GAYETY AND DYNAMITE
"BARINIA, the young stranger has arrived."
"Where is he?"
"Oh, he is waiting at the lodge."
"I told you to show him to Natacha's sitting-room. Didn't you
understand me, Ermolai?"
"Pardon, Barinia, but the young stranger, when I asked to search
him, as you directed, flatly refused to let me."
"Did you explain to him that everybody is searched before being
allowed to enter, that it is the order, and that even my mother
herself has submitted to it?"
"I told him all that, Barinia; and I told him about madame your
"What did he say to that?"
"That he was not madame your mother. He acted angry."
"Well, let him come in without being searched."
"The Chief of Police won't like it."
"Do as I say."
Ermolai bowed and returned to the garden. The "barinia" left the
veranda, where she had come for this conversation with the old
servant of General Trebassof, her husband, and returned to the
dining-room in the datcha des Iles, where the gay Councilor Ivan
Petrovitch was regaling his amused associates with his latest
exploit at Cubat's resort. They were a noisy company, and certainly
the quietest among them was not the general, who nursed on a sofa
the leg which still held him captive after the recent attack, that
to his old coachman and his two piebald horses had proved fatal.
The story of the always-amiable Ivan Petrovitch (a lively, little,
elderly man with his head bald as an egg) was about the evening
before. After having, as he said, "recure la bouche " for these
gentlemen spoke French like their own language and used it among
themselves to keep their servants from understanding - after having
wet his whistle with a large glass of sparkling rosy French wine,
"You would have laughed, Feodor Feodorovitch. We had sung songs
on the Barque* and then the Bohemians left with their music and we
[*The "Barque" is a restaurant on a boat, among the isles,
near the Gulf of Finland, on a bank of the Neva.]
went out onto the river-bank to stretch our legs and cool our faces
in the freshness of the dawn, when a company of Cossacks of the
Guard came along. I knew the officer in command and invited him to
come along with us and drink the Emperor's health at Cubat's place.
That officer, Feodor Feodorovitch, is a man who knows vintages and
boasts that he has never swallowed a glass of anything so common as
Crimean wine. When I named champagne he cried, 'Vive l'Empereur!'
A true patriot. So we started, merry as school-children. The
entire company followed, then all the diners playing little whistles,
and all the servants besides, single file. At Cubat's I hated to
leave the companion-officers of my friend at the door, so I invited
them in, too. They accepted, naturally. But the subalterns were
thirsty as well. I understand discipline. You know, Feodor
Feodorovitch, that I am a stickler for discipline. Just because
one is gay of a spring morning, discipline should not be forgotten.
I invited the officers to drink in a private room, and sent the
subalterns into the main hall of the restaurant. Then the soldiers
were thirsty, too, and I had drinks served to them out in the
courtyard. Then, my word, there was a perplexing business, for now
the horses whinnied. The brave horses, Feodor Feodorovitch, who
also wished to drink the health of the Emperor. I was bothered
about the discipline. Hall, court, all were full. And I could not
put the horses in private rooms. Well, I made them carry out
champagne in pails and then came the perplexing business I had tried
so hard to avoid, a grand mixture of boots and horse-shoes that was
certainly the liveliest thing I have ever seen in my life. But the
horses were the most joyous, and danced as if a torch was held under
their nostrils, and all of them, my word! were ready to throw their
riders because the men were not of the same mind with them as to
the route to follow! From our window we laughed fit to kill at such
a mixture of sprawling boots and dancing hoofs. But the troopers
finally got all their horses to barracks, with patience, for the
Emperor's cavalry are the best riders in the world, Feodor
Feodorovitch. And we certainly had a great laugh! - Your health,
These last graceful words were addressed to Madame Trebassof, who
shrugged her shoulders at the undesired gallantry of the gay
Councilor. She did not join in the conversation, excepting to
calm the general, who wished to send the whole regiment to the
guard-house, men and horses. And while the roisterers laughed over
the adventure she said to her husband in the advisory voice of the
"Feodor, you must not attach importance to what that old fool Ivan
tells you. He is the most imaginative man in the capital when he
has had champagne."
"Ivan, you certainly have not had horses served with champagne in
pails," the old boaster, Athanase Georgevitch, protested jealously.
He was an advocate, well-known for his table-feats, who claimed the
hardest drinking reputation of any man in the capital, and he
regretted not to have invented that tale.
"On my word! And the best brands! I had won four thousand
roubles. I left the little fete with fifteen kopecks."
Matrena Petrovna was listening to Ermolai, the faithful country
servant who wore always, even here in the city, his habit of fresh
nankeen, his black leather belt, his large blue pantaloons and his
boots glistening like ice, his country costume in his master's city
home. Madame Matrena rose, after lightly stroking the hair of her
step-daughter Natacha, whose eyes followed her to the door,
indifferent apparently to the tender manifestations of her father's
orderly, the soldier-poet, Boris Mourazoff, who had written
beautiful verses on the death of the Moscow students, after having
shot them, in the way of duty, on their barricades.
Ermolai conducted his mistress to the drawing-room and pointed
across to a door that he had left open, which led to the
sitting-room before Natacha's chamber.
"He is there," said Ermolai in a low voice.
Ermolai need have said nothing, for that matter, since Madame
Matrena was aware of a stranger's presence in the sitting-room
by the extraordinary attitude of an individual in a maroon
frock-coat bordered with false astrakhan, such as is on the coats
of all the Russian police agents and makes the secret agents
recognizable at first glance. This policeman was on his knees
in the drawing-room watching what passed in the next room through
the narrow space of light in the hinge-way of the door. In this
manner, or some other, all persons who wished to approach General
Trebassof were kept under observation without their knowing it,
after having been first searched at the lodge, a measure adopted
since the latest attack.
Madame Matrena touched the policeman's shoulder with that heroic
hand which had saved her husband's life and which still bore traces
of the terrible explosion in the last attack, when she had seized
the infernal machine intended for the general with her bare hand.
The policeman rose and silently left the room, reached the veranda
and lounged there on a sofa, pretending to be asleep, but in
reality watching the garden paths.
Matrena Petrovna took his place at the hinge-vent. This was her
rule; she always took the final glance at everything and everybody.
She roved at all hours of the day and night round about the general,
like a watch-dog, ready to bite, to throw itself before the danger,
to receive the blows, to perish for its master. This had commenced
at Moscow after the terrible repression, the massacre of
revolutionaries under the walls of Presnia, when the surviving
Nihilists left behind them a placard condemning the victorious
General Trebassof to death. Matrena Petrovna lived only for the
general. She had vowed that she would not survive him. So she had
double reason to guard him.
But she had lost all confidence even within the walls of her own
Things had happened even there that defied her caution, her
instinct, her love. She had not spoken of these things save to the
Chief of Police, Koupriane, who had reported them to the Emperor.
And here now was the man whom the Emperor had sent, as the supreme
resource, this young stranger - Joseph Rouletabille, reporter.
"But he is a mere boy!" she exclaimed, without at all understanding
the matter, this youthful figure, with soft, rounded cheeks, eyes
clear and, at first view, extraordinarily naive, the eyes of an
infant. True, at the moment Rouletabille's expression hardly
suggested any superhuman profundity of thought, for, left in view
of a table, spread with hors-d'oeuvres, the young man appeared
solely occupied in digging out with a spoon all the caviare that
remained in the jars. Matrena noted the rosy freshness of his
cheeks, the absence of down on his lip and not a hint of beard, the
thick hair, with the curl over the forehead. Ah, that forehead
- the forehead was curious, with great over-hanging cranial lumps
which moved above the deep arcade of the eye-sockets while the mouth
was busy - well, one would have said that Rouletabille had not
eaten for a week. He was demolishing a great slice of Volgan
sturgeon, contemplating at the same time with immense interest a
salad of creamed cucumbers, when Matrena Petrovna appeared.
He wished to excuse himself at once and spoke with his mouth full.
"I beg your pardon, madame, but the Czar forgot to invite me to
Madame Matrena smiled and gave him a hearty handshake as she urged
him to be seated.
"You have seen His Majesty?"
"I come from him, madame. It is to Madame Trebassof that I have
the honor of speaking?"
"Yes. And you are Monsieur - ?"
"Joseph Rouletabille, madame. I do not add, 'At your service
- because I do not know about that yet. That is what I said just
now to His Majesty."
"Then?" asked Madame Matrena, rather amused by the tone the
conversation had taken and the slightly flurried air of Rouletabille.
"Why, then, I am a reporter, you see. That is what I said at once
to my editor in Paris, 'I am not going to take part in revolutionary
affairs that do not concern my country,' to which my editor replied,
'You do not have to take part. You must go to Russia to make an
inquiry into the present status of the different parties. You will
commence by interviewing the Emperor.' I said, 'Well, then, here
goes,' and took the train."
"And you have interviewed the Emperor?"
"Oh, yes, that has not been difficult. I expected to arrive direct
at St. Petersburg, but at Krasnoie-Coelo the train stopped and the
grand-marshal of the court came to me and asked me to follow him.
It was very flattering. Twenty minutes later I was before His
Majesty. He awaited me! I understood at once that this was
obviously for something out of the ordinary."
"And what did he say to you?"
"He is a man of genuine majesty. He reassured me at once when I
explained my scruples to him. He said there was no occasion for me
to take part in the politics of the matter, but to save his most
faithful servant, who was on the point of becoming the victim of
the strangest family drama ever conceived."
Madame Matrena, white as a sheet, rose to her feet.
"Ah," she said simply.
But Rouletabille, whom nothing escaped, saw her hand tremble on the
back of the chair.
He went on, not appearing to have noticed her emotion:
"His Majesty added these exact words: 'It is I who ask it of you;
I and Madame Trebassof. Go, monsieur, she awaits you'"
He ceased and waited for Madame Trebassof to speak.
She made up her mind after brief reflection.
"Have you seen Koupriane?"
"The Chief of Police? Yes. The grand-marshal accompanied me back
to the station at Krasnoie-Coelo, and the Chief of Police
accompanied me to St. Petersburg station. One could not have been
"Monsieur Rouletabille," said Matrena, who visibly strove to regain
her self-control, "I am not of Koupriane's opinion and I am not "
- here she lowered her trembling voice - " of the opinion His
Majesty holds. It is better for me to tell you at once, so that
you may not regret intervening in an affair where there are - where
there are - risks - terrible risks to run. No, this is not a family
drama. The family is small, very small: the general, his daughter
Natacha (by his former marriage), and myself. There could not be a
family drama among us three. It is simply about my husband,
monsieur, who did his duty as a soldier in defending the throne of
his sovereign, my husband whom they mean to assassinate! There is
nothing else, no other situation, my dear little guest."
To hide her distress she started to carve a slice of jellied veal
"You have not eaten, you are hungry. It is dreadful, my dear young
man. See, you must dine with us, and then - you will say adieu.
Yes, you will leave me all alone. I will undertake to save him all
alone. Certainly, I will undertake it."
A tear fell on the slice she was cutting. Rouletabille, who felt
the brave woman's emotion affecting him also, braced himself to keep
from showing it.
"I am able to help you a little all the same," he said. "Monsieur
Koupriane has told me that there is a deep mystery. It is my
vocation to get to the bottom of mysteries."
"I know what Koupriane thinks," she said, shaking her head. "But
if I could bring myself to think that for a single day I would
rather be dead."
The good Matrena Petrovna lifted her beautiful eyes to Rouletabille,
brimming with the tears she held back.
She added quickly:
"But eat now, my dear guest; eat. My dear child, you must forget
what Koupriane has said to you, when you are back in France."
"I promise you that, madame."
"It is the Emperor who has caused you this long journey. For me,
I did not wish it. Has he, indeed, so much confidence in you?" she
asked naively, gazing at him fixedly through her tears.
"Madame, I was just about to tell you. I have been active in some
important matters that have been reported to him, and then sometimes
your Emperor is allowed to see the papers. He has heard talk, too
(for everybody talked of them, madame), about the Mystery of the
Yellow Room and the Perfume of the Lady in Black."
Here Rouletabille watched Madame Trebassof and was much mortified
at the undoubted ignorance that showed in her frank face of either
the yellow room or the black perfume.
"My young friend," said she, in a voice more and more hesitant,
"you must excuse me, but it is a long time since I have had good
eyes for reading."
Tears, at last, ran down her cheeks.
Rouletabille could not restrain himself any further. He saw in one
flash all this heroic woman had suffered in her combat day by day
with the death which hovered. He took her little fat hands, whose
fingers were overloaded with rings, tremulously into his own:
"Madame, do not weep. They wish to kill your husband. Well then,
we will be two at least to defend him, I swear to you."
"Even against the Nihilists!"
"Aye, madame, against all the world. I have eaten all your caviare.
I am your guest. I am your friend."
As he said this he was so excited, so sincere and so droll that
Madame Trebassof could not help smiling through her tears. She made
him sit down beside her.
"The Chief of Police has talked of you a great deal. He came here
abruptly after the last attack and a mysterious happening that I
will tell you about. He cried, 'Ah, we need Rouletabille to unravel
this!' The next day he came here again. He had gone to the Court.
There, everybody, it appears, was talking of you. The Emperor
wished to know you. That is why steps were taken through the
ambassador at Paris."
"Yes, yes. And naturally all the world has learned of it. That
makes it so lively. The Nihiists warned me immediately that I
would not reach Russia alive. That, finally, was what decided me
on coming. I am naturally very contrary."
"And how did you get through the journey?"
"Not badly. I discovered at once in the train a young Slav assigned
to kill me, and I reached an understanding with him. He was a
charming youth, so it was easily arranged."
Rouletabille was eating away now at strange viands that it would
have been difficult for him to name. Matrena Petrovna laid her fat
little hand on his arm:
"You speak seriously?"
"A small glass of vodka?"
Madame Matrena emptied her little glass at a draught.
"And how did you discover him? How did you know him?"
"First, he wore glasses. All Nihilists wear glasses when traveling.
And then I had a good clew. A minute before the departure from
Paris I had a friend go into the corridor of the sleeping-car, a
reporter who would do anything I said without even wanting to know
why. I said, 'You call out suddenly and very loud, "Hello, here is
Rouletabille."' So he called, 'Hello, here is Rouletabille,' and
all those who were in the corridor turned and all those who were
already in the compartments came out, excepting the man with the
glasses. Then I was sure about him."
Madame Trebassof looked at Rouletabile, who turned as red as the
comb of a rooster and was rather embarrassed at his fatuity.
"That deserves a rebuff, I know, madame, but from the moment the
Emperor of all the Russias had desired to see me I could not admit
that any mere man with glasses had not the curiosity to see what
I looked like. It was not natural. As soon as the train was off
I sat down by this man and told him who I thought he was. I was
right. He removed his glasses and, looking me straight in the eyes,
said he was glad to have a little talk with me before anything
unfortunate happened. A half-hour later the entente-cordiale was
signed. I gave him to understand that I was coming here simply on
business as a reporter and that there was always time to check me
if I should be indiscreet. At the German frontier he left me to
go on, and returned tranquilly to his nitro-glycerine."
"You are a marked man also, my poor boy."
"Oh, they have not got us yet."
Matrena Petrovna coughed. That us overwhelmed her. With what
calmness this boy that she had not known an hour proposed to share
the dangers of a situation that excited general pity but from which
the bravest kept aloof either from prudence or dismay.
"Ah, my friend, a little of this fine smoked Hamburg beef?"
But the young man was already pouring out fresh yellow beer.
"There," said he. "Now, madame, I am listening. Tell me first
about the earliest attack."
"Now," said Matrena, "we must go to dinner."
Rouletabille looked at her wide-eyed.
"But, madame, what have I just been doing?"
Madame Matrena smiled. All these strangers were alike. Because
they had eaten some hors-d'ceuvres, some zakouskis, they imagined
their host would be satisfied. They did not know how to eat.
"We will go to the dining-room. The general is expecting you.
They are at table."
"I understand I am supposed to know him."
"Yes, you have met in Paris. It is entirely natural that in passing
through St. Petersburg you should make him a visit. You know him
ery well indeed, so well that he opens his home to you. Ah, yes,
my step-daughter also " - she flushed a little - " Natacha believes
that her father knows you."
She opened the door of the drawing-room, which they had to cross in
order to reach the dining-room.
>From his present position Rouletabille could see all the corners of
the drawing-room, the veranda, the garden and the entrance lodge at
the gate. In the veranda the man in the maroon frock-coat trimmed
with false astrakhan seemed still to be asleep on the sofa; in one
of the corners of the drawing-room another individual, silent and
motionless as a statue, dressed exactly the same, in a maroon
frock-coat with false astrakhan, stood with his hands behind his
back seemingly struck with general paralysis at the sight of a
flaring sunset which illumined as with a torch the golden spires of
Saints Peter and Paul. And in the garden and before the lodge
three others dressed in maroon roved like souls in pain over the
lawn or back and forth at the entrance. Rouletabille motioned to
Madame Matrena, stepped back into the sitting-room and closed the
"Police?" he asked.
Matrena Petrovna nodded her head and put her finger to her mouth
in a naive way, as one would caution a child to silence.
"How many are there?"
"Ten, relieved every six hours."
"That makes forty unknown men around your house each day."
"Not unknown," she replied. "Police."
"Yet, in spite of them, you have had the affair of the bouquet in
the general's chamber."
"No, there were only three then. It is since the affair of the
bouquet that there have been ten."
"It hardly matters. It is since these ten that you have had ..."
"What?" she demanded anxiously.
"You know well - the flooring."
She glanced at the door, watching the policeman statuesque before
the setting sun.
"No one knows that - not even my husband."
"So M. Koupriane told me. Then it is you who have arranged for
these ten police-agents?"
"Well, we will commence now by sending all these police away."
Matrena Petrovna grasped his hand, astounded.
"Surely you don't think of doing such a thing as that!"
"Yes. We must know where the blow is coming from. You have four
different groups of people around here - the police, the domestics,
your friends, your family. Get rid of the police first. They must
not be permitted to cross your threshold. They have not been able
to protect you. You have nothing to regret. And if, after they
are gone, something new turns up, we can leave M. Koupriane to
conduct the inquiries without his being preoccupied here at the
"But you do not know the admirable police of Koupriane. These brave
men have given proof of their devotion."
"Madame, if I were face to face with a Nihilist the first thing I
would ask myself about him would be, 'Is he one of the police?'
The first thing I ask in the presence of an agent of your police is,
'Is he not a Nihilist?'"
"But they will not wish to go."
"Do any of them speak French?"
"Yes, their sergeant, who is out there in the salon."
"Pray call him."
Madame Trebassof walked into the salon and signaled. The man
appeared. Rouletabille handed him a paper, which the other read.
"You will gather your men together and quit the villa," ordered
Rouletabille. "You will return to the police Headguarters. Say to
M. Koupriane that I have commanded this and that I require all police
service around the villa to be suspended until further orders."
The man bowed, appeared not to understand, looked at Madame
Trebassof and said to the young man:
"At your service."
He went out.
"Wait here a moment," urged Madame Trebassof, who did not know how
to take this abrupt action and whose anxiety was really painful
She disappeared after the man of the false astrakhan. A few moments
afterwards she returned. She appeared even more agitated.
"I beg your pardon," she murmured, "but I cannot let them go like
this. They are much chagrined. They have insisted on knowing where
they have failed in their service. I have appeased them with money."
"Yes, and tell me the whole truth, madame. You have directed them
not to go far away, but to remain near the villa so as to watch it
as closely as possible."
"It is true. But they have gone, nevertheless. They had to obey
you. What can that paper be you have shown them?"
Rouletabille drew out again the billet covered with seals and signs
and cabalistics that he did not understand. Madame Trebassof
translated it aloud: "Order to all officials in surveillance of the
Villa Trebassof to obey the bearer absolutely. Signed: Koupriane."
"Is it possible!" murmured Matrena Petrovna. "But Koupriane would
never have given you this paper if he had imagined that you would
use it to dismiss his agents."
"Evidently. I have not asked him his advice, madame, you may be
sure. But I will see him to-morrow and he will understand."
"Meanwhile, who is going to watch over him?" cried she.
Rouletabille took her hands again. He saw her suffering, a prey
to anguish almost prostrating. He pitied her. He wished to give
her immediate confidence.
"We will," he said.
She saw his young, clear eyes, so deep, so intelligent, the
well-formed young head, the willing face, all his young ardency for
her, and it reassured her. Rouletabille waited for what she might
say. She said nothing. She took him in her arms and embraced him.