BY ROULETABILLE'S ORDER THE GENERAL PROMENADES
"Good morning, my dear little familiar spirit. The general slept
splendidly the latter part of the night. He did not touch his
narcotic. I am sure it is that dreadful mixture that gives him
such frightful dreams. And you, my dear little friend, you have
not slept an instant. I know it. I felt you going everywhere
about the house like a little mouse. Ah, it seems good, so good.
I slept so peacefully, hearing the subdued movement of your little
steps. Thanks for the sleep you have given me, little friend."
Matrena talked on to Rouletahille, whom she had found the morning
after the nightmare tranquilly smoking his pipe in the garden.
"Ah, ah, you smoke a pipe. Now you do certainly look exactly like
a dear little domovoi-doukh. See how much you are alike. He
smokes just like you. Nothing new, eh? You do not look very bright
this morning. You are worn out. I have just arranged the little
guest-chamber for you, the only one we have, just behind mine.
Your bed is waiting for you. Is there anything you need? Tell me.
Everything here is at your service."
"I'm not in need of anything, madame," said the young man smilingly,
after this outpouring of words from the good, heroic dame.
"How can you say that, dear child? You will make yourself sick.
I want you to understand that I wish you to rest. I want to be a
mother to you, if you please, and you must obey me, my child. Have
you had breakfast yet this morning? If you do not have breakfast
promptly mornings, I will think you are annoyed. I am so annoyed
that you have heard the secret of the night. I have been afraid
that you would want to leave at once and for good, and that you
would have mistaken ideas about the general. There is not a
better man in the world that Feodor, and he must have a good, a
very good conscience to dare, without fail, to perform such terrible
duties as those at Moscow, when he is so good at heart. These
things are easy enough for wicked people, but for good men, for
good men who can reason it out, who know what they do and that they
are condemned to death into the bargain, it is terrible, it is
terrible! Why, I told him the moment things began to go wrong in
Moscow, 'You know what to expect, Feodor. Here is a dreadful time
to get through - make out you are sick.' I believed he was going
to strike me, to kill me on the spot. 'I! Betray the Emperor in
such a moment! His Majesty, to whom I owe everything! What are
you thinking of, Matrena Petrovna!' And he did not speak to me
after that for two days. It was only when he saw I was growing
very ill that he pardoned me, but he had to be plagued with my
jeremiads and the appealing looks of Natacha without end in his
own home each time we heard any shooting in the street. Natacha
attended the lectures of the Faculty, you know. And she knew many
of them, and even some of those who were being killed on the
barricades. Ah, life was not easy for him in his own home, the
poor general! Besides, there was also Boris, whom I love as well,
for that matter, as my own child, because I shall be very happy to
see him married to Natacha - there was poor Boris who always came
home from the attacks paler than a corpse and who could not keep
from moaning with us."
"And Michael?" questioned Rouletabille.
"Oh, Michael only came towards the last. He is a new orderly to
the general. The government at St. Petersburg sent him, because
of course they couldn't help learning that Boris rather lacked zeal
in repressing the students and did not encourage the general in
being as severe as was necessary for the safety of the Empire. But
Michael, he has a heart of stone; he knows nothing but the
countersign and massacres fathers and mothers, crying, 'Vive le
Tsar!' Truly, it seems his heart can only be touched by the sight
of Natacha. And that again has caused a good deal of anxiety to
Feodor and me. It has caught us in a useless complication that we
would have liked to end by the prompt marriage of Natacha and Boris.
But Natacha, to our great surprise, has not wished it to be so. No,
she has not wished it, saying that there is always time to think of
her wedding and that she is in no hurry to leave us. Meantime she
entertains herself with this Michael as if she did not fear his
passion, and neither has Michael the desperate air of a man who
knows the definite engagement of Natacha and Boris. And my
step-daughter is not a coquette. No, no. No one can say she is a
coquette. At least, no one had been able to say it up to the time
that Michael arrived. Can it be that she is a coquette? They are
mysterious, these young girls, very mysterious, above all when they
have that calm and tranquil look that Natacha always has; a face,
monsieur, as you have noticed perhaps, whose beauty is rather
passive whatever one says and does, excepting when the volleys in
the streets kill her young comrades of the schools. Then I have
seen her almost faint, which proves she has a great heart under
her tranquil beauty. Poor Natacha! I have seen her excited as I
over the life of her father. My little friend, I have seen her
searching in the middle of the night, with me, for infernal
machines under the furniture, and then she has expressed the
opinion that it is nervous, childish, unworthy of us to act like
that, like timid beasts under the sofas, and she has left me to
search by myself. True, she never quits the general. She is more
reassured, and is reassuring to him, at his side. It has an
excellent moral effect on him, while I walk about and search like
a beast. And she has become as fatalistic as he, and now she sings
verses to the guzla, like Boris, or talks in corners with Michael,
which makes the two enraged each with the other. They are curious,
the young women of St. Petersburg and Moscow, very curious. We
were not like that in our time, at Orel. We did not try to enrage
people. We would have received a box on the ears if we had."
Natacha came in upon this conversation, happy, in white voile,
fresh and smiling like a girl who had passed an excellent night.
She asked after the health of the young man very prettily and
embraced Matrena, in truth as one embraces a much-beloved mother.
She complained again of Matrena's night-watch.
"You have not stopped it, mamma; you have not stopped it, eh? You
are not going to be a little reasonable at last? I beg of you!
What has given me such a mother! Why don't you sleep? Night is
made for sleep. Koupriane has upset you. All the terrible things
are over in Moscow. There is no occasion to think of them any more.
That Koupriane makes himself important with his police-agents and
obsesses us all. I am convinced that the affair of the bouquet
was the work of his police."
"Mademoiselle," said Rouletabille, "I have just had them all sent
away, all of them - because I think very much the same as you do."
"Well, then, you will be my friend, Monsieur Rouletabille I promise
you, since you have done that. Now that the police are gone we
have nothing more to fear. Nothing. I tell you, mamma; you can
believe me and not weep any more, mamma dear."
"Yes, yes; kiss me. Kiss me again!" repeated Matrena, drying her
eyes. "When you kiss me I forget everything. You love me like
your own mother, don't you?"
"Like my mother. Like my own mother."
"You have nothing to hide from me? - tell me, Natacha."
"Nothing to hide."
"Then why do you make Boris suffer so? Why don't you marry him?"
"Because I don't wish to leave you, mamma dear."
She escaped further parley by jumping up on the garden edge away
from Khor, who had just been set free for the day.
"The dear child," said Matrena; "the dear little one, she little
knows how much pain she has caused us without being aware of it,
by her ideas, her extravagant ideas. Her father said to me one
day at Moscow, 'Matrena Petrovna, I'll tell you what I think
- Natacha is the victim of the wicked books that have turned the
brains of all these poor rebellious students. Yes, yes; it would
be better for her and for us if she did not know how to read, for
there are moments - my word! - when she talks very wildly, and
I have said to myself more than once that with such ideas her place
is not in our salon hut behind a barricade. All the same,' he
added after reflection, 'I prefer to find her in the salon where I
can embrace her than behind a barricade where I would kill her like
a mad dog.' But my husband, dear little monsieur, did not say what
he really thinks, for he loves his daughter more than all the rest
of the world put together, and there are things that even a general,
yes, even a governor-general, would not be able to do without
violating both divine and human laws. He suspects Boris also of
setting Natacha's wits awry. We really have to consider that when
they are married they will read everything they have a mind to. My
husband has much more real respect for Michael Korsakoff because of
his impregnable character and his granite conscience. More than
once he has said, 'Here is the aide I should have had in the worst
days of Moscow. He would have spared me much of the individual
pain.' I can understand how that would please the general, but how
such a tigerish nature succeeds in appealing to Natacha, how it
succeeds in not actually revolting her, these young girls of the
capital, one never can tell about them - they get away from all
your notions of them."
"Why did Boris say to Michael, 'We will return together'? Do they
"Yes, in the small villa on the Krestowsky Ostrov, the isle across
from ours, that you can see from the window of the sitting-room.
Boris chose it because of that. The orderlies wished to have
camp-beds prepared for them right here in the general's house, by
a natural devotion to him; but I opposed it, in order to keep them
both from Natacha, in whom, of course, I have the most complete
confidence, but one cannot be sure about the extravagance of men
Ermolai came to announce the petit-dejeuner. They found Natacha
already at table and she poured them coffee and milk, eating away
all the time at a sandwich of anchovies and caviare.
"Tell me, mamma, do you know what gives me such an appetite? It
is the thought of the way poor Koupriane must have taken this
dismissal of his men. I should like to go to see him."
"If you see him," said Rouletabille, "it is unnecessary to tell him
that the general will go for a long promenade among the isles this
afternoon, because without fail he would send us an escort of
"Papa! A promenade among the islands? Truly? Oh, that is going
to be lovely!"
Matrena Petrovna sprang to her feet.
"Are you mad, my dear little domovoi, actually mad?"
"Why? Why? It is fine. I must run and tell papa."
"Your father's room is locked," said Matrena brusquely.
"Yes, yes; he is locked in. You have the key. Locked away until
death! You will kill him. It will be you who kills him."
She left the table without waiting for a reply and went and shut
herself also in her chamber.
Matrena looked at Rouletabille, who continued his breakfast as
though nothing had happened.
"Is it possible that you speak seriously?" she demanded, coming
over and sitting down beside him. "A promenade! Without the
police, when we have received again this morning a letter saying
now that before forty-eight hours the general will be dead!"
"Forty-eight hours," said Rouletabille, soaking his bread in his
chocolate, "forty-eight hours? It is possible. In any case, I
know they will try something very soon."
"My God, how is it that you believe that? You speak with assurance."
"Madame, it is necessary to do everything I tell you, to the letter."
"But to have the general go out, unless he is guarded - how can you
take such a responsibility? When I think about it, when I really
think about it, I ask myself how you have dared send away the police.
But here, at least, I know what to do in order to feel a little safe,
I know that downstairs with Gniagnia and Ermolai we have nothing to
fear. No stranger can approach even the basement. The provisions
are brought from the lodge by our dvornicks whom we have had sent
from my mother's home in the Orel country and who are as devoted to
us as bull-dogs. Not a bottle of preserves is taken into the
kitchens without having been previously opened outside. No package
comes from any tradesman without being opened in the lodge. Here,
within, we are able to feel a little safe, even without the police
- but away from here - outside!"
"Madame, they are going to try to kill your husband within
forty-eight hours. Do you desire me to save him perhaps for a long
time - for good, perhaps?"
"Ah, listen to him! Listen to him, the dear little domovoi! But
what will Koupriane say? He will not permit any venturing beyond
the villa; none, at least for the moment. Ah, now, how he looks at
me, the dear little domovoi! Oh, well, yes. There, I will do as
"Very well, come into the garden with me."
She accompanied him, leaning on his arm.
"Here's the idea," said Rouletabille. "This afternoon you will go
with the general in his rolling-chair. Everybody will follow.
Everyone, you understand, Madame - understand me thoroughly, I mean
to say that everyone who wishes to come must be invited to. Only
those who wish to remain behind will do so. And do not insist. Ah,
now, I see, you understand me. Why do you tremble?"
"But who will guard the house?"
"No one. Simply tell the servant at the lodge to watch from the
lodge those who enter the villa, but simply from the lodge, without
interfering with them, and saying nothing to them, nothing."
"I will do as you wish. Do you want me to announce our promenade
"Why, certainly. Don't be uneasy; let everybody have the good news."
"Oh, I will tell only the general and his friends, you may be sure."
"Now, dear Madame, just one more word. Do not wait for me at
"What! You are going to leave us?" she cried instantly, breathless.
"No, no. I do not wish it. I am willing to do without the police,
but I am not willing to do without you. Everything might happen in
your absence. Everything! Everything!" she repeated with singular
energy. "Because, for me, I cannot feel sure as I should, perhaps.
Ah, you make me say these things. Such things! But do not go."
"Do not be afraid; I am not going to leave you, madame."
"Ah, you are good! You are kind, kind! Caracho! (Very well.)"
"I will not leave you. But I must not be at luncheon. If anyone
asks where I am, say that I have my business to look after, and
have gone to interview political personages in the city."
"There's only one political personage in Russia," replied Matrena
Petrovna bluntly; "that is the Tsar."
"Very well; say I have gone to interview the Tsar."
"But no one will believe that. And where will you be?"
"I do not know myself. But I will be about the house."
"Very well, very well, dear little domovoi."
She left him, not knowing what she thought about it all, nor what
she should think - her head was all in a muddle.
In the course of the morning Athanase Georgevitch and Thaddeus
Tchnitchnikof arrived. The general was already in the veranda.
Michael and Boris arrived shortly after, and inquired in their turn
how he had passed the night without the police. When they were told
that Feodor was going for a promenade that afternoon they applauded
his decision. "Bravo! A promenade a la strielka (to the head of
the island) at the hour when all St. Petersburg is driving there.
That is fine. We will all be there." The general made them stay
for luncheon. Natacha appeared for the meal, in rather melancholy
mood. A little before luncheon she had held a double conversation
in the garden with Michael and Boris. No one ever could have known
what these three young people had said if some stenographic notes in
Rouletabille's memorandum-book did not give us a notion; the reporter
had overheard, by accident surely, since all self-respecting
reporters are quite incapable of eavesdropping.
The memorandum notes:
Natacha went into the garden with a book, which she gave to Boris,
who pressed her hand lingeringly to his lips. "Here is your book;
I return it to you. I don't want any more of them, the ideas surge
so in my brain. It makes my head ache. It is true, you are right,
I don't love novelties. I can satisfy myself with Pouchkine
perfectly. The rest are all one to me. Did you pass a good night?"
Boris (good-looking young man, about thirty years old, blonde, a
little effeminate, wistful. A curious appurtenance in the military
household of so vigorous a general). "Natacha, there is not an
hour that I can call truly good if I spend it away from you, dear,
"I ask you seriously if you have passed a good night?"
She touched his hand a moment and looked into his eyes, but he
shook his head.
"What did you do last night after you reached home?" she demanded
insistently. "Did you stay up?"
"I obeyed you; I only sat a half-hour by the window looking over
here at the villa, and then I went to bed."
"Yes, it is necessary you should get your rest. I wish it for you
as for everyone else. This feverish life is impossible. Matrena
Petrovna is getting us all ill, and we shall be prostrated."
"Yesterday," said Boris, "I looked at the villa for a half-hour
from my window. Dear, dear villa, dear night when I can feel you
breathing, living near me. As if you had been against my heart. I
could have wept because I could hear Michael snoring in his chamber.
He seemed happy. At last, I heard nothing more, there was nothing
more to hear but the double chorusof frogs in the pools of the
sland. Our pools, Natacha, are like the enchanted lakes of the
Caucasus which are silent by day and sing at evening; there are
innumerabel throngs of frogs which sing on the same chord, some of
them on a major and some on a minor. The chorus speaks from pool
to pool, lamenting and moaning across the fields and gardens, and
re-echoing like AEolian harps placed opposite one another."
"Do AEolian harps make so much noise, Boris?"
"You laugh? I don't find you yourself half the time. It is Michael
who has changed you, and I am out of it. (Here they spoke in
Russian.) I shall not be easy until I am your husband. I can't
understand your manner with Michael at all."
(Here more Russian words which I do not understand.)
"Speak French; here is the gardener," said Natacha.
"I do not like the way you are managing our lives. Why do you
delay our marriage? Why?
(Russian words from Natacha. Gesture of desperation from Boris.)
"How long? You say a long time? But that says nothing - a long
time. How long? A year? Two years? Ten years? Tell me, or I
will kill myself at your feet. No, no; speak or I will kill
Michael. On my word! Like a dog!"
"I swear to you, by the dear head of your mother, Boris, that the
date of our marriage does not depend on Michael."
(Some words in Russian. Boris, a little consoled, holds her hand
lingeringly to his lips.)
Conversation between Michael and Natacha in the garden:
"Well? Have you told him?"
"I ended at last by making him understand that there is not any
hope. None. It is necessary to have patience. I have to have it
"He is stupid and provoking."
"Stupid, no. Provoking, yes, if you wish. But you also, you are
(Here more Russian.) As Natacha started to leave, Michael placed
his hand on her shoulder, stopped her and said, looking her direct
in the eyes:
"There will be a letter from Annouchka this evening, by a messenger
at five o'clock." He made each syllable explicit. "Very important
and requiring an immediate reply."
These notes of Rouletabille's are not followed by any commentary.
After luncheon the gentlemen played poker until half-past four,
which is the "chic" hour for the promenade to the head of the
island. Rouletabille had directed Matrena to start exactly at a
quarter to five. He appeared in the meantime, announcing that he
had just interviewed the mayor of St. Petersburg, which made Athanase
laugh, who could not understand that anyone would come clear from
Paris to talk with men like that. Natacha came from her chamber to
join them for the promenade. Her father told her she looked too
They left the villa. Rouletabille noted that the dvornicks were
before the gate and that the schwitzar was at his post, from which
he could detect everyone who might enter or leave the villa.
Matrena pushed the rolling-chair herself. The general was radiant.
He had Natacha at his right and at his left Athanase and Thaddeus.
The two orderlies followed, talking with Rouletabille, who had
monopolized them. The conversation turned on the devotion of
Matrena Petrovna, which they placed above the finest heroic traits
in the women of antiquity, and also on Natacha's love for her father.
Rouletabille made them talk.
Boris Mourazoff explained that this exceptional love was accounted
for by the fact that Natacha's own mother, the general's first wife,
died in giving birth to their daughter, and accordingly Feodor
Feodorovitch had been both father and mother to his daughter. He
had raised her with the most touching care, not permitting anyone
else, when she was sick, to have the care of passing the nights by
Natacha was seven years old when Feodor Feodorovitch was appointed
governor of Orel. In the country near Orel, during the summer, the
general and his daughter lived on neighborly terms near the family
of old Petroff, one of the richest fur merchants in Russia. Old
Petroff had a daughter, Matrena, who was magnificent to see, like
a beautiful field-flower. She was always in excellent humor, never
spoke ill of anyone in the neighborhood, and not only had the fine
manners of a city dame but a great, simple heart, which she lavished
on the little Natacha.
The child returned the affection of the beautiful Matrena, and it
was on seeing them always happy to find themselves together that
Trebassof dreamed of reestablishing his fireside. The nuptials
were quickly arranged, and the child, when she learned that her
good Matrena was to wed her papa, danced with joy. Then misfortune
came only a few weeks before the ceremony. Old Petroff, who
speculated on the Exchange for a long time without anyone knowing
anything about it, was ruined from top to bottom. Matrena came one
evening to apprise Feodor Feodorovitch of this sad news and return
his pledge to him. For all response Feodor placed Natacha in
Matrena's arms. "Embrace your mother," he said to the child, and
to Matrena, "From to-day I consider you my wife, Matrena Petrovna.
You should obey me in all things. Take that reply to your father
and tell him my purse is at his disposition."
The general was already, at that time, even before he had inherited
the Cheremaieff, immensely rich. He had lands behind Nijni as vast
as a province, and it would have been difficult to count the number
of moujiks who worked for him on his property. Old Pretroff gave
his daughter and did not wish to accept anything in exchange. Feodor
wished to settle a large allowance on his wife; her father opposed
that, and Matrena sided with him in the matter against her husband,
because of Natacha. "It all belongs to the little one," she
insisted. "I accept the position of her mother, but on the condition
that she shall never lose a kopeck of her inheritance."
"So that," concluded Boris, "if the general died tomorrow she would
be poorer than Job."
"Then the general is Matrena's sole resource," reflected Rouletabille
"I can understand her hanging onto him," said Michael Korsakoff,
blowing the smoke of his yellow cigarette. "Look at her. She
watches him like a treasure."
"What do you mean, Michael Nikolaievitch?" said Boris, curtly.
"You believe, do you, that the devotion of Matrena Petrovna is not
disinterested. You must know her very poorly to dare utter such
"I have never had that thought, Boris Alexandrovitch," replied the
other in a tone curter still. "To be able to imagine that anyone
who lives in the Trebassofs' home could have such a thought needs
an ass's head, surely."
"We will speak of it again, Michael Nikolaievitch."
"At your pleasure, Boris Alexandrovitch."
They had exchanged these latter words tranquilly continuing their
walk and negligently smoking their yellow tobacco. Rouletabille was
between them. He did not regard them; he paid no attention even to
their quarrel; he had eyes only for Natacha, who just now quit her
place beside her father's wheel-chair and passed by them with a
little nod of the head, seeming in haste to retrace the way back to
"Are you leaving us?" Boris demanded of her.
"Oh, I will rejoin you immediately. I have forgotten my umbrella."
"But I will go and get it for you," proposed Michael."
"No, no. I have to go to the villa; I will return right away."
She was already past them. Rouletabille, during this, looked at
Matrena Petrovna, who looked at him also, turning toward the young
man a visage pale as wax. But no one else noted the emotion of the
good Matrena, who resumed pushing the general's wheel-chair.
Rouletabille asked the officers, "Was this arrangement because the
first wife of the general, Natacha's mother, was rich?"
"No. The general, who always had his heart in his hand," said
Boris, "married her for her great beauty. She was a beautiful girl
of the Caucasus, of excellent family besides, that Feodor
Feodorovitch had known when he was in garrison at Tiflis."
"In short," said Rouletabille, "the day that General Trebassof dies
Madame Trebassof, who now possesses everything, will have nothing,
and the daughter, who now has nothing, will have everything."
"Exactly that," said Michael.
"That doesn't keep Matrena Petrovna and Natacha Feodorovna from
deeply loving each other," observed Boris.
The little party drew near the "Point." So far the promenade had
been along pleasant open country, among the low meadows traversed
by fresh streams, across which tiny bridges had been built, among
bright gardens guarded by porcelain dwarfs, or in the shade of
small weeds from the feet of whose trees the newly-cut grass gave
a seasonal fragrance. All was reflected in the pools - which lay
like glass whereon a scene-painter had cut the green hearts of the
pond-lily leaves. An adorable country glimpse which seemed to have
been created centuries back for the amusement of a queen and
preserved, immaculately trimmed and cleaned, from generation to
generation, for the eternal charm of such an hour as this on the
banks of the Gulf of Finland.
Now they had reached the bank of the Gulf, and the waves rippled to
the prows of the light ships, which dipped gracefully like huge and
rapid sea-gulls, under the pressure of their great white sails.
Along the roadway, broader now, glided, silently and at walking
pace, the double file of luxurious equipages with impatient horses,
the open carriages in which the great personages of the court saw
the view and let themselves be seen. Enormous coachmen held the
reins high. Lively young women, negligently reclining against the
cushions, displayed their new Paris toilettes, and kept young
officers on horseback busy with salutes. There were all kinds of
uniforms. No talking was heard. Everyone was kept busy looking.
There rang in the pure, thin air only the noise of the champing bits
and the tintinnabulation of the bells attached to the hairy Finnish
ponies' collars. And all that, so beautiful, fresh, charming and
clear, and silent, it all seemed more a dream than even that which
hung in the pools, suspended between the crystal of the air and the
crystal of the water. The transparence of the sky and the
transparence of the gulf blended their two unrealities so that one
could not note where the horizons met.
Rouletabille looked at the view and looked at the general, and in
all his young vibrating soul there was a sense of infinite sadness,
for he recalled those terrible words in the night: "They have gone
into all the corners of the Russian land, and they have not found
a single corner of that land where there are not moanings." "Well,"
thought he, "they have not come into this corner, apparently. I
don't know anything lovelier or happier in the world." No, no,
Rouletabille, they have not come here. In every country there is
a corner of happy life, which the poor are ashamed to approach,
which they know nothing of, and of which merely the sight would
turn famished mothers enraged, with their thin bosoms, and, if it
is not more beautiful than that, certainly no part of the earth is
made so atrocious to live in for some, nor so happy for others as
in this Scythian country, the boreal country of the world.
Meanwhile the little group about the general's rolling-chair had
attracted attention. Some passers-by saluted, and the news spread
quickly that General Trebassof had come for a promenade to "the
Point." Heads turned as carriages passed; the general, noticing
how much excitement his presence produced, begged Matrena Petrovna
to push his chair into an adjacent by-path, behind a shield of
trees where he would be able to enjoy the spectacle in peace.
He was found, nevertheless, by Koupriane, the Chief of Police, who
was looking for him. He had gone to the datcha and been told
there that the general, accompanied by his friends and the young
Frenchman, had gone for a turn along the gulf. Koupriane had left
his carriage at the datcha, and taken the shortest route after them.
He was a fine man, large, solid, clear-eyed. His uniform showed
his fine build to advantage. He was generally liked in St.
Petersburg, where his martial bearing and his well-known bravery
had given him a sort of popularity in society, which, on the other
hand, had great disdain for Gounsovski, the head of the Secret
Police, who was known to be capable of anything underhanded and
had been accused of sometimes play-ng into the hands of the
Nihilists, whom he disguised as agents-provocateurs, without
anybody really doubting it, and he had to fight against these
widespread political suspicions.
Well-informed men declared that the death of the previous "prime
mnister," who had been blown up before Varsovie station when he was
on his way to the Tsar at Peterhof, was Gounsovski's work and that
in this he was the instrument of the party at court which had sworn
the death of the minister which inconvenienced it.* On the other
1Rumored cause of Plehve's assassination.
hand, everyone regarded Koupriane as incapable of participating in
any such horrors and that he contented himself with honest
performance of his obvious duties, confining himself to ridding the
streets of its troublesome elements, and sending to Siberia as many
as he could of the hot-heads, without lowering himself to the
compromises which, more than once, had given grounds for the enemies
of the empire to maintain that it was difilcult to say whether the
chiefs of the Russian police played the part of the law or that of
the revolutionary party, even that the police had been at the end
of a certain time of such mixed procedure hardly able to decide
themselves which they did.
This afternoon Koupriane appeared very nervous. He paid his
compliments to the general, grumbled at his imprudence, praised him
for his bravery, and then at once picked out Rouletabille, whom he
took aside to talk to.
"You have sent my men back to me," said he to the young reporter.
"You understand that I do not allow that. They are furious, and
quite rightly. You have given publicly as explanation of their
departure - a departure which has naturally astonished, stupefied
the general's friends - the suspicion of their possible participation
in the last attack. That is abominable, and I will not permit it.
My men have not been trained in the methods of Gounsovski, and it
does them a cruel injury, which I resent, for that matter,
personally, to treat them this way. But let that go, as a matter
of sentiment, and return to the simple fact itself, which proves
your excessive imprudence, not to say more, and which involves you,
you alone, in a responsibility of which you certainly have not
measured the importance. All in all, I consider that you have
strangely abused the complete authority that I gave you upon the
Emperor's orders. When I learned what you had done I went to find
the Tsar, as was my duty, and told him the whole thing. He was more
astonished than can be expressed. He directed me to go myself to
find out just how things were and to furnish the general the guard
you had removed. I arrive at the isles and not only find the villa
open like a mill where anyone may enter, but I am informed, and then
I see, that the general is promenading in the midst of the crowd,
at the mercy of the first miserable venturer. Monsieur Rouletabille,
I am not satisfied. The Tsar is not satisfied. And, within an hour,
my men will return to assume their guard at the datcha."
Rouletabille listened to the end. No one ever had spoken to him in
that tone. He was red, and as ready to burst as a child's balloon
blown too hard. He said:
"And I will take the train this evening."
"You will go?"
"Yes, and you can guard your general all alone. I have had enough
of it. Ah, you are not satisfied! Ah, the Tsar is not satisfied!
It is too bad. No more of it for me. Monsieur, I am not satisfied,
and I say Good-evening to you. Only do not forget to send me from
here every three or four days a letter which will keep me informed
of the health of the general, whom I love dearly. I will offer up
a little prayer for him."
Thereupon he was silent, for he caught the glance of Matrena
Petrovna, a glance so desolated, so imploring, so desperate, that
the poor woman inspired him anew with great pity. Natacha had not
returned. What was the young girl doing at that moment? If Matrena
really loved Natacha she must be suffering atrociously. Koupriane
spoke; Rouletabille did not hear him, and he had already forgotten
his own anger. His spirit was wrapped in the mystery.
"Monsieur," Koupriane finished by saying, tugging his sleeve, "do
you hear me? I pray you at least reply to me. I offer all possible
excuses for speaking to you in that tone. I reiterate them. I ask
your pardon. I pray you to explain your conduct, which appeared
imprudent to me but which, after all, should have some reason. I
have to explain to the Emperor. Will you tell me? What ought I to
say to the Emperor?"
"Nothing at all," said Rouletabille. "I have no explanation to
give you or the Emperor, or to anyone. You can offer him my utmost
homage and do me the kindness to vise my passport for this evening."
And he sighed:
"It is too bad, for we were just about to see something interesting."
Koupriane looked at him. Rouletabille had not quitted Matrena
Petrovna's eyes, and her pallor struck Koupriane.
"Just a minute," continued the young man. "I'm sure there is
someone who will miss me - that brave woman there. Ask her which
she prefers, all your police, or her dear little domovoi. We are
good friends already. And - don't forget to present my condolences
to her when the terrible moment has come."
It was Koupriane's turn to be troubled.
He coughed and said:
"You believe, then, that the general runs a great immediate danger?"
"I do not only believe it, monsieur, I am sure of it. His death
is a matter of hours for the poor dear man. Before I go I shall
not fail to tell him, so that he can prepare himself comfortably
for the great journey and ask pardon of the Lord for the rather
heavy hand he has laid on these poor men of Presnia."
"Monsieur Rouletabille, have you discovered something?"
"Good Lord, yes, I have discovered something, Monsieur Koupriane.
You don't suppose I have come so far to waste my time, do you?"
"Something no one else knows?"
"Yes, Monsieur Koupriane, otherwise I shouldn't have troubled to
feel concerned. Something I have not confided to anyone, not even
to my note-hook, because a note-book, you know, a note-book can
always be lost. I just mention that in case you had any idea of
having me searched before my departure."
"Oh, Monsieur Rouletabille!"
"Eh, eh, like the way the police do in your country; in mine too,
for that matter. Yes, that's often enough seen. The police,
furious because they can't hit a clue in some case that interests
them, arrest a reporter who knows more than they do, in order to
make him talk. But - nothing of that sort with me, monsieur. You
might have me taken to your famous 'Terrible Section,' I'd not open
my mouth, not even in the famous rocking-chair, not even under the
blows of clenched fists."
"Monsieur Rouletabille, what do you take us for? You are the guest
of the Tsar."
"Ah, I have the word of an honest man. Very well, I will treat you
as an honest man. I will tell you what I have discovered. I don't
wish through any false pride to keep you in darkness about something
which may perhaps - I say perhaps - permit you to save the general."
"Tell me. I am listening."
"But it is perfectly understood that once I have told you this you
will give me my passport and allow me to depart?"
"You feel that you couldn't possibly," inquired Koupriane, more and
more troubled, and after a moment of hesitation, "you couldn't
possibly tell me that and yet remain?"
"No, monsieur. From the moment you place me under the necessity of
explaining each of my movements and each of my acts, I prefer to go
and leave to you that 'responsibility' of which you spoke just now,
my dear Monsieur Koupriane."
Astonished and disquieted by this long conversation between
Rouletabille and the Head of Police, Matrena Petrovna continually
turned upon them her anguished glance, which always insensihly
softened as it rested on Rouletabille. Koupriane read there all
the hope that the brave woman had in the young reporter, and he
read also in Rouletabille's eye all the extraordinary confidence
that the mere boy had in himself. As a last consideration had he
not already something in hand in circumstances where all the
police of the world had admitted themselves vanquished? Koupriane
pressed Rouletabille's hand and said just one word to him:
Having saluted the general and Matrena affectionately, and a group
of friends in one courteous sweep, he departed, with thoughtful brow.
During all this time the general, enchanted with the promenade,
told stories of the Caucasus to his friends, believing himself young
again and re-living his nights as sub-lieutenant at Tills. As to
Natacha, no one had seen her. They retraced the way to the villa
along deserted by-paths. Koupriane's call made occasion for Athanase
Georgevitch and Thaddeus, and the two officers also, to say that he
was the only honest man in all the Russian police, and that Matrena
Petrovna was a great woman to have dared rid herself of the entire
clique of agents, who are often more revolutionary than the
Nihilists themselves. Thus they arrived at the datcha.
The general inquired for Natacha, not understanding why she had
left him thus during his first venture out. The schwitzar replied
that the young mistress had returned to the house and had left again
about a quarter of an hour later, taking the way that the party had
gone on their promenade, and he had not seen her since.
Boris spoke up:
"She must have passed on the other side of the carriages while we
were behind the trees, general, and not seeing us she has gone on
her way, making the round of the island, over as far as the Barque."
The explanation seemed the most plausible one.
"Has anyone else been here?" demanded Matrena, forcing her voice to
be calm. Rouletabille saw her hand tremble on the handle of the
rolling-chair, which she had not quitted for a second during all
the promenade, refusing aid from the officers, the friends, and
even from Rouletabille.
"First there came the Head of Police, who told me he would go and
find you, Barinia, and right after, His Excellency the Marshal of
the Court. His Excellency will return, although he is very pressed
for time, before he takes the train at seven o'clock for
All this had been said in Russian, naturally, but Matrena translated
the words of the schwitzar into French in a low voice for
Rouletabille, who was near her. The general during this time had
taken Rouletabille's hand and pressed it affectionately, as if, in
that mute way, to thank him for all the young man bad done for
them. Feodor himself also had confidence, and he was grateful for
the freer air that he was being allowed to breathe. It seemed to
him that he was emerging from prison. Nevertheless, as the
promenade had been a little fatiguing, Matrena ordered him to go
and rest immediately. Athanase and Thaddeus took their leave.
The two officers were already at the end of the garden, talking
coldly, and almost confronting one another, like wooden soldiers.
Without doubt they were arranging the conditions of an encounter to
settle their little difference at once.
The schwitzar gathered the general into his great arms and carried
him into the veranda. Feodor demanded five minutes' respite before
he was taken upstairs to his chamber. Matrena Petrovna had a light
luncheon brought at his request. In truth, the good woman trembled
with impatience and hardly dared move without consulting
Rouletabille's face. While the general talked with Ermolai, who
passed him his tea, Rouletabille made a sign to Matrena that she
understood at once. She joined the young man in the drawing-room.
"Madame," he said rapidly, in a low voice, "you must go at once to
see what has happened there."
He pointed to the dining-room.
It was pitiful to watch her.
"Go, madame, with courage."
"Why don't you come with me?"
"Because, madame, I have something to do elsewhere. Give me the
keys of the next floor."
"No, no. What for?"
"Not a second's delay, for the love of Heaven. Do what I tell you
on your side, and let me do mine. The keys! Come, the keys!"
He snatched them rather than took them, and pointed a last time to
the dining-room with a gesture so commanding that she did not
hesitate further. She entered the dining-room, shaking, while he
bounded to the upper floor. He was not long. He took only time
to open the doors, throw a glance into the general's chamber, a
single glance, and to return, letting a cry of joy escape him,
borrowed from his new and very limited accomplishment of Russian,
How Rouletabille, who had not spent half a second examining the
general's chamber, was able to be certain that all went well on
that side, when it took Matrena - and that how many times a day!
- at least a quarter of an hour of ferreting in all the corners
each time she explored her house before she was even inadequately
reassured, was a question. If that dear heroic woman had been with
him during this "instant information" she would have received such
a shock that, with all confidence gone, she would have sent for
Koupriane immediately, and all his agents, reinforced by the
personnel of the Okrana (Secret Police). Rouletabille at once
rejoined the general, whistling. Feodor and Ermolai were deep in
conversation about the Orel country. The young man did not disturb
them. Then, soon, Matrena reappeared. He saw her come in quite
radiant. He handed back her keys, and she took them mechanically.
She was overjoyed and did not try to hide it. The general himself
noticed it, and asked what had made her so.
"It is my happiness over our first promenade since we arrived at
the datcha des Iles," she explained. "And now you must go upstairs
to bed, Feodor. You will pass a good night, I am sure."
"I can sleep only if you sleep, Matrena."
"I promise you. It is quite possible now that we have our dear
little domovoi. You know, Feodor, that he smokes his pipe just
like the dear little porcelain domovoi."
"He does resemble him, he certainly does," said Feodor. "That
makes us feel happy, but I wish him to sleep also."
"Yes, yes," smiled Rouletabille, "everybody will sleep here. That
is the countersign. We have watched enough. Since the police are
gone we can all sleep, believe me, general."
"Eh, eh, I believe you, on my word, easily enough. There were only
they in the house capable of attempting that affair of the bouquet.
I have thought that all out, and now I am at ease. And anyway,
whatever happens, it is necessary to get sleep, isn't it? The
chances of war! Nichevo!" He pressed Rouletabille's hand, and
Matrena Petrovna took, as was her habit, Feodor Feodorovitch on her
back and lugged him to his chamber. In that also she refused aid
from anyone. The general clung to his wife's neck during the ascent
and laughed like a child. Rouletabille remained in the hallway,
watching the garden attentively. Ermolai walked out of the villa
and crossed the garden, going to meet a personage in uniform whom
the young man recognized immediately as the grand-marshal of the
court, who had introduced him to the Tsar. Ermolai informed him
that Madame Matrena was engaged in helping her husband retire, and
the marshal remained at the end of the garden where he had found
Michael and Boris talking in the kiosque. All three remained there
for some time in conversation, standing by a table where General
and Madame Trebassof sometimes dined when they bad no guests. As
they talked the marshal played with a box of white cardboard tied
with a pink string. At this moment Matrena, who had not been able
to resist the desire to talk for a moment with Rouletabille and
tell him how happy she was, rejoined the young man.
"Little domovoi," said she, laying her hand on his shoulder, "you
have not watched on this side?"
She pointed in her turn to the dining-room.
"No, no. You have seen it, madame, and I am sufficiently informed."
"Perfectly. There is nothing. No one has worked there! No one
has touched the board. I knew it. I am sure of it. It is dreadful
what we have thought about it! Oh, you do not know how relieved and
happy I am. Ah, Natacha, Natacha, I have not loved you in vain.
(She pronounced these words in accents of great beauty and tragic
sincerity.) When I saw her leave us, my dear, ah, my legs sank
under me. When she said, 'I have forgotten something; I must hurry
back,' I felt I had not the strength to go a single step. But now
I certainly am happy, that weight at least is off my heart, off my
heart, dear little domovoi, because of you, because of you."
She embraced him, and then ran away, like one possessed, to resume
her post near the general.
Notes in Rouletabille's memorandum-book: The affair of the little
cavity under the floor not having been touched again proves nothing
for or against Natacha (even though that excellent Matrena Petrovna
thinks so). Natacha could very well have been warned by the too
great care with which Madame Matrena watched the floor. My opinion,
since I saw Matrena lift the carpet the first time without any real
precaution, is that they have definitely abandoned the preparation
of that attack and are trying to account for the secret becoming
known. What Matrena feels so sure of is that the trap I laid by
the promenade to the Point was against Natacha particularly. I
knew beforehand that Natacha would absent herself during the
promenade. I'm not looking for anything new from Natacha, but what
I did need was to be sure that Matrena didn't detest Natacha, and
that she had not faked the preparations for an attack under the
floor in such a way as to throw almost certain suspicion on her
step-daughter. I am sure about that now. Matrena is innocent of
such a thing, the poor dear soul. If Matrena had been a monster
the occasion was too good. Natacha's absence, her solitary
presence for a quarter of an hour in the empty villa, all would
have urged Matrena, whom I sent alone to search under the carpet
in the dining-room, to draw the last nails from the board if she
was really guilty of having drawn the others. Natacha would have
been lost then! Matrena returned sincerely, tragically happy at
not having found anything new, and now I have the material proof
that I needed. Morally and physically Matrena is removed from it.
So I am going to speak to her about the hat-pin. I believe that
the matter is urgent on that side rather than on the side of the
nails in the floor.