The Ostrekoff Jewels - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Ostrekoff Jewels ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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This is another great novel by Edward Phillips Oppenheim, the prolific English novelist who was in his lifetime a major and successful writer of genre fiction including thrillers and spy novels, and who wrote over a 100 of them. He composed some one hundred and fifty novels, mainly of the suspense and international intrigue nature, but including romances, comedies, and parables of everyday life. „The Ostrekoff Jewels „ is the story of a Russian prince, princess and the end of the Russian Revolution that is taking place around them and involves the smuggling out of a family’s hereditary jewels. They attempt to flee, which appears to be successful, at least at first. Loosely based on the Romanov’s reign in Russia.

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Liczba stron: 470

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Contents

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

His nostrils were quivering, his expression tense. He was engaged in a paroxysm of strained listening, his head a little on one side, his lips parted, his eyes almost glassy in their stare. A very human Anglo-American voice broke the silence, and the figure of a tall young man, broad-shouldered and powerful, emerged from the nearer of the great suite of rooms beyond.

"Trouble getting worse, Prince?” he asked anxiously.

The latter nodded, as he lowered his revolver and turned towards his questioner. The snapping of the tension brought with it a momentary relief. At least there were no footsteps upon the stairs–the thing he most dreaded–and, outside, the fitful rumbling of artillery seemed to be dying down, the rifle fire becoming more irregular.

"The madmen have won,” he announced, with angry bitterness. “The only man who might have saved Russia has preferred to save his own skin. He’s in the Baltic by now.”

Another voice–there had been people who had called it the most beautiful voice in the world–came from the dim recesses beyond, and Catherine, Princess Ostrekoff, advanced slowly into the room. She was small as the men were large, but her figure was exquisite and her colouring notable. Her large hazel eyes, her golden yellow hair, had destroyed the illusions of a whole school of modern art, and driven more than one great painter crazy with his hopeless efforts at reproduction. For a moment, as she stood on the outskirts of obscurity, she seemed like an exquisite piece of tinted statuary. Her husband’s grim face relaxed as he saw her. There were tears in his eyes, not for his own sake, but for hers.

"We have nothing to hope for,” he acknowledged solemnly. “The so-called deliverer of the people has deserted us. The butchers are grabbing the power.”

"What about the soldiers?” Wilfred Haven, the young American, asked.

"I had to shoot my own sergeant to escape from the barracks,” was the terse reply. “They followed me into the street and sent half a dozen bullets after me–the cowards.”

"Seems to me you were lucky to get away at all,” Wilfred Haven observed.

The Prince shrugged his shoulders hopelessly.

"They are not hurrying,” he confided. “Why should they? There is a cordon around the city and they know we cannot escape. They are only staying their hand to be early with the pillaging. They were tearing down the Museum as I passed. To-day Russia is paying for the sins of the world.”

Catherine Ostrekoff was as brave a woman as any of her Tartar ancestresses, but she loved life. There were many things upon her conscience and she wished to live.

"Is there nowhere we could hide?” she asked piteously. “Why should this rabble wish for our blood? The Ostrekoffs have always been the friends of the people.”

"Of the peasants–not of this scum,” her husband reminded her. “Come and look–you can judge for yourselves.”

The Prince secured the panelled door which he had been guarding by turning a huge gilded key in the lock, lowered a lamp, leaving the place almost in darkness, and cautiously pulled to one side the curtains covering the nearest of the high windows. He drew his wife tenderly towards him, checking her exclamation of horror with the light touch of his fingers upon her lips. Even Haven, a young New Yorker of a particularly masculine type, gasped as he looked down.

"Why, they’re mad!” he cried. “This isn’t a revolution–it’s a herd of the devil’s children broken loose. It’s pandemonium!”

"The poison has been festering for generations and the sewer holes are open at last,” the Prince muttered savagely. “They’re crazy with vodka and brandy, with licence and the lust for blood. Look!”

Two men had met face to face in the middle of the street below. They were apparently strangers, both clad as ordinary wayfarers, except that one wore the short cloak affected by students of the university. Question and answer flashed between them, there was a gleam of uplifted steel, and one of the two, with a terrible shriek, which reached the ears of the three watchers at the window above the spitting of the guns and the dull sullen roar of human voices, threw up his arms and collapsed in a crumpled heap upon the road. His assailant only paused to withdraw his knife, wipe it on the other’s clothes and kick the body out of the way. Then he broke into a fantastic dance in the middle of the street–the dance of a trained ballet performer, as he probably was–interpreting, with fiendish precision, in those moments of madness, the bestial passions of life.... Afterwards Wilfred Haven wondered more than once whether a touch of that same madness had not in those moments crept into the Tartar blood of the stern old aristocrat by his side. At any rate, he acted like a man possessed with some silent demon. He dropped on his knees and softly raised the window sash a couple of feet. A stinging blast of cold wind swept into the room. The Prince, for one, felt nothing of it, as cautiously his right hand, with its heavy burden, stole out of the window. He scarcely paused to take aim–in his youth he had been the champion revolver shot of the Russian Army–one single pressure of his finger upon the trigger and the mad career of the fantastic dancer below was over. The song died away on his lips, he spun around once, gripping at the air with frenzied hands, and collapsed even more completely than his late victim. The Prince closed the window.

"Justice has been achieved once to-night, at any rate,” he muttered.

"It was well done,” the Princess approved.

*     *

*

The three watchers, the Prince and Princess waiting for death, and the young man loath to leave them, lingered still at the window. The dark stream of human beings below were forming into little groups, for safety’s sake. They surged here and there in the square and across the street, breaking the windows of many of the houses, and streaming in, to return often in disgust from a mansion which had been already sacked. From one of the lower windows of a tall, narrow house exactly opposite, which had been raided a few minutes before by a shouting and yelling mob, came suddenly a terrifying spectacle. The window was thrown open and a man leaned out, a shrieking woman in his clutches. He mocked at the crowd below, who rushed underneath the window and held out their arms. He shook his head.

"Nitchevo,” he shouted. “Be patient, little brothers.”

He drew back. The last thing to be seen was the lustful leer of the man as he disappeared. Then the window was closed and the lights went out in the room–the woman still shrieking. Wilfred Haven clenched his fists and turned towards the door.

"My God,” he exclaimed, “I can’t stand this!”

The Prince gripped his arm.

"Do not be a fool,” he enjoined sharply. “You might as well try to save a woman from drowning underneath the falls of Niagara. That is going on in every house in the city–it would take an army to stop it.”

"It is going on in every house in the city where the women are cowards enough to stay alive,” the Princess observed, gazing contemplatively at the contents of a gold and onyx box which she had drawn from her bag. “It is well that Elisaveta is safe in Florence.”

"It is well,” the Prince echoed.

In the midst of the turmoil came the chiming of the great clock from the Cathedral. They all listened.

"Eleven,” the Prince counted. “My young friend, we must part,” he added, laying his hand for a moment upon Haven’s shoulder.

The latter felt every fibre of his manhood revolt at the idea of leaving the house. The Princess had sunk into an easy-chair and was delicately touching her lips with the stick from her vanity case. She looked sideways at herself in the mirror. A faint whiff of perfume reached him where he stood. She was cool enough but hers was a very obvious gesture.

"It’s damnable, this!” Haven exclaimed passionately. “Look here, Prince, let’s try the Embassy. We can get there by the back way, all right, even if we have to sprint across the street.”

Ostrekoff shook his head.

"The place is surrounded with spies,” he said. “We shouldn’t have one chance in a thousand. Besides, all your diplomatic privileges have been withdrawn, except the privilege of unmolested departure for yourselves, and that ends at midnight.”

"I can’t leave you here,” the young man groaned.

The woman laughed at him. She used conversation as a camouflage.

"You must,” she insisted. “You are undertaking a marvellous task for us, as it is. I am afraid that you will have to face death many a time before it is over. As for us–Michael is a soldier, and I shall escape the ignominy of seeing the admirers of my youth slip into obscurity with the coming of the wrinkles. A Russian or a Frenchwoman, you know, my dear Wilfred, without an admirer, is a woman upon whom the sun has ceased to shine. Michael,” she went on, turning to her husband, “take our young friend down to one of the back doors. He would lose himself in this prison. Remember, Wilfred,” she added, turning back to him, “you will be a marked man all the way across Europe. As soon as they discover that the jewels have been taken from the bank, they will guess that it is you who have them. They are everything that is left. They will be Elisaveta’s sole fortune. You will find her very beautiful and she has a wonderful character. If you succeed, you will deserve whatever she may choose to give you, and if she gives you what I hope, it will be with my blessing. Now I am going to rest for a time.”

She held out both hands with an imperious gesture. He bent low and raised them to his lips, but he had not altogether concealed the moisture in his eyes.

"What a lover you will make, my dear Wilfred,” she laughed, as she drew away. “You have the sensibility which our Russian men too often lack. See, I make you the mystic sign of the Tartars, the sign of the woman who sends her man to battle, the sign which she may make only to son or husband. It should take you safely to England.”

Her beautiful white hand, the fingers of which were laden with the jewels which she had scorned to remove, flashed through the shadows up and down in strange circles and tangents. It finished with a final sweep, outstretched, firm and resolute–and it pointed towards the door.

CHAPTER II

The Prince led his young friend down the vast staircase almost in silence. The same thought was present in the minds of both of them. For generations this smooth marble surface had been pressed by the feet of queens and princesses, kings and ambassadors, the flower of the world’s aristocracy. Now the whole place seemed abysmally empty, the stairs themselves slippery with dust, disfigured by the foul relics of an army of raiders with whom had departed practically the whole of the domestic staff. They passed through a labyrinth of passages, unheated, unlit, dank and mysterious. There were rooms full of broken furniture and china, a great kitchen with the remains of a carouse still littering in unsavoury disorder the large table. They came at last to a huge oaken door. The Prince paused before it.

"You have only to cross the street from here,” he pointed out, “and you are at the Embassy.... Wilfred,” he added, looking into the other’s rugged but sensitive face, “both Catherine and I have grown very fond of you during these last few years. I cannot help feeling, however, that we are asking too much. You are not of our country and these are not your troubles. You will risk your life many times, I fear, before you find Elisaveta.”

"If I do, what does it matter?” the young man protested light-heartedly. “I think you exaggerate the danger, sir. I do really. I have an Embassy bag, sealed with the good old U.S. stamp–I guess they won’t interfere with that–waiting for me in a corner of the Embassy safe. And as for the chamois belt, they’ll have to take my clothes away before they find that. I shall get away with them before midnight and when I am once across the frontier I should like to know who’s going to interfere with us.”

"Do your people know what is inside that belt and the Embassy bag?” the Prince asked.

Wilfred Haven coughed.

"There’s no one left to trouble about such things,” he explained. “Old Hayes, the Counsellor, is nominally in charge, and he’s nothing to do with the diplomatic side of affairs at all. The others are juniors like me, only more so.”

"Still, you know, if this comes out, you may be in trouble with your own people,” the Prince reminded him wistfully. “It is an absolute contravention of diplomatic usage.”

"What can that matter against such a mob as this?” the other scoffed. “Besides, I shall own up and resign as soon as we are safe. I was going to do that, anyway. I want to get into the war. I’ve had enough of diplomacy.”

"You mean that?”

"Word of honour,” was the terse but fervent reply.

There was an expression of great relief on Ostrekoff’s worn face.

"You have taken a load off my mind,” he confessed. “It would be very distressing, both to Catherine and me, if we thought that we had saved the fortunes of our house at the expense of your career.”

"You don’t need to worry,” the young man assured him. “I’m going to be a soldier for the rest of the war, and after that–a banker for the remainder of my life.”

The Prince smiled.

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