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Chapter 8

VIII

THE LITILE CHAPEL OF THE GUARDS

Rouletabille took a long walk which led him to the Troitsky Bridge,
then, re-descending the Naberjnaia, he reached the Winter Palace.
He seemed to have chased away all preoccupation, and took a child's
pleasure in the different aspects of the life that characterizes
the city of the Great Peter. He stopped before the Winter Palace,
walked slowly across the square where the prodigious monolith of
the Alexander Column rises from its bronze socket, strolled between
the palace and the colonnades, passed under an immense arch:
everything seemed Cyclopean to him, and he never had felt so tiny,
so insignificant. None the less he was happy in his insignificance,
he was satisfied with himself in the presence of these colossal
things; everything pleased him this morning. The speed of the
isvos, the bickering humor of the osvotchicks, the elegance of the
women, the fine presences of the officers and their easy naturalness
under their uniforms, so opposed to the wooden posturing of the
Berlin military men whom he had noticed at the "Tilleuls" and in
the Friederichstrasse between two trains. Everything enchanted him
- the costume even of the moujiks, vivid blouses, the red shirts
over the trousers, the full legs and the boots up to the knees,
even the unfortunates who, in spite of the soft atmosphere, were
muffled up in sheepskin coats, all impressed him favorably,
everything appeared to him original and congenial.

Order reigned in the city. The guards were polite, decorative and
superb in bearing. The passers-by in that quarter talked gayly
among themselves, often in French, and had manners as civilized as
anywhere in the world. Where, then, was the Bear of the North? He
never had seen bears so well licked. Was it this very city that
only yesterday was in revolution? This was certainly the Alexander
Park where troops a few weeks before had fired on children who had
sought refuge in the trees, like sparrows. Was this the very
pavement where the Cossacks had left so many bodies? Finally he
saw before him the Nevsky Prospect, where the bullets rained like
hail not long since upon a people dressed for festivities and very
joyous. Nichevo! Nichevo! All that was so soon forgotten. They
forgot yesterday as they forget to-morrow. The Nihilists? Poets,
who imagined that a bomb could accomplish anything in that Babylon
of the North more important than the noise of its explosion! Look
at these people who pass. They have no more thought for the old
attack than for those now preparing in the shadow of the "tracktirs."
Happy men, full of serenity in this bright quarter, who move about
their affairs and their pleasures in the purest air, the lightest,
the most transparent on earth. No, no; no one knows the joy of
mere breathing if he has not breathed the air there, the finest in
the north of the world, which gives food and drink of beautiful
white eau-de-vie and yellow pivo, and strikes the blood and makes
one a beast vigorous and joyful and fatalistic, and mocks at the
Nihilists and, as well, at the ten thousand eyes of the police
staring from under the porches of houses, from under the skulls of
dvornicks - all police, the dvornicks; all police, also the joyous
concierges with extended hands. Ah, ah, one mocks at it all in
such air, provided one has roubles in one's pockets, plenty of
roubles, and that one is not besotted by reading those extraordinary
books that preach the happiness of all humanity to students and to
poor girl-students too. Ah, ah, seed of the Nihilists, all that!
These poor little fellows and poor little girls who have their heads
turned by lectures that they cannot digest! That is all the trouble,
the digestion. The digestion is needed. Messieurs the commercial
travelers for champagne, who talk together importantly in the
lobbies of the Grand Morskaia Hotel and who have studied the Russian
people even in the most distant cities where champagne is sold, will
tell you that over any table of hors-d'oeuvres, and will regulate
the whole question of the Revolution between two little glasses of
vodka, swallowed properly, quickly, elbow up, at a single draught,
in the Russian manner. Simply an affair of digestion, they tell
you. Who is the fool that would dare compare a young gentleman who
has well digested a bottle of champagne or two, and another young
man who has poorly digested the lucubrations of, who shall we say?
- the lucubrations of the economists? The economists? The
economists! Fools who compete which can make the most violent
statements! Those who read them and don't understand them go off
like a bomb! Your health! Nichevo! The world goes round still,
doesn't it?

Discussion political, economic, revolutionary, and other in the
room where they munch hors-d'oeuvres! You will hear it all as you
pass through the hotel to your chamber, young Rouletabille. Get
quickly now to the home of Koupriane, if you don't wish to arrive
there at luncheon-time; then you would have to put off these serious
affairs until evening.

The Department of Police. Massive entrance, heavily guarded, a
great lobby, halls with swinging doors, many obsequious schwitzars
on the lookout for tips, many poor creatures sitting against the
walls on dirty benches, desks and clerks, brilliant boots and
epaulets of gay young officers who are telling tales of the Aquarium
with great relish.

"Monsieur Rouletabille! Ah, yes. Please be seated. Delighted,
M. Koupriane will be very happy to receive you, but just at this
moment he is at inspection. Yes, the inspection of the police
dormitories in the barracks. We will take you there. His own idea!
He doesn't neglect anything, does he? A great Chief. Have you seen
the police-guards' dormitory? Admirable! The first dormitories of
the world. We say that without wishing to offend France. We love
France. A great nation! I will take you immediately to M.
Koupriane. I shall be delighted."

"I also," said Rouletabille, who put a rouble into the honorable
functionary's hand.

"Permit me to precede you."

Bows and salutes. For two roubles he would have walked obsequiously
before him to the end of the world.

"These functionaries are admirable," thought Rouletabille as he was
led to the barracks. He felt he had not paid too much for the
services of a personage whose uniform was completely covered with
lace. They tramped, they climbed, they descended. Stairways,
corridors. Ah, the barracks at last. He seemed to have entered a
convent. Beds very white, very narrow, and images of the Virgin
and saints everywhere, monastic neatness and the most absolute
silence. Suddenly an order sounded in the corridor outside, and
the police-guard, who sprang from no one could tell where, stood
to attention at the head of their beds. Koupriane and his aide
appeared. Koupriane looked at everything closely, spoke to each
man in turn, called them by their names, inquired about their
needs, and the men stammered replies, not knowing what to answer,
reddening like children. Koupriane observed Rouletabille. He
dismissed his aide with a gesture. The inspection was over. He
drew the young man into a little room just off the dormitory.
Rouletabille, frightened, looked about him. He found himself in a
chapel. This little chapel completed the effect of the guards'
dormitory. It was all gilded, decorated in marvelous colors,
thronged with little ikons that bring happiness, and, naturally,
with the portrait of the Tsar, the dear Little Father.

"You see," said Koupriane, smiling at Rouletabille's amazement,
"we deny them nothing. We give them their saints right here in
their quarters." Closing the door, he drew a chair toward
Rouletabille and motioned him to sit down. They sat before the
little altar loaded with flowers, with colored paper and winged
saints.

"We can talk here without being disturbed," he said. "Yonder there
is such a crowd of people waiting for me. I'm ready to listen."

"Monsieur," said Rouletabille, "I have come to give you the report
of my mission here, and to terminate my connection with it. All
that is left for clearing this obscure affair is to arrest the
guilty person, with which I have nothing to do. That concerns you.
I simply inform you that someone tried to poison the general last
night by pouring arsenate of soda into his sleeping-potion, which
I bring you in this phial, arsenate which was secured most probably
by washing it from grapes brought to General Trebassof by the
marshal of the court, and which disappeared without anyone being
able to say how."

"Ah, ah, a family affair, a plot within the family. I told you
so," murmured Koupriane.

"The affair at least has happened within the family, as you think,
although the assassin came from outside. Contrary to what you may
be able to believe, he does not live in the house."

"Then how does he get there?" demanded Koupriane.

"By the window of the room overlooking the Neva. He has often come
that way. And that is the way he returns also, I am sure. It is
there you can take him if you act with prudence."

"How do you know he often comes that way?"

"You know the height of the window above the little roadway. To
reach it he uses a water-trough, whose iron rings are bent, and
also the marks of a grappling-iron that he carries with him and
uses to hoist himself to the window are distinctly visible on the
ironwork of the little balcony outside. The marks are quite
obviously of different dates"

"But that window is closed."

"Someone opens it for him."

"Who, if you please?"

"I have no desire to know."

"Eh, yes. It necessarily is Natacha. I was sure that the Villa
des Iles had its viper. I tell you she doesn't dare leave her nest
because she knows she is watched. Not one of her movements outside
escapes us! She knows it. She has been warned. The last time she
ventured outside alone was to go into the old quarters of Derewnia.
What has she to do in such a rotten quarter? I ask you that. And
she turned in her tracks without seeing anyone, without knocking
at a single door, because she saw that she was followed. She isn't
able to get to see them outside, therefore she has to see them
inside."

"They are only one, and always the same one."

"Are you sure?"

"An examination of the marks on the wall and on the pipe doesn't
leave any doubt of it, and it is always the same grappling-iron
that is used for the window."

"The viper!"

"Monsieur Koupriane, Mademoiselle Natacha seems to preoccupy you
exceedingly. I did not come here to talk about Mademoiselle
Natacha. I came to point out to you the route used by the man who
comes to do the murder."

"Eh, yes, it is she who opens the way."

"I can't deny that."

"The little demon! Why does she take him into her room at night?
Do you think perhaps there is some love-affair...?"

"I am sure of quite the opposite."

"I too. Natacha is not a wanton. Natacha has no heart. She has
only a brain. And it doesn't take long for a brain touched by
Nihilism to get so it won't hesitate at anything."

Koupriane reflected a minute, while Rouletabille watched him in
silence.

"Have we solely to do with Nihilism?" resumed Koupriane.
"Everything you tell me inclines me more and more to my idea: a
family affair, purely in the family. You know, don't you, that
upon the general's death Natacha will be immensely rich?"

"Yes, I know it," replied Rouletabille, in a voice that sounded
singular to the ear of the Chief of Police and which made him raise
his head.

"What do you know?"

"I? Nothing," replied the reporter, this time in a firmer tone.
"I ought, however, to say this to you: I am sure that we are dealing
with Nihilism..."

"What makes you believe it?"

"This."

And Rouletabille handed Koupriane the message he had received that
same morning.

"Oh, oh," cried Koupriane. "You are under watch! Look out."

"I have nothing to fear; I'm not bothering myself about anything
further. Yes, we have an affair of the revolutionaries, but not of
the usual kind. The way they are going about it isn't like one of
their young men that the Central Committee arms with a bomb and who
is sacrificed in advance."

"Where are the tracks that you have traced?"

"Right up to the little Krestowsky Villa."

Koupriane bounded from his chair.

"Occupied by Boris. Parbleu! Now we have them. I see it all now.
Boris, another cracked brain! And he is engaged. If he plays the
part of the Revolutionaries, the affair would work out big for him."

"That villa," said Rouletabille quietly, "is also occupied by Michael
Korosakoff."

"He is the most loyal, the most reliable soldier of the Tsar."

"No one is ever sure of anything, my dear Monsieur Koupriane."

"Oh, I am sure of a man like that."

"No man is ever sure of any man, my dear Monsieur Koupriane."

"I am, in every case, for those I employ."

"You are wrong."

"What do you say?"

"Sometbing that can serve you in the enterprise you are going to
undertake, because I trust you can catch the murderer right in his
nest. To do that, I'll not conceal from you that I think your
agents will have to be enormously clever. They will have to watch
the datcha des Iles at night, without anyone possibly suspecting it.
No more maroon coats with false astrakhan trimmings, eh? But
Apaches, Apaches on the wartrail, who blend themselves with the
ground, with the trees, with the stones in the roadway. But among
those Apaches don't send that agent of your Secret Service who
watched the window while the assassin climbed to it."

"What?"

"Why, these climbs that you can read the proofs of on the wall and
on the iron forgings of the balcony went on while your agents, night
and day, were watching the villa. Have you noticed, monsieur, that
it was always the same agent who took the post at night, behind the
villa, under the window? General Trebassof's book in which he kept
a statement of the exact disposal of each of your men during the
period of siege was most instructive on that point. The other posts
changed in turn, but the same agent, when he was among the guard,
demanded always that same post, which was not disputed by anybody,
since it is no fun to pass the hours of the night behind a wall, in
an empty field. The others much preferred to roll away the time
watching in the villa or in front of the lodge, where vodka and
Crimean wine, kwass and pivo, kirsch and tchi, never ran short.
That agent's name is Touman."

"Touman! Impossible! He is one of the best agents from Kiew. He
was recommended by Gounsovski."

Rouletabille chuckled.

"Yes, yes, yes," grumbled the Chief of Police. "Someone always
laughs when his name is mentioned."

Koupriane had turned red. He rose, opened the door, gave a long
direction in Russian, and returned to his chair.

"Now," said he, "go ahead and tell me all the details of the poison
and the grapes the marshal of the court brought. I'm listening."

Rouletabille told him very briefly and without drawing any deductions
all that we already know. He ended his account as a man dressed in
a maroon coat with false astrakhan was introduced. It was the same
man Rouletabille had met in General Trebassof's drawing-room and who
spoke French. Two gendarmes were behind him. The door had been
closed. Koupriane turned toward the man in the coat.

"Touman," he said, "I want to talk to you. You are a traitor, and
I have proof. You can confess to me, and I will give you a thousand
roubles and you can take yourself off to be hanged somewhere else."

The man's eyes shrank, but he recovered himself quickly. He replied
in Russian.

"Speak French. I order it," commanded Koupriane.

"I answer, Your Excellency," said Touman firmly, " that I don't
know what Your Excellency means."

"I mean that you have helped a man get into the Trebassof villa by
night when you were on guard under the window of the little
sitting-room. You see that there is no use deceiving us any longer.
I play with you frankly, good play, good money. The name of that
man, and you have a thousand roubles."

"I am ready to swear on the ikon of..."

"Don't perjure yourself."

"I have always loyally served..."

"The name of that man."

"I still don't know yet what Your Excellency means."

"Oh, you understand me," replied Koupriane, who visibly held in an
anger that threatened to break forth any moment. "A man got into
the house while you were watching..."

"I never saw anything. After all, it is possible. There were some
very dark nights. I went back and forth."

"You are not a fool. The name of that man."

"I assure you, Excellency..."

"Strip him."

"What are you going to do?" cried Rouletabille.

But already the two guards had thrown themselves on Touman and had
drawn off his coat and shirt. The man was bare to the waist.

"What are you going to do? What are you going to do?"

"Leave them alone," said Koupriane, roughly pushing Rouletabille
back.

Seizing a whip which hung at the waist of the guards he struck
Touman a blow across the shoulders that drew blood. Touman, mad
with the outrage and the pain, shouted, "Yes, it is true! I brag
of it!"

Koupriane did not restrain his rage. He showered the unhappy man
with blows, having thrown Rouletabille to the end of the room when
he tried to interfere. And while he proceeded with the punishment
the Chief of Police hurled at the agent who had betrayed him an
accompaniment of fearful threats, promising him that before he was
hanged he should rot in the bottom-most dungeon of Peter and Paul,
in the slimy pits lying under the Neva. Touman, between the two
guards who held him, and who sometimes received blows on the rebound
that were not intended for them, never uttered a complaint. Outside
the invectives of Koupriane there was heard only the swish of the
cords and the cries of Rouletabille, who continued to protest that
it was abominable, and called the Chief of Police a savage. Finally
the savage stopped. Gouts of blood had spattered all about.

"Monsieur," said Rouletabille, who supported himself against the
wall. "I shall complain to the Tsar."

"You are right," Koupriane replied, "but I feel relieved now. You
can't imagine the harm this man can have done to us in the weeks
he has been here."

Touman, across whose shoulders they had thrown his coat and who
lay now across a chair, found strength to look up and say:

"It is true. You can't do me as much harm as I have done you,
whether you think so or not. All the harm that can be done me
by you and yours is already accomplished. My name is not Touman,
but Matiev. Listen. I had a son that was the light of my eyes.
Neither my son nor I had ever been concerned with politics. I was
employed in Moscow. My son was a student. During the Red Week we
went out, my son and I, to see a little of what was happening over
in the Presnia quarter. They said everybody had been killed over
there! We passed before the Presnia gate. Soldiers called to us
to stop because they wished to search us. We opened our coats.
The soldiers saw my son's student waistcoat and set up a cry. They
unbuttoned the vest, drew a note-book out of his pocket and they
found a workman's song in it that had been published in the Signal.
The soldiers didn't know how to read. They believed the paper was
a proclamation, and they arrested my son. I demanded to be arrested
with him. They pushed me away. I ran to the governor's house.
Trebassof had me thrust away from his door with blows from the
butt-ends of his Cossacks' guns. And, as I persisted, they kept me
locked up all that night and the morning of the next day. At noon
I was set free. I demanded my son and they replied they didn't know
what I was talking about. But a soldier that I recognized as having
arrested my son the evening before pointed out a van that was passing,
covered with a tarpaulin and surrounded by Cossacks. 'Your son is
there,' he said; 'they are taking him to the graves.' Mad with
despair, I ran after the van. It went to the outskirts of
Golountrine cemetery. There I saw in the white snow a huge grave,
wide, deep. I shall see it to my last minute. Two vans had already
stopped near the hole. Each van held thirteen corpses. The vans
were dumped into the trench and the soldiers commenced to sort the
bodies into rows of six. I watched for my son. At last I recognized
him in a body that half hung over the edge of the trench. Horrors
of suffering were stamped in the expression of his face. I threw
myself beside him. I said that I was his father. They let me
embrace him a last time and count his wounds. He had fourteen.
Someone had stolen the gold chain that had hung about his neck and
held the picture of his mother, who died the year before. I
whispered into his ear, I swore to avenge him. Forty-eight hours
later I had placed myself at the disposition of the Revolutionary
Committee. A week had not passed before Touman, whom, it seems,
I resemble and who was one of the Secret Service agents in Kiew,
was assassinated in the train that was taking him to St. Petersburg.
The assassination was kept a secret. I received all his papers and
I took his place with you. I was doomed beforehand and I asked
nothing better, so long as I might last until after the execution
of Trebassof. Ah, how I longed to kill him with my own hands! But
another had already been assigned the duty and my role was to help
him. And do you suppose I am going to tell you the name of that
other? Never! And if you discover that other, as you have
discovered me, another will come, and another, and another, until
Trebassof has paid for his crimes. That is all I have to say to
you, Koupriane. As for you, my little fellow," added he, turning
to Rouletabille, "I wouldn't give much for your bones. Neither of
you will last long. That is my consolation."

Koupriane had not interrupted the man. He looked at him in silence,
sadly.

"You know, my poor man, you will be hanged now?" he said.

"No," growled Rouletabille. "Monsieur Koupriane, I'll bet you my
purse that he will not be hanged."

"And why not?" demanded the Chief of rolice, while, upon a sign
from him, they took away the false Touman.

"Because it is I who denounced him."

"What a reason! And what would you like me to do?"

"Guard him for me; for me alone, do you understand?"

"In exchange for what?"

"In exchange for the life of General Trebassof, if I must put it
that way."

"Eh? The life of General Trebassof! You speak as if it belonged
to you, as if you could dispose of it."

Rouletabille laid his hand on Koupriane's arm.

"Perhaps that's so," said he.

"Would you like me to tell you one thing, Monsieur Rouletabille?
It is that General Trebassof's life, after what has just escaped
the lips of this Touman, who is not Touman, isn't worth any more
than - than yours if you remain here. Since you are disposed not
to do anything more in this affair, take the train, monsieur, take
the train, and go."

Rouletabille walked back and forth, very much worked up; then
suddenly he stopped short.

"Impossible," he said. "It is impossible. I cannot; I am not able
to go yet."

"Why?"

"Good God, Monsieur Koupriane, because I have to interview the
President of the Duma yet, and complete my little inquiry into the
politics of the cadets."

"Oh, indeed!"

Koupriane looked at him with a sour grin.

"What are you going to do with that man?" demanded Rouletabille.

"Have him fixed up first."

"And then?"

"Then take him before the judges."

"That is to say, to the gallows?"

"Certainly."

"Monsieur Koupriane, I offer it to you again. Life for life. Give
me the life of that poor devil and I promise you General Trebassof's."

"Explain yourself."

"Not at all. Do you promise me that you will maintain silence
about the case of that man and that you will not touch a hair of
his head?"

Koupriane looked at Rouletabille as he had looked at him during the
altercation they had on the edge of the Gulf. He decided the same
way this time.

"Very well," said he. "You have my word. The poor devil!"

"You are a brave man, Monsieur Koupriane, but a little quick with
the whip..."

"What would you expect? One's work teaches that."

"Good morning. No, don't trouble to show me out. I am compromised
enough already," said Rouletabille, laughing.

"Au revoir, and good luck! Get to work interviewing the President
of the Duma," added Koupriane knowingly, with a great laugh.

But Rouletabille was already gone.

"That lad," said the Chief of Police aloud to himself, "hasn't told
me a bit of what he knows."

Gaston Leroux

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