Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/My affair with the Russian countess
MY AFFAIR WITH THE RUSSIAN COUNTESS.
Colyton Priory was a fine old building in the Elizabethan style. One wing alone had been rebuilt within modern times, and consisted of the drawing-rooms, and my mother and sister’s morning room. What had once been the monks’ refectory, was now used as a ball room, and when decorated with flowers and coloured lights, for one of the many balls with which it was the delight of my father to entertain the young people of his own and neighbours’ families, it had a very pretty and pleasing appearance. The other wing, with its heavy mullioned windows and dark wainscoting, was used for the dining-room and library, and very handsome and comfortable they looked, particularly in winter, with their dark, oak furniture, and crimson velvet draperies. Long cloistered walks extended on either side of the horse, and led out to the extensive gardens, with their fountains, terraces, and the modern innovation of conservatories and hothouses. The whole was situated in an extensive deer-park, and bounded by dark woods. A bright stream ran at the bottom of the gardens, dividing them from the park, and affording many a day’s amusement in boating and fishing to myself and my school-fellows.
In this abode of peace and plenty I passed some of my happiest days and I hoped that I was to remain there to the end of life. In this favoured spot I resided until I was close upon my majority, and my dream of life was, that I should, upon my father’s death, assume the responsibilities of a large landed proprietor, take to myself a wife, and devote my time and the influence of my station to the amelioration of the condition, both physical and moral, of those who, living within the district in which my estate was situated, were fit and deserving objects on whom to expend some of my superfluous wealth. But, alas! for the vanity of all, or at least some, human calculations, an event occurred which completely upset all my nicely laid plans for the future, and rendered it indispensably necessary for me to put my shoulder to the wheel in good earnest, and not trouble myself about the propriety of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted, and so on. But to explain. My father was chief partner in a large mercantile house, whose principal warehouses were situated in Thames Street, City. The business of the firm was chiefly confined to the importation of foreign goods, such as French lace, and Lyons shawls, and a good deal was done in Russian firs, sables, &c. My father had originally been a clerk in the establishment over which he now ruled supreme. Being a well-made, and rather, if not very, good-looking young man, he, at the early age of two-and-twenty, captivated the maiden affections of Miss Virginia Allbone, who was not more than thirty years his senior. Being desirous of exchanging her solitary mode of life, Miss Virginia Allbone took advantage of the privilege attaching to ladies in leap years, and proposed to my father that he should give up sitting at a desk all day long, writing out invoices, and casting up very long columns of figures, for the trifling consideration of eighty pounds a-year, and become the partner of her joys and sorrows. The author of my being hesitated, and expressed a conviction that if he was to accept the very flattering offer of Miss Virginia it would cause him the loss of his situation, as, without doubt, Mr. Allbone, the chief partner in the firm of Allbone, Grizzle & Co., would be very angry in the event of a marriage taking place between his (Mr. Allbone’s) only sister, and one of his junior clerks. The enamoured Virginia, however, contemptuously ignored the necessity of endeavouring to obtain the sanction of her brother. She was of age, she said, and could do what she liked.
“Yes, that’s right enough,” replied my cautious parent; “but suppose he gives me the sack, what are we to do for a living? It isn’t very easy to get a situation that would suit me.”
“Who wants you to get a situation?” indignantly rejoined the lady. “Do you think that I would desire to see my husband toiling from morning till night for the means of existence.”
“Well! but what are we to live on?” continued the far-seeing youth.
“Live on! why the interest of my money. Haven’t I got thirty thousand pounds in the Three per Cents, and don’t they bring me in nine hundred pounds a-year; and if we can’t live on nine hundred pounds a-year we ought to starve.”
The end of it all was, that my father, who thought that a hundred, or a hundred and fifty at the outside, was the amount of the old girl’s income, married, by special licence, the rich heiress, Miss Virginia Allbone, who, on her bridal day, handed him a bank receipt for ten thousand pounds. He treated her very kindly, and from the day of their marriage until her death, which happened about ten years after their union, no quarrel or serious disagreement took place between them.
Michael Allbone was very much annoyed at first, but his annoyance arose from the disparity between the ages of the bride and bridegroom, and from a firm conviction, that nothing but misery would ensue from such an unequal match. However, when he heard upon what terms they were living, he visited them at their suburban residence, and offered his brother-in-law a share in the profits of the firm. By her will, Mrs. Virginia Trussell, née Allbone, left the whole of her wealth to her husband, who, shortly after his year of mourning had expired, assumed the complete management of the affairs of the firm of Allbone, Grizzle & Co. In due time my father married again, and the result of that proceeding was myself and four sisters. Whilst he was in business, my father, together with his wife and family, resided at Highgate, and used to drive to the City in his phaeton and pair every morning at ten, and return about five in the afternoon. In the course of years my father amassed a large fortune, and like a sensible man determined to enjoy it. With this resolution strong within him, he instructed a well-known auctioneer to purchase for him an estate, the particulars of which were duly set forth by my father. Colyton Priory was for sale, and my father no sooner saw it than he became enamoured of it; and as soon as the title deeds had been looked into, and the conveyance made out, the ownership of Colyton Priory and the adjoining estate was vested in the name of Ernest Sigismund Trussell, Esq., and Ernest Sigismund Trussell was my father. Retiring from the bustle of City affairs, the new owner of Colyton Priory settled down to the enjoyments of country life; but he soon got tired of it, and never rested until he bought himself back into the Thames Street firm. At this time, the chief partner in the house of Allbone, Grizzle & Co., was a man named Cohen. Who he was or what he was nobody knew, beyond the fact that he was a Stock Exchange speculator, and that he was worth money. When my father purchased Colyton Priory, he announced to a few of his City acquaintances his intention of selling his interest in the firm of Allbone & Co.
One day, whilst he was busy in his private office, the chief clerk brought my father intelligence that a gentleman wished to see him. At the same time he handed my father a card. On this card was the name, or rather the names, of Mr. Israel Jerusalem Cohen, Mincing Lane, and —— Terrace, Holloway. My father granted an interview to Mr. Israel Jerusalem Cohen; and during the interview, Mr. I. J. Cohen proposed to become the purchaser of my father’s very considerable interest in the firm of Allbone, Grizzle, & Co. My father’s terms, after a little demur, were agreed to, and Mr. Cohen became the head of the old established firm of Allbone, Grizzle, & Co.
I have thought it necessary to mention the fact of my father having disposed of his share in the mercantile firm over which he had presided for so many years, because it will explain the inferior position which he held in the firm after he had returned to it. I say inferior position, because he was quite subordinate to Cohen; and although he, my father, was anxious to have some other occupation besides his usual pursuits, still he was not so indefatigably industrious as to attend every day at the offices in Thames Street, as he used to do in former times. He would generally content himself with going to London on the first of every month, and inspecting the books of the firm. Everything was left to the management of Cohen, and, as my father found out to his cost, he managed things in a way not peculiar to himself.
Asking pardon for this rather lengthy digression, I continue my narrative. It was a lovely evening towards the end of August; the sun was slowly sinking behind the dark elms and the shrubberies, and tinging the foliage with a deep golden hue; the park looked beautiful with its extensive woodland; and as for the lake, I could not resist the temptation to have a good swim; and having indulged in that healthy and invigorating pastime, I thought I could not do better than take a little refreshment in the shape of a glass or two of port wine, and a veal cutlet, or some such dainty. Our dinner hour was four, but I generally had lunch at one, and dinner in my own room at six. I was wending my way towards the house when I heard my name called; looking round I saw James, our footman, accompanied by a boy, and they were both coming towards me at a quick walk.
“Telegraphic message, sir,” said James, touching his hat.
“From London, sir,” repeated the boy, producing a printed paper from a leather bag which he wore at his side, and which was fastened to a leathern strap suspended from his shoulders.
I took it, and read: “Mr. Frank Trussell is to come immediately to ——, Thames Street, City.”
The sender of this laconic message was my father. Inquiring when the next train would start, I learnt that I had nearly two hours to spare, so I resolved to get something to eat whilst my portmanteau was being packed.
It was late at night when I arrived in Thames Street, but late as it was, I found my father busily occupied with hooks and papers appertaining to the transactions of the firm. I ventured to remonstrate with my parent for applying himself so assiduously to business when there was no occasion for it.
“No occasion!” replied my father, in a mournful voice; “my dear boy, there is every occasion, for to-morrow it will be too late; to-morrow all our books and papers will be in the hands of the bankruptcy officials; for we are insolvent, Frank. Yes,” continued he, “the firm of Allbone, Grizzle, & Co., once among the most extensive and most respected in the City, is insolvent.”
“By what moans has this been brought about?” I asked. “I thought your affairs were so firmly placed that nothing could shake them.”
“So they were, and had it not been for the villany of Cohen, in abusing the confidence with which I entrusted him, all would have been well.”
The next day, as my father rightly surmised, the bankruptcy messenger came and affixed his seal to everything and anything that he could put a seal upon.
By disposing of his estate and mansion, called Colyton Priory, my father realised sufficient to pay the debts of the firm, and so avoid the discredit of a bankruptcy; but it left him a ruined man, and there was nothing to support us except my mother’s jointure of 10,000l. Certainly there was a further sum of 5000l. settled upon each of my four sisters, but they could not touch that until they became of age, or married; and the interest and compound interest of those sums was to accumulate for their benefit. True, we were enabled to live very comfortably, but all idea of my leading a life of luxurious independence was gone, and it only remained for me to obtain some suitable appointment, so that I might become possessed of an income of my own, for my fortune was engulfed along with my father’s in the failure of the firm of Allbone, Grizzle, & Co.
Having paid his creditors in full, my father had nothing to reproach himself with, but rather the contrary; still he made up his mind not to speculate any more, but to rest content with whatever he could collect of the debts of the firm, which were considerable, and live as comfortably as he could upon the income of his wife’s jointure. In one respect, however, he never lost heart, nor lacked zeal, and that one all-engrossing object was, to obtain for me a lucrative appointment in some house of business. Through his indefatigable exertions, I was appointed to the management of the branch house of Messrs. Screwer, Grindem, & Co., who were in the same line of business as my father. The branch of which I was to take the management was situated in St. Petersburg, and as the remuneration was to be most liberal, I eagerly accepted the post offered to me. Everything being concluded, I booked myself per steamer as a saloon passenger, and made all necessary arrangements as to my luggage.
I shall now close this chapter, leaving it for the next to show what befel me on my arrival at the capital city of All the Russias.
Every preparation having been made, I set out on my voyage, and arrived safely at St. Petersburg, and became regularly located in the house of Screwer, Grindem, & Co.
Before I took up my appointment, the management of the English department was carried on by a Scotchman, and his name was McDiddle. Andrew, or, as he himself pronounced it, Andree McDiddle, was a most unfavourable specimen of the Caledonian; in craft, cunning, and readiness for everything that might serve his own interests I think it would be impossible to surpass him. I never saw the man smile except at somebody being overreached; and next to the furs and sables, the great business of his life was to take and keep other people down. For myself, I had come to be my employer’s representative; but McDiddle was so well established by forty years’ sorting furs, and keeping the accounts, not to speak of spying and being consulted; he knew so much that I did not, and business was so differently conducted in St. Petersburg from what it was in London, that I settled into the subordinate position from the first hour of taking the seat at the desk assigned me. One day, about a month after I came, we were seated at our respective desks, when one of the opposite mirrors showed me that there was a lady in the office.
I would as soon have expected to see a bird of paradise as a female face in that establishment; all our tables were spread and our cuisine and laundry done by men; but there was a woman, dressed in what I instinctively knew to be the first fashion out of Paris, not thirty at the out’ side, with finely-moulded features for a Russian, a soft, fair complexion, light blue eyes, and hair of a golden yellow. She had come in so noiselessly that I was not aware of her presence till apprised by the mirror, and, still more astonishing, she was speaking to McDiddle. Their talk was low and earnest, and I must confess to listening; but they spoke in Russian. However, the eye sometimes does duty for the ear; by its help I discovered, to my great astonishment, that they were talking of myself. The lady looked at me now most graciously, and I acknowledged her presence with my best bow.
“Might I ask,” said the lady, “if you have been long in St. Petersburg?”
“Only a month,” said I.
“And how do you like it?”
“I have scarcely had time to know.”
“Ah!” she said; “it is true you English are sensible people, and do not make up your minds in a hurry. I have a great respect for the English.”
(By the bye, she spoke our language as well as I do myself.)
“I had a governess of your nation, the best creature in the world. What trouble she took to teach me the little English I know!”
“Her trouble was well bestowed, Madame,” said I, having by this time got up my courage and my manners; “you speak it like a native.”
“I did not know that Englishmen could flatter,” said the lady, with the sweetest smile; and before I had time to rebut the charge, she added, “But tell me how you like the society here.”
“I have seen very little as yet, Madame.”
“Ah, perhaps you have no friends or relations in the city.”
“None, Madame; I am quite a stranger.”
She looked at me so kindly, so sympathisingly, that I could have stood there for a fortnight; but, with another bow, to which the lady made a polite acknowledgment, I returned to my desk and began opening and shutting various books of samples.
From that day McDiddle changed in his manner towards me, and became quite familiar and communicative. He told me that she was the Countess Czarinski, a widow, rich, childless, and belonging to one of the first families in Esthonia. He further explained her coming to the warehouse by letting me know that it had been the Czarinski Palace, and that the seal-skins shipped for Messrs. Screwer, Grindem, & Co., had come from an estate most fertile in furs, which the Countess owned in the government of Archangel.
“It is not exactly her own,” said McDiddle, “but properly belongs to her nephew. She is his guardian, however, and that is nearly as good as ownership in Russia.”
Some days after this I was sitting, with the pen in my fingers, wondering if she would come again in my time, when there was a slight creak of the door, a light rustle of silk, the prettiest tinkle on the brass rail of the stove, and there stood Madame Czarinski.
“Ah, my English friend,” she said, smiling with her usual sweetness, as I presented myself, “how glad I am to see you once again! Shake hands; they always shake hands in your country; don’t they? My governess told me so. How I long to visit England!”
It is to be hoped I shook the small, lemon-coloured, kid-gloved hand with becoming grace and ardour. I know that I was intensely charmed. She inquired for Mr. McDiddle, and we got into conversation. As we had shaken hands, and she had such a respect for the English, I relieved my mind by telling her the exact truth, that I knew nobody, and nobody knew me; that I had not a soul to speak to except McDiddle. The lady seemed to enter into my feelings to a degree which enchanted me, young as I was.
“Far from your relations, and without friends in a strange city—it is a hard trial. And you can’t return to England without your employer’s permission, of course?”
“No,” said I; “and he is a man to whom I should not wish to complain of solitude.”
“Ah! those money-making old men think of nothing but business,” said the countess; “but, tell me, now, should you like to see society?”
“Your ladyship,” I replied, “I have never been accustomed to fashionable life. I am only a poor merchant’s clerk.”
“Yes; but you have a genteel air, and might be made presentable,” she said, surveying me from head to foot with a look of the most candid and kindly patronage; “and, as you are so lonely, if you will be a good boy, and come to my house to-morrow evening, you will see a select circle of my best friends. It is only quadrilles, cards, and supper.”
Was I dreaming, or did a Russian countess actually invite me out of Screwer’s counting-house to quadrilles, cards, and supper? Then, what apparel had I to appear in at the Czarinski Palace? Evening-dress had never been considered necessary to my existence; and, in the confusion of these thoughts, I could only stammer out:
“Much obliged to your ladyship, but—”
“You are thinking of your dress, young man,” said the countess, laying her small hand lightly on my arm, and looking me archly in the face. “Well, don’t disturb yourself about that; we can do fairies’ work at the Czarinski Palace, and you shall be my Cinderella. Just step round to the tea-shop in the lane behind your warehouse about seven to-morrow evening, you will find a carriage waiting there, step into it, it will bring you to the palace. The footman will show you a dressing-room where you will find everything requisite for a gentleman’s toilet; then ring the bell, and the footman will show you to my salon.”
I do not remember what I said by way of thanks and acknowledgment for this, it was so unlike anything I had ever met with; yet where was the young man in my position who would have refused?
“Oh! never mind,” said the countess, cutting me short with another light pat on the arm; “you will be kind to some Russian, perhaps, who may be lonely in England when you have become a great merchant.” She shook hands with me once more, and was going, when a sudden thought seemed to strike her. “My friend, I forgot to ask one thing,” she said; “can you speak French?”
“No, my lady,” said I, blushing to the roots of my hair, as I recollected that was the language of good society in Russia.
“Do you understand it at all?” she asked, with a searching look.
“Not a word, Madame.”
“That is unfortunate. Everybody of fashion speaks French here, and very few understand English; besides, nothing could convince them that you had not been brought up a mere peasant—a boor, you understand—if you could not speak French; but there is one expedient which has just occurred to me—you will pretend to be dumb. I know you are clever enough to act a part; it will be no loss, as you cannot understand what is spoken; but, remember, not a sound before my guests or servants—it might bring us both to be talked of, and I want to let you see society. Good-bye!”
The door had closed upon her exit before I had well comprehended the curious arrangement; but the more I thought of it the more clever and advantageous it seemed. The Countess Czarinski had evidently taken an interest in me. Was it friendly? was it more than that? A rich and childless widow, young and beautiful, moreover, had taken it into her head to show me good society and make me presentable. The chance was worth following up, whatever it might lead to.
McDiddle came in about half-an-hour after, but of course he heard nothing about it. There was no reason why he should. Seven was our closing hour, then the supper came off; some of the clerks went for walks, or to ace their friends, the lazy ones went to bed. Some Russians can do a wondrous deal of sleeping. Having pondered and congratulated myself on the invitation, and given the porter a silver rouble to take no notice of my movements—a Russian understands such matters without speech—I went forth at seven on the following evening, as if to take my accustomed walk, and in front of the tea-shop there stood a carriage, a very handsome one, but with no crest on its panels. Nobody looked curious or surprised to see such an equipage in that quarter. It was strange, too, how quickly the coachman seemed to know his fare; he opened the door the moment I approached. I stepped in, and away we went to the Czarinski Palace. I knew the city well enough to see that we were not going the direct way, however, and also that we stopped at the back entrance, which was in a narrow, sombre-looking street, with a dead- wall shutting in the grounds of a monastery right opposite. A footman in splendid livery received me, showed me through a passage and up a stair to a dressing-room elegantly furnished, where, according to the; countess’s promise, I found everything requisite for a gentleman’s toilet, including a complete suit of evening-dress. The clothes were made more in the Parisian than the London style, as they seemed to me. Put who had taken such an exact account of my proportions’ They fitted me amazingly, and my whole appearance in the full-length mirror gave me courage for the rest of the trial. Having dressed, I rang the bell, as Madame Czarinski had instmeted me, and to my astonishment who should answer it but the countess herself. She wore a magnificent evening dress, of which, not being skilled in ladies’ apparel, I can only say that it was very grand and very low, and that the lady looked to great advantage in consequence. The quantity of jewels dashing from her snowy neck and arms would have done some ladies good to see; but in she came as friendly and familiar as she had been in the counting-house.
“I just wanted to see how you looked before going down to the company.
“Ah! very well indeed,” she said, turning me round by the arm, as if I had been her younger sister on the point of being brought out. “Didn’t I guess your lit, my dear boy; you will make conquests among the girls this evening. But don’t forget your part of mute; it is all we can do at present. Of course you will learn to speak French in time. I will give you lessons myself. But now I must go to receive; the footman will conduct you to the saloon; do your devoirs as if you had not seen me, and don’t forget that you are dumb.”
She left me before I could make any reply. In another minute the footman was at the door. Under his escort I reached the reception-rooms. What a noble mansion it was; how extensive, how richly decorated. Nothing more splendid than that suite of public rooms had ever come under my eye. The Countess was sitting in the central saloon, some of the company had already arrived, others were coming in. I heard the roll of carriages, the hum of voices, the rustle of silks; the novelty of the scene rather confused me, but I was determined to prove that I was clever enough to act my part. There might be a great stake to win or lose that evening, so I walked straight up to Madame Czarinski, made the bows which had been extensively practised for the occasion, saw in an opposite mirror that it was well done, and would have retired to a seat, when, to my utter amazement, she sprang from her velvet sofa, uttered a half-scream, threw her arms round my neck, and kissed me on both cheeks. I did whatever she bade me, which she did of course by signs, played cards with three old ladies, danced with two young ones, handed herself to the supper table, and felt myself in fairyland. At last, the company began to disperse. The Countess whispered to me that I had better get home; my own clothes were in the dressing-room, and the footman would show me out. I went up accordingly, redressed, was shown out at the back gate, found my way to the lane, and got in by the broken conservatory, but couldn’t fall asleep until about half-an-hour before the great bell summoned us all to our place of business. I had come to a new life in this strange northern climate. Madame Czarinski was the first woman I had ever seriously thought of, and how could I help it under the circumstances. The very next day McDiddle went out, saying that he should be away until night, and I was busily engaged with my ledger, when, with the same creak, rustle, and knock, in came the Countess. She made no excuse, did not impure for McDiddle, but sat down at once, and began talking to me; asked me how I liked her party, what I thought of the ladies, did I know what any of them had said of me, and would I like to come again? I did my best to answer in a truthful manner; I also took occasion to insinuate my surprise at her own behaviour, and the general notice taken of me by the company.
“Oh, yes,” said she, “I received you as an old friend; that is the best passport to society.”
She congratulated me on appearing to such advantage, and advised me not to let any one else know that I was not dumb till she taught me French. “Then,” said she, “the recovery of your speech will be so interesting; but I am forgetting that I want you to write something in my album. You are to write some English poetry, anything you like from Shakespeare or Byron, within that border of forget-me-nots. It will be a specimen of your handwriting and your taste, for me to keep when you have gone back to England, and forgotten me.”
“I will never forget you, Madame,” said I; and I was going to deliver a short speech, when she rose, held her hand up warningly, and said: “Hush! there is some one coming. I must go. Bring the book with you to-morrow evening. I won’t send the carriage, it might attract attention. Good-bye, my dear young friend.”
With all the care and precision requisite for such a task, I copied a passage from Romeo and Juliet, into the ivory album. It was intended to indicate my private sentiments. I don’t think I was actually in love, but Madame Czarinski, though some years older than myself, was a young, fair, and wealthy widow.
I copied the passage, and I went to the party. I got arrayed, rang the bell, was inspected by the countess, conducted to the drawing-room, and presented to more company.
If Madame had given me a quiet interview with herself in one of the back rooms, where I might get up courage enough to make a declaration, it would have been very satisfactory to my wishes; but she called me her dear young friend—what better signs of a tender interest could any man expect? I was weighing the whole subject in my mind when Madame Czarinski entered. The usual remarks and inquiries about her last party having passed, she began to compliment me on the elegance of my handwriting, and I made a bold attempt to direct her attention to the moaning of the passage written, and its suitability to my particular case.
“Ah! they are moving,” said the Countess, with a very embarrassed look. “You should not have written them—I must not hear such things. You do not know all. I am an unhappy woman.” Here she sighed deeply.
“You unhappy, Madame,” said I, coming a step or two nearer, for I thought it a good opportunity.
“Yes,” said the Countess, casting her eyes to the ground. “But do not ask me; I cannot tell you. Yet you are the only person upon whom I can depend.” Her eyes were raised now; and, looking me keenly in the face, she said, “Will you do me a service?”
“At the risk of my life, Madame,” said I.
“I believe you,” she replied; “but fortunately, there is no such risk requisite. All I want you to do is to make a fair copy of this paper. You see,” she added, spreading it open before me, “it is a law paper, absolutely necessary in a very important suit, one which may result in riches or ruin. Family reasons make it unadvisable to entrust such a paper to any clerk or lawyer. You are the only man in the world from whom I could ask such a service, and to your honour and discretion I can trust for keeping the secret. When do you think you can get it finished?”
“To-morrow,” said I, glancing hastily over the paper. It was large, a folio sheet of parchment, and written in the old Sclavonic character.
“Well,” replied the Countess, “tomorrow evening bring it to my house. The footman will admit you at the back gate, and I will explain everything to you in my boudoir. Be particular in copying this,” and she pointed to some words like a signature at the end of the paper. “Good-bye, I must go.”
I copied the paper with great attention to accurate transcription and strict secresy. There was some difficulty in matching the parchment and copying the signature, but I managed it at last. The work cost me a sleepless night, but it was finished in good time. No one could have told the difference between the copy and the original. Nobody had cause to suspect what I was about, and with the service done, and with the great opportunity of declaring myself, in the boudoir, in prospect, I repaired to the back gate of the Czarinski Palace between seven and eight. The same footman admitted me; but instead of leading on to the boudoir, as I expected, he handed me a sealed note, and stood by in the passage until I had read it. The process of reading did not require much time; the billet, which was dated 12 a.m., contained only this:
My dear Young Friend,—Unforeseen circumstances oblige me to set out immediately for Archangel: I must therefore lose the pleasure of receiving you this evening; but we will meet again at my return, when I hope to make more fitting acknowledgments for your friendship. Please to give the papers, both copy and original, to the footman. He has orders how to forward them. And believe me to be yours very faithfully,
It was her own handwriting, and only one course remained for me. I gave the papers to the footman. These wonders were still fresh in my mind, when the English packet brought me a letter from my father, earnestly requesting my immediate return to England. It was so brief and so hastily written, that I concluded the old man must be very ill. McDiddle was of the same opinion, and thought I should lose no time.
In answer to my hasty inquiry, why he had sent for me, my father looked mysterious, beckoned me into his private room, and put into my hands a letter to Screwer, Grindem, & Co., in which they were informed, in the most business-like manner, that the interests of the firm and my own safety, made it advisable that I should leave St. Petersburg immediately, as I had incurred the resentment of a noble Russian family. The case was now clear to me; the Countess had been exiled to Archangel, and I sent home to England, through her high-born relations’ dread of a mésalliance. I felt myself the hero of a real romance; but who should arrive but Mr. McDiddle! He had resigned his office under Screwer & Co., and was on his way to Glasgow, or Glasger, as he pronounced it, and I took the opportunity of asking him if Madame Czarinski had been calling at the counting-house of late?
“Oh, no,” said he, “she sends her steward now. She wants no more silly young men to do her business.”
“What business do you mean?” I asked, rather sharply.
“What you did for her:—helping her to get her nephew’s estate in Archangel. The boy had died while he was yet a minor. He was dumb, and had been dead for two years, but nobody knew that. She got the rents and the profits, and at last contrived a scheme to pass you off for her dead nephew, and make you copy out a will, leaving the estate to her. I believe the monks and she got up a funeral when you were fairly out of St. Petersburg. Of course she made Screwer & Co. recall you.” And the amiable man smiled.
“How much did you get for helping in the business?” said I.
“Fools do the work, and wise folk get the profit,” responded my excellent senior.
“But I must tell you she is married to a prince—one of the Romanoff family; and I would advise you to keep well out of Russia; for they have a pretty sure way of getting rid of troublesome people, or folks who know too much.”
With a malicious leer, the wretch left our counting-house, and went on his way to Glasger, and I never had the misfortune to meet him again.
Years have elapsed since the events above related occurred, and things have prospered with me. I am now the head-partner in one of the most extensive and well-managed mercantile concerns that the city of London can boast of.
Colyton Priory, once the seat of my late lamented father, is again the property of a Trussell; and I have a loving and beloved wife, and four as pretty children—three boys and a girl—as any man could wish for.
Yet sometimes, when I look back upon the adventures which characterised my short residence in the land of the Czar, I am foolish enough to wish that the beautiful and fascinating Madame Czarinski had reciprocated (as I thought she did) my passion, and taken me as her lawful husband, instead of making a mere cat’s-paw of me, and causing me mental agony unspeakable, whenever I think of how I was duped by a Russian female—I can’t call her a lady, for she did not behave as such.