In the forthcoming reminiscences, a lady will frequently be mentioned
who played a great part in the annals of the police from 1848 to 1866,
and we will call her Wanda von Chabert. Born in Galicia of German
parents, and carefully brought up in every way, she married a rich and
handsome officer of noble birth, from love, when she was sixteen. The
young couple, however, lived beyond their means, and when her husband
died suddenly, two years after they were married, she was left anything
but well off.
As Wanda had grown accustomed to luxury and amusement, the quiet life in
her parents' house did not suit her any longer, and even while she was
still in mourning for her husband, she allowed a Hungarian magnate to
make love to her, and she went off with him at a venture, and continued
the same extravagant life which she had led when her husband was alive,
at her own authority. At the end of two years, however, her lover left
her in a town in North Italy, almost without means, and she was thinking
of going on the stage, when chance provided her with another resource,
which enabled her to reassure her position in society. She became a
secret police agent, and soon was one of their most valuable members. In
addition to the proverbial charms and wit of a Polish woman, she also
possessed high linguistic attainments, and she spoke Polish, Russian,
French, German, English and Italian, almost equally fluently and
correctly; then she had also that encyclopædic polish, which impresses
most people much more than the most profound learning of a specialist.
She was very attractive in appearance, and she knew how to set off her
good looks by all the arts of dress and coquetry.
In addition to this, she was a woman of the world in the widest sense of
the term; pleasure-loving, faithless, unstable, and therefore never in
any danger of really losing her heart, and consequently her head. She
used to change the place of her abode, according to what she had to do.
Sometimes she lived in Paris among the Polish emigrants, in order to
find out what they were doing, and maintained intimate relations with
the Tuileries and the Palais Royal at the same time; then she went to
London for a short time, or hurried off to Italy, to watch the Hungarian
exiles, only to reappear suddenly in Switzerland, or at one of the
fashionable German watering-places.
In revolutionary circles, she was looked upon as an active member of the
great League of Freedom, and diplomatists regarded her as an
influential friend of Napoleon III.
She knew every one, but especially those men whose names were to be met
with every day, in the papers, and she reckoned Victor Emmanuel, Rouher,
Gladstone, and Gortschakoff among her friends, as well as Mazzini,
Kossuth, Garibaldi, Mieroslawsky and Bakunin.
In the spring of 185- she was at Vevey, on the lovely lake of Geneva,
and went into raptures when talking to an old German diplomatist about
the beauties of nature, and about Calame, Stifter and Turgenev, whose
"Diary of a Hunter" had just become fashionable.
One day a man appeared at the table d'hôte, who excited unusual
attention, and hers especially, so that there was nothing strange in her
asking the proprietor of the hotel what his name was; and she was told
that he was a wealthy Brazilian, and that his name was Don Escovedo.
Whether it was an accident, or whether he responded to the interest
which the young woman felt for him, at any rate she constantly met him
wherever she went, when she was taking a walk, or was on the lake, or
was looking at the newspapers in the reading room; and at last she was
obliged to confess to herself that he was the handsomest man she had
ever seen. Tall, slim, and yet muscular, the young, beardless Brazilian
had a head which any woman might envy him; features which were not only
beautiful and noble, but were also extremely delicate, with dark eyes
which possessed a wonderful charm, and thick, auburn curly hair, which
completed the attractiveness and the strangeness of his appearance.
They soon became acquainted, through a Prussian officer, whom the
Brazilian had requested to introduce him to the beautiful Polish
lady—for Frau von Chabert was taken for one in Vevey—and she, cold and
designing as she was, blushed slightly when he stood before her for the
first time; and when he gave her his arm he could feel her hand tremble
slightly on it. The same evening they went out riding together, the next
he was lying at her feet, and on the third she was his. For four weeks
the lovely Wanda and the Brazilian lived together as if they had been in
Paradise, but he could not deceive her searching eyes any longer.
For her sharp and practiced gaze had already discovered in him that
indefinable something which makes a man appear a suspicious character.
Any other woman would have been pained and horrified at such a
discovery, but she found the strange consolation in it, that her
handsome adorer had promised also to become a very interesting object
for her pursuit, and so she began systematically to watch the man who
lay unsuspectingly at her feet.
She soon found out that he was no conspirator, but she asked herself in
vain whether she was to look for a common swindler, an impudent
adventurer or perhaps even a criminal in him. The day that she had
foreseen soon came; the Brazilian's banker "unaccountably" had omitted
to send him any money, and so he borrowed some of her. "So he is a male
courtesan," she said to herself; and the handsome man soon required
money again, and she lent it to him, until at last he left suddenly, and
nobody knew where he had gone to; only this much, that he had left Vevey
as the companion of an old but wealthy Wallachian lady; and so this
time, clever Wanda was duped.
A year afterwards she met the Brazilian unexpectedly at Lucca, with an
insipid-looking, light-haired, thin Englishwoman on his arm. Wanda stood
still and looked at him steadily, but he glanced at her quite
indifferently; he did not choose to know her again.
The next morning, however, his valet brought her a letter from him,
which contained the amount of his debt in Italian hundred liri notes,
which were accompanied by a very cool excuse. Wanda was satisfied, but
she wished to find out who the lady was, in whose company she constantly
saw Don Escovedo.
An Austrian count, who had a loud and silly laugh, said:
"Who has saddled you with that yarn? The lady is Lady Nitingsdale, and
his name is Romanesco."
"Yes, he is a rich Boyar from Moldavia, where he has extensive estates."
Romanesco kept a faro bank in his apartments, and he certainly cheated,
for he nearly always won; it was not long, therefore, before other
people in good society at Lucca shared Madame von Chabert's suspicions,
and consequently Romanesco thought it advisable to vanish as suddenly
from Lucca as Escovedo had done from Vevey, and without leaving any more
traces behind him.
Some time afterwards, Madame von Chabert was on the island of
Heligoland, for the sea-bathing; and one day she saw Escovedo-Romanesco
sitting opposite to her at the table d'hôte, in very animated
conversation with a Russian lady; only his hair had turned black since
she had seen him last. Evidently his light hair had become too
compromising for him.
"The sea water seems to have a very remarkable effect upon your hair,"
Wanda said to him spitefully, in a whisper.
"Do you think so?" he replied, condescendingly.
"I fancy that at one time your hair was fair."
"You are mistaking me for somebody else," the Brazilian replied,
"I am not."
"For whom do you take me, pray?" he said with an insolent smile.
"For Don Escovedo."
"I am Count Dembizki from Valkynia," the former Brazilian said with a
bow; "perhaps you would like to see my passport."
And at last, he had the impudence to show her his false passport.
A year afterwards, Wanda met Count Dembizki in Baden, near Vienna. His
hair was still black, but he had a magnificent, full, black beard; he
had become a Greek prince, and his name was Anastasio Maurokordatos. She
met him once in one of the side walks in the park, where he could not
avoid her. "If it goes on like this," she called out to him in a mocking
voice, "the next time I see you, you will be king of some negro tribe or
That time, however, the Brazilian did not deny his identity; on the
contrary, he surrendered at discretion, and implored her not to betray
him, and as she was not revengeful, she pardoned him, after enjoying his
terror for a time, and promised him that she would hold her tongue, as
long as he did nothing contrary to the laws.
"First of all, I must beg you not to gamble."
"You have only to command; and we do not know each other in future?"
"I must certainly insist on that," she said maliciously.
The Exotic Prince had, however, made the conquest of the charming
daughter of a wealthy Austrian Count, and had cut out an excellent young
officer who was wooing her; and he, in his despair began to make love to
Frau von Chabert, and at last told her he loved her, but she only
laughed at him.
"You are very cruel," he stammered in confusion.
"I? What are you thinking about?" Wanda replied, still smiling; "all I
mean is, that you have directed your love to the wrong address, for
"Do not speak of her; she is engaged to another man."
"As long as I choose to permit it," she said; "but what will you do, if
I bring her back to your arms? Will you still call me cruel?"
"Can you do this?" the young officer asked, in great excitement.
"Well, supposing I can do it, what shall I be then?"
"An angel, whom I shall thank on my knees."
A few days later, the rivals met at a coffee house; the Greek prince
began to lie and boast, and the Austrian officer gave him the lie
direct, and in consequence, it was arranged that they should fight a
duel with pistols next morning in a wood close to Baden. But as the
officer was leaving the house with his second the next morning, a Police
Commissary came up to him and begged him not to trouble himself any
further about the matter, but another time to be more careful before
accepting a challenge.
"What does it mean?" the officer asked, in some surprise.
"It means that this Maurokordatos is a dangerous swindler and
adventurer, whom we have just taken into custody."
"He is not a prince?"
"No; a circus rider."
An hour later the officer received a letter from the charming Countess,
in which she humbly begged for pardon; the happy lover set off to go and
see her immediately, but on the way a sudden thought struck him, and so
he turned back in order to thank beautiful Wanda, as he had promised, on