she hurried to the window, opened it, and threw out the whole contents of the dish. By the splash that ensued there was water, a moat probably on this side of the house.
Can she be mad? I thought, and a sudden fear came over me, as I looked at the wild, haggard face, the untidy costume, the changed appearance of my old friend.
But she again took her place at the table quietly, saying something about the cook's insisting upon putting spices or condiments into some dishes that would be sure to be disliked by, and would probably disagree with a foreigner. One of our horrid national dishes, she said with a forced laugh. But, I thought, why throw it out of the window? Still I remembered that Nadine had always been eccentric, she had never done anything like other people, and probably our separation for so many years made her actions appear to me even more extraordinary than before.
Many dishes had been prepared, excellent in material, and well cooked, one more of which Nadine threw away; and until all had been examined she was uneasy and restless, but at last we fell back into our old intimacy and talk. As of old, I told Nadine every circumstance connected with my life; and also, as before, while apparently talking most openly about everything, and seeming to
give me every confidence, she in reality told me little or nothing.
At length she rose to leave. Embracing me most affectionately, even passionately, she whispered in my ear
"Mind, Lina, and attend carefully to what I say; do not eat or drink anything, except what I give you. Remember what I say, only that which I give you; take nothing from any other person. Our people are not to be trusted." Then promising to send Sarah immediately, she went.
I was literally thunderstruck at such a warning. What could she mean? Were there poisoners around my friend, in her own house ?
Again the idea of insanity occurred to me, and gained ground in my mind, as I remembered all the more than strange peculiarities my old friend had exhibited ever since I had been here.
Then how singular it was that I had never seen my servants since my arrival! Sarah's absence, especially, was extraordinary. Sarah, who watched over me with such care, and who never before had left me for many hours alone!
I was thoroughly perplexed, and uncomfortable, and until my faithful attendant came, could not resolve to go to bed, although I felt the aguish fever was returning, and I was now thoroughly exhausted with so much fatigue and emotion.
At length I heard somebody coming heavy, vague footsteps that moved awkwardly over the marble floors.
The door opened, and Sarah appeared, bearing in her hand a large silver goblet. But could this be Sarah? My horror was unspeakable. My good, my faithful friend and servant was absolutely overpowered by drink.
She stumbled into the room, and stared wildly and stupidly at me, while the very atmosphere around her seemed infected by the horrid stuff she been drinking.
Oh my dear, dear Sarah !" cried, what have you been doing? You must be ill. You cannot knowingly have done this ;" and I burst into tears at the sight of such degradation in my dear old friend.
I seated her in a chair, and dashed cold water in her face. This seemed