“How is she headed?”
An officer standing near the man at the helm, answered in French.
“This should bring us to”—the nobleman mentioned a group of islands—“by to-morrow night?”
The prince stared moodily. “Have you sighted any other vessels?”
“One or two sailing-craft that have paid no attention to us. The only boat that seemed interested since we left port was the little naphtha.”
The nobleman stood as if he had not heard this last remark. About to move away, he suddenly lifted his head and listened. “What was that?” he said sharply.
“What, your Highness?”
“I thought I heard a sound like a cry.”
“I heard nothing, Excellency. No doubt it was but the wind—it is loud here.”
“No doubt.” A moment the nobleman continued to listen, then his attention relaxed.
“Shall I come to your excellency later for orders?” said the officer as the prince made as if to turn away.
“It will not be necessary. If I have any I can ’phone from the cabin—I do not wish to be disturbed,” he added and left.
“His excellency seems in rather an odd mood to-night,” the officer, gazing after, muttered. “Nothing would surprise me—even if he commanded us to head for the pole next. Eh, Fedor?” The man at the helm made answer, moving the spokes mechanically. Nor’ west, or sou’ east—it was all one to him.
Prince Boris walked back; before a little cabin that stood out like an afterthought, he again paused.
Click! click! The wireless! His excellency, stepping nearer, peered through a window in upon the operator, a slender young man—French. A message was being received. Who were they that thus dared span space to reach out toward him? Ei! ei! “The devil has long arms.” He recalled this saying of the Siberian priests and the mad Cossack answer: “Therefore let us ride fast!” The swaying of the yacht was like the rhythmic motion of his Arab through the long grass beyond the Dnieper, in that wild land where conventionality and laws were as naught.
He saw the operator now lean forward to write. The apparatus, which had become silent again, spoke; the words came now fast, then slow. Flame of flames! What an instrument that harnessed the sparks, chased destiny itself with them! They crackled like whips. The operator threw down his pen.
“Excellency!” He almost ran into the tall motionless figure. “Pardon! A message—they want to establish communication with the Nevski—to learn if we picked up a man from—”
“Have I not told you to receive all messages but to establish communication with no one? Mon Dieu! If I thought—”
“Your excellency, can depend upon me,” Francois protested. “Did not my father serve your illustrious mother, the Princess Alix, all his life at her palace at Biarritz? Did not—”