A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE

When Miss Stanley opened her hazel eyes the morning after the mischance
on the way home from the theatre, her first waking impression was that
something pleasant was to happen. She laughed at herself a little when
complete wakefulness made her conscious that, after all, it was only
Count Litvinoff’s acquaintance and promised call which were answerable
for that dreamy feeling of anticipated enjoyment.

She let her thoughts stray in his direction several times that day, and
at the _table d’hôte_ looked out for him with interest. But he was not
there. Bearing in mind Mr Stanley’s invitation, Count Michael Litvinoff
had thought it as well to absent himself from the _table d’hôte_. It
would have been rather awkward to meet his new acquaintances at dinner
and then to call on them immediately afterwards.

‘I don’t see our Russian friend, Clare,’ remarked Mr Stanley as the
fish was removed. ‘I think you must have been mistaken about his
staying here.’

‘Perhaps I was, papa,’ said Clare, submissively, but with a sparkle in
her eyes that contradicted her words. ‘Or perhaps his foot hurt him so
much that he couldn’t come down.’

‘If he doesn’t come up after dinner we’d better make inquiries.’

But he did come up after dinner, and when he entered, limping slightly,
Mr Stanley received him with as much effusion as could be shown by an
old gentleman after a heavy meal.

‘My daughter tells me you are staying in this hotel,’ he began; and as
Litvinoff, taking this as an introduction, bowed low to her, with his
eyes on the ground, she hoped he did not notice the sudden flush that
swept over her face. But he did; there was, in fact, very little that
went on within a dozen yards of him that Count Litvinoff did not notice.

‘How strange that you should have been on the spot last night, and how
fortunate.’

‘It was fortunate for me, since it has procured for me this pleasure.
May I hope that you are not any the worse for the shock?’

‘No, I’m not; but I’m afraid you are; do sit down.’

As Litvinoff and her father went on talking, Clare, who had not yet
spoken a word, could not help thinking that this gentleman with the
foreign name was somehow very different from any man she had hitherto
met, not even excepting those fine specimens of young English manhood,
the Ferriers. There was about him that air of worldliness which is so
attractive to young people. ‘He looks as if he had a history,’ she said
to herself, with conviction; a remark which did credit to her powers of
observation. She liked his voice and his way of speaking, for though
his English was perfect, he spoke it with a precision not usual to
Englishmen.

‘Will you have tea or coffee?’ asked Clare presently, busying herself
with the cups and saucers that had been brought in.

‘Mr Litvinoff will have coffee, of course, my dear; young men don’t
like tea nowadays.’

‘I can’t claim to be very young,’ said the other, smiling, ‘but I do
like tea.’

‘Ah! you would just please my wife; she says that a liking for tea in a
young man is a sign of a good moral disposition.’

‘I’m afraid in my case it’s national instinct, not moral beauty.’

‘National!’ repeated Mr Stanley, ‘national! Why, God bless my soul, you
aren’t Chinese, are you?’

The guest threw his head back and laughed unaffectedly; and Clare
smiled behind the tea-tray.

‘Oh, no; I’m only a Russian.’

‘Oh, ah,’ said Mr Stanley, in a rather disappointed tone. For the
moment he had been quite pleased at the thought that here was actually
a Chinese who could talk excellent English, and whose garments were not
exactly the same, to the uninitiated, as those of his wife and mother.

‘You speak English uncommonly well,’ he went on.

‘Well, I’ve been in England some years now,’ he said, with a rather
sad smile, which confirmed Clare in that fancy about his history. ‘A
turn for languages is like the taste for tea, one of our national
characteristics. I suppose the ordinary tongue finds such a difficulty
in twisting itself round Russian, that if it can do that it can do
anything. Allow me!’ springing forward to hand Mr Stanley his cup of
coffee.

‘My daughter always sings to me while I’m having my coffee,’ said
Mr Stanley, suppressing the fact that under these circumstances he
generally went to sleep, and feeling a mistaken confidence, as slaves
of habit always do, that his ordinary custom could be set at nought on
the present occasion.

‘I hope Miss Stanley will not deny me the privilege of sharing your
pleasure,’ said Litvinoff, rising and making for the piano. Clare
followed him.

‘What shall I sing, papa?’ she said.

‘Whatever you like, my dear. “The Ash Grove.”‘

Clare sang it. Her voice was not particularly powerful, but she made
the most of it, such as it was, and sang with enough expression to
make it pleasant to listen to her. After ‘The Ash Grove’ came one or
two plaintive Scotch airs, and before she was well through ‘Bonnie
Doon,’ the accompaniment of her father’s heavy breathing made her aware
that her audience was reduced by one-half. The most appreciative half
remained, and, when the last notes of the regretful melody had died
out, preferred a request for Schubert’s ‘Wanderer.’ This happened to be
her favourite song, and she sang it _con amore_.

‘It always seems to me,’ he said when she had finished, ‘that that
music carries in it all the longing that makes the hearts of exiles
heavy.’




Clare looked up at him brightly. ‘Oh, but their hearts ought not to be
heavy, you know,’ she said. ‘The Revolution is of no country–I thought
banishment from one country ought merely to mean work in another for
an exile for freedom. Surely there is a fight to be fought here in
England, for instance, too. I don’t know much about it; I’ve scarcely
seen anything, but it seems to me there is much to be put straight
here–many wrongs to be redressed, much misery to be swept away.’

The Count’s bold eyes fixed themselves on her with a new interest in
them.

‘Yes, yes,’ he returned with a little backward wave of his hand.
‘Exiles here do what they can, I think; but the wronged and miserable
will not have long to wait, if there are many Miss Stanleys to champion
their cause. Still it does make one’s heart heavy to know that horrors
unspeakable, worse than anything here, take place daily in one’s own
country, which one is powerless to prevent. One feels helpless, shut
out. Ah, heaven! death itself is less hard to bear.’

‘You speak as if you had felt it all yourself,’ said Clare, a little
surprised at the earnestness of his tone.

‘I did not mean to speak otherwise than generally. I believe in England
it is considered “bad form” to show feeling of any sort–and you
English hate sentiment, don’t you?’

‘I don’t think we hate sincere feeling of any kind; but forgive me for
asking–are you really an exile?’

Count Litvinoff bowed. ‘I have that misfortune–or that honour, as, in
spite of all, I suppose it is. But won’t you sing something else?’ he
added, with a complete change of manner, which made any return on her
part to the subject of his exile impossible.

‘I really think I’ve done my duty to-night,’ she answered, rising.
‘Don’t you sing?’

‘Yes, sometimes. Music is a consolation. And one is driven to make
music for oneself when one lives a very lonely life.’

‘Won’t you make music for us?’ she asked, ignoring the fact that her
father was still snoring with vigour.

‘Yes, if you wish it.’

He took her place at the piano, and, in a low voice, sang a Hungarian
air, wild and melancholy, with a despairing minor refrain.

While her thanks were being spoken his fingers strayed over the keys,
and, almost insensibly as it seemed, fell into a few chords that
suggested the air of the Marseillaise.

‘Oh, do sing that! I’ve never heard anyone but a schoolgirl attempt it,
and I long so to hear it really sung. I think it’s glorious.’

Without a word he obeyed her, and launched into the famous battle song
of Liberty. His singing of the other song had been a whisper, but in
this he gave his voice full play, and sang it with a fire, a fervour,
a splendid earnestness and enthusiasm, that made the air vibrate, and
thrilled Clare through and through with an utterly new emotion.

She understood now how this song had been able to stir men to such
deeds as she had read of–had nerved ragged, half-starved, untrained
battalions to scatter like chaff the veteran armies of Europe. She
understood it all as she listened to the mingled pathos, defiance,
confidence of victory, vengeance and passionate patriotism, which
Rouget de Lisle alone of all men has been able to concentrate and to
embody in one immortal song, in every note of which breathes the very
soul of Liberty.

As the last note was struck and Litvinoff turned round from the
piano, he almost smiled at the contrasts in the picture before him–a
girl leaning forward, her face lighted up with sympathetic fire, and
her eyes glowing with sympathetic enthusiasm, and an old gentleman
standing on the hearthrug, very red in the face, very wide awake, and
unutterably astonished. The girl was certainly very lovely, and if
the exile thought so, as he glanced somewhat deprecatingly at the old
gentleman, who shall blame him?

‘How splendid!’ said Clare.

‘Very fine, very fine,’ said her father; ‘but–er–for the moment I
didn’t know where I was.’

This reduced the situation to the absurd–and they all laughed.

‘I hope I haven’t brought down the suspicions of the waiters upon you,
Mr Stanley, by my boisterous singing; but it’s almost impossible to
sing that song as one would sing a ballad. I evidently have alarmed
someone,’ he added, as a tap at the door punctuated his remark.

But the waiter, whatever his feelings may have been, gave them no
expression. He merely announced–

‘Mr Roland Ferrier,’ and disappeared.

‘I’m very glad to see you, my dear boy,’ said Mr Stanley, as Roland
came forward; ‘though it’s about the last thing I expected. Mr
Litvinoff–Mr Ferrier.’

Both bowed. Roland did not look particularly delighted.

‘We’ve come to London on business,’ said he.

‘We? Then where is your brother?’ questioned Clare.

‘Well,’ said Roland, ‘it is rather absurd, but I can’t tell you where
he is; he’s lost, stolen, or strayed. We came up together, dined
together, and started to come here together. We were walking through a
not particularly choice neighbourhood between here and St Pancras, when
I suddenly missed him. I waited and looked about for something like a
quarter of an hour, but as it wasn’t the sort of street where men are
garrotted, and as he’s about able to take care of himself, I thought
I’d better come on. I expect he’ll be here presently.’

But the evening wore on, and no Richard Ferrier appeared. Clare felt
a little annoyed–and Roland more than a little surprised. Perhaps,
in spite of his _sang froid_, he was a trifle anxious when at eleven
o’clock Litvinoff and he rose to go, and still his brother had not
come.