Part 6 out of 6
in uniform, an officer quite immaculately gotten-up, drew a revolver
from his pocket and discharged it at the student point-blank. You
can imagine the scandal, for the student was dead! There were Paris
journalists there, besides, who had never been there before, you see!
Monsieur Gaston Leroux was at that very table. What a scandal!
They had a regular battle. They broke carafes over the head of the
assassin - for he was neither more nor less than an assassin, a
drinker of blood - an Asiatic. They picked up the assassin, who was
bleeding all over, and carried him off to look after him. As to the
dead man, he lay stretched out there under a table-cloth, waiting
for the police - and those at the tables went on with their drinking.
Isn't that Asiatic enough for you? Here, a naked woman; there, a
corpse! And the jewels - and the champagne! What do you say to
*The Russian national anthem.
"His Excellency the Grand Marshal of the Court is waiting for you,
Rouletabille shook hands with Athanase Georgevitch, who returned to
his zakouskis, and followed the interpreter to the door of one of
the private rooms. The high dignitary was there. With a charm in
his politeness of which the high-born Russian possesses the secret
over almost everybody else in the world, the Marshal intimated to
Rouletabille that he had incurred imperial displeasure.
"You have been denounced by Koupriane, who holds you responsible
for the checks he has suffered in this affair."
"Monsieur Koupriane is right," replied Rouletabille, "and His
Majesty should believe him, since it is the truth. But don't fear
anything from me, Monsieur le Grand Marechal, for I shall not
inconvenience Monsieur Koupriane any further, nor anybody else. I
"I believe Koupriane is already directed to vise your passport."
"He is very good, and he does himself much harm."
"All that is a little your fault, Monsieur Rouletabille. We
believed we could consider you as a friend, and you have never
failed, it appears, on each occasion to give your help to our
"Who says that?"
"Koupriane. Oh, it is necessary to be one with us. And you are
not one with us. And if you are not for us you are against us.
You understand that, I think. That is the way it has to be. The
Terrorists have returned to the methods of the Nihilists, who
succeeded altogether too well against Alexander II. When I tell
you that they succeeded in placing their messages even in the
"Yes, yes," said Rouletabille, vaguely, as though he were already
far removed from the contingencies of this world. "I know that
Czar Alexander II sometimes found under his napkin a letter
announcing his condemnation to death."
"Monsieur, at the Chateau yesterday morning something happened that
is perhaps more alarming than the letter found by Alexander II
under his napkin."
"What can it be? Have bombs been discovered?"
"No. It is a bizarre occurrence and almost unbelievable. The
eider downs, all the eider down coverings belonging to the imperial
family disappeared yesterday morning."*
* Historically authentic.
"It is just as I say. And it was impossible to learn what had
become of them - until yesterday evening, when they were found again
in their proper places in the chambers. That is the new mystery!"
"Certainly. But how were they taken out?"
"Shall we ever know? All we found was two feathers, this morning,
in the boudoir of the Empress, which leads us to think that the
eider downs were taken out that way. I am taking the two feathers
"Let me see them," asked the reporter.
Rouletabille looked them over and handed them back.
"And what do you think the whole affair means?"
"We are inclined to regard it as a threat by the revolutionaries.
If they can carry away the eider downs, it would be quite as easy
for them to carry away..."
"The Imperial family? No, I don't think it is that."
"What do you mean, then?"
"I? Nothing any more. Not only do I not think any more, but I
don't wish to. Tell me, Monsieur le Grand Marechal, it is useless,
I suppose, to try to see His Majesty before I go?"
"What good would it do, monsieur? We know everything now. This
Natacha that you defended against Koupriane is proved the culprit.
The last affair does not leave that in any reasonable doubt. And
she is taken care of from this time on. His Majesty wishes never
to hear Natacba spoken of again under any pretext."
"And what are you going to do with that young girl?"
"The Tsar has decided that there shall not be any trial and that
the daughter of General Trebassof shall be sent, by administrative
order, to Siberia. The Tsar, monsieur, is very good, for he might
have had her hanged. She deserved it."
"Yes, yes, the Tsar is very good."
"You are very absorbed, Monsieur Rouletabille, and you are not
"I have no appetite, Monsieur le Marechal. Tell me,- the Emperor
must be rather bored at Tsarskoie-Coelo?"
"Oh, he has plenty of work. He rises at seven o'clock and has a
light English luncheon - tea and toast. At eight o'clock he starts
and works till ten. From ten to eleven he promenades."
"In the jail-yard?" asked Rouletabille innocently.
"What's that you say? "Ah, you are an enfant terrible! Certainly
we do well to send you away. Until eleven he promenades in a
pathway of the park. From eleven to one he holds audience; luncheon
at one; then he spends the time until half-past two with his family."
"What does he eat?"
"Soup. His Majesty is wonderfully fond of soup. He takes it at
every meal. After luncheon he smokes, but never a cigar - always
cigarettes, gifts of the Sultan; and he only drinks one liqueur,
Maraschino. At half-past two he goes out again for a little air
- always in his park; then he sets himself to work until eight
o'clock. It is simply frightful work, with heaps of useless
papers and numberless signatures. No secretary can spare him that
ungrateful bureaucratic duty. He must sign, sign, sign, and read,
read, read the reports. And it is work without any beginning or
end; as soon as some reports go, others arrive. At eight o'clock,
dinner, and then more signatures, working right up to eleven o'clock.
At eleven o'clock he goes to bed."
"And he sleeps to the rhythmical tramp of the guards on patrol,"
added Rouletabille, bluntly.
"O young man, young man!"
"Pardon me, Monsieur le Grand Marechal," said the reporter, rising;
"I am, indeed, a disturbing spirit and I know that I have nothing
more to do in this country. You will not see me any more, Monsieur
le Grand Marechal; but before leaving I ought to tell you how much
I have been touched by the hospitality of your great nation. That
hospitality is sometimes a little dangerous, but it is always
magnificent. No other nation in the world knows like the Russians
how to receive a man, Your Excellency. I speak as I feel; and that
isn't affected by my manner of quitting you, for you know also how
to put a man to the door. Adieu, then; without any rancor. My
most respectful homage to His Majesty. Ah, just one word more!
You will recall that Natacha Feodorovna was engaged to poor Boris
Mourazoff, still another young man who has disappeared and who,
before disappearing, charged me to deliver to General Trebassof's
daughter this last token - these two little ikons. I entrust you
with this mission, Monsieur le Grand Marechal. Your servant,
Rouletabille re-descended the great Kaniouche. "Now," said he to
himself, "it is my turn to buy farewell presents." And he made his
way slowly across la Place des Grandes-Ecuries and the bridge of
the Katharine canal. He entered Aptiekarski-Pereoulok and pushed
open Pere Alexis's door, under the arch, at the back of the obscure
"Health and prosperity, Alexis Hutch!"
"Ah, you again, little man! Well? Koupriane has let you know the
result of my analyses?"
"Yes, yes. Tell me, Alexis Hutch, you are sure you are not
mistaken? You don't think you might be mistaken? Think carefully
before you answer. It is a question of life or death."
"For you, good little friend! You want to make your old Pere
lexis laugh - or weep!"
"No, I couldn't be mistaken. The thing is as certain as that we
two are here - arsenate of soda in the stains on the two napkins
and traces of arsenate of soda in two of the four glasses; none
in the carafe, none in the little bottle, none in the two glasses.
I say it before you and before God."
"So it is really true. Thank you, Alexis Hutch. Koupriane has not
tried to deceive me. There has been nothing of that sort. Well,
do you know, Alexis Hutch, who has poured the poison? It is she
or I. And as it is not I, it is she. And since it is she, well,
I am going to die!"
"You love her, then?" inquired Pere Alexis.
"No," replied Rouletabille, with a self-mocking smile. "No, I don't
love her. But if it is she who poured the poison, then it was not
Michael Nikolaievitch, and it is I who had Michael Nikolaievitch
killed. You can see now that therefore I must die. Show me your
"Ah, my little one, if you will permit your old Alexis to make you
a gift, I would offer you these two poor ikons that are certainly
from the convent of Troitza at its best period. See how beautiful
they are, and old. Have you ever seen so beautiful a Mother of
God? And this St. Luke, would you believe that the hand had been
mended, eh? Two little masterpieces, little friend! If the old
masters of Salonika returned to the world they would be satisfied
with their pupils at Troitza. But you mustn't kill yourself at
"Come, bat ouclzka (little father), I accept your gift, and, if I
meet the old Salonican masters on the road I am going to travel,
I shan't fail to tell them there is no person here below who
appreciates them like a certain pere of Aptiekarski-Pereoulok,
So saying Rouletabille wrapped up the two little ikons and put them
in his pocket. The Saint Luke would be sure to appeal to his
friend Sainclair. As to the Mother of God, that would be his dying
gift to the Dame en noir.
"Ah, you are sad, little son; and your voice, as it sounds now,
Rouletabille turned his head at the sound of two moujiks who entered,
carrying a long basket.
"What do you want?" demanded Pere Alexis in Russian, "and what is
that you are bringing in? Do you intend to fill that huge basket
with my goods? In that case you are very welcome and I am your
But the two chuckled.
"Yes, yes, we have come to rid your shop of a wretched piece of
goods that litters it."
"What is this you say?" inquired the old man, anxiously, and
drawing near Rouletabille. "Little friend, watch these men; I
don't recognize their faces and I can't understand why they have
Rouletabille looked at the new-comers, who drew near the counter,
after depositing their long basket close to the door. There was
a sarcastic and malicious mocking way about them that struck him
from the first. But while they kept up their jabbering with Pere
Alexis he filled his pipe and proceeded to light it. Just then the
door was pushed open again and three men entered, simply dressed,
like respectable small merchants. They also acted curiously and
looked all around the shop. Pere Alexis grew more and more alarmed
and the others pulled rudely at his beard.
"I believe these men here have come to rob me," he cried in French.
"What do you say, my son? - Shall I call the police?"
"Hold on," replied Rouletabille impassively. "They are all armed;
they have revolvers in their pockets."
Pere Alexis's teeth commenced to chatter. As he tried to get near
the door he was roughly pushed back and a final personage entered,
apparently a gentleman, and dressed as such, save that he wore a
visored leather cap.
"Ah," said he at once in French, "why, it is the young French
journalist of the Grand-Morskaia Hotel. Salutations and your good
health! I see with pleasure that you also appreciate the counsels
of our dear Pere Alexis."
"Don't listen to him, little friend; I don't know him," cried
But the gentlenman of the Neva went on:
"He is a man close to the first principles of science, and therefore
not far from divine; he is a holy man, whom it is good to consult at
moments when the future appears difficult. He knows how to read as
no one else can - Father John of Cronstadt excepted, to be strictly
accurate - on the sheets of bull-hide where the dark angels have
traced mysterious signs of destiny."
Here the gentleman picked up an old pair of boots, which he threw
on the counter in the midst of the ikons.
"Pere Alexis, perhaps these are not bull-hide, but good enough
cow-hide. Don't you want to read on this cow-hide the future of
this young man?"
But here Rouletabille advanced to the gentleman, and blew an
enormous cloud of smoke full in his face.
"It is useless, monsieur," said Rouletabille, "to waste your time
and your breath. I have been waiting for you."
BEFORE THE REVOLUTIONARY TRIBUNAL
Only, Rouletabille refused to be put into the basket. He would not
let them disarm him until they promised to call a carriage. The
Vehicle rolled into the court, and while Pere Alexis was kept back
in his shop at the point of a revolver, Rouletabille quietly got
in, smoking his pipe. The man who appeared to be the chief of the
band (the gentleman of the Neva) got in too and sat down beside him.
The carriage windows were shuttered, preventing all communication
with the outside, and only a tiny lantern lighted the interior.
They started. The carriage was driven by two men in brown coats
trimmed with false astrakhan. The dvornicks saluted, believing it
a police affair. The concierge made the sign of the cross.
The journey lasted several hours without other incidents than those
brought about by the tremendous jolts, which threw the two
passengers inside one on top of the other. This might have made
an opening for conversation; and the "gentleman of the Neva" tried
it; but in vain. Rouletabille would not respond. At one moment,
indeed, the gentleman, who was growing bored, became so pressing
that the reporter finally said in the curt tone he always used when
he was irritated:
"I pray you, monsieur, let me smoke my pipe in peace."
Upon which the gentleman prudently occupied himself in lowering one
of the windows, for it grew stifling.
Finally, after much jolting, there was a stop while the horses were
changed and the gentleman asked Rouletabille to let himself be
blindfolded. "The moment has come; they are going to hang me
without any form of trial," thought the reporter, and when, blinded
with the bandage, he felt himself lifted under the arms, there was
revolt of his whole being, that being which, now that it was on the
point of dying, did not wish to cease. Rouletabille would have
believed himself stronger, more courageous, more stoical at least.
But blind instinct swept all of this away, that instinct of
conservation which had no concern with the minor bravadoes of the
reporter, no concern with the fine heroic manner, of the determined
pose to die finely, because the instinct of conservation, which is,
as its rigid name indicates, essentially materialistic, demands
only, thinks of nothing but, to live. And it was that instinct
which made Rouletabille's last pipe die out unpuffed.
The young man was furious with himself, and he grew pale with the
fear that he might not succeed in mastering this emotion, he took
fierce hold of himself and his members, which had stiffened at
the contact of seizure by rough hands, relaxed, and he allowed
himself to be led. Truly, he was disgusted with his faintness and
weakness. He had seen men die who knew they were going to die.
His task as reporter had led him more than once to the foot of the
guillotine. And the wretches he had seen there had died bravely.
Extraordinarily enough, the most criminal had ordinarily met death
most bravely. Of course, they had had leisure to prepare themselves,
thinking a long time in advance of that supreme moment. But they
affronted death, came to it almost negligently, found strength even
to say banal or taunting things to those around them. He recalled
above all a boy of eighteen years old who had cowardly murdered an
old woman and two children in a back-country farm, and had walked
to his death without a tremor, talking reassuringly to the priest
and the police official, who walked almost sick with horror on
either side of him. Could he, then, not be as brave as that child?
They made him mount some steps and he felt that he had entered the
stuffy atmosphere of a closed room. Then someone removed the
bandage. He was in a room of sinister aspect and in the midst of
a rather large company.
Within these naked, neglected walls there were about thirty young
men, some of them apparently quite as young as Rouletabille, with
candid blue eyes and pale complexions. The others, older men, were
of the physical type of Christs, not the animated Christs of
Occidental painters, but those that are seen on the panels of the
Byzantine school or fastened on the ikons, sculptures of silver or
gold. Their long hair, deeply parted in the middle, fell upon
their shoulders in curl-tipped golden masses. Some leant against
the wall, erect, and motionless. Others were seated on the floor,
their legs crossed. Most of them were in winter coats, bought in
the bazaars. But there were also men from the country, with their
skins of beasts, their sayons, their touloupes. One of them had his
legs laced about with cords and was shod with twined willow twigs.
The contrast afforded by various ones of these grave and attentive
figures showed that representatives from the entire revolutionary
party were present. At the back of the room, behind a table, three
young men were seated, and the oldest of them was not more than
twenty-five and had the benign beauty of Jesus on feast-days,
canopied by consecrated palms.
In the center of the room a small table stood, quite bare and
without any apparent purpose.
On the right was another table with paper, pens and ink-stands. It
was there that Rouletabille was conducted and asked to be seated.
Then he saw that another man was at his side, who was required to
keep standing. His face was pale and desperate, very drawn. His
eyes burned somberly, in spite of the panic that deformed his
features Rouletabille recognized one of the unintroduced friends
whom Gounsovski had brought with him to the supper at Krestowsky.
Evidently since then the always-threatening misfortune had fallen
upon him. They were proceeding with his trial. The one who seemed
to preside over these strange sessions pronounced a name:
A door opened, and Annouchka appeared.
Rouletabille hardly recognized her, she was so strangely dressed,
like the Russian poor, with her under-jacket of red-flannel and
the handkerchief which, knotted under her chin, covered all her
She immediately testified in Russian against the man, who protested
until they compelled him to be silent. She drew from her pocket
papers which were read aloud, and which appeared to crush the
accused. He fell back onto his seat. He shivered. He hid his
head in his hands, and Rouletabille saw the hands tremble. The
man kept that position while the other witnesses were heard, their
testimony arousing murmurs of indignation that were quickly checked.
Annouchka had gone to take her place with the others against the
wall, in the shadows which more and more invaded the room, at this
ending of a lugubrious day. Two windows reaching to the floor let
a wan light creep with difficulty through their dirty panes, making
a vague twilight in the room. Soon nothing could be seen of the
motionless figures against the wall, much as the faces fade in the
frescoes from which the centuries have effaced the colors in the
depths of orthodox convents.
Now someone from the depths of the shadow and the appalling silence
read something; the verdict, doubtless.
The voice ceased.
Then some of the figures detached themselves from the wall and
The man who crouched near Rouletabille rose in a savage bound and
cried out rapidly, wild words, supplicating words, menacing words.
And then - nothing more but strangling gasps. The figures that had
moved out from the wall had clutched his throat.
The reporter said, "It is cowardly."
Annouchka's voice, low, from the depths of shadow, replied, "It is
But Rouletabille was satisfied with having said that, for he had
proved to himself that he could still speak. His emotion had been
such, since they had pushed him into the center of this sinister
and expeditious revolutionary assembly of justice, that he thought
of nothing but the terror of not being able to speak to them, to
say something to them, no matter what, which would prove to them
that he had no fear. Well, that was over. He had not failed to
say, "That is cowardly."
And he crossed his arms. But he soon bad to turn away his head in
order not to see the use the table was put to that stood in the
center of the room, where it had seemed to serve no purpose.
They had lifted the man, still struggling, up onto the little table.
They placed a rope about his neck. Then one of the "judges," one
of the blond young men, who seemed no older than Rouletabille,
climbed on the table and slipped the other end of the rope through
a great ring-bolt that projected from a beam of the ceiling. During
this time the man struggled futilely, and his death-rattle rose at
last though the continued noise of his resistance and its overcoming.
But his last breath came with so violent a shake of the body that
the whole death-apparatus, rope and ring-bolt, separated from the
ceiling, and rolled to the ground with the dead man.
Rouletabille uttered a cry of horror. "You are assassins!" he
cried. But was the man surely dead? It was this that the pale
figures with the yellow hair set themselves to make sure of. He
was. Then they brought two sacks and the dead man was slipped
into one of them.
Rouletabille said to them:
"You are braver when you kill by an explosion, you know."
He regretted bitterly that he had not died the night before in the
explosion. He did not feel very brave. He talked to them bravely
enough, but he trembled as his time approached. That death
horrified him. He tried to keep from looking at the other sack. He
took the two ikons, of Saint Luke and of the Virgin, from his pocket
and prayed to them. He thought of the Lady in Black and wept.
A voice in the shadows said:
"He is crying, the poor little fellow."
It was Annouchka's voice.
Rouletabille dried his tears and said:
"Messieurs, one of you must have a mother."
But all the voices cried:
"No, no, we have mothers no more!"
"They have killed them," cried some. "They have sent them to
Siberia," cried others.
"Well, I have a mother still," said the poor lad. "I will not have
the opportunity to embrace her. It is a mother that I lost the day
of my birth and that I have found again, but - I suppose it is to
be said - on the day of my death. I shall not see her again. I
have a friend; I shall not see him again either. I have two little
ikons here for them, and I am going to write a letter to each of
them, if you will permit it. Swear to me that you will see these
"I swear it," said, in French, the voice of Annouchka.
"Thanks, madame, you are kind. And now, messieurs, that is all I
ask of you. I know I am here to reply to very grave accusations.
Permit me to say to you at once that I admit them all to be well
founded. Consequently, there need be no discussion between us.
I have deserved death and I accept it. So permit me not to concern
myself with what will be going on here. I ask of you simply, as a
last favor, not to hasten your preparations too much, so that I may
be able to finish my letters>"
Upon which, satisfied with himself this time, he sat down again
and commenced to write rapidly. They left him in peace, as he
desired. He did not raise his head once, even at the moment when
a murmur louder than usual showed that the hearers regarded
Rouletabille's crimes with especial detestation. He had the
happiness of having entirely completed his correspond once when
they asked him to rise to hear judgment pronounced upon him. The
supreme communion that he had just had with his friend Sainclair
and with the dear Lady in Black restored all his spirit to him. He
listened respectfully to the sentence which condemned him to death,
though he was busy sliding his tongue along the gummed edge of his
These were the counts on which he was to be hanged:
1. Because he had come to Russia and mixed in affairs that did not
concern his nationality, and had done this in spite of warning
to remain in France.
2. Because he had not kept the promises of neutrality he freely
made to a representative of the Central Revolutionary Committee.
3. For trying to penetrate the mystery of the Trebassof datcha.
4. For having Comrade Matiew whipped and imprisoned by Koupriane.
5. For having denounced to Koupriane the identity of the two
"doctors" who had been assigned to kill General Trebassof.
6. For having caused the arrest of Natacha Feodorovna.
It was a list longer than was needed for his doom. Rouletabille
kissed his ikons and handed them to Annouchka along with the letters.
Then he declared, with his lips trembling slightly, and a cold sweat
on his forehead, that he was ready to submit to his fate.
THE LAST CRAVAT
The gentleman of the Neva said to him: "If you have nothing further
to say, we will go into the courtyard."
Rouletabille understood at last that hanging him in the room where
judgment had been pronounced was rendered impossible by the violence
of the prisoner just executed. Not only the rope and the ring-bolt
had been torn away, but part of the beam had splintered.
"There is nothing more," replied Rouletabille.
He was mistaken. Something occurred to him, an idea flashed so
suddenly that he became white as his shirt, and had to lean on the
arm of the gentleman of the Neva in order to accompany him.
The door was open. All the men who had voted his death filed out
in gloomy silence. The gentleman of the Neva, who seemed charged
with the last offices for the prisoner, pushed him gently out into
It was vast, and surrounded by a high board wall; some small
buildings, with closed doors, stood to right and left. A high
chimney, partially demolished, rose from one corner. Rouletabille
decided the whole place was part of some old abandoned mill. Above
his head the sky was pale as a winding sheet. A thunderous,
intermittent, rhythmical noise appraised him that he could not be
far from the sea.
He had plenty of time to note all these things, for they had stopped
the march to execution a moment and had made him sit down in the
open courtyard on an old box. A few steps away from him under the
shed where he certainly was going to be hanged, a man got upon a
stool (the stool that would serve Rouletabille a few moments later)
with his arm raised, and drove with a few blows of a mallet a great
ring-bolt into a beam above his head.
The reporter's eyes, which had not lost their habit of taking
everything in, rested again on a coarse canvas sack that lay on the
ground. The young man felt a slight tremor, for he saw quickly
that the sack swathed a human form. He turned his head away, but
only to confront another empty sack that was intended for him.
Then he closed his eyes. The sound of music came from somewhere
outside, notes of the balalaika. He said to himself, "Well, we
certainly are in Finland"; for he knew that, if the guzla is
Russian the balalaika certainly is Finnish. It is a kind of
accordeon that the peasants pick plaintively in the doorways of
their toubas. He had seen and heard them the afternoon that he
went to Pergalovo, and also a little further away, on the Viborg
line. He pictured to himself the ruined structure where he now
found himself shut in with the revolutionary tribunal, as it must
appear from the outside to passers-by; unsinister, like many others
near it, sheltering under its decaying roof a few homes of humble
workers, resting now as they played the balalaika at their
thresholds, with the day's labor over.
And suddenly from the ineffable peace of his last evening, while
the balalaika mourned and the man overhead tested the solidity of
his ring-bolt, a voice outside, the grave, deep voice of Annouchka,
sang for the little Frenchman:
"For whom weave we now the crown
Of lilac, rose and thyme?
When my hand falls lingering down
Who then will bring your crown
Of lilac, rose and thyme?
O that someone among you would hear,
And come, and my lonely hand
Would press, and shed the friendly tear -
For alone at the end I stand.
Who now will bring the crown
Of lilac, rose and thyme?"
Rouletabille listened to the voice dying away with the last sob of
the balalaika. "It is too sad," he said, rising. "Let us go,"
and he wavered a little.
They came to search him. All was ready above. They pushed him
gently towards the shed. When he was under the ring-bolt, near
the stool, they made him turn round and they read him something
in Russian, doubtless less for him than for those there who did
not understand French. Rouletabille had hard work to hold himself
The gentleman of the Neva said to him further:
"Monsieur, we now read you the final formula. It asks you to say
whether, before you die, you have anything you wish to add to what
we know concerning the sentence which has been passed upon you."
Rouletabille thought that his saliva, which at that moment he had
the greatest difficulty in swallowing, would not permit him to utter
a word. But disdain of such a weakness, when he recalled the
coolness of so many illustrious condemned people in their last
moments, brought him the last strength needed to maintain his
"Why," said he, "this sentence is not wrongly drawn up. I blame
it only for being too short. Why has there been no mention of the
crime I committed in contriving the tragic death of poor Michael
"Michael Korsakoff was a wretch," pronounced the vindictive voice
of the young man who had presided at the trial and who, at this
upreme moment, happened to be face to face with Rouletabille.
"Koupriane's police, by killing that man, ridded us of a traitor."
Rouletabille uttered a cry, a cry of joy, and while he had some
reason for believing that at the point he had reached now of his
too-short career only misfortune could befall him, yet here
Providence, in his infinite grace, sent him before he died this
ineffable consolation: the certainty that he had not been mistaken.
"Pardon, pardon," he murmured, in an excess of joy which stifled
him almost as much as the wretched rope would shortly do that they
were getting ready behind him. "Pardon. One second yet, one little
second. Then, messieurs, then, we are agreed in that, are we?
This Michael, Michael Nikolaievitch was the the last of traitors."
"The first," said the heavy voice.
"It is the same thing, my dear monsieur. A traitor, a wretched
traitor," continued Rouletabille.
"A poisoner," replied the voice.
"A vulgar poisoner! Is that not so? But, tell me how - a vulgar
poisoner who, under cover of Nihilism, worked for his own petty
ends, worked for himself and betrayed you all!"
Now Rouletabille's voice rose like a fanfare. Someone said:
"He did not deceive us long; our enemies themselves undertook his
"It was I," cried Rouletabille, radiant again. "It was I who wound
up that career. I tell you that was managed right. It was I who
rid you of him. Ah, I knew well enough, messieurs, in the bottom
of my heart I knew that I could not be mistaken. Two and two make
four always, don't they? And Rouletabille is always Rouletabille.
Messieurs, it is all right, after all."
But it was probable that it was also all wrong, for the gentleman
of the Neva came up to him hat in hand and said:
"Monsieur, you know now why the witnesses at your trial did not
raise a fact against you that, on the contrary, was entirely in
your favor. Now it only remains for us to execute the sentence
which is entirely justified on other grounds."
"Ah, but - wait a little. What the devil! Now that I am sure I
have not been mistaken and that I have been myself, Rouletabille,
all the time I cling to life a little - oh, very much!"
A hostile murmur showed the condemned man that the patience of his
judges was getting near its limit.
"Monsieur," interposed the president, "we know that you do not
belong to the orthodox religion; nevertheless, we will bring a
priest if you wish it."
"Yes, yes, that is it, go for the priest," cried Rouletabille.
And he said to himself, "It is so much time gained."
One of the revolutionaries started over to a little cabin that had
been transformed into a chapel, while the rest of them looked at
the reporter with a good deal less sympathy than they had been
showing. If his bravado had impressed them agreeably in the trial
room, they were beginning to be rather disgusted by his cries, his
protestations and all the maneuvers by which he so apparently was
trying to hold off the hour of his death.
But all at once Rouletabille jumped up onto the fatal stool. They
believed he had decided finally to make an end of the comedy and
die with dignity; but he had mounted there only to give them a
"Messieurs, understand me now. If it is true that you are not
suppressing me in order to avenge Michael Nikolaievitch, then why
do you hang me? Why do you inflict this odious punishment on me?
Because you accuse me of causing Natacha Feodorovna's arrest? Truly
I have been awkward. Of that, and that alone, I accuse myself."
"It was you, with your revolver, who gave the signal to Koupriane's
agents! You have done the dirty work for the police."
Rouletabille tried vainly to protest, to explain, to say that his
revolver shot, on the contrary, had saved the revolutionaries. But
no one cared to listen and no one believed him.
"Here is the priest, monsieur," said the gentleman of the Neva.
"One second! These are my last words, and I swear to you that
after this I will pass the rope about my neck myself! But listen
to me! Listen to me closely! Natacha Feodorovna was the most
precious recruit you had, was she not?"
"A veritable treasure," declared the president, his voice more and
"It was a terrible blow, then," continued the reporter, "a terrible
blow for you, this arrest?"
"Terrible," some of them ejaculated.
"Do not interrupt me! Very well, then, I am going to say this to
you: 'If I ward off this blow - if, after having been the
unintentional cause of Natacha's arrest, I have the daughter of
General Trebassof set at liberty, and that within twenty-four
hours, - what do you say? Would you still hang me?'"
The president, he who had the Christ-like countenance, said:
"Messieurs, Natacha Feodorovna has fallen the victim of terrible
machinations whose mystery we so far have not been able to penetrate.
She is accused of trying to poison her father and her step-mother,
and under such conditions that it seems impossible for human reason
to demonstrate the contrary. Natacha Feodorovna herself, crushed
by the tragic occurrence, was not able to answer her accusers at
all, and her silence has been taken for a confession of guilt.
Messieurs, Natacha Feodorovna will be started for Siberia to-morrow.
We can do nothing for her. Natacha Feodorovna is lost to us."
Then, with a gesture to those who surrounded Rouletabille:
"Do your duty, messieurs."
"Pardon, pardon. But if I do prove the innocence of Natacha?
Just wait, messieurs. There is only I who can prove that innocence!
You lose Natacha by killing me!"
"If you had been able to prove that innocence, monsicur, the thing
would already be done. You would not have waited."
"Pardon, pardon. It is only at this moment that I have become able
to do it."
"How is that?"
"It is because I was sick, you see - very seriously sick. That
affair of Michael Nikolaievitch and the poison that still continued
after he was dead simply robbed me of all my powers. Now that I
am sure I have not been the means of killing an innocent man - I am
Rouletabille again! It is not possible that I shall not find the
way, that I shall not see through this mystery."
The terrible voice of the Christ-like figure said monotonously:
"Do your duty, messieurs."
"Pardon, pardon. This is of great importance to you - and the
proof is that you have not yet hanged me. You were not so
procrastinating with my predecessor, were you? You have listened
to me because you have hoped! Very well, let me think, let me
consider. Oh, the devil! I was there myself at the fatal luncheon,
and I know better than anyone else all that happened there. Five
minutes! I demand five minutes of you; it is not much. Five
These last words of the condemned man seemed to singularly influence
the revolutionaries. They looked at one another in silence.
Then the president took out his watch and said:
"Five minutes. We grant them to you."
"Put your watch here. Here on this nail. It is five minutes to
seven, eh? You will give me until the hour?"
"Yes, until the hour. The watch itself will strike when the hour
"Ah, it strikes! Like the general's watch, then. Very well, here
Then there was the curious spectacle of Rouletabille standing on
the hangman's stool, the fatal rope hanging above his head, his
legs crossed, his elbow on his knees in that eternal attitude which
Art has always given to human thought, his fists under his jaws,
his eyes fixed - all around him, all those young men intent on his
silence, not moving a muscle, turned into statues themselves that
they might not disturb the statue which thought and thought.
A SINGULAR EXPERIENCE
The five minutes ticked away and the watch commenced to strike the
hour's seven strokes. Did it sound the death of Rouletabille?
Perhaps not! For at the first silver tinkle they saw Rouletabille
shake himself, and raise his head, with his face alight and his
eyes shining. They saw him stand up, spread out his arms and cry:
"I have found it!"
Such joy shone in his countenance that there seemed to be an aureole
around him, and none of those there doubted that he had the solution
of the impossible problem.
"I have found it! I have found it!"
They gathered around him. He waved them away as in a waking dream.
"Give me room. I have found it, if my experiment works out. One,
two, three, four, five..."
What was he doing? He counted his steps now, in long paces, as in
dueling preliminaries. And the others, all of them, followed him
in silence, puzzled, but without protest, as if they, too, were
caught in the same strange day-dream. Steadily counting his steps
he crossed thus the court, which was vast. "Forty, forty-one,
forty-two," he cried excitedly. "This is certainly strange, and
The others, although they did not understand, reframed from
questioning him, for they saw there was nothing to do but let him
go ahead without interruption, just as care is taken not to wake
a somnambulist abruptly. They had no mistrust of his motives, for
the idea was simply untenable that Rouletabille was fool enough to
hope to save himself from them by an imbecile subterfuge. No,
they yielded to the impression his inspired countenance gave them,
and several were so affected that they unconsciously repeated his
gestures. Thus Rouletabille reached the edge of the court where
judgment had been pronounced against him. There he had to mount
a rickety flight of stairs, whose steps he counted. He reached
a corridor, but moving away from the side where the door was
opening to the exterior he turned toward a staircase leading to the
upper floor, and still counted the steps as be climbed them. Some
of the company followed him, others hurried ahead of him. But he
did not seem aware of either the one or the other, as he walked
along living only in his thoughts. He reached the landing-place,
hesitated, pushed open a door, and found himself in a room furnished
with a table, two chairs, a mattress and a huge cupboard. He went
to the cupboard, turned the key and opened it. The cupboard was
empty. He closed it again and put the key in his pocket. Then he
went out onto the landing-place again. There he asked for the key
of the chamber-door he had just left. They gave it to him and he
locked that door and put that key also in his pocket. Now he
returned into the court. He asked for a chair. It was brought
him. Immediately he placed his head in his hands, thinking hard,
took the chair and carried it over a little behind the shed. The
Nihilists watched everything he did and they did not smile, because
men do not smile when death waits at the end of things, however
Finally, Rouletabille spoke:
"Messieurs," said he, his voice low and shaken, because he knew
that now he touched the decisive minute, after which there could
only be an irrevocable fate. "Messieurs, in order to continue
my experiment I am obliged to go through movements that might
suggest to you the idea of an attempt at escape, or evasion. I
hope you don't regard me as fool enough to have any such thought."
"Oh, monsieur," said the chief, "you are free to go through all
the maneuvers you wish. No one escapes us. Outside we should
have you within arm's reach quite as well as here. And, besides,
it is entirely impossible to escape from here."
"Very well. Then that is understood. In such a case, I ask you
now to remain just where you are and not to budge, whatever I do,
if you don't wish to inconvenience me. Only please send someone
now up to the next floor, where I am going to go again, and let
him watch what happens from there, but without interfering. And
don't speak a word to me during the experiment."
Two of the revolutionaries went to the upper floor, and opened a
window in order to keep track of what went on in the court. All
now showed their intense interest in the acts and gestures of
The reporter placed himself in the shed, between his death-stool
and his hanging-rope.
"Ready," said he; "I am going to begin"
And suddenly he jumped like a wild man, crossed the court in a
straight line like a flash, disappeared in the touba, bounded up
the staircase, felt in his pocket and drew out the keys, opened
the door of the chamber he had locked, closed it and locked it
again, turned right-about-face, came down again in the same haste,
reached the court, and this time swerved to the chair, went round
it, still running, and returned at the same speed to the shed. He
no sooner reached there than he uttered a cry of triumph as he
glanced at the watch banging from a post. "I have won," he said,
and threw himself with a happy thrill upon the fatal scaffold.
They surrounded him, and he read the liveliest curiosity in all
their faces. Panting still from his mad rush, he asked for two
words apart with the chief of the Secret committee.
The man who had pronounced judgment and who had the bearing of
Jesus advanced, and there was a brief exchange of words between
the two young men. The others drew back and waited at a distance,
in impressive silence, the outcome of this mysterious colloquy,
which certainly would settle Rouletabille's fate.
"Messieurs," said the chief, "the young Frenchman is going to be
allowed to leave. We give him twenty-four hours to set Natacha
Feodorovna free. In twenty-four hours, if he has not succeeded,
he will return here to give himself up."
A happy murmur greeted these words. The moment their chief spoke
thus, they felt sure of Natacha's fate.
The chief added:
"As the liberation of Natacha Feodorovna will be followed, the
young Frenchman says, by that of our companion Matiew, we decide
that, if these two conditions are fulfilled, M. Joseph Rouletabille
is allowed to return in entire security to France, which he ought
never to have left."
Two or three only of the group said, "That lad is playing with us;
it is not possible."
But the chief declared:
"Let the lad try. He accomplishes miracles."
"I have escaped by remarkable luck," cried Rouletabille, as he
found himself, in the middle of the night, at the corner of the
Katharine and the Aptiekarski Pereoulok Canals, while the mysterious
carriage which had brought him there returned rapidly toward the
Grande Ecurie. "What a country! What a country!"
He ran a little way to the Grand Morskaia, which was near, entered
the hotel like a bomb, dragged the interpreter from his bed,
demanded that his bill be made out and that he be told the time of
the next train for Tsarskoie-Coelo. The interpreter told him that
he could not have his bill at such an hour, that he could not leave
town without his passport and that there was no train for
Tsarskoie-Coelo, and Rouletabille made an outcry that woke the
whole hotel. The guests, fearing always "une scandale," kept close
to their rooms. But Monsieur le directeur came down, trembling.
When he found all that it was about he was inclined to be peremptory,
but Rouletabille, who had seen "Michael Strogoff" played, cried,
"Service of the Tsar!" which turned him submissive as a sheep. He
made out the young man's bill and gave him his passport, which had
been brought back by the police during the afternoon. Rouletabille
rapidly wrote a message to Koupriane's address, which the messenger
was directed to have delivered without a moment's delay, under the
pain of death! The manager humbly promised and the reporter did
not explain that by "pain of death" he referred to his own. Then,
having ascertained that as a matter of fact the last train had left
for Tsarskoie-Coelo, he ordered a carriage and hurried to his room
And he, ordinarily so detailed, so particular in his affairs, threw
things every which way, linen, garments, with kicks and shoves. It
was a relief after the emotions he had gone through. "What a
country!" he never ceased to ejaculate. "What a country!"
Then the carriage was ready, with two little Finnish horses, whose
gait he knew well, an evil-looking driver, who none the less would
get him there; the trunk; roubles to the domestics. "Spacibo,
barine. Spacibo." (Thank you, monsieur. Thank you.)
The interpreter asked what address he should give the driver.
"The home of the Tsar."
The interpreter hesitated, believing it to be an unbecoming
pleasantry, then waved vaguely to the driver, and the horses started.
"What a curious trot! We have no idea of that in France," thought
Rouletabille. "France! France! Paris! Is it possible that soon
I shall be back! And that dear Lady in Black! Ah, at the first
opportunity I must send her a dispatch of my return - before she
receives those ikons, and the letters announcing my death. Scan!
Scan! Scan! (Hurry!)"
The isvotchick pounded his horses, crowding past the dvornicks who
watched at the corners of the houses during the St. Petersburg night.
"Dirigi! dirigi! dirigi! (Look out!)"
The country, somber in the somber night. The vast open country.
What monotonous desolation! Rapidly, through the vast silent spaces,
the little car glided over the lonely route into the black arms of
Rouletabille, holding on to his seat, looked about him.
"God! this is as sad as a funeral display."
Little frozen huts, no larger than tombs, occasionally indicated
the road, but there was no mark of life in that country except the
noise of the journey and the two beasts with steaming coats.
Crack! One of the shafts broken. "What a country!" To hear
Rouletabille one would suppose that only in Russia could the shaft
of a carriage break.
The repair was difficult and crude, with bits of rope. And from
then on the journey was slow and cautious after the frenzied speed.
In vain Rouletabille reasoned with himself. "You will arrive
anyway before morning. You cannot wake the Emperor in the dead of
night." His impatience knew no reason. "What a country! What a
After some other petty adventures (they ran into a ravine and had
tremendous difficulty rescuing the trunk) they arrived at
Tsarskoie-Coelo at a quarter of seven.
Even here the country was not pleasant. Rouletabille recalled the
bright awakening of French country. Here it seemed there was
something more dead than death: it was this little city with its
streets where no one passed, not a soul, not a phantom, with its
houses so impenetrable, the windows even of glazed glass and further
blinded by the morning hoar-frost shutting out light more thoroughly
than closed eyelids. Behind them he pictured to himself a world
unknown, a world which neither spoke nor wept, nor laughed, a world
in which no living chord resounded. "What a country! 'Where is
the chateau? I do not know; I have been here only once, in the
marshal's carriage. I do not know the way. Not the great palace!
The idiot of a driver has brought me to this great palace in order
to see it, I haven't a doubt. Does Rouletabille look like a tourist?
Dourak! The home of the Tsar, I tell you. The Tsar's residence.
The place where the Little Father lives. Chez Batouchka!"
The driver lashed his ponies. He drove past all the streets.
"Stoi! (Stop!)" cried Rouletabille. A gate, a soldier, musket at
shoulder, bayonet in play; another gate, another soldier, another
bayonet; a park with walls around it, and around the walls more
"No mistake; here is the place," thought Rouletabille. There was
only one prisoner for whom such pains would be taken. He advanced
towards the gate. Ah! They crossed bayonets under his nose. Halt!
No fooling, Joseph Rouletabille, of "L'Epoque. "A subaltern came
from a guard-house and advanced toward him. Explanation evidently
was going to be difficult. The young man saw that if he demanded
to see the Tsar, they would think him crazed and that would further
complicate matters. He asked for the Grand-Marshal of the Court.
They replied that he could get the Marshal's address in Tsarskoie.
But the subaltern turned his head. He saw someone advancing. It
was the Grand-Marshal himself. Some exceptional service called him,
without doubt, very early to the Court.
"Why, what are you doing here? You are not yet gone then, Monsieur
"Politeness before everything, Monsieur le Grand-Marechal! I would
not go before saying 'Au revoir' to the Emperor. Be so good, since
you are going to him and he has risen (you yourself have told me he
rises at seven), be so good as to say to him that I wish to pay my
respects before leaving."
"Your scheme, doubtless, is to speak to him once more regarding
"Not at all. Tell him, Excellency, that I am come to explain the
mystery of the eider downs."
"Ah, ah, the eider downs! You know something?"
"I know all."
The Grand Marshal saw that the young man did not pretend. He asked
him to wait a few minutes, and vanished into the park.
A quarter of an hour later, Joseph Rouletabille, of the journal
"L'Epoque," was admitted into the cabinet that he knew well from
the first interview he had had there with His Majesty. The simple
work-room of a country-house: a few pictures on the walls, portraits
of the Tsarina and the imperial children on the table; Oriental
cigarettes in the tiny gold cups. Rouletabille was far from feeling
any assurance, for the Grand-Marshal had said to him:
"Be cautious. The Emperor is in a terrible humor about you."
A door opened and closed. The Tsar made a sign to the Marshal, who
disappeared. Rouletabille bowed low, then watched the Emperor
Quite apparently His Majesty was displeased. The face of the Tsar,
ordinarily so calm, so pleasant, and smiling, was severe, and his
eyes had an angry light. He seated himself and lighted a cigarette.
"Monsieur," he commenced, "I am not otherwise sorry to see you
before your departure in order to say to you myself that I am not
at all pleased with you. If you were one of my subjects I would
have already started you on the road to the Ural Mountains."
"I remove myself farther, Sire."
"Monsieur, I pray you not to interrupt me and not to speak unless
I ask you a question."
"Oh, pardon, Sire, pardon."
"I am not duped by the pretext you have offered Monsieur le
Grand-Marechal in order to penetrate here."
"It is not a pretext, Sire."
"Oh, pardon, Sire, pardon."
"I say to you that, called here to aid me against my enemies, they
themselves have not found a stronger or more criminal support than
"Of what am I accused, Sire?"
"Koupriane - "
"Ah! Ah! ... Pardon!"
"My Chief of Police justly complains that you have traversed all
his designs and that you have taken it upon yourself to ruin them.
First, you removed his agents, who inconvenienced you, it seems;
then, the moment that he had the proof in hand of the abominable
alliance of Natacha Feodorovna with the Nihilists who attempt the
assassination of her father your intervention has permitted that
proof to escape him. And you have boasted of the feat, monsieur,
so that we can only consider you responsible for the attempts
"Without you, Natacha would not have attempted to poison her father.
Without you, they would not have sent to find physicians who could
blow up the datcha des Iles. Finally, no later than yesterday,
when this faithful servant of mine had set a trap they could not
have escaped from, you have had the audacity, you, to warn them of
it. They owe their escape to you. Monsieur, those are attempts
against the security of the State which deserves the heaviest
punishment. Why, you went out one day from here promising me to
save General Trebassof from all the plotting assassins who lurked
about him. And then you play the game of the assassins! Your
conduct is as miserable as that of Natacha Feodorovna is monstrous!"
The Emperor ceased, and looked at Rouletabille, who had not lowered
"What can you say for yourself? Speak - now."
"I can only say to Your Majesty that I come to take leave of you
because my task here is finished. I have promised you the life of
General Trebassof, and I bring it to you. He runs no danger any
more! I say further to Your Majesty that there exists nowhere in
the world a daughter more devoted to her father, even to the death,
a daughter more sublime than Natacha Feodorovna, nor more innocent."
"Be careful, monsieur. I inform you that I have studied this affair
personally and very closely. You have the proofs of these
statements you advance?"
"And I, I have the proofs that Natacha Feodorovna is a renegade."
At this contradiction, uttered in a firm voice, the Emperor stirred,
a flush of anger and of outraged majesty in his face. But, after
this first movement, he succeeded in controlling himself, opened a
drawer brusquely, took out some papers and threw them on the table.
"Here they are."
Rouletabille reached for the papers.
"You do not read Russian, monsieur. I will translate their purport
for you. Know, then, that there has been a mysterious exchange of
letters between Natacha Feodorovna and the Central Revolutionary
Committee, and that these letters show the daughter of General
Trebassof to be in perfect accord with the assassins of her father
for the execution of their abominable project."
"The death of the general?"
"I declare to Your Majesty that that is not possible."
"Obstinate man! I will read -"
"Useless, Sire. It is impossible. There may be in them the
question of a project, but I am greatly surprised if these
conspirators have been sufficiently imprudent to write in those
letters that they count on Natacha to poison her father."
"That, as a matter of fact, is not written, and you yourself are
responsible for it not being there. It does not follow any the
less that Natacha Feodorovna had an understanding with the Nihilists."
"That is correct, Sire."
"Ah, you confess that?"
"I do not confess; I simply affirm that Natacha had an understanding
with the Nihilists."
"Who plotted their abominable attacks against the ex-Governor of
"Sire, since Natacha had an understanding with the Nihilists, it
was not to kill her father, but to save him. And the project of
which you hold here the proofs, but of whose character you are
unaware, is to end the attacks of which you speak, instantly."
"You say that."
"I speak the truth, Sire."
"Where are the proofs? Show me your papers."
"I have none. I have only my word."
"That is not sufficient."
"It will be sufficient, once you have heard me."
"Sire, before revealing to you a secret on which depends the life
of General Trebassof, you must permit me some questions. Your
Majesty holds the life of the general very dear?"
"What has that to do with it?"
"Pardon. I desire that Your Majesty assure me on that point."
"The general has protected my throne. He has saved the Empire from
one of the greatest dangers that it has ever run. If the servant
who has done such a service should he rewarded by death, by the
punishment that the enemies of my people prepare for him in the
darkness, I should never forgive myself. There have been too many
"You have replied to me, Sire, in such a way that you make me
understand there is no sacrifice - even to the sacrifice of your
amour-propre the greatest a ruler can suffer - no sacrifice too
dear to ransom from death one of these martyrs."
"Ah, ah! These gentlemen lay down conditions to me! Money. Money.
They need money. And at how much do they rate the head of the
"Sire, that does not touch Your Majesty, and I never will come to
offer you such a bargain. That matter concerns only Natacha
Feodorovna, who has offered her fortune!"
"Her fortune! But she has nothing."
"She will have one at the death of the general. Now she engages to
give it all to the Revolutionary Committee the day the general dies
- if he dies a natural death!"
The Emperor rose, greatly agitated.
"To the Revolutionary Party! What do you tell me! The fortune of
the general! Eh, but these are great riches."
"Sire, I have told you the sercet. You alone should know it and
guard it forever, and I have your sacred word that, when the hour
comes, you will let the prize go where it is promised. If the
general ever learns of such a thing, such a treaty, he would easily
arrange that nothing should remain, and he would denounce his
daughter who has saved him, and then he would promptly he the prey
of his enemies and yours, from whom you wish to save him. I have
told the secret not to the Emperor, but to the representative of
God on the Russian earth. I have confessed it to the priest, who
is bound to forget the words uttered only before God. Allow Natacha
Feodorovna her own way, Sire! And her father, your servant, whose
life is so dear to you, is saved. At the natural death of the
general his fortune will go to his daughter, who has disposed of
Rouletabille stopped a moment to judge of the effect produced. It
was not good. The face of his august listener was more and more
in a frown.
The silence continued, and now the reporter did not dare to break
it. He waited.
Finally, the Emperor rose and walked forward and backward across
the room, deep in thought. For a moment he stopped at the window
and waved paternally to the little Tsarevitch, who played in the
park with the grand-duchesses.
Then he returned to Rouletabille and pinched his ear.
"But, tell me, how have you learned all this? And who then has
poisoned the general and his wife, in the kiosk, if not Natacha?"
"Natacha is a saint. It is nothing, Sire, that she has been raised
in luxury, and vows' herself to misery; but it is sublime that she
guards in her heart the secret of her sacrifice from everyone, and,
in spite of all, because secrecy is necessary and has been required
of her. See her guarding it before her father, who has been brought
to believe in the dishonor of his daughter, and still to be silent
when a word would have proved her innocent; guarding it face to face
with her fiance, whom she loves, and repulses because marriage is
forbidden to the girl who is supposed to be rich and who will be
poor; guarding it, above all - and guarding it still - in the depths
of the dungeon, and ready to take the road to Siberia under the
accusation of assassination, because that ignominy is necessary for
the safety of her father. That, Sire - oh, Sire, do you see!"
"But you, how have you been able to penetrate into this guarded
"By watching her eyes. By observing, when she believed herself
alone, the look of terror and the gleams of love. And, beyond all,
by looking at her when she was looking at her father. Ah, Sire,
there were moments when on her mystic face one could read the wild
joy and devotion of the martyr. Then, by listening and by piecing
together scraps of phrases inconsistent with the idea of treachery,
but which immediately acquired meaning if one thought of the
opposite, of sacrifice. Ah, that is it, Sire! Consider always the
alternative motive. What I finally could see myself, the others,
who had a fixed opinion about Natacha, could not see. And why had
they their fixed opinion? Simply because the idea of compromise
with the Nihilists aroused at once the idea of complicity! For
such people it is always the same thing - they never can see but
the one side of the situation. But, nevertheless, the situation
had two sides, as all situations have. The question was simple.
The compromise was certain. But why had Natacha compromised
herself with the Nihilists? Was it necessarily in order to lose
her father? Might it not be, on the contrary, in order to save
him? When one has rendezvous with an enemy it is not necessarily
to enter into his game, sometimes it is to disarm him with an
offer. Between these two hypotheses, which I alone took the
trouble to examine, I did not hesitate long, because Natacha's
every attitude proclaimed her innocence: and her eyes, Sire, in
which one read purity and love, prevailed always with me against
all the passing appearances of disgrace and crime.
"I saw that Natacha negotiated with them. But what had she to
place in the scales against the life of her father? Nothing
- except the fortune that she would have one day.
"Some words she spoke about the impossibility of immediate marriage,
about poverty which could always knock at the door of any mansion,
remarks that I was able to overhear between Natacha and Boris
Mourazoff, which to him meant nothing, put me definitely on the
right road. And I was not long in ascertaining that the negotiations
in this formidable affair were taking place in the very house of
Trebassof! Pursued without by the incessant spying of Koupriane,
who sought to surprise her in company with the Nihilists, watched
closely, too, by the jealous supervision of Boris, who was jealous
of Michael Nikolaievitch, she had to seize the only opportunities
possible for such negotiations, at night, in her own home, the sole
place where, by the very audacity of it, she was able to play her
part in any security.
"Michael Nikolaievitch knew Annouchka. There was certainly the
point of departure for the negotiations which that felon-officer,
traitor to all sides, worked at will toward the realization of his
own infamous project. I do not think that Michael ever confided to
Natacha that he was, from the very first, the instrument of the
revolutionaries. Natacha, who sought to get in touch with the
revolutionary party, had to entrust him with a correspondence for
Annouchka, following which he assumed direction of the affair,
deceiving the Nihilists, who, in their absolute penury, following
the revolt, had been seduced by the proposition of General
Trebassof's daughter, and deceiving Natacha, whom he pretended to
love and by whom he believed himself loved. At this point in the
affair Natacha came to understand that it was necessary to propitiate
Michael Nikolaievitch, her indispensable intermediary, and she
managed to do it so well that Boris Mourazoff felt the blackest
jealousy. On his side, Michael came to believe that Natacha would
have no other husband than himself, but he did not propose to marry
a penniless girl! And, fatally, it followed that Natacha, in that
infernal intrigue, negotiated for the life of her father through
the agency of a man who, underhandedly, sought to strike at the
general himself, because the immediate death of her father before
the negotiation was completed would enrich Natacha, who had given
Michael so much to hope. That frightful tragedy, Sire, in which
we have lived our most painful hours, appeared to me, confident of
Natacha's innocence, as absolutely simple as for the others it
seemed complicated. Natacha believed she had in Michael
Nikolaievitch a man who worked for her, but he worked only for
himself. The day that I was convinced of it, Sire, by my examination
of the approach to the balcony, I had a mind to warn Natacha, to go
to her and say, 'Get rid of that man. He will betray you. If you
need an agent, I am at your service.' But that day, at Krestowsky,
destiny prevented my rejoining Natacha; and I must attribute it to
destiny, which would not permit the loss of that man. Michael
Nikolaievitch, who was a traitor, was too much in the 'combination,'
and if he had been rejected he would have ruined everything. I
caused him to disappear! The great misfortune then was that
Natacha, holding me responsible for the death of a man she believed
innocent, never wished to see me again, and, when she did see me,
refused to have any conversation with me because I proposed that I
take Michael's place for her with the revolutionaries. She would
have nothing to do with me in order to protect her secret. Meantime,
the Nihilists believed they were betrayed by Natacha when they
learned of the death of Michael, and they undertook to avenge him.
They seized Natacha, and bore her off by force. The unhappy girl
learned then, that same evening, of the attack which destroyed the
datcha and, happily, still spared her father. This time she reached
a definite understanding with the revolutionary party. Her bargain
was made. I offer you for proof of it only her attitude when she
was arrested, and, even in that moment, her sublime silence."
While Rouletabille urged his view, the Emperor let him talk on and
on, and now his eyes were dim.
"Is it possible that Natacha has not been the accomplice, in all,
of Michael Nikolaievitch?" he demanded. "It was she who opened her
father's house to him that night. If she was not his accomplice
she would have mistrusted him, she would have watched him."
"Sire, Michael Nikolaievitch was a very clever man. He knew so
well how to play upon Natacha, and Annouchka, in whom she placed
all her hope. It was from Annouchka that she wished to hold the
life of her father. It was the word, the signature of Annouchka
that she demanded before giving her own. The evening Michael
Nikolaievitch died, he was charged to bring her that signature. I
know it, myself, because, pretending drunkenness, I was able to
overhear enough of a conversation between Annouchka and a man whose
name I must conceal. Yes, that last evening, Michael Nikolaievitch,
when he entered the datcha, had the signature in his pocket, but
also he carried the weapon or the poison with which he already had
attempted and was resolved to reach the father of her whom he
believed was assuredly to be his wife."
"You speak now of a paper, very precious, that I regret not to
possess, monsieur," said the Tsar coldly, "because that paper alone
would have proved to me the innocence of your protegee."
"If you have not it, Sire, you know well that it is because I have
wished you to have it. The corpse had been searched by Katharina,
the little Bohemian, and I, Sire, prevented Koupriane from finding
that signature in Katharina's possession. In saving the secret I
have saved General Trebassof's life, who would have preferred to
die rather than accept such an arrangement."
The Tsar stopped Rouletabille in his enthusiastic outburst.
"All that would be very beautiful and perhaps admirable," said he,
more and more coldly, because he had entirely recovered himself,"
if Natacha had not, herself, with her own hand, poisoned her father
and her step-mother! - always with arsenate of soda."
"Oh, some of that had been left in the house," replied Rouletabille.
"They had not given me all of it for the analysis after the first
attempt. But Natacha is innocent of that, Sire. I swear it to you.
As true as that I have certainly escaped being hanged."
"Oh, it has not amounted to much now, Your Majesty."
And Rouletabille recounted his sinister adventure, up to the moment
of his death, or, rather, up to the moment when he had believed he
was going to die.
The Emperor listened to the young reporter with complete
stupefaction. He murmured, "Poor lad!" then, suddenly:
"But how have you managed to escape them?"
"Sire they have given me twenty-four hours for you to set Natacha
at liberty, that is to say, that you restore her to her rights, all
her rights, and she be always the recognized heiress of Trebassof.
Do you understand me, Sire?
"I will understand you, perhaps, when you have explained to me how
Natacha has not poisoned her father and step-mother."
"There are some things so simple, Sire, that one is able to think
of them only with a rope around one's neck. But let us reason it
out. We have here four persons, two of whom have been poisoned
and the other two with them have not been. Now, it is certain that,
of the four persons, the general has not wished to poison himself,
that his wife has not wished to poison the general, and that, as
for me, I have not wished to poison anybody. That, if we are
absolutely sure of it, leaves as the poisoner only Natacha. That
is so certain, so inevitable, that there is only one case, one
alone, where, in such conditions, Natacha would not be regarded as
"I confess that, logically, I do not see," said the Tsar, "anything
beyond that but more and more of a tangle. What is it?"
"Logically, the only case would be that where no one had been
poisoned, that is to say, where no one had taken any poison."
"But the presence of the poison has been established!" cried the
"Still, the presence of the poison proves only its presence, not
the crime. Both poison and ipecac were found in the stomach
expulsions. From which a crime has been concluded. What state
of affairs was necessary for there to have been no crime? Simply
that the poison should have appeared in the expulsions after the
ipecac. Then there would have been no poisoning, but everyone
would believe there had been. And, for that, someone would have
poured the poison into the expulsions."
The Tsar never quitted Rouletabille's eyes.
"That is extraordinary," said he. "But of course it is possible.
In any case, it is still only an hypothesis.
"And so long as it could be an hypothesis that no one thought of,
it could be just that, Sire. But if I am here, it is because I
have the proof that that hypothesis corresponds to the reality.
That necessary proof of Natacha's innocence, Your Majesty, I have
found with the rope around my neck. Ah, I tell you it was time!
What has hindered us hitherto, I do not say to realize, but even
to think, of that hypothesis? Simply that we thought the illness
of the general had commenced before the absorption of the ipecac,
since Matrena Petrovna had been obliged to go for it to her
medicine-closet after his illness commenced, in order to counteract
the poison of which she also appeared to be the victim.
"But, if I acquire proof that Matrena Petrovna had the ipecac at
hand before the sickness, my hypothesis of pretense at poisoning
has irresistible force. Because, if it was not to use it before,
why did she have it with her before? And if it was not that she
wished to hide the fact that she had used it before, why did she
wish to make believe that she went to find it afterwards?
"Then, in order to show Natacha's innocence, here is what must be
proved: that Matrena Petrovna had the ipecac on her, even when she
went to look for it."
"Young Rouletabille, I hardly breathe," said the Tsar.
"Breathe, Sire. The proof is here. Matrena Petrovna necessarily
had the ipecac on her, because after the sickness she had not the
time for going to find it. Do you understand, Sire? Between the
moment when she fled from the kiosk and when she returned there,
she had not the actual time to go to her medicine-closet to find
"How have you been able to compute the time?" asked the Emperor.
"Sire, the Lord God directed, Who made me admire Feodor
Feodorovitch's watch just when we went to read, and to read on the
dial of that watch two minutes to the hour, and the Lord God
directed yet, Who, after the scene of the poison, at the time
Matrena returned carrying the ipecac publicly, made the hour
strike from that watch in the general's pocket.
"Two minutes. It was impossible for Matrena to have covered that
distance in two minutes. She could only have entered the deserted
datcha and left it again instantly. She had not taken the trouble
to mount to the floor above, where, she told us and repeated when
she returned, the ipecac was in the medicine-closet. She lied!
And if she lied, all is explained.
"It was the striking of a watch, Sire, with a striking apparatus
and a sound like the general's, there in the quarters of the
revolutionaries, that roused my memory and indicated to me in a
second this argument of the time.
"I got down from my gallows-scaffold, Your Majesty, to experiment
on that time-limit. Oh, nothing and nobody could have prevented
my making that experiment before I died, to prove to myself that
Rouletabille had all along been right. I had studied the grounds
around the datcha enough to be perfectly exact about the distances.
I found in the court where I was to be hanged the same number of
steps that there were from the kiosk to the steps of the veranda,
and, as the staircase of the revolutionaries had fewer steps, I
lengthened my journey a few steps by walking around a chair.
Finally, I attended to the opening and closing of the doors that
Matrena would have had to do. I had looked at a watch when I
started. When I returned, Sire, and looked at the watch again, I
had taken three minutes to cover the distance - and it is not for
me to boast, but I am a little livelier than the excellent Matrena.
"Matrena had lied. Matrena had simulated the poisoning of the
general. Matrena had coolly poured ipecac in the general's glass
while we were illustrating with matches a curious-enough theory of
the nature of the constitution of the empire."
"But this is abominable!" cried the Emperor, this time definitely
convinced by the intricate argument of Rouletabille. "And what end
could this imitation serve?'"
"The end of preventing the real crime! The end that she believed
herself to have attained, Sire, to have Natacha removed forever
- Natacha whom she believed capable of any crime."
"Oh, it is monstrous! Feodor Feodorovitch has often told me that
Matrena loved Natacha sincerely."
"She loved her sincerely up to the day that she believed her guilty.
Matrena Petrovna was sure of Natacha's complicity in Michael
Nikolaievitch's attempt to poison the general. I shared her stupor,
her despair, when Feodor Feodorovitch took his daughter in his arms
after that tragic night, and embraced her. He seemed to absolve
her. It was then that Matrena resolved within herself to save the
general in spite of himself, but I remain persuaded that, if she
had dared such a plan against Natacha, it would only be because of
what she believed definite proof of her step-daughter's infamy.
These papers, Sire, that you have shown me, and which show, if
nothing more, an understanding between Natacha and the
revolutionaries, could only have been in the possession of Michael
or of Natacha. Nothing was found in Michael's quarters. Tell me,
then, that Matrena found them in Natacha's apartment. Then, she
did not hesitate!"
"If one outlined her crime to her, do you believe she would confess
it? asked the Emperor.
"I am so sure of it that I have had her brought here. By now
Koupriane should be here at the chateau, with Matrena Petrovna."
"You think of everything, monsieur."
The Tsar moved to ring a bell. Rouletabille raised his hand.
"Not yet, Sire. I ask that you permit me not to be present at the
confusion of that brave, heroic, good woman who has loved me much.
But before I go, Sire - do you promise me?"
The Emperor believed he had not heard correctly or did not grasp
the meaning. He repeated what Rouletabille had said. The young
reporter repeated it once more:
"Do you promise? No, Sire, I am not mad. I dare to ask you that.
I have confided my honor to Your Majesty. I have told you Natacha's
secret. Well, now, before Matrena's confession, I dare to ask you:
Promise me to forget that secret. It will not suffice merely to
give Natacha back again to her father. It is necessary to leave
her course open to her - if you really wish to save General
Trebassof. What do you decide, Sire?"
"It is the first time anyone has questioned me, monsieur."
"Ah, well, it will be the last. But I humbly beg Your Majesty to
"That would be many millions given to the Revolution."
"Oh, Sire, they are not given yet. The general is sixty-five, but
he has many years ahead of him, if you wish it. By the time he
dies - a natural death, if you wish it - your enemies will have
"My enemies!" murmured the Tsar in a low voice. "No, no; my enemies
never will disarm. Who, then, will be able to disarm them?" added he,
melancholily, shaking his head.
"Progress, Sire! If you wish it."
The Tsar turned red and looked at the audacious young man, who met
the gaze of His Majesty frankly.
"It is kind of you to say that, my young friend. But you speak as
"As a child of France to the Father of the Russian people."
It was said in a voice so solemn and, at the same time, so naively
touching, that the Tsar started. He gazed again for some time in
silence at this boy who, this time, turned away his brimming eyes.
"Progress and pity, Sire."
"Well," said the Emperor, "it is promised."
Rouletabille was not able to restrain a joyous movement hardly in
"You can ring now, Sire."
And the Tsar rang.
The reporter passed into a little salon, where he found the Marshal,
Koupriane and Matrena Petrovna, who was "in a state."
She threw a suspicious glance at Rouletabille, who was not treated
this morning as the dear little domovoi-doukh. She permitted
herself to be conducted, already trembling, before the Emperor.
"What happened?" asked Koupriane agitatedly.
"It so happened, my dear Monsieur Koupriane, that I have the pardon
of the Emperor for all the crimes you have charged against me, and
that I wish to shake hands before I go, without any rancor. Monsieur
Koupriane, the Emperor will tell you himself that General Trebassof
is saved, and that his life will never be in danger any more. Do
you know what follows? It follows that you must at once set Matiew
free, whom I have taken, if you remember, under my protection. Tell
him that he is going to make his way in France. I will find him a
place on condition that he forgets certain lashes."
"Such a promise! Such an attitude toward me!" cried Koupriane.
"But I will wait for the Emperor to tell me all these fine things.
And your Natacha, what do you do with her?"
"We release her also, monsieur. Natacha never has been the monster
that you think."
"How can you say that? Someone at least is guilty."
"There are two guilty. The first, Monsieur le Marechal."
"What!" cried the Marshal.
"Monsieur le Marechal, who had the imprudence to bring such
dangerous grapes to the datcha des Iles, and - and -"
"And the other?" asked Koupriane, more and more anxiously.
"Listen there," said Rouletabille, pointing toward the Emperor's
The sound of tears and sobs reached them. The grief and the remorse
of Matrena Petrovna passed the walls of the cabinet. Koupriane was
Suddenly the Emperor appeared. He was in a state of exaltation
such as had never been known in him. Koupriane, dismayed, drew back.
"Monsieur," said the Tsar to him, "I require that Natacha Feodorovna
be here within the next two hours, and that she be conducted with
the honors due to her rank. Natacha is innocent, and we must make
reparation to her."
Then, turning toward Rouletabille:
"I have learned what she knows and what she owes to you - we owe
to you, my young friend."
The Tsar said "my young friend." Rouletabille, at this last moment
before his departure, spoke Russian?
"Then she knows nothing, Sire. That is better, Sire, because Your
Majesty and me, we must forget right from to-day that we know
"You are right," said the Tsar thoughtfully. "But, my friend, what
am I to do for you?"
"Sire, one favor. Do not let me miss the train at 10:55."
And he threw himself on his knees.
"Remain on your knees, my friend. You are ready, thus. Monsieur
le Marechal will prepare at once a brevet, which I will immediately
sign. Meantime, Monsieur le Marechal, find me, in my own closet,
one of my St. Anne's collars."
And it was thus that Joseph Rouletabille, of "L'Epoque," was created
officer of St. Anne of Russia by the Emperor himself, who gave him
"They combine the whole course of time in this country," thought
Rouletabille, pressing his hand to his eyes to hold back the tears.
For the train at 10:55 everybody had crowded at Tsarskoie-Coelo
station. Among those who had come from St. Petersburg to press the
young reporter's hand when they learned of his impending departure
were Ivan Petrovitch, the jolly Councilor of the Emperor, and
Athanase Georgevitch, the lively advocate so well known for his
famous exploits with knife and fork. They had come naturally with
all their bandages and dressings, which made them look like glorious
ruins. They brought the greetings of Feodor Feodorovitch, who still
had a little fever, and of Thaddeus Tchitchnikoff, the Lithuanian,
who had both legs broken.
Even after he was in his compartment Rouletabille had to drink his
last drink of champagne. When nothing remained in the bottle and
everyone had embraced and re-embraced him, as the train did not
start quite yet, Athanase Georgevitch opened a second "last" bottle.
It was then that Monsieur le Grand Marechal arrived, out of breath.
They invited him to drink, and he accepted. But he had need to
speak to Rouletabille in private, and he drew the reporter, after
excuses, out into the corridor.
"It is the Emperor himself who has sent me," said the high dignitary
with emotion. "He has sent me about the eider downs. You forgot to
explain the eider downs to him."
"Niet!" replied Rouletabille, laughing. "That is nothing. Nitchevo!
His Majesty's eider downs are of the finest eider, as one of the
feathers that you have shown me demonstrates. Well, open them now.
They are a cheap imitation, as the second feather proves. The
return of the false eider downs, before evening, proves then that
they hoped the substitution would pass undetected. That is all.
Caracho! Collapse of the hoax. Your health! Vive le Tsar!"
The locomotive was puffing when a couple were seen running, a man
and a woman. It was Monsieur and Madame Gounsovski.
Gounsovski stood on the running-board.
"Madame Gounsovski has insisted upon shaking hands. You are very
"Tell me, young man, you did wrong to fail for dinner at my house
"I would have certainly escaped a disagreeable little journey into
Finland. I do not regret it, monsieur."
The train trembled and moved. They cried, "Vive la France! Vive
la Russe!" Athanase Georgevitch wept. Matrena Petrovna, at a
window of the station, whither she had timidly retired, waved a
handkerchief to the little domovoi-doukh, who had made her see
everything in the right light, and whom she did not dare to embrace
after the terrible affair of the false poison and the Tsar's anger.
The reporter threw her a respectful kiss.
As he said to Gounsovski, there was nothing to be regretted.
All the same, as the train took its way toward the frontier,
Rouletabille threw himself back on the cushions, and said: