Part 5 out of 6
behind her, and bounded into the veranda. During this time the
general succeeded in easing himself, thanks to Rouletabille, who
had thrust a spoon to the root of his tongue. Natacha could do
nothing but cry, "My God, my God, my God!" Feodor held onto his
stomach, still crying, "I'm burning, I'm burning!" The scene was
frightfully tragic and funny at the same time. To add to the
burlesque, the general's watch in his pocket struck eight o'clock.
Feodor Feodorovitch stood up in a final supreme effort. "Oh, it is
horrible!" Matrena Petrovna showed a red, almost violet face as she
came back; she distorted it, she choked, her mouth twitched, but
she brought something, a little packet that she waved, and from
which, trembling frightenedly, she shook a powder into the first
two empty glasses, which were on her side of the table and were
those she and the general had drained. She still had strength to
fill them with water, while Rouletabille was almost overcome by the
general, whom he still had in his arms, and Natacha concerned
herself with nothing but her father, leaning over him as though
to follow the progress of the terrible poison, to read in his eyes
if it was to be life or death. "Ipecac," cried Matrena Petrovna,
and she made the general drink it. She did not drink until after
him. The heroic woman must have exerted superhuman force to go
herself to find the saving antidote in her medicine-chest, even
while the agony pervaded her vitals.
Some minutes later both could be considered saved. The servants,
Ermolai at their head, were clustered about. Most of them had been
at the lodge and they had not, it appeared, heard the beginning of
the affair, the cries of Natacha and Rouletabille. Koupriane
arrived just then. It was he who worked with Natacha in getting
the two to bed. Then he directed one of his agents to go for the
nearest doctors they could find.
This done, the Prefect of Police went toward the kiosk where he had
left Rouletabille. But Rouletabille was not to be found, and the
flask of vodka and the glasses from which they had drunk were gone
also. Ermolai was near-by, and he inquired of the servant for the
young Frenchman. Ermolai replied that he had just gone away,
carrying the flask and the glasses. Koupriane swore. He shook
Ermolai and even started to give him a blow with the fist for
permitting such a thing to happen before his eyes without making a
Ermolai, who had his own haughtiness, dodged Koupriane's fist and
replied that he had wished to prevent the young Frenchman, hut the
reporter had shown him a police-paper on which Koupriane himself
had declared in advance that the young Frenchman was to do anything
Koupriane jumped into his carriage and hurried toward St. Petersburg.
On the way he spoke to three agents who only he knew were posted in
the neighborhood of Eliaguine. They told him the route Rouletabille
had taken. The reporter had certainly returned into the city. He
hurried toward Troitski Bridge. There, at the corner of the
Naberjnaia, Koupriane saw the reporter in a hired conveyance.
Rouletabille was pounding his coachman in the back, Russian fashion,
to make him go faster, and was calling with all his strength one of
the few words he had had time to learn, "Naleva, naleva" (to the
left). The driver was forced to understand at last, for there was
no other way to turn than to the left. If he had turned to the
right (naprava) he would have driven into the river. The
conveyance clattered over the pointed flints of a neighborhood that
led to a little street, Aptiekarski-Pereoulok, at the corner of the
Katharine canal. This "alley of the pharmacists" as a matter of
fact contained no pharmacists, but there was a curious sign of a
herbarium, where Rouletabille made the driver stop. As the carriage
rolled under the arch Rouletabille recognized Koupriane. He did
not wait, but cried to him, "Ah, here you are. All right; follow
me." He still had the flask and the glasses in his hands. Koupriane
couldn't help noticing how strange he looked. He passed through a
court with him, and into a squalid shop.
"What," said Koupriane, "do you know Pere Alexis?"
They were in the midst of a curious litter. Clusters of dried herbs
hung from the ceiling, and all among them were clumps of old boots,
shriveled skins, battered pans, scrap-iron, sheep-skins, useless
touloupes, and on the floor musty old clothes, moth-eaten furs, and
sheep-skin coats that even a moujik of the swamps would not have
deigned to wear. Here and there were old teeth, ragged finery,
dilapidated hats, and jars of strange herbs ranged upon some rickety
shelving. Between the set of scales on the counter and a heap of
little blocks of wood used for figuring the accounts of this singular
business were ungilded ikons, oxidized silver crosses, and Byzantine
pictures representing scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Jars
of alcohol with what seemed to be the skeletons of frogs swimming
in them filled what space was left. In a corner of this large,
murky room, under the vault of mossed stone, a small altar stood
and the light burned in a hanging glass of oil before the holy
images. A man was praying before the altar. He wore the costume
of old Russia, the caftan of green cloth, buttoned at the shoulder
and tucked in at the waist by a narrow belt. He had a bushy beard
and his hair fell to his shoulders. When he had finished his prayer
he rose, perceived Rouletabille and came over to take his hand. He
spoke French to the reporter:
"Well, here you are again, lad. Do you bring poison again to-day?
This will end by being found out, and the police..."
Just then he discerned Koupriane's form in the shadow, drew close
to make out who it was, and fell to his knees as he saw who it was.
Rouletabille tried to raise him, but he insisted on prostrating
himself. He was sure the Prefect of Police had come to his house
to hang him. Finally he was reassured by Rouletabile's positive
assertions and the great chief's robust laugh. The Prefect wished
to know how the young man came to be acquainted with the "alchemist"
of the police. Rouletabille told him in a few words.
Maitre Alexis, in his youth, went to France afoot, to study pharmacy,
because of his enthusiasm for chemistry. But he always remained
countrified, very much a Russian peasant, a semi-Oriental bear, and
did not achieve his degree. He took some certificates, but the
examinations were too much for him. For fifty years he lived
miserably as a pharmacist's assistant in the back of a disreputable
shop in the Notre Dame quarter. The proprietor of the place was
implicated in the famous affair of the gold ingots, which started
Rouletabille's reputation, and was arrested along with his assistant,
Alexis. It was Rouletabille who proved, clear as day, that poor
Alexis was innocent, and that he had never been cognizant of his
master's evil ways, being absorbed in the depths of his laboratory
in trying to work out a naive alchemy which fascinated him, though
the world of chemistry had passed it by centuries ago. At the
trial Alexis was acquitted, but found himself in the street. He
shed what tears remained in his body upon the neck of the reporter,
assuring him of paradise if he got him back to his own country,
because he desired only the one thing more of life, that he might
see his birth-land before he died. Rouletabille advanced the
necessary means and sent him to St. Petersburg. There he was picked
up at the end of two days by the police, in a petty gambling-game,
and thrown into prison, where he promptly had a chance to show his
talents. He cured some of his companions in misery, and even some
of the guards. A guard who had an injured leg, whose healing he
had despaired of, was cured by Alexis. Then there was found to be
no actual charge against him. They set him free and, moreover,
they interested themselves in him. They found meager employment
for him in the Stchoukine-dvor, an immense popular bazaar. He
accumulated a few roubles and installed himself on his own account
at the back of a court in the Aptiekarski-Pereoulok, where he
gradually piled up a heap of old odds and ends that no one wanted
even in the Stchoukine-dvor. But he was happy, because behind his
shop he had installed a little laboratory where he continued for
his pleasure his experiments in alchemy and his study of plants.
He still proposed to write a book that he had already spoken of in
France to Rouletabille, to prove the truth of "Empiric Treatment
of Medicinal Herbs, the Science of Alchemy, and the Ancient
Experiments in Sorcery." Between times he continued to cure anyone
who applied to him, and the police in particular. The police guards
protected him and used him. He had splendid plasters for them after
"the scandal," as they called the October riots. So when the
doctors of the quarter tried to prosecute him for illegal practice,
a deputation of police-guards went to Koupriane, who took the
responsibility and discontinued proceedings against him. They
regarded him as under protection of the saints, and Alexis soon
came to be regarded himself as something of a holy man. He never
failed every Christmas and Easter to send his finest images to
Rouletabille, wishing him all prosperity and saying that if ever
he came to St. Petersburg he should be happy to receive him at
Aptiekarski-Pereoulok, where he was established in honest labor.
Pere Alexis, like all the true saints, was a modest man.
When Alexis had recovered a little from his emotion Rouletabille
said to him:
"Pere Alexis, I do bring you poison again, but you have nothing to
fear, for His Excellency the Chief of Police is with me. Here is
what we want you to do. You must tell us what poison these four
glasses have held, and what poison is still in this flask and this
"What is that little phial?" demanded Koupriane, as he saw
Rouletabille pull a small, stoppered bottle out of his pocket.
The reporter replied, "I have put into this bottle the vodka that
was poured into Natacha's glass and mine and that we barely touched."
"Someone has tried to poison you!" exclaimed Pere Alexis.
"No, not me," replied Rouletabille, in bored fashion. "Don't think
about that. Simply do what I tell you. Then analyze these two
napkins, as well."
And he drew from his coat two soiled napkins.
"Well," said Koupriane, "you have thought of everything."
"They are the napkins the general and his wife used."
"Yes, yes, I understand that," said the Chief of Police.
"And you, Alexis, do you understand?" asked the reporter. "When
can we have the result of your analysis?
"In an hour, at the latest."
"Very well," said Koupriane. "Now I need not tell you to hold your
tongue. I am going to leave one of my men here. You will write us
a note that you will seal, and he will bring it to head-quarters.
Sure you understand? In an hour?"
"In an hour, Excellency."
They went out, and Alexis followed them, bowing to the floor.
Koupriane had Rouletabille get into his carriage. The young man
did as he was told. One would have said he did not know where he
was or what he did. He made no reply to the chief's questions.
"This Pere Alexander," resumed Koupriane, "is a character, really
quite a figure. And a bit of a schemer, I should say. He has seen
how Father John of Cronstadt succeeded, and he says to himself,
'Since the sailors had their Father John of Cronstadt, why shouldn't
the police-guard have their Father Alexis of Aptiekarski-Pereoulok?'"
But Rouletabille did not reply at all, and Koupriane wound up by
demanding what was the matter with him.
"The matter is," replied Rouletabille, unable longer to conceal his
anguish, "that the poison continues."
"Does that astonish you?" returned Koupriane. "It doesn't me."
Rouletabille looked at him and shook his head. His lips trembled
as he said, "I know what you think. It is abominable. But the
thing I have done certainly is more abominable still."
"What have you done, then, Monsieur Rouletabille?"
"Perhaps I have caused the death of an innocent man."
"So long as you aren't sure of it, you would better not fret about
it, my dear friend."
"It is enough that the doubt has arisen," said the reporter, "almost
to kill me;" and he heaved so gloomy a sigh that the excellent
Monsieur Koupriane felt pity for the lad. He tapped him on the knee.
"Come, come, young man, you ought to know one thing by this time
- 'you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs,' as they say, I
think, in Paris."
Rouletabille turned away from him with horror in his heart. If
there should be another, someone besides Michael! If it was another
hand than his that appeared to Matrena and him in the mysterious
night! If Michael Nikolaievitch had been innocent! Well, he
would kill himself, that was all. And those horrible words that he
had exchanged with Natacha rose in his memory, singing in his ears
as though they would deafen him.
"Do you doubt still?" he had asked her, "that Michael tried to
poison your father?"
And Natacha had replied, "I wish to believe it! I wish to believe
it, for your sake, my poor boy." And then he recalled her other
words, still more frightful now! "Couldn't someone have tried to
poison my father and not have come by the window?" He had faced
such a hypothesis with assurance then - but now, now that the poison
continued, continued within the house, where he believed himself
so fully aware of all people and things - continued now that Michael
Nikolaievitch was dead - ah, where did it come from, this poison?
- and what was it? Pere Alexis would hurry his analysis if he had
any regard for poor Rouletabille.
For Rouletabille to doubt, and in an affair where already there was
one man dead through his agency, was torment worse than death.
When they arrived at police-headquarters, Rouletabille jumped from
Koupriane's carriage and without saying a word hailed an empty
isvotchick that was passing. He had himself driven back to Pere
Alexis. His doubt mastered his will; he could not bear to wait
away. Under the arch of Aptiekarski-Pereoulok he saw once more
the man Koupriane had placed there with the order to bring him
Alexis's message. The man looked at him in astonishment.
Rouletabille crossed the court and entered the dingy old room once
more. Pere Alexis was not there, naturally, engaged as he was
in his laboratory. But a person whom he did not recognize at first
sight attracted the reporter's attention. In the half-light of the
shop a melancholy shadow leaned over the ikons on the counter. It
was only when he straightened up, with a deep sigh, and a little
light, deflected and yellow from passing through window-panes that
had known no touch of cleaning since they were placed there, fell
faintly on the face, that Rouletabille ascertained he was face to
face with Boris Mourazoff. It was indeed he, the erstwhile
brilliant officer whose elegance and charm the reporter had admired
as he saw him at beautiful Natacha's feet in the datcha at Eliaguine.
Now, no more in uniform, he had thrown over his bowed shoulders a
wretched coat, whose sleeves swayed listlessly at his sides, in
accord with his mood of languid desperation, a felt hat with the
rim turned down hid a little the misery in his face in these few
days, these not-many hours, how he was changed! But, even as he
was, he still concerned Rouletabille. What was he doing there?
Was he not going to go away, perhaps? He had picked up an ikon
from the counter and carried it over to the window to examine its
oxidized silver, giving such close attention to it that the reporter
hoped he might reach the door of the laboratory without being
noticed. He already had his hand on the knob of that door, which
was behind the counter, when he heard his name called.
"It is you, Monsieur Rouletabille," said the low, sad voice of
Boris. "What has brought you here, then?"
"Well, well, Monsieur Boris Mourazoff, unless I'm mistaken? I
certainly didn't expect to find you here in Pere Alexis's place."
"Why not, Monsieur Rouletabille? One can find anything here in
Pere Alexis's stock. See; here are two old ikons in wood, carved
with sculptures, which came direct from Athos, and can't be equaled,
I assure you, either at Gastini-Dvor nor even at Stchoukine-Dvor"
"Yes, yes, that is possible," said Rouletabille, impatiently. "Are
you an amateur of such things?" he added, in order to say something.
"Oh, like anybody else. But I was going to tell you, Monsieur
Rouletabille, I have resigned my commission. I have resolved to
retire from the world; I am going on a long voyage." (Rouletabille
thought: 'Why not have gone at once?') "And before going, I have
come here to supply myself with some little gifts to send those of
my friends I particularly care for, although now, my dear Monsieur
Rouletabille, I don't care much for anything."
"You look desolate enough, monsieur."
Boris sighed like a child.
"How could it be otherwise?" he said. "I loved and believed myself
beloved. But it proved to be - nothing, alas!"
"Sometimes one only imagines things," said Rouletabille, keeping
his hand on the door.
"Oh, yes," said the other, growing more and more melancholy. "So
a man suffers. He is his own tormentor; he himself makes the wheel
on which, like his own executioner, he binds himself."
"It is not necessary, monsieur; it is not necessary," counseled the
"Listen," implored Boris in a voice that showed tears were not far
away. "You are still a child, but still you can see things. Do
you believe Natacha loves me?"
"I am sure of it, Monsieur Boris; I am sure of it."
"I am sure of it, too. But I don't know what to think now. She
has let me go, without trying to detain me, without a word of hope."
"And where are you going like that?"
"I am returning to the Orel country, where I first saw her."
"That is good, very good, Monsieur Boris. At least there you are
sure to see her again. She goes there every year with her parents
for a few weeks. It is a detail you haven't overlooked, doubtless."
"Certainly I haven't. I will tell you that that prospect decided
my place of retreat."
"God gives me nothing, but He opens His treasures, and each takes
what he can."
"Yes, yes; and Mademoiselle Natacha, does she know it is to Orel
you have decided to retire?"
"I have no reason for concealing it from her, Monsieur Rouletabille."
"So far so good. You needn't feel so desolate, my dear Monsieur
Boris. All is not lost. I will say even that I see a future for
you full of hope."
"Ah, if you are able to say that truthfully, I am happy indeed to
have met you. I will never forget this rope you have flung me when
all the waters seemed closing over my head. 'What do you advise,
"I advise you to go to Orel, monsieur, and as quickly as possible."
"Very well. You must have reasons for saying that. I obey you,
monsieur, and go."
As Boris started towards the entrance-arch, Rouletabille slipped
into the laboratory. Old Alexis was bent over his retorts. A
wretched lamp barely lighted his obscure work. He turned at the
noise the reporter made.
"Oh, nothing so quick. Still, I have already analyzed the two
napkins, you know."
"Yes? The stains? Tell me, for the love of God!"
"Well, my boy, it is arsenate of soda again."
Rouletabille, stricken to the heart, uttered a low cry and everything
seemed to dance around him. Pere Alexis in the midst of all the
strange laboratory instruments seemed Satan himself, and he repulsed
the kindly arms stretched forth to sustain him; in the gloom, where
danced here and there the little blue flames from the crucibles,
lively as flickering tongues, he believed he saw Michael
Nikolaievitch's ghost come to cry, "The arsenate of soda continues,
and I am dead." He fell against the door, which swung open, and he
rolled as far as the counter, and struck his face against it. The
shock, that might well have been fatal, brought him out of his
intense nightmare and made him instantly himself again. He rose,
jumped over the heap of boots and fol-de-rols, and leaped to the
court. There Boris grabbed him by his coat. Rouletabille turned,
"What do you want? You haven't started for the Orel yet?"
"Monsieur, I am going, but I will be very grateful if you will take
these things yourself to - to Natacha." He showed him, still with
despairing mien, the two ikons from Mount Athos, and Rouletabille
took them from him, thrust them in his pocket, and hurried on,
crying, "I understand."
Outside, Rouletabille tried to get hold of himself, to recover his
coolness a little. Was it possible that he had made a mortal error?
Alas, alas, how could he doubt it now! The arsenate of soda
continued. He made, a superhuman effort to ward off the horror of
that, even momentarily - the death of innocent Michael Nikolaievitch
- and to think of nothing except the immediate consequences, which
must be carefully considered if he wished to avoid some new
catastrophe. Ah, the assassin was not discouraged. And that time,
what a piece of work he had tried! What a hecatomb if he had
succeeded! The general, Matrena Petrovna, Natacha and Rouletabille
himself (who almost regretted, so far as he was concerned, that it
had not succeeded) - and Koupriane! Koupriane, who should have
been there for luncheon. What a bag for the Nihilists! That was
it, that was it. Rouletabille understood now why they had not
hesitated to poison everybody at once: Koupriane was among them.
Michael Nikolaievitch would have been avenged!
The attempt had failed this time, but what might they not expect
now! From the moment he believed Michael Nikolaievitch no longer
guilty, as he had imagined, Rouletabille fell into a bottomless
Where should he go? After a few moments he made the circuit of the
Rotunda, which serves as the market for this quarter and is the
finest ornament of Aptiekarski-Pereoulok. He made the circuit
without knowing it, without stopping for anything, without seeing
or understanding anything. As a broken-winded horse makes its way
in the treadmill, so he walked around with the thought that he
also was lost in a treadmill that led him nowhere. Rouletabille
was no longer Rouletabille.
THE LIVING BOMBS
At random - because now he could only act at random - he returned
to the datcha. Great disorder reigned there. The guard had been
doubled. The general's friends, summoned by Trebassof, surrounded
the two poisoned sufferers and filled the house with their bustling
devotion and their protestations of affection. However, an
insignificant doctor from the common quarter of the Vasili-Ostrow,
brought by the police, reassured everybody. The police had not
found the general's household physician at home, but promised the
immediate arrival of two specialists, whom they had found instead.
In the meantime they had picked up on the way this little doctor,
who was gay and talkative as a magpie. He had enough to do looking
after Matrena Petrovna, who had been so sick that her husband,
Feodor Feodorovitch, still trembled, "for the first time in his
life," as the excellent Ivan Petrovitch said.
The reporter was astonished at not finding Natacha either in
Matrena's apartment or Feodor's. He asked Matrena where her
step-daughter was. Matrena turned a frightened face toward him.
When they were alone, she said:
"We do not know where she is. Almost as soon as you left she
disappeared, and no one has seen her since. The general has asked
for her several times. I have had to tell him Koupriane took her
with him to learn the details from her of what happened."
"She is not with Koupriane," said Rouletabille.
"Where is she? This disappearance is more than strange at the
moment we were dying, when her father - O God! Leave me, my child;
I am stifling; I am stifling."
Rouletabille called the temporary doctor and withdrew from the
chamber. He had come with the idea of inspecting the house room by
room, corner by corner, to make sure whether or not any possibility
of entrance existed that he had not noticed before, an entrance
would-be poisoners were continuing to use. But now a new fact
confronted him and overshadowed everything: the disappearance of
Natacha. How he lamented his ignorance of the Russian language
- and not one of Koupriane's men knew French. He might draw
something out of Ermolai.
Ermolai said he had seen Natacha just outside the gate for a moment,
looking up and down the road. Then he had been called to the
general, and so knew nothing further.
That was all the reporter could gather from the gestures rather than
the words of the old servant.
An additional difficulty now was that twilight drew on, and it was
impossible for the reporter to discern Natacha's foot-prints. Was
it true that the young girl had fled at such a moment, immediately
after the poisoning, before she knew whether her father and mother
were entirely out of danger? If Natacha were innocent, as
Rouletabille still wished to believe, such an attitude was simply
incomprehensible. And the girl could not but be aware she would
increase Koupriane's suspicions. The reporter had a vital reason
for seeing her immediately, a vital reason for all concerned, above
all in this moment when the Nihilists were culminating their plans,
a vital reason for her and for him, equally menaced with death, to
talk with her and to renew the propositions he had made a few
minutes before the poisoning and which she had not wished to hear
him talk about, in fearful pity for him or in defiance of him.
Where was Natacha? He thought maybe she was trying to rejoin
Annouchka, and there were reasons for that, both if she were innocent
and if she were guilty. But where was Annouchka? Who could say!
Gounsovski perhaps. Rouletabille jumped into an isvo, returning
from the Point empty, and gave Gounsovski's address. He deigned
then to recall that he had been invited that same day to dine with
the Gounsovskis. They would no longer be expecting him. He blamed
They received him, but they had long since finished dinner.
Monsieur and Madame Gounsovski were playing a game of draughts
under the lamp. Rouletabille as he entered the drawing-room
recognized the shining, fattish bald head of the terrible man.
Gounsovski came to him, bowing, obsequious, his fat hands held out.
He was presented to Madame Gounsovski, who was besprinkled with
jewels over her black silk gown. She had a muddy skin and
magnificent eyes. She also was tentatively effusive. "We waited
for you, monsieur," she said, smirking timidly, with the careful
charm of a woman a little along in years who relies still on
infantine graces. As the recreant young man offered his apologies,
"Oh, we know you are much occupied, Monsieur Rouletabille. My
husband said that to me only a moment ago. But he knew you would
come finally. In the end one always accepts my husband's
invitation." She said this with a fat smile of importance.
Rouletabille turned cold at this last phrase. He felt actual fear
in the presence of these two figures, so actrociously commonplace,
in their horrible, decent little drawing-room.
"But you have had rather a bad dinner already, through that dreadful
affair at General Trebassof's. Come into the dining-room."
"Ah, so someone has told you?" said Rouletabille. "No, no, thanks;
I don't need anything more. You know what has happened?"
"If you had come to dinner, perhaps nothing would have happened at
all, you know," said Gounsovski tranquilly, seating himself again
on the cushions and considering his game of draughts through his
glasses. "Anyway, congratulations to Koupriane for being away from
there through his fear."
For Gounsovski there was only Koupriane! The life or death of
Trebassof did not occupy his mind. Only the acts and movements of
the Prefect of Police had power to move him. He ordered a
waiting-maid who glided into the apartment without making more noise
than a shadow to bring a small stand loaded with zakouskis and
bottles of champagne close to the game-table, and he moved one of
his pawns, saying, "You will permit me? This move is mine. I don't
wish to lose it."
Rouletabille ventured to lay his hand on the oily, hairy fist which
extended from a dubious cuff.
"What is this you tell me? How could you have foreseen it?"
"It was easy to foresee everything," replied Gounsovski, offering
cigars, "to foresee everything from the moment Matiew's place was
filled by Priemkof."
"Well?" questioned Rouletabille, recalling with some inquietude the
sight of the whipping in the guards' chapel.
"Well, this Priemkof, between ourselves," (and he bent close to the
reporter's ear) "is no better, as a police-guard for Koupriane than
Matiew himself. Very dangerous. So when I learned that he took
Matiew's place at the datcha des Iles, I thought there was sure to
be some unfortunate happening. But it was no affair of mine, was
it? Koupriane would have been able to say to me, 'Mind your own
business.' I had gone far enough in warning him of the 'living
bombs.' They had been denounced to us by the same agency that
enabled us to seize the two living bombs (women, if you please!)
who were going to the military tribunal at Cronstadt after the
rebellion in the fleet. Let him recall that. That ought to make
him reflect. I am a brave man. I know he speaks ill of me; but I
don't wish him any harm. The interests of the Empire before all
else between us! I wouldn't talk to you as I do if I didn't know
the Tsar honors you with his favor. Then I invited you to dinner.
As one dines one talks. But you did not come. And, while you were
dining down there and while Priemkof was on guard at the datcha,
that annoying affair Madame Gounsovski has spoken about happened."
Rouletabille had not sat down, in spite of Madame Gounsovski's
insistences. He took the box of cigars brusquely out of the hand
of the Chief of the Secret Service, who had continued tendering
them, for this detail of hospitality only annoyed his mood, which
had been dark enough for hours and was now deepened by what the
other had just said. He comprehended only one thing, that a man
named Priemkof, whom he had never heard spoken of, as determined as
Matiew to destroy the general, had been entrusted by Koupriane
with the guard of the datcha des Iles. It was necessary to warn
"How is it that you have not done so already, yourself, Monsieur
Gounsovski? Why wait to speak about it to me? It is unimaginable."
"Pardon, pardon," said Gounsovski, smiling softly behind his
goggles; "it is not the same thing."
"No, no, it is not the same thing," seconded the lady with the
black silk, brilliant jewels and flabby chin. "We speak here to a
friend in the course of dinner-talk, to a friend who is not of the
police. We never denounce anybody."
"We must tell you. But sit down now," Gounsovski still insisted,
lighting his cigar. "Be reasonable. They have just tried to
poison him, so they will take time to breathe before they try
something else. Then, too, this poison makes me think they may
have given up the idea of living bombs. Then, after all, what is
to be will be."
"Yes, yes," approved the ample dame. "The police never have been
able to prevent what was bound to happen. But, speaking of this
Priemkof, it remains between us, eh? Between just us?"
"Yes, we must tell you now," Gounsovski slipped in softly, "that it
will be much better not to let Koupriane know that you got the
information from me. Because then, you understand, he would not
believe you; or, rather, he would not believe me. That is why we
take these precautions of dining and smoking a cigar. We speak of
one thing and another and you do as you please with what we say.
But, to make them useful, it is absolutely necessary, I repeat, to
be silent about their source." (As he said that, Gounsovski gave
Rouletabille a piercing glance through his goggles, the first time
Rouletabille had seen such a look in his eyes. He never would have
suspected him capable of such fire.) "Priemkof," continued Gounsovski
in a low voice, using his handkerchief vigorously, "was employed
here in my home and we separated on bad terms, through his fault,
it is necessary to say. Then he got into Koupriane's confidence
by saying the worst he could of us, my dear little monsieur."
"But what could he say? - servants' stories! my dear little
monsieur," repeated the fat dame, and rolled her great magnificent
black eyes furiously. "Stories that have been treated as they
deserved at Court, certainly. Madame Daquin, the wife of His
Majesty's head-cook, whom you certainly know, and the nephew of the
second Maid of Honor to the Empress, who stands very well with his
aunt, have told us so; servants' stories that might have ruined us
but have not produced any effect on His Majesty, for whom we would
give our lives, Christ knows. Well, you understand now that if you
were to say to Koupriane, 'Gaspadine Gounsovski has spoken ill to
me of Priemkof,' he would not care to hear a word further. Still,
Priemkof is in the scheme for the living bombs, that is all I can
tell you; at least, he was before the affair of the poisoning. That
poisoning is certainly very astonishing, between us. It does not
appear to have come from without, whereas the living bombs will have
to come from without. And Priemkof is mixed up in it."
"Yes, yes," approved Madame Gounsovski again, "he is committed to
it. There have been stories about him, too. Other people as well
as he can tell tales; it isn't hard to do. He has got to make some
showing now if he is to keep in with Annouchka's clique."
"Koupriane, our dear Koupriane," interrupted Gounsovski, slightly
troubled at hearing his wife pronounce Annouchka's name, "Koupriane
ought to be able to understand that this time Priemkof must bring
things off, or he is definitely ruined."
"Priemkof knows it well enough," replied Madame as she re-filled
the glasses, "but Koupriane doesn't know it; that is all we can tell
you. Is it enough? All the rest is mere gossip."
It certainly was enough for Rouletabille; he had had enough of it!
This idle gossip and these living bombs! These pinchbecks, these
whispering tale-tellers in their bourgeois, countrified setting;
these politico-police comhinations whose grotesque side was always
uppermost; while the terrible side, the Siberian aspect, prisons,
black holes, hangings, disappearances, exiles and deaths and
martyrdoms remained so jealously hidden that no one ever spoke of
them! All that weight of horror, between a good cigar and "a little
glass of anisette, monsieur, if you won't take champagne." Still,
he had to drink before he left, touch glasses in a health, promise
to come again, whenever he wished - the house was open to him.
Rouletabille knew it was open to anybody - anybody who had a tale
to tell, something that would send some other person to prison or
to death and oblivion. No guard at the entrance to check a visitor
- men entered Gounsovski's house as the house of a friend, and he
was always ready to do you a service, certainly!
He accompanied the reporter to the stairs. Rouletabille was just
about to risk speaking of Annouchka to him, in order to approach
the subject of Natacha, when Gounsovski said suddenly, with a
"By the way, do you still believe in Natacha Trebassof?"
"I shall believe in her until my death," Rouletabille thrust back;
"but I admit to you that at this moment I don't know where she
"Watch the Bay of Lachtka, and come to tell me to-morrow if you
will believe in her always," replied Gounsovski, confidentially,
with a horrid sort of laugh that made the reporter hurry down
And now here was Priemkof to look after! Priemkof after Matiew!
It seemed to the young man that he had to contend against all the
revolutionaries not only, but all the Russian police as well - and
Gounsovski himself, and Koupriane! Everybody, everybody! But most
urgent was Priemkof and his living bombs. What a strange and almost
incomprehensible and harassing adventure this was between Nihilism
and the Russian police. Koupriane and Gounsovski both employed a
man they knew to be a revolutionary and the friend of revolutionaries.
Nihilism, on its side, considered this man of the police force as one
of its own agents. In his turn, this man, in order to maintain his
perilous equilibrium, had to do work for both the police and the
revolutionaries, and accept whatever either gave him to do as it
came, because it was necessary he should give them assurances of
his fidelity. Only imbeciles, like Gapone, let themselves be hanged
or ended by being executed, like Azef, because of their awkward
slips. But a Priemkof, playing both branches of the police, had a
good chance of living a long time, and a Gounsovski would die
tranquilly in his bed with all the solaces of religion.
However, the young hearts hot with sincerity, sheathed with dynamite,
are mysteriously moved in the atrocious darkness of Holy Russia, and
they do not know where they will be sent, and it is all one to them,
because all they ask is to die in a mad spiritual delirium of hate
and love - living bombs!*
*In the trial after the revolt at Cronstadt two young women were
charged with wearing bombs as false bosoms.
At the corner of Aptiekarski-Pereoulok Rouletabille came in the way
of Koupriane, who was leaving for Pere Alexis's place and, seeing
the reporter, stopped his carriage and called that he was going
immediately to the datcha.
"You have seen Pere Alexis?"
"Yes," said Koupriane. "And this time I have it on you. What I
told you, what I foresaw, has happened. But have you any news of
the sufferers? Apropos, rather a curious thing has happened. I
met Kister on the Newsky just now."
"Yes, one of Trebassof's physicians whom I had sent an inspector to
his house to fetch to the datcha, as well as his usual associate,
Doctor Litchkof. Well, neither Litchkof nor he had been summoned.
They didn't know anything had happened at the datcha. They had not
seen my inspector. I hope he has met some other doctor on the way
and, in view of the urgency, has taken him to the datcha."
"That is what has happened," replied Rouletabille, who had turned
very pale. "Still, it is strange these gentlemen had not been
notified, because at the datcha the Trebassofs were told that the
general's usual doctors were not at home and so the police had
summoned two others who would arrive at once."
Koupriane jumped up in the carriage.
"But Kister and Litchkof had not left their houses. Kister, who
had just met Litchkof, said so. What does this mean?"
"Can you tell me," asked Rouletabille, ready now for the thunder-clap
that his question invited, "the name of the inspector you ordered to
"Priemkof, a man with my entire confidence."
Koupriane's carriage rushed toward the Isles. Late evening had
come. Alone on the deserted route the horses seemed headed for the
stars; the carriage behind seemed no drag upon them. The coachman
bent above them, arms out, as though he would spring into the ether.
Ah, the beautiful night, the lovely, peaceful night beside the Neva,
marred by the wild gallop of these maddened horses!
"Priemkof! Priemkof! One of Gounsovski's men! I should have
suspected him," railed Koupriane after Rouletabille's explanations.
"But now, shall we arrive in time?"
They stood up in the carriage, urging the coachman, exciting the
horses: "Scan! Scan! Faster, douriak!" Could they arrive before
the "living bombs"? Could they hear them before they arrived? Ah,
there was Eliaguine!
They rushed from the one bank to the other as though there were no
bridges in their insensate course. And their ears were strained
for the explosion, for the abomination now to come, preparing slyly
in the night so hypocritically soft under the cold glance of the
stars. Suddenly, "Stop, stop!" Rouletabille cried to the coachman.
"Are you mad!" shouted Koupriane.
"We are mad if we arrive like madmen. That would make the
catastrophe sure. There is still a chance. If we wish not to lose
it, then we must arrive easily and calmly, like friends who know
the general is out of danger."
"Our only chance is to arrive before the bogus doctors. Either they
aren't there, or it already is all over. Priemkof must have been
surprised at the affair of the poisoning, but he has seized the
opportunity; fortunately he couldn't find his accomplices immediately."
"Here is the datcha, anyway. In the name of heaven, tell your driver
to stop the horses here. If the 'doctors' are already there it is we
who shall have killed the general."
"You are right."
Koupriane moderated his excitement and that of his driver and horses,
and the carriage stopped noiselessly, not far from the datcha. Ermolai
came toward them.
"Priemkof?" faltered Koupriane.
"He has gone again, Excellency."
"How - gone again?"
"Yes, but he has brought the doctors."
Koupriane crushed Rouletabille's wrist. The doctors were there!
"Madame Trebassof is better," continued Ermolai, who understood
nothing of their emotion. "The general is going to meet them and
take them to his wife himself."
"Where are they?"
"They are waiting in the drawing-room."
"Oh, Excellency, keep cool, keep cool, and all is not lost,"
implored the reporter.
Rouletabille and Koupriane slipped carefully into the garden.
Ermolai followed them.
"There?" inquired Koupriane.
"There," Ermolai replied.
From the corner where they were, and looking through the veranda,
they could see the "doctors" as they waited.
They were seated in chairs side by side, in a corner of the
drawing-room from where they could see every-thing in the room and
a part of the garden, which they faced, and could hear everything.
A window of the first-floor was open above their heads, so that
they could hear any noise from there. They could not be surprised
from any side, and they held every door in view. They were talking
softly and tranquilly, looking straight before them. They appeared
young. One had a pleasant face, pale but smiling, with rather long,
curly hair; the other was more angular, with haughty bearing and
grave face, an eagle nose and glasses. Both wore long black coats
buttoned over their calm chests.
Koupriane and the reporter, followed by Ermolai, advanced with the
greatest precaution across the lawn. Screened by the wooden steps
leading to the veranda and by the vine-clad balustrade, they got
near enough to hear them. Koupriane gave eager ear to the words
of these two young men, who might have been so rich in the many
years of life that naturally belonged to them, and who were about
to die so horrible a death in destroying all about them. They
spoke of what time it was, of the softness of the night and the
beauty of the sky; they spoke of the shadows under the birch-trees,
of the gulf shining in the late evening's fading golden light, of
the river's freshness and the sweetness of springtime in the North.
That is what they talked about. Koupriane murmured, "The assassins!"
Now it was necessary to decide on action, and that necessity was
horrible. A false movement, an awkwardness, and the "doctors"
would be warned, and everything lost. They must have the bombs
under their coats; there were certainly at least two "living bombs."
Their chests, as they breathed, must heave to and fro and their
hearts beat against an impending explosion.
Above on the bedroom floor, they heard the rapid arranging of the
room, steps on the floor and a confusion of voices; shadows passed
across the window-space. Koupriane rapidly interrogated Ermolai
and learned that all the general's friends were there. The two
doctors had arrived only a couple of minutes before the Prefect of
Police and the reporter. The little doctor of Vassili-Ostrow had
already gone, saying there was nothing more for him to do when two
such celebrated specialists had arrived. However, in spite of their
celebrity, no one had ever heard the names they gave. Koupriane
believed the little doctor was an accomplice. The most necessary
thing was to warn those in the room above. There was immediate
danger that someone would come downstairs to find the doctors and
take them to the general, or that the general would come down
himself to meet them. Evidently that was what they were waiting
for. They wished to die in his arms, to make sure that this time
he did not escape them! Koupriane directed Ermolai to go into the
veranda and speak in a commonplace way to them at the threshold of
the drawing-room door, saying that he would go upstairs and see if
he might now escort them to Madame Trebassof's room. Once in the
room above, he could warn the others not to do anything but wait
for Koupriane; then Ermolai was to come down and say to the men,
"In just a moment, if you please."
Ermolai crept back as far as the lodge, and then came quite
normally up the path, letting the gravel crunch under his
countrified footsteps. He was an intelligent man, and grasped with
extraordinary coolness the importance of the plan of campaign.
Easily and naturally he mounted the veranda steps, paused at the
threshold of the drawing-room, made the remark he had been told to
make, and went upstairs. Koupriane and Rouletabille now watched
the bedroom windows. The flitting shadows there suddenly became
motionless. All moving about ceased; no more steps were heard,
nothing. And that sudden silence made the two "doctors" raise
their faces toward the ceiling. Then they exchanged an aroused
glance. This change in the manner of things above was dangerous.
Koupriane muttered, "The idiots!" It was such a blow for those
upstairs to learn they walked over a mine ready to explode that
it evidently had paralyzed their limbs. Happily Ermolai came
down almost immediately and said to the "doctors" in his very best
"Just a second, messieurs, if you please."
He did it still with utter naturalness. And he returned to the
ledge before he rejoined Koupriane and Rouletabille by way of the
lawn. Rouletabille, entirely cool, quite master of himself, as calm
now as Koupriane was nervous, said to the Prefect of Police:
"We must act now, and quickly. They are commencing to be suspicious.
Have you a plan?"
"Here is all I can see," said Koupriane. "Have the general come
down by the narrow servants' stairway, and slip out of the house
from the window of Natacha's sitting-room, with the aid of a twisted
sheet. Matrena Petrovna will come to speak to them during this
time; that will keep them patient until the general is out of danger.
As soon as Matrena has withdrawn into the garden, I will call my men,
who will shoot them from a distance."
"And the house itself? And the general's friends?"
"Let them try to get away, too, by the servants' stairway and jump
from the window after the general. We must try something. Say that
I have them at the muzzle of my revolver."
"Your plan won't work," said Rouletabille, "unless the door of
Natacha's sitting-room that opens on the drawing-room is closed."
"It is. I can see from here."
"And unless the door of the little passage-way before that staircase
that opens into the drawing-room is closed also, and you cannot see
it from here."
"That door is open," said Ermolai.
Koupriane swore. But he recovered himself promptly.
"Madame Trebassof will close the door when she speaks to them."
"It's impracticable," said the reporter. "That will arouse their
suspicions more than ever. Leave it to me; I have a plan."
"I have time to execute it, but not to tell you about it. They
have already waited too long. I shall have to go upstairs, though.
Ermolai will need to go with me, as with a friend of the family."
"I'll go too."
"That would give the whole show away, if they saw you, the Prefect
"Why, no. If they see me - and they know I ought to be there - as
soon as I show myself to them they will conclude I don't know
anything about it."
"You are wrong."
"It is my duty. I should be near the general to defend him until
Rouletabille shrugged his shoulders before this dangerous heroism,
but he did not stop to argue. He knew that his plan must succeed
at once, or in five minutes at the latest there would be only ruins,
the dead and the dying in the datcha des Iles.
Still he remained astonishingly calm. In principle he had admitted
that he was going to die. The only hope of being saved which
remained to them rested entirely upon their keeping perfectly cool
and upon the patience of the living bombs. Would they still have
three minutes' patience?
Ermolai went ahead of Koupriane and Rouletabille. At the moment
they reached the foot of the veranda steps the servant said loudly,
repeating his lesson:
"Oh, the general is waiting for you, Excellency. He told me to
have you come to him at once. He is entirely well and Madame
When they were in the veranda, he added:
"She is to see also, at once, these gentlemen, who will be able to
tell her there is no more danger."
And all three passed while Koupriane and Rodetabille vaguely saluted
the two conspirators in the drawing-room. It was a decisive moment.
Recognizing Koupriane, the two Nihilists might well believe
themselves discovered, as the reporter had said, and precipitate
the catastrophe. However, Ermolai, Koupriane and Rouletabille
climbed the stairs to the bedroom like automatons, not daring to
look behind them, and expecting the end each instant. But neither
stirred. Ermolai went down again, by Rouletabille's order,
normally, naturally, tranquilly. They went into Matrena Petrovna's
chamber. Everybody was there. It was a gathering of ghosts.
Here was what had happened above. That the "doctors" still remained
below, that they had not been received instantly, in brief, that the
catastrophe had been delayed up to now was due to Matrena Petrovna,
whose watchful love, like a watch-dog, was always ready to scent
danger. These two "doctors" whose names she did not know, who
arrived so late, and the precipitate departure of the little doctor
of Vassili-Ostrow aroused her watchfulness. Before allowing them
to come upstairs to the general she resolved to have a look at them
herself downstairs. She arose from her bed for that; and now her
presentiment was justified. When she saw Ermolai, sober and
mysterious, enter with Koupriane's message, she knew instinctively,
before he spoke, that there were bombs in the house. When Ermolai
did speak it was a blow for everybody. At first she, Matrena
Perovna, had been a frightened, foolish figure in the big flowered
dressing-gown belonging to Feodor that she had wrapped about her in
her haste. When Ermolai left, the general, who knew she only
trembled for him, tried to reassure her, and, in the midst of the
frightened silence of all of them, said a few words recalling the
failure of all the previous attempts. But she shook her head and
trembled, shaking with fear for him, in agony at the thought that
she could do nothing there above those living bombs but wait for
them to burst. As to the friends, already their limbs were ruined,
absolutely ruined, in very truth. For a moment they were quite
incapable of moving. The jolly Councilor of Empire, Ivan Petrovitch,
had no longer a lively tale to tell, and the abominable prospect of
"this horrible mix-up" right at hand rendered him much less gay
than in his best hours at Cubat's place. And poor Thaddeus
Tchitchnikoff was whiter than the snow that covers old Lithuania's
fields when the winter's chase is on. Athanase Georgevitch himself
was not brilliant, and his sanguine face had quite changed, as
though he had difficulty in digesting his last masterpiece with
knife and fork. But, in justice to them, that was the first
instantaneous effect. No one could learn like that, all of a
sudden, that they were about to die in an indiscriminate slaughter
without the heart being stopped for a little. Ermolai's words had
turned these amiable loafers into waxen statues, but, little by
little, their hearts commenced to beat again and each suggested
some way of preventing the disaster - all of them sufficiently
incoherent - while Matrena Petrovna invoked the Virgin and at the
same time helped Feodor Feodorovitch adjust his sword and buckle
his belt; for the general wished to die in uniform.
Athanase Georgevitch, his eyes sticking out of his head and his body
bent as though he feared the Nihlists just below him might perceive
his tall form - through the floor, no doubt - proposed that they
should throw themselves out of the window, even at the cost of
broken legs. The saddened Councilor of Empire declared that project
simply idiotic, for as they fell they would be absolutely at the
disposal of the Nihilists, who would be attracted by the noise and
would make a handful of dust of them with a single gesture through
the window. Thaddeus Tchitchnikoff, who couldn't think of anything
at all, blamed Koupriane and the rest of the police for not having
devised something. Why hadn't they already got rid of these
Nihilists? After the frightened silence they had kept at first,
now they all spoke at once, in low voices, hoarse and rapid, with
shortened breath, making wild movements of the arms and head, and
walked here and there in the chamber quite without motive, but very
softly on tiptoe, going to the windows, returning, listening at the
doors, peering through the key-holes, exchanging absurd suggestions,
full of the wildest imaginings. "If we should ... if ... if,"
- everybody speaking and everybody making signs for the others to
be quiet. "Lower! If they hear us, we are lost." And Koupriane,
who did not come, and his police, who themselves had brought two
assassins into the house, and were not able now to make them leave
without having everybody jump! They were certainly lost. There
was nothing left but to say their prayers. They turned to the
general and Matrena Petrovna, who were wrapped in a close embrace.
Feodor had taken the poor disheveled head of the good Matrena
between his hands and pressed it upon his shoulders as he embraced
her. He said, "Rest quietly against my heart, Matrena Petrovna.
Nothing can happen to us except what God wills."
At that sight and that remark the others grew ashamed of their
confusion. The harmony of that couple embracing in the presence
of death restored them to themselves, to their courage, and their
"Nitchevo." Athanase Georgevitch, Ivan Petrovitch and Thaddeus
Tchitchnikoff repeated after Matrena Petrovna, "As God wills."
And then they said "Nitchevo! Nitchevo!* We will all die with
you, Feodor Feodorovitch." And they all kissed one another and
clasped one another in their arms, their eyes dim with love one for
another, as at the end of a great banquet when they had eaten and
drunk heavily in honor of one another.
*"What does it matter!"
"Listen. Someone is coming up the stairs," whispered Matrena, with
her keen ear, and she slipped from the restraint of her husband.
Breathless, they all hurried to the door opening on the landing,
but with steps as light "as though they walked on eggs." All four
of them were leaning over there close by the door, hardly daring
to breathe. They heard two men on the stairs. Were they Koupriane
and Rouletabille, or were they the others? They had revolvers in
their hands and drew back a little when the footsteps sounded near
the door. Behind them Trebassof was quietly seated in his chair.
The door was opened and Koupriane and Rouletabille perceived these
death-like figures, motionless and mute. No one dared to speak or
make a movement until the door had been closed. But then:
"Well? Well? Save us! Where are they? Ah, my dear little
domovoi-doukh, save the general, for the love of the Virgin!"
"Tsst! tsst! Silence."
Rouletabille, very pale, but calm, spoke:
"The plan is simple. They are between the two staircases, watching
the one and the other. I will go and find them and make them mount
the one while you descend by the other."
"Caracho! That is simple enough. Why didn't we think of it sooner?
Because everybody lost his head except the dear little domovoi-doukh!"
But here something happened Rouletabille had not counted on. The
general rose and said, "You have forgotten one thing, my young
friend; that is that General Trebassof will not descend by the
His friends looked at him in stupefaction, and asked if he had gone
"What is this you say, Feodor?" implored Matrena.
"I say," insisted the general, "that I have had enough of this
comedy, and that since Monsieur Koupriane has not been able to
arrest these men, and since, on their side, they don't seem to
decide to do their duty, I shall go myself and put them out of my
He started a few steps, but had not his cane and suddenly he
tottered. Matrena Petrovna jumped to him and lifted him in her
arms as though he were a feather.
"Not by the servants' stairway, not by the servants' stairway,"
growled the obstinate general.
"You will go," Matrena replied to him, "by the way I take you."
And she carried him back into the apartment while she said quickly
"Go, little domovoi! And God protect us!"
Rouletabille disappeared at once through the door to the main
staircase, and the group attended by Koupriane, passed through the
dressing-room and the general's chamber, Matrena Petrovna in the
lead with her precious burden. Ivan Petrovitch had his hand
already on the famous bolt which locked the door to the servants'
staircase when they all turned at the sound of a quick step behind
them. Rouletabille had returned.
"They are no longer in the drawing-room."
"Not in the drawing-room! Where are they, then?"
Rouletabille pointed to the door they were about to open.
"Perhaps behind that door. Take care!"
All drew back.
"But Ermolai ought to know where they are," exclaimed Koupriane.
"Perhaps they have gone, finding out they were discovered."
"They have assassinated Ermolai."
"I have seen his body lying in the middle of the drawing-room as I
leaned over the top of the banister. But they were not in the room,
and I was afraid you would run into them, for they may well be hidden
in the servants' stairway."
"Then open the window, Koupriane, and call your men to deliver us."
"I am quite willing," replied Koupriane coldly, "but it is the
signal for our deaths."
"Well, why do they wait so to make us die?" muttered Feodor
Feodorovitch. "I find them very tedious about it, for myself.
What are you doing, Ivan Petrovitch?"
The spectral figure of Ivan Petrovitch, bent beside the door of the
stairway, seemed to be hearing things the others could not catch,
but which frightened them so that they fled from the general's
chamber in disorder. Ivan Petrovitch was close on them, his eyes
almost sticking from his head, his mouth babbling:
"They are there! They are there!"
Athanase Georgevitch open a window wildly and said:
"I am going to jump."
But Thaddeus Tchitchnikofl' stopped him with a word. "For me, I
shall not leave Feodor Feodorovitch."
Athanase and Ivan both felt ashamed, and trembling, but brave, they
gathered round the general and said, "We will die together, we will
die together. We have lived with Feodor Feodorovitch, and we will
die with him."
"What are they waiting for? What are they waiting for?" grumbled
Matrena Petrovna's teeth chattered. "They are waiting for us to
go down," said Koupraine.
"Very well, let us do it. This thing must end," said Feodor.
"Yes, yes," they all said, for the situation was becoming
intolerable; "enough of this. Go on down. Go on down. God, the
Virgin and Saints Peter and Paul protect us. Let us go."
The whole group, therefore, went to the main staircase, with the
movements of drunken men, fantastic waving of the arms, mouths
speaking all together, saying things no one but themselves
understood. Rouletabille had already hurriedly preceded them, was
down the staircase, had time to throw a glance into the drawing-room,
stepped over Ermolai's huge corpse, entered Natacha's sitting-room
and her chamber, found all these places deserted and bounded back
into the veranda at the moment the others commenced to descend
the steps around Feodor Feodorovitch. The reporter's eyes searched
all the dark corners and had perceived nothing suspicious when, in
the veranda, he moved a chair. A shadow detached itself from it
and glided under the staircase. Rouletabille cried to the group
on the stairs.
"They are under the staircase!"
Then Rouletabille confronted a sight that he could never forget all
At this cry, they all stopped, after an instinctive move to go back.
Feodor Feodorovitch, who was still in Matrena Petrovna's arms, cried:
"Vive le Tsar!"
And then, those whom the reporter half expected to see flee,
distracted, one way and another, or to throw themselves madly from
the height of the steps, abandoning Feodor and Matrena, gathered
themselves instead by a spontaneous movement around the general,
like a guard of honor, in battle, around the flag. Koupriane
marched ahead. And they insisted also upon descending the terrible
steps slowly, and sang the Bodje tsara Krani, the national anthem!
With an overwhelming roar, which shocked earth and sky and the ears
of Rouletabille, the entire house seemed lifted in the air; the
staircase rose amid flame and smoke, and the group which sang the
Bodje tsara Krani disappeared in a horrible apotheosis.
They ascertained the next day that there had been two explosions,
almost simultaneous, one under each staircase. The two Nihilists,
when they felt themselves discovered, and watched by Ermolai, had
thrown themselves silently on him as he turned his back in passing
them, and strangled him with a piece of twine. Then they separated
each to watch one of the staircases, reasoning that Koupriane and
General Trebassof would have to decide to descend.
The datcha des Iles was nothing now but a smoking ruin. But from
the fact that the living bombs had exploded separately the
destructive effect was diffused, and although there were numerous
wounded, as in the case of the attack on the Stolypine datcha, at
least no one was killed outright; that is, excepting the two
Nihilists, of whom no trace could be found save a few rags.
Rouletabille had been hurled into the garden and he was glad enough
to escape so, a little shaken, but without a scratch. The group
composed of Feodor and his friends were strangely protected by the
lightness of the datcha's construction. The iron staircase, which,
so to speak, almost hung to the two floors, being barely attached
at top and bottom, raised under them and then threw them off as it
broke into a thousand pieces, but only after, by its very yielding,
it had protected them from the first force of the bomb. They had
risen from the ruins without mortal wounds. Koupriane had a hand
badly burned, Athanase Georgevitch had his nose and cheeks seriously
hurt, Ivan Petrovitch lost an ear; the most seriously injured was
Thaddeus Tchitchnikoff, both of whose legs were broken.
Extraordinarily enough, the first person who appeared, rising from
the midst of the wreckage, was Matrena Petrovna, still holding
Feodor in her arms. She had escaped with a few burns and the
general, saved again by the luck of the soldier whom Death does not
want, was absolutely uninjured. Feodor gave shouts of joy. They
strove to quiet him, because, after all, around him some poor
wretches had been badly hurt, as well as poor Ermolai, who lay
there dead. The domestics in the basement had been more seriously
wounded and burned because the main force of the explosion had gone
downwards; which had probably saved the personages above.
Rouletabille had been taken with the other victims to a neighboring
datcha; but as soon as he had shaken himself free of that terrible
nightmare he escaped from the place. He really regretted that he
was not dead. These successive waves of events had swamped him;
and he accused himself alone of all this disaster. With acutest
anxiety he had inquired about the condition of each of "his victims."
Feodor had not been wounded, but now he was almost delirious, asking
every other minute as the hours crept on for Natacha, who had not
reappeared. That unhappy girl Rouletabille had steadily believed
innocent. Was she a culprit? "Ah, if she had only chosen to! If
she had had confidence," he cried, raising anguished hands towards
heaven, "none of all this need have happened. No one would have
attacked and no one would ever again attack the life of Trebassof.
For I was not wrong in claiming before Koupriane that the general's
life was in my hand, and I had the right to say to him, 'Life for
life! Give me Matiew's and I will give you the general's.' And now
there has been one more fruitless attempt to kill Feodor
Feodorovitch and it is Natacha's fault - that I swear, because she
would not listen to me. And is Natacha implicated in it? O my God"
Rouletabille asked this vain question of the Divinity, for he
expected no more help in answering it on earth.
Natacha! Innocent or guilty, where was she? What was she doing?
to know that! To know if one were right or wrong - and if one were
wrong, to disappear, to die!
Thus the unhappy Rouletabille muttered as he walked along the bank
of the Neva, not far from the ruins of the poor datcha, where the
joyous friends of Feodor Feodorovitch would have no more good
dinners, never; so he soliloquized, his head on fire.
And, all at once, he recovered trace of the young girl, that trace
lost earlier, a trace left at her moment of flight, after the
poisoning and before the explosion. And had he not in that a
terrible coincidence? Because the poison might well have been only
in preparation for the final attack, the pretext for the tragic
arrival of the two false doctors. Natacha, Natacha, the living
mystery surrounded already by so many dead!
Not far from the ruins of the datcha Rouletabille soon made sure
that a group of people had been there the night before, coming
from the woods near-by, and returning to them. He was able to be
sure of this because the boundaries of the datcha had been guarded
by troops and police as soon as the explosion took place, under
orders to keep back the crowd that hurried to Eliaguine. He looked
attentively at the grass, the ferns, the broken and trampled twigs.
Certainly a struggle had occurred there. He could distinguish
clearly in the soft earth of a narrow glade the prints of Natacha's
two little boots among all the large footprints.
He continued his search with his heart heavier and heavier, he had
a presentiment that he was on the point of discovering a new
misfortune. The footprints passed steadily under the branches along
the side of the Neva. From a bush he picked a shred of white cloth,
and it seemed to him a veritable battle had taken place there.
Torn branches strewed the grass. He went on. Very close to the
bank he saw by examination of the soil, where there was no more
trace of tiny heels and little soles, that the woman who had been
found there was carried, and carried, into a boat, of which the
place of fastening to the bank was still visible.
"They have carried off Natacha," he cried in a surge of anguish.
"bungler that I am, that is my fault too - all my fault - all my
fault! They wished to avenge Michael Nikolaievitch's death, for
which they hold Natacha responsible, and they have kidnapped her."
His eyes searched the great arm of the river for a boat. The river
was deserted. Not a sail, nothing visible on the dead waters!
"What shall I do? What shall I do? I must save her."
He resumed his course along the river. Who could give him any
useful information? He drew near a little shelter occupied by a
guard. The guard was speaking to an officer. Perhaps he had
noticed something during his watch that evening along the river.
That branch of the river was almost always deserted after the day
was over. A boat plying between these shores in the twilight would
certainly attract attention. Rouletabille showed the guard the
paper Koupriane had given him in the beginning, and with the officer
(who turned out to be a police officer) as interpreter, he asked his
questions. As a matter of fact the guard had been sufficiently
puzzled by the doings and comings of a light boat which, after
disappearing for an instant, around the bend of the river, had
suddenly rowed swiftly out again and accosted a sailing-yacht which
appeared at the opening of the gulf. It was one of those small but
rapid and elegant sailing craft such as are seen in the Lachtka
Lachtka! "The Bay of Lachtka!"
The word was a ray of light for the reporter, who recalled now the
counsel Gounsovski had given him. "Watch the Bay of Lachtka, and
tell me then if you still believe Natacha is innocent!" Gounsovski
must have known when he said this that Natacha had embarked in
company with the Nihilists, but evidently he was ignorant that she
had gone with them under compulsion, as their prisoner.
Was it too late to save Natacha? In any case, before he died, he
would try in every way possible, so as at least to have kept her
as much as he could from the disaster for which he held himself
responsible. He ran to the Barque, near the Point.
His voice was firm as he hailed the canoe of the floating restaurant
where, thanks to him, Koupriane had been thwarted in impotent anger.
He had himself taken to just below Staria-Derevnia and jumped out
at the spot where he saw little Katharina disappear a few days
before. He landed in the mud and climbed on hands and knees up the
slope of a roadway which followed the bank. This bank led to the
Bay of Lachtka, not far from the frontier of Finland.
On Rouletabille's left lay the sea, the immense gulf with slight
waves; to his right was the decaying stretch of the marsh. Stagnant
water stretching to the horizon, coarse grass and reeds, an
extraordinary tangle of water-plants, small ponds whose greenish
scum did not stir under the stiff breeze, water that was heavy and
dirty. Along this narrow strip of land thrust thus between the
marsh, the sky and the sea, he hurried, with many stumblings, his
eyes fixed on the deserted gulf. Suddenly he turned his head at
a singular noise. At first he didn't see anything, but heard in
the distance a vague clamoring while a sort of vapor commenced to
rise from the marsh. And then he noticed, nearer him, the high
marsh grasses undulating. Finally he saw a countless flock rising
from the bed of the marshes. Beasts, groups of beasts, whose horns
one saw like bayonets, jostled each other trying to keep to the firm
land. Many of them swam and on the backs of some were naked men,
stark naked, with hair falling to their shoulders and streaming
behind them like manes. They shouted war-cries and waved their
clubs. Rouletabille stopped short before this prehistoric invasion.
He would never have imagined that a few miles from the Newsky
Prospect he could have found himself in the midst of such a
spectacle. These savages had not even a loin-cloth. Where did they
come from with their herd? From what remote place in the world or
in old and gone history had they emerged? What was this new
invasion? What prodigious slaughter-house awaited these unruly
herds? They made a noise like thunder in the marsh. Here were a
thousand unkempt haunches undulating in the marsh like the ocean as
a storm approaches. The stark-naked men jumped along the route,
waving their clubs, crying gutturally in a way the beasts seemed
to understand. They worked their way out from the marsh and turned
toward the city, leaving behind, to swathe the view of them a while
and then fade away, a pestilential haze that hung like an aura about
the naked, long-haired men. It was terrible and magnificent. In
order not to be shoved into the water, Rouletabille had climbed a
small rock that stood beside the route, and had waited there as
though petrified himself. When the barbarians had finally passed
by he climbed down again, but the route had become a bog of
Happily, he heard the noise of a primitive conveyance behind him.
It was a telega. Curiously primitive, the telega is four-wheeled,
with two planks thrown crudely across the axle-trees. Rouletabille
gave the man who was seated in it thee roubles, and jumped into
the planks beside him, and the two little Finnish horses, whose
manes hung clear to the mud, went like the wind. Such crude
conveyances are necessary on such crude roads, but it requires a
strong constitution to make a journey on them. Still, the reporter
felt none of the jolting, he was so intent on the sea and the coast
of Lachtka Bay. The vehicle finally reached a wooden bridge, across
a murky creek. As the day commenced to fade colorlessly,
Rouletabille jumped off onto the shore and his rustic equipage
crossed to the Sestroriesk side. It was a corner of land black and
somber as his thoughts that he surveyed now. "Watch the Bay of
Lachtka!" The reporter knew that this desolate plain, this
impenetrable marsh, this sea which offered the fugitive refuge in
innumerable fords, had always been a useful retreat for Nihilistic
adventurers. A hundred legends circulated in St. Petersburg about
the mysteries of Lachtka marshes. And that gave him his last hope.
Maybe he would be able to run across some revolutionaries to whom
he could explain about Natacha, as prudently as possible; he might
even see Natacha herself. Gounsovski could not have spoken vain
words to him.
Between the Lachtkrinsky marsh and the strand he perceived on the
edge of the forests which run as far as Sestroriesk a little wooden
house whose walls were painted a reddish-brown, and its roof green.
It was not the Russian isba, but the Finnish touba. However, a
Russian sign announced it to be a restaurant. The young man had to
take only a few steps to enter it. He was the only customer there.
An old man, with glasses and a long gray beard, evidently the
proprietor of the establishment, stood behind the counter, presiding
over the zakouskis. Rouletabille chose some little sandwiches which
he placed on a plate. He took a bottle of pivo and made the man
understand that later, if it were possible, he would like a good hot
supper. The other made a sign that he understood and showed him
into an adjoining room which was used for diners. Rouletabille was
quite ready enough to die in the face of his failures, but he did
not wish to perish from hunger.
A table was placed beside a window looking out over the sea and
over the entrance to the bay. It could not have been better and,
with his eye now on the horizon, now on the estuary near-by, he
commenced to eat with gloomy avidity. He was inclined to feel sorry
for himself, to indulge in self-pity. "Just the same, two and two
always make four," he said to himself; "but in my calculations
perhaps I have forgotten the surd. Ah, there was a time when I
would not have overlooked anything. And even now I haven't
overlooked anything, if Natacha is innocent!" Having literally
scoured the plate, he struck the table a great blow with his fist
and said: "She is!"
Just then the door opened. Rouletabille supposed the proprietor of
the place was entering.
It was Koupriane.
He rose, startled. He could not imagine by what mystery the Prefect
of Police had made his way there, but he rejoiced from the bottom
of his heart, for if he was trying to rescue Natacha from the hands
of the revolutionaries Koupriane would be a valuable ally. He
clapped the Prefect on the shoulder.
"Well, well!" he said, almost joyfully. "I certainly did not expect
you here. How is your wound?"
"Nitchevo! Not worth speaking about; it's nothing."
"And the general and -! Ah, that frightful night! And those two
unfortunates who -?"
"And poor Ermolai!"
"Nitchevo! Nitchevo! It is nothing."
Rouletabille looked him over. The Prefect of Police had an arm in
a sling, but he was bright and shining as a new ten-rouble piece,
while he, poor Rouletabille, was so abominably soiled and depressed.
Where did he come from? Koupriane understood his look and smiled.
"Well, I have just come from the Finland train; it is the best way."
"But what can you have come here to do, Excellency?"
"The same thing as you."
"Bah!" exclaimed Rouletabille, "do you mean to say that you have
come here to save Natacha?"
"How - to save her! I come to capture her."
"To capture her?"
"Monsieur Rouletabille, I have a very fine little dungeon in Saints
Peter and Paul fortress that is all ready for her."
"You are going to throw Natacha into a dungeon!"
"The Emperor's order, Monsieur Rouletabille. And if you see me
here in person it is simply because His Majesty requires that the
thing be done as respectfully and discreetly as possible."
"Natacha in prison!" cried the reporter, who saw in horror all
obstacles rising before him at one and the same time. "For what
"The reason is simple enough. Natacha Feodorovna is the last word
in wickedness and doesn't deserve anybody's pity. She is the
accomplice of the revolutionaries and the instigator of all the
crimes against her father."
"I am sure that you are mistaken, Excellency. But how have you
been guided to her?"
"Simply by you."
"Yes, we lost all trace of Natacha. But, as you had disappeared
also, I made up my mind that you could only be occupied in searching
for her, and that by finding you I might have the chance to lay my
hands on her."
"But I haven't seen any of your men?"
"Why, one of them brought you here."
"Yes, you. Didn't you climb onto a telega?"
"Ah, the driver."
"Exactly. I had arranged to have him meet me at the Sestroriesk
station. He pointed out the place where you dropped off, and here
The reporter bent his head, red with chagrin. Decidedly the
sinister idea that he was responsible for the death of an innocent
man and all the ills which had followed out of it had paralyzed his
detective talents. He recognized it now. What was the use of
struggling! If anyone had told him that he would be played with
that way sometime, he, Rouletabille! he would have laughed heartily
enough - then. But now, well, he wasn't capable of anything further.
He was his own most cruel enemy. Not only was Natacha in the hands
of the revolutionaries through his fault, by his abominable error,
but worse yet, in the very moment when he wished to save her, he
foolishly, naively, had conducted the police to the very spot where
they should have been kept away. It was the depth of his
humiliation; Koupriane really pitied the reporter.
"Come, don't blame yourself too much," said he. "We would have
found Natacha without you; Gounsovski notified us that she was going
to embark in the Bay of Lachtka this evening with Priemkof."
"Natacha with Priemkof!" exclaimed Rouletabille. "Natacha with the
man who introduced the two living bombs into her father's house! If
she is with him, Excellency, it is because she is his prisoner, and
that alone will be sufficient to prove her innocence. I thank the
Heaven that has sent you here."
Koupriane swallowed a glass of vodka, poured another after it, and
finally deigned to translate his thought:
"Natacha is the friend of these precious men and we will see them
disembark hand in hand."
"Your men, then, haven't studied the traces of the struggle that
'these precious men' have had on the banks of the Neva before they
carried away Natacha?"
"Oh, they haven't been hoodwinked. As a matter of fact, the struggle
was quite too visible not to have been done for appearances' sake.
What a child you are! Can't you see that Natacha's presence in the
datcha had become quite too dangerous for that charming young girl
after the poisoning of her father and step-mother failed and at the
moment when her comrades were preparing to send General Trebassof a
pleasant little gift of dynamite? She arranged to get away and yet
to appear kidnapped. It is too simple."
Rouletabille raised his head.
"There is something simpler still to imagine than the culpability
of Natacha. It is that Priemkof schemed to pour the poison into
the flask of vodka, saying to himself that if the poison didn't
succeed at least it would make the occasion for introducing his
dynamite into the house in the pockets of the 'doctors' that they
would go to find."
Koupriane seized Rouletabille's wrist and threw some terrible words
at him, looking into the depths of his eyes:
"It was not Priemkof who poured the poison, because there was no
poison in the flask."
Rouletabille, as he heard this extraordinary declaration, rose,
more startled than he had ever been in the course of this startling
If there was no poison in the flask, the poison must have been
poured directly into the glasses by a person who was in the kiosk!
Now, there were only four persons in the kiosk: the two who were
poisoned and Natacha and himself, Rouletabille. And that kiosk
was so perfectly isolated that it was impossible for any other
persons than the four who were there to pour poison upon the table.
"But it is not possible!" he cried.
"It is so possible that it is so. Pere Alexis dedared that there
is no poison in the flask, and I ought to tell you that an analysis
I had made after his bears him out. There was no poison, either,
in the small bottle you took to Pere Alexis and into which you
yourself had poured the contents of Natacha's glass and yours; no
trace of poison excepting in two of the four glasses, arsenate of
soda was found only on the soiled napkins of Trebassof and his wife
and in the two glasses they drank from."
"Oh, that is horrible," muttered the stupefied reporter; "that is
horrible, for then the poisoner must be either Natacha or me."
"I have every confidence in you," declared Koupriane with a great
laugh of satisfaction, striking him on the shoulder. "And I arrest
Natacha, and you who love logic ought to be satisfied now."
Rouletabille hadn't a word more to say. He sat down again and let
his head fall into his hands, like one sleep has seized.
"Ah, our young girls; you don't know them. They are terrible,
terrible!" said Koupriane, lighting a big cigar. "Much more
terrible than the boys. In good families the boys still enjoy
themselves; but the girls - they read! It goes to their heads.
They are ready for anything; they know neither father nor mother.
Ah, you are a child, you cannot comprehend. Two lovely eyes, a
melancholy air, a soft, low voice, and you are captured - you
believe you have before you simply an inoffensive, good little
girl. Well, Rouletabille, here is what I will tell you for your
instruction. There was the time of the Tchipoff attack; the
revolutionaries who were assigned to kill Tchipoff were disguised
as coachmen and footmen. Everthing had been carefully prepared
and it would seem that no one could have discovered the bombs in
the place they had been stored. Well, do you know the place where
those bombs were found? In the rooms of the governor, of Wladmir's
daughter! Exactly, my little friend, just there! The rooms of
the governor's daughter, Mademoiselle Alexeieiv. Ah, these young
girls! Besides, it was this same Mademoiselle Alexeieiv who, so
prettily, pierced the brain of an honest Swiss merchant who had the
misfortune to resemble one of our ministers. If we had hanged that
charming young girl earlier, my dear Monsieur Rouletabille, that
last catastrophe might have been avoided. A good rope around the
neck of all these little females - it is the only way, the only
A man entered. Rouletabille recognized the driver of the telega.
There were some rapid words between the Chief and the agent. The
man closed the shutters of the room, but through the interstices
they would be able to see what went on outside. Then the agent left;
Koupriane, as he pushed aside the table that was near the window,
said to the reporter:
"You had better come to the window; my man has just told me the boat
is drawing near. You can watch an interesting sight. We are sure
that Natacha is still aboard. The yacht, after the explosion at
the datcha, took up two men who put off to it in a canoe, and since
then it has simply sailed back and forth in the gulf. We have taken
our precautions in Finland the same as here and it is here they are
going to try to disembark. Keep an eye on them."
Koupriane was at his post of observation. Evening slowly fell.
The sky was growing grayish-black, a tint that blended with the
slate-colored sea. To those on the bank, the sound of the men
about to die came softly across the water. There was a sail far
out. Between the strand and the touba where Koupriane watched, was
a ridge, a window, which, however, did not hide the shore or the bay
from the prefect of police, because at the height where he was his
glance passed at an angle above it. But from the sea this ridge
entirely hid anyone who lay in ambush behind it. The reporter
watched fifty moujiks flat on their stomachs crawling up the ridge,
behind two of their number whose heads alone topped the ridge. In
the line of gaze taken by those two heads was the white sail,
looming much larger now. The yacht was heeled in the water and
glided with real elegance, heading straight on. Suddenly, just
when they supposed she was coming straight to shore, the sails fell
and a canoe was dropped over the side. Four men got into it; then
a woman jumped lightly down a little gangway into the canoe. It
was Natacha. Koupriane had no difficulty in recognizing her through
the gathering darkness.
"Ah, my dear Monsieur Rouletabille," said he, "see your prisoner of
the Nihilists. Notice how she is bound. Her thongs certainly are
causing her great pain. These revolutionaries surely are brutes!"
The truth was that Natacha had gone quite readily to the rudder and
while the others rowed she steered the light boat to the place on
the beach that had been pointed out to her. Soon the prow of the
canoe touched the sands. There did not seem to be a soul about,
and that was the conclusion the men in the canoe who stood up
looking around, seemed to reach. They jumped out, and then it was
Natacha's turn. She accepted the hand held out to her, talking
pleasantly with the men all the time. She even turned to press the
hand of one of them. The group came up across the beach. All this
time the watchers in the little eating-house could see the false
moujiks, who had wriggled on their stomachs to the very edge of the
ridge, holding themselves ready to spring.
Behind his shutter, Koupriane could not restrain an exclamation of
triumph; he gradually identified some of the figures in the group,
"Eh! eh! There is Priemkof himself and the others. Gounsovski is
right and he certainly is well-informed; his system is decidedly a
good one. What a net-full!"
He hardly breathed as he watched the outcome. He could discern
elsewhere, beside the bay, flat on the ground, concealed by the
slightest elevation of the soil, other false moujiks. The wood of
Sestroriesk was watched in the same way. The group of
revolutionaries who strolled behind Natacha stopped to confer. In
three - maybe two - minutes, they would be surrounded - cut off,
taken in the trap. Suddenly a gunshot sounded in the night, and
the group, with startled speed, turned in their tracks and made
silently for the sea, while from all directions poured the concealed
agents and threw themselves into the pursuit, jostling each other
and crying after the fugitives. But the cries became cries of rage,
for the group of revolutionaries gained the beach. They saw Natacha,
who was held up by Priemkof himself, reject the aid of the Nihilist,
who did not wish to abandon her, in order that he might save himself.
She made him go and seeing that she was going to be taken, stopped
short and waited for the enemy stoically, with folded arms.
Meanwhile, her three companions succeeded in throwing themselves
into the canoe and plied the oars hard while Koupriane's men, in
the water up to their chests, discharged their revolvers at the
fugitives. The men in the canoe, fearing to wound Natacha, made
no reply to the firing. The yacht had sails up by the time they
drew alongside, and made off like a bird toward the mysterious
fords of Finland, audaciously hoisting the black flag of the
Meantime, Koupriane's agents, trembling before his anger, gathered
at the eating-house. The Prefect of Police let his fury loose on
them and treated them like the most infamous of animals. The
capture of Natacha was little comfort. He had planned for the whole
bag, and his men's stupidity took away all his self-control. If he
had had a whip at hand he would have found prompt solace for his
mined hopes. Natacha, standing in a corner, with her face singularly
calm, watched this extraordinary scene that was like a menagerie in
which the tamer himself had become a wild beast. From another
corner, Rouletabille kept his eyes fixed on Natacha who ignored him.
Ah, that girl, sphinx to them all! Even to him who thought a while
ago that he could read things invisible to other vulgar men in her
features, in her eyes! The impassive face of that girl whose father
they had tried to assassinate only a few hours before and who had
just pressed the hand of Priemkof, the assassin! Once she turned
her head slightly toward Rouletabille. The reporter then looked
towards her with increased eagerness, his eyes burning, as though
he would say: "Surely, Natacha, you are not the accomplice of your
father's assassins; surely it was not you who poured the poison!"
But Natacha's glance passed the reporter coldly over. Ah, that
mysterious, cold mask, the mouth with its bitter, impudent smile,
an atrocious smile which seemed to say to the reporter: "If it is
not I who poured the poison, then it is you!"
It was the visage common enough to the daughters whom Koupriane had
spoken of a little while before, "the young girls who read" and,
their reading done, set themselves to accomplish some terrible
thing, some thing because of which, from time to time, they place
stiff ropes around the necks of these young females.
Finally, Koupriane's frenzy wore itself out and he made a sign.
The men filed out in dismal silence. Two of them remained to
guard Natacha. From outside came the sounds of a carriage from
Sestroriesk ready to convey the girl to the Dungeons of Sts. Peter
and Paul. A final gesture from the Prefect of Police and the
rough bands of the two guards seized the prisoner's frail wrists.
They hustled her along, thrust her outside, jamming her against
the doorway, venting thus their anger at the reproaches of their
chief. A few seconds later the carriage departed, not to stop
until the fortress was reached with the trickling tombs under the
bed of the river where young girls about to die are confined - who
have read too much, without entirely understanding, as Monsieur
Koupriane prepared to leave in turn. Rouletabille stopped him.
"Excellency, I wish you to tell me why you have shown such anger
to your men just now."
"They are brute beasts," cried the Chief of Police, quite beside
himself again. "They have made me miss the biggest catch of my
life. They threw themselves on the group two minutes too early.
Some of them fired a gun that they took for the signal and that
served to warn the Nihilists. But I will let them all rot in prison
until I learn which one fired that shot."
"You needn't look far for that," said Rouletabille. "I did it."
"You! Then you must have gone outside the touba?"
"Yes, in order to warn them. But still I was a little late, since
you did take Natacha."
Koupriane's eyes blazed.
"You are their accomplice in all this," he hurled at the reporter,
"and I am going to the Tsar for permission to arrest you."
"Hurry, then, Excellency," replied the reporter coldly, "because
the Nihilists, who also think they have a little account to settle
with me, may reach me before you."
And he saluted.
"I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU"
At the hotel a note from Gounsovski: "Don't forget this time to come
to-morrow to have luncheon with me. Warmest regards from Madame
Gounsovski." Then a horrible, sleepless night, shaken with echoes
of explosions and the clamor of the wounded; and the solemn shade
of Pere Alexis, stretching out toward Rouletabille a phial of poison
and saying, "Either Natacha or you!" Then, rising among the shades
the bloody form of Michael Nikolaievitch the Innocent!
In the morning a note from the Marshal of the Court.
Monsieur le Marechal had no particular good news, evidently, for in
terms quite without enthusiasm he invited the young man to luncheon
for that same day, rather early, at midday, as he wished to see him
once more before he left for France. "I see," said Rouletabille to
himself; "Monsieur le Marechal pronounces my expulsion from the
country "- and he forgot once more the Gounsovski luncheon. The
meeting-place named was the great restaurant called the Bear.
Rouletabille entered it promptly at noon. He asked the schwitzar if
the Grand Marshal of the Court had arrived, and was told no one had
seen him yet. They conducted him to the huge main hall, where,
however, there was only one person. This man, standing before the
table spread with zakouskis, was stuffing himself. At the sound of
Rouletabille's step on the floor this sole famished patron turned
and lifted his hands to heaven as he recognized the reporter. The
latter would have given all the roubles in his pocket to have avoided
the recognition. But he was already face to face with the advocate
so celebrated for his table-feats, the amiable Athanase Georgevitch,
his head swathed in bandages and dressings from the midst of which
one could perceive distinctly only the eyes and, above all, the
"How goes it, little friend?"
"How are you?"
"Oh, I! There is nothing the matter. In a week we shall have
"What a terrible affair," said the reporter, "I certainly believed
we were all dead men."
"No, no. It was nothing. Nitchevo!"
"And poor Thaddeus Tchitchnikoff with his two poor legs broken!"
"Eh! Nitchevo! He has plenty of good solid splints that will make
him two good legs again. Nitchevo! Don't you think anything more
about that! It is nothing. You have come here to dine? A very
celebrated house this. Caracho!" He busied himself to do the
honors. One would have said the restaurant belonged to him. He
boasted of its architecture and the cuisine "a la Francaise."
"Do you know," he inquired confidently, "a finer restaurant room
anywhere in the world?"
In fact, it seemed to Rouletabille as he looked up into the high
glass arch that he was in a railway station decorated for some
illustrious traveler, for there were flowers and plants everywhere.
But the visitor whom the ball awaited was the Russian eater, the
ogre who never failed to come to eat at The Bear. Pointing out the
lines of tables shining with their white cloths and bright silver,
Athanase Georgevitch, with his mouth full, said:
"Ah, my dear little French monsieur, you should see it at
supper-time, with the women, and the jewels, and the music. There
is nothing in France that can give you any idea of it, nothing! The
gayety - the champagne - and the jewels, monsieur, worth millions
and millions of roubles! Our women wear them all - everything they
have. They are decked like sacred shrines! All the family jewels
- from the very bottom of the caskets! it is magnificent,
thoroughly Russian - Muscovite! What am I saying? It is Asiatic.
Monsieur, in the evening, at a fete, we are Asiatic. Let me tell
you something on the quiet. You notice that this enormous dining
ail is surrounded by those windowed balconies. Each of those
windows belongs to a separate private room. Well, you see that
window there? - yes, there - that is the room of a grand duke - yes,
he's the one I mean - a very gay grand duke. Do you know, one
evening when there was a great crowd here - families, monsieur,
family parties, high-born families - the window of that particular
balcony was thrown open, and a woman stark naked, as naked as my
hand, monsieur, was dropped into the dining-hall and ran across it
full-speed. It was a wager, monsieur, a wager of the jolly grand
duke's, and the demoiselle won it. But what a scandal! Ah, don't
speak of it; that would be very bad form. But - sufficiently
Asiatic, eh? Truly Asiatic. And - something much more unfortunate
- you see that table? It happened the Russian New Year Eve, at
supper. All the beauty, the whole capital, was here. Just at
midnight the orchestra struck up the Bodje tsara krani* to
inaugurate the joyful Russian New Year, and everybody stood up,
according to custom, and listened in silence, as loyal subjects
should. Well, at that table, accompanying his family, there was a
young student, a fine fellow, very correct, and in uniform. This
unhappy young student, who had risen like everybody else, to listen
to the Bodje tsara krani, inadvertently placed his knee on a chair.
Truly that is not a correct attitude, monsieur, but really it was
no reason for killing him, was it now? Certainly not. Well, a brute