“I have only one wish, Frederick. I want you to return to—to—my husband—all that I have taken from him. My own fortune and my jewels you must keep. They are yours. I have written a kind of last will or testament this afternoon, leaving to you all I have. But it has long been a subject of bitter remorse to me that I should have taken away one penny 佛山桑拿小姐qq群 of what belonged to him. Will you promise me, dear, to fulfil my last wishes in this matter?”
“Why, of course—certainly; anything you please, my dear girl. But for my sake stop talking of so terrible a possibility as your leaving me. I cannot bear it.”
Raising her small, emaciated hand to his lips he kissed it tenderly. As he lifted his eyes once more to her face he was startled by the change he saw there. Her thin and delicate features had become drawn and haggard, and her eyes were dull as if a film had gathered over them.
He started up alarmed. He was not himself that night and he felt ashamed of the softness which had crept unawares into his head. He bent over the dying woman and moistened her parched lips with a few drops of brandy and water. She looked up at him somewhat revived and murmured wistfully:
“Take me in 佛山桑拿按摩飞机场 your arms, darling. I shall die easier so.”
He knelt down beside her and gently drew her head onto his shoulder. For a few minutes there was perfect silence. Then, suddenly, Nina threw her arms around his neck, gasping:
let me die! Hold me closer, Frederick! Keep me here.”
She clung to him in terror for a second. Then a spasm shook her from head to foot, and relaxing her hold, she sank back on her pillow.
Nina Van der Beck was dead, and one more life was added to the number of Frederick von Waldberg’s victims.
CHAPTER XVI. LANDING AT SAN FRANCISCO.
On the following evening at sunset, the deck of the steamer presented a most impressive appearance. All the officers and passengers of the ship were assembled around the corpse of poor Nina Van der Beck, over which the captain was reading the burial service. The evening was gloomy and threatening, and the dark-green waves were beginning to be capped with foam. Overhead there was a glaring red sky, of the fierce, angry color of blood which tinged the water around the ship a lurid crimson. Away in the west the sun, like a gigantic ball of fire, was sinking behind a bank of ominous-looking clouds, and from time to time a passing shadow shivered on the troubled waters like a streak of purple. Several huge albatross were unceasingly circling around the vessel with broad expanded wings, and their discordant 佛山夜生活网 cries added to the weird fantasy of the scene. The engines had been stopped, and the silence was only broken by the slashing of the waves against the ship’s side and the melancholy moaning of the wind through the rigging, which was so strong as to sometimes almost drown the voice of the commander as he proceeded with the service.
On the deck at his feet lay a long, narrow object, sewed up in a canvas cover. An Austrian flag had been thrown partly over it, so as to conceal as much as possible the rigid outline of the corpse which produced so dismal an impression in its shroud of sail-cloth, to which two heavy cannonballs had been attached.
Frederick was leaning against the bulwark, close to the [Pg 146] place where an opening had been purposely prepared. His arms were folded on his breast, and his head was bent; but, although 佛山桑拿技师网 he was deadly pale, he showed no trace of emotion, and remained so perfectly still that he might have been carved in marble. Only once during the brief ceremony did his unnatural calm give way. The captain had arrived at those most solemn words of a burial service at sea:
“We therefore commit her body to the deep, looking for the resurrection of the body when the sea shall give up her dead.”
NINA BURIED AT SEA.
Four quartermasters, with bared heads, at that moment seized the corpse, and, placing it on an inclined plank, allowed it to gently glide downward into the dark waters. The waves opened for an instant, with a low, hissing sound, and then closed again over all that remained of the once beautiful and admired Nina. Frederick shuddered, as if overcome by a great terror, and an expression of horror swept over his livid 佛山桑拿会所全套一龙 features. Making his way through the group of mourners, he rapidly walked forward to the very bows of the vessel, and for three long hours he remained there motionless, leaning against the bulwark, peering into the gathering darkness, and apparently heedless of the terrible storm which was coming on.
The tempest, which had announced itself by an alarming fall of the barometer, burst forth shortly after ten o’clock that night in all its intensity. It seemed as if the very elements were raising their voices in protest against the great crime which had been committed. For a time the wind was so powerful that the ship could make no headway, and the very waves were beaten down by its terrific force. The air for a depth of about fifteen feet above the surface of the water was covered with a dense kind of mist, formed of pulverized spray. It was impossible to stand on deck without being tied.
On the following day the wind lulled slightly, and then the waves, as if released from the pressure which had kept them down, burst upon the vessel in all their mad fury. Seas mountain high swept the deck from stem to stern, carrying almost all before them. The boats were torn from [Pg 148] their davits and shattered to pieces. The smoking-room, pilot-house, and captain’s cabin were severely damaged, and the paddle-boxes splintered to match-wood, leaving the huge wheels exposed to view.
In the midst of all this turmoil, Frederick was below in the saloon, half-stretched on a divan, making an attempt to read. Suddenly a terrific lurch sent everything flying to starboard, and the young man, without touching the table in front of him, was hurled clean over it through the air to the other side of the cabin, where his head came in violent contact with the heavy brass lock of the door.
For a moment it was thought that he was dead. Some artery had been cut, and a torrent of blood deluged his face and clothes. As soon as his fellow-passengers were able to regain their feet, they carried him off to the surgeon’s quarters, where some minutes elapsed before he could be restored to his senses.
Marvelous to relate, it was found that he had sustained no injury beyond a deep and jagged cut extending over the top of the head. This was carefully sewed up, and with the exception of severe headaches during the next few weeks, accompanied by slight fever, Frederick suffered no ill effects from his accident.
The wound, although it had healed well, yet left, even when the hair had grown again, a slight scar, which the French police might have discovered at the time of “Prado’s” imprisonment and execution, had they taken the trouble to shave the front part of his head.
The storm had driven the steamer so far out of its course that it did not arrive in front of the Golden Gate until the twenty-ninth day after leaving Yokohama. A few hours later the good ship was made fast to the enormous wharf of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Frederick hastened on shore, and was driven to one of the leading hotels.
In the afternoon, having gone down to see about the [Pg 149] passing of his luggage through the custom-house, he was much amused by the sight of the landing of the five or six hundred Chinese who had made the passage across the Pacific with him. If ever human beings were treated like chattels it was on this occasion. The inspectors first of all began by carefully examining the strange-looking bundles and boxes which constituted their baggage; and, having ascertained that there was no opium concealed therein, they marked them with a large hieroglyphic in white chalk, in order to show that they had been duly passed. The owners themselves were then taken in hand, and their persons equally minutely searched, after which ceremony their backs were ornamented with a similar large hieroglyphic in chalk. The spectacle they presented as they marched into San Francisco, labeled in this fashion, from the highest mandarin down to the humblest coolie, was ludicrous beyond description, and was greeted with many a hearty laugh.
CHAPTER XVII. HURLED OVER THE FALLS.
Frederick had intended to leave San Francisco on the following day for the Atlantic coast. He was seized, however, that same night with a severe attack of fever, which kept him confined to his bed for over a fortnight. As soon, however, as he had sufficiently recovered to be able to travel, he betook himself to the offices of the railway company and purchased a ticket for New York, engaging for himself the private saloon on board the sleeping-car. On the next night he took the ferry-boat over to Oakland, and embarked on the transcontinental express. Among his fellow-passengers were a couple of young English noblemen, who had been visiting the Yosemite Valley, and who were now on their way to Ottawa. Frederick soon became acquainted with them, and created the most favorable impression. The name under which he introduced himself to them was the Comte de Vaugedale, and he gave them to understand that he was traveling around the world for his health. As both his manners and appearance bespoke every trace of aristocratic birth and breeding, and as he seemed to have plenty of money, the young Englishmen saw no cause to treat him with the distrust and suspicion which foreigners ordinarily experience at the hands of the subjects of her britannic majesty.
The time was spent in playing whist and ecarte, games at which Frederick, who was an exceedingly wealthy man, could afford to lose in such a cool manner as to attract the admiration of his fellow-travelers. So agreeable did they find their new acquaintance, that they prevailed upon him [Pg 151] to accompany them to Canada, instead of going straight to New York, as had been originally his intention.
In due time they arrived at Ottawa, having spent a few days en route at Salt Lake City, Omaha, and Chicago.
During the two weeks which they spent in the Canadian capital, they were most hospitably entertained by various persons of high birth and breeding in that city. They were also included among the guests at the ball given by the governor-general at Rideau Hall, where the man who, as “Prado,” was some years later to suffer an ignominious death at the hands of M. Deibler (the Paris executioner) had the honor of dancing with the illustrious personage who at that time graced the vice-regal mansion with her presence.
At the conclusion of their visit to Ottawa, the three young men started for Niagara Falls, which they were anxious to see, and on arriving there, took up their residence at one of the principal hotels on the Canadian side of the cataract.
The day after their arrival was spent in visiting the Cave of the Winds, and other sights of the place. That same evening, after dinner, Frederick, leaving his two friends playing billiards at the hotel, lighted a cigar, and strolled down toward the Falls. As he was walking along the edge of the precipitous bank of the mighty torrent, he suddenly heard footsteps advancing toward him from the opposite direction. Raising his eyes to see who the stranger might be, he recognized, to his horror, in the bright moonlight, the last person on earth whom he wished to meet—the husband of Nina, Mr. Van der Beck.
Frederick hoped that Nina’s husband would fail to recognize him, and pulling his hat down over his eyes quickened his pace for the purpose of preventing the latter from obtaining a glimpse of his features. His onward course, however, was brought to a sudden stop by Mr. Van der Beck, who, courteously raising his hat, requested him to give [Pg 152] him a light for his cigar. As the two men stood face to face, the moon, which for a moment past had been obscured by a fleeting cloud, suddenly shone forth again, casting its bright rays full on Frederick’s face.
With a hoarse cry, the old man started back when he recognized the man who had so grievously wronged him. His face assumed a terrible expression; his eyes glittered fiercely, and, trembling with suppressed fury from head to foot, he seemed for a moment unable to speak.
The situation was truly an awful one for both.
In striking contrast with the violent passions which surged in the breasts of both the husband and lover of the ill-fated Nina Van der Beck was the deep calm and loveliness of the scene around them. Not a breath of wind stirred the lofty branches of the trees. The moon was sailing majestically across the dark heavens, shedding a light so bright and pure that every blade of grass, every pebble in the path was distinguishable in the silvery sheen. Many feet beneath them, they could hear the mighty rush of waters as they sped on their tumultuous course between their rocky banks, and from a short distance off came the dull and unceasing roar of the great Niagara Falls.
At length Mr. Van der Beck broke the silence and exclaimed in a dry, hollow voice:
“I have caught you at last, Frederick Gavard. My hour has come! God help you, for I have much to avenge.”
Frederick, who had by this time regained all his habitual composure, contemptuously shrugged his shoulders and replied with a sneer:
“This is rather melodramatic, Mr. Van der Beck. May I inquire how you propose to take your revenge? I can make some allowance for your feelings. I quite realize that the role of a betrayed husband has its drawbacks, but——”
“Silence! How dare you add insult to the bitter injury you have done to me. Have you no atom of feeling left? [Pg 153] When you think of the unhappy woman you have ruined—of the friend you have betrayed—dishonored—robbed—yes, robbed, not only of his wife, but of his fortune! Do you suppose that I shall allow you to escape unpunished?—you who have shattered my life and killed the woman I loved so passionately.”