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Chapter 15

XV

"I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU"

At the hotel a note from Gounsovski: "Don't forget this time to come
to-morrow to have luncheon with me. Warmest regards from Madame
Gounsovski." Then a horrible, sleepless night, shaken with echoes
of explosions and the clamor of the wounded; and the solemn shade
of Pere Alexis, stretching out toward Rouletabille a phial of poison
and saying, "Either Natacha or you!" Then, rising among the shades
the bloody form of Michael Nikolaievitch the Innocent!

In the morning a note from the Marshal of the Court.

Monsieur le Marechal had no particular good news, evidently, for in
terms quite without enthusiasm he invited the young man to luncheon
for that same day, rather early, at midday, as he wished to see him
once more before he left for France. "I see," said Rouletabille to
himself; "Monsieur le Marechal pronounces my expulsion from the
country "- and he forgot once more the Gounsovski luncheon. The
meeting-place named was the great restaurant called the Bear.
Rouletabille entered it promptly at noon. He asked the schwitzar if
the Grand Marshal of the Court had arrived, and was told no one had
seen him yet. They conducted him to the huge main hall, where,
however, there was only one person. This man, standing before the
table spread with zakouskis, was stuffing himself. At the sound of
Rouletabille's step on the floor this sole famished patron turned
and lifted his hands to heaven as he recognized the reporter. The
atter would have given all the roubles in his pocket to have avoided
the recognition. But he was already face to face with the advocate
so celebrated for his table-feats, the amiable Athanase Georgevitch,
his head swathed in bandages and dressings from the midst of which
one could perceive distinctly only the eyes and, above all, the
mouth.

"How goes it, little friend?"

"How are you?"

"Oh, I! There is nothing the matter. In a week we shall have
forgotten it."

"What a terrible affair," said the reporter, "I certainly believed
we were all dead men."

"No, no. It was nothing. Nitchevo!"

"And poor Thaddeus Tchitchnikoff with his two poor legs broken!"

"Eh! Nitchevo! He has plenty of good solid splints that will make
him two good legs again. Nitchevo! Don't you think anything more
about that! It is nothing. You have come here to dine? A very
celebrated house this. Caracho!" He busied himself to do the
honors. One would have said the restaurant belonged to him. He
boasted of its architecture and the cuisine "a la Francaise."

"Do you know," he inquired confidently, "a finer restaurant room
anywhere in the world?"

In fact, it seemed to Rouletabille as he looked up into the high
glass arch that he was in a railway station decorated for some
illustrious traveler, for there were flowers and plants everywhere.
But the visitor whom the ball awaited was the Russian eater, the
ogre who never failed to come to eat at The Bear. Pointing out the
lines of tables shining with their white cloths and bright silver,
Athanase Georgevitch, with his mouth full, said:

"Ah, my dear little French monsieur, you should see it at
supper-time, with the women, and the jewels, and the music. There
is nothing in France that can give you any idea of it, nothing! The
gayety - the champagne - and the jewels, monsieur, worth millions
and millions of roubles! Our women wear them all - everything they
have. They are decked like sacred shrines! All the family jewels
- from the very bottom of the caskets! it is magnificent,
thoroughly Russian - Muscovite! What am I saying? It is Asiatic.
Monsieur, in the evening, at a fete, we are Asiatic. Let me tell
you something on the quiet. You notice that this enormous dining
ail is surrounded by those windowed balconies. Each of those
windows belongs to a separate private room. Well, you see that
window there? - yes, there - that is the room of a grand duke - yes,
he's the one I mean - a very gay grand duke. Do you know, one
evening when there was a great crowd here - families, monsieur,
family parties, high-born families - the window of that particular
balcony was thrown open, and a woman stark naked, as naked as my
hand, monsieur, was dropped into the dining-hall and ran across it
full-speed. It was a wager, monsieur, a wager of the jolly grand
duke's, and the demoiselle won it. But what a scandal! Ah, don't
speak of it; that would be very bad form. But - sufficiently
Asiatic, eh? Truly Asiatic. And - something much more unfortunate
- you see that table? It happened the Russian New Year Eve, at
supper. All the beauty, the whole capital, was here. Just at
midnight the orchestra struck up the Bodje tsara krani* to
inaugurate the joyful Russian New Year, and everybody stood up,
according to custom, and listened in silence, as loyal subjects
should. Well, at that table, accompanying his family, there was a
young student, a fine fellow, very correct, and in uniform. This
unhappy young student, who had risen like everybody else, to listen
to the Bodje tsara krani, inadvertently placed his knee on a chair.
Truly that is not a correct attitude, monsieur, but really it was
no reason for killing him, was it now? Certainly not. Well, a brute
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
that?"
___________________________________________________________________

*The Russian national anthem.
___________________________________________________________________

"His Excellency the Grand Marshal of the Court is waiting for you,
Monsieur."

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
shall disappear."

"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
enemies.

"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
imperial palace..."

"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.
___________________________________________________________________

"Surely not!"

"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
to Koupriane."

"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
eating."

"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.

"0 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,
Excellency."

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
court.

"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 whom?"

"For me."

"For you, good little friend! You want to make your old Pere
lexis laugh - or weep!"

"Answer me."

"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 Rouletahille, 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
finest images.

"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
your age!"

"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,
Alexis Hutch."

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,
hurts me."

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
humble servant."

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
come here."

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
Alexis Hutch.

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."


Gaston Leroux

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