Seated in her room, still in her ball-dress, Lisaveta gave herself up to her reflections. She had expected to find the young officer there, but she felt relieved to see that he was not.
Strangely enough, that very night at the ball, Tomsky had rallied her about her preference for the young officer, assuring her that he knew more than she supposed he did.
“Of whom are you speaking?” she had asked in alarm, fearing her adventure had been discovered.
“Of the remarkable man,” was the reply.
“His name is Herman.”
Lisa made no reply.
“This Herman,” continued Tomsky, “is a romantic character; he has the profile of a Napoleon and the heart of a Mephistopheles. It is said he has at least three crimes on his conscience. But how pale you are.”
“It is only a slight headache. But why do you talk to me of this Herman?”
“Because I believe he has serious intentions concerning you.”
“Where has he seen me?”
“At church, perhaps, or on the street.”
The conversation was interrupted at this point, to the great regret of the young girl. The words of Tomsky made a deep impression upon her, and she realized how imprudently she had acted. She was thinking of all this and a great deal more when the door of her apartment suddenly opened, and Herman stood before her. She drew back at sight of him, trembling violently.
“Where have you been?” she asked in a frightened whisper.
“In the bedchamber of the Countess. She is dead,” was the calm reply.
“My God! What are you saying?” cried the girl.
“Furthermore, I believe that I was the cause of her death.”
The words of Tomsky flashed through Lisa’s mind. Herman sat down and told her all. She listened with a feeling of terror and disgust. So those passionate letters, that audacious pursuit were not the result of tenderness and love. It was money that he desired. The poor girl felt that she had in a sense been an accomplice in the death of her benefactress. She began to weep bitterly. Herman regarded her in silence.
“You are a monster!” exclaimed Lisa, drying her eyes.
“I didn’t intend to kill her; the pistol was not even loaded.”
“How are you going to get out of the house?” inquired Lisa. “It is nearly daylight. I intended to show you the way to a secret staircase, while the Countess was asleep, as we would have to cross her chamber. Now I am afraid to do so.”
“Direct me, and I will find the way alone,” replied Herman.
She gave him minute instructions and a key with which to open the street door. The young man pressed the cold, inert hand, then went out.
The death of the Countess had surprised no one, as it had long been expected. Her funeral was attended by every one of note in the vicinity. Herman mingled with the throng without attracting any especial attention. After all the friends had taken their last look at the dead face, the young man approached the bier. He prostrated himself on the cold floor, and remained motionless for a long time. He rose at last with a face almost as pale as that of the corpse itself, and went up the steps to look into the casket. As he looked down it seemed to him that the rigid face returned his glance mockingly, closing one eye. He turned abruptly away, made a false step, and fell to the floor. He was picked up, and, at the same moment, Lisaveta was carried out in a faint.
Herman did not recover his usual composure during the entire day. He dined alone at an out-of-theway restaurant, and drank a great deal, in the hope of stifling his emotion. The wine only served to stimulate his imagination. He returned home and threw himself down on his bed without undressing.
During the night he awoke with a start; the moon shone into his chamber, making everything plainly visible. Some one looked in at the window, then quickly disappeared. He paid no attention to this, but soon he heard the vestibule door open. He thought it was his orderly, returning late, drunk as usual. The step was an unfamiliar one, and he heard the shuffling sound of loose slippers.
The door of his room opened, and a woman in white entered. She came close to the bed, and the terrified man recognized the Countess.
“I have come to you against my will,” she said abruptly; “but I was commanded to grant your request. The tray, seven, and ace in succession are the magic cards. Twenty-four hours must elapse between the use of each card, and after the three have been used you must never play again.”
The fantom then turned and walked away. Herman heard the outside door close, and again saw the form pass the window.
He rose and went out into the hall, where his orderly lay asleep on the floor. The door was closed. Finding no trace of a visitor, he returned to his room, lit his candle, and wrote down what he had just heard.
Two fixed ideas cannot exist in the brain at the same time any more than two bodies can occupy the same point in space. The tray, seven, and ace soon chased away the thoughts of the dead woman, and all other thoughts from the brain of the young officer. All his ideas merged into a single one: how to turn to advantage the secret paid for so dearly. He even thought of resigning his commission and going to Paris to force a fortune from conquered fate. Chance rescued him from his embarrassment.
………..to be continued………..
Translated by H. Twitchell. Copyright, 1901, by The Current Literature Publishing Company