From Olga, who, being about his own age, a little under sixteen, was his special chum in the family, Jack gathered a general idea of the situation. Olga was an adept at pantomimic action, and a natural mimic; hence, although he could only understand a word here and there, he obtained an accurate idea of the conversation between her father and the governor, and of her father’s calm manner, and the gestures and intonations of apparent friendship but veiled menace. By putting her ears to a keyhole and hiding behind a curtain, she expressed the possibility of there being a spy in the very household, who would listen to the unguarded talk of her father and report it to the governor. Jack determined that he would watch every movement of the domestics, and especially observe if he could detect any sign of an understanding between one of them and the governor.
It was some four or five days after the count had returned that Count Smerskoff rode up to the door. Orders had already been given that if he arrived he should be shown to the count’s private study. The midshipmen saw him riding up, and, according to the plan they had agreed upon, one stood near the entrance to observe whether any sign of recognition passed between him and any of the servants gathered upon the steps to receive him, the other took his place in the hall. The interview was not a long one.
“I am come, Count Preskoff,” the governor said, “to renew my request for the hand of your daughter. I trust that upon consideration you will have thought it better to overlook the objections you preferred to my suit.”
“Upon the contrary,” the count said calmly, “I have thought the matter over in every light, and am more convinced even than before that such a marriage would not conduce to the happiness of my daughter. She herself is wholly repugnant to it, and even were it otherwise, I should myself most strongly object.”
“On what grounds, count?” the officer said angrily. “Noble as your family is, my own is fully equal to it.”
“That I am perfectly willing to allow, sir, and will frankly own that my objection is a purely personal one. The incidents of your past career are notorious. You have killed two men in duels, which, in both cases, you forced upon them. You have been involved in gambling transactions of such a description that it needed all the influence of your family to save you from public disgrace. To such a man it is impossible that I could intrust my daughter.”
Count Smerskoff rose to his feet, bursting with passion.
“Since you know my reputation, count, it would have been wiser to abstain from insulting me. You shall hear from me before night.”
“It is useless your sending your second to me,” the count said calmly, “for I absolutely refuse to meet you. I shall publish my refusal, and state that the grounds upon which I base it are that you are a notorious ruffian; but that if you can find any man of honor to take up your quarrel, I shall be prepared to meet him.”