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   Chapter 3 No.3

Paul Patoff By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 28548

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


At ten o'clock on that morning, Paul and the kaváss went on board the steam launch at Beschik Tasch, the landing most convenient for persons coming from the upper part of Pera. They had done everything possible, and it was manifestly Paul's duty to inform his chief of the occurrences of the night. The authorities had been put in possession of the details of Alexander's disappearance, and the scanty machinery of the Stamboul police had been set in motion; notice had been given at every hotel and circulated to every place of resort, and it was impossible that if Alexander showed himself in Pera he should escape observation, even if he desired to do so. But Stamboul was not Pera, and as Paul gave the order to steam to Buyukdere he resolutely turned his back on the eastern shore of the Golden Horn, unable to bear the sight of the buildings so intimately associated with his night's search. He was convinced that his brother was in Stamboul, and he knew that the search in Pera was a mere formality. He knew, also, that to find any one in Stamboul was only possible provided the person were free, or at least able to give some sign of his presence; and he began to believe that Alexander had fallen a victim to some rash prank. He had, perhaps, repeated his folly of the previous afternoon,-had wandered into the streets, had foolishly ventured to look too closely at a pair of black eyes, and had been spirited away by the prompt vengeance of the lady's attendants.

But Paul's speculations concerning the fate of his brother were just now interrupted by the consideration of the difficulties which lay before him. Cold and resolute by nature, he found himself in a position in which any man's calmness would have been shaken. He knew that he must tell his tale to his chief, and he knew that he was to blame for not having watched Alexander more closely. It was improbable that any one who had not been present could understand how, in the intense interest caused by the ceremony, Paul could have overlooked his brother's departure from the gallery. But not only had Paul failed to notice his going; the kaváss had not observed the lost man's movements any more than Paul himself. It was inconceivable to any one except Paul that Alexander should have been capable of creeping past him and the soldier, on tip-toe, purposely eluding observation; nevertheless, such an action would not be unnatural to his character. He had perhaps conceived a sudden desire to go down into the church and view the ceremony more closely. He must have known that both his companions would forcibly prevent him from such a course, and it was like him to escape them, laughing to himself at their carelessness. The passion for adventure was in his blood, and his training had not tended to cool it; fate had thrown an attractive possibility into his way, and he had seized the opportunity of doing something unusual, and annoying his more prudent brother at the same time.

But though Paul understood this clearly enough, he felt that it would be anything but easy to make it clear to his chief; and yet, if he did not succeed in doing so, it would be hard for him to account for his carelessness, and he might spend a very unpleasant season of waiting until the missing man was found. In such a case as this, Paul was too good a diplomatist not to tell the truth very exactly. Indeed, he was always a truthful man, according to his lights; but had it been necessary to shield his brother's reputation in any way, he would have so arranged his story as not to tell any more of the truth than was necessary. What had occurred was probably more to his own discredit than to Alexander's, and Paul reflected that, on the other hand, there was no need to inform the ambassador of the quarrel on the previous afternoon, since the chief had overheard it, and had himself interposed to produce quiet, if not peace. He resolved, therefore, to tell every particular, from the moment of his arrival with Alexander at the Vinegar Sellers' Landing to the time of his leaving Pera, that morning, on his way back to Buyukdere.

There was some relief in having thus decided upon the course he should follow; but the momentary satisfaction did not in the least lighten the burden that weighed upon his heart. His anxiety was intense, and he could not escape it, nor find any argument whereby to alleviate it. He did not love his brother, or at least had never loved him before; but we often find in life that a sudden fear for the safety of an individual, for whom we believe we care nothing, brings out a latent affection which we had not expected to feel. The bond of blood is a very strong one, and asserts itself in extreme moments with an unsuspected tenacity which works wonders, and which astonishes ourselves. The silken cord is slender, but the hands must be strong that can break it. In spite of all the misery his brother had caused him in boyhood, in spite of the coolness which had existed between them in later years, in spite of the humiliation he had so often suffered in seeing Alexander preferred before him, yet at this moment, when, for a time, the only man who bore his name had suddenly disappeared from the scene of life, Paul discovered deep down in his heart a strange sympathy for the lost man. He blamed himself bitterly for his carelessness, and, going back in his memory, he recalled with sorrow the hard words which had passed between them. He would have given much to be able to revoke the past and to weave more affection into his remembrance of his brother; and at the idea that he might perhaps never see him again, he turned pale, and twisted his fingers uneasily in his agitation.

Meanwhile, the launch steamed bravely against the current, deftly avoiding the swift eddies under the skillful hand of the pilot, slackening her pace to let a big ferry-boat cross before her from Europe to Asia, facing the fierce stream at Bala Hissar,-the devil's stream, as the Turks call it,-and finally ploughing through the rushing waters of Yeni K?j round the point where the Therapia pier juts out into the placid bay of Buyukdere. Paul could see far down the pier the white gates of the Russian embassy, and when, some ten minutes later, the launch ran alongside the landing, he gathered his courage with all his might, and stepped boldly ashore, and entered the grounds, the kaváss following him with bent head and dejected looks.

His excellency the Russian ambassador was seated in his private study, alternately sipping a cup of tea and puffing at a cigarette. The green blinds were closed, and the air of the luxurious little apartment was cool and refreshing. The diplomatist had very little to do, as no business could be transacted until after the Bairam feast, which begins with the new moon succeeding the month Ramazán; he sat late over his tea, smoking and turning over a few letters, while he enjoyed the gentle breeze which found its way into his room with the softened light. He was a gray-headed man, but not old. His keen gray eyes seemed exceedingly alive to every sight presented to them, and the lines on his face were the expression of thought and power rather than of age. He was tall, thin, and soldier-like, extremely courteous in manner and speech, but grave and not inclined to mirth; he belonged to that class of active men in whom the constant exercise of vitality and intelligence appears to prolong life instead of exhausting its force, who possess a constitution in which the body is governed by the mind, and who, being generally little capable of enjoying the pleasure of the moment, find it easy to devote their energies to the attainment of an object in the future. Count Ananoff was the ideal diplomatist: cautious, far-sighted, impenetrable, and exact, outwardly ceremonious and dignified, not too skeptical of other men's qualities nor too confident of his own. His convictions might be summed up, according to the old Russian joke, in the one word Nabuchadnezar,-Na Bogh ad ne Czar,-"There is no God but the Czar."

As Paul entered the ambassador's study, he was glad that he had always been on good terms with his chief. Indeed, there was much sympathy between them, and it might well have been predicted at that time that Paul would some day become just such a man as he under whom he now served. Convinced as he was that in his present career quite as much of success depended upon the manner of carrying out a scheme as on the scheme itself, Paul had long come to the conclusion that no manner could possibly be so effective as that of Count Ananoff, and that in order to cultivate it the utmost attention must be bestowed upon the study of his chief's motives. Himself grave and cautious, he possessed the two main elements noticeable in the character of his model, and to acquire the rest could only be a matter of time. The ambassador noticed the ease with which Paul comprehended his point of view, and fancied that he saw in his secretary a desire to imitate himself, which of course was flattering. The result was that a sincere good feeling existed between the two, made up of a genuine admiration on the one side, and of considerable self-satisfaction on the other. Patoff felt that the moment had come when he must test the extent of the regard his chief felt for him, and, considering the difficulty of his position and the personal anxiety he felt for his brother, it is not surprising that he was nervous and ill at ease.

"I have a painful story to tell, excellency," he said, standing before the broad writing-desk at which the count was sitting. The latter looked up from his tea.

"Be seated," he said gravely, but fixing a keen look on Paul's haggard face.

"I will tell you everything, with all the details," said Patoff, sitting down; and he forthwith began his story. The narrative was clear and connected, and embraced the history of the night from the time when Paul had left Buyukdere with his brother to the time of his return. Nothing was omitted which he could remember, but when he had done he was conscious that he had only told the tale of his long search for the missing man. He had thrown no light upon the cause of the disappearance. The ambassador looked very grave, and his thoughtful brows knit themselves together, while he never took his eyes from Paul's face.

"It is very serious," he said at last. "Will you kindly explain to me, if you can do so without indiscretion, the causes of the violent quarrel which took place between you yesterday afternoon?"

Paul had foreseen the question, and proceeded to detail the occurrences in the Valley of Roses, explaining the part he had played, and how he had remonstrated with Alexander. The latter, he said, had lost his temper, after they had got home.

"I would not tell that story to any one else," said Paul, in conclusion. "It shows the disposition of my brother, and does him no credit. It was a foolish escapade, but I should be sorry to have it known. I expected that a complaint would have been lodged already."

"None has been made. Is the kaváss who went with you come back?"

"Yes."

"Do you think," said the count, looking quietly at Paul, "that he can tell us anything you have forgotten?"

There was a peculiar emphasis upon the last words which did not escape the secretary, though in that first moment he did not understand what was meant.

"No," he answered, quite simply, returning his chief's look with perfect calmness. "I do not believe he can tell anything more. I will call him."

"By all means. There is the bell," said the ambassador. Paul rang, and sent the servant to call his kaváss, who had been waiting, and appeared immediately, looking very ill and exhausted with the fatigue of the night. He trembled visibly, as he stood before the table and made his military salute, bringing his right hand quickly to his mouth, then to his forehead, and letting it drop again to his side. Count Ananoff cross-examined him with short, sharp questions. The man was very pale, and stammered his replies, but the extraordinary accuracy with which he recounted the details already given by Patoff did not escape the diplomatist.

"Have you anything more to tell?" asked the ambassador, at last.

"It was not my fault, Effendim," said the kaváss, in great agitation. "Paul Effendi and I were looking at the people, and when we turned Alexander Effendi was gone, and we could not find him. I had warned him beforehand not to separate himself from us"--

"Do you think he can be found?" inquired Ananoff, cutting short the man's repetitions.

"Surely, the Effendi can be found," returned the kaváss. "But it may take time."

"Why should it take time? Unless he is injured or imprisoned somewhere, he ought to find his way to Pera to-day."

"Effendim, he may have strayed into the dark streets. If the bekji found him without a lantern, he would be arrested, according to the law."

"He had our lantern," said Paul. "We could not find it."

"That is true," answered the kaváss, in dejected tones. "There is the Persian ambassador, Effendim," he said, with a sudden revival of hope.

"What can he do?" asked the count.

"He is lord over all the donkey-drivers in Stamboul, Effendim. The Sultan allows him to exact tribute of them, which is the most part of his fortune.[2] Perhaps if he gave orders that they should all be beaten unless they found Alexander Effendi, they would find him. They go everywhere and see everybody."

"That is an idea," said the ambassador, hardly able to repress a grim smile. "I will send word to his excellency at once. I have no doubt but that he will do it."

"But it was not my fault"-began the kaváss again.

"I am not sure of that," answered the diplomatist. "If you find him, you will be excused."

"I think the man is not to be blamed," remarked Paul, who had not forgotten the anxiety the kaváss had shown in trying to find Alexander. "It is my belief that my brother's disappearance did not occur in any ordinary way."

"I think so, too," replied the count. "You may go," he said to the soldier, who at once left the room. A short silence followed his departure.

"Monsieur Patoff," resumed the elder man presently, "you are in a ver

y dangerous and distressing position."

"Distressing," said Paul. "Not dangerous, so far as I can see."

"Let us be frank," answered the other. "Alexander Patoff is your elder brother. You feel that he had too large a share of your father's fortune. You have never liked him. He came here without an invitation, and made himself very disagreeable to you. You had a violent quarrel yesterday afternoon, and you were justly provoked,-quite justly, I have no doubt. You go to Stamboul at night with only one man to attend you. You come back without your rich, overbearing, intolerable brother. What will the world say to all that?"

In spite of his pallor, the blood rushed violently to Paul's face, and he sprang from his chair in the wildest excitement.

"You have no right-you do not mean to say it-Great God! How can you think of such a"--

"I do not think it," said the ambassador, seizing him by the arm and trying to calm him. "I do not think anything of the kind. Command yourself, and be a man. Sit down,-there, be reasonable. I only mean to put you in your right position."

"You will drive me mad," answered Paul in low tones, sinking into the chair again.

"Now listen to me," continued the count, "and understand that you are listening to your best friend. The world will not fail to say that you have spirited away your brother,-got rid of him, in short, for your own ends. There is no one but a Turkish soldier to prove the contrary. No, do not excite yourself again. I am telling you the truth. I know perfectly well that Alexander has lost himself by his own folly, but I must foresee what other people will say, in case he is not found"--

"But he must be found!" interrupted Paul. "I say he shall be found!"

"Yes, so do I. But there is just a possibility that he may not be found. Meanwhile, the alarm is given. The story will be in every one's mouth to-night, and to-morrow you will be assailed with all manner of questions. My dear Patoff, if Alexander does not turn up in a few days, you had better go away, until the whole matter has blown over. You can safely leave your reputation in my hands, as well as the care of finding your brother, if he can be found at all, and you will be spared much that is painful and embarrassing. I will arrange that you may be transferred for a year to some distant post, and when the mystery is cleared up you can come back and brave your accusers."

"But," said Paul, who had grown pale again, "it seems to me impossible that I could be accused of murdering my brother on such slender grounds, even if the worst were to happen and he were never found. It is an awful imputation to put upon a man. I do not see how any one would dare to suggest such a thing."

"In the first place," answered the ambassador, arguing the point as he would have discussed the framing of a dispatch, "the Turks are very cunning, and they hate us. They will begin by saying that you had an interest in disposing of Alexander. They will search out the whole story, and will assert the fact because they will be safe in saying that there is no evidence to the contrary. They will take care that the suggestion shall reach our ears, and that it shall spread throughout our little society. What can you answer to the question, 'Where is your brother?' If people do not ask it, they will let you know that it is in their hearts."

"I do not know," said Paul, stunned by the possible truth of his chief's argument.

"Exactly. You do not know, nor I either. But if you stay here, you will have to fight for your own reputation. If you are absent, I can put down such scandal by my authority, and it will soon be forgotten. I do not believe that this disappearance can remain a secret forever. At present, and for some time to come, it is only a disappearance, and it will be expected that your brother may yet come back. But when months are past,-should such a catastrophe occur,-people will find another word, and the murder of Alexander Patoff will be the common topic of conversation."

"It is awful to think of," murmured Paul. "But why do you suppose that he will not come back? He may have got into some scrape, and he may appear this evening. There is hope yet and for days to come."

"I am sorry to say I do not believe it," answered the count. "There have been several disappearances of insignificant individuals since I have been here. No pains were spared to find them, but no one ever obtained the smallest trace of their fate. They were probably murdered for the small sums of money they carried. Of course there is possibility, but I think there is very little hope."

"But I cannot bear to think that poor Alexander should have come to such an end," cried Paul. "I could not go away feeling that I had left anything untried in searching for him. I never loved him, God forgive me! But he was my brother, and my mother's favorite son. He was with me, and by my carelessness he lost himself. Who is to tell her that? No, I cannot go until I know what has become of him."

"My friend," said old Ananoff gently, "you have all my sympathy, and you shall have all my help. I will myself write to your mother, if Alexander does not return in a week. But if in a month he is not heard of, there will be no hope at all. Then you must go away, and I will shut the mouths of the gossips. Now go and rest, for you are exhausted. Be quite sure that between the measures you have taken yourself and those which I shall take, everything possible will be done."

Paul rose unsteadily to his feet, and took the count's hand. Then, without a word, he went to his pavilion, and gave himself up to his own agonizing thoughts.

The ambassador lost no time, for he felt how serious the case was. In spite of the heat, he proceeded to Stamboul at once, visited Santa Sophia, and explored every foot of the gallery whence Alexander had disappeared, but without discovering any trace. He asked questions of the warden of the church, the scowling Turk who had admitted the brothers on the previous night; but the man only answered that Allah was great, and that he knew nothing of the circumstances, having left the two gentlemen in charge of their kaváss. Then the count went to the house of the Persian ambassador, and obtained his promise to aid in the search by means of his army of donkey-drivers. He went in person to the Ottoman Bank, to the chief of police, to every office through which he could hope for any information. Returning to Buyukdere, he sent notes to all his colleagues, informing them of what had occurred, and requesting their assistance in searching for the lost man. At last he felt that he had done everything in his power, and he desisted from his labors. But, as he had said, he had small expectation of ever hearing again from Lieutenant Alexander Patoff, and he meditated upon the letter he had promised to write to the missing man's mother. He was shocked at the accident, and he felt a real sympathy for Paul, besides the responsibility for the safety of Russian subjects in Turkey, which in some measure rested with him.

As for Paul, he paced his room for an hour after he had left his chief, and then at last he fell upon the divan, faint with bodily fatigue and exhausted by mental anxiety. He slept a troubled sleep for some hours, and did not leave his apartments again that day.

The view of the situation presented to him by Count Ananoff had stunned him almost beyond the power of thought, and when he tried to think his reflections only confirmed his fears. He saw himself branded as a murderer, though the deed could not be proved, and he knew how such an accusation, once put upon a man, will cling to him in spite of the lack of evidence. He realized with awful force the meaning of the question, "Where is your brother?" and he understood how easily such a question would suggest itself to the minds of those who knew his position. That question which was put to the first murderer, and which will be put to the last, has been asked many times of innocent men, and the mere fact that they could find no ready answer has sufficed to send them to their death. Why should it not be the same with him? Until he could show them his brother, they would have a right to ask, and they would ask, rejoicing in the pain inflicted. Paul cursed the day when Alexander had come to visit him, and he had received him with a show of satisfaction. Had he been more honest in showing his dislike, the poor fellow would perhaps have gone angrily away, but he would not have been lost in the night in the labyrinths of Stamboul. And then again Paul repented bitterly of the hard words he had spoken, and, working himself into a fever of unreasonable remorse, walked the floor of his room as a wild beast tramps in its cage.

The night was interminable, though there were only six hours of darkness; but when the morning rose the light was more intolerable still, and Paul felt as though he must go mad from inaction. He dressed hastily, and went out into the cool dawn to wait for the first boat to Pera. Even the early shadows on the water reminded him of yesterday, when he had crossed Galata bridge on foot, still feeling some hope. He closed his eyes as he leaned upon the rail of the landing, wishing that the sun would rise and dispel at least some portion of his sorrow.

He reached Pera, and spent the whole day in fruitless inquiries. In the evening he returned, and the next morning he went back again; sleeping little, hardly eating at all, speaking to no one he knew, and growing hourly more thin and haggard, till the Cossacks at the gate hardly recognized him. But day after day he searched, and all the countless messengers, officials, guides, porters, and people of every class searched, too, attracted by the large reward which the ambassador offered for any information concerning Alexander Patoff. But not the slightest clue could be obtained. Alexander Patoff had disappeared hopelessly and completely, and had left no more trace than if he had been thrown into the Bosphorus, with a couple of round shot at his neck. The days lengthened into weeks, and the weeks became a month, and still Paul hoped against all possibility of hope, and wearied the officials of every class with his perpetual inquiries.

Count Ananoff had long since communicated the news of Alexander's disappearance to the authorities in St. Petersburg, thinking it barely possible that he might have gone home secretly, out of anger against his brother. But the only answer was an instruction to leave nothing untried in attempting to find the lost man, provided that no harm should be done to the progress of certain diplomatic negotiations then proceeding. As the count had foreseen, the Turkish authorities, while exhibiting considerable alacrity in the prosecution of the search, vaguely hinted that Paul Patoff himself was the only person able to give a satisfactory explanation of the case; and in due time these hints found their way into the gossip of the Bosphorus tea-parties. Paul was not unpopular, but in spite of his studied ease in conversation there was a reserve in his manner which many persons foolishly resented; and they were not slow to find out that his brother's disappearance was very odd,-so strange, they said, that it seemed impossible that Paul should know nothing of it. The ambassador thought it was time to speak to him on the subject. Moreover, in his present state of excitement Paul was utterly useless in the embassy, and the work which had accumulated during the month of Ramazán was now unusually heavy. Count Ananoff had arranged this matter, without speaking of it to any one, a fortnight after Alexander's disappearance, and now a secretary who had been in Athens had arrived, ostensibly on a visit to the ambassador. But Ananoff had Paul's appointment to Teheran in his pocket, with the permission to take a month's leave for procuring his outfit for Persia.

The explanation was inevitable. It was impossible that things should go on any longer as they had proceeded during the last fortnight; and now that there was really no hope whatever, and people were beginning to talk as they had not talked before, the best thing to be done was to send Paul away. Count Ananoff came to his rooms one morning, and found him staring at the wall, his untasted breakfast on the table beside him, his face very thin and drawn, looking altogether like a man in a severe illness. The ambassador explained the reason of his visit, reminded him of what had been said at their first interview, and entreated him to spend his month's leave in regaining some of his former calmness.

"Go to the Crimea, or to Tiflis," he said. "You will not be far from your way. I will write to Madame Patoff."

"You are kind,-too kind," answered Paul. "Thank you, but I will go to my mother myself. I will be back in time," he added bitterly. "She will not care to keep me, now that poor Alexander is gone. Yes, I know; you need not tell me. There is no hope left. We shall not even find his body now. But I must tell my mother. I have already written, for I thought it better. I told her the story, just as it all happened. She has never answered my letter. I fancy she must have had news from some one else, or perhaps she is ill."

"Do not go," said his chief, looking sorrowfully at Paul's white face and wasted, nervous hands. "You are not able to bear the strain of such a meeting. I will write to her, and explain."

"No," answered Paul firmly. "I must go myself. There is no help for it. May I leave to-day? I think there is a boat to Varna. As for my strength, I am as strong as ever, though I am a little thinner than I was."

The old diplomatist shook his head gravely, but he knew that it was of no use to try and prevent Paul from undertaking the journey. After all, if he could bear it, it was the most manly course. He had done his best, had labored in the search as no one else could have labored, and if he were strong enough he was entitled to tell his own tale.

The two men parted affectionately that day, and when Paul was fairly on board the Varna boat Count Ananoff owned to himself that he had lost one of the best secretaries he had ever known.

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