A POOL of light fell upon the table from rose-tinted lamps half hidden in a mass of flowers and foliage—blood-red chrysanthemums and chestnut leaves. The rest of the room lay in ruddy shadow picked out here and there with a plate or a picture. One great carved bookcase had a suggestion of sombre life in its bold panels. In one corner stood an oak cabinet, and on it another shaded lamp glinting upon a magnificent hawthorn-blue jar and a small, deeply framed gem of Millet's. But for the shades, the electric light would have been garish, bizarre, out of place, a false note amidst surroundings almost mediaeval.
Under the small lamp, with his feet against one of the big brass dogs in a deep Cromwellian oak chair, the owner of Barsac Castle sat. A young man in the prime and vigour of youth, a man with clear-cut, resolute face, yet so pale that his black moustache looked vivid against his fine-grained skin. A powerful face, yet overcast with an expression of deepest sorrow, tempered ever and again by a suggestion of passionate self-pity. You can see the same look on the face of a soldier who has lost a limb, or a statesman in the hour of defeat. And when you looked again and saw those strong, sinewy hands feeling for something along the table, you knew that Count Ferdinand Barsac was blind. And you knew also in some subtle way that the affliction was of comparatively recent date, and that the strong man still fought passionately and rebelliously against the decree of Fate.
He looked swiftly towards the door as the curtains fell back and a servant entered. Barsac's face changed as if a mask had suddenly fallen over it.
"Well, Werther?" he asked, in the mingled tone of geniality and command generally assumed towards a confidential servant. "You are really getting too audacious. Don't you know that I am never to be disturbed after dinner? What is it? A pressing telegram or something of that kind?"
"A messenger from the Court of Queen Hilda, my lord," Werther replied. "He is charged with a message from the Queen herself."
"And is bound to deliver it in person," a muffled voice came from the door. "Werther, you may go. Upon my word, Count, you have magnificent quarters here. What would I not give for such artistic surroundings as these? Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Benvenuto, Cellini—all the treasures of all the ages, and the electric light to give it the one modern touch. It is a perfect dream of beauty."
Barsac made no reply for the moment. His face was all broken up and quivering with the lines of an ill-suppressed passion, as the ice on a river breaks up when the Spring comes. He rose to his feet and touched the dream of shaded light and high-piled floral beauty on the table.
"Brother virtuoso," he said at length. He spoke with deep, sarcastic note. "Here is a red flower, and here is a chestnut frond with five leaves. Behind you is a blue vase for which Valeria Barsac sold the honour of our house. I can name everything as it stands; I can see every flower and leaf arranged still as they were the last time I looked upon them. Heavens! Am I and my services to the kingdom of Farsala so soon forgotten that even the flaneurs about the Court are ignorant of my great affliction?"
The new-comer crossed the room and touched Barsac affectionately on the shoulder.
"My dear Ferdinand," he said, "your services and your misfortunes will never be forgotten by the Queen. Have you quite forgotten your old friend De Mormay?"
"De Mormay!" Barsac cried. "Well, I suppose I must make an exception in your favour, though you did find your way here by means of a trick. For five years I have denied myself to everybody, though I am but four miles from the capital. How your voice brings back the old times to me. Sit down, Antony. There are cigars on the table."
"Thanks, but I see no signs of your own cigar."
"I have given up tobacco. Most blind men do in time. There is no solace in a cigar unless you can see the smoke rising. All is well at the Court?"
"All is confoundedly ill at the Court!" De Mormay replied, as he pulled a chair up to the fire and lighted his cigar. "When I said I came with a message from the Queen, I stated no more than the truth. Often as I have longed to see you, my dear Ferdinand, I have ever respected your wish to be left strictly alone. Five years ago you went to Paris, one of the most envied men in Europe. You were young, rich, and handsome. Off your own bat you had scored the consolidation of Farsala and placed our beautiful young Queen securely on the throne. Then we heard suddenly that you had come home and that you had transformed yourself into a recluse of the deepest dye. You had lost your eyesight owing to an accident—"
Barsac rose to his feet, his face quivering with passion, self-pity, scorn.
"It was no accident," he said hoarsely. He paced the room with assured strides, his nervous fingers touched objects with the same assurance that one with sight had done. "It was the work of a vile scoundrel whom I trusted. There was a woman in it—'a rag and bone and a hank of hair,' as Kipling sings! Oh! it was no accident."
"A duel, perhaps?" De Mormay said. "No man could deliberately—"
"But I tell you he did. I found the scoundrel out; I could have exposed him. He discovered what I knew, and he took this diabolical means to render me helpless. But I am not going to speak of that—the story must ever be my own. I am lord of my own castle here, De Mormay, the last bit of the old feudalism in up-to-date Farsala. Some day my servants will find that man—they are looking for him everywhere. And when they do find him, he will be lured here and I shall have my revenge."
Barsac was speaking slowly now and lingering on his words. To watchful De Mormay there seemed to be a touch of melodrama in the situation. He could see those sightless eyes upturned, the hard vengefulness of the face, the grim determination of the lips. The surroundings were all in keeping, too—the dark walls, the oak panels, the feeling of strength and security. And four miles away the people were laughing in the theatres and screaming over music-hall stars. Without question, Barsac's wrongs had injured brain as well as sight.
"But that is all by the way," the Count resumed more quietly. "I am still deeply interested in politics. My faithful Werther keeps me well posted. The Queen will have to get rid of Rustmann. That fellow is in the pay of Russia. Still, so long as you keep strictly to the letter of my Deed of Convention, Farsala is safe and the Ural mines will ever replenish the exchequer. It was the finest thing I ever did."
De Mormay drew his chair up a little closer.
"It was the Convention I came to consult you about," he said. "Russia is making trouble, and Rustmann is backing her up. Russia claims the right of pre-emption in the mines under Clause V. This will touch Queen Hilda's private fortune also."
"My dear fellow, there was no right of pre-emption at all. I was particularly careful on that point. Clause V. was devoted to the Jewish poll-tax basis. There is one thing I pride myself upon, and that is my memory. I could repeat the Convention by heart."
De Mormay's gay face clouded slightly. From his breast-pocket he produced a large sheet of parchment and laid it on the table.
"That is very strange," he said. "Here is Clause V. set out exactly as Russia claims it. Let me read it to you.. .. What do you think of that, my friend? And yet you were so painfully careful that you wrote every word of this document yourself. It will be exceedingly hard for Farsala. What do you think?"
"I think," Barsac replied, "that the whole thing is a clever and audacious forgery. The parchment has been stolen and tampered with. By some ingenious means the least important clause in the agreement has been removed and this vital paragraph inserted. De Mormay, I have often longed passionately for my eyesight, but never as I long for it now. Unless some miracle gives me back my eyes, Farsala is helpless."
Barsac strode up and down the room impatiently. He shivered as with cold. He took a couple of logs from the basket and tossed them on the fire easily as a man possessed of sight would have done. De Mormay watched him curiously.
"The enemy had counted upon this," he said. "Our chief, our only witness, is as useless as a dead man. Could you but see, you could refute the forgery. The Russian minister told me somewhat cynically that if you could give legal testimony, he would have nothing further to say. Your eyes are not destroyed, Ferdinand?"
"No, it is paralysis of the optic nerve. A tiny thing, and yet so great. Specialists say that some day a ridiculously easy cure will be found."
"My dear fellow, it is found. I have the man who guarantees to cure you."
Barsac paused in his impatient strides. "Who is this man?"
"A brilliant mystery. He came to the capital a year ago, since when he has performed some wonderful cures. He makes a huge income, lives in the most extravagant style, and for amusement goes in for political intrigue. This Jasper Manton is especially great upon eye troubles. A friend of mine who had lost his sight owing to paralysis consulted Manton, and to-day he can see as well as I can. When the difficulty over the Convention arose, it occurred to me to ask the Queen what the source of your loss of sight was. When she told me, with one accord we both cried 'Manton!' For a special fee Manton will operate on you."
Barsac suddenly sat down again. He was palpably placing a great restraint upon his feelings. The long, sinewy hands were locked together.
"Does the man know who his patient is to be?" he asked.
"Well, no. First of all, you had to be consulted, and in any case it was best to keep the matter a secret as long as possible. I told you this Manton was fond of political intrigue, and he might guess too much. Besides, I want to spring a surprise upon the Russian minister. Manton knows that he is wanted for a friend of mine, and he is prepared to place himself in my hands at any time. Personally, I regard him as an unscrupulous adventurer; but so long as he serves our purpose, that matters nothing. You will have to lie up for a fortnight afterwards and be nursed, but all the details you can leave to me. The point is—are you willing to try the experiment?"
Barsac laughed unsteadily. He grasped De Mormay by the hand convulsively.
"Aye, aye," he said hoarsely. "You give me new life and hope. Anyway, things can't be worse than they are. I am ready for your man at any time."
De Mormay swaggered down the avenue to the place outside the great gates where he had left his carriage. On the whole he was exceedingly pleased with the success of his mission. He stood for a moment utterly unconscious that a woman was speaking to him. She was dressed as a nurse, she was tall and young, and presently it was borne in upon De Mormay that she was exceedingly beautiful. A born squire of dames, De Mormay was all attention.
"I know where you have been, Baron," the girl said breathlessly, "and why. You are going to try an experiment upon Ferdin—I mean Count Barsac—and it will be successful. But not for long, unless I am close at hand to ward off danger, the terrible danger that is sure to follow. Oh! I cannot say more—I have said too much already. You will want a nurse presently. I implore you to let me fill the post."
The girl spread out her hands with a gesture of passionate entreaty. Her beauty and the purity of her face touched the suspicious man of the world. "Surely an extraordinary request?" he replied.
"Oh! I know it. You must deem me to be a mad woman. And yet I am sane enough, and I know only too well what I am talking about. Unless you let me have my way, you will never succeed. Avail yourself of my advice and my assistance, and you will be glad of it all the days of your life."
De Mormay hesitated and was lost. A good judge of humanity, he could see nothing but honesty and sincerity here.
"If your credentials are good," he said, "I might—"
The girl gave a little cry of delight. Her face lighted up wonderfully.
"Then I am going to undertake the task," she said. "Dr. Sergius, the late Court physician, will speak for me. Here is my card, Baron de Mormay. Ask Dr. Sergius about me, but do not mention my apparently strange request. Then you can let me know."
De Mormay bowed and indicated his carriage.
"It is practically settled," he said. "And now may I have the pleasure of driving you as far as the capital?"
"No, no, it would be dangerous, too great a risk. Thank you a thousand times. Let me say 'Good-night,' and God bless you!"
She disappeared into the heart of the night, leaving De Mormay in a state of bewilderment that he had never experienced before.
The brilliant enigma called Jasper Manton was at breakfast. He had a fine set of rooms looking over the royal park in Farsala's capital, and here he was wont to entertain the wildest and wittiest who gathered round the Court of Queen Hilda.
There was a certain dainty femininity, a suggestion of the boudoir and the scent-bottle about the rooms that kept the more robust element away. The pictures were a little too French, the draperies too light. A smell of cigar smoke was painfully in evidence, objectionably so at that hour of the day; a litter of cards, hundreds of the polished black and red specks, lay on the floor.
The man himself sat playing nervously with a slice of dry toast and a glass of hot water, though the table was laden with tempting things. There was a certain tremor of the hand and a quivering of the drooping, furtive eyes that told plainly of a too reckless pursuit of pleasure on the night before. A small, lean, active man, a man built on feline lines, a dangerous enemy who gave the suggestion of striking deep, but ever in the dark.
"Bad to worse!" he muttered. "Did ever anyone have such cruel luck with the cards? And they were watching me last night, I am certain of it. I wonder if some of my quondam French friends have tracked me here?. .. . Come in!"
A servant entered with a card. Manton's face cleared. He poured himself out a small glass of brandy and swallowed it hastily.
"Shovel up those cards, Alphonse," he said, "and ask Baron de Mormay to come in."
De Mormay entered, suave, frostily polite, and with an assumption of faint contempt that brought the blood into Manton's face.
"You do me honour," the latter said.
"I do nothing of the kind, my dear fellow," De Mormay replied, "and you know it. I do not play cards, and I am practically a teetotaler. I used to play cards once—in France—and I learnt some queer tricks there."
"I don't quite follow your meaning, Baron."
"Not this morning, perhaps. As your intellect clears, you will divine my thoughts. Meanwhile, I am here on behalf of the prospective patient I mentioned."
"The mysterious man who desires secrecy," Manton replied. "In such case my fee is a heavy one. A thousand gold crowns—"
"A thousand gold crowns before we leave the room, and five thousand more, provided that your operation is successful. Will that suit you?"
"Princely!" Manton cried. His face cleared like an April sky. Here was a way out of a great difficulty. It seemed almost providential. "The money is as good as in my pocket. When shall I have the pleasure of earning it?"
"So that you may take up that forged bill of old Solomon Ernst's, due in a day or two," said De Mormay coolly. "For purposes of my own, I have taken the liberty of prying into your private affairs. You see, I want to convince you of the vital importance of giving yourself over heart and soul so far as this operation is concerned. Succeed, and you are safe. Fail—but, really, we need not discuss the possibilities of failure."
Manton waved his hand impatiently. A burning spot of colour flamed on either cheek. His professional honour was touched; unscrupulous as he was, he took the greatest pride and interest in his work. Here money was not the sole consideration.
"When am I to demonstrate my operation?" he asked.
"To-day. Now. Everything is ready, the nurse engaged; for a fortnight my friend has followed out your regimen to the latter. What do you say?"
Manton nodded. He was trembling from head to foot, and words were difficult to him. More than once lately his nerves had played him the trick on the threshold of a dangerous operation. De Mormay pointed cynically to the brandy decanter.
"A little more of that," he said, "and your professional career is likely to be brief. You are further gone than I anticipated. A few days' strict training—"
Manton filled himself a bigger glass of brandy and tossed it down with a swagger. A moment later he held out his hand across the light.
"There!" he said, "steady as a rock, light as a thistledown. Had I known of this visit of yours, my doors would have been barred to my friends last night. I am ready now to operate upon an emperor or an engine-driver. Lead the way."
A pair of high-stepping bays covered the ground between the capital and Barsac Castle swiftly. Manton chatted brilliantly all the time, De Mormay for once was grave and preoccupied. Presently the two found themselves in the big dining-room where Barsac usually spent most of his time. He was in his bedroom now, where he was likely to be for some days to come.
"A magnificent room," Manton murmured. "Handsome, massive, and yet with a suggestion of lightness, and all in perfect taste. The pictures are a dream; those portraits—who is that above the Flemish buffet?"
Manton's voice rose almost to a scream and then cracked suddenly. He was trembling from head to foot, smitten with some terrible overwhelming terror. Deeply preoccupied and ill at ease, all those emotions passed over De Mormay's head.
"Eh! what?" he asked. "What? That is Count Ferdinand Barsac. Do you know him?"
"I fancied I did," Manton stammered. "But I see now that I have been deceived by a chance likeness. Any relation to my new patient?"
"He is your patient," said De Mormay, and lapsed into a brown study again.
Manton crossed the room and looked out of the window. His face was ghastly grey and drawn; his overstrung nerves were twitching at the lips till they quivered. He half glanced towards the door, as a detected criminal might do. Then his hand fell upon a pocket lined with De Mormay's money; he thought of that bill of Solomon Ernst's, and he took a pull at himself. Old Werther came into the room.
"The Count is ready, Baron," he said. "Will you come this way, sir?"
Manton drew back for De Mormay to precede him. He looked more like a man marching to his own funeral than a brilliant surgeon going to a further triumph. The small bag of instruments he carried in his hand trembled and clinked. He took a big lozenge from his pocket and placed it in his mouth.
Barsac lay back in a large arm-chair facing a long window. A nurse flitted about the room, ever busy, but keeping her back towards the others, Manton took but slight notice of her. There was no butchery about the forthcoming operation, so that, until the whole thing was over, the services of the nurse would not be required.
"You are quite ready for me?" Manton asked. "Excuse me if I speak a little thickly; but I am handling a powerful drug, and I have to keep a sort of anaesthetic between my teeth."
"I am ready and eager," Barsac cried. "Pray begin."
Manton hesitated. He placed certain instruments on the table, moving them about in a vague, objectless kind of way. For some reason he seemed loth to begin. Then he opened a small phial of some pungent liquid and dipped a camel's-hair pencil into the drug. Barsac lay back with his face up-turned. At the first touch of the liquid on his face he blenched. Presently his eyes were covered with a thick brown scum. There was pain behind it, for the patient groaned. A cap was fitted over his head, and to this a battery was attached. For quite a long time the hum of the battery and the laboured breathing of the patient was all that could be heard. Manton's face was pale as death, great drops of sweat stood on his forehead.
It was all over at length, the business finished. Swiftly Manton bound a silk handkerchief over the patient's eyes. He stood for ten minutes like a statue with his watch in his hand. He closed it with a snap.
"Now raise the handkerchief, but only for an instant, and open your eyes," he said.
Barsac did so. Then there came from his lips a yell that rang through the Castle. He stood up almost defiantly before them.
"I can see!" he screamed, "see, see, see! Let me look at the man who—"
"For the love of Heaven get him down, gag him, strangle him," Manton said in the same low, muffled voice. "The nerve will be destroyed. A few seconds longer, and all the surgeons in the world could not remedy the mischief."
De Mormay fairly launched himself upon Barsac and bore him back into the chair, whilst Manton restored the bandage. Barsac was laughing and crying in the same breath.
"I am all right now," he said. "Naturally, I lost my head for a moment. And I was anxious to see the benefactor who had brought this merciful blessing to me. Doctor, are you there?"
"I am here," Manton said hoarsely.
"The last time I could see, I looked upon the most infamous scoundrel I ever knew. And just now, when my eyes were opened again for an instant, the same scoundrel was standing before me. Was not that strange?"
Manton exclaimed that there was nothing strange about it. He discoursed learnedly of the retina and the like, but he seemed to be terribly ill at ease.
"You will be all right now," he said. "To-day you are not to remove the bandage. To-morrow—in a darkened room—you may do so for five minutes twice. In a day or two I will come and see you again. But I will tell the nurse what to do."
He got away at length. He would walk back to the capital; he was ill, and the fresh air would do him good. He literally staggered from the room; a long, shuddering sigh burst from his lips once he was alone. The nurse was waiting him.
"I wanted to speak to you," he said. "If—Helen!"
He could say no more. He stood before the girl, bereft of speech.
"Yes, this has been a day of surprises," she said quietly. "First you find Barsac as your patient, and now you find me. Was it successful?"
"Absolutely. Why do you ask? Surely you don't—"
"I had forgotten that you wanted money desperately, and that you had been promised an enormous fee if successful. But there is danger for you now, and you would do anything to avert that danger once your fee is paid. It is to see that no further mischief is done that I am here. Do you understand me?"
Manton shook his head moodily.
"No, I don't," he said. "Clever as I am, I never professed to understand a woman."
Barsac lay abed thinking, dreaming, fighting the past, or planning for the future—anything but sleeping, which was his only and legitimate business there. The best part of a week had elapsed since the operation, and the patient had progressed satisfactorily. Only once Manton had been to see Barsac, and then merely for a moment in a darkened room. There was no occasion for him to come again, he said; time and a rigid adherence to the rules laid down by the nurse were only necessary now. Besides, Manton had an urgent call to Vienna which he could not possibly disobey.
To all this the nurse had listened in rigid silence. Barsac was inclined to talk at times, but the taciturnity of his companion drove him back on himself. Yes, she was wonderfully kind and attentive, she seemed to anticipate every want and requirement, she was always at hand. Barsac wondered if she were young and pretty; certainly her hands were soft and soothing, and the subtle fragrance of her hair suggested dreams of beauty. Her voice was not pleasing, it was too low and too hard. Well, Barsac's natural curiosity would be gratified in a day or two.
Hitherto he had been an exemplary patient. Now he was getting irritable and impatient. He longed to get the bandages off his eyes, he wanted to see the beauties of Art and Nature again. Surely a few hours more or less could make no difference?
So he lay there till the great clock over the stable chimed the midnight hour. How wonderfully still the Castle was! It might have been a palace of the dead. The marvellous quietness was getting on Barsac's nerves. He rose presently and half dressed himself. Then he felt his way down the stairs until he came to the dining-room. He moved now with a free and accustomed step.
He could touch every object there, he could see everything in his mind's eye; the recollection of everything, down to the Cellini spill-cups on the mantel, was perfectly clear. If he could only really see them! He switched on the electric light, then he stood trembling there like a child about to do wrong.
"I must see those things," he murmured. "I must."
He plucked the bandage from his eyes much as a child would have done. Just for an instant a red wave with points of flame in it filled the room, and Barsac sat trembling with something like fear. An instant later, and the mist passed away. There come pure joys at rare intervals in most lives, but never a sweeter and rarer than the joy that filled Barsac at the moment.
He had to hold on to himself as he sat in his chair. A round Florentine mirror close by showed him his own shining eyes. There was neither weakness nor suggestion of weakness there. He would never wear that bandage again.
His eyes were clear and bright as a star. Never had he so thoroughly appreciated the beauty of his home before. He saw the shaded lights glowing through the artistic tangle of flowers and fern he saw how the pictures stood out on the red-tinted walls. For a little time Barsac fairly revelled in it all.
Then his mood changed. He was filled with a passionate resentment against the man who had robbed him of five precious years. Only now he fully realised what he had missed. If he could only have that scoundrel here now and kill him, he felt that the full measure of his satisfaction would be running over. But he could track the fellow now. He would run him down to the end of the world.
As Barsac rose, a sudden cry smote on the startled air. It was a woman's cry of pain and distress, ending suddenly as if some strong hand had choked it. There was a sound overhead like somebody stealthily crossing Barsac's bedroom. A burglar, doubtless. In his slippered feet Barsac crept upstairs.
There was no doubt whatever about it. Somebody was in the bedroom. On tiptoe Barsac crept cautiously forward. He felt along the inside of the doorway for the electric switch, there was a sharp treble click, and the room was bathed in brilliant light. A man was bending over the bed. He looked up with a startled cry. As his eyes met those of Barsac, he fell back half paralysed on the bed.
Barsac fairly screamed with the ferocity of delight that filled him. Truly the stare were on his side just now. He stood there panting as a hound might do after he had pulled the quarry down.
"I am in luck to-day," he said between his quick, gasping breaths. "Oh! my good angel has been kind indeed to me! So I have found you, Adrian! You have come here after all the years, to your own destruction! Why?"
The man answered nothing. Speech was utterly beyond him. He had come prepared to find a blind and helpless man, he had found one with all the attributes of clean and vigorous manhood.
"I am going to kill you," Barsac said. All trace of anger had disappeared now. He spoke slowly and deliberately. "None saw you come, none shall see you go away. The moat is deep, and lead is here for the asking. You shall die."
Still the intruder said nothing. He sat there watching Barsac with a fascinated fear as a bird watches a snake.
"So you found out that I had recovered my sight," Barsac went on. "You discovered that Science had found a way out for me, and you were frightened. You knew that, once I could see again, I should follow you to the ends of the earth. It was not enough that you robbed me of the woman I loved, but you must also rob me of my sight. Time was when you were my friend, Adrian, a friend whom I trusted in spite of many warnings. Then I discovered what people had many a time hinted to me—you were a card-sharper. You knew that I was watching you, that I meant to denounce you. It was then that I allowed you to prescribe for me for the little trouble I had with my right eye. To make yourself safe, and to render me harmless, you destroyed my sight with your infernal drug. You would still have posed as my friend, but I discovered what had happened and I nearly killed you. There is the mark on your forehead now. Why should I not kill you?"
The other remained silent. He glanced towards the door. Barsac smiled grimly.
"No avenue of escape there," he cried. "You came here to-night to repeat your work. You could not have lived with the knowledge that I was my own man again. And you came too late, my friend. You might have screwed up your courage to the sticking-point a week ago. Do you know that I have been sitting downstairs thinking of bygone days—longing to meet you! And you are here. Get up!"
The last two words rang out clear and crisp. The trembling wretch on the bed obeyed. From over a writing-table Barsac took down two fencing-foils, rapiers keen and clean.
"Take one," he said. "I am going to kill you, but that does not of necessity imply murder. You shall have a chance for your life."
"Brandy," the other man gasped. "Give me brandy."
Barsac shook his head. He stood waiting before the foe until the latter should have summoned some of his lost manhood back again. Suddenly he made a furious lunge at Barsac that the latter had some difficulty in avoiding. The old trick of wrist and quickness of eye had not come back to him yet.
"Would you?" he said between his teeth. "Then come on!"
The two blades crossed vigorously, for the other man was fighting for his life, and well he knew it. Of the two, Barsac was incomparably the better swordsman, but there was just a chance for his antagonist to score.
There was a lunge, a quick gasp, and a tiny spurt of blood ran down the other man's collar. The room was filled with the din of clashing steel, the tramping of feet, and the quick breathing of the swordsmen, when the door opened and the nurse, pale and dishevelled, staggered in. Loudly as she cried out, nobody heeded her.
A long ebony cane lay on the table. The nurse Helen snatched it up and beat down the foils, heedless of her own danger.
"He struck me down and I fainted," she gasped, "or I should have been here before. There must be no more of this. Put those murderous tools away!"
"Helen!" Barsac gasped. "What does this mean? My good fortune must have turned my brain. I shall wake up from my dream presently."
"I have been your nurse," the girl Helen said. "I came to—to save you from a great danger."
"Ah! from that man yonder. He robbed me of my sight. Let me kill him!"
"Stop!" Helen cried. "He robbed you of your sight in Paris, and he has given it back to you again. You know him as Jasper Adrian. But he is your doctor—Manton."
Barsac dropped into a chair, utterly overcome.
"What does it all mean?" he asked feebly.
"I am going to tell you," Manton said suddenly. "When your friend Baron de Mormay brought me here, I had not the remotest idea who my patient was. When I found out, I made up my mind that the operation should not be successful. But five thousand crowns hung on that result, and I wanted them to keep me out of gaol. The operation was successful, and only yesterday De Mormay paid me for you. Why I came here to-night you can guess. I have no more to say."
Barsac turned somewhat coldly to the girl.
"Have you no explanation to offer?" he asked.
"Only this, Ferdinand. I came here to save you, I have been near you always. I wrote and wrote, but I got no reply. When I knew that my half brother was here—"
"Your what? Say it again."
"My half brother; Jasper is that. I should have told you before, but was ashamed. He robbed you of your eyes, but he restored them again. And I have saved you. Have a little mercy and a little gratitude, Ferdinand, and let him go. If any of the love you once had for me remains, let him go."
The girl was pleading passionately, her beautiful face shone behind her tears. A great struggle seemed to be going on in Barsac's breast.
"Follow me," he said. He led the way to the hall and flung open the door.
"Now go, and never let me see you again. Leave Farsala, and you are safe as far as I am concerned. Nor need you have any anxiety as to your sister; I will see to her."
Manton shot like a catapult into the heart of the night. Barsac led the girl to the dining-room and placed her tenderly in a chair.
"My guardian angel," he murmured. "Truly I have been blind in more ways than one. You need not tell me what happened this evening—I can divine it all. Helen, does a little of the old love remain? Mine has never ceased to burn bright and clear."
"Always the same," Helen whispered. "Semper eadem is our family motto. Ferdinand, I cannot stay here. I must go back to my old friend Sergius."
"For a brief space," Barsac replied meaningly. "Then Dr. Sergius must give you up to me for good and all. And I shall be an impatient lover."
Barsac lifted up the girl's hand to his lips, and then with a bow left the room and closed the door behind him, the happiest man in the kingdom of Farsala.
From the Staats Journal, Dec. 5, 19—:
"It is with feelings of the most profound satisfaction that we have to record a perfectly honourable and amiable understanding between Farsala and Russia over the Ural mines pre-emption matter. Count Ferdinand Barsac's mission to St. Petersburg has been crowned with success. Therefore the claims under a clause in the Convention have been abandoned. Whether or not there is anything in the rumour that the Convention had been tampered with, it is impossible to say; at any rate, now the drawer up of that document is happily blessed with sight again, anything of the kind was pretty certain to be discovered. The resignation of Count Rustmann opened the way to a better understanding with Russia, and all is well that ends well. Count Barsac arrives here on Friday next, when he and his beautiful bride are certain of a warm reception. It is not given to every statesman to win a great diplomatic triumph and a lovely wife within the space of a month. And Count Barsac is to be warmly congratulated upon both happy events.
"Also undoubtedly he has solved the problem as to who is to be Prime Minister in the near future."