“I want you, however,” he continued, “to promise me two things. The first is that you will not open the outer covering thereof until after my execution; the second, that you will make no mention or reference to the name inscribed on the inner envelope until you see the death of its possessor announced in the newspapers. It is the name of my poor old father. He is in failing health and can scarcely live much longer. When he passes away you are at liberty to break the seals and to use the information contained therein in any form you may think proper. The only object I have in now concealing my identity is to spare the old gentleman any unnecessary sorrow and disgrace.”
He uttered these last words rather sadly and paused for a few minutes before proceeding.
“With regard to the remainder of my family,” said he at last, “I am totally indifferent about their feelings in the matter.”
“One word more, my dear Berard,” he continued. “I am anxious that these papers should some day or other be made known to the world. They will convince the public that at any rate I am innocent of the brutal murder for which I am about to suffer death. My crimes have been numerous; they have been committed in many different lands, and I have never hesitated to put people out of the way when I found them to be dangerous to my interests. But whatever I may have done has been accomplished with skill and delicacy. My misdeeds have been those of a man of birth, education, and breeding, whereas the slayer of Marie Aguetant was, as you will find out one of these days, but a mere vulgar criminal of low and coarse instincts, the scum indeed of a Levantine gutter.
“And now good-by my dear Berard. I rely on you to respect the wishes of a man who is about to disappear into Nirwana. You see,” he added with a smile, “I am something of a Buddhist.”
Almost involuntarily I grasped both his hands firmly in mine. I was deeply moved. All the powers of attraction which he had formerly exercised on me at Madrid came again to the surface, and it was he who gently pushed me out of the cell in order to cut short a painful scene.
Two days later one of the most remarkable criminals of the age expiated his numerous crimes on the scaffold in the square in front of the Prison de la Grande Roquette.
Late last night, when alone in my library, I broke the seals of the outer envelope of the parcel which he had confided to me. When I saw the name inscribed on the inner covering I started from my chair. It was a name of worldwide fame, one of the most brilliant in the “Almanac de Gotha,” and familiar in every court in Europe. However, mindful of my promise to the dead, I locked the package away in my safe. My curiosity, however, was not put to a very severe test, for about a week later the papers of every [Pg 14] country in Europe announced the death of the statesman and soldier whose name figured on the cover of the parcel of documents.
Without further delay I broke the seals of the inner wrapper. The whole night through and far on into the next day, I sat poring over the sheets of closely written manuscript—the confessions of the man who had been guillotined under the assumed name of “Prado.” They revealed an astounding career of crime and adventure in almost every corner of the globe, and thoroughly impressed me with the conviction that, however innocent he may have been of the murder of Marie Aguetant, yet he fully deserved the penalty which was finally meted out to him. Of scruples or of any notions of morality he had none, and so cold-blooded and repulsive is the cynicism which this servant of Satan at times displays in the notes concerning his life which he placed at my disposal, I have been forced to use considerable discretion in editing them. While careful to reproduce all the facts contained in the manuscript, I have toned down a certain Zola-like realism of expression impossible to render in print, and have shaped the disjointed memoranda and jottings into a consecutive narrative.
One word more before finally introducing the real Prado to the world. However great my desire to accede to the last wish of my former friend, I cannot bring myself to disclose to the general public the real name of the unfortunate family to which he belonged. There are too many innocent members thereof who would be irretrievably injured by its disclosure.
But the pseudonym which I have employed is so transparent, and the history of the great house in question so well known, that all who have any acquaintance of the inner ring of European society will have no difficulty in recognizing its identity.
CHAPTER I. A SECRET MARRIAGE.
Count Frederick von Waldberg, who was tried and guillotined at Paris under the name of Prado, was born at Berlin in 1849 and was named after King Frederick William IV. of Prussia, who, together with Queen Elizabeth, was present at the christening and acted as sponsor. This somewhat exceptional distinction was due to the fact that the child’s father, Count Heinrich von Waldberg, was not only one of the favorite aides-de-camp generals of his majesty, but had also been a friend and companion of the monarch from his very boyhood.
Although at the time the general had not yet achieved the great reputation as a statesman which he subsequently attained, yet he was already known throughout Europe as an ambassador of rare skill and diplomacy, and as one of the most influential personages of the Berlin Court. Married in 1847 to a princess of the reigning house of Kipper-Deutmolde, a woman of singular beauty, little Frederick was the first and only offspring of their union. The child was scarcely a year old when the mother died at Potsdam, after only a few days’ illness, leaving the whole of her fortune in trust for the boy. The general was inconsolable, and so intense was his grief that for some days it was feared that his mind would give way. The very kindest sympathy was displayed by both the king and his consort, the latter in particular being deeply moved by the motherless condition of little Frederick. During the next three years the child spent much of his time in her majesty’s private apartments, both at Berlin and Potsdam, and, herself childless, Queen [Pg 16] Elizabeth did her utmost to act the part of a mother to the pretty curly headed boy.
After four years of widowhood the general became convinced that it was not “good for man to be alone,” and cast his eyes about him in search of another wife. Greatly to the disgust of the beauties of the Prussian capital, who were only too ready to surrender their hands and their hearts to the high rank and station of Count von Waldberg, his choice fell on an Italian lady, whose sole recommendation in his eyes was, as he publicly proclaimed to his friends, that she bore certain traces of resemblance to his dead princess.
Several children were born of this second marriage, and, as usual in such cases, poor little Frederick suffered the ordinary fate of a step-child. The new Countess von Waldberg could not bring herself to forgive the boy for being the heir to a large fortune, while her own children had nothing but a meager portion to which they could look forward. Moreover she was intensely jealous of the marked favor and interest which both the king and the queen displayed toward their godson whenever the family came to Berlin. As, however, the general spent the first ten years of his second marriage at the foreign capitals to which he was accredited as ambassador, Frederick but rarely saw his royal friends. His childhood was thoroughly embittered by the repellent attitude of his step-mother and of his half brothers and sisters toward him. His father, it is true, was always kind and affectionate; but engrossed by the cares and duties of his office, he often allowed whole days to pass without seeing his eldest son, whose time was wholly spent in the company of servants, grooms, and other inferiors.
At the age of fifteen he was entered at the School of Cadets at Brandenburg, and while there was frequently detached to act as page of honor at the various court functions at Berlin and Potsdam. He was scarcely eighteen years old when he received his first commission as ensign in a regiment [Pg 17] of the foot-guards, Queen Elizabeth making him a present of his first sword on the occasion.
Frederick, in receipt of a handsome allowance from the trustees of his mother’s fortune, now entered on a course of the wildest dissipation. The fame of his exploits on several occasions reached the ears of the king, who kindly, but firmly, reproved the lad for his conduct, and urged him to remember what was due to names so honored as those of his father and his dead mother. Nothing, however, seemed to have any effect in checking the career of reckless and riotous extravagance on which he had embarked, and at length, after being subjected to numerous reprimands and sentences of arrest, he was punished by being transferred to a line regiment engaged in frontier duty on the Russian border. His dismay at being thus exiled from the court and capital to the wilds of Prussian Poland was impossible to describe, and he bade farewell to his numerous friends of both sexes as if he had been banished for life to the mines of Siberia. The most painful parting of all was from a pretty 佛山桑拿按摩qq little girl, whom he had taken from behind the counter of “Louise’s” famous flower shop, and installed as his mistress in elegant apartments near the “Thier Garten.”
Rose Hartmann was a small and captivating blonde, with dark-blue eyes, fringed with long black lashes. The lovers were at that time in the honey-moon of their liaison, and while Frederick was sincerely and deeply attached to the girl, she on her side was chiefly attracted by the luxuries and pleasures which he had placed within her reach. Whereas he was almost heart-broken at the idea of leaving her, she only apprehended in the separation a sudden end to all the advantages of a life of ease and indulgence and a return to her former obscure existence. To make a long story short, she played her cards so well during the last days of the young lieutenant’s stay at Berlin, 佛山桑拿按摩一条龙图片 that on the eve of his departure she induced him to contract a secret marriage [Pg 18] with her. It is needless to add that this was a fatal step, as far as the future career of Frederick was concerned. But he was scarcely nineteen years old at the time, and in the hands of a clever and designing woman several years his senior. Of course, they adopted every possible measure to prevent their altered relations from becoming known, for in the first place German officers are prohibited, under severe penalties, from marrying without having previously obtained an official authorization from the Minister of War; and secondly, Frederick was perfectly aware of the intense indignation with which both his father and the royal family would regard such a terrible misalliance. Two days after the ceremony Frederick left for his new 佛山桑拿论坛蒲友交流 garrison, promising Rose that he would make speedy arrangements whereby she would be enabled to rejoin him.
In due course he arrived at his destination—a dreary-looking village in the neighborhood of Biala—and was received with considerable coldness by his new colonel and fellow-officers who did not particularly relish the notion that their regiment should be regarded as a kind of penitentiary for offending guardsmen. The commander, in particular, was a thorough martinet, who looked with extreme disfavor on all the mannerisms and dandified airs of the young count. Thoroughly out of sympathy with his uncongenial messmates, Frederick soon began to feel oppressed by the monotony and solitude of his
existence, and repeatedly urged Rose by letter and telegram to join him. This, however, she was in no hurry to do, as she naturally 佛山桑拿按摩全套qq preferred the gay life of the capital, with plenty of money to spend and numerous admirers, to the dreariness and discomfort of a Polish village in the middle of winter. At length, however, Frederick’s letters grew so pressing that delay was no longer possible, and she started for Biala with a perfect mountain of luggage. On her arrival there she was met by her husband, who was beside himself with joy at seeing her again. Of course, [Pg 19] it was more than ever necessary that their true relationship should remain a secret, and accordingly Rose took up her residence under an assumed name at the solitary inn of the village where Frederick was quartered. Every moment that he could spare from his military duties he spent with her, and it is scarcely necessary to state that their apparently questionable relations were soon the talk 佛山桑拿体验 of the whole place. The person, however, who felt herself the most aggrieved by the presence of Rose in the village was the colonel’s wife, who was profoundly indignant that the “woman” of a mere lieutenant should presume to cover herself with costly furs and wear magnificent diamonds, whereas she—good lady—was forced to content herself with cloaks lined with rabbit-skin and a total absence of jewelry. Morning, noon, and night she assailed her lord and master on the subject, and to such a pitch of irritation she had brought him by her vituperations that, when at the end of a week he finally decided to summon Count von Waldberg to his presence, he was in a frame of mind bordering on frenzy.
“Your conduct, sir, is a scandal and a disgrace to the regiment,” was the greeting which he offered to the young lieutenant, as the latter 佛山桑拿红场 stepped into his room. “You appear to be lost to all sense of decency and shame.”
Frederick, pale to the very lips, stepped rapidly forward and looked his chief defiantly in the face, exclaiming as he did so:
“I am at a loss to understand, colonel, in what manner I have merited such a torrent of abuse.”
“You know perfectly well to what I am alluding,” retorted the colonel. “How dare you bring that infernal woman to this place, and install her right under our very nose here at the inn? I don’t intend to have any of these Berlin ways here. If you can’t do without her, have the good taste, at least, to keep her at Biala, where there are houses for women of that class.”
With almost superhuman efforts to remain calm, the young officer murmured hoarsely:
“I must insist, sir, on your speaking of the lady——”
“Lady, 佛山南海桑拿论坛交流 indeed!” fairly yelled the colonel, who was becoming black in the face with rage; “that vile——”
As he uttered these words he was felled to the ground by a terrific blow in the face from Frederick, who exclaimed as he struck him:
“She is my wife, you scoundrel!”
CHAPTER II. A SHOCKED FATHER.
The sun was just rising from behind Vesuvius when one of those hideous and awkward-looking cabs which infest the streets of Naples crawled up to the park gates of a handsome villa on the road to Posilipo. Carelessly tossing a five-lire note to the driver, a young man whose travel-stained appearance showed traces of a long journey jumped to the ground and violently rang the bell. Some minutes elapsed before the porter was sufficiently aroused from his sleep to realize the fact that a stranger was waiting for admittance, and when he finally issued forth to unlock the gates, his face bore manifest evidence of the intense disgust with which he regarded the premature disturbance of his ordinarily peaceful slumbers.
“Is this the Count von Waldberg’s villa?” inquired the stranger.
“Yes,” replied the porter in a gruff voice. “What of that?”
“I want to speak to him at once. Unlock the gate.”
“Indeed! You want to see his excellency?”
“At this hour? Per Bacco! Who has ever heard of such a thing? You will have to come back later in the day, my young friend—very much later in the day—if you wish to be granted the honor of an audience,” and with that he turned away and was about to leave the stranger standing in the road, when suddenly steps were heard approaching along the gravel path which led up to the villa, and a tall, soldierly figure appeared in view.
“Good morning, Beppo; what brings you out of bed at this unearthly hour of the morning? This is rather unusual, is it not?”