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common rogue, like that brother of yours? In the past, I have no secrets to trust you with. But, for the future, test me, and see. I am not afraid of you. I fear no man—nay, no woman, even-in the world! I want you. If you will come to me of your own accord, all the better ; there will be some trouble saved. If notwell, there may be some trouble, but it will not be thrown away. You will come.”
“You make love like a conqueror, my friend." “I make love like what I am.”
“Well, it is not bad to be wooed in that way. But I must think
“As to that, Ilona, be it as you will. If you think, I am not afraid."
“I do not think you are afraid. But I must have some proof of trust. If I must surrender, it shall not be as a slave.”
“I will give you any proof you can name."
“ Then,” said the Countess, “I will not be hard. . . . You shall let me wear your ring.”
“My ring? Is that all? Of course you shall wear my ring,” said Roland, feeling all that the transfer of the ring would imply. “ You shall wear that ring, dearest Ilona, as a pledge that you are bound to me, as I to you. Be this ring yours till you are mine; and after that, for ever. Ilona, I wed you with this ring.”
Ilona also threw a glance of triumph round. She held out her hand. She felt a moment's golden pressure upon the finger, and a hot kiss upon the palm. The kiss vanished, but the Opal of opals remained.
It was natural that after such a pledge, which could have but one meaning, Countess Lenska should retire in graceful confusion. But she did not retire into her own room to hide for a few moments that complete defeat which is a woman's crowning victory.
“Nicholas !” she cried, bursting into the room where Arsenieff was engaged in trying to discover the nature of Roland's great secret from two packs of cards, and bewildering his brains—though they were clear and sharp enough-in vain. “Nicholas !” She held up her left hand. “What is this and where ?"
“The Opal !-on your hand ! Ilona, I love you! You are the cleverest woman in the world. You have done what I could not have done in all my life, with all my brains. How was it done?”
“ How! Was there never a time, Nicholas-before we were married, of course-when you would have taken the finest diamond off your finger to give it to me?"
Never, Ilona. Let me see the ring ; let me try how it feels.”
Well, now I come to think of it, you are right; you would never have done anything of the kind. I think, all the same, I should like to be loved that way—just a little madly : it certainlyyes, it certainly does pay. Now, no woman, Nicholas, would ever be a copeck the richer by you. But never mind, my friend.
We are a very good pair together, you and I ; though for a moment I did feel tempted to leave you for Mr. Fanshaw. He has some fire. You would never have killed a man to get what you wanted, as he has done. But then, on the other hand, having got what you wanted, you would never have thrown it away. . . . I cannot even make you jealous, Nicholas. I believe you only care for me because I am of use, and keep the pigeons together whom you would drive away."
" Jealous ! As if I do not know you too well. As if I have not the heart of a lamb—of a pigeon, to yours! No! I would not kill unless I was obliged. But I most surely would not give away a stone like that-not to the most beautiful woman in the world. I wish to try how that ring feels."
“ After such a warning ? Certainly not, my friend. Let us talk seriously. We have got what we came for, what we have travelled over the world for, and with but little trouble : I may say, no trouble at all. Even to our own profit: for Mr. Fanshaw has been an honest partner, on the whole.
But we must not remain. This very night we return."
“This very night? That is sharp work, Ilona. I have an affair or two-
“If they are of money, we can do without them; if of love, you can find some more at home. You see I am not jealous, my friend. We must have sharp work. I do not intend to see Mr. Fanshaw again ; for I think I care for him a little, and it is always dangerous to play with fire-and for ice to play with it, most dangerous of all. I do not want to be a fool until I am very old. Besides, now we have the ring, it will be very troublesome to keep up this farce any more."
“ But he will follow us. He did not give you that Opal to get nothing at all.”
Oh, he may do that! It will not be the same thing as if we stay."
“ You may think you know Fanshaw ; but you do not, Ilona.
He is a great man ; and to be great is to be beyond you, clever as you are.
I tell you, he is capable of going to the police-boldly, Ilona, and in open day !"
“ Which is certainly more than you would venture, I own. But what then?"
“ He would have us arrested for theft."
“ Not absurd at all. He is a great man, and you would be in his power, and the ring too. I believe it is what he has planned.”
“You see a trick in everything, Nicholas. I believe you think the whole world goes round by legerdemain. But he will do no such thing. If he plays the card Theft, we trump it with Murder. What will he say then? We are not in France, my friend. land, murderers are hanged."
'You truly believe he has murdered Joseph Hagopian ? "
“I am as sure of it as that I have Joseph Hagopian's ring on my hand. I proved it to you before. Now that we have the ring we must be out of all this as soon as we may. We are safe from Joseph, anyhow. He will neither hide himself from us nor pursue."
“Does Madame," asked Sergius, entering, “desire to see the young girl who works for Madame before she goes ? . . . And Joseph Hagopian has called to see Madame.”
Arsenieff, forgetting his dignity, started forward and clasped his hands. “Good God, Ilona !” he cried, “what is to be done now? He is not dead-he has come here !"
Ilona for a moment was startled. She frowned heavily, as she motioned Sergius away. “Not dead, then it is worse than I feared ! If he did not know where that Opal is to be found, then he would not be here. Is this a trap-is it Roland who has used my hand to save his own? ... I dare not hide it, even. Joseph Hagopian is not the man to ask me, Have you my Opal, Madame ?—and to be satisfied with a No, Monsieur. Joseph Hagopian knows the best jewel-hunter in Europe a little too well for that, indeed. Joseph Hagopian comes with the arm of the law; the law has given him the power to search, and his eyes will find. He would see a diamond at the bottom of a mine. Oh, if he had been dead, if he had come to-morrow instead of to-day! No; Mr. Fanshaw is not a great man, after all. He is a coward, Nicholas-like you."
Her eyes drank in the light of the jewel upon her hand. It was indeed too precious to lose-so newly won, after more trouble and toil than honest men and women ever dream of taking about anything in the world. No wonder she could not bear to let it go.
"Then--then all is lost, Ilona,” said Nicholas, frantically pacing up and down the room. “If we save ourselves, we lose the stone. No. There is nothing to be done. . . . Wait! I have heard that sometimes diamonds have been swallowed, to bring up again after. Try, Ilona, if it will go down; he will never look for it there. I would do it myself, only. . . . Quick, Ilona, swallow; here he comes !"
“Do not be imbecile, Nicholas," said the lady thoughtfully, and feeling the smoothness of the Opal with her cheek, tenderly. "Don't you know a girl's step from a man's? Did you not hear Sergius say that some work-girl wanted to see me? It is she.”
I have never been able to get rid of the notion that there was something really exceptional about Joseph Hagopian. Of course it is easy to say that he was a collector and dealer in precious stones, of a somewhat striking manner and appearance, who, like a sensible and prudent tradesman in a difficult and dangerous line of business, took extraordinary precautions to keep his wares safe from people like the Arsenieffs, who were always more or less upon his traces. But that by no means wholly accounts for the scare caused by his approach to this particular pair of adventurers, to such an extent that at least one of them had lost the wits that were his entire stock-in-trade. If there were really nothing unnatural in it, it must be because the wits of any rogue must be by nature few.
What wits remained were in the brain of Ilona. It was necessary at all hazards to keep the Opal from being traced or found either by Joseph or Roland, and yet so to secure it that, while it should be at once outside the house, it should be recoverable, for purposes of instant flight, on any day and at any hour.
“My child,” she said to the girl in her sweetest and most winning tones, "I want you to do me a trifling favour, if you will. Julie, my maid, tells me that you are a good, honest girl, who live at home with a sick father. The Prince and I are leaving London quite unexpectedly in a few hours, and of course we must pay all our accounts before we go. Unfortunately, being taken by surprise, we cannot pay you now. No, child, don't be alarmed. We will call and pay you on our way to the train. But you must not go home and tell papa that Prince Arsenieff and Countess Lenska are going away like that; he will say they are running away and will never call with the money, if he is a wise papa. Please keep this ring as a pledge that I come. If-who knows what may happen?-the hurry should prevent me from coming at all, the ring, though but of small value, will cover the amount of your bill. You see, Nicholas, we can easily call on our way to the train, if we have time ; and in any case this girl's mind will be at ease. Though we depart in trouble ourselves,” she said, looking up to the ceiling with a smile of lofty resignation, “we will leave no suffering hearts behind. Above all, we will not forget the poor.”
“But, Madame, I would trust you; indeed there is no need
“I know what is right, Mademoiselle,” said Ilona, drawing off the ring. I am a woman of business ; to be that is my whim. I shall call, I hope, with the money in a few hours. If not before tomorrow you will be safe, though I shall be gone. So, au revoir, Mademoiselle."
It was not easy to disobey Countess Lenska, especially in what she chose to call her whims.
“ Is not that well done, Nicholas ?” asked she. “Joseph may search the whole house, and all London now : he will not think of looking for his Opal on a grisette's finger, of whom he never heard. And she will no more think that I have pledged a stone of value for a few shillings than anybody else would. The child is simple enough ; I am at ease there. And then to-night we reclaim our capture and are gone. Sergius, is the young woman gonc ? "
But meanwhile Roland had been left to himself so long that, under other circumstances, he might well have thought himself forgotten. That, however, was impossible. Whatever had not been said, there was an understanding, as clear as day, that the beautiful Countess had bound herself to him by the sign of the ring, and that he had won not only wealth, and the most profitable sort of fame, but something that might be called love also, in a strictly unsentimental sense of the term. Sentiment, between a man like Roland and a woman like Ilona, was certainly not required. There would be passion enough without gilding it by needless arcadian fancies, such as used to please boys and girls. For a long time past Roland's pulses (I prefer not to say his heart) had burned with passion for Ilona, He had won her. And yet the only sensation he felt, even in the moment of triumph, was a certain coldness and nakedness about the little finger of his left hand. Draw off, for a minute, any