The Emperor's Candlesticks/Chapter 12
How Iván ever reached home that night, without being arrested by the police on suspicion of being drunk, he never afterwards could say. He remembered nothing after the time when, out of Grete Ottlinger's confused babble, he had gleaned the name of Grünebaum–the name that to him at last meant absolute salvation. He knew the shop well on the Opernring, kept by old Moses Grünebaum, and containing a wonderful collection of antique jewellery, furniture, and curios of all kinds–a shop much frequented by connoisseurs, the most thought of in Vienna, in fact, for that class of things, certainly not one that would ever fall under suspicion of harbouring stolen goods.
It was obviously too late to interview old Moses at that hour of the night. Iván, though hardly alive to any outward facts, save the all-absorbing one, was nevertheless conscious of that, and instinct guided his reeling footsteps to the hotel on the Kolowrátring.
A mass of letters awaited him; correspondence he was sadly neglecting in these days of anxiety. One of them was from his Eminence. Iván tore it open in eager excitement. It ran as follows:
- Klinger's Hotel, Marienbad,
- 28th February.
"My dear Son,–You will see by the above address that I have altered my plans and am staying here for the present. The fresh mountain air is having a most beneficial effect upon my health, and I shall probably stay (D.V.) the full length of my intended holiday. I hope you are getting on satisfactorily with the work fast enough to enable you to take some days' rest before we once more meet at St. Petersburg for diplomatic business. By the way, if you should happen to get there before I do, I think it would be as well if you would call on Madame Demidoff, and ask her to hand you over the Emperor's candlesticks, which then could remain in your charge. I hope she accomplished her journey in safety, and that not the slightest harm has come to those tiresome things, which very nearly succeeded in depriving me of my holiday. I assure you, my dear son, when I think of all the enjoyment I should have missed on their account, I am doubly grateful to madame for the kind favour she has done me.
"My apostolic blessing on you, my son, and sincere respect to Madame Demidoff when you see her.
- "Antonius d'Orsay,
- "Antonius d'Orsay,
Volenski put down the letter; a sigh of complete relief came from his heart. Thank Heaven! his Eminence knew nothing. It was not to be wondered at; the robbery at Oderberg had not created much comment in the press owing to the speedy capture of the thief, and it would have been nothing but the most adverse coincidence if his Eminence, who, to Iván's knowledge, never glanced at a newspaper, should that one day of all days have seen the two numbers that contained an account of the theft.
He knew from his own experience that the facts were not sufficiently mysterious to excite public interest, and as his Eminence's name had not once been mentioned by Madame Demidoff, it was not very likely that the Cardinal would hear of the matter from any outside source. Madame evidently did not mean that his Eminence should hear about her loss–that was only natural; no one likes to own to gross carelessness, least of all a lady. Oh! that he might only get rid of the fear that already she knew all, and was on the same quest as himself, backed by Russian money and Russian influence! But even then, at present, he was ahead of her. She had not interviewed Grete Ottlinger, she could not know where the candlesticks were, and before Grünebaum's shop was open the following morning he meant to be on the spot, ready to pay away all he possessed for the priceless receptacles of the secret papers.
That night, as he well knew that sleep would never come to him, he spent in getting through all arrears of work for his Eminence. He meant, as soon as he had seen Grünebaum and purchased the candlesticks, to start at once for Petersburg, and deliver the papers to Taranïew. Three days had now elapsed since the abduction of Nicholas Alexandrovitch; three days, during which Iván, absorbed in the harrowing search for the missing messages, had not seen his comrades. Every day added one to the many dangers of discovery, and Dunajewski and his comrades were still pining in the Moscow prisons.
Oh! this burden of responsibility seemed too hard to bear; the terrors of carrying the secret papers seemed as nothing compared with what he had to undergo. But, thank God! all these anxieties would be over by to-morrow at the latest, and then in his heart of hearts there first occurred to Iván the wild longing to give up all these intrigues and plots; be content to live the life of a quiet citizen, and leave Russian politics steadily alone.
The busy night he spent acted soothingly on Iván's nerves. He worked until the tardy winter's dawn peeped in through the curtains, then, having refreshed himself with a bath and a good breakfast, he once more sallied forth on his quest, and nine o'clock found him on the Opernring, outside Grünebaum's shop, waiting to see the shutters taken down.
The moment that was done he stepped in and asked to see the proprietor.
A snuffy old Jew, with flat nose and broad lips, with eyes like a toad's–so nearly dropping out of his head, that he appeared to be wearing spectacles for the sole purpose of keeping them in their sockets–came forward, rubbing his hands benignly one against the other, evidently wondering who his very early customer could be. He was accustomed to mistrust everybody.
"A very good morning, sir; and what may I have the pleasure to show your Excellency to-day?–jewellery?–antiques?––"
"I have come on a matter of private business," said Volenski briefly. "You had better show me into your office, for your own sake."
The Jew looked at him keenly for a moment from behind his spectacles, then said suavely:
"I have no business that I should wish to conceal; but if your Excellency will take the trouble to walk this way––" And he led the way to a well-lighted, luxurious little office at the back of the shop, where a quantity of voluminous ledgers and cash books testified to the extent and prosperity of his business.
"Will your Excellency be pleased to be seated?" he said.
"No, I prefer to stand; what I have to say won't take long. You received yesterday, at the station of the Nordbahn, a parcel of goods from a woman named Grete Ottlinger. These goods were stolen. You knew it. What have you to say?"
"That I am as innocent of this as a newborn babe, your Excellency; that I was never out of my shop all day yesterday, it being, as your Excellency no doubt will deign to remember, a very rainy day; that I never even heard of any woman named Grete Ottlinger; that I never set eyes on stolen goods–this I swear by our fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and by the grave of my forefathers."
"Enough of this drivel," said Volenski impatiently; "you lie, and you know it. Now I will be brief with you. Among that stolen property–– Don't interrupt me," he said sternly, as the Jew made another attempt at protest, and raised his hands upwards as if calling Abraham to witness of his innocence; "I said that, among that stolen property there was a pair of antique china and chased gold candlesticks. I wish to know where those candlesticks are. I will pay you the full amount you will have to give to Grete Ottlinger, and two thousand guldens besides, if you will hand them over to me at this moment. If you refuse, I will lodge information against you at the police, and within half an hour you will be arrested, your house, books, and belongings searched, and even if nothing definite can be proved against you–you might be a cunning rascal–your business will practically be at an end. You will be marked as a suspicious person, and none of your customers will dare return to you for fear of buying stolen property."
The Jew, who at the beginning of the interview had turned pale to the lips, had now regained some composure. Rubbing his two hands together again:
"Now I see that your Excellency is a generous gentleman," he said benignly, "with no desire to harm a poor old man, who has wife and family to support—but with a wish to deal fairly with him. I swear to your Excellency that my greatest desire is to serve you in every way I can, and I will tell your Excellency the whole truth. I have never done such a thing before, but the woman tempted me, and the things were very beautiful. I did not like to keep them in my shop–it wasn't safe–and as soon as I received them from Grete Ottlinger I packed them off, and sent them through a trustworthy messenger to my partner in London. I received a telegram from him this morning to say he had crossed the frontier quite safely last night, and is now out of reach of the police, who are still busy hunting for the things in this city. And if your Excellency will keep to your word, and give me ten thousand guldens, which will only be one thousand over and above what the candlesticks have cost me, I will tell you where my partner is to be found, and then it will be your Excellency's own fault if you cannot succeed in inducing him to part with the articles in question."
"I will pay you nothing till I have the candlesticks in my possession, then I pledge you my word that you shall be paid in full. Now choose quickly, you have no time to lose; the express starts from Vienna at one o'clock; if you give me your accomplice's address, together with a few lines on a card, telling him that I am a friend, I will leave for London at that hour; if you refuse, I go this instant to the police and lay information against you."
"How do I know that you will not lay information against me when once you have secured the goods?" the Jew muttered suspiciously.
"Look at me," said Volenski; "do I look like a vile traitor who would use a man first, and betray him after?"
The Jew shot a piercing glance from his bleary eyes at the young Pole, whose manly face looked fierce, agitated, passionate, but certainly not false; and, without another word, he took from his pocket-book a business-card, bearing the words–"Moses Grünebaum, Dealer in Antiquities," wrote on the back–"Isaac Davies, 14, Great Portland Street, London," and below, "To introduce a friend," and handed it to Volenski.
"I shall be back in Vienna on Saturday," said the latter, "and if I bring the candlesticks with me, I will bring you the money I promised on that very day."
And, pulling his hat over his eyes, Volenski walked out of the shop, taking no further notice of the Jew, who followed him to the door, bowing obsequiously, and still irrelevantly calling to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to witness to his complete innocence.