The Baron's Quarry
: Stanley J. Weyman
"Oh, no, I assure you, you are not boring Mr. Marshfield," said this
personage himself in his gentle voice--that curious voice that could flow
on for hours, promulgating profound and startling theories on every
department of human knowledge or conducting paradoxical arguments without
a single inflection or pause of hesitation. "I am, on the contrary, much
interested in your hunting talk. To paraphrase a well-worn quotation
somewhat widely, nihil humanum a me alienum est. Even hunting stories
may have their point of biological interest; the philologist sometimes
pricks his ear to the jargon of the chase; moreover, I am not incapable of
appreciating the subject matter itself. This seems to excite some
derision. I admit I am not much of a sportsman to look at, nor, indeed, by
instinct, yet I have had some out-of-the-way experiences in that
line--generally when intent on other pursuits. I doubt, for instance, if
even you, Major Travers, notwithstanding your well-known exploits against
man and beast, notwithstanding that doubtful smile of yours, could match
the strangeness of a certain hunting adventure in which I played an
The speaker's small, deep-set, black eyes, that never warmed to anything
more human than a purely speculative scientific interest in his
surroundings, here wandered round the skeptical yet expectant circle with
bland amusement. He stretched out his bloodless fingers for another of his
host's superfine cigars and proceeded, with only such interruptions as
were occasioned by the lighting and careful smoking of the latter.
"I was returning home after my prolonged stay in Petersburg, intending to
linger on my way and test with mine own ears certain among the many
dialects of Eastern Europe--anent which there is a symmetrical little
cluster of philological knotty points it is my modest intention one day to
unravel. However, that is neither here nor there. On the road to Hungary I
bethought myself opportunely of proving the once pressingly offered
hospitality of the Baron Kossowski.
"You may have met the man, Major Travers; he was a tremendous sportsman,
if you like. I first came across him at McNeil's place in remote Ireland.
Now, being in Bukowina, within measurable distance of his Carpathian
abode, and curious to see a Polish lord at home, I remembered his
invitation. It was already of long standing, but it had been warm, born in
fact of a sudden fit of enthusiasm for me"--here a half-mocking smile
quivered an instant under the speaker's black mustache--"which, as it was
characteristic, I may as well tell you about.
"It was on the day of, or, rather, to be accurate, on the day after my
arrival, toward the small hours of the morning, in the smoking room at
Rathdrum. Our host was peacefully snoring over his empty pipe and his
seventh glass of whisky, also empty. The rest of the men had slunk off to
bed. The baron, who all unknown to himself had been a subject of most
interesting observation to me the whole evening, being now practically
alone with me, condescended to turn an eye, as wide awake as a fox's,
albeit slightly bloodshot, upon the contemptible white-faced person who
had preferred spending the raw hours over his papers, within the radius of
a glorious fire's warmth, to creeping slyly over treacherous quagmires in
the pursuit of timid bog creatures (snipe shooting had been the order of
the day)-the baron, I say, became aware of my existence and entered into
conversation with me.
"He would no doubt have been much surprised could he have known that he
was already mapped out, craniologically and physiognomically, catalogued
with care and neatly laid by in his proper ethnological box, in my private
type museum; that, as I sat and examined him from my different coigns of
vantage in library, in dining and smoking room that evening, not a look of
his, not a gesture went forth but had significance for me.
"You, I had thought, with your broad shoulders and deep chest; your
massive head that should have gone with a tall stature, not with those
short sturdy limbs; with your thick red hair, that should have been black
for that matter, as should your wide-set yellow eyes--you would be a real
puzzle to one who did not recognize in you equal mixtures of the fair,
stalwart and muscular Slav with the bilious-sanguine, thick-set, wiry
Turanian. Your pedigree would no doubt bear me out: there is as much of
the Magyar as of the Pole in your anatomy. Athlete, and yet a tangle of
nerves; a ferocious brute at bottom, I dare say, for your broad forehead
inclines to flatness; under your bristling beard your jaw must protrude,
and the base of your skull is ominously thick. And, with all that, capable
of ideal transports: when that girl played and sang to-night I saw the
swelling of your eyelid veins, and how that small, tenacious, claw-like
hand of yours twitched! You would be a fine leader of men--but God help
the wretches in your power!
"So had I mused upon him. Yet I confess that when we came in closer
contact with each other, even I was not proof against the singular
courtesy of his manner and his unaccountable personal charm.
"Our conversation soon grew interesting; to me as a matter of course, and
evidently to him also. A few general words led to interchange of remarks
upon the country we were both visitors in and so to national
characteristics--Pole and Irishman have not a few in common, both in their
nature and history. An observation which he made, not without a certain
flash in his light eyes and a transient uncovering of the teeth, on the
Irish type of female beauty suddenly suggested to me a stanza of an
ancient Polish ballad, very full of milk-and-blood imagery, of alternating
ferocity and voluptuousness. This I quoted to the astounded foreigner in
the vernacular, and this it was that metamorphosed his mere perfection of
civility into sudden warmth, and, in fact, procured me the invitation in
"When I left Rathdrum the baron's last words to me were that if I ever
thought of visiting his country otherwise than in books, he held me bound
to make Yany, his Galician seat, my headquarters of study.
"From Czernowicz, therefore, where I stopped some time, I wrote, received
in due time a few lines of prettily worded reply, and ultimately entered
my sled in the nearest town to, yet at a most forbidding distance from,
Yany, and started on my journey thither.
"The undertaking meant many long hours of undulation and skidding over the
November snow, to the somniferous bell jangle of my dirty little horses,
the only impression of interest being a weird gypsy concert I came in for
at a miserable drinking-booth half buried in the snow where we halted for
the refreshment of man and beast. Here, I remember, I discovered a very
definite connection between the characteristic run of the tsimbol, the
peculiar bite of the Zigeuner's bow on his fiddle-string, and some
distinctive points of Turanian tongues. In other countries, in Spain, for
instance, your gypsy speaks differently on his instrument. But, oddly
enough, when I later attempted to put this observation on paper I could
find no word to express it."
A few of our company evinced signs of sleepiness, but most of us who knew
Marshfield, and that he could, unless he had something novel to say, be as
silent and retiring as he now evinced signs of being copious, awaited
further developments with patience. He has his own deliberate way of
speaking, which he evidently enjoys greatly, though it be occasionally
trying to his listeners.
"On the afternoon of my second day's drive, the snow, which till then had
fallen fine and continuous, ceased, and my Jehu, suddenly interrupting
himself in the midst of some exciting wolf story quite in keeping with the
time of year and the wild surroundings, pointed to a distant spot against
the gray sky to the northwest, between two wood-covered folds of
ground--the first eastern spurs of the great Carpathian chain.
"'There stands Yany,' said he. I looked at my far-off goal with interest.
As we drew nearer, the sinking sun, just dipping behind the hills, tinged
the now distinct frontage with a cold copper-like gleam, but it was only
for a minute; the next the building became nothing more to the eye than a
black irregular silhouette against the crimson sky.
"Before we entered the long, steep avenue of poplars, the early winter
darkness was upon us, rendered all the more depressing by gray mists which
gave a ghostly aspect to such objects as the sheen of the snow rendered
visible. Once or twice there were feeble flashes of light looming in
iridescent halos as we passed little clusters of hovels, but for which I
should have been induced to fancy that the great Hof stood alone in the
wilderness, such was the deathly stillness around. But even as the tall,
square building rose before us above the vapor, yellow lighted in various
stories, and mighty in height and breadth, there broke upon my ear a
deep-mouthed, menacing bay, which gave at once almost alarming reality to
the eerie surroundings. 'His lordship's boar and wolf hounds,' quoth my
charioteer calmly, unmindful of the regular pandemonium, of howls and
barks which ensued as he skillfully turned his horses through the gateway
and flogged the tired beasts into a sort of shambling canter that we might
land with glory before the house door: a weakness common, I believe, to
drivers of all nations.
"I alighted in the court of honor, and while awaiting an answer to my tug
at the bell, stood, broken with fatigue, depressed, chilled and aching,
questioning the wisdom of my proceedings and the amount of comfort,
physical and moral, that was likely to await me in a tete-a-tete visit
with a well-mannered savage in his own home.
"The unkempt tribe of stable retainers who began to gather round me and my
rough vehicle in the gloom, with their evil-smelling sheepskins and their
resigned, battered visages, were not calculated to reassure me. Yet when
the door opened, there stood a smart chasseur and a solemn major-domo who
might but just have stepped out of Mayfair; and there was displayed a
spreading vista of warm, deep-colored halls, with here a statue and there
a stuffed bear, and under foot pile carpets strewn with rarest skins.
"Marveling, yet comforted withal, I followed the solemn butler, who
received me with the deference due to an expected guest and expressed the
master's regret for his enforced absence till dinner time. I traversed
vast rooms, each more sumptuous than the last, feeling the strangeness of
the contrast between the outer desolation and this sybaritic excess of
luxury growing ever more strongly upon me; caught a glimpse of a picture
gallery, where peculiar yet admirably executed latter-day French pictures
hung side by side with ferocious boar hunts of Snyder and such kin; and,
at length, was ushered into a most cheerful room, modern to excess in its
comfortable promise, where, in addition to the tall stove necessary for
warmth, there burned on an open hearth a vastly pleasant fire of resinous
logs, and where, on a low table, awaited me a dainty service of fragrant
"My impression of utter novelty seemed somehow enhanced by this unexpected
refinement in the heart of the solitudes and in such a rugged shell, and
yet, when I came to reflect, it was only characteristic of my cosmopolitan
host. But another surprise was in store for me.
"When I had recovered bodily warmth and mental equilibrium in my downy
armchair, before the roaring logs, and during the delicious absorption of
my second glass of tea, I turned my attention to the French valet,
evidently the baron's own man, who was deftly unpacking my portmanteau,
and who, unless my practiced eye deceived me, asked for nothing better
than to entertain me with agreeable conversation the while.
"'Your master is out, then?' quoth I, knowing that the most trivial remark
would suffice to start him.
"True, Monseigneur was out; he was desolated in despair (this with the
national amiable and imaginative instinct); 'but it was doubtless
important business. M. le Baron had the visit of his factor during the
midday meal; had left the table hurriedly, and had not been seen since.
Madame la Baronne had been a little suffering, but she would receive
"'Madame!' exclaimed I, astounded, 'is your master then married?--since
when?'--visions of a fair Tartar, fit mate for my baron, immediately
springing somewhat alluringly before my mental vision. But the answer
dispelled the picturesque fancy.
"'Oh, yes,' said the man, with a somewhat peculiar expression. 'Yes,
Monseigneur is married. Did Monsieur not know? And yet it was from England
that Monseigneur brought back his wife.'
"My first thought was one of pity; an Englishwoman alone in this
wilderness--two days' drive from even a railway station--and at the mercy
of Kossowski! But the next minute I reversed my judgment. Probably she
adored her rufous lord, took his veneer of courtesy--a veneer of the most
exquisite polish, I grant you, but perilously thin--for the very
perfection of chivalry. Or perchance it was his inner savageness itself
that charmed her; the most refined women often amaze one by the
fascination which the preponderance of the brute in the opposite sex seems
to have for them.
"I was anxious to hear more.
"'Is it not dull for the lady here at this time of the year?'
"The valet raised his shoulders with a gesture of despair that was almost
"Dull! Ah, monsieur could not conceive to himself the dullness of it. That
poor Madame la Baronne! not even a little child to keep her company on the
long, long days when there was nothing but snow in the heaven and on the
earth and the howling of the wind and the dogs to cheer her. At the
beginning, indeed, it had been different; when the master first brought
home his bride the house was gay enough. It was all redecorated and
refurnished to receive her (monsieur should have seen it before, a mere
rendezvous-de-chasse--for the matter of that so were all the country
houses in these parts). Ah, that was the good time! There were visits
month after month; parties, sleighing, dancing, trips to St. Petersburg
and Vienna. But this year it seemed they were to have nothing but boars
and wolves. How madame could stand it--well, it was not for him to
speak--and heaving a deep sigh he delicately inserted my white tie round
my collar, and with a flourish twisted it into an irreproachable bow
beneath my chin. I did not think it right to cross-examine the willing
talker any further, especially as, despite his last asseveration, there
were evidently volumes he still wished to pour forth; but I confess that,
as I made my way slowly out of my room along the noiseless length of
passage, I was conscious of an unwonted, not to say vulgar, curiosity
concerning the woman who had captivated such a man as the Baron Kossowski.
"In a fit of speculative abstraction I must have taken the wrong turning,
for I presently found myself in a long, narrow passage. I did not
remember. I was retracing my steps when there came the sound of rapid
footfalls upon stone flags; a little door flew open in the wall close to
me, and a small, thick-set man, huddled in the rough sheepskin of the
Galician peasant, with a mangy fur cap on his head, nearly ran headlong
into my arms. I was about condescendingly to interpellate him in my best
Polish, when I caught the gleam of an angry yellow eye and noted the
bristle of a red beard--Kossowski!
"Amazed, I fell back a step in silence. With a growl like an uncouth
animal disturbed, he drew his filthy cap over his brow with a savage
gesture and pursued his way down the corridor at a sort of wild-boar trot.
"This first meeting between host and guest was so odd, so incongruous,
that it afforded me plenty of food for a fresh line of conjecture as I
traced my way back to the picture gallery, and from thence successfully to
the drawing room, which, as the door was ajar, I could not this time
"It was large and lofty and dimly lit by shaded lamps; through the rosy
gloom I could at first only just make out a slender figure by the hearth;
but as I advanced, this was resolved into a singularly graceful woman in
clinging, fur-trimmed velvet gown, who, with one hand resting on the high
mantelpiece, the other hanging listlessly by her side, stood gazing down
at the crumbling wood fire as if in a dream.
"My friends are kind enough to say that I have a cat-like tread; I know
not how that may be; at any rate the carpet I was walking upon was thick
enough to smother a heavier footfall: not until I was quite close to her
did my hostess become aware of my presence. Then she started violently and
looked over her shoulder at me with dilating eyes. Evidently a nervous
creature, I saw the pulse in her throat, strained by her attitude, flutter
like a terrified bird.
"The next instant she had stretched out her hand with sweet English words
of welcome, and the face, which I had been comparing in my mind to that of
Guido's Cenci, became transformed by the arch and exquisite smile of a
Greuse. For more than two years I had had no intercourse with any of my
nationality. I could conceive the sound of his native tongue under such
circumstances moving a man in a curious unexpected fashion.
"I babbled some commonplace reply, after which there was silence while we
stood opposite each other, she looking at me expectantly. At length, with
a sigh checked by a smile and an overtone of sadness in a voice that yet
tried to be sprightly:
"'Am I then so changed, Mr. Marshfield?' she asked. And all at once I knew
her: the girl whose nightingale throat had redeemed the desolation of the
evenings at Rathdrum, whose sunny beauty had seemed (even to my
celebrated cold-blooded aestheticism) worthy to haunt a man's dreams. Yes,
there was the subtle curve of the waist, the warm line of throat, the
dainty foot, the slender tip-tilted fingers--witty fingers, as I had
classified them--which I now shook like a true Briton, instead of availing
myself of the privilege the country gave me, and kissing her slender
"But she was changed; and I told her so with unconventional frankness,
studying her closely as I spoke.
"'I am afraid,' I said gravely, 'that this place does not agree with you.'
"She shrank from my scrutiny with a nervous movement and flushed to the
roots of her red-brown hair. Then she answered coldly that I was wrong,
that she was in excellent health, but that she could not expect any more
than other people to preserve perennial youth (I rapidly calculated she
might be two-and-twenty), though, indeed, with a little forced laugh, it
was scarcely flattering to hear one had altered out of all recognition.
Then, without allowing me time to reply, she plunged into a general topic
of conversation which, as I should have been obtuse indeed not to take the
hint, I did my best to keep up.
"But while she talked of Vienna and Warsaw, of her distant neighbors, and
last year's visitors, it was evident that her mind was elsewhere; her eye
wandered, she lost the thread of her discourse, answered me at random, and
smiled her piteous smile incongruously.
"However lonely she might be in her solitary splendor, the company of a
countryman was evidently no such welcome diversion.
"After a little while she seemed to feel herself that she was lacking in
cordiality, and, bringing her absent gaze to bear upon me with a puzzled
strained look: 'I fear you will find it very dull,' she said, 'my husband
is so wrapped up this winter in his country life and his sport. You are
the first visitor we have had. There is nothing but guns and horses here,
and you do not care for these things.'
"The door creaked behind us; and the baron entered, in faultless evening
dress. Before she turned toward him I was sharp enough to catch again the
upleaping of a quick dread in her eyes, not even so much dread perhaps, I
thought afterwards, as horror--the horror we notice in some animals at the
nearing of a beast of prey. It was gone in a second, and she was smiling.
But it was a revelation.
"Perhaps he beat her in Russian fashion, and she, as an Englishwoman, was
narrow-minded enough to resent this; or perhaps, merely, I had the
misfortune to arrive during a matrimonial misunderstanding.
"The baron would not give me leisure to reflect; he was so very effusive
in his greeting--not a hint of our previous meeting--unlike my hostess,
all in all to me; eager to listen, to reply; almost affectionate, full of
references to old times and genial allusions. No doubt when he chose he
could be the most charming of men; there were moments when, looking at him
in his quiet smile and restrained gesture, the almost exaggerated
politeness of his manner to his wife, whose fingers he had kissed with
pretty, old-fashioned gallantry upon his entrance, I asked myself, Could
that encounter in the passage have been a dream? Could that savage in the
sheepskin be my courteous entertainer?
"Just as I came in, did I hear my wife say there was nothing for you to do
in this place?" he said presently to me. Then, turning to her:
"You do not seem to know Mr. Marshfield. Wherever he can open his eyes
there is for him something to see which might not interest other men. He
will find things in my library which I have no notion of. He will discover
objects for scientific observation in all the members of my household, not
only in the good-looking maids--though he could, I have no doubt, tell
their points as I could those of a horse. We have maidens here of several
distinct races, Marshfield. We have also witches, and Jew leeches, and
holy daft people. In any case, Yany, with all its dependencies, material,
male and female, are at your disposal, for what you can make out of them.
"'It is good," he went on gayly, 'that you should happen to have this
happy disposition, for I fear that, no later than to-morrow, I may have to
absent myself from home. I have heard that there are news of wolves--they
threaten to be a greater pest than usual this winter, but I am going to
drive them on quite a new plan, and it will go hard with me if I don't
come even with them. Well for you, by the way, Marshfield, that you did
not pass within their scent to-day.' Then, musingly: 'I should not give
much for the life of a traveler who happened to wander in these parts just
now.' Here he interrupted himself hastily and went over to his wife, who
had sunk back on her chair, livid, seemingly on the point of swooning.
"His gaze was devouring; so might a man look at the woman he adored, in
"'What! faint, Violet, alarmed!' His voice was subdued, yet there was an
unmistakable thrill of emotion in it.
"'Pshaw!' thought I to myself, 'the man is a model husband.'
"She clinched her hands, and by sheer force of will seemed to pull herself
together. These nervous women have often an unexpected fund of strength.
"'Come, that is well,' said the baron with a flickering smile; 'Mr.
Marshfield will think you but badly acclimatized to Poland if a little
wolf scare can upset you. My dear wife is so soft-hearted,' he went on to
me, 'that she is capable of making herself quite ill over the sad fate
that might have, but has not, overcome you. Or, perhaps,' he added, in a
still gentler voice, 'her fear is that I may expose myself to danger for
the public weal.'
"She turned her head away, but I saw her set her teeth as if to choke a
sob. The baron chuckled in his throat and seemed to luxuriate in the
"At this moment folding doors were thrown open, and supper was announced.
I offered my arm, she rose and took it in silence. This silence she
maintained during the first part of the meal, despite her husband's
brilliant conversation and almost uproarious spirits. But by and by a
bright color mounted to her cheeks and luster to her eyes. I suppose you
will think me horribly unpoetical if I add that she drank several glasses
of champagne one after the other, a fact which perhaps may account for the
"At any rate she spoke and laughed and looked lovely, and I did not wonder
that the baron could hardly keep his eyes off her. But whether it was her
wifely anxiety or not--it was evident her mind was not at ease through it
all, and I fancied that her brightness was feverish, her merriment
"After supper--an exquisite one it was--we adjourned together, in foreign
fashion, to the drawing-room; the baron threw himself into a chair and,
somewhat with the air of a pasha, demanded music. He was flushed; the
veins of his forehead were swollen and stood out like cords; the wine
drunk at table was potent: even through my phlegmatic frame it ran hotly.
"She hesitated a moment or two, then docilely sat down to the piano. That
she could sing I have already made clear: how she could sing, with what
pathos, passion, as well as perfect art, I had never realized before.
"When the song was ended she remained for a while, with eyes lost in
distance, very still, save for her quick breathing. It was clear she was
moved by the music; indeed she must have thrown her whole soul into it.
"At first we, the audience, paid her the rare compliment of silence. Then
the baron broke forth into loud applause. 'Brava, brava! that was really
said con amore. A delicious love song, delicious--but French! You must
sing one of our Slav melodies for Marshfield before you allow us to go and
"She started from her reverie with a flush, and after a pause struck
slowly a few simple chords, then began one of those strangely sweet, yet
intensely pathetic Russian airs, which give one a curious revelation of
the profound, endless melancholy lurking in the national mind.
"'What do you think of it?' asked the baron of me when it ceased.
"'What I have always thought of such music--it is that of a hopeless
people; poetical, crushed, and resigned.'
"He gave a loud laugh. 'Hear the analyst, the psychologue--why, man, it is
a love song! Is it possible that we, uncivilized, are truer realists than
our hypercultured Western neighbors? Have we gone to the root of the
matter, in our simple way?'
"The baroness got up abruptly. She looked white and spent; there were
bister circles round her eyes.
"'I am tired,' she said, with dry lips. 'You will excuse me, Mr.
Marshfield, I must really go to bed.'
"'Go to bed, go to bed,' cried her husband gayly. Then, quoting in Russian
from the song she had just sung: 'Sleep, my little soft white dove: my
little innocent tender lamb!' She hurried from the room. The baron laughed
again, and, taking me familiarly by the arm, led me to his own set of
apartments for the promised smoke. He ensconced me in an armchair, placed
cigars of every description and a Turkish pipe ready to my hand, and a
little table on which stood cut-glass flasks and beakers in tempting
"After I had selected my cigar with some precautions, I glanced at him
over a careless remark, and was startled to see a sudden alteration in his
whole look and attitude.
"'You will forgive me, Marshfield,' he said, as he caught my eye, speaking
with spasmodic politeness. 'It is more than probable that I shall have to
set out upon this chase I spoke of to-night, and I must now go and change
my clothes, that I may be ready to start at any moment. This is the hour
when it is most likely these hell beasts are to be got at. You have all
you want, I hope,' interrupting an outbreak of ferocity by an effort after
his former courtesy.
"It was curious to watch the man of the world struggling with the
"'But, baron,' said I, 'I do not at all see the fun of sticking at home
like this. You know my passion for witnessing everything new, strange, and
outlandish. You will surely not refuse me such an opportunity for
observation as a midnight wolf raid. I will do my best not to be in the
way if you will take me with you.'
"At first it seemed as if he had some difficulty in realizing the drift of
my words, he was so engrossed by some inner thought. But as I repeated
them, he gave vent to a loud cachinnation.
"'By heaven! I like your spirit,' he exclaimed, clapping me strongly on
the shoulder. 'Of course you shall come. You shall,' he repeated, 'and I
promise you a sight, a hunt such as you never heard or dreamed of--you
will be able to tell them in England the sort of thing we can do here in
that line--such wolves are rare quarry,' he added, looking slyly at me,
'and I have a new plan for getting at them.'
"There was a long pause, and then there rose in the stillness the
unearthly howling of the baron's hounds, a cheerful sound which only their
owner's somewhat loud converse of the evening had kept from becoming
"'Hark at them--the beauties!' cried he, showing his short, strong teeth,
pointed like a dog's in a wide grin of anticipative delight. 'They have
been kept on pretty short commons, poor things! They are hungry. By the
way, Marshfield, you can sit tight to a horse, I trust? If you were to
roll off, you know, these splendid fellows--they would chop you up in a
second. They would chop you up,' he repeated unctuously, 'snap, crunch,
gobble, and there would be an end of you!'
"'If I could not ride a decent horse without being thrown,' I retorted, a
little stung by his manner, 'after my recent three months' torture with
the Guard Cossacks, I should indeed be a hopeless subject. Do not think of
frightening me from the exploit, but say frankly if my company would be
"'Tut!' he said, waving his hand impatiently, 'it is your affair. I have
warned you. Go and get ready if you want to come. Time presses.'
"I was determined to be of the fray; my blood was up. I have hinted that
the baron's Tokay had stirred it.
"I went to my room and hurriedly donned clothes more suitable for rough
night work. My last care was to slip into my pockets a brace of
double-barreled pistols which formed part of my traveling kit. When I
returned I found the baron already booted and spurred; this without
metaphor. He was stretched full length on the divan, and did not speak as
I came in, or even look at me. Chewing an unlit cigar, with eyes fixed on
the ceiling, he was evidently following some absorbing train of ideas.
"The silence was profound; time went by; it grew oppressive; at length,
wearied out, I fell, over my chibouque, into a doze filled with puzzling
visions, out of which I was awakened with a start. My companion had sprung
up, very lightly, to his feet. In his throat was an odd, half-suppressed
cry, grewsome to hear. He stood on tiptoe, with eyes fixed, as though
looking through the wall, and I distinctly saw his ears point in the
intensity of his listening.
"After a moment, with hasty, noiseless energy, and without the slightest
ceremony, he blew the lamps out, drew back the heavy curtains and threw
the tall window wide open. A rush of icy air, and the bright rays of the
moon--gibbous, I remember, in her third quarter--filled the room. Outside
the mist had condensed, and the view was unrestricted over the white
plains at the foot of the hill.
"The baron stood motionless in the open window, callous to the cold in
which, after a minute, I could hardly keep my teeth from chattering, his
head bent forward, still listening. I listened too, with 'all my ears,'
but could not catch a sound; indeed the silence over the great expanse of
snow might have been called awful; even the dogs were mute.
"Presently, far, far away, came a faint tinkle of bells; so faint, at
first, that I thought it was but fancy, then distincter. It was even more
eerie than the silence, I thought, though I knew it could come but from
some passing sleigh. All at once that ceased, and again my duller senses
could perceive nothing, though I saw by my host's craning neck that he was
more on the alert than ever. But at last I too heard once more, this time
not bells, but as it were the tread of horses muffled by the snow,
intermittent and dull, yet drawing nearer. And then in the inner silence
of the great house it seemed to me I caught the noise of closing doors;
but here the hounds, as if suddenly becoming alive to some disturbance,
raised the same fearsome concert of yells and barks with which they had
greeted my arrival, and listening became useless.
"I had risen to my feet. My host, turning from the window, seized my
shoulder with a fierce grip, and bade me 'hold my noise'; for a second or
two I stood motionless under his iron talons, then he released me with an
exultant whisper: "Now for our chase!" and made for the door with a
spring. Hastily gulping down a mouthful of arrack from one of the bottles
on the table, I followed him, and, guided by the sound of his footsteps
before me, groped my way through passages as black as Erebus.
"After a time, which seemed a long one, a small door was flung open in
front, and I saw Kossowski glide into the moonlit courtyard and cross the
square. When I too came out he was disappearing into the gaping darkness
of the open stable door, and there I overtook him.
"A man who seemed to have been sleeping in a corner jumped up at our
entrance, and led out a horse ready saddled. In obedience to a gruff order
from his master, as the latter mounted, he then brought forward another
which he had evidently thought to ride himself and held the stirrup for
"We came delicately forth, and the Cossack hurriedly barred the great door
behind us. I caught a glimpse of his worn, scarred face by the moonlight,
as he peeped after us for a second before shutting himself in; it was
stricken with terror.
"The baron trotted briskly toward the kennels, from whence there was now
issuing a truly infernal clangor, and, as my steed followed suit of his
own accord, I could see how he proceeded dexterously to unbolt the gates
without dismounting, while the beasts within dashed themselves against
them and tore the ground in their fury of impatience.
"He smiled, as he swung back the barriers at last, and his 'beauties' came
forth. Seven or eight monstrous brutes, hounds of a kind unknown to me:
fulvous and sleek of coat, tall on their legs, square-headed, long-tailed,
deep-chested; with terrible jaws slobbering in eagerness. They leaped
around and up at us, much to our horses' distaste. Kossowski, still
smiling, lashed at them unsparingly with his hunting whip, and they
responded, not with yells of pain, but with snarls of fury.
"Managing his restless steed and his cruel whip with consummate ease, my
host drove the unruly crew before him out of the precincts, then halted
and bent down from his saddle to examine some slight prints in the snow
which led, not the way I had come, but toward what seemed another avenue.
In a second or two the hounds were gathered round this spot, their great
snake-like tails quivering, nose to earth, yelping with excitement. I had
some ado to manage my horse, and my eyesight was far from being as keen as
the baron's, but I had then no doubt he had come already upon wolf tracks,
and I shuddered mentally, thinking of the sleigh bells.
"Suddenly Kossowski raised himself from his strained position; under his
low fur cap his face, with its fixed smile, looked scarcely human in the
white light: and then we broke into a hand canter just as the hounds
dashed, in a compact body, along the trail.
"But we had not gone more than a few hundred yards before they began to
falter, then straggled, stopped and ran back and about with dismal cries.
It was clear to me they had lost the scent. My companion reined in his
horse, and mine, luckily a well-trained brute, halted of himself.
"We had reached a bend in a broad avenue of firs and larches, and just
where we stood, and where the hounds ever returned and met nose to nose in
frantic conclave, the snow was trampled and soiled, and a little farther
on planed in a great sweep, as if by a turning sleigh. Beyond was a
double-furrowed track of skaits and regular hoof prints leading far away.
"Before I had time to reflect upon the bearing of this unexpected
interruption, Kossowski, as if suddenly possessed by a devil, fell upon
the hounds with his whip, flogging them upon the new track, uttering the
while the most savage cries I have ever heard issue from human throat. The
disappointed beasts were nothing loath to seize upon another trail; after
a second of hesitation they had understood, and were off upon it at a
tearing pace, we after them at the best speed of our horses.
"Some unformed idea that we were going to escort, or rescue, benighted
travelers flickered dimly in my mind as I galloped through the night air;
but when I managed to approach my companion and called out to him for
explanation, he only turned half round and grinned at me.
"Before us lay now the white plain, scintillating under the high moon's
rays. That light is deceptive; I could be sure of nothing upon the wide
expanse but of the dark, leaping figures of the hounds already spread out
in a straggling line, some right ahead, others just in front of us. In a
short time also the icy wind, cutting my face mercilessly as we increased
our pace, well nigh blinded me with tears of cold.
"I can hardly realize how long this pursuit after an unseen prey lasted; I
can only remember that I was getting rather faint with fatigue, and
ignominiously held on to my pommel, when all of a sudden the black outline
of a sleigh merged into sight in front of us.
"I rubbed my smarting eyes with my benumbed hand; we were gaining upon it
second by second; two of those hell hounds of the baron's were already
within a few leaps of it.
"Soon I was able to make out two figures, one standing up and urging the
horses on with whip and voice, the other clinging to the back seat and
looking toward us in an attitude of terror. A great fear crept into my
half-frozen brain--were we not bringing deadly danger instead of help to
these travelers? Great God! did the baron mean to use them as a bait for
his new method of wolf hunting?
"I would have turned upon Kossowski with a cry of expostulation or
warning, but he, urging on his hounds as he galloped on their flank,
howling and gesticulating like a veritable Hun, passed me by like a
flash--and all at once I knew."
Marshfield paused for a moment and sent his pale smile round upon his
listeners, who now showed no signs of sleepiness; he knocked the ash from
his cigar, twisted the latter round in his mouth, and added dryly:
"And I confess it seemed to me a little strong even for a baron in the
Carpathians. The travelers were our quarry. But the reason why the Lord of
Yany had turned man-hunter I was yet to learn. Just then I had to direct
my energies to frustrating his plans. I used my spurs mercilessly. While I
drew up even with him I saw the two figures in the sleigh change places;
he who had hitherto driven now faced back, while his companion took the
reins, there was the pale blue sheen of a revolver barrel under the
moonlight, followed by a yellow flash, and the nearest hound rolled over
in the snow.
"With an oath the baron twisted round in his saddle to call up and urge on
the remainder. My horse had taken fright at the report and dashed
irresistibly forward, bringing me at once almost level with the fugitives,
and the next instant the revolver was turned menacingly toward me. There
was no time to explain; my pistol was already drawn, and as another of the
brutes bounded up, almost under my horse's feet, I loosed it upon him. I
must have let off both barrels at once, for the weapon flew out of my
hand, but the hound's back was broken. I presume the traveler understood;
at any rate, he did not fire at me.
"In moments of intense excitement like these, strangely enough, the mind
is extraordinarily open to impressions. I shall never forget that man's
countenance in the sledge, as he stood upright and defied us in his mortal
danger; it was young, very handsome, the features not distorted, but set
into a sort of desperate, stony calm, and I knew it, beyond all doubt, for
that of an Englishman. And then I saw his companion--it was the baron's
wife. And I understood why the bells had been removed.
"It takes a long time to say this; it only required an instant to see it.
The loud explosion of my pistol had hardly ceased to ring before the
baron, with a fearful imprecation, was upon me. First he lashed at me with
his whip as we tore along side by side, and then I saw him wind the reins
round his off arm and bend over, and I felt his angry fingers close
tightly on my right foot. The next instant I should have been lifted out
of my saddle, but there came another shot from the sledge. The baron's
horse plunged and stumbled, and the baron, hanging on to my foot with a
fierce grip, was wrenched from his seat. His horse, however, was up again
immediately, and I was released, and then I caught a confused glimpse of
the frightened and wounded animal galloping wildly away to the right,
leaving a black track of blood behind him in the snow, his master,
entangled in the reins, running with incredible swiftness by his side and
endeavoring to vault back into the saddle.
"And now came to pass a terrible thing which, in his savage plans, my host
had doubtless never anticipated.
"One of the hounds that had during this short check recovered lost ground,
coming across this hot trail of blood, turned away from his course, and
with a joyous yell darted after the running man. In another instant the
remainder of the pack was upon the new scent.
"As soon as I could stop my horse, I tried to turn him in the direction
the new chase had taken, but just then, through the night air, over the
receding sound of the horse's scamper and the sobbing of the pack in full
cry, there came a long scream, and after that a sickening silence. And I
knew that somewhere yonder, under the beautiful moonlight, the Baron
Kossowski was being devoured by his starving dogs.
"I looked round, with the sweat on my face, vaguely, for some human being
to share the horror of the moment, and I saw, gliding away, far away in
the white distance, the black silhouette of the sledge."
"Well?" said we, in divers tones of impatience, curiosity, or horror,
according to our divers temperaments, as the speaker uncrossed his legs
and gazed at us in mild triumph, with all the air of having said his say,
and satisfactorily proved his point.
"Well," repeated he, "what more do you want to know? It will interest you
but slightly, I am sure, to hear how I found my way back to the Hof; or
how I told as much as I deemed prudent of the evening's grewsome work to
the baron's servants, who, by the way, to my amazement, displayed the
profoundest and most unmistakable sorrow at the tidings, and sallied forth
(at their head the Cossack who had seen us depart) to seek for his
remains. Excuse the unpleasantness of the remark: I fear the dogs must
have left very little of him, he had dieted them so carefully. However,
since it was to have been a case of 'chop, crunch, and gobble,' as the
baron had it, I preferred that that particular fate should have overtaken
him rather than me--or, for that matter, either of those two country
people of ours in the sledge.
"Nor am I going to inflict upon you," continued Marshfield, after draining
his glass, "a full account of my impressions when I found myself once more
in that immense, deserted, and stricken house, so luxuriously prepared for
the mistress who had fled from it; how I philosophized over all this,
according to my wont; the conjectures I made as to the first acts of the
drama; the untold sufferings my countrywoman must have endured from the
moment her husband first grew jealous till she determined on this
desperate step; as to how and when she had met her lover, how they
communicated, and how the baron had discovered the intended flitting in
time to concoct his characteristic revenge.
"One thing you may be sure of, I had no mind to remain at Yany an hour
longer than necessary. I even contrived to get well clear of the
neighborhood before the lady's absence was discovered. Luckily for me--or
I might have been taxed with connivance, though indeed the simple
household did not seem to know what suspicion was, and accepted my account
with childlike credence--very typical, and very convenient to me at the
"But how do you know," said one of us, "that the man was her lover? He
might have been her brother or some other relative."
"That," said Marshfield, with his little flat laugh, "I happen to have
ascertained--and, curiously enough, only a few weeks ago. It was at the
play, between the acts, from my comfortable seat (the first row in the
pit). I was looking leisurely round the house when I caught sight of a
woman, in a box close by, whose head was turned from me, and who presented
the somewhat unusual spectacle of a young neck and shoulders of the most
exquisite contour--and perfectly gray hair; and not dull gray, but rather
of a pleasing tint like frosted silver. This aroused my curiosity. I
brought my glasses to a focus on her and waited patiently till she turned
round. Then I recognized the Baroness Kassowski, and I no longer wondered
at the young hair being white.
"Yet she looked placid and happy; strangely so, it seemed to me, under the
sudden reviving in my memory of such scenes as I have now described. But
presently I understood further: beside her, in close attendance, was the
man of the sledge, a handsome fellow with much of a military air about
"During the course of the evening, as I watched, I saw a friend of mine
come into the box, and at the end I slipped out into the passage to catch
him as he came out.
"'Who is the woman with the white hair?' I asked. Then, in the fragmentary
style approved of by ultra-fashionable young men--this earnest-languid
mode of speech presents curious similarities in all languages--he told me:
'Most charming couple in London--awfully pretty, wasn't she?--he had been
in the Guards--attache at Vienna once--they adored each other. White hair,
devilish queer, wasn't it? Suited her, somehow. And then she had been
married to a Russian, or something, somewhere in the wilds, and their
names were--' But do you know," said Marshfield, interrupting himself, "I
think I had better let you find that out for yourselves, if you care."