It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent severa_eeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public journals gave out tha_e visited the watering-place for the benefit of his health, said to be muc_roken by protracted anxiety and responsibility in the service of the Czar.
But everybody knew that Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St.
Petersburg, and that his absence from the centers of active statecraft at _ime when the peace of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, betwee_alisbury and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguise_xile.
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New York, wh_rrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly announced in th_fficial list of strangers as "Herr Doctor Professor Fischer, mit Frau Gatti_nd Bed. Nordamerika."
The scarcity of titles among the traveling aristocracy of North America is _tanding grievance with the ingenious person who compiles the official list.
Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality alike impel him to suppl_he lack whenever he can. He distributes governor, major-general, and docto_rofessor with tolerable impartiality, according as the arriving American_ear a distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title t_is spectacles.
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The hotel_ere hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at the Conversationshaus wer_eard by scattering audiences, and the shopkeepers of the bazaar had no bette_usiness than to spend their time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Bade_ince an end was put to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditation_f the shriveled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher foun_he place very stupid—as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long Branch i_eptember. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his wife had contracte_ table d'hôte intimacy with a Polish countess, and she positively refused t_ake any step that would sever so advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that span th_utter-wide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering whether a goo_ized Rangely trout could swim the stream without personal inconvenience, whe_he porter of the Badischer Hof came to him on the run.
"Herr Doctor Professorl" cried the porter, touching his cap. "I pray yo_ardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the Genera_gnatieff's suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and appears to die."
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider him _edical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw poker; that i_ false impression prevailed in the hotel it was through a blunder for whic_e was in no way responsible; and that, much as he regretted the unfortunat_ondition of the highborn the baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that hi_resence in the chamber of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It wa_mpossible to eradicate the idea that possessed the porter's mind. Findin_imself fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make _irtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the baron's friends.
The Russian's apartments were upon the second floor, not far from thos_ccupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with terror, cam_urrying out of the room to meet the porter and the doctor professor. Fishe_gain attempted to explain, but to no purpose. The valet also had explanation_o make, and the superior fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize th_onversation. No, there was nobody there—nobody but himself, the faithfu_uguste of the baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, His Highness, th_rince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had driven ou_hat morning to Gernsbach. The baron, meanwhile, had been seized by a_ffraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with apprehension. H_ntreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to hasten to the bedside o_he baron, who was already in the agonies of dissolution.
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots, lay upo_he bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe of a distressfu_ain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid muscles around the mout_istorted the natural expression of his face. Every few seconds a prolonge_roan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled piteously. Anon, he would press bot_ands upon his abdomen and shiver in every limb in the intensity of hi_uffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a doctor professor in fact, h_ould not have watched the symptoms of the baron's malady with greate_nterest.
"Can Monsieur preserve him?" whispered the terrified Auguste.
"Perhaps," said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and dispatched it i_he care of the hotel porter. That functionary returned with great promptness,
bringing a black bottle and a glass. The bottle had come in Fisher's trunk t_aden all the way from Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from Ne_ork, and had journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky.
Fisher seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light.
There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the bottom. H_ttered a grunt of pleasure.
"There is some hope of saving the Baron," he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass an_dministered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few minute_isher had the satisfaction of seeing the baron sit up in bed. The muscle_round his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was superseded by a loo_f placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics of th_ussian baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with exceedingl_andsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The peculiarity of hi_ead was that it seemed to be perfectly round on top-that is, its diamete_rom ear to ear appeared quite equal to its anterior and posterior diameter.
The curious effect of this unusual conformation was rendered more striking b_he absence of all hair. There was nothing on the baron's head but a tightl_itting skullcap of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the be_osts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger, Savitc_ade a courteous bow.
"How do you find yourself now?" inquired Fisher, in bad French.
"Very much better, thanks to Monsieur," replied the baron, in excellen_nglish, spoken in a charming voice. "Very much better, though I feel _ertain dizziness here." And he pressed his hand to his forehead.
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the porter.
Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the baron's wrist. Even hi_npractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly high. He was muc_uzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which the affair had taken. "Hav_ got myself and the Russian into an infernal scrape?" he thought. "Bu_o—he's well out of his teens, and half a tumbler of such whiskey as tha_ught not to go to a baby's head."
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity an_oignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch's face became a_hite as marble—its paleness rendered startling by the sharp contrast of th_lack skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on the bed, and he clasped his hea_onvulsively with both hands, as if in terror lest it burst.
"I had better call your valet," said Fisher, nervously.
"No, no!" gasped the baron. "You are a medical man, and I shall have to trus_ou. There is something-wrong-here." With a spasmodic gesture he vaguel_ndicated the top of his head.
"But I am not-" stammered Fisher.
"No words!" exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. "Act at once—there must be n_elay. Unscrew the top of my headl"
Savitch tore off his skullcap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words t_escribe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of th_aron's cranium. The skullcap had concealed the fact that the entire top o_avitch's head was a dome of polished silver.
"Unscrew it!" said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted _entle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and truly i_ts threads.
"Faster!" said the baron, faintly. "I tell you no time must be lost." Then h_wooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the doo_eading into the baron's bed-chamber was violently flung open and as violentl_losed. The newcomer was a short, spare man, of middle age, with a keen visag_nd piercing, deepset little gray eyes. He stood for a few second_crutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost fiercely jealous regard.
The baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
"Dr. Rapperschwyll!" he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and confronte_isher and Fisher's patient. "What is all this?" he angrily demanded.
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher's arm an_ulled him away from the baron. Fisher, more and more astonished, made n_esistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward the door. Dr.
Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the American exit, and the_losed it with a vicious slam. A quick click informed Fisher that the key ha_een turned in the lock.