“It is too bad,” Katinka exclaimed, “to keep us in the dark in this way. Mind, if the secret is not something very important and delightful, you will be in disgrace, and we shall banish you from this room altogether.”
The lads made a laughing reply, and then, promising they would soon be back, they went to the study. Alexis was standing silent before his master, having explained that he would rather not speak until the young English lords appeared. Jack began the narrative, and said that fearing Count Smerskoff, whom they knew to be his enemy, might have suborned one of the servants to act as his spy they had watched him closely, and had heard him make an appointment with Paul to meet him that evening at the cross-roads; that they had taken Alexis into their confidence, and had with him been concealed spectators of the interview; that they themselves had been able to gather only the general drift of the conversation, but that Alexis would give him a full report of it.
The count’s face had at first expressed only surprise at Jack’s narration, but the expression changed into one of fierce anger as he proceeded. Without a word he motioned to Alexis to continue, and the latter detailed word for word the conversation which he had overheard. When he had concluded, he added, “Your Excellency must pardon me for not having killed your enemies upon the spot, but the young English lords had told me that it was necessary to lie quiet, whatever I heard, and besides, the governor might have ridden off before I could reach him.”
The count stood for a minute silent when the narration ceased. “You did well, Alexis,” he said in a stern voice. “It is for me to judge and sentence. I had thought that I, at least, was safe from treachery among those around me. It seems I was wrong, and the traitor shall learn that the kind master can be the severe lord, who holds the life and death of his serfs in his hand.” He was silent, and remained two or three minutes in deep thought. “Go to the stable, Alexis. You will be joined there soon by Ivan and Alexander. They will have their instructions. After that Paul will come out; seize him and bind him when he enters the stable. Now go. You have done well. Tell Paul, as you go out, that I wish to see the steward.”
A minute or two later the steward, a white-headed old man, who had from childhood been in the service of the family, entered. “Demetri,” he said, “will you tell Ivan and Alexander to go out into the stable? They will find Alexis waiting for them. Order them, when Paul joins them there, to aid Alexis in seizing him instantly. Give them your instructions quietly, and without attracting notice. Above all do not let Paul see you speaking to them. When you have seen them out, find Paul, and order him to go to the stable and tell Alexis that I wish to speak to him; when he has gone, join me here.”