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Title: The Green Book - Freedom Under the Snow
Author: Jókai, Mór, 1825-1904
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MAURUS JOKAI

THE GREEN BOOK
OR
_FREEDOM UNDER THE SNOW_

A Novel

TRANSLATED BY
MRS. WAUGH

NEW YORK
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
1897



     BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

     BLACK DIAMONDS. A Novel. Translated by Frances A.
     Gerard. With a Photogravure Portrait of the Author.
     16mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 50. (In "The Odd Number
     Series.")

     One of the best of the novels of Mr. Jokai that have
     thus far been put into English.... The story is a happy
     blend of the elements of romance with those of
     every-day life.... The action is varied, animated, and
     sufficiently exciting to sustain the reader's interest,
     to which a constant appeal is also made by the fresh
     and piquant aspects given the book by its Hungarian
     atmosphere.--_Dial_, Chicago.

     PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.



Copyright, 1897, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
I.        SNOW ROSES                                               1
II.       MIST SHADOWS                                             4
III.      COMME LE MONDE S'AMUSE                                  11
IV.       NO RIVAL                                                17
V.        PLAN OF WAR AGAINST A WOMAN                             21
VI.       OLD AGE                                                 34
VII.      THE EIGHT-IN-HAND                                       47
VIII.     AN ORGY OVER A VOLCANO                                  51
IX.       THE BOARD OF GREEN CLOTH AND THE GREEN BOOK             64
X.        FROM SCENT OF MUSK TO REEKING TAR                       85
XI.       THE HUNTED STAG                                        102
XII.      HOW A FORTRESS WAS TAKEN                               118
XIII.     A CANNIBAL                                             125
XIV.      THE YOUNG HOPEFUL                                      134
XV.       THE CZAR SMILES                                        141
XVI.      SOPHIE                                                 158
XVII.     BETHSABA                                               168
XVIII.    KORYNTHIA                                              172
XIX.      THE MONSTER                                            176
XX.       THE BLIND HEN'S GENUINE PEARL                          199
XXI.      THE MOST POWERFUL RULER OF THEM ALL                    207
XXII.     THE DEVIL                                              218
XXIII.    THE STORY OF THE MAN WITH THE GREEN EYES               225
XXIV.     "THEN YOU ARE NOT--?"                                  232
XXV.      GOG AND MAGOG                                          247
XXVI.     UNDER THE PALMS                                        255
XXVII.    PANACEA                                                264
XXVIII.   THE WEDDING PRESENT                                    272
XXIX.     MADAME POTIPHAR                                        279
XXX.      A MOTHER'S BLESSING                                    284
XXXI.     THE WILL                                               290
XXXII.    NOT ONLY A BULLET STRIKES HOME                         299
XXXIII.   THE RENDEZVOUS                                         303
XXXIV.    A DIVIDED HEART                                        316
XXXV.     SPARKS AND ASHES                                       323
XXXVI.    DAIMONA                                                326
XXXVII.   IT'S NOT THE KNIFE ALONE THAT STRIKES TO THE HEART     346
XXXVIII.  THE TRAGI-COMEDY AT GRUSINO                            357
XXXIX.    THE HERMIT                                             365
XL.       DISCORDS                                               372
XLI.      HOW TO ROB A MAN OF HIS WIFE                           377
XLII.     THE FEAST OF MASINKA                                   389
XLIII.    UNDER THE COMETS                                       404
XLIV.     THE MAN WITH THE GREEN EYES                            409
XLV.      THE HERALD                                             429
XLVI.     "BEATUS ILLE...."                                      430
XLVII.    THE TEMPTER                                            435
XLVIII.   THE MOUSE PLAYS WITH THE CAT                           441
XLIX.     THE ANTIDOTE                                           446
L.        "DEREVASKI DALOI"                                      452
LI.       THE NAMELESS WIFE OF A NAMELESS MAN                    460

EPISODES.--THE RESCUED POET                                      479
           GHEDIMIN AND ZENEIDA                                  482
           THE ROMANCE OF CONSTANTINE                            483



THE GREEN BOOK
OR
_FREEDOM UNDER THE SNOW_



CHAPTER I

SNOW ROSES


A blizzard is covering the roads with a thick coating of snow. The
horses are up to their fetlocks in it. The dark-green firs bend beneath
its weight, and what has melted in the midday sun already hangs from the
slender branches of the undergrowth in thick masses of icicles; and as
the wind sweeps through the forest the ice-covered leaves and branches
ring and jingle like fairy bells.

Ever and anon the moon shines out from amid the fast-flying clouds;
then, as though it has seen enough, hides itself again under the ghostly
mist. The sighing of the wind through the forest is like the trembling
of fever-stricken nature. In the stillness of night, through the
pathless forest, rides a troop of horsemen. Their little long-maned
horses sniff their way with low, sunk necks; by the shaggy fur caps of
their riders, and their long lances hanging far back at their sides,
they are to be recognized as a party of Don Cossacks.

They ride in battle array. In the van a picket with drawn carbines; next
to them a detachment; then a cannon drawn by six horses. After that
follow a large body of men; then, again, a mounted gun and
artillerymen. Behind these another troop of mounted horsemen, and
another gun-carriage drawn by six horses. But to this the cannon is
wanting. In its stead a human form lies bound. The head hangs down over
the back of the rattling carriage, and as the moon ever and anon peeps
out from between the clouds, it discloses a face distorted with agony,
from which all trace of hair on head or beard has been cut away--perhaps
dragged out. The eyes and mouth are wide open. A coarse horsecloth
covering is fastened underneath the man. A corner of it drags along the
snow-covered ground. From it every now and then a drop of blood falls--a
sign that, in bleeding, the man still lives. The drops of blood in the
snow fantastically change, as they fall, into roses. Red flowers on the
white snow-field! The ghost-like procession disappears in the mist.

Keeping carefully to one side, but ever following closely on the track
of the soldiers, is a horseman, also mounted on a long-maned,
broad-headed pony. He wears a thick fur coat; a fur-bordered czamarka is
on his head; icicles hang from his long beard. He rides slowly and
cautiously, his horse taking long strides, as though its master were
seeking something on the ground. Then, as often as he sees a red rose
upon the snow, he dismounts, kneels, and with a golden spoon he takes up
the crystallized token and places it in an enamelled reliquary, then
rides on to the next.

The way leads without interruption through a primeval forest. It is the
forest of Bjelostok. Only there, in all Europe, are bisons to be met
with. There no sound of axe is ever heard; storms alone bring down the
giant trees. One forest arises out of the decay of the former. Beeches,
oaks, limes, vie in height with tall pines. In the dead of night resound
the shriek of the lynx, and the roar of the female bison anxiously
calling for its sucking calf. But no human sound is to be heard. No
human dwelling is near. Had not the path through the forest been a
highway, undergrowth had long since made it impenetrable.

The fallen drops of blood lead the rider on farther and farther. Now
they appear at longer intervals. At length the last rose is reached; the
track left by the wheels of the gun carriage is now his only guide. The
horseman continues to follow it. The man bound to the gun-carriage is
assuredly dead by this time. If dead, they will as surely bury him
somewhere.

Upon the endless solitary forest follow towns equally void of human
beings. On the banks of a great river stand two towns facing one
another, marked upon maps of a former century as still fortified places,
but now only to be classed among ruins. At that time they were specified
by name, Kazimir and Ivanowicze, I believe. Now their very names are
lost to history. Fallen walls, heaps of bricks and stones everywhere.
Nettles grow rank in the snow-covered squares and streets; castles,
churches, and temples are overgrown with briers to the very roofs. The
broad river is frozen over; from out the ice rise the piles of a
half-burned drawbridge, near to which stretches a track across the snow.
The solitary horseman follows the traces. In the middle of the river his
scrutinizing search is suddenly brought to a halt by a newly made gap in
the ice.

That it is newly made is shown by the broken ice lying about, upon which
no fresh layer of snow has had time to form. The shape of the gap is
oblong--like an open grave. Close round it are traces of many feet upon
the snow; not far away the smooth surface shows the pressure of a human
form, which must have lain there face downwards. Here, without a doubt,
has been the place of burial. They had lowered the body under the ice (a
secure burial-place, indeed); the current would then convey it gently to
the sea.

The horseman dismounts, kneeling down beside the open space and baring
his head. He murmurs something--perhaps a prayer. Into the water beneath
there drops something--perhaps a tear.

At that instant the moon shines out resplendent. The man's head is
distinctly visible--a head once seen not easily forgotten. A high
forehead; the hair of reddish hue, but already tinged with gray, growing
low upon it; the face thin, nervous; cheek-bones and chin prominent;
nose aquiline; deep-set eyes; the towsled beard brushed forward; the
character of the whole face was one of suppressed suffering, of silent
woe. The moon has again disappeared under the clouds. A thick, heavy
mist falls around. Primeval forest and ruins alike fade; the figure of
the horseman grows more and more shadowy.

Through the thick mist, in the dead stillness of black night, is a weird
sound of sighing and moaning. Perhaps it is the she-bison calling her
young--perhaps it is the voice of one singing "Boze cos Polske."



CHAPTER II

MIST SHADOWS


At the same time that the wanderer on the rough path of Bjelostok forest
was gathering up its snow roses, another man on the far-off shores of
the Black Sea was preparing for a long, distant, and hurried journey.
The two men hasten to the same goal. They had never seen one another,
had never heard the other's name, had never corresponded. Yet each is
aware of the other's existence; aware that they are to meet, and that
this meeting must take place on a given day. The first has, perhaps, the
shorter road to take, but he can only ride slowly; he has to avoid
inhabited towns, to utilize night for his progress, to pass the days in
isolated csards.

The second has the longer and more difficult way; but the only battle he
has to fight is with the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind, and
these he can conquer. The fifth obstacle--man--places himself
obsequiously at his service. This traveller wears the uniform of a
colonel. Short of stature, he gains in height by the singular erectness
of his head and the elasticity of his walk. By that walk he can be
detected under any disguise. His closely cropped hair displays a broad,
high brow; his eager eyes dance in his head as he speaks. He has an
expressive face--one from which it is easy to read his thoughts, even
when his lips are silent--a face in which every muscle moves with his
words; one in strongest contrast to that of the other man. He can hide
his every feeling under an immovable countenance; this one betrays
beforehand his every thought. During his five minutes' colloquy with the
jemsik, he has exhausted a whole gamut of expressions, from flattery to
rage, as if playing upon the strings of a violin. He gesticulates
violently with his hands; now his five fingers are under the peasant's
nose; then they strike him on the shoulder, punch him in the ribs, seize
him by the lappet of his coat; now shake, then embrace him. He kisses
him, strokes his beard with coaxing action, then tugs at it, pushes him
roughly away, finally reaching him his flask for a drink; and perhaps
his only object has been to find out whether the road to Jekaseviroslaw
is passable or not.

For while the snow still lies deep in the forest of Bjelostok, and
gun-carriages may yet drive across the ice-covered Niemen, thaw has
already set in along the valleys of the Dnieper and the Don, and the
whole plain is a sea, from out which the rush huts, with their
surrounding plantations of reeds, stand out like solitary islands. To
every hut a boat made of willow is secured; this boat is the one and
only mode of locomotion, albeit a dangerous one, whereby in the spring
season the inhabitants can convey themselves to the pasture-land to look
after their cattle and horses.

As far as eye can reach stretches out the endless reddish-brown plain.
Rushes, reeds, and other water-plants not yet freed from their dried-up
winter clothing, lend a deep-red shimmer to the landscape, to which the
sprouting willows, now illumined by the light of the setting sun, add
their tinge of color. The storm-portending evening glow tinges the
fleecy clouds flame color, causing the rest of the sky to appear topaz
green. Myriads of water-birds whirl restlessly through the air, filling
the plain with their cries. In the far distance swim a flock of swans,
tinged golden in the setting sun, which, half-sunken beneath the
horizon, sends out its last rays across the changing clouds, like a
departing sovereign clothed in gold and purple.

Across the great, never-ending plain there is but one path, laid
bridge-like with willow stems. Over this the traveller must needs make
his way--there is no alternative. The river banks passed, further sign
of human habitation ceases. The smithy of a gypsy colony, which has
established itself on the side of a hill, alone sends its light far out
into the evening mist. Soon that, too, will be lost in the gathering
gloom; then the traveller's three-horsed car must jolt along by the
fitful light of the moon. An occasional kurgan rising up here and there
in the Steppe is the sole sign that it was once inhabited by a people.
Those tschudas upon the brow of the hill were their gods. Blocks of
stone, with roughly carved human heads, proclaim afar, even to the banks
of the Amur, the former abiding-place of a race which has not left even
a name behind, only its gods, which later races have called tschudas
(from the Hungarian word _csuda_, signifying "miracle").

The traveller will find shelter for the night with a Czaban, who has
chanced to dig himself a cave near the wayside, and lives there,
surrounded by his numerous herds of sheep. The Colonel remarks in his
note-book that the shepherds living in the neighborhood of the kurgans
are a stupid, squalid set, who smell of cheese.

Next morning the chariot with its ringing bells proceeds ever farther
and farther, until the inundated banks of the Dnieper oblige it to halt.
Here, the traveller has no resource but to take to a boat. Luckily the
stream is sufficiently swollen to enable his boat successfully to
navigate the famous Falls of Herodotus without striking on the rocks.
Only of the last does the ferryman warn him. It is the Nyenaschiketz
(the Insatiable). There it is not advisable to tempt one's fate by
evening light.

"But I must go on," says the traveller, imperiously. He is in haste.
That alters the case. His imperious "must" knows no hindrances. Upon it
follows the only answer, "Seisas" (Immediately). This one word
characterizes the whole people. It even bridges over the "Insatiable."
The boat goes to pieces, but boatman and traveller swim safely to
shore. The remainder of the night is passed in a fisherman's hut. The
traveller here remarks in his note-book that the boatmen and fisher-folk
who live on the banks of the Dnieper are a stupid, squalid set, who
smell of fish.

The opposite bank is inhabited by the Zaporogenes, who take their name
from the falls "zaporagi"--people who live beside waterfalls. Here it is
only possible to proceed on horseback. By nightfall the traveller has
reached Szetsa, a so-called village. The houses are earthen caves,
thatched with grass, called "kurenyi." The traveller, after having sung
and drunk with the Zaporogenes, observes in his note-book that the
dwellers in "kurenyi" are a stupid, squalid set, smelling of
coach-grease.

The first work of a Zaporagen is to soak his new garments in tar, to
make them durable. Among that people are to be found the first
indistinct traces of a longing after freedom, primitive, but still
existent. This instinct reaches its culminating-point in the propensity
to rob their neighbors; turn their wives out of doors when tired of
them, and take to themselves a fresh one, who may please them better.

On, on, in the saddle, until the ancient city of the Steppe looms in the
horizon, "the Mother of Cities." It is Kiev, the so often razed and
rebuilt Jerusalem of the Scythians, with its catacombs and remains of
Sarmatic saints. In the distance a deceptive Fata Morgana, looking with
its gilded cupolas like a city of churches, from out which the mighty
tower of Lavra rises like a giant.

The traveller avoids alike the Beresztovo, the most inhabited quarter,
and the barracks; nor does he avail himself of the hospitable shelter of
the Lavra monastery, but seeks the Jewish quarter, and there in a
poor-looking Jewish hovel passes the night, taking counsel with soldiers
who, as though informed beforehand of his coming, have entered one by
one through the low entrance-door, to disappear in like manner by the
opposite one.

The traveller remarks in his note-book that the Jews are a stupid,
squalid set, who smell of anise-seed.

The way lies ever northwards. Spring-time vanishes from the earth; the
glow of evening from the sky; a canopy of gloomy gray mist overspreads
the firmament: the pale disk of the sun is like a medal upon a ragged
soldier's cloak. Even the waning moon only rises late of nights. The
nights grow longer, and the flames of the rush-heaps burning in the
fields impede the way. The traveller is often obliged to turn back to
the houses which border the pine forests. They are well-ordered, pretty
domiciles, inhabited by apostates who have taken refuge from their
pursuers in the woods.

There, too, sounds an occasional chord of yearning after freedom. They
are prepared to endure, to make a firm stand, one and the other, in
order to be allowed to write the name of Jesus ("Jhsus"). This is
something for a beginning!

The traveller records in his note-book that the Raskolniks are stupid
and unhappy, and smell of leather.

Still farther northwards. Upon the plains green with young wheat follow
again expanses of snow; instead of flocks of swans and cranes, swarms of
ravens and Arctic birds are to be seen thickening the air. This time the
traveller passes the night in the Sloboden, where all sorts and
conditions of men congregate--men from the most remote parts in search
of work, offering their pair of hands for any description of labor.
Hither each brings his misery, his ignorance, and--foul odors. The
misery and ignorance are one and the same, but the foul odors are
diverse: by these they distinguish one from another, through these they
fall into broils. No sooner do they perceive the alien smell than they
come to blows.

Time presses with the traveller. Now he has reached the land of sledges.

Thick mists and snow-storms are his companions. There come days in which
there is no morning or noon-day; the snow-drifts change the world around
him into a prison-house. Such terrific snow-storms are only known in
those parts; they are "pad," the terror of travellers. The night frosts
have become insupportable in their severity; the mile-stones lie hidden
under the snow; the north wind has swept it into hillocks in many
places; then, again, into deep holes, in which the sledge sinks
axle-deep: a chorus of wolves howl in the woods. By morning the door of
the csárda is snowed up; the only mode of egress is to crawl through the
hole in the roof, where the jemsik, his sledge already horsed, is in
waiting, leaning against the chimney. He calls laughingly to his fare:

"It is cold enough for a couple of fur coats, sir!"

The north wind has chased away the clouds over night; the sky is the
color of steel. In the gray lilac-tinted horizon a red glowing fire-ball
is rising--it is the sun, which, running its orbit, scarce rises over
the earth; even at mid-day it gives out no warmth. The kingdom of winter
reigns. And now the way becomes more peopled. Life seems bright and
stirring in this kingdom of winter. Whole strings of sledges, laden high
with wares, move onwards in the one direction; well-appointed equipages,
steering clear of the heavily laden freight, pass them by. It is the
last day of the journey. Along the horizon a shining streak grows
visible--the frozen ocean. The streak grows broader and broader, and as
the sun goes down the rays of the aurora borealis stretch up over the
starry sky to its very zenith; and, illuminated by this magic sea of
rosy light, there arises from out the expanse of snow a giant city, with
the white roofs of its palaces, the cupolas of its churches, the
bastions of its fortresses, cupolas and bastions alike of dazzling
whiteness, as though it were the ghost of a city, painted white upon
white; above it the rosy northern light, behind it the bluish-leaden
veil of mist.

The traveller has reached his goal. But the other--is he here too?



CHAPTER III

COMME LE MONDE S'AMUSE


It is the last day of "Butter-week." Despite the excessive cold, the
streets of St. Petersburg are thronged with a tumultuous crowd. To-day
meat may still be eaten, to-morrow the great fast begins; every
butcher's shop will be shut; for seven whole weeks oil is in the
ascendant. Every one is in haste to make a good meal to-day.

The great Haymarket, the "Szenaja Plostadt," is the attraction to the
hungry throng. There, in long rows before the butchers' booths, stand on
their four feet frozen oxen, bucks, and wild boars, with heads
outstretched, the butcher either sawing or chopping off the desired
joint for his customers; his knife would make no impression upon the
hard-frozen meat. Quantities of small game--hares, partridges,
pheasants, and black-cock--from other countries, preserved by the icy
atmosphere, hang in festoons from the booths. The venders of bear's
flesh have their separate quarter; the centre of the square is taken up
by the fish shops, where great heaps of bemaned sea-lions are offered as
delicacies. Purchasers in tens of thousands pass before the booths, some
on foot, others in sleighs with bells jingling, the greater part of them
women, while the sellers are all men. No women hawkers are to be found
here. Even the special delicacy of Butter-week, the "blinnis," are made
by men bakers; these are omelets soaked in butter and spread with
caviare. Then there are the Raznocsiks, tall young fellows, their fur
coats fastened with a girdle round their waists, who, with baskets on
their heads piled high with every kind of eatable, go in and out of the
crowd with untiring cry, "Come, buy pirogo! saikis! kwast!" The venders
of tea are keeping it boiling hot in their great samovars; the doors of
the spirit-booths are forever on the swing. Pirog especially disposes to
a good drink. It is a flat cake, composed of chopped fish, meat, and
coarse vegetables--a choice morsel--and this is the last day on which it
may be enjoyed; to-morrow it may not even be thought of. All St.
Petersburg is in the streets. It is a lovely day in March; not a day of
spring and violets, but of frost and icicles. The north wind of
yesterday has sent down the thermometer fourteen degrees. Splendid
weather!

At midday, just as the great clock of Isaac Church begins to strike, a
fresh hubbub arises among the noisy throng. Down the long, straight
street, called Czarskoje Zelo Prospect, a party of huntsmen were seen
coming along in full pursuit of a magnificent twelve-antlered stag. A
stag-hunt at that season of the year is forbidden by the common laws of
hunting. The new antlers are not yet grown; they are but knots grown
over with tender hide. No less is it permitted to follow a hunt through
the streets of a city, more especially of St. Petersburg during Maflicza
week. But this distinguished party does not seem bound by ordinary laws.

The hunting-party consists of some twelve men and three of the opposite
sex, not counting about fifty huntsmen and packs of hounds. They send
the people flying the whole length of the street before them.

It may have been that the start had been in Czarskoje Zelo Deer Park,
that the stag had broken away and had taken his course towards the town,
the huntsmen after him. A huntsman's zeal does not stop to inquire which
way is permitted or which prohibited.

The stag dashes across Fontankabridge. In vain the toll-keepers put up
the barrier, it clears it at a bound. Then, seeing the hunting-party in
pursuit, the terrified toll-keepers prepare to reopen the passage.
"Leave it alone!" shouts the foremost, and the company, following the
example of the stag, clears it. Mr. Stag has meanwhile reached one of
the principal streets, the hounds on his track; the gaping country
bumpkins at the street corners rush back in panic as the huntsmen dash
past them.

At the entrance to the barracks of the Imperial Cadet Corps stands a
grenadier on guard. If he has any sense he will shoot down the
approaching stag, that it may not injure the crowd in its mad career.
But military etiquette goes before common-sense. The soldier on guard,
recognizing his superior in command, lowers his gun and presents arms.
The rebellious stag meanwhile, knowing no such etiquette, springs upon
the guard, and, catching him on its antlers, tosses him into the air.
The guard on reaching the ground again will probably present arms once
more from that lowly position. The stag, by this time, has reached a
cross street. This is one of the most frequented promenades in the
imperial city. The loungers rush away in all directions, women
screaming, men swearing, dogs barking--one runs against and upsets the
other--sledges overturn upon fallen foot-passengers. The stag and
hunting-party spring over outstretched bodies and overturned sledges
alike. It is capital sport--no one can take any hurt, the snow lies too
thick. Now the stag, reaching the Haymarket, seems somewhat bewildered.
For one second it stands affrighted, the dense throng blocking up the
great square. The next something attracts its attention. It is the row
of stags, which it takes for a herd, standing up before the
game-dealers' booths. Now the instinct of all hunted animals is to seek
refuge in a herd if they come upon one. So away into the thick of the
throng! Now the roar, the screams, and curses become a very pandemonium.
Booths and butchers' stalls overturned bear witness to the creature's
wild career; but no sooner has it reached its lifeless fellows and, with
quick instinct, scented blood, than, maddened with fury and with antlers
lowered, it forces itself a passage back into the Garten Strasse, and
tears off panting and snorting towards the Costinoi Dwor. This is one of
the curiosities of St. Petersburg--the great bazaar.

The Costinoi Dwor is a distinct quarter in itself, where everything of
most costly nature, from Persian carpets to diamond necklaces, is to be
bought. Here the stag evidently thinks to find shelter. All the doors
stand open. From among the thousand shops he must needs select that of a
Venetian glass-dealer, huntsmen and hounds in hot pursuit. In the vast
apartment, supported by pillars, are massed crystal ornaments,
amounting in value to hundreds of thousands of rubles, artistically
piled into pyramids of fairy-like elegance, the walls hung with Venetian
mirrors reaching from floor to ceiling. The unhappy Italian proclaims
himself bankrupt as he sees the stag make for his shop, containing such
costly and perishable wares, and it is a comical sight to see the poor
signor and his _fauteuil_ fall back head over heels when the crash
comes. But no sooner does the stag see an innumerable number of its
fellows reflected in the mirrors all around him, hounds upon them,
closely followed by galloping huntsmen, than it completely loses the
little remnant of wits it had retained, and, turning its back on the
raving Italian, it dashes through the ranks of its pursuers towards the
Appraxin Dwor, where Turks, Jews, Armenians, Persians, brokers,
second-hand dealers, Little and Great Russians, Copts, and Raskolniks,
Gruses, and Finlanders abound, their stalls crammed with old rubbish
from every quarter of the globe, and they themselves standing out in the
middle of the street to better attract the passers-by, two or three
seizing the unwary customer by the arm at the same time, crying up their
own wares, depreciating those of their neighbors, squabbling among
themselves, vociferating oaths, lying, cheating, bargaining--playing the
rogue in every barbaric language under the sun. And to them, in their
very midst, the excited, maddened stag! Now the real fun begins. It was
a sight to see the terrified peddlers scattered right and left among
their heaps of rubbish, to hear their agonized adjurations to all the
powers of heaven and earth; to see them crawl on all fours, frog-like,
into their holes, as the huntsmen and hounds went galloping in full
course over their fallen bodies; and to watch the angry company, after
the wild hunt had passed, streaming back again to their desecrated
wares with loud laments, proclaiming that the world was coming to an
end. The stag simply flew over the heads of the densely packed throng;
the hunt could not follow up so rapidly; it required the huntsmen's
whips to keep the dogs together in such a bewildering crowd. Thus it
gained a certain advantage, and, reaching the Boulevard of the Fontana
Canal, dashed across the frozen stream to the opposite bank, and sped
down the Goronschaja Street before its pursuers came up with it. [At the
time of our story (1825) a palace, surrounded by a large park, the
Bulasky Gardens, stood there. The great fire of 1862 has since laid it,
as well as the whole Appraxin Dwor, in ruins; the railway-station of
Czarskoje Zelo now occupies the site.]

The park is surrounded by a high gilded railing, through which sprigs of
vine-covered firs push their way. Perhaps the stag takes it for its
native home. Close by palace and park lies the great Obuchow Hospital;
some five hundred patients, men and women (most of them epileptics) are
just coming down the opposite street, returning from Trinity Church,
where they have been attending mass. Should the affrighted creature rush
in among the panic-stricken crowd, there would be no escape for
them--their crippled, infirm forms, their enfeebled brains, would render
it impossible. The very fright alone might kill them, deadened as are
their senses. Now a chorus of horror arises from the procession of
imbeciles, who, as if under a spell, come to a halt, helplessly awaiting
the attack of the incomprehensible foe. Infirmity has not crippled their
feet alone, but their thinking powers also. Nothing intervenes to stop
the approaching stag. As it flies in full career past the principal gate
of the Bulasky Gardens a shot resounds in the air. The stag makes a
side spring, throws back its head, sinks down, struggles up again,
plunges its bleeding nose into the snow, then stretches itself out,
resting its stately antlered head on the threshold of the gate, as
though in gratitude to him whose well-directed aim has released it from
its pursuers.

Sport was spoiled.



CHAPTER IV

NO RIVAL


What unheard-of audacity, to spoil the sport of such an aristocratic
hunting-party!

"Who fired that shot?" cried the foremost of the huntsmen, with a
threatening crack of his whip.

The hounds dashed furiously on towards the open gate, their sense of the
dignity of the hunt equally insulted.

The question had been put in Russian; and the action was in accord with
the speech, although the speaker's face was close shaven in the French
style, while the other members of the hunt all wore short whiskers.

"I took that liberty!" returned a woman's voice; and from under the
fir-trees, whose branches overhung the gate, appeared a woman's form,
slender as one of the Amazons of the "Kalevala" Saga, her pale oval face
surrounded by loose-falling hair of reddish gold, like a lion's mane;
the nose, straight and delicate, and full lips recalling the Niobe
group; while at sight of the great flashing eyes, instinct with magic
beauty, one was irresistibly reminded of a peri from the "Sakuntala." A
very fairy, who united in herself the threefold myths.

"I dared do it!" she said, coming forward alone, unattended. And
carelessly dispersing the excited dogs with one hand, she raised the
pistol she held in the other, and, pointing it at her interlocutor,
continued: "And there is another shot in it for you if you do not
instantly lower your whip."

The hounds were cringingly snuffing about her whom the moment before
they had been ready to tear in pieces; the huntsman, too, was not less
susceptible to the charm than was the pack. Raising his whip, he touched
his cap courteously with it, and addressed her in French, the language
of Russian society:

"It were unnecessary, madame, that you should use firearms, possessing
as you do in your eyes such powerful weapons."

By this speech the huntsman betrayed the school of Versailles, where men
were accustomed to carry on war with compliments, and to mask retreat
with gallant words.

Meanwhile the rest of the hunting-party had come up to the gates. The
gentlemen, seeing with whom their comrade was in conversation, held in
their horses, as though not wishing to take part in it; only an older
man, wearing an order set in diamonds on his fur-lined coat, approached
nearer; and one of the ladies, galloping straight up to the gate, pulled
up her horse at its threshold, the body of the dead stag alone
separating her from the other woman.

The huntswoman wore a blue, fur-bordered jacket, with hunting-cap to
match, under which her fair hair hung in ringlets to the shoulders. Her
face was crimsoned with eagerness and the extreme cold, giving to her
somewhat prominent eyes a still more dazzling brilliancy than they were
wont to have; her thin, delicately shaped lips were half open; the blue
veil falling over her forehead, and the blue band she wore under her
chin as a protection from the cold, did not allow more of her face to be
seen. But as she drew up close beside the other lady she pushed back the
chin band, perhaps in order to speak more freely, thereby displaying a
pretty, rosy chin, divided by charming dimples.

"How dared you shoot that stag?" she cried to the other lady. "Did you
not know it was an imperial one?"

"How dared you chase that stag to the very gates of the hospital? Did
you not know that it is a hospital for cripples?"

"I hope you recognize that the Czar is the first gentleman in Russia."

"Throughout the whole world the first gentlefolks are the sick."

"You are foolhardy, madame."

"That I admit."

Now the huntswoman lifted her veil. She was heated. She toyed
impatiently with the riding-whip in her hand.

"Why am I not a man?" she muttered, between her pearly teeth.

The huntsman with the clean-shaven face, reading from his companion's
working features and piercing eyes that there was something more in
dispute than the shot stag, now bending towards her, addressed her
audibly enough in German. For though the French language--that of the
best-beloved enemy--is the language of society in the Russian capital,
German--that of the most hated friend--is only spoken by the exclusive.
German is therefore spoken when the servants are not desired to
understand.

"A rival, eh?" asked the clean-shaven one.

The huntswoman projected her lips scornfully, and, knitting her brows,
answered aloud in German:

"Neither rival nor----"

The lady standing by had distinctly heard the short colloquy, and was
perfectly aware that she had another charge in her pistol.

The speaker had turned pale as she spoke, like a duellist who, having
fired his shot and wounded his adversary, now awaits the other's fire.

The owner of the park did not do this, however. There are words, looks,
and gestures which can strike deeper than the most deadly weapon.
Placing one foot on the crowned antlers of the stag lying prone before
her, she smiled full in the face of her adversary; and, as though to
emphasize the insulting challenge, raising her pistol, she fired the
remaining shot into the air. For an insult loses its sting if directed
by an armed person against one unarmed. Now once more she stood
conqueror.

The huntswoman's face flamed with fury. She twisted her riding-whip in
her hands like a serpent, as though inwardly debating whether to strike
it across the other's face, and thus wipe away the irritating smile.

One of the other two ladies was young, little more than a child. Her
face a perfect oval, with exquisitely formed chin, a little rosebud
mouth, large, deep-blue eyes, looking black in the distance, dark,
finely pencilled eyebrows, and hair hanging in soft, shining plaits down
her back.

Her whole face wore the astounded expression of a school-girl. The
strangest thing about her was that she rode a gentleman's saddle, with
which her costume was in keeping--the Circassian beshmet, the broad,
white salavár, high boots, and flowing cashmere, with hanging kindzsál.
Every one but she knew what the two women were saying to each other. He
who happened to be ignorant of the language could understand the
gestures, the contemptuous expression of the features, the crossfire of
eyes. The young girl did not understand even that. She merely looked on
in amazement. That the two ladies were angry with each other she
saw--and about a stag's antlers! The riding-whip was twisted about in
the huntswoman's nervous fingers until it snapped. She made use of
another weapon.

"Bethsaba!" she exclaimed, turning to the girl, and speaking to her in a
language unknown to any of their auditors--possibly Circassian; but the
expression on the speaker's face, and the terror-stricken, pallid look
on that of the young girl, said as plainly as words:

"You have asked me what the devil looks like? Look at that woman; there
you have the fiend in human form."

The girl, bending her head, crossed herself as she cast a frightened
side glance at the dreadful woman, who was the embodiment of his Satanic
Majesty. Then the Amazon, turning her own horse, and at the same time
seizing the reins of that upon which the young girl was mounted,
galloped back the way she had come, huntsmen and hounds following. The
stag remained where it had fallen.



CHAPTER V

PLAN OF WAR AGAINST A WOMAN


On the way back to Ghedimin Palace naturally nothing was spoken of by
the members of the hunt but the exciting scene to which they had just
been witness.

"_Parole d'honneur_," said the clean-shaven horseman, as he struck his
riding-boot with his whip, "the whole world is turned upside down! In
the time of the Empress Elizabeth, if any woman had allowed herself to
insult a Princess Ghedimin in that manner, she would have had her tongue
cut out and have been punished with the knout."

"This is what we have to thank exaggerated philanthropy for! It was
never created for us. Voltairianism will be the ruin of the nation. How
can Araktseieff suffer it?"

"The woman is no Russian?"

"Perhaps some English or German here to spite us, and who has placed
herself under the protection of the Embassy? By Jove! in 1816, when I
was last at home, such a thing would not have been permitted!"

"These cursed foreigners! Anyway, if the president of the police does
not take the matter in hand, we will administer the knout ourselves. I
swear your presence alone withheld me just now, Princess Maria
Alexievna!"

"Indeed! You do not know who the woman is."

"What does it matter who she is? She may even be a princess."

"She is more than that."

"Then some expatriated queen, perhaps from Georgia."

"Silence!" said the lady, as she gave a warning look in the direction of
the girl riding at her other side.

"She does not understand German. So the woman is really a queen?"

At this question the lady laughed heartily.

"Really a queen! A true queen! A reigning queen--an absolute monarch! We
all are her slaves; you, I, even Alexis Maximovitch. A queen who is not
to be driven out of her kingdom by means of cannon, but with this!" and
she held out to her companion the whistle of her shattered riding-whip.

"What! an actress?"

"Of course. What else should she be?"

"Ha, ha, ha! To whom the whistle means a revolution; whose throne is
upset by hisses! Ah, Maria Alexievna, present me with this whistle. With
it I will fight for you, as a knight _sans peur et sans reproche_."

The lady resigned the fatal weapon, so efficacious in the downfall of
stage potentates, to her cavalier, as the latter lifted her out of her
saddle in the portico of the Ghedimin Palace.

He then kissed her hand. She kissed him on the cheek, and, taking the
young girl by the hand, she passed through a treble glass door and
ascended the broad frescoed staircase within.

Here the hunting-party broke up, making rendezvous at the opera that
evening.

Now the silent, bestarred gentleman, who had hitherto not mixed in the
conversation, slapping the clean-shorn one on the back with the flat of
his hand, said:

"Nicholas Sergievitch, a word with you. Come along with me."

"At your service, Alexis Maximovitch."

And together they rode off to the Araktseieff Palace.

There are no old palaces in St. Petersburg. The whole city only dates
back a century and a half. The palace of the favorite official of the
Czar is situated on the Nevski Prospect, and is built more for comfort
than for elegance. During the winter the whole building is heated
throughout with hot-air pipes; every window has treble cases; the floors
of the rooms are of parquetry.

The two huntsmen said nothing until they had refreshed themselves with
hot tea seasoned with arak and a curious compound of cayenne and
cantharides. A tiny portion on the point of a knife of this latter warms
one's frozen limbs. In any other climate it were poison.

The great man whom we now recognize from the name of his palace,
Araktseieff, first locking the door of the room they were in, pushed up
a rocking-chair to the fireplace for his guest, gave him a chibouque,
and himself took up his station before the fire.

"Hark ye, Nicholas Sergievitch, put the whistle you received from the
Princess just now among your treasures, and when you want to blow it go
out into the woods. That is my advice to you. For if you carry out what
you have sworn to the Princess you will find yourself next day on the
road to Irkutsk, and, by Heaven! I can't say when you will be coming
back."

"The devil!"

"You see, the Czar is of opinion that he can create a hundred noblemen
such as you in an hour; but singers such as Zeneida Ilmarine are to be
met with but once in the century."

"Ah! So this mysterious stranger is Zeneida Ilmarine, the far-famed
Simarosa heroine? All honor to her! I take my pipe out of my mouth as I
speak her revered name! When I made my promise to Princess Ghedimin, I
had no idea whom it concerned. This absolves me from my oath. Against
the 'divine' Zeneida one may not revolt, even to please the 'angelic'
Maria Alexievna. Rather raise the standard against the whole army of
legitimate rulers! What a fool I was! The excessive cold must have
frozen my wits like quicksilver in a thermometer. Of course, I had heard
abroad that the _diva_ was a _protégée_ of the Czar and Czarina, and,
moreover, the beloved of the brave Ivan Maximovitch. From the dialogue
in which the two ladies indulged, I might have gathered that it was a
meeting between wife and lady-love."

"Now you must devise a way to find favor with both. Favor with the wife,
as with the sweetheart."

"Easy as kiss your hand. I have only to tell one about the other."

"That may succeed with the wife, for she is outspoken, straightforward,
and passionate. With the favorite, however, it may be more difficult;
for she understands how to play as many parts in real life as on the
stage. And your office it will be to find out which is the real one."

"That I will do--as sure as my name is Galban."

"Well, Chevalier Galban, you may imagine that it is a matter of some
importance which has induced us to call you back from Versailles, where
you were to us as eyes and ears are to man. You have there learned, in
masterly fashion, how to unravel the most secret diplomatic webs by
means of a woman's heart, yourself the while remaining unscathed. Now
you must carry out your masterwork at home."

"What, Holy Russia has secrets which her police and the priests are
unable to fathom?"

"My dear Chevalier Galban, our good Chulkin has enough to do to catch
thieves, and is not too successful in that department. I counsel you, if
your sledge be stopped on the way home from the club at night, give the
thief your purse quietly, for if you call the watch the soldiers will
ease you of your fur coat into the bargain. If, on the other hand, you
fall into the hands of a policeman, he will not only clear you out, but
the thief too. As for the priests, they count for nothing to our people,
who are atheists."

"Have we come to that?"

"Yes; to that. General Kutusoff did well to say, when our forces came
back from the French War, 'The best thing the Czar could do would be to
drown the whole expedition in the Baltic.' They were all indoctrinated
to a man with liberalism, and have infected the entire army. I assure
you that many a young officer carries 'The Catechism of a Free Man' and
'A Scheme of Constitutional Monarchy' about with him in his
coat-pocket."

"How do they get hold of them?"

"They must have a secret press."

"They have been allowed to play with freedom too long."

"That were the least danger. As long as we allowed them the game of
freemasonry, all was open and above board. At the court balls they would
talk in the presence of the Czar himself of freedom, and debate over the
rights of the people and the emancipation of serfs. That was all
academical discussion. But when the masonic lodges were closed, and the
insignia sold by auction in the Jews' market on the Appraxin Dwor, the
secret evil grew worse and worse. The freemasonry of Mamonoff, of a
sudden, took five or six different forms. One called itself a 'General
Betterment Society,' Orloff at its head. Another was 'Szojusz Spacinia,'
a third 'The Confederation of Patriots,' a fourth 'Szojusz
Blagadenztoiga.' There is another constituted under the title of
'Republic of the Eight Slav Races'; its members wear an eight-pointed
star as a token, the inscription on one of the points being Hungary.
They grow like mushrooms."

"Ridiculous! Even in my time there were clubs where secret meetings were
held. But there was no talk then of danger to the State. If certain
much-wronged husbands had no complaint to make, the police might let us
go scot-free."

"That is not the case now," answered Araktseieff, impatiently. (It was
his habit, when receiving secret visits in his own house, to keep a
sword-stick in his hand, with which he would incessantly prod screens,
walls, and hangings, as though ever suspecting listeners; and did he
perceive that his visitor had a bulging pocket-handkerchief or
note-book, he would prod that, too, to discover what was there.) "They
are about everywhere, and yet nowhere to be traced. They give each other
rendezvous at balls, concerts, wine-parties, etc., and so contrive to
give our spies the slip. Why, they actually keep a register, a sort of
parliamentary hand-book, in which the conferences of every distant
province are entered concerning the organizing of a systematic
revolution throughout Russia; the best form of constitution; what is to
become of the dynasty; how the empire is to be partitioned, and whether
to be represented by landed proprietors or the people. And this protocol
it is which contains a fully named register of the conspirators, those
who hold the threads of the net in their hands throughout the whole
land, from the shores of the Black Sea to the Arctic Pole. Among
themselves they call it 'the green book.' Now, where is this book? That
is the question."

"To which I reply by a counter-question. But do not keep on so
incessantly prodding my coat-pockets with that sharp stiletto of yours.
Has any one seen this book--and, if seen, why has he not said where he
has seen it?"

"That I will tell you, too. The conspirators are divided into three
classes. The first are 'Brethren.' To this community any one may belong,
on his introducer making himself responsible for him; they know nothing
beyond the fact that they are members of a conspiracy, and have the
right to attend meetings. The second class are called 'Men.' They are
trusty people, who, on a certain watchword being given them, are
authorized to act. You may reckon one-third of the officers in the army
as belonging to this class. They cannot betray anything beyond their own
individual names and the work given them to do. Then we come to the
third class, the 'Bojars,' and leaders of the whole affair. It is
extremely difficult to get in among them; and those who do belong to
them do not betray one iota."

"Are they married men? Have they no wives--no mistresses?"

"That question occurred to me long ago. It is no new discovery that
women are the best mediums for discovering secrets. Bright eyes and
diamonds can cast light into many a dark corner--that is an old story!
That 'the green book' is in the custody of some woman is unquestionable;
but, so far, with all our espionage, we have reached no further. We were
informed that Orloff's mistress was the possessor of 'the green book,'
and paid down enormous sums for the information. And what did we find? A
pack of scandalous anecdotes of St. Petersburg society, all of which,
moreover, were known to us before. Then we got on another scent. 'The
green book' was in the keeping of the 'Martinists,' whose president had
a lady-love--faithfulness itself. In her case all our bribes were
useless. So one night we had her surprised in her room, bound, the
boards of the floor raised, and actually there was found a 'green book.'
But it contained nothing but atheistic theses. What was the use of them?
People may rebel against the Deity, but not against the Czar! At length
we received secret information that the heart of the conspiracy is that
league which calls itself 'The Northern Union'--its head Prince
Ghedimin."

"The devil!"

"Yes, my friend; the next in succession to the throne! He it is who must
hold possession of 'the green book,' or who has had it in his keeping.
To whom should a man confide so dangerous a treasure but to his own
wife? But the husband, we are told, always wore the key of the iron
chest in which the book was guarded round his neck. Father Hilary
attacked the Princess on the religious side, and persuaded her to remove
the key from her husband's neck when he lay unconscious in typhus fever.
She must have had many sins to atone for. Anyway, she did commit the
small piece of treachery, and I passed a whole night studying 'the green
book' obtained from Ghedimin."

"Well?"

"Well, having carefully gone through it, I flung it to the other end of
the room. The book was filled with dangerous doctrines--nothing more.
Pure abstract reasoning, philosophical treatises, and the like, but no
single name of any member. What care I for the utterances of Seneca,
Rousseau, Saint-Just? What I want to know is what the Muravieffs and
Turgenieffs are talking about. That, too, was a mere piece of trickery.
That cunning Ghedimin did not trust his wife. He gave her a book to keep
which the Censor--had she betrayed him--would readily have condemned to
be burned, but for which the President of Secret Police would have
grudged the oil consumed in the reading."

"Then, if the real 'green book' is not to be found in his wife's
keeping, it must be in that of his lady-love--and that lady-love is
Zeneida?"

"Right."

"Is she a foreigner?"

"No; a subject. A Finnish girl from Helsingfors; and especially favored
by the Czar, because she has triumphed over the pride of the
Empire--Catalani. The Czarina, too, is very gracious to her. You know
that the Czar is a great music-lover, and will not suffer the school of
Cimarosa and Paisiello to be set aside by the modern school of Rossini.
Zeneida Ilmarine does not sing a note of Rossini. At all hours she is
admitted to the imperial family. How often have I--ay, and even the
Grand Duke Nicholas--had to kick our heels in the antechamber while she
was having audience? At the court soirées she is treated like any
reigning princess; she alone is privileged to wear in her hair a white
rose, the Czarina's favorite flower. It is entirely due to the magic of
her voice that the Finnish students of Helsingfors escaped being sent
off in a body to Kiew after the rebellion; for she can intercede as
effectually as she can sing. The Czar would have raised her to the rank
of a duchess, but what do you think the spoiled _diva_ said? 'Would your
Majesty wish to degrade me?'"

"And is this the woman who could take part in a conspiracy against the
Czar?"

"Why not? if the leader of that conspiracy be sweet upon her, a Prince
Ghedimin, the most powerful among Russia's twelve ruling families, the
number of whose serfs and estates more than equals the whole kingdom of
Würtemberg. Do not forget, moreover, that she is a 'Kalevaine.'"

"What are the proofs of this suspicion?"

"I have already told you that the conspirators are marvellously clever
in eluding detection. It is not their way to creep into obscure corners
or subterranean caves; they rather hold their meetings in the midst of
crowds and in public places. This is a wrinkle they have learned from
the Poles, among whom the 'Philaretes' and 'Vendita' usually meet at
their yearly fairs. Now the fast is at hand. For seven weeks every
public amusement is forbidden, that the people may see that great folks
do penance as well as themselves. High and low must attend the services
of the Church. But no one asks what takes place o' nights behind closed
doors. This is the harvest-time for secret meetings. The invited guests
have no political proclivities; they have no wish to found
constitutions; their sole idea is to enjoy a good dinner--'Anti-fasters'
they call themselves. Surprised by the police, all that would be
discovered would probably be a table spread with appetizing game or
steaming roast-beef, and, maybe, a few guests the worse for liquor. The
'sinners' would, of course, be fined, but no one would be the wiser of
what was taking place in the more private apartments. And here our prima
donna has peculiar advantages. The stage, as you know, makes its own
laws. Who in the world expects to find strict morality among actresses
and ballet-dancers? The police wisely shut their eyes to much that goes
on among them. He who is lucky enough to be an invited guest to one of
Zeneida Ilmarine's exclusive Carême soirées will find all the frivolous
beauties of the opera and ballet, all the _jeunesse dorée_ of St.
Petersburg, assembled, and will have no need to complain of either the
lack of fiery eyes or fiery wines. Many a man has been singed by them.
But if he be wise enough to keep his head in the midst of the tumult, he
will observe a certain portion of the company disappear gradually and
noiselessly from the reception-rooms."

"There may be other reasons for such disappearance."

"Certainly. For instance, roulette may be carried on in those private
apartments. Now, the Czar has issued a severe prohibition against
roulette-playing--any one caught in the act is sent straight off to
Siberia, without possibility of remission of sentence. It is a fact that
Zeneida's calumniators, especially among the women who are envious of
her, have circulated the report that she keeps a roulette bank, which
enables her to indulge in all her lavish luxury. I hold a different
opinion."

"Upon what grounds?"

"That Michael Turgenieff is a constant guest at these theatrical
soirées, and is one of those who at midnight disappear into the inner
apartments. Now, Michael Turgenieff is a philosopher and a puritan."

"Even philosophers have their lucid intervals, induced by combined
charms of pretty women and good wine."

"We know Michael better. I have had my eye upon him ever since his
Demi-Decemvir. He was the only one among his young companions who did
not give way to any of the modern forms of debauchery. In his travels
through England, France, and Germany, he only sought out great writers
and men of mind and genius; he was never to be found in fashionable or
vicious haunts. Not even in Paris, where vice and pleasure reign
supreme. What, then, should possess him to secretly worship here at the
altar of false gods? No; the presence of this one man alone is
sufficient to betray that those closed doors conceal other than
Eleusinian mysteries."

"And it has, so far, been impossible to discover them?"

"No sooner does Zeneida, taking the Duke's arm, leave the company than
it assumes the aspect of a revel. Beauty and folly take possession of
men's senses, and next day not one of them can recall anything but that
they have had a jolly evening. If a 'Brother' try to follow a 'Bojar' in
his retreat, he is surrounded by sirens, who lure him back by a
conspiracy of charms. In order to let diamond cut diamond, and so
conquer the high-priestess of the mysteries herself, it needs just such
a conquering hero as you are."

"Very flattering for me! When shall I make a beginning?"

"This very night. It is the last day of Maslica week, the last night of
the opera. Zeneida is to sing in Cimarosa's _Secret Marriage_. The
streets will be thronged. At the stroke of midnight the bells of all the
churches will proclaim the beginning of Lent. Every one goes to
confession. In the opera queen's kingdom, however, the revel begins.
Prince Carnival, with his merry company, will make his joyous procession
through the brilliantly lighted saloons, through whose fast-closed
windows no ray of light, no sound of music, may penetrate. You must
manage to procure an invitation to the entertainment."

"After the insult of to-day?"

"You are master in the art of intrigue."

"I have given my promise to Princess Ghedimin to hiss her rival off the
stage to-night."

"You have given me your promise to win her to-night."

"The time is too short."

"But the opportunity favorable. I am informed that yesterday two men
arrived in the capital who are rarely seen here. The one is
Krizsanowski, from Poland; the other, Colonel Pestel, of the Southern
Army. Both have already received invitations to Zeneida's so-called
dance. Only there can you come across them; and you must find out from
them what has brought them here."

"I will be there."

"How will you manage it?"

"As we men begin all love affairs--by means of presents."

"Ah! this nymph is richer than you, my dear fellow. She makes her forty
thousand rubles in a single concert. If her mood is for diamonds, she
chooses out the most costly; if for something better than diamonds, she
divides her night's earnings among the poor. It may happen that you
receive back your presents twofold."

"I will make her a present which will command her favor--an
eight-in-hand."

"Ah! such as the Czar alone possesses?"

"Such as not even the Czar possesses! You shall see, with this
eight-in-hand, I will force open the gates of the fairy castle. Leave
the rest to me. If a 'green book' be in existence, I will know its
contents."



CHAPTER VI

OLD AGE


Prince Ghedimin was dining that day with his wife. Both he and the
Princess studiously avoided mention of the affair which so abruptly
ended the hunt. Yet it was unlikely that the news of it should not have
spread throughout the city. The police alone appeared ignorant of it,
the shot stag remaining on the spot where it fell. Was it the intention
to remove it at nightfall, when no one could see who took it away?

"Shall I meet you at the opera to-night?" asked the Princess.

"I am not sure if I can be there."

"It would be a pity to remain away. Fräulein Ilmarine sings in the
_Secret Marriage_ for the last time this season. She will have a great
ovation."

The Princess firmly believed that Zeneida would be hissed off the stage;
and what could be better than that the Prince should have the pleasure
of witnessing her humiliation from his wife's box?

"I am awfully sorry that I cannot engage to be there, my dear. As you
are aware, it is my night to visit my grandmother, and when once I am
there the dear old lady is sure not to let me come away. She has so much
to ask about every one, and at the stroke of midnight she will expect me
to take the organ in the chapel adjoining the apartment and sing through
the penitential mass; and I cannot refuse her. But if you wish that we
should spend the evening together, why not come with me?"

"Oh, many thanks. I do not sing in masses."

"But you have not once been to see the grandmother since our marriage."

"I think you know that I shrink from dead people."

"But the poor old soul is still living."

"So much the worse--a living death! It makes me shudder to look at a
mummy, and to think that some day I too shall appear like one!"

"Ah, well! A pleasant evening to you, my love."

"Edifying devotions, your Excellency."

The Prince withdrew. The Princess sent her dwarf after him, that--hidden
among the orange-trees in the conservatory--he might find out whether
the Prince had actually gone to his grandmother's apartments, and how
long he stayed there.

Ivan Maximovitch Ghedimin really did pass through the corridor into his
grandmother's apartments. The old lady inhabited the central block of
the palace, its windows, on both sides, looking on to the court-yard.

It is twenty years since Anna Feodorovna has left her apartments. Even
in the sultry summer heat, a time when all the aristocrats of the
capital take refuge in the islands of the Neva, she passes it among her
fur-hung walls.

Since the spring of 1804, when she had a critical nervous illness, she
has spent her days in a wheel-chair, the being wheeled from the dinner
to the card-table and back again her only exercise. She dreads fresh
air.

At first she had some society. Three old ladies of her own age used to
come to play whist and gossip with her. Gradually they left off coming;
first one, then two, at length all three. No one dared to tell her that
they were dead; she was told that they found it difficult to mount the
stairs. Since then she had played her game of whist alone.

The old lady still wears the old-fashioned cotton costume which was so
fashionable in 1803, when the Czar Alexander had forbidden the
importation of foreign woollen stuffs. She thinks that every lady in
society still wears it, and with it a cap and feather, closely
resembling a turban.

It is now twelve years since the last of her contemporaries visited her.
All have now been gathered to their fathers. But Anna Feodorovna must
not know this. All are living, and on every great occasion send her
their messages and congratulations, exchange consecrated cakes with her,
and colored Easter eggs; and on Easter morning she always finds on her
table their illuminated visiting-cards, with the inscription in letters
of gold, "Christos wosskresz."

History for her has stopped with the signing of peace between the
Emperors Napoleon I. and Alexander I.; and the appointment, at that
date, by the Czar, of her only son, Maxim Wassilovitch, to the command
of the new Georgian regiment of Lancers. Georgia had just been
incorporated into Russia, and Anna Feodorovna tells proudly to this day
how, on one occasion, she had the honor of a conversation with
Heraclius, the deposed Emperor of Georgia; how her beloved son, Maxim,
brought his Majesty up to her, and although she did not understand what
he said to her--for his ex-Majesty only spoke Persian, which was not at
all like either Russian or French--they had had a most interesting
conversation.

From that period in history it had been the endeavor of the family that
no rumors of the world and its events should disturb the quiet of that
revered member. A daily paper was published separately for her, from
which every war detail was scrupulously expunged. The reigning
sovereigns did nothing in the world but give or take a princess in
marriage, magnanimously yield each other territory, distinguish their
generals for no reason whatever; and, that the century might not pass
over without some blood-shedding, the unbelievers on the far-off island
of Tenedos were occasionally slaughtered; a revolt of the Kurds on the
boundaries of Persia would be suppressed from time to time; or Belgrade
be conquered by Csernyi-Gyurka. Anna Feodorovna knew nothing of the
terrible French invasion, nor of the burning of Moscow; nor that her
only son, Maxim, had fallen in the battle of Borodino. Her paper, on the
contrary, stated that Maxim Wassilovitch had been appointed Governor of
Georgia, and had at once proceeded there without furlough. From that
time news had regularly come to her from him, and he had sent letters,
which her man-servant was obliged to read to her, for her eyes were not
capable now of deciphering handwriting. The good son who never forgot
his old mother! Her man-servant, faithful Ihnasko, is everything to
her--cook, house-maid, reader. He, too, must be some seventy-five years
old; thus fifteen years younger than his mistress. No other serving-man
would have held on as he had done, no other have submitted to put a seal
to his lips, and have observed silence as to all that was passing
without. Even among us men there are few Ihnaskos. And on a fête day,
such as this, it is especially difficult, when Anna Feodorovna does not
play cards--for card-playing is sinful--and there being no whist, she
questions the more.

Fortunately for her she has a good appetite, and can enjoy all the
varieties of cakes sent her by "her friends" on this last Maslica day.

"Ihnasko, I cannot believe that Sofia Ivanovna prepared these cakes
herself. She always stones the raisins so carefully. Try this one."

"You are right, your Highness. But then the poor lady's eyesight is not
so good as it was."

"Oh yes; she grows old, like me. Reason enough to see nothing."

(The main reason, however, is that six feet of earth lie between her and
the world.)

"And the little princess, and the brunette countess, have they sent
their usual congratulations to-day? And the Lieutenant-General's wife,
who is so hard of hearing?"

"The cards are all laid on the silver table, your Highness."

"And you have acknowledged them in the customary manner?"

"At once, your Highness."

"You should have written in very large characters to the
Lieutenant-General's lady, for she is so hard of hearing. Has the old
beggar-woman come for the warm clothing? Was she glad to have it? Did
she not prophesy good luck for this year? Is it not to be a comet year?
Ah, there is no chance of that! Have you taken the grand duchesses their
bouquets?"

"I took them. They return their thanks."

"Are neither of them married yet? Dear me! They must be of marriageable
age now."

(Both are long married--in their girlhood--to the white bridegroom,
Death; but no one has ever told Anna Feodorovna this.)

"How is the old man?"

"As usual."

"Does he make use of the Elizabeth pills I sent him against gout?"

"Constantly."

"Can he sleep at night?"

"Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no."

"Does he not grumble when it is new moon, or the wind blows?"

"At times. But he soon calms down."

"Of course, he always has that horrid pipe in his mouth, and sits in
clouds of smoke like a charcoal-burner."

"What else should he do?"

"Wait a minute. Just take him these warm night-caps. I knitted them with
red wool for the old man myself. He has always liked red caps. Tell him
that I think of him, though he does not think of me. But what could he
send me--tobacco ashes?"

(Alas! the _old man_ has long become dust and ashes himself. He was Anna
Feodorovna's husband, a martyr to gout, who did not see his wife once
in a year, although they lived in the same house. Neither would visit
the other. She could not endure a pipe; he could not live without it.
One day he, too, found that his mausoleum in the Alexander Nevski
Cathedral was a more peaceful resting-place than his bed; but he was
interred so silently that his old wife did not know of his death, and
continued to knit him his red night-caps.)

"Where can Boysie be so long? My boy is surely not ill? It would be a
fine thing if Boysie forgot me! I will give him a downright scolding for
this."

Hereupon Ihnasko had to calm his old mistress by telling her that
"Boysie" had been called upon to attend an important council held by his
Imperial Majesty the Czar. Most probably concerning some new grant of
territory.

That was quite another thing!

Of course, Boysie was a grown-up man now--a man of thirty, and the owner
of many an order set in brilliants. It is her grandson, the haughty,
powerful Prince Ivan Maximovitch Ghedimin, whom his old grandmother
still calls the "Boy."

The lamp has long been lighted; indeed, for days together it is not
extinguished. At the least current of air the windows are closely
curtained, and three or four days may pass before daylight is again
admitted. It matters little to the owner of the apartment whether it be
day or night; she neither rises nor goes to bed. She lives in her
arm-chair. If she is sleepy, she goes to sleep; when she awakes she is
ready for her food, and with good appetite. Every Sunday her maid washes
and dresses her, and that function lasts for the week. When the bells of
the Isaac Cathedral begin their midnight peal she knows that Sunday has
come round again; when her newspaper is brought to her she knows that
it must be Friday. Sometimes the two, Ihnasko and she, quarrel about
politics.

Just now there are strained relations between mistress and man. A
paragraph in the newspaper has stated that "the heroic George Csernyi
has taken the fortress of Belgrade from the Turks."

The mistress chooses to understand by this that Csernyi had stormed the
fortress and massacred the unbelievers; the man, on the contrary, takes
it literally, that he had bought the fortress from the Turks for
sterling cash.

Over this they quarrel hotly.

"When Ivan comes, he shall decide it; and if you are right, you shall
have a brand-new coat trimmed with fox; if I am right, you shall get
five-and-twenty lashes with this rod from my own hands!"

From her hands, who had not the strength to kill a fly! But the old
woman is vindictive, and has already, for the third time, ordered him to
lay out the new coat and the courbash on two chairs, so that the instant
Ivan comes he shall get either the one or the other. And yet she forgets
all about her anger, Belgrade, and George Csernyi the moment "Boysie"
appears on the scene.

He comes in so gently at the tapestried door that she only perceives him
when he stands before her.

Her Boysie is the handsomest man in the whole capital; he is as tall as
the Czar.

His languishing gray eyes wear an earnest, thoughtful expression.

"Now, you bad boy--to come so late! Is school but just over? Are you not
afraid that I shall make you kneel to ask my pardon?"

He is already kneeling before her; and the old grandmother passes her
thin, wrinkled hand over his face as he bows his head on her lap.
Laughing, she playfully ruffles his hair.

"This naughty Boysie! He knows how to coax his old grandmother, like any
kitten. All right; you shall have no blows this time. I forgive you; so
no need to cry. He has just the same shaped head as my Maximilian; only
Maximilian loves me best, for he writes to me every month; and yet he is
a great man. At your age two orders of merit already decorated his
breast. But what have you done? Have you fought yet for the honor of
your country? Are you following in your father's footsteps?"

The old woman's hands feel over the young man's breast until they rest
upon the diamond star of the Alexander Nevski order, upon which she
cries, joyfully:

"This is no cross; it is a star! And set in brilliants! You have robbed
your father, for this order would have sat well upon him. He is a hero,
a great man; the diamond star would well have become him. But he, too,
has already obtained the first grade of the order, has he not? And set
with diamonds as fine as these?" (Ah yes--ah yes! he has received it set
with glistening pebbles in the cool sands of the Muscovite soil.) "But
now stand up. You are a grown-up man, and what would the Czar say if he
were to know that his privy-councillor still knelt, like a boy, at his
grandmother's knee? Stand up, my dear boy, and tell me about matters of
State. I know how to talk about them. Oh, in Czar Paul's time I was up
in everything. It was I who kept the old man back from joining in Count
Paklem's conspiracy, or he would be even now in Siberia. Eh, my boy, you
love the Czar? That's right. How many a time has Czar Paul bastinadoed
your grandfather! And he never complained. But now there are no
conspiracies throughout the whole land against the Czar."

"None, dear granny."

"If at any time you should hear of plots, mind you tell it at once to
headquarters. If you knew there was a thief lurking under your
grandmother's bed, would you not straightway drag him out by the legs?
Much more is it your sacred duty to destroy all conspiracies against the
Czar's Majesty. He who works against the Czar will be punished, but he
who serves him will be richly rewarded. How was it with Kutusoff? Did
not the Czar take the finest jewel from his crown to present to him, and
had a golden leaf set in the empty space with 'Kutusoff' inscribed upon
it? The family of the Ghedimins is not inferior to that of the
Kutusoffs."

Ivan turned pale. The family name, "Ghedimin," and the Czar's crown? One
was a part of the other. The topic was a dangerous one. High-treason
might be named in the next breath.

"My whole life I have consecrated to the Czar, granny." And then he
blushed at his own words, for he had spoken falsely. He neither can nor
dare tell the truth to living soul. His old grandmother is the only
being on earth he really loves; and her, too, he must deceive. From
morning to night his life is a lie; he must look men in the face and
lie; must lie to baffle the spies ever on his track, so that at night he
dare not offer up the prayer, "Incline thine ear to me, O God," for
dread lest he must lie even to his God.

"I have been waiting for you ever so long. I have had a sharp dispute
with Ihnasko, and you must be the arbiter;" and she related the subject
of their dispute. "So now, who is in the right?"

Ivan laughed.

"As far as experience goes, you were right, grandmother; for fortresses,
as a rule, are taken by force. But in this case Ihnasko was right, for
George Csernyi really did buy Belgrade for good coin of the realm. So
give the good fellow the coat, and not the whip."

The old lady nodded to her man-servant.

"Do you hear, Ihnasko? Thus should a just judge decide. Like Prince
Ivan, he should give the servant right over the master, if need be, even
if it be over his own grandmother. Rejoice, ye people, that your fate
will rest in the hands of a man whose lips only know the truth!"

Ivan turned away.

"But now come nearer, sit down by me, and make your confession. When are
you going to marry? It is high time. Have you not made your choice yet?"

And Ivan had to answer, "No."

He could not tell her that he had been already married three years to a
woman who was so utterly heartless that she would not be presented to
his old grandmother because she was afraid of her age and wrinkles--so
he had answered, "No."

"Now you are telling me a fib. Let me feel your pulse. Of course, it was
a fib! And why should you not have fallen in love? Look! in this drawer
I am keeping a diadem for your bride; it is the same diadem I wore when
your grandfather led me to the altar. Then Moscow was the capital of the
empire. Where this fine palace stands were nothing but clumps of
willows. Now, your bride shall adorn herself with this diadem. Take it;
I give it you. You best know who is to wear it. The girl you love shall
be my very dear granddaughter."

But Ivan, in truth, did not know to whom to give the diadem. He had a
wife who had no love for him, and he loved a woman who could never be
his wife. Thus to neither could he give it.

"I will take care of it, dear granny, until the right one comes."

"But now you will stay to supper with me, will you not, that we may eat
the last Butter-night meal together? You are not going to be off to any
bachelor drinking-party--to get into all sorts of wild company? You will
stay, like a good son, with the old grandmother."

And so Ivan stayed to supper, and had to declare how much he was
enjoying it, when he had dined but so short a time before, and knew all
the while that in Zeneida's palace a Lucullus-like feast awaited him. If
his digestion rebelled against the sacrifice, his heart made it a
thousand times heavier.

Oh, the unspeakable agony that overpowered him as he thought how at that
very time his affronted wife would be venting her whole vengeance upon
that other woman who the world knew had thrown her soft shackles over
him, and whom he dared not openly protect, least of all against this
aggressor, his own wife! Had the Czar been in St. Petersburg, she would
not have dared to molest her; but, in his absence, his powerful
favorite, Araktseieff, was supreme.

To tell the truth, Ivan was glad that his absence was compulsory. A
warm, tender-hearted man, of weak will, he was unequal to the situation.
Taller by a head than most other men, he had been chosen as a leader
among them; but the position oppressed him, for, capable as he was in
all else, he lacked the necessary courage and decision for the post.

What he would most gladly have done would have been to say adieu one
fine day to all his palaces, possessions, confederates, and to Russia,
and to go out with Zeneida into the wide world to sing tenor to her
soprano. Perhaps, too, it might have come about, had Zeneida been an
ordinary artist and nothing more. But the disquieting thought is
there--what may happen to-night on that other stage? Perhaps she is
destined to mortification on the one; but on the other? On those boards
the blood of the actors is wont to flow.

And all this time his fond grandmother could not press him enough to
eat, as she asked news of Maria Louisa and the great Napoleon, of the
little King of Rome, and many another who had long passed away; to many
of which questions Ivan returned such mixed answers that the good
Ihnasko was constantly exercised to set him right, being far better
informed through his newspapers of all these things than was the
absent-minded Prince.

At the first sound of the bells the old lady conscientiously lays down
her knife and fork; and Ihnasko, without awaiting orders, proceeds to
clear the table, and spreads another silken cover over it.

It was Lent.

"Let us draw near to our heavenly Father!" whispers the pious old lady.

Ivan kisses her cheeks, and she his.

There was a small door opening out from her bedchamber into the chapel.
Opening this, Prince Ghedimin went in; and while his old grandmother,
rosary in hand, began telling her beads, the tones of the organ were
heard, and a man's clear voice began chanting the penitential psalm.

"What a good son and a good Christian is my Ivan Maximovitch!" murmured
Anna Feodorovna, amid her prayers. "And what a lovely voice he has! He
might be one of the Czar's choristers."

And amid the sounds of pealing organ and penitential psalm she
reverently thanked the Lord, and, praying for the living and the
faithful dead, fell into peaceful slumber in her arm-chair.

The organ still continues to peal, and penitential psalms ascend, for
Ivan Maximovitch--Prince Ghedimin--is a good man, and a tender, loving
son.

And yet this again is a fresh lie; for, as Ivan entered the chapel from
his grandmother's room, one of the Czar's choirmen, who had been
admitted by a secret door, was already in waiting there, and his task it
was to sing on and play the organ until the old woman had fallen asleep.

Prince Ghedimin, meanwhile, hastily descended the secret staircase and
passed into a masked corridor leading from his palace into the next
house. There, quickly assuming a disguise, he jumped into a sledge
awaiting him in the courtyard, and gave the coachman directions where to
drive.

Upon the Princess's return from the opera she was informed, both by his
Highness's coachman and her dwarf, that the Prince was still at home,
and had not yet left his grandmother's apartments.



CHAPTER VII

THE EIGHT-IN-HAND


Prince Ghedimin left his secret domicile in a simply appointed sledge,
without crest, his coachman wearing no livery. He ordered his man to
drive to the opera.

At that time the capital possessed but one large, newly built
theatre--the opera-house. Here representations of the drama, comedy, and
opera were given, and often on one and the same evening, the
performances lasting, as a rule, from early evening to midnight.

It was just the period when Russians had conceived a passion for the
drama. One theatre no longer sufficed them. It had become the fashion
for the wealthy princes of the blood to have stages erected in their own
palaces, and to have representations given by their own private
companies of Shakespeare and Molière. Even in the Czar's two
palaces--the Winter Palace and Hermitage--there were theatres, where the
court actors and actresses made their début. One leader of fashion
carried the theatrical mania so far that he never travelled to his
country-seat without taking his troop with him; but, the main difficulty
there being to find the audience, he had a collection of wax figures
made--generals, statesmen, and elegant women--and with these figures he
filled his stalls, to give the illusion of a full house. If we add that
this theatrical company was largely recruited from the retainers and
serfs of the said magnate, there is nothing improbable in the story that
went about of him that one night, as Othello was in the very act of
throttling his Desdemona, my lord in his box was seized with a fit of
sneezing, which resounded through the house; whereupon the dark-skinned
tyrant, instantly abandoning his murderous design, advanced to the front
of the stage, humbly uttered the Russian form, "God bless your Grace,"
and then retreated, to proceed with Shakespeare's ghastly deed.

Hence we may imagine the enthusiasm excited by so extraordinary an
artistic genius as was Zeneida, a child of the people--since Finland was
_born_ to Russia on the day of Zeneida's birth.

Zeneida was a more powerful factor than a cabinet minister. Even in
Catharine II.'s time a prima donna, on the Czarina's representing to her
that she was drawing as heavy pay as the most renowned of her generals,
had presumed to say flatly to her, "Then, your Majesty, bid your
generals sing to you."

Prince Ghedimin's great source of anxiety was not that Zeneida might be
exposed to some insult or humiliation at the hands of a wounded rival;
much more, knowing her spirit, he dreaded lest she, at first sound of a
hiss, should rush forward to the footlights and begin singing the
_Marseillaise_, and that if rotten eggs were thrown one moment, in the
next men's heads would be flying. It needed so tiny a spark to fire the
whole mine.

His heart was beating violently as he neared the opera-house. The clang
of bells from a hundred clock-towers drowned all other sounds; but as
they ceased a roar rose in the long street into which his sledge had
turned. The stately avenue was simply filled with a moving mass of
people surging in his direction. What could it be? A revolt, or a
triumphal procession? Hundreds and hundreds of torches cast their lurid
light over the heads of the throng.

His heart beat faster and faster. He was not a lover of revolutions; not
one of those who grow drunk with enthusiasm when they hear the leonine
roar of an insurgent mass. On the contrary, his soul shuddered within
him at the thought. But he was a brave man--a man who, although heart
and spirit might shrink, would know how to die with those to whom he had
sworn fidelity; who, although his soul might faint within him, would
walk with firm step to the scaffold for the great aspirations with which
that soul was fired. More than one man has proved himself a hero whose
soul has quailed within him before the beginning of the fight. Prince
Ivan, ordering his coachman to stop, awaited the throng.

And presently a strange sight met his gaze. In the very midst of the
torch-lit crowd came a golden sledge, shaped like a swan. It was
Zeneida's well-known sledge. In it was sitting the prima donna (wrapped
in her costly sables, and literally covered with bouquets, the flowers
of which were beginning to sparkle with the night frost), drawn by a
team of eight--such a team as the Czar himself had never been drawn by,
since it was composed of eight young noblemen, the cream of Russia's
_jeunesse dorée_. On the coachman's box sat Chevalier Galban in person.

Prince Ghedimin, springing from his sledge, joined the procession. Among
the crowd a man was pressing and forcing his way. In him the Prince
recognized one of his wife's lackeys. Reaching Zeneida's sledge, the man
handed up to Chevalier Galban an enormous bouquet of hyacinths,
whispering a few words as he did so. The Chevalier, straightway standing
up, called out with stentorian voice:

"Ho, ho, gentlemen! Noble team of teams! halt an instant! Look at this
brilliant trophy! See these flowers with their diamond-set
bouquet-holder--'With the expression of her admiration for our divine
Zeneida--from Princess Ghedimin!'"

A thousand hurrahs resounded through the icy air, thickened for an
instant with the breath from many vociferous lungs.

"_Allons!_ forward, my noble steeds!" And the eight-in-hand proceeded on
its way.

A young man was standing at the back of the sledge. As Zeneida leaned
forward to take the flowers, he reached over her so that his face, bent
downward, nearly touched hers. In such a position even a well-known face
is hard to recognize. The man thus standing whispered to her:

"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."

"I do not understand Latin," she answered. "Translate it into some other
language for me."

And he at once, converting it into faultless hexameter, said, in their
own tongue:

"Ever I fear the Russian, even when with gifts he comes."

"Thanks, Pushkin."

The members of the "Northern Confederation" called each other by their
family names, in contradistinction to the old Russian usage, which is to
call every one by their Christian names, adding to a man that of his
father, to a woman that of her mother.

So this young man was to become the renowned Pushkin. At that time he
had no such claim; at that time he was a nobody.



CHAPTER VIII

AN ORGY OVER A VOLCANO


It needed a well-seasoned head to keep his wits about him when, on
entering Zeneida's palace, a man found himself suddenly plunged into the
fairy-like pell-mell, such as is usually only to be seen at a masked
ball at the opera.

Hundreds of guests, invited and uninvited, thronged the brilliantly
lighted reception-rooms. Zeneida to-night had been acting in the last
scene of _Semiramide_, and it suited her mood to carry on the part of
the all-conquering queen off the stage; to see her admirers, her
slaves, and those she fooled, at her feet.

The whole _corps de ballet_ were here assembled in the dresses in which
they had appeared on the stage; the chorus and singers wearing their
rich costumes of Persian and Median nobles. The male aristocracy of St.
Petersburg, young and old, were there assembled. As the hostess appeared
in the ballroom, leaning on Chevalier Galban's arm, the band, concealed
behind the balcony of the gallery, struck up a welcoming overture; the
guests cheered, and those nearest pressed round to kiss her hands.

However, things were not long destined to proceed so smoothly.

In the middle of the ballroom was standing a police-agent in full
uniform, his helmet on his head. Going forward to meet the hostess and
her cavalier, and bowing stiffly, he made a hissing sound which was
supposed to stand for _Sudar_ and _Sudarinja_ ("Monsieur" and "Madame").

"His Excellency the President of Police bids you take notice that at the
stroke of twelve to-night the great fast has begun, and all dancing,
music, and entertainments of every description are in consequence
prohibited. Such being the case, monsieur and madame's guests are to
return forthwith to their own houses, and monsieur and madame, the host
and hostess, to retire to their apartments. Monsieur and madame--"

Here Zeneida burst into a merry laugh; while Galban inwardly cursed the
Minister of Police, who by his clumsy zeal was in danger of spoiling the
excellent plan he and Araktseieff had together made out.

Zeneida drawing three golden-shaped arrows from her hair, handed them to
the sergeant of police.

"Go back to your chief and show him these symbols. From them he will
recognize that Assyria's queen challenges the Prince of Sarmatia to
combat."

The words were over the head of the agent of police, but he took the
golden arrows.

"Then I shall be compelled to take your names. Yours, sir, is--"

"Caracalla," replied Galban, readily, "and this lady is my wife."

The police-agent duly entered in his book, "Herr Caracallus and Madame
Caracalla"; then turned to a gentleman who had just entered, Prince
Ghedimin. "And what is your name?"

"Rainbow. Here is my card."

It may be mentioned that hundred-ruble notes are called "rainbows" on
account of their gay coloring. The name pleased the agent of police so
well that he evinced no further curiosity. With obsequious bow he wished
the company a pleasant evening, drank a bottle of champagne on his way
out, pinched the cheek of a pretty ballet-girl, then hastened back to
make his truthful report to the President of Police that all was quiet
and dark at Palace Ilmarinen as in a church, and not a soul waking save
the house porter.

But this was not the sole interruption that night. Scarce had the agent
of police taken his departure before the organist and chaplain of the
Protestant church appeared. The chaplain began a honeyed speech,
probably to the effect that he hoped the lady of the house, as a good
Protestant, would not give cause of offence to the faithful of the State
religion by desecrating the first night of so holy a fast by
entertaining so motley a crew of the worshippers of Baal.

But Zeneida did not suffer him to proceed.

"Go back and tell your superintendent, my dear sir," said Zeneida, "that
I am holding the rehearsal of a grand concert, which I intended to give
during Lent in aid of the building of the Protestant church-tower."

Chaplain and organist were fully pacified. Going back they announced
that the zealous and religious lady had begun the great fast with a good
work for the benefit of the Church.

And now, at length, the doors could be shut; now there would be no
further interruptions from without, and those present would not be
leaving until to-morrow night had set in.

Chevalier Galban judged it advisable to resign the lady of the house to
Prince Ghedimin.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Prince--Chevalier Galban."

"A name world-renowned. And one all-powerful among the ladies."

"I may perhaps claim in that respect to have kept up my reputation
to-day. See, Prince, the bracelet round this bouquet. Do you not
recognize it? And this?" And he drew forth from his waistcoat-pocket the
silver whistle which had formed the handle of Princess Ghedimin's
riding-whip.

Ivan recognized his own crest upon it.

"These are the two conflicting _souvenirs_ of this morning's stag-hunt
and to-night's triumph."

"And it is you who have formed the connecting link."

Prince Ghedimin was on the point of shaking hands with the Chevalier for
having made conquest of his wife, and thus enabling his beloved to go
scot-free; but in this he was prevented by the young man we have heard
called Pushkin, who, pressing in between the Prince and Galban,
intercepted the intended hand-shake by a demonstrative embrace.

"Zdravtvujtjé Galban! I am Pushkin!"

"Ah, Pushkin! Bravo! I have heard of you. You are a Russian edition of a
perfected Paris _bon vivant_."

"Proud of the title!" None the less, he was anything but proud of it.
You cannot offer a poet a worse insult than to credit him with a quality
which has no relation to Parnassus. Still, Galban was no censor; he
could not know how many of the bard's great works were lying low,
massacred under the murderous red pencil. "Proud, my dear fellow, to act
Rinaldo to the St. Petersburg dare-devils, and in that capacity your
modest Epigon. Permit me, without delay, to make you known to some of
the prettiest girls of our party to-night."

So saying, he passed his arm under that of Galban, and in rollicking
fashion led him into the thick of the throng.

The Chevalier was content. It was his immediate task to make as many
acquaintances as possible among the malcontents here assembled. To this
end the guidance of so open-hearted and loquacious a comrade was highly
acceptable. All the same, he soon had reason to find he had been a
little mistaken in him.

The first individual with whom Pushkin made Chevalier Galban acquainted
was the English ambassador, Mr. Black.

Mr. Black had only one leg; his other was an artificial one, which,
however, in no wise prevented his taking part in every country dance to
the very end of the programme. Moreover, all his movements were as
automatic as if head and arms were on springs, and as if he took himself
to pieces every night before going to bed.

"Mr. Black, the best fellow in the world! He neither understands
French, German, Greek, nor Russian. In fact, he only speaks English; and
that we none of us know, so he is dumb to us. All the same, he is jolly
as a sand-boy. A year or two ago he had one man about him with whom he
could converse, his secretary. Unfortunately he took the poor devil with
him one day in December, when it was atrociously cold, to the Alexander
Nevski church-yard, to see the fine show of tombstones. A granite
obelisk took the secretary's fancy uncommonly. On the way home my fine
fellow partook somewhat too plentifully of brandy, to keep the cold out,
and froze to death. Mr. Black carted him off to the stone-mason, then
and there, and bought for him an obelisk like the one he had admired so
much."

The ambassador, guessing that his praises were being sung, duly put in
motion that part of his mechanism necessary for bringing a smile to his
face; then shook the Chevalier's hand violently, and without more ado
took possession of Galban's other arm. And now both men towed their
victim along, until they came face to face with a third man, whom
Pushkin introduced to the Chevalier with the words--

"Sergius Sumikoff Alexievitsch."

"Ah, the renowned conjuror! I have heard of your fame far and wide."

The very word "conjuring," and, above all, the notion of befooling
others for the general amusement, had just then become the fashion, in
Paris especially--of course to be readily imitated in St. Petersburg.

"But you have not heard his latest," broke in Pushkin, "the story about
the negro? I must tell it you; it is such a joke. Sumikoff painted his
face jet black, and gave himself out to be Prince Milinkoff's black
slave. We were all in the fun, save Count Petroniefsky; he was to be
fooled. Mungo played the piano and guitar, spoke Greek, Latin, declaimed
Schiller, uncommonly rare acquirements in a negro slave. Moreover, he
had all kinds of interesting details to tell, among others, how, when
king in his native land, he had had his prime-minister, convicted of
theft, crushed to death in a mortar. Petroniefsky, awfully taken with
the fellow, goes to Milinkoff, and offers to purchase him. Milinkoff at
first refuses; he is his favorite slave, can't part with him, etc. At
length they settle the matter for six thousand rubles. On receiving the
purchase-money Milinkoff gives his friend a hint to keep a sharp eye on
the fellow, as he is deucedly fond of giving his owner the slip. The
count answers, he'll see to that. Of course, the very first night
Sumikoff washes off his Chinese black, and quietly takes himself off,
without any concealment, through the open palace gates. We ordered a
jolly supper for the six thousand rubles, and Petroniefsky has no idea
to this day that it was he who paid the piper. He still daily routs up
the unlucky police officials to bring him back his negro."

Every one laughed, Galban, with the others, all the time thinking, "Does
my new friend really think with such worn-out anecdotes to keep me in
pawn, and prevent my seeing that for which I came?"

And he did see it. He was an adept in the art of recognizing people from
description, and amidst the noisiest surroundings to find that of which
he was in search.

First among the crowded rooms, he made out the man described to him as
Krizsanowski, and soon after the man called Pestel. He seemed to be all
eyes for the conjuror's clever doings, the while he was closely watching
the two men to see if they accosted each other. Would they approach
Prince Ghedimin and Zeneida? Neither of these things took place. Did
they accidentally come across each other, they simply passed each other
by without even a look; on the whole, they seemed rather to avoid
Zeneida. In between the crowd of merry, noisy dancers he perceived many
a striking face, yet none of them seemed to have anything in common one
with another. Now Pushkin made a proposition.

"Why should not we four have a game of _ombre_?"

Chevalier Galban saw through it. Not a bad dodge to pin him to a
card-table in some dark corner for the remainder of the night.

"Thanks. I only play hazard."

"Humph! Strictly forbidden here."

"As is ball-giving in Lent," returned Galban, laughing.

Now a fresh procession riveted the general attention. "The gypsies!"
went from mouth to mouth.

In Russia, as in Hungary, the gypsy is the minstrel of national song. It
is curious that in Hungary instrumental music is the gypsies' art, while
in Russia it is singing. Troops of them go from town to town as choral
societies, and never fail at entertainments given at the houses of the
great.

The group of some four-and-twenty men and women, clad in their
picturesque Oriental costume, formed themselves into a circle in the
ballroom, and began their songs of wood and valley, while one of them, a
girl, represented in her dance the subject of their song.

"By Jove! come and look at our black pearl," said Pushkin, by the aid of
his friend drawing Galban into the circle. "Bravo, Diabolka! Show
yourself worthy of your name. Look how supple she is! she is a very
devil! Every one of her gestures is enticement. See how her eyes
sparkle! All the fires of hell are burning in them! Enviable they who do
penance there. And when, with downcast eyes, she casts you a melancholy
glance from beneath those long silken lashes, you think she must be on
the verge of swooning. But, beware, the tiger can bite."

The wild gypsy girl, suddenly starting from her lifeless statuesque
posture, here sprang upon Chevalier Galban, and threw her arms around
him.

"By Jove! the comedy is well planned," thought Chevalier Galban to
himself. "Here am I fast bound in the arms of this gypsy. My friends,
the conspirators, know how to set about things."

"Bravo, Diabolka!" applauded Pushkin; and in a trice the three gentlemen
had disappeared from Galban's side; it was unnecessary to watch him
longer. Once Diabolka's net was spun about him, he was caught and
meshed.

Chevalier Galban saw through this also. Yet he was too much a man of the
world, and appreciated pretty women too keenly, to turn from the offered
cup. Accepting the situation, he led her to the buffet, to the ballroom,
to the palm-grove, everywhere, in fact, as faithful cavalier, keeping
the two men, however, always in sight. He began to observe that they
whom he thus watched were also watching him, and to feel convinced that
they would not leave the noisy, overflowing reception-rooms as long as
they saw him there. He planned a stratagem.

As he made the tour of the rooms for the second time with Diabolka he
promised to marry her, and in sign of the betrothal drew off a ring and
placed it on her finger. The girl forgot to ask him his name; but she
well knew the name of the stone that flashed in the ring. It was a
diamond.

"And when you are my husband will you come with me to our encampment
where we mend pots and kettles, and feast on the sheep we have stolen?"

"Not so. When you are my wife you shall come with me into my castle.
There you shall dress yourself in new dresses five times a day, and eat
off silver dishes as if every day were our wedding-day."

"I will tell your fortune with cards; then we will see which is the true
prophecy. Come! Let us hide away in some corner, where no one can see
us."

Diabolka, it appeared, was perfectly at home. She knew exactly where to
press the spring in the wainscot which should open a secret door. Within
this door was a tempting hiding-place, roomy enough for a cooing pair.
The door closed after them. In the crowded rooms one couple was not
missed. In the middle of the little retreat was a round table. On giving
this table a twist it sank, to come up again spread with a tempting
refection, among which champagne, cooled in ice, was not wanting.

Chevalier Galban smiled. So this was the idea. And to make it more
secure they had shut the cat in with the mouse. Poor fools! They think
to catch a serpent in a mouse-trap! Meanwhile, why not amuse himself?
The enemy must be allowed time to get into battle-array. They believe
him disposed of already. And now, safe from his sharp eyes, the
initiated will be betaking themselves to the place of meeting. But where
is this place of meeting? In what hidden portion of this mysterious
building? These and like thoughts rush through his brain. Tschirr! a
sound of shattered glass falling in a thousand pieces on the table.

"When I am by your side, I forbid you to think of anything else. When
you can look into my eyes, do not stare out into the wide world. Or are
you afraid of me? Don't you drink?"

Galban soon proved to her that he was not afraid of her, and that he did
drink. Seizing the bottle, he drank. He may have had his reasons for
thus drinking direct out of the bottle. No sleeping potion can be mixed
with a bottle of champagne, for, once opened, it forces its way out;
while a drug can be easily conveyed into a glass.

Chevalier Galban's suspicion that they might seek to disarm him by means
of a narcotic is the more easily explained in that he himself was
carrying a similar medium in his waistcoat-pocket, with the idea of
ridding himself of any inconvenient obstacle did it come in his way.

But one cannot listen to two things at a time, the beating of one's
heart and the tick of the clock. Galban knew this from experience. He
must rid himself betimes of the dark beauty. They were drinking by turns
from the bottle. One such bottle must do the work for her. Four-fifths
of a champagne bottle standing in ice is frozen; the sleeping powder
shaken into it can only mix with that which remains fluid. The first who
drinks receives the opiate; the next one, drinking the wine as it melts,
takes no harm.

Diabolka's wild abandonment suddenly seemed to give place to a certain
exhaustion; her arms sank wearily to her side; she began to yawn; her
head fell back. For an instant she pulled herself together as though
shaking off the inertia. She must not sleep now when some great danger
might be threatening without. She reached out her hand for the
water-jug. But the potion had been too powerful. Going a step or two,
she staggered; in the act of pressing her hand to her head she fell
into a deep sleep. "Chain up the bear," she stammered. She was already
dreaming of the forest. Then she fell full length on to the ground.

Galban, lifting her on to the couch, pressed the spring. The secret door
opened to his touch, and he found himself once more in the palm-grove.
This was an amphitheatre, some six fathoms high, massed with the rarest
palms from India and Senegal, which in an atmosphere of artificial heat
and sunshine were being coaxed into flourishing in a land where winter
reigns nine months in the year.

Hidden behind a giant cactus, Chevalier Galban peered into the adjacent
apartment, intent upon discovering whether the men he had previously
marked were taking part in the Eleusinian mysteries. None were visible.
It was in truth a _masked_ ball; the ball was the mask, and they who
wore the mask were no longer present.

Where were they then?

All had disappeared, even Pushkin, the head and front of the revels.

He resolved to go in search of them. It was a difficult and dangerous
undertaking. It meant beginning a search in a vast place, utterly
strange to him, to which he had no clew; it meant avoiding any he might
meet, deceiving those who noticed him by simulated intoxication--a
drunken man, not knowing whither he was going; it meant the risk of
being kicked out from intrusive disturbance of flirting couples. And
even if at length he find the spot whither the conspirators had retired,
it is only too probable that some watch would be kept to warn them of
the approach of a suspected person. This watchman he must murder, his
pistol at his breast; for where a guard is necessary, a conspiracy
lurks behind the portal. Then to force his way in. If the doors be
closed, suspicion is well founded. Then is the palace doomed; if need
be, razed to the last stone. If the doors stand open, then to enter with
the words, "In the name of the Czar, you are my prisoners!" Possible
that they may overpower him, but far more likely that they will not. A
detected conspiracy is demoralizing; to say, "If I do not return to
Araktseieff by to-morrow morning, all who are here to-night will fall
into the hands of justice," will be to lame them and bring them to his
feet. Moreover, it is his profession. One man dies in one way, one in
another. The soldier knows the enemy will fire upon him, yet he goes
forward; the sailor knows the sea is treacherous, yet he trusts himself
to it. One man bows his head to the executioner's axe, another bares his
breast to the dagger. In both it is heroism.

And suppose he should find the missing guests round the board of green
cloth, instead of round "the green book," staking their money at the
prohibited roulette-table? _Eh bien!_ then he would join them, and say
nothing to Araktseieff. It would not be a gentleman-like thing to tell
upon them.

In his search he had, in a measure, an Ariadne clew, like that strewn
sand which, according to the fable, served to guide the lost child out
of the wood.

Zeneida had returned from the opera in her costume as Semiramide, her
wealth of reddish golden hair interwoven with real pearls. When
Chevalier Galban, on her triumphal return to the palace, had assisted
the _diva_ to remove the bashlik from her head, he had, unseen and
purposely, severed one of the strings of pearls in her hair. For a time
the thick masses of hair might hold them together, but it was unlikely
that in moving hither and thither one should not occasionally fall to
the ground.

He had already picked up one in the palm-grove; she had, therefore,
passed through there. The second he found in a corridor; a third
betrayed to him the threshold of the apartments into which she had
disappeared. Where she is, there must the others be.



CHAPTER IX

THE BOARD OF GREEN CLOTH AND THE GREEN BOOK


The room in which the "Confederation of the North" held its meetings was
provided with double doors--a circumstance by no means uncommon in
Russian palaces, in order that there should be no spying through
keyholes, no listening at doors.

The centre of the room was taken up by a massive table, or rather a
great chest, the upper part of which formed a roulette-table.

The rolls of gold--probably sovereigns (bank-notes are not used in
roulette)--are laid out in rows, beside which is placed the croupier's
long scoop. Each new-comer, as he enters, takes his seat at the table
and puts down his purse before him. But there is no play--in fact, it is
a mere sham. At each arrival the opening of the outer door sets the
table in motion, the noise of the rotary ball calling the attention of
those present to the fact that some one is coming. Thus there is no fear
of surprises.

The introductions are performed by the lady of the house--a necessary
ceremony, for on this occasion there are people who have never met
before--accredited agents, representatives of secret societies which
have been formed in the remotest corners of the Russian dominion. The
president and keeper of the privy seal of the Northern Confederation is
Prince Ghedimin; the secretary, Ryleieff, is a young poet, and agent of
the American corn trade.

Of the three brothers Turgenieff, Nicholas, the historian, is present;
as well as Colonel Lunin, the proprietor of the secret press; Bestuseff,
Kuchelbäcker, Commandant of Artillery. There are also Vaskofsky, Chief
of the "Welfare Union"; Muravieff, the representative of the "United
Slavs"; and Orloff, the life and soul of the "Patriots." All are
distinct secret societies; yet all are united in one aim, "Freedom"
(freedom under the snow)--their mode of procedure, action, the
instruments employed, wholly diverse. For this reason they have arranged
the present meeting, in order to unite the various opposing plans into
one common form of action. To this conference they have called the
president of the "Southern Confederation," Colonel Pestel, from the
far-off shores of the Black Sea, and the still more distant chief of the
Caucasian "Barbarians," Jakuskin. But of all, he who has come from the
remotest part (for he had had to wade through the sea of blood which
separates the two countries) was the spokesman of the Polish
"Kosinyery," Krizsanowski. All these men wear uniforms, save Ryleieff,
who is of the burgher class, and who wears a modern blue frock-coat with
gold buttons; all are beardless, with clean-shaven faces; only the Pole
preserves the national type; and Jakuskin, whose shaggy eyebrows join
his tousled beard, represents the wild Cossack, and seems, by his rough,
neglected exterior, to bid defiance to the civilized world.

There is something written on the foreheads of all these men.

Zeneida stands by the door to receive the new-comers, until the room
fills up. Conversation is not loud; each seems to be conferring with the
spirit which has led him hither.

The rolling of the roulette ball is heard yet again.

"Who can still be coming?" asks Zeneida.

Pushkin appears on the threshold.

Zeneida's countenance involuntarily assumes an expression of alarm.

"Why do you come here?" she whispers, excitedly, to him.

"Is it not permitted?"

"Did I not commission you to watch Galban, that he might not take us by
surprise?"

"I found a better guardian for him. Diabolka has got him in the
mouse-trap."

"But your responsibility remains."

"I will go back as soon as I can do so without exciting attention. At
present, I stay here. Introduce me!"

"What a child you are! Are you not consumed with curiosity to know what
we are about here?"

"I wish to take my part in it."

"What wilfulness! Of course you imagine lives are going to be risked,
and must needs stake yours for sake of the glory. Well, stay here. You
shall see. Herr Pushkin!" And she turned her back upon him, as if in
anger, while making the introduction.

Zeneida was the accredited agent of the whole union. Whom she invited to
her palace was received as a "Brother"; to whom she confided any work
was ranked among the "Men"; but to take part in secret conferences and
to be promoted to be a "Bojar" required a further recommendation.

"Who else stands security for him?" asked Prince Ghedimin.

"I," answered Ryleieff.

Upon which room was at once made for Pushkin at the table.

His was a fine head. The curly hair and form of the nose recalled the
African blood which ran in his veins, one of his forefathers having
taken to wife a daughter of Hannibal, the negro slave promoted by Peter
the Great to be a general. His eyes were dark and deep-set, yet, despite
the irregular features, one could trace in the expression a resemblance
to Byron. Pushkin was in love with Zeneida--that is, he raved about her.
Zeneida was deeply in love with Pushkin, therefore she did not want him
really to love her.

A word will clear up this seeming paradox. Zeneida knew too well that he
who united his fate to hers must inevitably meet some dark doom, in the
background of which loomed the scaffold. Finland had been reduced to
subjection by the same power against which these secret societies were
waging war, and Zeneida could still remember her mother's tears, and the
plain black coffin brought by stealth to her home one dark night,
wherein lay the corpse of a headless man for whom they dared not even
mourn. Only when she was grown up had she learned that that man was her
father. She loved Pushkin far too dearly to lead him on that perilous
path on which men risk their heads. She had dreamed of a happier,
sunnier lot for him. She had long detected in the wild, restless youth
that genius that had not been given him to make the lion of a lady's
boudoir--a genius which belonged, not to Russia only, but to the whole
world. A poet was not thus to be wasted. Why load the gun with a charge
of diamonds when common lead would answer the purpose equally well, nay,
better!

"Gentlemen," said Zeneida, addressing those assembled. "I will first
request our brother Ryleieff to read to us the verses we are to spread
among the people. To prepare the minds of the people is, indeed, the
main object." (General applause.)

Ryleieff, the poet, a fair, slim, handsome young man, here rising,
produced the verses he had written.

It was a fine, noble-toned poem, perfectly rhythmical, and true to every
rule of composition. The rhetorical warmth rising gradually to an
impassioned climax, the under-current expressing that deep spirit of
yearning melancholy which harmonizes so entirely with the spirit of the
people.

The poem recited, all united to congratulate the youthful Tyrtæus; while
Zeneida, with eyes filled with tears, kissed him on both cheeks.

Pushkin, annoyed, looked away. For a woman to kiss a man is the accepted
custom in Russian society. Ghedimin scarcely heeded Zeneida's action,
and he certainly had the best right to demur; but Pushkin was plainly
annoyed by it. He envied Ryleieff: envied him the kiss; how much more
the poem which answered its purpose--_faute de mieux_!

"The verses are splendid!" exclaimed Prince Ghedimin. "We will have a
million copies of them struck off in Lunin's press, and distributed
among the peasants."

"You forget, Prince," put in Zeneida, "that our peasants cannot read. I
would suggest it were more practical to have the poem set to music, that
it might be diffused more rapidly among them. In that way it would pass
from field to field; mowers, reapers, wagoners, would carry it from
village to village, and what is once sung among them never dies out. In
our Finnish _Volkslieder_ has lived the history of the nation, the
traditions of its historical life, its freedom. These no man can take
away. The _Marseillaise_ alone raised an army in France."

"But to whom confide the setting of it to music?" asked the Prince.

"Here is Herr Pushkin," said Zeneida. "He composes charming melodies."

Pushkin felt as if stung by a tarantula.

He compose the melody to Ryleieff's song of freedom! Subordination can
be carried to a nicety of perfection. A state councillor, when he puts
on the uniform of a private of volunteers, may find he has to obey the
orders of his own chancery clerk and corporal; or a duke, if he become a
freemason, have to make obeisance to a bootmaker, as master of the
lodge; but for one poet to be called upon to write the music to another
poet's effusion, when he feels himself to be Cæsar and the other man
Pompey, is a sheer impossibility.

Pushkin's face crimsoned.

"To the best of my belief, the words and air of the _Marseillaise_ were
composed at one and the same time. Rouget de l'Isle wrote them together.
Nor can it be otherwise. The poet alone can find the fitting
inspiration. Ryleieff's poem is fine, very fine, but it does not inflame
and excite one. To such an end the fire of enthusiasm is a necessity."
And unconsciously he slapped his breast, as though to say, "And it is
here."

"Do you know, Pushkin," said Zeneida, "if you are really feeling the
poetic ardor of which you speak--if you think you can compose something
better than we have here, you could not do better than to retire into
this little side chamber; there you will find piano and writing-table.
Give us something better suited to our purpose!"

Pushkin was caught.

"Why not? I will write you a song which the peasant will not need to
take first to the priest to have its meaning explained to him."

And with that he looked straight into Zeneida's eyes, with a look which
said, "If you can bestow a kiss for Ryleieff's rhymes, what will you
give me when I put on paper the words that burn in my heart?"

Rising, he repaired to the inner room. Soon the sound of chords showed
him to be deep in poetic creation. When once thus absorbed, a man does
not lightly break off.

Zeneida had no better wish for him.

As Pushkin left the room Zeneida turned the roulette-board. The ball
stopped at Nicholas Turgenieff. He was thus made President of the
Council that day, and accordingly took the chair--made to resemble that
of the banker of a roulette-table.

And now Prince Ghedimin, drawing out a delicate little polished key,
which fitted into a keyhole revealed by pushing aside a brass button,
handed it to the President, who turned it twice in the lock. Hereupon
the copper slab, upon which the roulette-board was fixed, slid to the
other end of the long table, disclosing, in the part thus laid open,
"the green book." One single lamp hanging from the ceiling illuminated
the figures of those sitting there, looking, by its light, like statues
in a museum; every feature seemed to gain in sharpness of outline; their
immobility lending character and determination to their faces; so many
historical subjects destined either to rise to eminence, the idols of
the people, or to fall under the hand of the executioner. In those few
moments, devoted to silent reflection, which each man seemed to be
engaged in studying his neighbor, many were looking upon the other for
the first time, and appeared to be mentally comparing the reality with
the ideal previously formed. The members of the Southern Confederation
had never before met their Polish brother. Many of them had seen
Jakuskin ten years before, but then he was a merry youth with
clean-shaven face. That has all disappeared. He is now a wild man of the
woods, who only smiles when he speaks of murder. Leaning against the
President's chair is Zeneida; attitude and figure alike recall statues
of the "Republic," only that instead of a dagger she holds a bouquet in
her hand sent her by her rival. A dagger in disguise. Besides those we
have already named, the following historical personages were present:
the three brothers Bestuseff, Prince Trubetzkoi Obolensky, Korsofski,
Urbuseff, Peslien, Orloff, Konovitzin, Odojefski, Setkof, Sutsin,
Battenkoff, Rostopschin, Rosen, Steinkal, Arsibuseff, Annenkoff,
Oustofski, and Muravieff Apostol, all representatives of the many
wide-spread secret societies.

Ryleieff, the secretary, opened "the green book."

The President desired him to read out the business done during the last
sitting.

It concerned the working out of a plan of constitutional government for
the whole Russian empire; its title--"Ruskaja Pravda." It was a republic
in which every province that the Russian despot had annexed to form one
vast empire was to arise as an independent state under its individual
president--Great Russia, Little Russia, Finland, Poland, Livland, Kasan,
Siberia, the Crimea, the Caucasus; nine republics with one government
and one army, under the control of one Directorate, to hold its sittings
at Moscow.

The Republic needed no St. Petersburg. Neither the "Saint," nor the
"Peter," nor the "burg" (city).

The device upon the plan was--

Question: "Will Europe in fifty years' time be republican or Russian?"

To which the answer was--"Both."

This plan of constitution was painted with the colors of a glowing
fancy. First, to free every people, and then to unite all free peoples!
None to be oppressed by the other. Each to be left to choose his own way
to prosperity, speak his own tongue, cultivate his own land. No more
hatred or jealousy among nations.

So it stood in "the green book."

Prince Ghedimin was the first to speak.

"It is a grand idea; but the greatest obstacle in the way of freeing the
people is that the people are unconscious of their servitude. Let it be
our part to make it clear to them. Let us flood the land with catechisms
of the 'free man'; let us study the special grievances of every race in
the provinces; learn to know their want and misery, and win them to the
cause of freedom by promising them redress. A people suffers when it is
hungry; has to submit to blows; has its sons taken off to be soldiers;
but it is ignorant of the yoke that is bowing down its neck."

Pestel waited impatiently until he could speak.

"My dear Prince, your plan may be very good for such as can afford to
wait fifty years and build card houses, which fall to pieces at every
current of air. We have not the time to devote to philosophical
theories. We count upon the army and the aristocracy. The power once in
our hands, we can take our measures to secure the education of the
masses. A revolution left in their hands would lead to another Pugatsef
revolt."

"And would that be a bad thing?" asked Jakuskin, in a hoarse voice,
advancing to them from the corner where he was seated.

"It would be bad because there could be no organization. He who would
carry out our scheme must be master of the situation. In Russia, the
successful leader of an insurgent movement would only be another tyrant.
Our scheme must be carried out simultaneously, at the word of command,
throughout all Russia. No sooner that done than every secret society is
abandoned, and we suppress all conspiracies; and, hateful as is now the
system of police detectives, it must, in future, be raised to an
honorable calling. Every man of mind, every free man, and every patriot
must be proud to make himself a police-agent of a free country. All this
must come about at the stroke of a magic wand."

"And what do you propose to do under the stroke of the magic wand with
the Czar and the Grand Dukes?" asked Jakuskin, with chilling irony.

"Make them prisoners, convey them on board a man-of-war, and ship them
off to the New World."

"Humph! to the other world! In Charon's boat," hissed out the Caucasian
soldier; and, going up to the table, he struck it with his clinched
fist. "Hark ye, envoys of the North and South, members of your various
virtuous and benevolent societies, you are all on a wrong tack, you
deceive yourselves. There is but one answer to the question I put to
you: scatter their ashes to the four winds. I am no puling child, such
as you are. I have not covered two thousand versts to come here and hear
you thresh out your philosophical theses; I am here to act."

Ryleieff here interrupted the speaker with quiet dignity.

"Quite right. But you will act as the majority decide."

At this call to order the vehement Caucasian's blood boiled within him.

"Once I was young like you, Ryleieff; but that is long past. Once I,
too, believed that one only needed to be a good man one's self to make
the world better. I, too, had then as young and lovely a betrothed as
you now have; I was an officer in the guards, and at twenty had
distinguished myself in ten battles. And do you know what happened to
me? The evening before my wedding-day, Araktseieff's son, a worthless
fellow who did not even know how to buckle on his sword, and who had
been made colonel over me, stole away my bride. I challenged him in
mortal combat, and the dastardly coward, instead of accepting my
challenge, denounced me to the Czar, and I was exiled to the Caucasus.
As, with hell in my heart, I was taking my leave of the city, the last
thing that met my eyes was the body of a drowned girl brought to me. It
was my bride. I kissed her. I still feel the chill of that kiss upon my
lips, and I shall feel it until the blood wipes it out, for which I long
as keenly as any cannibal. When you are in Czarskoje Zelo look at a
certain finely painted battle-piece. Close behind the Czar you will see
a youth on a rearing horse, a youth wielding his sword high in air, his
face beaming with triumph and loyalty. That youth was I! Years have
quenched my enthusiasm; but my sword still swings over his head."

"And so I trust it may remain, ever wielded on high as in the picture."

"But that it will not!" cried Jakuskin, vehemently. "I swear it by the
devil they sent into my heart as its constant indweller, I will listen
to naught else but my eternal vengeance! You may fill your 'green book'
with resolutions--this is my determination!" And as he waved his arm
aloft, he extracted a hidden dagger from his coat-sleeve, and displayed
its glittering surface to the company.

Horrified, Ryleieff, springing up, drew forth a pistol from a
side-pocket and levelled it at Jakuskin's breast.

"And I swear that I will shoot you down on the spot if you venture to
assert yourself against our rules."

"Very well, then, shoot me down! Fire away, boy!" growled Jakuskin,
tearing open his coat and presenting his bare breast to the mouth of the
pistol. "And learn from me how to die."

"Obey the rules, Jakuskin! Take back your word!" shouted several, as
they rushed up to pacify the infuriated man.

"I will not withdraw it! You are cowards, all! He shall fire!" he
shouted back, roughly pushing them away.

"Gentlemen!" exclaimed Krizsanowski, the Pole, rising.

"Shoot me down!" roared Jakuskin, continuing to wave his dagger.

Then it was that Zeneida, drawing a hyacinth from out her bouquet, aimed
it at the raging man's forehead. And the seasoned man, who had never
known what it was to shrink from a bullet, was so confused by this
playful projectile that, letting fall the dagger from his hand, he put
his hand to his brow.

A quiet smile passed over the faces of those present, and before the
Caucasian could recover his dagger, Zeneida was beside him, had picked
it up from the ground, restored it to him, and was stroking his beard
with caressing action.

"Dear friend, be courteous. Our guest Krizsanowski, the delegate of the
Polish 'Kosynyery,' wishes to speak. Let us listen to him, and put this
shaving apparatus away!"

Jakuskin calmed down. This delicate woman had more than once stepped in
to spread oil on the waves of the most impassioned debates when, dagger
or pistol in hand, the disputants seemed bent on doing one another a
violence.

And now Krizsanowski, hat in hand, began:

"Gentlemen, I wish to bid farewell to you. I will not enter upon the
subject under discussion with you, nor have I any desire to await the
resolution arrived at. I will not listen to the question of murdering
the Czar, still less will I submit to be bound by your decisions. There
is not one among you who has endured such wrongs; not one among you who
carries such grief in his heart as I. What did your sovereign, as its
king, do with your country? He freed it from foreign conquest, made it
great and powerful, added new territory to it. What did he do with your
people? He gave them prosperity and knowledge, and erected a school in
every one of your villages. What is your ruler? A noble mind in a noble
body--'the handsomest man in all Europe,' as Napoleon said of him--and
with heart as good as he looks. And the most remarkable thing about him
is that, in every fault, in every feeling, he is a Russian to the
backbone. His only crime in your eyes is that he is the Czar. And to you
that is crime enough to make him die. And what is my ruler, the Czar's
brother, Constantine? A monster, in whose very face nature has curiously
wedded the hideous with the ridiculous; and his hideous features are a
true mirror of the hideous promptings of his soul. He is what he seems
to be--cruel and contemptible. In the whole extent of my poor, unhappy
nation there is not one feeling heart which he has not trampled upon; no
article of value, no relic, no Church money, he has not appropriated to
himself. But a Pole would see in that no cause to treacherously murder
his king. A Pole's hand is accustomed to the sword; it knows not the use
of a dagger. Let me take leave of you; I would go back to my people. I
came hither in the belief that I should find here brave men ready for
battle; who, at the appointed hour, would range themselves in fighting
order, and declare war upon their oppressors as do we, who fight in open
battle--as do we who, in open and honorable warfare, settle on whose
side is the right. Such I thought to find here. On my journey hither, on
the way from Warsaw to the Niemen, my predecessor, glorious Valerian
Lukasinski, was being conveyed before me--he whom treachery had given
over to the authorities. He was my relative, friend, and leader--trebly
dear to me. He had been subjected to every species of physical and
mental torture in order to make him reveal the aims of and participators
in the conspiracy. They had not succeeded in drawing a word out of him.
Constantine himself took the knout from the executioner's hands, and
taught him how to use the agonizing implement. When Lukasinski was
wellnigh flayed to death, no sign of humanity left in him, only one mass
of bleeding flesh and bones and gaping wounds, the viceroy had him laid
bound on a gun-carriage, and had this still breathing, bleeding mass
dragged to his captivity through the rigor of mid-winter. I followed his
track guided by the drops of blood which fell on the snow. Those frozen
drops I gathered up one by one on the way, and placed them in a
reliquary. Heaven had compassion on the sufferer; he died on the road.
They made a hole in the ice of the river Niemen, and threw the body in;
the current carried it off to the sea. I know that I shall follow him,
and that my end will be like his. Still that knowledge neither moves me
from fear or revengeful feeling to lie in ambush and murderously strike
my ruler in the back at any time, when he may be sleeping, or kneeling
in prayer! Our God was never a God of murder. The dagger which struck
down Cæsar but opened the door to Caligula and Heliogabalus. While
William Tell told Gessler to his face, 'With this arrow I will kill you.
Defend yourself as best you can!' I do likewise. When the time comes I
will declare war upon my enemies, and if God is with me, I shall destroy
them; but as long as I do not feel myself strong enough to engage in
open warfare, no oppression, no cruelty, and no fantastic ravings shall
lead me, by any untimely revolt, to draw the cord tighter, which I fain
would loose. Your plans are untimely, unripe, without sufficient basis;
they destroy, but do not build up again. I know them, and will not unite
our cause to yours. Let me go."

Pestel, seizing the Pole by the hand, held him back.

"You cannot go yet; you have learned nothing of our intentions. What you
have heard hitherto was only a weak, academical discussion. The words
this madman said were only the ravings of his mad passion. I, too, do
not inscribe upon my shield, 'Strew their ashes to the winds'; not
because my soul would shrink from it, but because such a dictum would
scatter our several societies like shots among a flock of birds. The
people themselves would turn against us. To the masses the prayer for
Czar and Grand Dukes is a necessity, and were the priest ever to leave
it out, they would hang him for a heretic. If I were to ask my soldiers,
'Do you want a republic?' they would straightway answer, 'Yes, if the
Czar commands.' We must begin at the beginning; we must not startle any
one. The first step is the difficulty; the others will follow of
themselves. Thus let us go back to the point where Jakuskin interrupted
us. And you, Krizsanowski, resume your seat. The question is the removal
of the Czar and Grand Dukes--their removal only. Let them go to America,
by all means. There Russia has noble possessions; there they can reign.
But to this end you Poles must lend us a helping hand. For what use
would it be to us to ship off the three brothers, when the fourth,
Constantine, who by fundamental law is next after Alexander in
succession to the throne, remains at large in Warsaw?"

"Let us clearly understand one another, Pestel," replied Krizsanowski.
"We Poles have ever been, since our first existence as a nation, ready
to shed our blood for the benefit of others. Tell me, what is to become
of us if we succeed in freeing ourselves from the Romanoffs?"

"Form Poland into a republic."

"But your Polish republic will still be a part of the vast Russian
dominions, just as Livland and Little Russia will be; and over us there
will be some one--a chief, who is lord over the nine republics, although
I know not what title or what amount of power he will possess. And I
swear to you I do not wish for a freedom that shall be the downfall of
my country."

The deep silence which ensued proved that the Pole had hit the right
nail upon the head. There was an expression of uneasy conviction on all
faces.

Then Nicholas Turgenieff, the president, rose to speak.

"Take comfort, Krizsanowski. The chief of the republic, he who will be
head of the nine republics, will be no autocrat, no tyrant under any
other name."

"What, then?"

"That which he must of necessity be--_un président sans phrases_."

The conversation had taken place in French. These four words had nearly
cost Turgenieff his estates and his head.

The words were scarce spoken, when the roulette-board suddenly slipped
back into its place, effectually concealing "the green book," and the
door opened. Copper-plate and door were an ingeniously constructed piece
of machinery. If "the green book" were exposed to view, and any one
opened the outer door, the roulette slid back instantly into its place.

Chevalier Galban, entering, only heard Nicholas Turgenieff's four last
words, and saw nothing but a gambling-table.

The banker repeated--

"Je suis un président sans phrases. Messieurs, faites vos jeux!"

One of the men playing--the Pole--rose from his seat with a disturbed
look--

"Merci, monsieurs, c'en était assez!"

Another, Jakuskin, drying the sweat from his brow, struck his hand on
the table--

"J'ai tout perdu!"

All as if it were a real roulette-table.

The others continued cold-bloodedly to lay their parcels of gold on the
numbers, seeming unaware of the new-comer's arrival.

The hostess only advanced quickly to greet him.

"I was certain that you would find out our den; I kept this seat for
you."

"You honor me too much, _diva_. I ought to have good luck in play
to-night, as I have just had the opposite fate in love."

"How is that? Did the pretty Gitanitza escape you?"

"_Au contraire_, she fell asleep. A checkmate such as never happened to
me before!"

Zeneida gave a merry laugh. No one could have divined under its mask the
agitation she was feeling. She knew that a sleeping-draught had been
given to Diabolka.

"Come along! let us be partners for gain or loss."

Chevalier Galban, accepting, took the seat allotted to him; Zeneida
seated herself on the arm of his chair.

So it is a roulette-table pure and simple, and the party assembled
gamblers. There is no "green book." A thickness of half an inch lay
between him and it--his arm rested on it.

Merely contravention of a police regulation--a thing winked at by the
authorities. Suppressed inclinations will find a vent--far better it
should be on moral than political domains. Nor is it any matter for
wonder that Nicholas Turgenieff should be the roulette banker. A man may
be a _bel esprit_, a great author, philosopher, philanthropist, and yet
have a passion for play. Even Napoleon was a gambler.

As the game was in full swing, Pushkin suddenly entered to them from a
side room with flushed cheeks, crying, in a tone of triumph:

"The song is ready."

The gamblers looked askance at him.

Now he would betray all.

Lucky for them all that his eyes had mechanically sought Zeneida's.

She, still sitting on the arm of Galban's chair, glanced significantly
at the Chevalier.

Pushkin saw him.

"Let us hear it," said Galban, toying with his pile of gold pieces.

Pushkin changed color for an instant as he stared at him, then plunged
his hand into his breast-pocket. All followed his movements anxiously.
What would he bring out? Perhaps the song of freedom, just composed; and
would he declaim or sing it, for Chevalier Galban's edification? Or
would he draw that which every conspirator carried, dancing or drinking,
a pointed stiletto to strike down the traitor then and there?

He drew out a packet of papers, smiling the while.

"Here is what I promised you, _The Romance of the Lovely Gypsy Girl_.
Shall I read it?"

A romance instead of a song of freedom? Why not? in order to cover an
untimely appearance, the wisest thing for a poet to do was to read or
recite something, no matter what, so that the others meanwhile could
recover their self-possession.

But this was no mere rhyming jingle. No sooner had he begun than the
attention of all was riveted on his verses. The poetic form was striking
and brilliant, the thought original, the conception fine; there were
fire, passion, audacity, and beauty of expression in it, united to a
natural grace and simplicity.

No one had heard the lines before. As he finished, Zeneida, hurrying up
to him, pressed both his hands in hers. She did not kiss him as she had
kissed Ryleieff, but the tears which flowed from her eyes were a higher
recompense. A kiss is cheap. Tears are costly.

The whole company of conspirators, forgetting alike "green book" and
reorganization, hastened to congratulate the poet, who suddenly, like a
comet from before which the wind has chased the clouds, found himself
revealed in all his glory.

Chevalier Galban was now convinced that this was no gathering of
conspirators, but merely a select assemblage who met for games of chance
and intellectual and literary interchange of thought--both prohibited,
it is true, in Russia--for which reason they were obliged to meet in
secret.

_Par exemple_, such verses would be public property in any other
country, and half the world would be running after the poet.

"Bah!" returned Pushkin, excited by the applause he had created. "Do you
not know that feebleness is the goddess we worship, and the priest of
her altar is called the 'Censor'?"

General laughter broke out at these cutting words. The Censor is as
stereotyped a marionette in Russia as in other countries. Galban seized
the opportunity to bring his talents as _agent provocateur_ into the
field.

"Yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, the Censor is a necessary evil among
us. You are aware that the Czarina Catherine II. once, at the instance
of her men of letters, commanded full freedom of the press in Russia
for--three days! It would be seen then what fruit the tree would bear.
It would have been thought that those three days would have proved a
harvest-time for songs of freedom, prohibited pamphlets, and
philosophical treatises to crawl out of their hiding-places, but the
result was only an avalanche of low slander and scurrilous anecdotes.
The press was flooded with a stream of scandalous personalities,
directed against well-known families and personages; so that already on
the second day of the freedom of the press the Czarina was besieged
with petitions to countermand the third day and reinstate the censure."

No one save Pushkin deemed it advisable to accept the proffered
challenge; but he, as a poet, could not suffer the liberty of the press
to be a mark for ridicule.

"Come, I say, Galban, if I were to tell a man who had never tasted wine
that he might drink what ran out from the bung-hole of a cask the third
day after the vintage, that man would swear that there was no such
disgusting stuff as wine in the world."

"Messieurs, je suis un président sans phrases. Le dernier jeu!" broke in
the banker's voice, interrupting the dangerous turn the conversation had
taken.

It was time, moreover, to finish the game; for if by five o'clock
Chevalier Galban had not left the palace, the police would have broken
open the doors, and every one in it have been arrested. The roulette was
turned for the last time. Chevalier Galban had won six thousand four
hundred rubles, which he gallantly shared with Zeneida. Then, with the
customary forms of good society, he took his leave.

The remaining company looked at one another. Every one well knew that
roulette was a mere farce among them. It was alike Zeneida's money which
furnished bank and players. Hence the general smile which went round on
Galban's winning a pile of his hostess's money and then courteously
sharing it with her.

But there was a glow of triumph on Zeneida's countenance, as, raising
the bouquet with its diamond-set holder in her hand, she murmured, in a
tone of angry satisfaction:

"Je le payais!"

Chevalier Galban had received back the price of his diamonds, without
ever suspecting that it had, so to speak, been thrown after him.



CHAPTER X

FROM SCENT OF MUSK TO REEKING TAR


When those assembled were assured of Galban's departure, Pestel began:

"My lords and gentlemen, that was very fine--I mean the romance; but it
seems to me we have met to discuss other matters. Is it not so, Cousin
Krizsanowski?"

The Polish noble shrugged his shoulders.

"I have nothing more to say." At the same time, drawing from his pocket
the inevitable meerschaum and tobacco-pouch, he slowly filled and
lighted his pipe, which in the Eastern "language of tobacco" implies, "I
should have plenty to say, if I could only smoke out from here certain
folk who seem suspicious to me."

Zeneida, understanding his meaning, whispered something in Ryleieff's
ear.

"All right," returned Ryleieff, "let us hear our Pushkin's song of
liberty. True, the fine romance you read us entitles us to name you our
Tyrtæus. Never, since Byron--"

Pushkin did not allow him to finish the sentence. His praises excited
him to fury. A schoolboy may win with pride the prize for the best
verses, and carry it home in triumph to his parents, but your true poet
cannot brook being praised to his face. He feels that he has constrained
your praises. Thus, if you be a woman, throw him a flower; if a man,
give him a shake of the hand; but never tell him face to face that he
has composed a fine poem; by so doing you repel him. And worse than all
is it for another poet to praise his work. "_Genus irritabile vatum._"

"No, no, gentlemen," he cried, in wrathful voice. "My poem is not for
your ears. It is not meant for musk-scented atmospheres, but for such as
reek with tar and tobacco. Come, Jakuskin, let us go off to some
beer-shop; that's the right place for it."

Springing up, Jakuskin held out his hand to him.

"All right, let us go to the Bear's Paw."

"Very well."

No one attempted to detain them. Between the two doors the rest of their
conversation was heard.

"Shall we take Diabolka with us?" said Jakuskin.

"All right. Let's look for her."

"She must have fallen asleep somewhere. I will soon wake her to life
again."

In this unceremonious fashion did the guests take their leave of their
hostess. Zeneida, however, following them, left the room.

"Now you can talk out," exclaimed Pestel, hurriedly, to Krizsanowski.
"Perhaps Zeneida's presence has hampered you. Have you anything to make
known to us?"

"Yes," replied the Pole. "But it was not her presence which deterred me.
Far from it. Women, when they are in a conspiracy, know well how to keep
secrets. Laena bit out her tongue on the wheel of torture that she might
not betray her colleagues. Ever since then the tongueless lioness has
been the emblem of silence. Oh, I reckon greatly upon our women. I would
even rather await Zeneida's return before speaking, were I assured that
she would not bring back the other two with her."

"You mistrust them?"

"No, but I do not like them. In conspiracies it is not the absolute
traitors who are the most to be feared. There are three classes I dread
more--cowards, self-willed and fantastic persons. The last is the most
dangerous of all, for he deceives himself, and reports falsely. If he
hear a drunken peasant swear, he reports the existence of a
revolutionary spirit; if he see a solitary deserter, he distorts him
into a whole regiment. He believes just what his fancy paints. If he has
filled his head with revolutionary writings he conceives himself to be a
Robespierre, and every St. Petersburg mujik is a Paris _sans culotte_ to
him. To the working out of a conspiracy we want no fantastic notions;
but, on the contrary, common-sense and judgment. With those two men I
prefer not to discuss matters; the one is a fool, the other a poet."

Pestel hastily pulled the Pole's long hanging sleeve.

"Do not affront Ryleieff," he said.

"Oh, Ryleieff is different. He can write any number of correct
verses--faultless as to rhyme; he measures his thoughts into iambics and
trochees, like a corn merchant does his wheat into bushels and sacks. He
is master of his imagination--imagination does not master him."

Ryleieff was manager of the American Corn Company, and being, in truth,
more business man than poet, received this doubtful compliment with an
acquiescent smile.

The party, meanwhile, had risen from the table, and was standing about
in little groups, awaiting Zeneida's return.

Ryleieff and Krizsanowski retired together into a corner. The Pole,
smoking furiously, blew thick clouds of smoke about him, as though
considering his rigid features a too transparent mask, likely to betray
him. And in order not to be questioned, he began to question.

"There are one or two points I should be glad to have cleared up. The
first spring of every great aim proceeds from selfish motives.
Freedom--well, yes, is the sun; private aims are earth. We are upon the
earth. From mere abstract motives a new era has never been started. My
private motives require no explanation; they are expressed in two
words--I am a Pole. That is sufficient ground for me to stand upon.
Fräulein Ilmarinen is a Finn. I take it that is sufficient reason for
her action. I have no fear that she will be dazzled by the pinnacle she
stands on, encircled with wreaths and diamonds. I can also understand
your moving spring. You love your own race; you see how it has remained
behind other nations, and would raise it to their level. Pestel's
motives also I can grasp. He has immense ambition. He would fain be the
head of a newly formed state. The basis is broad enough; his foot rests
on a sure pedestal. The rest are shifting, unstable, attracted to the
movement by the hope of playing some brilliant part in it. Then we have
Apostol Muravieff. He, too, is constrained to it by a paternal heritage,
from which he cannot free himself. Pushkin is in love with Zeneida;
that, too, is sure ground enough. That madman Jakuskin is actuated by
revenge; another safe passion on which one may rely. His sense of
puritanical integrity binds that fine fellow Turgenieff to us. From
earliest youth he has ever been in the advance guard of freedom, first
in the first rank. Such iron rectitude can be recast in no other form,
rather it would break than yield. Now there is but one man here whose
presence I cannot understand: that is Duke Ghedimin. A member of one of
the twelve old Russian dynastic families, his possessions so immense
that he is simply unable to expend his yearly income on Russian soil,
holding the highest grade at Court, himself an accomplished, brilliant,
sought-after aristocrat, who by any changes you may effect has
everything to lose, nothing to gain--what does he seek here? What is his
interest in making himself one of this conspiracy?"

"He is the very one, among us all, who has the weightiest reason: the
recollection of an irreconcilable affront, for it was a personal one.
You know the Czar. You know that, as a man, no one is his enemy. Even
Jakuskin merely hates in him the Czar, not the man. Duke Ghedimin is the
sole one who stands opposed to him, as man to man. The Czar was married
very young, to a delicate wife; his children died early. He grew cold
towards his wife, and sought compensation in a new passion. The only
daughter of one of our first families, renowned far and wide for her
great beauty, was willing to console him. The illicit connection had
consequences--a daughter. The affair was kept strictly secret. The young
duchess journeyed to Italy as an unmarried girl, and returned from there
the same. Soon after she married Duke Ghedimin. Meanwhile a young girl
was growing up in Italy who went by the name of Princess Sophie
Narishkin, and who, in her fourteenth year, was brought to St.
Petersburg. It was her father, not her mother, who brought her here. The
girl resides in a house surrounded by a garden in the outskirts of the
capital, where her father visits her constantly, her mother never. The
father worships the child, who, moreover, is terribly delicate. The
mother simply hates her. Her father is the Czar, her mother, Princess
Ghedimin. Now do you see what brings Prince Ghedimin among us?"

"Yes, yes. But does he know the secret of the girl's birth?"

"Know it? We all do."

"Still, no reason why the husband should. Think a moment. What human
being is there who could go to a man like Prince Ghedimin and breathe to
him such a foul statement about his own wife? At the least whisper of
such a slander an inferior would receive the knout, an equal be shot. A
shopkeeper may denounce his wife; no gentleman does such a thing. Who
could have made this known to Ghedimin?"

"Who other than his sweetheart! Is not Zeneida Prince Ghedimin's
sweetheart, and has she not a thousand reasons to enlighten him upon his
wife's shame?"

"Do not believe a word of it! She has not done it. You do not know
Fräulein Zeneida; I do. First of all, I do not believe she is Ghedimin's
sweetheart; or, if she love him, it is with a real love, not that of a
_Ninon de l'Enclos_. But my belief is that she is in love with some one
else; and I believe, moreover, that she controls that love. She is a
woman capable of defying the scorn of the whole world, but not of doing
anything to merit her own self-contempt. And for a woman who loves a man
to denounce his own wife to him is a piece of vileness only fit for the
lowest of the low. You do not know with whom you have to deal. Zeneida
is playing some far-seeing game with you. You are mere chessmen in her
hands; one may be a castle, another a bishop, the third a knight.
Possibly Ghedimin may be your king of chess, but she is not the queen.
She is playing the game."

"And you have confidence enough in her to consent to this?"

"Yes; because I am her partner."

The roulette ball spun round. Some one was coming. All hurriedly
returned to their places. Krizsanowski did not deserve the scornful
smile with which Ryleieff had silently received his great
utterance--for, indeed, it was a great utterance--"You others are only
the chessmen; we two are the players." But so it was. The others only
saw single moves; these two saw the whole game.

Krizsanowski had also plainly observed--although he made as if he saw
nothing--with what painful anxiety Zeneida was moved to keep Pushkin
away from the dangerous chess-board. Such a head is too costly for a
"pawn"; perhaps too precious to be staked for a whole nation--the whole
world--certainly in her estimation.

She had chased him away as if he were the evil one; now she had hastened
after him to prevent his coming back. She knew that the heads of all
those taking part in the conspiracy would fall prey to the executioner
did it not succeed, and Pushkin's must not be among them. And yet poets
have their whims. Should Jakuskin on the way reveal anything of the
fateful conference which had taken place round Zeneida's roulette-table,
the very charm of danger would bring Pushkin back. If he learned that it
was no mere academical discussion, but a council of war, which was being
held, he would break open her doors to take his share in it.

Pushkin was still in the sulks. While Jakuskin hastened from one cabinet
to another in search of Diabolka, he had thrown himself upon a sofa in
the palm-grove, replying to all the blandishments of passing fair ones.

"Leave me alone. I don't want you."

"Nor me either?" asked a well-known voice, at sound of which another,
fairer, world seemed to open to him. And Zeneida, seating herself beside
him on the couch, asked, "Are you angry with me?"

"Confess. It was you who put Ryleieff up to insulting me?"

"In what way, dear friend?"

"I will not submit to be called Byron! I am Pushkin, or no one. Men may
say that my verses are common Russian brandy which gets into the head,
but no one shall presume to call them the dregs of an English teapot. I
may be only a hillock, but I will not pose as a miniature Chimborazo.
And it was your whisper to Ryleieff that did it."

"Yes; so it was."

"To drive me away?"

"To drive you away."

"I am not worthy, then, to join the society of the Bojars!"

"What care I for the Bojars and the whole Szojusz Blagadenztoiga? I give
them shelter--and _basta_!"

"And am I not worthy to singe my wings in the fire of your eyes?"

"It would convert you to ice."

"Are you so cold, then?"

"Cold as the northern light."

"Have you no heart?"

"According to anatomy I have such a thing; but it has other functions
than those ascribed to it by poets. That of which you speak has, Gall
tells us, its seat in the skull, in No. 27 portion of the brain, and is
not developed in my organization."

"Do not kill me with your phrenology. You know what love is--"

"I know. The compact of a tyrant with a slave."

"Be you the tyrant; I will be the slave."

"With these words as many women have been deceived as there are grains
of sand on the sea-shore."

"I swear to you, my life, my very soul, are yours."

"By whom do you swear? By Venus, so inconstant; by Allah, who denies
that women have souls, and divides the heart of man in four parts; by
Brahma, who burns the widow on the funereal pyre; or by the great
Cosmos?"

"There is nothing so formidable as a woman who takes to philosophizing!"

"That is why I do so."

"You kill every iota of poetry with it."

"Then speak prose."

"Well, then, I ask nothing of you--I give. I give you my soul, my hand,
my name!"

"Ah, your name! That is a gift. A woman like me has diamonds, horses,
houses, given her; but he who would offer her his name is indeed rare to
meet with. And yet a name is the most precious ornament. Without such a
name, I am nobody. Were I to marry my groom of the chambers to-morrow, I
should be a woman of respectability. My poor good Bogumil never dreams
that in his fur-lined gloves, besides his own red hands, lies my
reputation! So you would give me your name?--a name which, so far, has
been written on nothing else than overdue bills and ale-house doors. You
silly boy! Why, people would not call me 'Frau Pushkin,' but you 'Herr
Ilmarinen.' But once let your name be written in the fiery letters of
fame, instead of chalked on innkeepers' slates, would you then unite it
to another whose every letter is besmeared with--"

"With calumny!" broke in Pushkin, vehemently.

"It is but just. There is nothing so bad that can be said of me that I
cannot fill in. I am selfish, unfeeling; I have no faith in religion,
nor in honor. Both are sophistries, contradicting each other, according
as the ethnographical relations change about. The only good is, what
benefits mankind. Virtue is folly. The sole use of good men is to be the
tools of their more clever fellows."

"Do not say such things," cried Pushkin. "When I hear you speak so, you
seem to me as if you had smeared your face with hideous colors."

Was it not her calling to do so?

Zeneida drew her wrap about her shoulders.

"You will not see me such as I am. I am sorry for it; but I cannot
deceive. Have you no eyes for the magnificence which surrounds me? Do
you know whence it all comes? Would you have me forsake it all--for
what?"

"For another world before whose splendor all you see around you must
fall into dust. The world into which I would lead you is filled with
more magnificent palaces than even yours, Zeneida. It is Paradise!"

"Find yourself another Eve. Did I love you, I should kill you with _my_
jealousy; did I not love you, with _yours_. To-day with one, to-morrow
with another, for my caprices are boundless. I know no law, no oath, no
shame. Go; save yourself from me! Now you are but ice, do not wait until
you are aflame. I can be his only who loves me not!"

"Your words are mere falsehoods from beginning to end. You wish to drive
me from you that I may not take part in the conspiracy! I am not worthy,
in your eyes, to share the dangers my more distinguished friends are
running. Let me go back to them!"

"What conspiracy?" exclaimed Zeneida, feigning astonishment. "Our
friends are now debating how to introduce the American form of
'Temperance Associations' into Russia in order to put an end to the
enormous consumption of brandy now going on. There is no talk of
upsetting dynasties in my house. Do you suppose that the 'court singer'
of the Czar, the court favorite, did she hear of any conspiracy against
his Majesty, would not at once hasten to smooth her own way to a coronet
by its disclosure?"

"A way marked out by the skulls of her best friends?"

"Well, yes."

"No. You would not do it."

"Who knows? I have no soul, and do not believe in the souls of others. I
have no faith in a future world, therefore I use this world so that
things may go well with me in it."

"And supposing it were to happen for a change that things did not go
well with you?"

"Then I would give back to earth what is earth's. The fable of the
Phœnix has a deep-set meaning. When he feels that his plumage is worn
out, he changes into ashes. Of all creatures man has the greatest right
to decide the term of his life."

Pushkin sought in the face which knew so well how to keep its secrets
what there was of truth in all this.

A sound of laughter and oaths behind the jasmine bush betokened the
approach of some noisy revellers. Zeneida sprang up from Pushkin's side.
Laying her hand upon his shoulder, she whispered to him, in a voice made
tender by deep feeling:

"Avoid me, and seek her who is worthy of you and truly loves you, your
Muse, and be faithful to her!"

And, like a phantom, she disappeared.

Jakuskin came forcing his way through the jasmine bower, Diabolka with
him.

"Come, let's be off to the Bear's Paw."

Pushkin sprang defiantly to his feet, and said, with a laugh.

"By Jove! here is my Muse! Come along; we'll go where we are
understood."

And the three made their noisy way through the still thronged ballroom.

It was Zeneida whose reappearance the whirling roulette-ball had
announced. A look from her told that the two had taken their departure.

Krizsanowski, removing the pipe from his mouth, put it in his pocket.

"Now we are among ourselves. Let us continue."

Pestel asked permission to speak.

"In order to disperse friend Krizsanowski's fears, let me first of all
state that we look upon Jakuskin as a fool; and that not a man of us
endorses his mad views of a _Cæsaricidium_; in fact, there is not a man
among us who would not prevent it. Our plan is this: In the coming
spring there is to be a great concentration of troops in the Government
of Minsk. The Ninth Army Corps will march to the fortress of Bobrinszk
on the Beresina; the Czar and the Grand Dukes will themselves lead the
manœuvres, returning at night to the fortress, which fortress will be
guarded by the Saratoff regiment of infantry, the colonel of which,
Bojar Sveikofsky, is a member of the 'Szojusz Blagadenztoiga.' All the
officers of the Saratoff regiment belong to our Union. At night a patrol
of officers, disguised as privates, commanded by Apostol Muravieff and
Corporal Bestuseff, will relieve the guard outside the Czar's pavilion.
They will promptly take the Czar, the Grand Dukes, and Commandant
Diebitsch prisoners, proclaim a constitution, institute a provisionary
government, and proceed straightway, at the head of the whole army
corps, on the road to Moscow. On their way they will gain over all the
troops they come across. At news of their success Moscow will yield; and
from thence St. Petersburg can be compelled to surrender. The men and
officers of the fleet, anchored off Cronstadt, are fully informed of our
plan. A man-of-war is in waiting to convey the entire imperial family to
England. The revolution will be accomplished without the shedding of one
drop of blood. What do you say to it, friend Krizsanowski?"

"That your plan is too complicated; has too much romance about it; and
that the miscarriage of any minor detail would throw your whole
reckoning into confusion. However, I do not look upon a successful issue
as wholly impossible. The thing has already been achieved in Russia.
Now, I will tell you what I bring, and which will serve to perfect your
plan. Do you not agree with me that its success were highly
problematical if, after the kidnapping of the Czar, a Czarevitch were
remaining, who, by right of succession to the throne, could at the head
of a whole army enter Russia to test the power of a republican
government by the loyalty of the people to throne and army?"

"That, in truth, is the rock on which we may be wrecked."

"Then, you may set yourselves at ease in that particular. I can promise
you my head in pledge of my words that the Czarevitch will very shortly
resign his rights of succession; and resign after a fashion which will
make it impossible for him to recall the step, even did he himself
desire to do so. Ay, even were he the sole remaining member of the
Romanoff dynasty; and were the whole nation, senate, and peerage to
press him to ascend the throne, it would be an impossibility to him."

"And is this no romancing?" cried Ryleieff.

"No. Positive knowledge; psychological necessity; logical sequence."

"Devil take me! If that is not a greater riddle than the Sphinx!"
growled Pestel.

"I have said what I know. Whether you like to believe it or not, is your
affair."

So saying the Polish magnate rose, and thrust his pipe between his
teeth, which was as much as to say that he had said his say, and was
intent on seeing that his pipe drew well.

But Zeneida, approaching him, whispered:

"Is not the key to this riddle called 'Johanna'?"

A nervous contraction passed over his set face at the mention of the
name.

"If you have guessed it, tell it no further," he muttered under his
mustache.

"I?"

"True. You are the 'tongueless lioness!'" returned the Pole, with a
smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

At that period lanterns were a luxury known but in few streets of the
imperial city; and where a lantern did exist was posted a guard to watch
that it was not stolen. Therefore, in the courtyards of great palaces
huge fires were blazing, in order to give light to the guests' sledges,
and that the jemsiks might protect themselves against the bitter night
cold. These fires gave out warmth and light at one and the same time.

With some difficulty Jakuskin found his sledge among the lines of
others. Placing Diabolka between them, the two men wrapped her in their
furs. She was too heedless ever to think of bringing her own. The
jemsik, made loquacious by oft recurrence to his brandy bottle, told
them that the distinguished gentleman who had driven the eight-in-hand
into the courtyard had but just gone off in his sledge, and had given
his man orders to drive to Araktseieff Palace.

That was a piece of intelligence worth having.

Jakuskin told his jemsik to drive to the Bear's Paw.

"Never fear, children," returned the man; "I'll drive you safely through
side streets, that you may not be robbed."

"None of your side streets," said Jakuskin, "but just you drive along
the Prospect and over the Fontanka Ringstrasse, where the patrols are.
Don't be afraid about us, my man; we have our pistols."

"Ah, there's no use in that, children. The robbers might let you pass
scot-free when they saw your pistols; but the guards have no fear of
firearms, and they would plunder you."

And the jemsik was by no means joking. Under the police presidency not
only the soldiers managed to slip out of barracks to act the
light-fingered gentry, but the patrols shared in the spoil, and
commissioners of police were the most reliable of accomplices. Great
folk only ventured out at night with mounted escorts; their palace-doors
were strengthened with iron bars.

As they drove along the two men began scolding Diabolka for letting
Chevalier Galban escape her, telling her how they had had to get rid of
him at the cost of some thousands of rubles.

Just as the sledge turned off from the broad Prospect into Fontanka
Ringstrasse, five armed men suddenly sprang out upon it. Two seized the
horses' bridles, one levelled his weapon at the coachman's head, the
two others fell upon the occupants of the sledge. All were armed with
swords and pistols, their faces concealed by masks; long sheep-skins
covered their persons from head to foot; their tall, pointed fur caps
alone betraying them to be not only soldiers but grenadiers. One of
them, speaking in French (consequently an officer), ejaculated:

"La bourse ou la vie, messieurs!"

On which Diabolka, suddenly springing up, jerked the pistol directed at
Pushkin's head out of the assailant's hand, and, throwing both arms
round his neck, began, coaxingly:

"Ei, ei, sweetheart, cousin! would you plunder poor folk like us? Don't
you know us, then? Look! this is the brave Jakuskin, a captain on
half-pay; this, Pushkin, who has more creditors on his heels than kopecs
in his pocket. I am Diabolka, who pays, and is paid, in kisses. Here are
a few--on your cheeks, eyes, lips. There, take as many as there is room
for. But if you are wise, and want to make money, there's a rich
gentleman just now on his way home from Araktseieff Palace, who has just
pocketed thirteen thousand rubles at roulette. If you are quick you'll
catch him up on the ice, crossing the Fontanka. He is wearing a red fox
coat, trimmed with white bear-skin."

Her words were as magic. With one accord the four thieves, deserting
sledge and their leader, took to their heels in the direction of the
Fontanka, as if they were possessed. The officer, too, seeing himself
thus left alone, endeavored to free himself from Diabolka's embrace. But
that was not so easy.

"Stop! just one kiss on the tip of your nose."

Then he, too, was suffered to follow his companions. Diabolka laughed
unrestrainedly.

"Ha, ha, ha! what good the consciousness of a meritorious action does
one! They are safe to clear out Chevalier Galban."

"But you might have let the fellow off the last kiss," growled Jakuskin.
"On the tip of his nose, too! As though he could feel it through his
mask!"

"But those kisses were useful," returned the girl, with a sly wink.
"While kissing him, I was spying what the dear youth was wearing upon
his breast, and this is what I found." And she held up a star set with
diamonds.

"Eh, the devil! Why, it is a Vladimir order of the first class,"
exclaimed Jakuskin.

"Our Rinaldo is high up in the army."

"A Vladimir order set with brilliants! Eh, jemsik, hold hard, and strike
a light. The names of owners, as a rule, are usually written in gold
inside the ribbons of the orders."

The jemsik, taking out his flint and steel, struck a light, and while
Diabolka puffed at it with distended cheeks, the two men simultaneously
read out the name engraven on the ribbon--"Jevgen Araktseieff."

"By Jove! The son of our trusty Araktseieff, too, plies the trade,"
cried Jakuskin.

"He is a known _mauvais sujet_."

"Well, Diabolka, this is a fine catch. For this you may claim to-morrow
every penny Jevgen has robbed overnight."

"And next day I should be as poor as ever," laughed the girl.

"If you chose, this order might make you Jevgen's wife--a real
countess," put in Pushkin.

"What would be the good of that? In a week after I should be going back
to the gypsies."

"Do you mean to expose him--to have him hanged?"

"I am not such a fool; they would hang me beside him. Leave it to me. I
know what to do with my prize."

Jakuskin said to Pushkin, in German, that Diabolka might not understand:

"That man wrecked my whole life; and I had him at my pistol's mouth but
now! But the ball is destined for another now. You see, I did not even
break out into fury when I read his name. When we are on the watch for
bears we can afford to let foxes go. The huntsman's spear is on his
neck. He is in Diabolka's clutches. Come, let us go to the Bear's Paw,
and hear Germain's new effusion, _The Song of the Knife_."



CHAPTER XI

THE HUNTED STAG


Next morning the Office of the Great Fast was initiated in Isaac
Cathedral by the court singers--a celebrated choir of men and boys, who
possessed the finest voices in the whole empire, and who were maintained
at great cost.

Contemporary accounts extol these services beyond anything ever produced
by human voices. In his riper years the Czar could endure no other music
than the sound of harps and mystic sacred song. It was on that account
that Zeneida Ilmarinen, the church singer, was so great a favorite of
the Czar. He never went to a theatre. Did he desire music his favorite
artiste was commanded to the Winter Palace or the Hermitage. During the
fasts, however, he went daily to church to hear the boys sing.

On such occasions it was considered the correct thing by the aristocracy
also to go to church, and in order to appear still more devotional,
great ladies made a point of wearing no rouge, only powder.

In the row next the high altar sat Prince Ghedimin, Muravieff, Orloff,
Trubetzkoi, all of whom had inscribed their names in "the green book";
after them, those officers of the guards who had deliberated the
previous night whether the Czar should die, or be merely banished. There
they stood in two rows, erect, with military bearing, holding their
drawn swords in their hands.

The heads of all were bowed so low that perhaps none remarked that the
husband and wife, the rulers of all the Russias, only extended a finger
to each other as they passed up the aisle, deigned no look at one
another as the service proceeded, and exchanged no word together as they
took the holy-water.

Zeneida also was among the congregation. As she left church an officer
bowed to her. It was Pushkin.

"Madame, you have been weeping--your cheeks are wet. Was _some one_,
then, in church?"

"There is no _some one_," returned Zeneida; "but the music tells on
one's nerves. We are but animals; even dogs howl when they hear music."

"Did you observe with what devotion the Czarina kissed the crucifix? Did
you not know what was her petition?"

"I neither know, nor did I remark anything."

It was late before the church service had ended. The congregation
quickly dispersed and hastened home. The streets were deserted. On the
first day of Lent every family man makes a point of supping at home. And
as among the poorer classes in St. Petersburg only about every seventh
man is blessed with a wife, others join together and get some female of
their own class in life to prepare the Lenten soup for them. This is
seen on every table, rich and poor, whether in hardware vessel or
delicate china tureen. Even upon the Czar's table it may not be absent;
the imperial cook prepares it according to time-honored formula.

This soup every head of the family is expected to partake of in his own
home. Time was when even in the Winter Palace the custom was observed.
Time was! The table was laid for two covers only; no guests were
invited. The many dishes, all prepared with oil and honey, were served
for the two alone. Then came a day when the imperial wife awaited her
husband in vain at the Lenten meal. He came not. And yet she waited and
waited; the supper waited also. Some untoward circumstance had come
between them. First the meats grew cold, then their hearts. Yet all the
same, year after year, the wife had two covers laid on the first evening
in Lent, and waited on and on, until the dishes grew cold, and still she
did not touch them. She was waiting for him. Hours would pass, the
imperial wife sitting lonely, waiting, listening for the slightest
sound, wondering whether it were not her husband's footstep outside the
tapestried door which connected the corridor of their apartments--that
door, at the opening of which her heart had formerly overflowed with
earthly bliss. Alas! now the lock had long grown stiff and rusty.
Suddenly the clock began to strike--a mechanical clock which Araktseieff
had had made in Paris. The piece it plays is the National Anthem; it
plays it but once in the twenty-four hours--at one o'clock in the
morning--the hour at which Czar Paul had been murdered by his generals
and nobles in his bedchamber.

The son of the murdered man, who had ascended the throne over his
father's dead body, had, at the turn of the year, listened for many an
anniversary to the solemn strain, kneeling low, bedewing his _prie dieu_
with his tears; and one being there was who fully shared the sorrow of
his heart. With every fibre that heart of his vibrated to the sad notes,
a truer timepiece than the clock: it attuned its note to the triumphant
strains of victory, as to the undertone of sadness when it reproached
him that his father's corpse had been his stepping-stone to the throne,
threatening that his body, likewise, should be the stepping-stone to his
successor. This was the great trouble of his life; the ever-present
torture of his soul. To no one had he confided it save to his wife. No
one had ever comforted him in the hours of his agonized wrestling with
that burden of grief save his wife. Now that is all over. The
soul-destroying blue eyes, in whose depths he had sought a new heaven,
gave him for heaven the cold, blue ether eternally separating earth from
heaven for him. The Czar of all the Russias has no one in whom he can
trust. The mightiest of the mighty has no place where he may sleep in
peace. The most forlorn pilgrim of the desert is not so utterly alone as
is he.

When the last notes of the hymn has died away, and the husband, so long
waited for, has not returned, the wife, rising, fetches a portrait of
him painted upon ivory, and places it upon the table by the place he
should have occupied. It is the portrait of a proud, heroic man, with
smiling lip and unclouded brow--such as he was as a bridegroom. She
gazes at it long, so long that her eyes are suffused with tears. Nothing
is left to her of him but this portrait. He whom it represents has long
ceased to smile.

Two sledges, already horsed, are drawn up before the colonnade of the
Winter Palace. One is harnessed with six horses, the other with three.
Both are closed carriages with drawn blinds. The coachman and footmen
belonging to the six-in-hand wear the livery of the Czar; those of the
three-horsed sledge that of the Grand Duke. But, on getting into them,
the Czar takes the Grand Duke's sledge, the Grand Duke that of the Czar;
and as they pass out of the gates, with jingling of bells, the one
sledge turns to the right, the other to the left. The six-horsed sledge
is followed by an escort of the guards; where it halts, there halts the
escort. The three-horsed sledge skims along the road unattended. It is
known that the Grand Duke drives home direct; he is a domesticated man.
But of the Czar none knows whither he will take his way in the course of
the long night; and nowadays it behooves one to be careful; an escort
has become a necessity!

Araktseieff had had a sharp tussle that very morning with Chulkin, Chief
of Police, and the governor of the city, Miloradovics. There were three
sets of police on active duty--military, civil, and secret police. And
instead of playing into each other's hands, their sole study seemed to
be for each to set the other's regulations at naught. Araktseieff was
furious at Chulkin because Chevalier Galban had been set upon and robbed
the previous night, not only of his money, but of his papers--papers,
among which were many important state secrets. To which Chulkin had
retorted that the soldiers on patrol had been the thieves. Hereupon
Araktseieff's wrath was turned upon Miloradovics, and he demanded that
the officer in command, who had had the inspection on the night past, be
sternly reprimanded for lack of supervision. To which the governor
returned that the said officer in command was no other than young
Araktseieff, his hopeful son. Hereupon Araktseieff waxed still more
wroth; but with whom? He fully believed that his son had been Chevalier
Galban's plunderer, well knowing him to be capable of the act.

He made no further official inquiry into the matter, merely adding that
in future the Household Regiment of Hussars, under his own immediate
command, were to accompany the Czar, at a distance, whenever he left the
palace. No reliance, evidently, was to be placed on either infantry or
police.

Araktseieff possessed a sure instinct which warned him of conspiracies
against the Czar, even when he failed to obtain any certain clew. His
was the sole and ever-watchful eye that guarded the person of the Czar.
He gathered upon his head the detestation of a whole nation in order to
protect the head of the one man in whom his entire individuality was
merged.

But the pursued knew how to elude protector as efficiently as pursuer.
Whilst thus secretly escorted, the six-horsed sledge proceeded from
barrack to barrack, the Grand Duke probably holding an inspection to
satisfy himself that the officers on guard had not removed their tight
stocks; the three-horsed sledge glided along the banks of the Moika
Canal, drawing up, at length, before a long walled-in enclosure set with
iron spikes. Alighting from his sledge the Czar took from his
breast-pocket a key, opened the gate, and entered unattended, the unlit
path marked by a line of oak-trees. No footprint was to be seen on the
fresh-fallen snow. The path was unused by any but himself. In among the
trees with their crows' nests an old-fashioned house was visible, its
wooden steps leading to a low oaken door. The solitary man has with him
a key to this door also; he opens it, and enters. Here it is so dark he
has to take a lantern from his pocket in order to find the stairs
leading to the story above. Having ascended the stairs, he proceeds on
tiptoe down a long corridor. There is not even a dog to bark at him. As
he opens a door two persons, engaged in conversation, look round in
startled fear. They are an old man and woman. The old woman screams; the
old man throws himself at the Czar's feet.

"Who is this man, Helenka?"

"My old man, my husband. Hold up your ugly pate, Ihnasko, that the Czar
may see who you are."

"You never told me you had a husband."

"Why should one tell of the gout one is plagued with, or any other ugly
thing one would rather forget?"

"Well, what does he want here?"

Here the old woman, covering half her mouth with her hand, whispers:

"He has brought the king's daughter here."

At these words the icy look melts from the Czar's severe features.

"What! Bethsaba here?"

"Yes; and she is to stay the night. They are playing draughts together."

"How is Sophie?" The inquirer's voice falters.

"Fairly well. She slept well last night, and took her chocolate this
morning. She has not been so cross as usual to-day, since the doctor
told her that giving way to temper was bad for her."

"Has she followed the doctor's directions?"

"Rather too closely. If I am a second after time in giving her her
medicine, she rings for me."

"Did the doctor say anything about diet?"

"Yes; he said her Highness was not to observe the fast, but to eat meat
and eggs daily; and that will strengthen her. But the Princess gave it
him soundly. What was he thinking of? Did he mean to endanger her soul
for sake of her body? And she has ordered me to pay no attention to what
he said, and has threatened me with blows if I attempt to deceive her."

"Indeed! And the doctor said that the observance of strict fast would be
injurious to her health?"

"Certainly. He said she wanted blood, she was anæmic, and that beans
cooked in oil did not make blood."

"What have you prepared for her supper to-night?"

"The usual soup for the fast."

"Just oblige me, my good Helenka. I have brought something with me which
will do our invalid good. I have had it over expressly from a celebrated
physician in England. Give her a spoonful of it daily in her soup."

"Of course I will do what you command, sire. But tell me first, is it
prepared from the flesh of any animal? For if the dear soul were to find
out that I had mixed any meat preparation in her soup during the fast,
she would cry and rage to that extent that she would make herself ill
again."

"Do not be afraid, good Helenka. It is a remedy composed of palm-root,
which takes the place of meat."

"And I shall not endanger my own soul by using it?"

"No, no; have no fear. I will take all responsibility upon myself."

And yet were it an unpardonable sin to eat meat during Quadragesima the
Czar had laid a great burden upon his soul, for his remedy was no other
than extract of beef, at that time the patent of an English chemist. But
the Czar was a philosopher and--a father.

"Go in and tell her I am here, that she may not be startled at my
coming."

By a lamp, whose light was tempered by a lace shade, sat two young girls
playing draughts.

The one we have already seen at the noteworthy stag-hunt; and now we
know her to be a "king's daughter."

As the Czar entered the Princess's room, and Ihnasko was alone with his
wife, he could not refrain from asking--

"What did you mean by 'king's daughter'?"

"Slow coach! Don't you know that yet? She has lived the last eight years
in your house without your knowing that she is the daughter of a
Circassian king. Her father was once a mighty ruler there, where the
currants and olives grow; he was killed by the Turks, and the Queen
brought her crown and her little daughter, and fled to us for
protection. She was a wonderfully handsome woman. I saw her once in all
her national costume at a New-year's review. I did not wonder at what
had happened. It was General Lazaroff who had received orders to bring
her from her own country to Russia. The General was a man of amorous
nature. On one occasion the wine he drunk flew to his head, and he
forgot that he was escorting a queen, and only saw the lovely woman. But
the Circassian butterflies have stings as sharp as any bee. The Queen
drove her kindzal into his heart, and he fell down dead at her feet. Not
much was made of the affair; it was hushed up. The Queen was put into a
convent, where she has always been treated with royal honors. But she is
not allowed to leave it. Only on New-year's day she takes her place with
the widowed Queens of Imeritia and Mingrelia on the steps of the throne.
As for her little six-year-old daughter, she was taken from her, that
her royal mother might not teach her to follow her ways. Why, there
would not be a man left in St. Petersburg! The child was intrusted to
Princess Ghedimin's care, who has not the blessing of a child of her
own."

"What child?" blurted out Ihnasko.

"Oh, you goose! What a question to ask! What child? None at all, seeing
she hasn't got one. Don't wink at me, or you'll get a cuff in the face.
So the king's daughter was brought to Ghedimin Palace, and is now a
member of the family. Forgetting her own mother, she looks upon the
Princess as one."

"I should just like to know why the Princess sends her here to visit
your sick princess?"

"That's nothing to do with your thick skull."

       *       *       *       *       *

The other draught-player is Sophie Narishkin, a tall, delicate-looking
girl with straw-colored hair. It is well that she is kept in strict
retirement, for in face she is the image of what Princess Ghedimin was
at that age. There is an expression of premature wisdom in her
countenance blended with that of superstitious fear. Her eyes wear a
softer look than those of her prototype; instead of Princess Ghedimin's
haughty, contemptuous expression, hers are dreamy and melancholy.

What can be a maiden's dreams who knows nothing of the world? The world,
peopled with mankind. She may dream of lovely landscapes, of rocks,
woods, waterfalls. But of the beings who people the world she knows none
save her nurse, to whose fairy tales she listens so eagerly, and her
governesses, who had vainly striven to indoctrinate her into the
sciences and fine arts.

All spoiled, no one loved, her.

All around were traces of work or play, begun and left
unfinished--draught-board, cards, chessmen, patience, embroidery,
drawings, patterns. She is sitting, in a white embroidered
dressing-gown, upon a wide divan, both feet drawn up under her. Beside
her sits the Circassian Princess on a low stool.

His Imperial Majesty is received ungraciously. Evidently he has
interrupted the two girls in some amusement. And yet he seems to have
the right to go up to Sophie and, taking her face between both hands, to
imprint a hearty kiss upon her cheek--a kiss the traces of which the
girl, with childlike coquetry, instantly tries to remove by means of the
sleeve of her dress, which has the effect of making the offending cheek
as red as a rose.

"How are you feeling, my Madonna?"

"Oh, now you have come and interrupted the lovely story Bethsaba was
telling me!"

"She shall go on with it. I will listen too."

"How can you, when you were not here at the beginning?"

"I know Bethsaba will not mind beginning it again."

The Princess nodded acquiescently, while Sophie, with a look, directed
her father to take a seat at the other end of the divan. The Czar,
understanding the look, did as he was bid; and, taking one of the girl's
delicate, transparent hands in his, stroked it, and, as he did so,
succeeded in feeling the pulse, to assure himself that there was still
hope for her. He wanted to put a question, but the delicately pencilled
eyebrows commanded silence, and the Ruler of All the Russias was
obedient.

"Once upon a time," began the king's daughter, "there lived on the
Caspian Sea a mighty king who took a lovely woman to wife, not knowing,
when he did so, that she was a fire-worshipper. Now, fire-worshippers
are in league with the Jinn (spirit), and the queen had promised the
Jinn that if she married and bore a daughter she would give her to him
when grown up. No sooner had the child become a maiden than the Jinn
came and knocked at the king's door to claim her. The poor king was
terribly frightened when he was told that the spirit had come to fetch
away his daughter--"

"If he was a king, why could he not command the spirit to obey him?"
broke in the sick girl, angrily.

"Ah, my dearest, the spirit is so powerful that no king can control
him."

"And no _emperor_?"

"No, not even emperor. No one has power over him; but he has power over
every one. There is no locking him up or shutting him out, for he can
penetrate everywhere. He has no material weight, yet can suffocate;
carries no sword, yet can kill."

"What a good thing that the spirits only live on the Caspian Sea!"

"When the king heard this he began to entreat the spirit not to take his
beloved daughter from him so soon; to grant her to him yet another year.
'Very well,' said the spirit, 'I will leave you your daughter a year
longer if you will promise to give me your thumb in exchange.' The king
cared nothing about his thumb, so he promised, and the spirit took his
departure. At the lapse of a year the spirit came again either to take
the princess or the king's thumb. The king loved his daughter very
dearly, but he also valued his thumb, for without it he would not be
able to draw a bow. So again he entreated the spirit that he might grant
her to him only one year more. 'Be it so,' returned the spirit, 'I will
leave her to you another year, but then either I will take her away or
you will give me your right hand.' And the king again closed the
bargain. A year passed, and the spirit came a third time. The king
would neither give up his child, nor would he part from his right hand.
Thereupon the spirit demanded the king's whole arm as forfeit."

"But, then, do the spirits never die?" asked Sophie.

"No, darling, the spirits live forever. Well, the king promised him his
arm--if by that means he might save his child--and his hand. And from
year to year the spirit came back, demanding ever more and more as
forfeit-money. At last he obtained promise of the king's head and heart.
And when the king's whole body belonged to him he said, 'This is the
last year. Now I shall either carry off your daughter or you must
promise me your shadow.' Upon which the king replied, 'No; I will give
you no more. Take what is yours; but neither my daughter nor my shadow
shall you have.' Thereupon the spirit left him amid loud claps of
thunder. The next day was fine and sunny, and the king set out for a
pleasure sail upon the sea. Suddenly a violent storm arose, and engulfed
both ship and king in the waves. His body was never found. His daughter
still lived on; and every evening, when the sun was going down, she saw
a shadow draw near to her--the shadow of a man with a kingly crown upon
his head; and as the shadow glided past her it seemed to her as if she
felt a kiss upon her cheek, and as if her cheek became rosy red."

The Czar had grown thoughtful. That king, whose shadow alone wandered
upon the face of the earth, was so like to himself. And Sophie, too,
thought that she was like the king's daughter--kissed every evening by a
kingly shadow.

Bethsaba, however, added, playfully, "We have so many such legends with
us. I could tell you more than a hundred."

"It is a very sad story, my dear child," said the Czar.

"I like stories that have a sad ending," said Princess Sophie. "Those
that end, 'And if they are not dead, they are alive to this day,' I
cannot endure. I like books, too, to end badly; but the doctor says I
must not read. But little Bethsie knows such a lot of nice stories."

"Have in your supper now. Are you not hungry?"

"Oh, who wants to be always thinking of eating? Besides, we are eating
all day long." And Sophie pointed to a box of bonbons, from which a few
had been taken.

"But you ought to eat nourishing things, to make you strong."

"Who says I am ill? Give me my hand-mirror. Have I not color enough?"

"Yes, you have a good color. You are really looking well to-day."

"Phew, phew!" she exclaimed, spitting twice behind her. "One should
never tell anybody they look well; it is unlucky. Now let us lay the
table for supper."

The mighty ruler was quite ready to act the lackey to the pale child
with the weary eyes, in whom his whole soul was concentrated. But, with
the best of will, he did it awkwardly; it was plain he was not learned
in the art. And Sophie scolded him roundly.

"See how badly you are holding that plate! Did one ever hear of placing
the spoon betwixt knife and fork like that? No, the salt must be turned
out upon the table; it is not to be put on the table in the salt-cellar;
for if the salt-cellar should happen to be upset it is unlucky. You must
not stick in the point of the knife when you are cutting bread! First
make the sign of the cross over it, or Heaven will be angry. To think
that such a big man should be so clumsy!"

Meanwhile Helenka had brought in the Lenten soup. Sophie tasted it, then
laid her spoon down.

"There is something different about it. You have smuggled some meat into
it. I will not eat it! You wanted to deceive me! You wanted to make me
eat meat soup!"

The Czar, tasting the soup, assured her that it had no taste of meat.
But the sick girl, angry at the mere suspicion of being tricked, sent
all away untouched, and vowed she would eat nothing but sweets. The Czar
implored her not to spoil her digestion with such trash; whereupon,
bursting into tears, she complained that they would let her die of
hunger. At length the Czar, sending for the samovar, made her some tea
with his own hands, and, breaking some biscuit into it, begged her to
try it. And great was his joy when she said it was "very nice." She ate
a whole biscuit; dipped another in it, ate a piece of it, and gave the
rest to the Czar for him to taste how good it was. Then, letting him
take her upon his knee, she laid her head upon his shoulder, and seemed
inclined to sleep. Soon she asked him to carry her to bed and unplait
her hair; then, winding her fingers in the Czar's, she said her evening
prayer; and when it came to "Amen" her virgin soul seemed to breathe
itself away upon the Czar's lips.

She was the sole being in the world he could call his own! Among his
forty millions of subjects she alone belonged exclusively to him.

The Czar of All the Russias found so many little things still to do for
his sick child. There was a cushion to be warmed to be placed at her
feet; orange-flower water to be prepared for her night drink. He pushed
a branch of consecrated palm under her pillow to chase away bad
dreams--he, a philosopher, believing in the efficacy of a consecrated
palm branch! But philosophy is nowhere by the sick-bed of one's child.

"Now, you go home," whispered Sophie; "Bethsaba is to sleep with me.
Good-night. I know I shall have no bad dreams."

"Lay your hand upon my head, that I, too, may sleep well. Good-night."

They called one another by no endearing names, though they knew that in
the whole wide world they had no one but each other.

It was past midnight when the Czar went back to his sledge--too early to
go home.

"Drive along Newski Prospect," said the Czar.

The coachman understood the command. Upon Newski Prospect there is a
two-storied house with "Severin" upon the door. Here the coachman drew
up. The windows of the first story were lighted. On ringing the bell,
men-servants with lamps promptly appeared, who led the great Czar to the
master of the house. Herr Severin was a simple paper-maker and printer,
carrying on his business with his sons and sons-in-law, who, with their
families, lived here with him. Upon great festivals it was the Czar's
custom to indulge himself for an hour or two with the sight of their
simple family life and joys--such joys as were denied to him. The tiny
children recite their verses to grandpapa, who rides them upon his knee;
converting them into generals by dint of paper hats and wooden swords.
The Czar has no such generals! Then five or six of them, forming into a
circle, dance round, and sing the story of the "Ashimashi Beggars," each
striking up in a different key. No such choir does the Czar possess! At
supper every dish is so well cleared out that it would be a puzzle to
say what it had contained. Such a feast the Czar cannot give! And supper
over, the favorite game of "Clock and Hammer" is brought out. They play
for high stakes--nuts; and the stakes are eaten while the game is
played. The Czar has no such national coin!

So he sits among them until the little ones, growing sleepy, are carried
off to bed by their nurses; first kissing everybody--even the Czar. No
such thing happens in the Winter Palace!

When that is all over, the distinguished guest has a long talk with the
old man over the good old times. He listens to all the joys and sorrows
of his host's every-day life. The samovar is emptied and filled again.
The Czar cannot tell what does him so much good--whether the tea, the
cakes, or the good old man's integrity--his honest, straightforward
spirit. No such tea does the Czar taste in his own house!

Without, on the snow-covered roads, gallop the escort of the guards,
while stealthy conspirators peer out from dark doorways, and look after
the six-horsed sledge, pistol and knife in hand.

The hunted stag knows nothing of all this!

None may tell whither he has wandered through the long hours of the
night, nor who it is that so persistently tracks him.



CHAPTER XII

HOW A FORTRESS WAS TAKEN


"Lock and bolt the doors, and see that you let no one in! To him who
doubts that I am not at home, say I am dead!"

"And suppose it's some one to bring you money?"

"There's no man living who would do that."

"And if it's a love letter?"

"Let him push it under the door; but don't let him in! For it might
prove to be some rascal of a creditor."

Unnecessary to state that this dialogue took place between a young
officer and his servant. It may, however, be as well to add that the
said young officer was Pushkin.

With heavy head and light pockets he had reached home in the small
hours, and, dressed as he was, had thrown himself on his bed, feeling as
if each individual hair in his head were being torn out by a devil with
red-hot pincers.

Suddenly he was aroused from his uneasy slumbers by a hideous noise of
scuffling and quarrelling in the street. A man beneath his windows,
seemingly set upon by ruffians, was screaming loudly for help, and no
one going to his aid. Why should they--when the police did not trouble
themselves about private disturbances?

Pushkin could stand it no longer; going to his window, he breathed upon
the frozen pane to clear a space, and looked out. Two men were
belaboring a third, who was vainly endeavoring to defend himself, his
face covered with blood. One of his assailants gave a tug at the long
beard, worn divided in the middle, plucking out a handful. That was too
much for Pushkin; the sight of such brutality made his blood boil.
Snatching his dog-whip from the wall, he tore down into the street. In
vain his man cried after him, "Don't open the door, sir;" he was out
like a shot, and, plunging into the middle of the trio, began laying his
whip upon the two offenders right merrily, upon which they quickly took
to their heels; and Pushkin, raising in his arms the injured, groaning
victim of their brutality, carried him into his house. Reaching his
room, he sent for cold water and a basin, that the poor fellow might
bathe his face. This he proceeded to do so effectually that not only the
vermilion dye stained the water deep red, but also the beard, which was
only stuck on, entirely disappeared from his face. Drying his face, he
turned with a smile to Pushkin, drew out a folded paper from the sleeve
of his caftan, and said:

"Very glad to have the opportunity of speaking to you again. Will you
not pay me this little account?"

And now, for the first time, did Pushkin perceive that it was his worst
creditor, the usurer Zsabakoff, who stood before him.

"Was it the devil brought you here?"

"No, sir, you brought me yourself."

His servant interposed--

"Didn't I tell you, sir, not to open the door?"

"But they were pulling out his beard."

"It was only stuck on," confessed Zsabakoff, with a grin.

"And the two men who were laying their sticks about you?"

"Are my two brothers-in-law. That was all a pre-arranged thing. I knew
that you were too much a gentleman to see a man ill-treated before your
very door. There seemed no other way of getting at you."

Pushkin saw that he had been thoroughly sold, and that it was best to
put a good face on it.

"Well, and what's your business?"

"Only humbly to ask you, sir, to pay this miserable one thousand rubles.
You know how long they have been owing."

"Yes, I have already paid them twice over in interest."

"Ah, if it were my own money! But I had to borrow it, in order to lend
it to you; and the horse-leech from whom I borrowed it has put on the
screw each time you renewed it, so that I have had to pay him the same
rate of interest that you have been paying me. And now he swears he will
grant me no more time; that he will have the caftan off my back if I do
not raise the thousand rubles. And here, in the depths of winter, shall
I have to go about in shirt-sleeves, and my seven children--beautiful as
angels--will have no bread! To pay your debts the very pillow under
their heads will be taken from them. I shall have nothing left;
everything I had I have turned into money to satisfy those blood-sucking
usurers; even my wife's last gown has been pawned in Appraxin-Dwor. What
will become of me, miserable man that I am?" And the usurer wept like a
water-spout.

"But I cannot help you," said Pushkin, irritably. "Where the devil am I
to get the money from? I do not coin bank-notes."

"When will you pay me?"

"I am no prophet."

"But what is a poor devil like me to do, then?" said the usurer,
trembling.

"County court me."

"Ah, dear, kind sir, don't make a joke of it. I should only be thrown
into prison for lending money to an officer in the army. Have pity on
me! Nine people will pray daily for your soul's good if you will only
pay me."

"Where am I to get the money from, if I have none?"

"Just reflect a little, sir. You have some wealthy aunts--one of them
may make you her heir. There are no end of rich, beautiful princesses in
St. Petersburg who would be only too glad to help such a brave
gentleman did they but know that he was in temporary difficulty. I
could tell you this moment of an excellent match--a good, handsome,
well-behaved young lady, with half a million rubles for her dowry. I
will undertake the affair for you, if you wish it. Then you have such a
fine estate at Pleskow. There are plenty of honest bankers here who, not
knowing that your property is confiscated by the Crown, would lend you
money on it. Such a man is rolling in gold, he would not miss it; and,
of course, you would give back his money when you got back your lands,
and that would be sure to be the case when you have done some brave
soldiering, and the Czar rewards you for it."

Pushkin held his sides with laughing as he listened to this view of his
affairs.

Zsabakoff grew desperate at the way Pushkin took his suggestions.

"Do not make light of it, sir," cried he. "I assure you, it is a matter
of life and death with me. If I have to go home like this to those
angels who are crying out for bread, I will take a razor and cut their
seven throats, then their mother's, and then my own. That I have made up
my mind to. You may depend, if you go on laughing at me, I will prepare
you a comedy that will turn your laughter into something very different.
A desperate man sticks at nothing. When you have it on your conscience
that a father of seven hanged himself, before your very eyes, upon your
window-frame--"

"Try it," said Pushkin, laughing; "but be quick about it, for it's
uncommonly late, and I want to go to sleep." And with these words he
threw himself upon his camp-bedstead.

"Well, then, you shall see, before you have time to sleep."

And the money-lender, dragging a chair to the window, got on it, made a
noose of his scarf, fastened it to the window-frame, passed his head
through it, and kicked away the chair. And suddenly Pushkin saw his
creditor struggling in the air, his eyes starting out of his head.

So then it was more than a joke! Springing from his bed, he snatched up
his dagger to cut the noose; then saw that his would-be suicide was
wearing a kind of cravat of stout leather under his shirt, which
effectually prevented any possibility of strangulation. Furious at the
deception, he threatened the man with a sound thrashing.

"Thrash as hard as you like, but pay. I would willingly sacrifice my
life to get back my thousand rubles. Don't tell me you have no money. I
know you have. Did you not pay back Nyemozsin, that shameless usurer,
last week? He's a thorough horse-leech! Takes two hundred per cent. And
yet you could pay him, though he held no written acknowledgment of
yours."

"Just why I did pay him. It was a debt of honor."

Zsabakoff, as he heard this, took his I.O.U. and tore it into shreds.

"Now I have no written security either--and mine is a debt of honor!" he
said, placing both hands in his girdle.

This was too much for Pushkin.

"Devil take you!" he cried. "Here is my pocket-book. What you find in it
you may take."

And the money-lender did find something in it--a poem called _The Gypsy
Girl_. He began to dance round with glee, now stopping, now starting off
afresh, like a merry Cossack.

"Ho, ho, what a find! _The Gypsy Girl_! Heaven bless you for it! I am
off with it."

"Where to?"

"To Severin. He was only just telling me how all the world of fashion
was besieging his doors to know when Pushkin's poem of _The Gypsy Girl_,
that he had read at Fräulein Ilmarinen's, was coming out. He said he
would give any amount for it. So my thousand rubles are safe. If I can,
I will squeeze something more out of him, and honorably share the
surplus with you. I kiss your hand, sir. Pardon any annoyance I may have
caused you. Command me when you are in want of more money. I shall be
only too happy to be at your service."

The money-lender had said the half of this speech as he looked back on
the threshold. Pushkin thought the man had gone mad. Angrily throwing
himself back on his bed, he forbade his man-servant to admit the fellow
again; then slept till noon. When he awoke he rang for his man.

"That fellow came again, sir."

"But you did not let him in?"

"No. But he pushed this packet under the door. Shall I throw it into the
fire, sir?"

"No. Give it me."

And, opening the packet, Pushkin found in it a copy of his romance, _The
Gypsy Girl_, two bank-notes for one hundred rubles each, and a letter
from the publisher, Severin, informing him that he had bought his poem
for twelve hundred rubles, of which he herewith enclosed two hundred,
and had paid the rest to the person who brought the manuscript. He
forwarded a copy to Pushkin that he might obtain the necessary
permission to publish.

It was a queer story; and especially that he should have made money for
what he had merely scribbled down for his own amusement. Absurd! A
gambler had more right to the accumulated gains of a gambling club than
a man to extort money from the multitude for permission to read what he
had written! An author's fee! Surely a hybrid betwixt the degrading and
the ridiculous! Did it most savor of theft or deception? or was it but a
loan?

These thoughts passed through Pushkin's head as he read the letter. Now
he had to go to the Censor--he, a military man, to humiliate himself to
a scurvy civil official, and acknowledge him to be his judge and
superior! In all else the army has its own court-martial. Poetry is
truly an unsavory implement when it so demeans a smart officer to defer
to a civilian. Pushkin decided to make this sacrifice to Apollo.



CHAPTER XIII

A CANNIBAL


The devourer of human flesh is called a cannibal, but what shall we call
him who feeds upon the souls of men?--who breakfasts off flights of
youthful imagination, dines off great thoughts, and sups on the heart's
blood of genius--what shall we call such an one? A censor? A man who
sits in judgment on the gods!

At that period there were certain especially renowned censors in St.
Petersburg, at the head of whom was Magnitsky, Araktseieff's right hand,
if one may use the word _right_ to either of his hands.

Certain anecdotes which have gone the round about these men insure them
immortality.

Herr Sujukin revised Homer's _Iliad_, made Venus into an irreproachable
lady and Mars an officer of unquestionable morality, and changed the
capital letters of all the false gods into small type. Only Mars was
permitted to retain the capital M, out of respect to the Czar, who was
also the god of war.

He struck out "unknown heaven" from the works of a poet, because there
is but one heaven where the saints dwell; consequently it is not
unknown. From another he struck out the passage, "I despise the world!"
It is a treasonable offence to despise the world in which Czar and Grand
Dukes, foreign rulers and their ministers, delight to dwell.

In the love sonnets of a third, beginning, "Worshipped being, creator of
my bliss!" the solitary word "being" alone found grace in the eyes of
the arbitrary Censor. We may only "worship" Divinity; there is but one
Creator. "Bliss" is only to be known in eternity for such as have ended
their lives as true Christians. Thus the adjuration "being" was
accounted fully sufficient for the lady of the poet's thoughts.

And this was the man to whose tender mercies Pushkin must perforce
commit his poem! Knocking at his door, he courteously requested him to
do him the favor of first reading through his poem, which request was as
courteously conceded, a holy Friday being the day appointed for the next
interview.

Never yet had the youth looked forward to a meeting with his lady-love
so ardently as he did to this appointment. He knew his man, and that he
should have a hard fight for it--for there was no forgetting that though
there were many censors there was no possibility of choice. Each had his
special province: one the press, another religion, the third education,
the fourth advertisements, the fifth theatrical programmes and
announcements, and, lastly, the sixth, poetical effusions.

Herr Sujukin, who represented the earthly providence of the poetical
world, had exercised that function in Czar Paul's time. He was now an
aged man, with perfectly bald head, and, his face being also
clean-shaven, he looked for all the world like a death's-head, only that
his skull was still provided with every imaginable expression of
torture; his contemptuous grimaces could galvanize the luckless poet
standing before him; and many a one felt a death sentence passed upon
him as he encountered the glare of those little red eyes, fixed upon him
from out their wrinkled sockets.

"Well, dear son Pushkin!" Every poet was "son" to him. "I have read your
papers through from beginning to end. I am truly sorry for you. What has
induced you to mix with the lower orders and select a pack of gypsies
for the subject of your poetical labors? Have you no higher associates?
Are you desirous to bring shame on your noble father by this versifying
of gypsydom?"

Here Pushkin calmed him by informing him that his father was dead long
ago--which, be it known, was not strictly in accordance with the truth;
but it is not necessary to tell the truth to a censor.

"Then you have certainly noble relatives who will feel ashamed as they
read these lines! Why, they will think you have become a gypsy yourself!
Now, if you had at least idealized gypsy life! But you have drawn them
true to nature, thus sinning against the first rules of poetry. Nor is
this your grossest fault. But, in the name of all the poets, what
versification is this? The like I have never come across before!
Virgilius Mars wrote in hexameters; Horatius Flaccus in alcaic,
sapphic, and anapestic verse. But what do you call yours? There is no
rhythm, the lines rhyme in all directions, as if the smith had three
hammers working together on his anvil; one line is too long, another too
short! That I could not allow; where I have found a line too short I
have lengthened it with an interjection: because; namely; but; however."
And the death's-head beamed with self-satisfaction. "Yes, yes, my son, I
have helped out many a poet. Derschavin owes the greater part of his
fame to me; and I shall make something out of you!"

"All right, make what you like out of me, but not one iota do you add to
my verses! Your office is to cut out what does not please you."

"Now, don't flare up, my child. You will have no need to complain of
want of cutting. Do you see this red pencil in my hand? It is
historical. It has never been pointed; that is done effectually by the
constant striking out it performs. Since the year 1796--before you were
born--I have been engaged, with this very pencil, striking out words,
lines--ay, whole pages! And what it has struck out has been condemned to
eternal death!"

"By Jove! that pencil, then, is a very guillotine."

"Eh, eh! A young man such as you should not pronounce the word
'guillotine!' This red lead, my son, preserves society from
degeneration, conspiracies, epidemics. It is more precious than the
philosopher's stone; more powerful than a marshal's staff. It is the
pillar on which rests the peace of the whole land."

"Just let me hear what miracles your enchanted wand has effected on my
poor verses?"

"It has done its duty. Do you suppose that lines like 'Men enclosed
within narrow walls are ashamed to love one another' may see the light?
Humph! to love in the sense of your fine heroes one might well be
ashamed! Running after gypsy girls, without the sanction of a priest,
without wedlock--all unfettered--a pretty incentive to the young who
would read it!"

"But, my dear sir, that is not my intention. As the dramatic development
proceeds, I purpose to show up my hero's wrong-doing, for which he has
to atone."

The death's-head was discomfited. He was not prepared for this reply.

"Oh, so they are the adventurer's opinions? Then you should have made a
foot-note stating that they are not the author's views, and that the
offender will atone for them later on. But listen again: 'He' (that is,
the citizen) 'basely sells his freedom, bows his head to the dust before
his fetich, and by his importunity wrests from it gold and fetters!'
Now, is it permissible to put this in black and white? What 'freedom'
does he sell? and to whom does he sell it? No one in Russia has freedom;
consequently neither can he sell it to any one! It is a revolutionary
appeal. An incitement to anarchy! A proclamation! And then, 'bows his
head to the dust before his fetich.' Who is this fetich? The Czar or the
holy images? Do you want to provoke the people to iconoclasm? But it is
worse than blasphemy. In former times you would have had your tongue
torn out for such words. And again: 'By importunity wrests gold and
fetters.' A calumny upon our thirteen official grades! Fetters! Thorough
Jacobin heresy! So the fetters offend you? Without them you were wolves
and no men! Nor do you need to importune for them; they are conceded
without it, of grace! You must have fetters--_must_, I say! It is in
vain to versify against them! Did not my red pencil strike out those
three lines, I should deserve to have it bored through my nose!"

And, upon this awful possibility, he began applying the said fateful
pencil with dire force to expunge the offending lines.

"But I do not permit you to strike those lines out of my poem. I would
rather withdraw it from publication."

"But I will not give it back!" returned the death's-head, placing a hand
upon the manuscript. "What is once presented to my censure can no more
be withdrawn! It must receive the deserved castigation!"

"And I protest against the striking out of any single letter of it! The
manuscript is mine; it is as much my individual property as is that red
pencil yours. You are at liberty to reject my writings, but not to
deface them with your confounded chalk!"

"Deface! Confounded chalk!" screamed the death's-head, rigid with
horror. "Audacity like this has no superlative."

"By heavens, it has!" shouted Pushkin, on his side; and to substantiate
his words, snatching the red pencil from the Censor's hand he threw it
so violently to the ground that the precious relic was shattered to a
thousand pieces; at which awful result Pushkin himself was so terrified
that he took to flight, leaving the terrible man alone with the pieces.

The Censor was aghast with rage and horror at the deed. His all-powerful
pencil shattered to atoms! He could scarce believe it. Such a thing had
never before happened in civilized Europe. What would men leave sacred
and untouched in future, when even that hallowed implement could be
dashed to the ground?

Herr Sujukin did not call his servant, but himself, kneeling down,
began collecting the precious fragments, weeping so bitterly as he did
so that his chin trembled.

"My faithful--my treasure--pride of my life--thou art no more!" He
endeavored to fasten the larger portions together, but in vain.

Such an offence needed a special punishment.

The aggrieved Censor, wrapping the _corpus delicti_ in a paper, rolled
Pushkin's poem round it, and hastened off to Araktseieff's Palace,
mentally conning the speech the while with which he should make his
patron acquainted with the abominable assault.

Araktseieff's palace was just then being decorated with those historic
frescos by which the celebrated Doyen perpetuated the deeds of Czar
Alexander. The master was even then himself at work on the immense
circle which formed the cupola of the domed reception-room, and in which
the Czar appears in the midst of his generals and surrounded by
mythological and allegorical figures.

The furious Censor had to pass through this saloon. He glanced up at the
master, who, astride on the plank, was touching up the figures, already
designed, with color. It was just what he wanted. He would let off some
of his rage upon him.

"Is it Master Doyen, or one of his assistants, who is painting up
there?" asked he.

To this singular question the artist made reply:

"And pray what may be your business down there?"

"I have no 'business,' but am Vasul Sujukin Sergievitch, Counsellor of
Enlightenment to his Majesty." Such was the Censor's title.

"A jolly good thing you have come. There is precious little light in
this city with its confounded fogs."

"Learn, sir, that this is no 'confounded' fog. A St. Petersburg fog is
purer than that of any other city. We allow no complaints of our skies.
But, look! who is that woman up there in the picture, standing close to
the Czar, with leg bared to the knee?"

"It is Fame, the goddess of novelty."

"But what indecency for any one to stand in proximity to the Czar in
such a costume!"

"Ha, my friend, in the period of Roman-Greek mythology stockings were
not in fashion."

"But we are in Russia, where ladies who have been presented do not go
about barefoot. I forbid you to bring women in such _negligée_ in
contact with the person of the Czar!"

"All right! I will give her sandals."

"And let down her dress!"

"It is going to have a border to it."

"Mind, then, that it is a broad one that covers the knee. And who is
that with a roll of papers in his hand?"

"General Kutusoff."

"Why is his right arm shorter than the left?"

"It is not shorter; only his position makes it appear so. We call that
_scorzo_ in Italian."

"_Scorzo_ here, _scorzo_ there! We are not Italians! Here we call a man
who has one arm shorter than the other deformed!"

"But I cannot paint my characters with stretched-out arms as if they
were on a crucifix!"

"I don't see why not."

The artist here, giving up the discussion, began touching up the face of
the Czar.

"What is that black you are smearing over the countenance of the Czar?"

"_Terra di Siena._ It gives the shadows."

"But there must be no shadow on the countenance of the Czar! It must
shine, be radiant, brilliant. And then, look here, one-half of the
imperial face is broader than the other."

"Of course it is; because it is taken in three-quarter profile."

"But why do you take the Czar in three-quarter profile?"

"Because he could not otherwise be looking straight at Kutusoff."

"Then turn Kutusoff's head so that the Czar may look at him in full
face."

The artist was nigh to springing off his plank with brush and palette,
and alighting on the head of the dictatorial Counsellor of
Enlightenment. But, controlling himself, he took up a large brush and
began painting in the clouds in the background. This thoroughly provoked
the Censor's severity.

"Halt! What are you doing? What is that?"

"A cloud."

"I can under no conditions permit you to paint clouds behind the person
of the Czar. It might seem to some to have an allegorical meaning, as
though our political horizon were threatened with dark clouds."

"But, my dear sir, clouds are necessary to make the figure stand out."

"The Czar stands out by himself! You must paint in a twilight sky for
your background."

"Impossible! Light is thrown on to the figures from the other side,
where the sun is shining."

"Where is the sun? How are you going to paint it--in what colors? With
us the sun shines far more brilliantly than in any other country."

The artist looked round to see which paint-pot he could aim at the
Enlightened Counsellor's head. Then a better idea struck him.

"Stop a bit, Herr Counsellor! Here at the feet of the Czar is to be a
figure, 'Death Conquered.' Your head will make a capital model. Just let
me jot down a sketch of it."

The Counsellor of Enlightenment once more felt his reason staggered. He
could not at the moment decide whether it were a compliment or an
impertinence that his physiognomy should be perpetuated on one canvas
with that of the Czar as "Death Conquered." But his brutish instincts
whispered him that it would be doing the Frenchman a service to stand as
his model; so he did not do it. Leaving him in the lurch, he passed on
to his patron's apartments.



CHAPTER XIV

THE YOUNG HOPEFUL


The Counsellor of Public Enlightenment was just by way of detailing at
large to Araktseieff Pushkin's unheard-of outrage upon the censorial red
pencil, with all its aggravations, when a young man, unceremoniously
bursting open the door of the reception-room of the dread President of
Police, appeared upon the scene. The intruder seemed privileged to break
in upon him unannounced, whoever might be having audience of the
all-powerful statesman. The new-comer was a man of some thirty years of
age; his dress the uniform of a colonel in the Life Guards. His features
were pleasing and regular, but the expression uneasy, shifty; he never
looked the person to whom he was speaking full in the face.

It was Junker Jevgen, Araktseieff's son and young hopeful.

"Ah!" cried his father, "you have got into some other ugly scrape, sir!"

"_Au contraire_, governor! Mistaken for once."

"Your appearance rarely means anything else. Have you anything of
importance to say to me?"

"Oh, nothing of a nature that I cannot say before Herr Sujukin."

"I suppose some pressing money difficulty?"

"_Au contraire_," returned the young man, carelessly throwing himself
back upon a couch, and ostentatiously drawing out a handful of gold from
his pocket. "You see it is not that which brought me."

"By Jove! you have lined your pockets well. May I inquire the source of
this plenty?"

"Why not? No need to conceal it from Herr Sujukin. I won it a night or
two ago at rouge-et-noir."

"So! At nights, when you are intrusted with the inspection, you can
manage to find time for the faro-bank?"

"I only just happened in _en passant_. I just hazarded a couple of
sovereigns; seven times, one after another, I won. I had deuced
good-luck; red always turned up. And I left off playing while the vein
was on."

"And you come to tell me the good news?"

"Oh no! On the contrary, I come to bring you the latest. Only fancy! the
celebrated harpist, Chamberlin, has arrived from Paris, and is going to
give some concerts."

"I never knew you to be so devoted to the harp."

"Oh, I rave about it."

"And I can't abide it," put in Sujukin, in full agreement with the
father.

Jevgen continued:

"His Majesty the Czar, to do honor to the harpist, has commanded a state
concert to-night at the Winter Palace."

"Oh, I delight in the harp!" hastily threw in Sujukin, in order to amend
his former speech.

"The invitations are already issued. It will be a particularly brilliant
assemblage. I just saw your invitation delivered to your groom of the
chambers. I have already received mine."

"Oh, then, of course it will be a brilliant affair!"

"I suppose you know that we must appear _en grande tenue_? Men with the
_grand cordon_ and all their orders."

"Upon my soul! Doing high honor to the musician."

"Besides which the Zeneida will sing something of Cimarosa."

"Is that all you have to tell me?"

"Beyond that nothing," returned the young man, rising with a yawn as he
looked at the clock. "Now I must be off and change. By-the-way, shall
you be at the state concert to-night?"

"What else should I do, as the Czar honors me with an invitation?"

"I thought, perhaps, your rheumatism was plaguing you too much."

"Do not forget that there is no rheumatism when the Czar commands."

"And yet it were a pity to risk your health, sir, for sake of a
scoundrelly musician. You will be awfully bored. There is nothing in the
world so ghastly dull as the harp."

"You just told me you raved about it."

"Oh, of course, if it is a lady harpist. But to see a man sprawling over
the strings! _pas si bête_! It is for all the world like listening to
some street player. I could make your excuses to the Czar for you in
form if you preferred to stay at home."

"Now what the devil does it matter to you whether I go or not? What has
made you such an affectionate son, so solicitous for your father's
health? Have you entered upon the climacteric years which alter a man's
nature?"

Jevgen broke into a laugh.

"Not exactly, father. Your son is the same as before. But I want you to
stay at home to-night, because then you could lend me your diamond
Vladimir order. I can't find mine anywhere."

"Because you have not searched at the pawnbroker's for it."

"With clear conscience I can say it is not at the pawnbroker's. If it
were I could have easily redeemed it with the cash in my pocket, and
need not have come to you. I have searched everywhere, and cannot set
eyes upon it."

"Just think, my boy; you'll remember what you've done with it."

"Well, then, I will confess. It is no disgrace; a thing that happens to
many of us officers. After playing I came across a demoniacal little
girl."

"Ah, you found time for that, too, during inspection?"

"What matter! When I released the said little fury I perceived that my
Vladimir order had disappeared with her."

"Upon my word! It is a pretty story!" cried Araktseieff, springing up
from his chair. "You have done for yourself. Did I not say that some
nice mess had brought you here? Lose your order! Let it be stolen from
you by a street wench! Do you know the girl?"

"Yes; she is a street dancer--Diabolka, the gypsy girl."

"A gypsy, eh?" broke in Sujukin at that moment. "That's it! Just what
might have been expected from Pushkin's verses. Ah! I can generally see
through things!"

"Did you put the police at once upon her track?" asked Araktseieff.

"As though the police were to be found at once, or, to put it the other
way, as though our police were likely to find any one at once! Oh, it is
not lost! The gypsy or the Vladimir order will be found fast enough in
Appraxin Dwor. But that's no use to me. I want to wear the order
to-night; for I dare not appear without it at the state concert."

"Well, my boy, no power but death shall separate me from mine."

"Then I see no way out of it. I have tried to obtain one from the State
Treasurer; but the Czar keeps the key of the order safe himself; so
nothing is to be done there. It is enough to make a fellow blow his
brains out!"

"Well, well, here is an idea; but, mind, I take no responsibility for
it. Are you on good terms with the Czar's groom of the chambers?"

"Oh yes, excellent! We meet constantly--under the table!"

"You are aware that when the Czar attends any civil function and not a
military parade, he is pleased to show his imperial favor towards
civilians by appearing in a plain black coat, and wears no orders,
merely the gold medal in his button-hole, which he received from the
society of 'Philanthropists' in Riga for having saved a poor peasant
from drowning in the river. Thus, amid all the brilliant assemblage,
the Czar is conspicuous by the simplicity of his attire; and his
Vladimir order will be in the custody of the groom of the chambers for
the night. Bribe your friend to lend you the Czar's order to-night."

"By Jove! a brilliant idea! I see, after all, that you love me,
governor."

"Ah! were you not my son, my boy, you'd long ago have been swinging on
the gallows."

"No, no, father. Why joke with the word 'gallows'? You may come to it
yourself one day, though you are my respected parent."

"But I give you one piece of advice: See that you keep as far off as
possible from the Czar at the concert, that he may not recognize his own
order."

"Bah! how is he to single out one amid the forty that will be there?"

"I tell you this much, that the Czar is an expert in precious stones. So
make a point of keeping in some obscure corner."

"Well, I will be your obedient son. I am pleased with you to-day,
father. It is no light matter to have such a sensible parent to come to.
I grant you permission to give me a kiss. Adieu! Good-day, Herr Sujukin.
Pray continue where you left off."

Meanwhile the death's-head had been chewing something between his teeth,
perhaps a criticism, while the young man was making a clean breast of
it. "A good many things to strike out with the red pencil there,"
thought he to himself. The father gazed for some time at the half-open
door; then, turning to Sujukin:

"A fine, handsome boy, is he not? A merry fellow. His worst fault is
that he knows how much I love him."

"He only needs a little of the red pencil! But to return to the story of
that red pencil."

"You shall have satisfaction, Vasul Sergievitch! Leave the matter to me.
I will place the _corpus delicti_ in the Czar's own hands, and can
assure you that the culprit will bitterly repent his offence! As though
his first intemperate actions, which he paid for by the confiscation of
his property and his banishment to Odessa, were not sufficient reminder,
he requites the clemency of the Czar, who permitted him to return home,
with these fresh excesses; but we will find a means of settling with
him. Be comforted, Vasul Sergievitch. To-morrow morning Master Pushkin
will find himself on his way to Uralsk."

"Irkutsk is farther!" said the Censor, who could not refrain from
improving on Araktseieff's verdict.

"But Uralsk is worse! Believe me, Uralsk is an awful garrison for an
officer to be disgraced to. In ten years' time no woman would recognize
him. From a gay butterfly he will come back transformed into a hairy
caterpillar--like our friend Jakuskin!"

The death's-head was satisfied to leave matters to him--_Typis
admittitur!_--and went back to the reception-rooms to administer a
parting shot to the Frenchman. After the encouraging words of the
President of Police his horns had grown so fast that he felt as if they
would reach to the artist perched aloft.

"I forbid you to paint a figure of Death before his Majesty's very feet.
It will give the whole fresco an ominous meaning."

But the artist continued undisturbed to paint in his figure of Death;
and the face was the counterpart of that of the Censor.



CHAPTER XV

THE CZAR SMILES


Only as Pushkin reached home did he begin to meditate over what he had
done. He did not for a moment hesitate as to the consequences of his
rash act. A man only just permitted to return from exile in Bessarabia,
whither his hot head had banished him, and even then but received in
semi-favor at court, could not expect other from his recent scene with
the sacred person of the Censor than to be deported to some fortress on
the Volga, or to guard the Kirghis Pustas, where he would be forever
lost to sight and mind. He therefore set to work at once addressing
P.P.C. cards to his friends; on that to Zeneida he added, "pour jamais."
When once he received marching orders, there would be no time for such
things. The report of the assault had quickly made the round of the
town; such news is sure to spread quickly. Among his many friends there
was but one who found his way to him on hearing of it; that one was
Jakuskin.

"Well, friend, now you, too, will make acquaintance with the Caucasus.
You would do well to have your portrait taken at once, that after ten
years, when you come back, like me, you may at least know what you once
were like."

"I am prepared for anything," answered Pushkin, sealing the letter in
which he was returning the publisher Severin the two hundred rubles he
had received for his poem, not having obtained the Censor's permission
to publish. "But there is one thing I cannot understand. I have just
received from the Lord Chamberlain an invitation to the state concert
to-night. Now, what the devil does that mean?"

"What does it mean, my friend? That your punishment is to be carried out
with a refinement of cruelty! Had I not a similar experience? The very
night I had challenged that scoundrel, I, too, received an invitation to
a court ball. When the circle was formed round the Czar, the Lord
Chamberlain placed me among the guests to whom his Majesty desired to
speak. I was simple enough to feel elated at the distinction. My turn at
length came. The great man stood before me, letting me feel his colossal
height. Looking full at me with his cold, green eyes, his face as
immovable as a moonlit landscape, he asked, 'You are not satisfied with
your commanding officer?' And, taking my confusion for acquiescence,
added, 'We will provide against any such unpleasant friction in the
future.' And I stammered out something like thanks, never thinking that
this was only a planned humiliation for me, that every one standing
round about me knew already whither I was to be banished, and that the
honor of this imperial interview was merely intended to further
humiliate me. Oh, if I had but known it then! If it should again happen
that I-- Ah, fool that I am! Fate does not so repeat itself. But could I
pass on to you my imbittered heart, my experience, and my determination
at the moment in which you will be standing there, face to face with
'him,' apart from all, all eyes upon you, but every man's hand turned
away from you; no one near you but a devil! Casca's devil! But what am I
talking about! You are but an Epimetheus to whom wisdom only comes when
the opportunity is past. A pleasant journey to Tungusia; my respects to
the marmots! Come, let us shake hands. We are comrades now."

"Eh! fate does not repeat itself? How if the soup be not eaten as hot as
it is served?" asked Pushkin, simulating light-heartedness. But
Jakuskin's words had left a sting in his heart. Why had he received the
invitation to the palace that night?

There was no evading the command. His sledge was one among the many
formed in line before the gates of the Winter Palace that evening; the
guests numbered more than two thousand, the whole _élite_ of St.
Petersburg society was there.

At that time the Winter Palace, in its magnificence, tone of society,
its mode of paying compliments, and distinguished courtesy, threatened
to rival the Tuileries; even Parisian _bon-mots_ went the round. All
national characteristics had become decidedly bad form. Ladies no longer
wore the fur-lined _dolmanka_, the clasped girdles; the singular fashion
which had formerly prevailed of wearing gold watches in the hair had
been given up; feminine taste displayed itself in following the latest
Paris fashions, in which lace and artificial flowers were _de rigueur_.
The men wore uniforms. The Czarina was the sole exception to the
prevailing fashion; she continued to wear the out-spreading head-dress,
in form of a peacock tail, which made her tall figure seem even taller,
and lent still more majesty to her countenance. The Czar, on the other
hand, was wearing plain civilian evening dress, without ribbon or order
of any description.

Late as was Pushkin's entry among the gayly attired throng, he could not
fail to notice how greatly the tone of society had altered towards him
from the night before. People did not seem to see him. His superior
officers and others to whom he had been presented did not acknowledge
his salute. Intimate friends, comrades in arms, seemed suddenly
engrossed in conversation with their neighbors on his approach, to avoid
accosting him. Lovely women, who but yesterday had welcomed him to their
opera-boxes, spread out their fans before their faces as he neared them;
the heat suddenly became oppressive! One lady alone, clad in rich silks,
crossing the room on Prince Ghedimin's arm, vouchsafed him her
attention; she was the beautiful Princess Korynthia, Prince Ghedimin's
wife; her cold gray eyes measured the young officer from head to
foot--she who had so often laughed at his wit--while she deigned him no
other return to his salutation than a contemptuous curl of the lip, for
which he promptly revenged himself by turning and exchanging mischievous
smiles with the young girl at her side, Princess Bethsaba. Just then the
press before them brought Prince Ghedimin's party to a standstill, and
Pushkin saw the bright flush which had suffused the young Princess's
face under the fire of his eyes. Almost he felt inclined to say: "Nay,
fair rosebud, do not blush at my gaze. To-morrow I shall be speeding to
the land where your fathers sleep!"

The Prince and Princess were now received by Araktseieff, who conducted
the ladies to the arm-chairs reserved for them near the stage on which
the artistes were to appear. Ghedimin disappeared among the crowd of
brilliant uniforms; there were no seats for the men.

The concert began with a sonata of Beethoven, to which the Czar listened
absorbed, as he leaned over the back of the Czarina's chair, his tall
figure overtopping all others, his eyes fixed on vacancy. When it came
to the turn of the harpist his manner became animated. Hurrying across
to the performer, he led him on the stage, settled the music-stand for
him to the requisite height, and then, as his chair was too low, himself
fetched a cushion, oblivious for the moment that he was the Czar of all
the Russias. The harpist acquitted himself magnificently, fully bearing
out his world-wide fame. At the Czar's state concerts there is no
applause; but the murmurs of delight passing from mouth to mouth of a
crowded audience are a higher reward to the artist than the stormiest
applause.

After the harpist followed Fräulein Ilmarinen.

Every one said she had never sung the Swan's song so thrillingly and
exquisitely as on that evening; the tears sparkling in her eyes were as
real as the brilliants which flashed in her hair.

The Czar involuntarily was beating time to her song. Zeneida looked
lovelier than ever that night; her dress was covered with spring
flowers; her face was radiant. It could not be all art.

Three pair of eyes are fixed most untiringly upon her. The first are
those of Princess Korynthia. Filled with hate and contempt, they strive
to read into the singer's inmost soul; to detect some false look of
betrayal which shall expose the artiste in the part she is playing; and
the Princess inwardly rages that she does not find the clew.

The second pair of eyes are Bethsaba's. Her great dark eyes are staring
wide open at the charming apparition, as though to say, "Does the devil
look like that? Then, indeed, one must be on one's guard, for its
counterpart is very lovely!"

The third pair of eyes belong to Pushkin. He feels that the better part
of his soul is merged in that of the lovely woman before him; and that
soul, at this moment, is filled with bitterness against all those who
would banish him from her vicinity. He feels that in losing Zeneida he
loses all that is noblest within him, and that evil alone will remain.
Already it has gained the upper hand as he recalls Jakuskin's speech:
"Oh that I could infuse into you Casca's fiendish spirit, when you
stand, the mark of every eye, before 'him'!"

He feels himself touched on the shoulder. Looking back, he sees the Lord
Chamberlain. Speaking no word, the latter was lost in the crowd of men.

Pushkin knows what that touch on the shoulder means. It means that at
the close of the concert the person thus signalled out is to take his
place in the middle of the concert-room, as one of those to whom the
Czar designs to speak. Exactly as Jakuskin had prophesied! The blood
rushes wildly through his veins. The comedy may be turned into a
tragedy.

Princess Korynthia turns to Araktseieff, standing behind her chair.

"Fräulein Ilmarinen seems to be in particularly good spirits this
evening."

"I have done my best to spoil them. I have struck her heart a blow which
will stop her love of intrigue for a while."

"Let me be the first to enjoy your secret."

"The lady's hero, Pushkin, is about to be despatched to Uralsk."

"Do you think the girl will desert St. Petersburg and follow him?"

"Either that, or she will commit some greater folly. Anyway, it will
compel her to unmask."

The Czar, after thanking and praising Zeneida, now began to make the
round of the gentlemen; while the ladies to whom the Czarina desired to
speak were called up to her.

The Czar entered into conversation with some of the ambassadors,
exchanged a few words with Miloradovics; then, passing over a number of
the circle, looked about him, and, perceiving Pushkin, signed him to
approach.

All deferentially drew back. From the Czar and a culprit it is well to
keep one's distance. All the same, every eye was fixed on the two.

At this critical moment Pushkin felt himself singularly calm. He stood,
in fact, as cold bloodedly before his imperial master as he would have
done before any ordinary man.

"So I hear you are not satisfied with your Censor?" asked the Czar.

The very form of question he had addressed to Jakuskin!

But Pushkin had a guardian angel--his Muse--who did not suffer him to
remain silent and abashed.

"As satisfied as one is with an illness, sire."

"Do not bear him a grudge. He is a well-meaning man, but with certain
old-fashioned notions. That is not his fault. I have read your poem; it
is very fine. The Censor had struck out some portions; but that you did
not allow?"

"No, sire."

"And do not allow their suppression?"

"No, sire."

"You are right. They are the best passages in the whole poem. But what
are we to do about it? I cannot go against the Censor; for were I to
permit what he forbids, the whole institution would be overturned; and
it is a necessary one. What do you think?"

"Sire, I will take back my poem and burn it."

"No, no. I think we will send it to Leipsic, have it printed there, and
then import it."

"And the frontier custom-house, sire?" asked Pushkin.

The Czar smiled; nay, he laughed--he laughed aloud.

"We will have it packed in among my own personal things, which are not
examined in the customs. Thus will we bring the poem into the country."

Pushkin trembled in every limb, like a schoolboy who has undergone an
examination.

"Stay a moment!" exclaimed the Czar. "It will be more profitable to your
poetical studies were you to prosecute them in the country. It will be
better for you to pass the summer on your estate of Pleskow. You will
find you can write better there."

That meant the restoration of his confiscated estate. Moved to tears,
Pushkin's voice failed.

"Tell no one of what has passed between us. I do not wish it spread
abroad."

"Only to one woman, sire, whose silence is as perfect as is her
singing."

"She knows it already," returned the Czar, with a smile. He had smiled
twice.

How instantly the brightness of that smile had changed the temperature!
How immediately the ice and snow in it had thawed! As Pushkin rejoined
the circle he was greeted on all sides by friendly faces beaming with
congratulation. Distinguished court ladies shut up their fans; they no
longer felt the heat. Pushkin could not but respond to the crowd who
claimed acquaintance. He was wise enough to tell every one that the Czar
had restored his Pleskow estates to him on condition that he gave up
writing poetry, which raised him at once on a pinnacle. For be it known,
not to write poetry at all is a negative merit; to write bad poetry and
give it up is some slight merit; to write good poetry, and yet give it
up, is a positive and great merit--in high society.

Even Princess Korynthia had the hero of the hour called up to her in
order to ask him why he had not recognized her just now. Women alone are
capable of such a piece of audacity, and men are obliged to take it from
them.

Pushkin and the Princess conversed pleasantly for some little time, and
he was introduced to Bethsaba, to whom he said many foolish things.

One woman only, Zeneida, he had no courage to approach. With the
divination of a true poet, he felt that she was the only creditor in all
the world from whom he must keep aloof; for that which he owed to that
creditor he was unable to pay.

Nor had he any news to impart. Had not the Czar said, "She knows it
already"?

       *       *       *       *       *

The Czar had smiled. The smile had lightened all hearts. The melancholy
feeling of monotony which was weighing over society was at once
dispelled. But it was but an autumnal ray--a ray of evening sunshine on
a rainy day.

But he to whom this turn of things brought no content was Araktseieff.
Pleskow is not the end of the world! If Pushkin went no further than
that, Fräulein Ilmarinen's intrigues would suffer no reverse. They could
meet as often as they wished. He could not understand how it had all
come about. That the Czar favored Fräulein Ilmarinen he well knew; and
that Zeneida had been working to save her beloved poet, that, too, he
knew. But this was not sufficient to have put the Czar in the very
opposite frame of mind from that which he, the all-powerful favorite,
had striven to bring about. Some other hand must have been at work here.

Now among those whom the unaccustomed ray of sunlight had moved to creep
out of their dark corners was young Araktseieff.

Forgetting his father's advice to keep well in the shade, and not
thinking that the sparkling order on his breast was a borrowed one, and
that its owner was among the party there assembled, he suffered himself
to be enticed to the front, and joined the set of young men who were
paying court to the ladies.

Suddenly he became aware that the Czar was bearing down upon him.

He was about to make way respectfully for his Majesty, but the Czar,
going directly up to him, said:

"What fine diamonds those are you are wearing, Araktseieff!"

He who was thus addressed replied, with audacious humility:

"Sire, I wear them by your Majesty's favor."

"Remarkable!" exclaimed the Czar. "Those brilliants are the very
counterpart of the ones in my Vladimir star."

Junker Jevgen began to think that cheek alone would carry him through
here.

"Sire, some diamonds resemble each other wonderfully."

"And yet I am inclined to think that the star you are wearing is mine,
and that in my pocket I happen to have a Vladimir order bearing your
name on the ribbon."

"Mercy, sire!" implored Jevgen, with shaking knees.

"Silence! You surely would not implore mercy here before the whole
court. Go to your quarters. Keep the order you are wearing; I wear it no
more, since it has been worn by you. Away with you!"

"A bad adviser led me on, sire." The young nobleman was ready to betray
his father.

"I do not ask who advised you. Go to-morrow morning to your father.
There you will learn what is in store for you."

After this scene the Czar abruptly left the concert-room and withdrew to
his own apartments, the former icy expression on his face. He did not
even return the greetings of the surrounding guests.

Araktseieff, who had watched the scene from a distance, followed the
Czar. He was not admitted, but commanded to await his Imperial Majesty's
pleasure, and the all-powerful favorite awaited it until two in the
morning.

Then the Czar entered the audience-chamber, carrying a roll of papers in
his hand.

"What say you, Alexis Maximovitch," said he to his favorite. "Was it not
a good idea of mine to institute the _posta sofianskaja_?"

"Without doubt, sire. It has given the people opportunity to bring their
needs and wishes directly, in written form, before the Czar."

"One learns interesting things through it at times. This morning, for
example, I received a letter from a gypsy girl containing a Vladimir
order set with diamonds. The letter graphically recounted the manner in
which the said order had fallen into the girl's hands. Here, read it."

Araktseieff was never so near to swooning as when he had come to the end
of the letter. It was a cruel, bitter blow to his heart; he was cut to
the quick in his paternal love. He had wanted to strike a blow at that
woman's heart, and it had rebounded on his own in its most vulnerable
place. That this was all Zeneida's doing there was no manner of doubt.
Araktseieff was to be disgraced before the Czar. She meant to bring upon
him what he had intended for her.

But she should find herself mistaken.

Refolding the letter, he said, coldly and calmly:

"The criminal must suffer."

"Will it be punishment enough if he be sent to Uralsk?"

To Uralsk! That meant never to see him more! He, the well-loved only
son, the arch-rogue for whom he lived, for whom he gathered up treasure,
through whom he trusted to make his name live to posterity; he to be
buried in a rocky fortress of the Kirghis steppes! But if it had been
good enough for Pushkin, who had resisted the extinction of his poetic
fervor, why not good enough for a soldier who by nights made burglarious
onslaughts on the passers-by? And yet he would so gladly save him! After
all, it was no crime, only a foolhardy scrape, such as had taken place
in the days of old chivalry, and even been practised by King Henry of
England himself when he was yet Prince of Wales. Foolhardiness, but no
crime! He suppressed the defence, however, feeling that although the
Czar might perhaps pardon his son at his intercession, such pardon would
mean the end of the father's influence. His enemies should find
themselves mistaken if they reckoned upon that.

"He was my only son," he said, sobbing. "I loved him above all the
world, but I love the Czar better than my only son. He must suffer if he
has sinned." And he prepared the ukase condemning his son to banishment
in Uralsk, then kissed the Czar's hand.

Araktseieff parted from his son without saying farewell to him. He must
carry out the part of Brutus consistently, that his enemies might
recognize the ancient Roman and tremble. But the Roman in him had a
strong admixture of the Sarmatic. Like Foscari, he could sign with his
own hand his only son's banishment; but not because he made no
distinction, but out of the genuine love of a Russian subject towards
his ruler, and, by making his powerful position still more powerful, to
be able to pay back to his enemies the cruel vengeance they had wreaked
on him.

To this he made preparation. No single one should be exempt.

On the very day his son set out on the road from which so few ever
return, Magriczki came to him with the intelligence that the police had
arrested Diabolka. What should be her penalty? Should he have her
knouted in the open market-place, or with slit ears and nose be
transported to Lake Baikal? There was cause sufficient. Her vagabond
life, her immoral habits, could be brought up against her--moreover, a
gypsy girl! Was not the dark skin crime enough?

"Bring her to me," said Araktseieff. "You, none of you yet know how to
punish. This is a wild animal who only feels the smart of the lash while
it is upon her. It were no shame to such as her to be beaten half naked
in the market-place; she is brazen enough to laugh while the punishment
is being inflicted. Of what use is punishment to her yet? First that
sense must be awakened in her, latent in every human being, but
slumbering yet--the sense of self-respect. Then we can inflict the
penalty when something more than her outer skin will feel it. Send the
girl in."

And soon Diabolka was standing before Araktseieff, both hands chained
to her back, her unkempt hair about her saucy face, her eyes gleaming
wildly through it. Her feet, too, were chained.

"So you are Diabolka, the street dancer?" asked the President of Police.

"Of course. Don't you hear my castanets?" answered the girl, striking
her feet together, and making the chains clash.

"And do you know who I am?"

"Of course. The father of a street thief."

"You are right! My son is an offender; he has paid the penalty. I myself
signed his sentence. Was it you who informed against him?"

"I might deny it if I chose, but I do not."

"Was it you who wrote the letter to the Czar?"

"Though I cannot write, yet it was I who wrote it."

"Then somebody guided your hand, and you wrote down the characters?"

"But you shall never know the name of that 'somebody.'"

"Were you aware what your hand was putting to paper?"

"I was."

"Then you must have been aware that not alone he whom you denounced was
lost, but also you yourself, for having stolen a Vladimir order."

"But I have returned it."

"None the less, you are a thief, and must be sent to the pillory."

"Women of higher rank than mine have stood there already."

"Your shoulders will be branded with hot iron."

"My dark skin marks me already as a gypsy. I am bad from head to foot."

"Come, I don't believe that. This very day, through you, I have forever
lost my only son. All night long until the sun rose I was tossing in an
agony of sobs on my bed. In the early morning I went into the chapel,
and there, before my Maker, I swore an oath that I would free the
unhappy creature who had been my son's undoing, body and soul. At least,
I will loose your outer chains."

"No need to trouble the jailer for that. If I choose and you allow, I
can be rid of them myself."

The gypsy girl had extraordinarily little hands. Easily, as if she were
drawing off a glove, she drew out her hands from the fetters; and as
simply, without even sitting down, freed her feet. Lifting one foot in
the air, she balanced herself on the other, and, in a second, stood
unfettered. So she stood before Araktseieff, holding one end of her
chain in her hand, looking capable of laying about her with the other
end on the head of any one who came near her; and that person would have
remembered the attention to his dying day.

The keeper was alone in the cage with the unchained leopard.

"Listen to what I will do with you!"

The leopard took an attitude as if about to spring.

And this time Araktseieff was not, as usual, prodding about with his
sword-stick. He had no weapon of any description near to hand.

"I will find you a respectable situation, where you can both live
quietly and honestly, and educate yourself, mind and body--where, in
fact, you can improve yourself."

"But I don't want it. I want neither a cloister, nor praying nuns, nor
hypocritical monks. I will not work, unless I am beaten and made to; and
even if I am beaten, I won't pray."

"You shall not be forced to anything of that kind. I will send you
neither to a cloister, nor to a reformatory, but into the country. I
have a castle on my estate where a dear friend of mine is living."

There was a sudden sparkle in the girl's eyes. Throwing away the
threatening chain, and shaking back the loose hair with sudden movement
from her brow, she looked with joyful smile at the President of Police.

"Ah! you would send me to Daimona?"

"Yes; to Daimona."

Ah! stern Cato Censorius then had yet one tender chord in his heart, one
far more tender even than that which had been wrung by the banishment of
his son!

There was much talk about Daimona, but not in her favor; and what was
said of her was but a shadow of truth--the woman whom the favorite of
the Czar worshipped more than all the saints in heaven or earth! It was
with her he spent every moment he could snatch from affairs of state.
She was the sun of his life--at once his tyrant and his happiness. She
was a woman so savage, so cruel and passionate, that none but an
Araktseieff could have loved her. Or was it just for that that he did
love her? Every one who wished to appeal to Araktseieff, or hoped to
escape his vengeance, must first sue to his idol and offer his sacrifice
at her feet; and costly sacrifices they must be--no make-believes.
Daimona's extortions were renowned throughout the breadth of the empire.

Diabolka's pearly teeth glistened white through her coral lips.

"So you would like to go to Daimona?" asked the great official.

"Why not? She is a woman after my own heart."

"I am not sending you to her to be her servant, but to be her friend."

"Oh, we shall soon be very friendly!"

"She feels lonely; and you will know how to amuse her."

"I will divine her thoughts."

"If she takes a fancy to you, you will be happy with her. She will give
you smart clothes, trinkets, and riding-horses."

"And a whip to scourge the slaves with."

"And if you get on well, and become a _young lady_, Daimona will find
you a husband."

At these words the girl's face darkened. Shaking her head energetically,
till the dishevelled hair fell over it again, she struck her thigh
vehemently as she exclaimed, with a stamp of her foot:

"Then I will not go!"

A malicious smile curled Araktseieff's lips. Then he continued, in a
paternal tone:

"I understand. You have a lover here among the gypsies."

"A 'brother'!" exclaimed the girl.

"Oh, a 'brother'! Gypsies are prudish; they only have 'brothers.' And
suppose I were to send your brother, too, to Daimona's castle? He might
make a good overseer of slaves."

"Would that be possible?" cried Diabolka, joyously.

"It shall be done. I will send you together to Daimona, and you shall
become her confidential people."

Diabolka fell at the feet of the dreaded President and kissed them,
while Araktseieff, with Christian mildness, stroked the gypsy's unkempt
hair. And at the moment of this scene of foot-kissing and hair-stroking
the hearts of both were filled with thoughts of direst vengeance. In
the inexperienced girl's soul a scheme of as wide-spreading a nature was
developing against Araktseieff as he was evolving to the torture of the
girl, while she was as deft at lying, dissembling, and hiding her
feelings as was the statesman. It is the advantage alike of savages and
diplomats.

Which would triumph?

Diabolka and her "brother" set off that very day for Araktseieff's
estates, where Daimona was already expecting them.



CHAPTER XVI

SOPHIE


Araktseieff's chief care now was to divert the Czar from the influence
of his, Araktseieff's, enemies. And the best means to that end was a
visit to the military colonies. This atrocious idea had originated in
Araktseieff's brain; he was the creator of the military colonies. Half a
million soldiers, who had gone through every European war, were to be
rewarded for their services by being planted as colonists, regiment by
regiment, throughout the length and breadth of the empire. The peasants
were to teach them to plough and sow seed, while they in turn were to
instruct the peasants in drill and the use of firearms. A marvellous
conception--on paper! Thus in time the state would acquire three
millions of well-drilled soldiers at no cost. The scythe would pay the
piper.

But one important factor in the project had been left out of his
calculations by its author. The peasant did not take kindly to drill,
nor did the soldier to the scythe.

The Czar took the military colony of Novgorod for his first inspection;
Araktseieff was in his retinue. They returned unexpectedly; a fact
mentioned in the newspapers, as showing with what marvellous rapidity
the Czar travelled. He had actually accomplished the journey to the Ural
Mountains in four weeks; it was a peculiarity of his to gallop night and
day. Then they went on to describe the magnificent reception the
imperial cortège had met with in every town of the colony, which had
sprung up with magic quickness. They dilated on the triumphal arches,
deputations, the gifts offered them by the people, by which they
endeavored to express their unbounded loyalty to the Czar. The great
military parades which had been held were also graphically described;
and no one for a moment suspected but that all these things had duly
taken place.

On his return from the inspection, Araktseieff went on an official
mission to Warsaw. This, too, was duly announced by the newspapers,
without comment of any kind or description.

With the month of June springtide returned to St. Petersburg. Sophie
Narishkin's room was a mass of lilies-of-the-valley, her favorite
flower. Every vase, every available space was filled with them. With the
more favorable season her health seemed to be re-established. She could
now walk across the room without support, and began to think more about
food than medicines. She even began to speculate on being taken to court
balls in the winter. One of her aunts was to chaperon her in society;
perhaps she might even be allowed to dance a minuet. She was constantly
sending for Bethsaba to hear what a court ball was like. The king's
daughter had already attended one.

One day, after the Czar's return from the inspection, Bethsaba came to
see Sophie.

"Oh, your room is quite full of lilies-of-the-valley! Who sent them to
you?"

"Who else than father?"

Sophie had no secrets from Bethsaba. She openly called the Czar "father"
to her.

"Has he been here?"

"Yes; all last evening. It was a very sad one. I begin to feel quite
afraid of him."

"Did you do anything to vex him?"

"Oh no! It is his great love for me which makes me begin to feel
frightened of him. When he stands so long, looking silently at me, my
hands in his, I feel as if I cannot endure the silence; then I ask him,
'What is it, father? What is grieving you?' And he answers, 'My grief is
that I have no one to whom I can tell my troubles.' 'Can so great a man
as you have any trouble for which there is no help?' Then, pointing to
his heart, he said, 'Here is the trouble!' Upon which I coaxed him, and
begged him to tell me all his trouble. Who could tell--perhaps even my
childish simplicity might find a way to heal or lessen his sorrows? Then
he drew me again to his heart, laid my head on his shoulder, and said,
'I am ill, Sophie; and there is no physician in the wide world to whom I
can tell my ailment. There is something weighing on my heart, and there
is no confessor to whom I can confess it. By night my dreams make me
tremble; by day, my thoughts. I dread solitude, and I dread mankind. I
know that no one loves me; I know that I am condemned.' 'By whom?' 'By
God and man. Every one flatters me; only that which beats within me
tells me the truth and accuses me.' 'And does not this, too, that beats
within me tell the truth?' I cried; 'and does it not live, love, and
worship you? Let those two hearts of ours fight it out together!' Then
he embraced me, and whispered, 'Be it so. There is no one on whom I have
wrought such ill as you. Why should I not confess to you? You are my
martyr; if you can give me absolution, I am indeed absolved.' And
kneeling before me, he said, oh! such sorrowful words, 'Look! I ascended
the throne over my father's body. _I accepted the crown at the hands of
his murderers_, and placed it upon my head. I wept no tears when I heard
of his death; I felt relieved. I had no longer to dread his wrath, for
he had parted from me in anger. On how many a battle-field have I since
sought expiation! It was not for me. It was written upon my brow that
the bullets that whizzed about me should not strike me; it was spoken of
me that my punishment should be as my sin. As a son, my heart was cold
as stone to my father. How was I to suffer in my children? I have borne
them all to the grave. You are my last and only one! I am ground down to
the earth under the iron hand of Fate when I think of you, when I look
into your dear face. Are you, too, to be condemned for my great sin?' I
tried to console him. 'I want for nothing, father dear,' I said; 'I am
happy, quite happy, and mean to grow strong, and love you ever so long.'
And we both burst into tears. 'It is not for myself I tremble,' he
whispered. 'I see the sword hanging over me. I hear, in the watches of
the night, how the knife is being sharpened against the corner-stone of
my palace. I am ready. _Through blood I ascended the throne; in blood I
must descend it._ But it is for you that I tremble! God's sentence upon
me must not strike your head too!' Then I made him rise, and said such
wise things to him that I quite astonished myself; I am usually such a
silly child. I comforted him in a hundred ways, so that at last I won a
smile to his lips, and he said, 'Then give me absolution. Say, _Christe
eleison_!' I was so brave that I even began to talk politics with
him--actually got to matters of state! I said, 'Why torment yourself
with such fancies? Your people are not as bad as those of other
countries. I know something of the world! I have seen Frenchmen,
Italians, Germans. When they drink hard on holidays, they grow noisy and
quarrelsome; but your subjects, when they drink at holiday-time, only
stagger about, and laugh and embrace each other.'"

"Did not that make him laugh?"

"He only kissed me, telling me I was a wiser stateswoman than either
Talleyrand or Metternich; then grew grave again. 'So it used to be in
former times; and the distinction your wise little head draws did then
exist. But nowadays there is something in the air which seems to infect
the most peace-loving people; so that what you are sure of one day you
cannot be the next. I will tell you what happened to me on my recent
journey. It is not talked about, and newspapers and parliamentary
reports will be dumb about it. It was growing dusk as I neared the
military colony of Petrowsk; the setting sun was tinting bright crimson
the fleecy clouds covering the sky. It looked like a ragged imperial
mantle.' Here I, scolding him, asked who had ever seen a ragged imperial
mantle? And he, answering me, said, 'Among others, Julius Cæsar.' 'I
remarked that it was a sky which presaged storm. "A mere fancy,"
returned Araktseieff.

"'In the light of the crimson sky the triumphal arch erected in the
street of Petrowsk looked like a bower of molten gold. The other
triumphal arches under which we had passed had been of fir, which,
taking no reflection from the sun, looked gloomy, however brightly it
might be shining. What was this made of that it shone so brightly? An
immense throng surrounded it. As I drew nearer I discovered of what it
was composed. Oh, I have passed through many a triumphal arch erected in
welcome of me. They have been made of velvets and satins in my honor; I
have seen the two side pillars formed of cannon conquered from the
enemy; the arch decorated with standards wrested from them; the crown in
the centre formed of the orders of fallen heroes; the glittering aureole
around of the swords of the generals who were our prisoners. But the
triumphal arch of Petrowsk exceeded them all.

"'That which from afar in the light of the setting sun shone golden were
strips of ragged shirts and gowns; in place of flags were beggars'
sacks; the crown was composed of crutches stuck through an old
bottomless cooking-pot. It was a triumphal arch built up of rags and
beggars' sacks. While I stood transfixed at the hideous phantom, there
stepped one from the midst of the crowd--a fine, tall old man with
flowing beard, holding in his hand the customary wooden vessel, in which
was a crust of bread--and said:

"'"This is the bread which your soldiers have left us. Taste it! It is
made from the bark of fir-trees. The usual salt we cannot offer you, for
we have none but our salt tears. On this triumphal arch you will find
many a token left us by your soldiers; the ragged clothing of our wives
and daughters. They themselves are not here, because they could not
appear naked before you. The twelve chaste virgins commanded by the
Hetman we could not present to bid you welcome, because in all the
neighborhood there does not exist a single chaste virgin since you have
quartered your soldiers upon us."

"'At these words Araktseieff gave the command to the companies of Guard
Cossacks in our suite to disperse the rebellious crowd. But they were no
rebels, but despairing men. As the trumpet sounded they threw themselves
down by the wayside before our horses' feet, and, with hands and face
uplifted to me, implored:

"'"Deliver us from your soldiers. Take your armed men away from us. We
are loyal peasants, and will work. You must ride over our bodies if you
wish to go farther."

"'It was impossible to make way along the ground so densely strewn with
prostrate figures. Nor angry threats, nor gracious words availed.
Without intermission they cried, "Take your soldiers away from us!"
Seldom has a ruler been in such a dilemma. At length came help. From the
military colony appeared rank upon rank of veterans, marching in close
order, at their head a drum-major, as venerable and gray-bearded as was
the peasants' spokesman. I recognized them as my grenadiers. They
understood how to overcome the obstacles in their way. A blast of the
trumpet, and the sappers advancing seized the peasants by their hands
and feet, and, heaping one upon another, made summary way for the
brigade to pass. The drum-major, planting his standard on the ground,
said:

"'"Sire, do not leave us in this cursed place. We served you faithfully
in the battle-field for fifteen years; we fought for you against
Frenchmen, Germans, and Italians; and are we now to wage war against
field-mice, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and, what is worse, peasants? In
our youth we learned to fight like bears; we don't want, in our old age,
to learn to plough like oxen. We understand how to use our guns and
sabres, but we are not handy with scythe and sickle, and must we be
mocked at by peasants? Lead us into the enemy's country, where behind
every shrub lurks an ambush; but, for pity's sake, sire, do not leave us
here among your peasantry. Send us into the field against idolaters, but
do not leave us here to be cursed when we ask anything; cursed when we
strike them; cursed if we only look at them. Shut us up in a beleaguered
fortress, where we have only the flesh of fallen horses to eat--must
season it with powder instead of salt; and for drink have only the water
that runs down the walls; but do not condemn us to this forsaken spot on
earth, to labor for our bit of bread, envied by a set of thieving,
treacherous peasants. Bury us under the corpses of our brothers on the
field of battle, but do not bury us alive in the military colony. Curses
on him who first thought of it!"

"'Araktseieff here commanded the trumpeter to put an end to the man's
speech, but now peasants and soldiers began to make such an uproar that
the trumpet notes were deadened. Tlia' (the Czar's coachman), 'without
awaiting orders, turned the horses' heads, and we drove back the way by
which we had come, but avoiding the hideous arch. Thus ended my
triumphal progress. When I reached home I read in the papers the glowing
accounts of the ovations I had received. The red sky had truly betokened
storm.' This is what my poor father told me."

"It is indeed sad for so mighty a Czar, when his people _will_ not be
happy, whom he would fain make so. My father's people were happier. Why
does not your father go to them? They are his subjects."

"Bethsaba! What a capital idea! Don't let me forget it. I will propose
it to him as soon as ever he is in better spirits. Just now he is so
depressed. After he had said good-bye he came back to me again. 'I
forgot to ask how you were?' 'That proves,' said I, 'that I must be
looking well.' Looking anxiously at me, he asked if my face was always
as red as then; and I, laughing, said 'Yes. But why are you so anxious?
Does not the good God know how you love me; and are you not the
anointed, the chosen one of Him to whom you pray for my recovery to
health?' 'Yes, He knows,' he answered, gloomily, 'that I love you. But
was not King David also His anointed, chosen servant? And did not the
king sing all night through his despairing, penitential Psalm, and yet
his child was taken from him, in punishment of his sin with Bathsheba?'"

"Who was that Bathsheba?" broke in the king's daughter. "It can only be
another form for Bethsaba. Was there really any one who bore that name
before me? I have hitherto searched in vain to find a namesake in
society or in the Calendar. Never have I been able to find one. My
godmother, Duchess Korynthia, who named me so at my christening--up to
my sixth year I was a heathen--in answer to my question why I could not
find it in any Calendar, told me it was another name for Elizabeth, and
that St. Elizabeth's day was my name-day; and they give me presents on
that day. And now the Czar has told you that there really was a
Bathsheba. Who was she?"

"I do not know any more than you. I have never been taught anything
about her, although I am curious to know. I asked old Helena, and got
from her that Bathsheba was St. David's wife; but that was all she knew,
for only the priests are allowed to read the Bible. On that account it
is written in Bulgarian."

"But why, then, should she not be among the saints in the Calendar?"

"Of course, because she was a Jewess!"

"But he said she had sinned. Oh, why did my godmother give me the name
of a sinful woman?" And Bethsaba was ready to cry.

"Bethsaba, dear," said Sophie, "please don't tell anybody what I have
told you about the Czar's tour and the triumphal arch."

"But if my godmother asks what we have been talking about?"

"Tell her something else."

"What else?"

"Make up a fib."

"A fib! How does one do that? I have never done it."

Sophie Narishkin laughed in great amusement. She had learned to lie and
fib as quite a little child. Instead of "mamma" she had had to say
"madam"; and if her father brought her bonbons to tell people that
"Nicolo" (_la mère Cicogne_) had brought them.

What old Helena told her she dared not repeat to "madam"; what she heard
when with "madam" she must not breathe a word of to old Helena; what
either said must not be repeated to the Czar; and what the Czar told her
must be kept from every one. So she had been so inured to lying that she
had once brought her doctor to the verge of despair when, on his trying
to find out her symptoms, her prevarications made a diagnosis next to
impossible. How the poor child had rejoiced when at last she found two
beings to whom she might really open her heart, her father and her
friend!

"So you always tell every one all you know?" she asked Bethsaba.

"Oh no; although I do not understand the art of lying, if any one thinks
to pump me, or to catch me unawares, I have my own way of being even
with him. I begin to ask so many questions that he or she is only glad
enough to leave me in peace."

At which they both laughed. The music of fresh young laughter was rarely
heard in that cage.



CHAPTER XVII

BETHSABA


Princess Ghedimin had accorded her royal god-daughter permission to
visit her friend, Sophie Narishkin, frequently. To one but partially
acquainted with the Princess's secret heart, such intimacy was easily
explained. As appearances forbade her personally from visiting the
child, at least through Bethsaba she could obtain news of her health.

But to one in possession of the whole truth there was yet another cogent
reason.

The Czar, that reserved, laconic man, who had secrets from his
ministers, and did not even confess to the priests, was in the habit of
telling this favorite daughter everything. When an ordinary father
confides things to an idolized daughter they are matters of feeling; if
that father be the Czar, what he confides are matters of state.

Every word the Czar utters to Sophie Narishkin must necessarily concern
the condition of the country. Alexander I.'s words form the basis of
Europe's present and future relations. The softening or hardening of his
heart betokens peace or war. In that heart of his rest the mysteries of
great developments or upsettings of nations.

And Sophie has no secrets from her bosom friend, Bethsaba.

"Well, dear child, how did you find your little friend to-day?" asked
the Princess, on Bethsaba's return.

"She is taking her medicine more regularly; and, I think, it is doing
her good; for I tasted one of her powders one day, and it was very nasty
and bitter."

"Was she not talking a great deal again? Talking is bad for
convalescents."

"She told me that she had had a visit from her godfather."

Bethsaba had so far learned to "fib" that she said "godfather" instead
of "father."

"Did he stay long with her?"

"I do not know."

"Did he tell her anything of interest?"

"Oh yes; about King David and his wife Bathsheba. Do tell me, what was
Bathsheba's fault?"

"Bathsheba's fault! What makes you ask me such a question?"

"Because _he_ spoke about it; and I want to know what it was. Why is no
one called after her? And if she was so wicked, I don't want to bear her
name either. Give me some other."

"Quiet, silly child! She did nothing wrong."

"But Sophie's godfather told her that she had committed sin with King
David."

"It was love, and no sin."

"Love! What is that?"

Maria Alexievna Korynthia laughed aloud.

"Now, am I to tell you what is love? You will know soon enough, child,
when you fall in love yourself."

"How shall I do that? Is love an evil which attacks people like an
illness, or is it a good thing for which people long?"

Maria Alexievna Korynthia laughed still louder.

"Both together!"

"How does it begin?"

"When a young man looks deep into your eyes."

"Into my eyes? I could not endure that; I should die outright."

"But suppose the young man wanted to make you his wife, and became
engaged to you?"

"How can all that come about? I cannot imagine it."

"The young man might begin by sending the girl some special birthday
present."

"And that would mean that he was in love with her? And if the girl
accepted his present, would it mean that she was in love with him? Oh,
how nice, how delightful! Must the girl make him a present too?"

"Only her love."

"Nothing else? Oh, how pretty, how charming! And suppose some other
young man gives us handsomer presents, do we accept them too, and love
him as well?"

Korynthia clapped her hands with amusement.

"Yes, of course. But only if one can keep the second lover secret from
the first."

"No, no. No secret dealings. I would rather confess that I loved another
too. And why not, if love is good, and no crime? For instance, when I
have a husband, may I not tell him that I love strawberries?"

"Strawberries! Oh yes. That is only eating."

"May I tell him that I love Sophie Narishkin?"

"Oh yes. That is only friendship."

"And would he behead me if he knew my love for dancing?"

"Of course not."

"Then if I may love strawberries, dancing, and my friend, why not a
youth, if he be good and handsome?"

"Oh, precious innocence! Do people never talk about love in your
country?"

"Never."

"Are there, then, no youths and maidens?"

"Of course there are. But in our country, when a young man wants to
marry a girl he settles her price with her father and takes her home. If
she is loving and faithful to him, he buys her costly clothing; if not,
he turns her away and buys himself another wife."

"That is not the custom here. Here a woman may only love one husband;
this is commanded by our religion!"

"That is quite different. Why did you not tell me at once that love is
commanded by religion? Oh, I will faithfully follow the dictates of
religion! You do, too, don't you? You love your husband? Do you look
deep into his eyes? I have never noticed it."

"Ah, child, life is long; and the season of love, we call the honeymoon,
all too short."

"Then the honeymoon, or month, should be portioned out into minutes, and
minutes into seconds, that each day of one's life should have one such
second."

"You will soon find the impossibility of that."

"Now I know that Bathsheba's sin was in not loving the man whom her
religion commanded her to love. Yet what had King David to do with all
that?"

Yes; Korynthia, too, would fain have known how King David got mixed up
in the Czar's talk. For the chattering girl had so confused her with her
endless, inconsequent questions that she never thought of the prophet's
words of reproof to the king.

A Russian is reticent beyond all men. None save the Czar dared to allude
to the affair of the triumphal arch. Araktseieff was silent, because he
did not want the fiasco connected with his military-colony scheme to
spread. The detachment of Cossack guards were despatched to Kasan, and
those others who had been present knew how to observe profoundest
silence as to what had taken place.



CHAPTER XVIII

KORYNTHIA


The young Circassian Princess could not have been in a better school
than that of Princess Ghedimin.

Korynthia might have served as a type to that Russian naturalist who,
outdoing Darwin, endeavored to prove that women are degenerate cats. In
vain, be it here mentioned, was it sought to soften him so far as to
modify his views into their being a race of ennobled cats. He stuck to
his opinion. The beautiful Korynthia could be coquettish as an Aspasia,
stonily cold as a Diana. This time, however, it was not Diana, but
Aspasia, who changed her lover into Acteon.

       *       *       *       *       *

The men whom she thus distinguished with her favors, like Chevalier
Galban, never succeeded in unravelling the riddle of the lovely sphinx.
Korynthia allowed him to accompany her in hunts, danced with him at
balls, gave him her bouquet to hold when dancing with another man,
laughed at his sallies, made fun of others with him, even kissed him at
parting, the while holding him as far off as a planet its
satellites--and of such satellites she had more than Saturn--each and
all permitted to revolve about her, none to approach her too near.

Yet when in society she fixed a man with a stony look of a goddess,
acknowledging his bow with the contraction of the lips by which great
ladies express, at once, disdain and reproach, he was the man for whom
her heart was cherishing secret flames.

No one knew it, for he, thus signalled out, an officer of the guards,
distinguished alike for his genius and his many gay adventures, was
careful to keep to himself that one day a perfumed note was brought him
by a mysterious messenger, and on opening the delicately tinted envelope
he read: "An unknown benefactress, who is interested in your fate, is
ready to pay off all your debts if you will stay away at nights from
Fräulein Ilmarinen's Saturnalia."

We think we are not mistaken when we take, in connection with the above,
the usurer's speech, who certainly did not volunteer it without good
grounds: "There are certain young, rich, and lovely ladies in St.
Petersburg who are ready to come to the aid of a young officer whom I
could name."

The young Endymion's reply to the perfumed note was that night to enter
the proscribed Eleusis on the box-seat of Zeneida's sledge.

Korynthia's hatred of Zeneida was not on account of her husband, but of
Pushkin. Zeneida's position with regard to Prince Ghedimin was only
superficial. The devotion of great nobles to prima donnas is merely a
matter of fashion, and of cutting two ways. "What is allowed to you is
allowed to me!" The things which rankle most in the Princess's mind are
that her rival possesses a finer exotic garden than she does; that she
has finer horses; and that whenever they meet her toilets are
unquestionably triumphant. And they are constantly meeting; for her fame
as an artiste opens all doors to Zeneida. They meet at brilliant balls;
their horses are pitted together on the turf; their carriages are in
juxtaposition at reviews; and the Princess is convinced that all this
luxury is derived from her husband's Siberian silver-mines, which enable
their owner to indulge in the amusement of permitting two women to
outrival each other in the art of squandering. Could she but come out
conqueror in the strife, she could forgive the artist her extravagance;
but never would she forget that she, a Princess, had had to give in to
her even one hair's-breadth. Here was the second ground of her hatred of
Zeneida.

There was still a third. The moment of weakness, which in her early
youth had made her all his life long an important factor in the life of
the Czar, was forgotten; had been long buried in oblivion. The Czarina
was the object of universal admiration, sympathy, and worship; and she
was seen to be visibly fading before people's eyes. Public opinion,
indeed, became so strong in the matter that it was often a question in
secret societies whether there should not be a repetition of what
occurred in the reign of Peter III. and Catherine II., to make the Czar
prisoner and proclaim Elisabeth reigning Czarina. And, withal, Princess
Ghedimin knew herself to stand nearer to the Czar's heart than did the
Czarina; a silken cord--Sophie Narishkin--held them together. No such
silken cord of union existed for Elisabeth. Alexander's love for her as
a husband had been buried forever in the grave of the last child she had
borne to him. And here, once more, did Korynthia find her detested rival
in her path.

While the Czar avoided her, he lavished the wealth of his favor upon
Zeneida. The prima donna stood between Czar and Czarina. Both loved and
petted her. They were never together save when Zeneida made a third.
When listening to her singing, reading aloud, or the charm of her
pleasant talk, the imperial couple would forget their mutual
estrangement and draw together; when, on the contrary, the Czarina,
appearing at some court festivity leaning on the Czar's arm, would come
face to face with the Princess, their arms would fall abruptly apart,
and they would turn away from each other. That she knew right well. And,
withal, she must display her favors to those who were indifferent to
her, appear haughty and disdainful to those she would fain have
encouraged, seem affectionate to the husband she hated, be humble to the
man on whom she had a claim, and play the magnanimous protectress to the
rival of whom she was jealous. Jealousy is terrible enough when it has
one head; how much more when it has three! The three heads of her
jealousy were: passion, pride, and remembrance.

And to her had been intrusted the bringing up of the Circassian king's
daughter! The Princess began her task by giving her at her christening a
name which the world then, and now, can only have condoned for sake of
the psalmist king, David.

Bethsaba was fortunate in that she united to her inexperience and
innocence a considerable fund of imaginative fancy and the
characteristic cunning of her people. Moreover, she remembered many a
saying of her good mother, whom now she sees but once a year--on
New-year's day, when some forty thousand people assemble to pay
allegiance to the imperial pair in the great Throne Room. There stands
her mother on one of the steps of the throne; but her brow, instead of
wearing a crown, wears furrows. And as often as Bethsaba looks upon her
does she remember that her mother, to whom she may not speak, exchanged
her crown for those furrows, because she stabbed the man who dared to
say to her, "I love you; give me your love in return."

Then she would begin to ponder over what that "love" could be which had
made it so easy for one to slay and the other to die. At one time it
would seem good and sweet, and one's duty; at another, evil, full of
pain, and, above all, sinful.



CHAPTER XIX

THE MONSTER


Krizsanowski had just ended his report of the St. Petersburg
conference--to which a pale lady had lent most careful attention--when
the duenna, keeping guard, entered hurriedly, and whispered,
"Araktseieff has come." Then as quickly retreated.

"Oh, heavens!" sighed the pale lady, pressing her hands convulsively to
her bosom.

"Now be strong as a man," whispered Krizsanowski. "The decisive moment
is at hand!"

"Can it be that that brings him?" she asked, tremblingly.

"Not a doubt of it. Look well to your women, for he brings an arch spy
with him. Handsome and dangerous with the sex."

Just then the sound of carriage-wheels was audible in the courtyard
below, amid much noise and the harsh tones of a man's voice.

"Make haste away! The Grand Duke is coming!" the pale lady whispered to
Krizsanowski.

He, rising, took her hand in his.

Again the duenna appeared, this time rushing in, and saying,
breathlessly:

"The Grand Duke is back from the manœuvres. Just as they drove in at the
gate one of the horses stumbled, the outrider was thrown, and the Grand
Duke's pipe was so jolted that it broke one of his front teeth. He is
wild with rage."

"Alas!" exclaimed the lady, and was hastening out. Krizsanowski held her
back.

"You would do well just now to keep out of his way."

"On the contrary, it is just now that I must hurry to him," she
answered, freeing herself from Krizsanowski's hold. "But you hasten away
from here, that no one sees you."

"Well, then, be strong as a woman," he murmured, and disappeared.

Yet it was so difficult to disappear. Krizsanowski was in the palace of
Belvedere, in the royal park of Lazienka, the residence of the Polish
Viceroy, outside Warsaw. The park was surrounded by a great wall,
guarded on all sides by armed soldiers. The castle itself a fortress,
with high bastions and intrenchments, a deep moat round it, and
drawbridge; every outlet was protected by an embrasure, there was no
evading the sentries. Within cannon-range the noble forest-trees had
been cleared away, and turf laid down adorned with tulip-beds. It is
humanly impossible to go or come unperceived. And yet Krizsanowski did
succeed in getting away, although Grand Duke Constantine had had the
Belvedere built to his own plan, and had watched its construction with
his own eyes. It was impossible that there should be any secret passage
unknown to him--and yet, supposing one did exist? The architect had been
a Pole. He was capable of constructing a secret passage by night, and so
building it up again that the Grand Duke had no notion of its existence.
And so it really was. Constantine might have been surprised in his bed
any night were not assassination detestable to a Pole.

His wife hurried out to meet him.

The tyrant met her in the armory hall. He was exactly as his
contemporaries have described. Imagination had not run riot.

The Grand Duke had reason enough to be wroth with his brothers. They had
all inherited their mother's beauty and noble presence. He alone
possessed his father's repulsive features and person. Czar Paul was the
impersonation of ugliness, so hideous in appearance that he would allow
no coin bearing his effigy to be struck throughout the whole course of
his reign. And Constantine was a faithful counterpart of his father. His
enormous horn-shaped nose stood out from his face as if it had no
connection with his forehead; his little sea-green eyes were scarce
visible under his thick, shaggy eyebrows and blinking, almost shut,
eyelids. His hair, beard, eyebrows, and eyelashes were the color of
hemp, his face red as Russia leather. But the most remarkable thing
about him was that the one half of his face was unlike the other, as
though Nature had intended to crown her master-work of ugliness by
joining together two different caricatures. One corner of the mouth was
turned up, the other down; the scars of small-pox, wrinkles, warts, so
completed the disfigurement that the painter who would have perpetuated
the face could only have attempted it in profile. In fact, the artist
who would have painted him full-face would have been guilty of
high-treason. So he is described by contemporary writers.

His exterior was the true picture of his inner man; his features were
the slaves of his passions. To look at him was to make one shudder or
deride. As was his face, so was his disposition--violent, passionate,
cruel to a degree. He carried a stick always in his hand, and laid it
about him freely. If it be true that his brother, the Czar, spent two
thousand rubles a year in quill pens, it may be guessed what amount
Constantine's yearly budget showed for smashed walking-sticks. The stick
he now held in his hand was broken and split all the way up. No doubt he
had been again laying it impartially about the shoulders of the several
commandants of division. Their morning prayers were blows.

And there must needs come this accident. And through the confounded
horse stumbling, and the postilions being thrown, the pipe, which was
never out of the Grand Duke's mouth, had hurt his gum and broken him a
tooth. He uttered the most horrible oaths, spitting out blood the while.

"Cursed hound! As soon as he comes to himself throw him into the water
to rouse him! Bring him here. Miserable rascal! I'll break all his bones
for him!" Just then he became aware of a gentleman advancing towards
him. "Who is that? Chevalier Galban? No, you fools--that hound, I mean;
not this gentleman! What does he want? Araktseieff has come? The devil
take--Humph! It's the barber I want, and not a minister. Can't he see
I've got a broken tooth? Why are you hanging about, Chevalier Galban?"

At that moment a lady, coming hurriedly up, pushed the Chevalier aside.

"For Heaven's sake, what has happened to you?" she cried, throwing
herself on Constantine's breast. "My life, my dearest, are you wounded?
What is it?" And she kissed his bleeding lips.

Over the monster's face dawned a sudden smile--a smile joyous as the
aurora borealis, sad as the depths it was, but it transformed the Grand
Duke's hideous face. It chased away his violence. The wild, rugged
features became more harmonious; the brutal mouth endeavored to assume a
gentle expression.

"Nothing, nothing, my love!" he replied, in the voice of a lion
caressing its mate. "Now, now, do not cry. Don't be frightened!"--his
voice growing lower and lower. "There is nothing the matter."

"Oh, but your lips are bleeding. Your tooth is broken."

And she tried to stanch the blood with her handkerchief.

"It is not broken clean out," growled Constantine. "Only the crown of
it. And the devil take the crown!"

"Why, your Highness," put in Galban, beginning to take part in the
conversation, which had assumed so much milder a tone, "do you say, 'May
the devil take the crown'?"

"At present it is only the crown of my tooth that is under discussion,"
returned the Viceroy, emphatically, in somewhat trembling tones. "Go you
to Araktseieff, Chevalier Galban, and rest awhile after the fatigues of
the journey. We shall have time for our talk after dinner. Before I have
eaten and drunk I am in no mood to talk over state matters. Do not spoil
my appetite. _Zdravtvijtjé!_ And as for you, bring that
good-for-nothing here as soon as he has come to himself. I will try a
couple of good boxes on the ear to see if his teeth are set like mine.
The scoundrel! If I had not been holding my pipe pretty firmly between
my teeth the mouth-piece would have pierced through my jugular--"

"Oh, don't!" stammered his wife, in superstitious dread, laying her
trembling hands over the Grand Duke's mouth.

He, pressing a kiss upon the palm of her outstretched hand, threw his
arm round her waist, and she, nestling up to him, they retired to their
inner apartments, leaving Chevalier Galban standing in the hall.

"So you really would grieve if I were brought to you one day dead, run
through the chest to my back?"

"Oh, do not say such things!" exclaimed she, making the sign of the
cross over the spot to which Constantine pointed. And to smother such
fearful words she shut his mouth with a long, fervent kiss.

"Child!" murmured the monster, and, taking his wife's head between his
two hands, like a bear hugging the head of a lamb, he looked into her
eyes. "Child! Does it not go against you to kiss my mouth? Do not the
fumes of tobacco disgust you?"

With an innocent glance, she answered:

"I suppose every man's mouth emits the same smell of tobacco. I remember
my father's did."

At these words the monster pressed her with such force to himself as
though he would stifle her in his embrace.

"Oh, wondrous child! She knows neither the lies nor the flatteries of a
court lady. She does not tell me that my breath is ambrosian. She only
knows that it was so when her father kissed her, and therefore the lips
of every man must be the same! Wife of mine, my father was as hideous as
I am, and his wife loved him as dearly as you do me. And yet he was as
repulsive as I."

"You cannot tell what you are like."

"Oh yes, I know. My mother used to tell me. She loved me best of all her
children; spoiled me; allowed me my own way in everything. When my
brothers and sisters used to complain about it, she would say, 'Let him
alone. It is because he has his father's ugliness that I love him so.'
But I am a bad man too, and that my father never was. True, he was
hot-headed, and a blow was as quick as a word with him; but I am savage
by instinct. I am bad because I like it."

"That is not true. Who says so?"

"I say it myself. Often when I come home with an inch of cane in my
hand, having broken it on the backs of all who have come in my way, I
feel as if I could break the rest of it on my own head." Here, for the
first time noticing that the broken cane still hung from his wrist by
the strap, he flung it hastily from him.

"No, no, dear," said his wife, "it is that bad men exasperate you to
wrath. You have to do with rough people who are stupid and cunning, and
that irritates you. If they were good you would treat them kindly."

The monster stroked his wife's cheeks with caressing hand.

"And you really believe that I am good? Wonderful! I should have thought
I had done enough to give proof to the contrary. I thought I was a very
devil."

Meanwhile his wife had coaxed the monster to her dressing-room, and,
sitting him down before the toilet-table, had been busily occupied by
the aid of all manner of brushes and combs in bringing hair and beard
into something like order. Then she bathed his hot, dusty face with
lily water, and stuck court-plaster over the cut on his mouth.

"Am I a pretty boy now?" said he, with the look of a child who has just
had his face washed.

"That you always are to me. But to-day you will have strangers dining
with you."

"True. And, moreover, grand gentlemen from St. Petersburg--from our
Russian Paris. Of course they are accustomed to smart folk, so make me
smart. How do we know whether these Frenchified gentlemen will like your
Polish cookery? You make light of it, after the manner of women-folk,
and then they'll praise it."

"Do you wish me to appear at the table?"

"Of course. Why not? Even were the Czar himself my guest! Are you not my
own little wife? Come, answer; are you not my very own little wife?"

She answered a timid "Yes."

"I would not advise any one who values sound limbs in his body to
presume to look down upon you, Excellency or no Excellency!" cried the
Viceroy, wrathfully, menacing his own face with his fists in the glass.
"True, this Araktseieff was devoted hand and foot to my father--he
followed him about like a dog. Yet, for all that, I'd rather know him to
be safe on the island which Kotzebue named after him, in the Yellow Sea,
than here."

"Why, dearest?" asked his wife, as she tied and arranged the Grand
Duke's necktie.

"Oh, women have nothing to do with state secrets," he answered, as he
strove to twirl the ends of his mustache evenly--an attempt in which all
his efforts were unavailing, for one side would not keep together. Woe
to the private if the Grand Duke's eyes lighted on an ill-waxed
mustache! "I only tell you he may esteem himself a lucky man if I have
no cane at hand during our interview."

"Oh, don't terrify me, dearest!"

"I was only joking. May I not have my bit of fun? Well, are we ready
now? I am hungry. I have been working all the morning like any
corporal."

"We will go, then. Won't you choose out one of your sticks?"

In every room of the palace where the Grand Duke went, even in his
wife's dressing-room, stood a couple of sticks; and it was as much as
any one's life was worth to move them from where he placed them.

"A stick? For what? I am not lame."

"No; but to chastise the culprit, he who ran you into such danger. You
might have been killed. He well deserves to be punished."

"Does he, really? Well, then, you choose one. What, this good, stout
one? Ah, that won't break so easily. So you feel more for me than for
the man who injured me? Come, that is a rare trait in your sex. Women
usually expend their sympathy on the guilty. Now, then, let us be off."

Johanna took Constantine's left arm; the stick was in his right hand. In
the armory hall the delinquent, with head bound up and swollen cheeks,
was awaiting sentence. He trembled like a dog when he saw the Grand Duke
in the doorway.

"You scoundrel!" snorted the monster, swishing his cane threateningly
through the air. "You deserve a good sound hiding! Can you not look out
when you are driving? So you have got badly hurt? There, take these five
rubles--buy yourself doctor's stuff with them. Gallows bird! What, you
limp! Then take the stick to walk with, you good-for-nothing!"

And he passed on with his wife.

A monster arm in arm with his good genius!

"Humph!" growled the Grand Duke. "It is odd. You have discovered the
better self within me; and now it almost seems as if I, too, were
sensible of it."

The two gentlemen were already in the dining-hall. There were no other
guests. The Viceroy was not particularly hospitable; nor had he much
occasion to exercise that virtue, for the people over whom he ruled came
but seldom to the palace. But they must stand high in favor who were
allowed to sit at his table when his wife, Johanna, was present.

Araktseieff was one of these privileged ones. The two men had seen each
other shed tears--once only, and no other eye had witnessed it. The
occasion was when first they met after Czar Paul's death. The faithful
follower loved the dead man as fondly as did the monster. Others
breathed a sigh of relief when the grave closed over him. The world was
rid of a burden! The assassins were pardoned; some even attained to high
positions as generals. Two men only never forgave them--Grand Duke
Constantine and Araktseieff. When, at Austerlitz, the French surrounded
General Bennigsen, Constantine charged them like a Berserker, at the
head of a company of Dragoon Guards, and, with the daring of a wild
animal, rescued him from their midst, only to call out later to him, "I
have saved your life, and you were one of my father's assassins!" It was
this common hatred which enabled him to "suffer" Araktseieff. He
"suffered" him. And that meant a great deal with him. Moreover,
Araktseieff was a minister who could be beaten--be sent away--and yet
who always came back again.

"_Zdravtazjtye!_" was the Grand Duke's salutation to his guests. "One
can still talk Russian with you, eh? You have not grown into
full-fledged Frenchmen? Kiss my wife's hand!"

Chevalier Galban carried out this injunction with all a courtier's
grace. Araktseieff, with the unction characteristic of the genuine
Russian peasant, pressing the lady's hand with both of his to his lips,
amid many long-winded compliments, finally ending up with an amorous
sigh.

"Ah! the sight of this domestic happiness, this 'sweet home,' reminds me
of my own home."

Johanna alone was unconscious of the deep affront hidden in these words.
But her very unconsciousness incensed the Grand Duke the more; his face
crimsoned with wrath. It was well that he had but now made a present of
his cane, else it would emphatically have expressed on Araktseieff's
back, "My good man, this is not Daimona!"

"Don't talk bosh!" growled the imperial host; "but toss off a glass of
schnapps in good Russian style. I can't stand your foreign fads and
fashions--French compliments and German maunderings. I never could learn
a foreign language. I dare say you well remember, Araktseieff, the sort
of school-boy I made! My poor tutor! When he used to try to impress on
me to work hard, I would answer him, 'What for? You are always learning
and learning, and are only an usher, after all!'"

"Better still was the answer your Imperial Highness gave to your
professor of geography: 'I do not learn geography; I make it!'"

"All very fine. But you see I do not make it."

"All in good time."

"Shut up. Here comes the soup; set to work, and don't talk. And keep
silence, gentlemen, while my wife says grace; she does the praying for
me. And now, no serious subjects during dinner. Anecdotes are allowed,
drinking is a duty, swearing is not forbidden; but he who makes a coarse
speech in presence of my wife must straightway make full apology to her.
If you get short commons, I must beg you, in my wife's name, to excuse
it; she was not prepared for guests. That our fare is strictly
national--Russian and Polish--needs no excuse. I cannot abide French
cookery; their names are enough to my ears, let alone the kickshaws
themselves to my digestion! And as for my wife, they are positively
injurious to her!"

Chevalier Galban had his word to say:

"Oh, French cooks are swells among us just now. The family 'Robert' are
quite aristocrats in St. Petersburg; it confers nobility to possess one
of them in one's household. His French cook is a greater personage than
the Czar himself; for he makes out the Czar's daily menu, and suffers no
supervision in his domain. He is a more important man than the family
physician, for he rules strong and weak alike. What he refuses to serve
up is unobtainable. M. Robert does what the Polish Senate alone was
empowered to do when the 'niepozwolim' was yet in fashion. If his master
sends word that he desires this or that dish that day at table, M.
Robert meets him with his _liberum veto_, which in French implies, '_Ça
n'existe pas!_' Quite recently Prince Narishkin sent for his cook, that
he might repeat to him by word of mouth his written refusal to prepare a
blanc-mange for the dinner-table."

"What, did he give an audience to the fellow?"

"Yes; and M. Robert repeated his refusal verbally. The Prince began
giving him a piece of his mind, when the _chef_, rising on his heels,
said, 'Sir, you forget to whom you are speaking!'"

"The devil! And what was the end of the story?"

"Well, the Prince went without his blanc-mange."

"Ah, ah! That would just suit me. I should be for eating up the cook
instead of his dishes."

Chevalier Galban was a capital talker; he took the chief burden of the
conversation upon himself.

"A funny thing happened at St. Petersburg a few days ago, at Prince
Popradoff's, who has a French cook, and a French tutor for the children.
The cook was but so-so; the tutor no great pedagogue. All of a sudden
the cook was taken ill, and confusion reigned. The tutor offered his
services, saying he knew a little about cookery, and he was forthwith
despatched to the kitchen, where he sent up seven excellent dinners.
Meanwhile the sick cook offered to carry on the little prince's tuition,
and he made surprising progress. To make a long story short, both
confessed to have only taken their situations from necessity, and, in
fact, to have changed departments."

"And the Prince had not found it out? You must tell that story to my
wife, more in detail, when you go into the drawing-room. Let us now
speak of more important things. How was my august brother the Emperor
Alexander, Araktseieff, when you left him?"

As he named the Czar the Grand Duke had risen, in which action he was
followed by the others.

"I regret, your Highness, to be unable to give a satisfactory answer to
that question."

"What is the matter, then, with his Majesty my brother? Eh? Or can you
not speak out before my wife? All right. You do well not to startle her.
You shall tell me when we are alone. And how is her Majesty the Czarina
Elisabeth? Are there any unpleasantnesses between them? If you have no
good news to give, better say nothing before my wife. Do not trouble
her."

Araktseieff, in the face of this caution, found it wiser to lick his
fingers and say nothing.

"It's always the case when a man marries too young!" resumed the Grand
Duke, picking his teeth with his two-pronged fork. "I found that out
myself, and had cause to repent it. Well, thank Heaven, that's past! I
had work enough before I could obtain a separation from my first wife.
But we won't talk of that before my wife. After all, it was I who was in
fault; I who was to blame. A woman who could put up with me is as rare
as a comet. And how does the world wag with you, Galban; have you got
caught yet? Who is the unlucky woman who calls you husband? If I were
the Czar I would levy a tax upon all such bachelors as you. The
old-bachelor tax! Lucky for you that I shall never come to the throne."

"Your Highness! It was an understood thing that we touched upon no
serious subjects at table," observed Araktseieff, deferentially.

"Yes; you are right. I was infringing the rule. To make amends, let us
empty our glasses to my wife's health."

The men's three glasses clinked together, then touched the fourth,
extended to them by a white hand, while the fiery Tokay moistened a
delicate red lip. Dinner was over, dessert on the table. The Grand Duke
only took hazelnuts, which he cracked with his teeth. The first three he
laid on Johanna's plate.

For the first time since she sat down to dinner she spoke, and then but
in a whisper.

"Oh, please be careful about your teeth. You might break away another
crown!"

"That may be!" said the Grand Duke, leaning his elbows on the table, and
darting a quick glance from under his bushy eyebrows at Araktseieff, who
understood it. Then Constantine kissed his wife's forehead.

"Now leave us, darling. Have coffee served on the terrace, and take the
Chevalier with you. He likes to end up dinner with his coffee in French
fashion. While we, like good Poles, will sit over our wine a little
longer."

On this Johanna, rising, took the Chevalier's arm, and, followed by a
footman carrying the silver coffee equipage, left the dining-hall.

The two men, left alone, applied themselves to the wine, filling up
their glasses a fourth time with golden Tokay.

"To the health of my august brother the Czar!"

They drained their glasses and refilled them.

"In truth, the Czar stands in sore need of that fervent aspiration!"
quoth Araktseieff, with a deep sigh.

"What! is he seriously ill, then? What ails him?"

"He is suffering from the malady hardest to cure--melancholia. All the
doctors' arts are of no avail. For months together the Czar gets no
sleep, save a short, unrefreshing siesta at noon. By night and day he is
tortured by all kinds of fancies. He is weary of life; and what wonder?
Wherever he looks he sees nothing but ruin and decay in all that which
he so painfully built up. The dreams he cherished are dispelled. Every
institution for promoting liberty of thought and action which he called
into life has he been himself compelled, one by one, to annul and
abolish. And he has no spirit or energy left to pull himself together
and devise new schemes. He feels that he has aroused disaffection, and
has not the moral strength to become a tyrant and quell that
disaffection. He knows himself to be surrounded by assassins, and has
not energy to take firm hold of the only weapon which remains to him.
Moreover, his domestic happiness is ruined. Your Imperial Highness knows
the catastrophe. The Czar's spirit is clouded by the weight of religious
depression; he looks upon himself as an irremediable sinner, condemned
alike by God and man. Shudderingly surveying the fatality, he is
hurrying it on. A mental condition such as this must in the end
undermine the strongest constitution. The slightest indisposition might
prove fatal at any moment; and he takes not the slightest care of
himself. He will suffer no physician about him, and keeps his ailments
secret. It is my firm belief that in his heart is the seat of disease,
and that the heart is wounded to death."

"My poor brother!" muttered the Grand Duke, resting his head on his
hand. "That noble, powerful fellow, by whose side I was at the victory
of Leipsic, when he concluded peace with Napoleon on the island in the
Niemen, and in the triumphal entry into Paris; and in Vienna, at the
Congress; and wherever we went I heard people whisper, 'There he is,
that splendid-looking man beside the deformed one!' Light and shadow; we
were their true exponents."

"We must be prepared for the worst. The feeble flame which still feeds
that light needs but a breath to extinguish it, and then the whole
country will be given up to most terrible anarchy. The ground is
undermined by countless conspiracies; we are menaced on all sides. Who
can withstand the flood when the gates of heaven are opened? The Czar
has no children. Who is to succeed him?"

"He whom the Czar appoints."

"And supposing he appoints no one? It is, indeed, impossible to get him
to do so. The law, he says, speaks plainly enough--it is the Czarevitch
who succeeds the Czar."

The Grand Duke burst into a loud laugh. He threw himself back in his
chair in his fit of laughter; he laughed till his open jaws disclosed
two rows of teeth like those of a yawning lion.

"Ha, ha, ha! That's a good one--the Czarevitch! No, my friend, he is
much obliged; he would rather not sit on the throne! You don't catch me
wearing Ivan's diamond crown!"

"Why not, your Highness?"

"Because I prefer to see your ribbon across your back than about my
throat!"

Czar Paul had been strangled by his adjutant's ribbon.

"What are you thinking of, your Highness?"

"Of my father--and of my people. I should be a pretty fellow for the St.
Petersburgers! Last year, when my illustrious brother the Czar, thinking
himself in a bad way, was graciously pleased to command my presence, and
I repaired to the capital, Hui! there was a panic! They began to take
steps to appoint me his successor. As soon as I showed my face in the
streets they were cleared in a trice. People took refuge in doorways
rather than salute me. Ah! how they flocked into the churches! The
sacristan had never had so many kopecs in his alms-bag as while I was in
St. Petersburg. The priests almost dragged the angels by the feet out
from heaven in their fervent supplications for the Czar's recovery. They
sketched a caricature of my profile, with my huge nose, at every street
corner, with all manner of slanders beneath it! And when it pleased
Providence to restore my imperial brother so far that he could drive out
again, there were rejoicings. The people thronged round his carriage,
hardly allowing the horses room to plant their feet, and almost buried
him under flowers. And all this to show their hatred to me. Not that
they loved him, but because they dreaded me. You just now said that even
he is surrounded on all sides by assassins; but the difference is that
they would despatch him to heaven, me to hell. They believe they would
find in me the son of my father--a man with iron hand for their iron
necks, as was my sainted father."

"And that is what they need! The Russian's iron neck only bends to the
hand of iron."

"Well, let them have it; but Heaven preserve me from them, and them from
me!"

"But every true man sets his hopes upon your Highness!"

"Eh! Time enough for that. But why are we talking such folly? Why should
I survive him? I am but eighteen months his junior. Fill your glass.
Long life to my brother his Majesty, the Czar! And what else brings you
hither? We will speak no more of that."

"I came with a commission from his Imperial Majesty. It is his pleasure
that the succession be now settled. The Czar has no heir."

"Well, no more have I! But one may be on the way--as you see I have
recently married."

"So I see; but only left-handed. A morganatic marriage."

"So far. But as soon as my wife bears me a child I will make her my
legitimate wife."

"That is not possible to your Highness."

"Why not?"

"Because your Highness's first wife, Anna Feodorovna, is still living."

"But the Synod has granted me a separation, and she has already
renounced the name of Anna Feodorovna and resumed that of Juliana of
Saxe-Coburg; moreover, my fresh marriage was entered upon with the
sanction of the Czar."

"But it was only a left-handed marriage."

"Then we will convert it into a right-handed one."

"That is impossible. In the State Archives is a ukase of Czar Alexander
to the effect that _only women descending from reigning families may be
raised to the imperial throne_, and the descendants of those who are not
of royal birth may not inherit the throne."

"Then when I--which Heaven forbid--come to the throne I will promulgate
another ukase annulling that one."

"But there is a further obstacle, which not even the Czar's ukase can
overcome. Your Highness is aware that _a woman may not ascend the
imperial throne unless she be of the Orthodox faith_. Does your Highness
believe that Johanna Grudzinska would abjure the Roman Catholic faith
for a crown?"

"Not for all the crowns in Europe! The heart of that woman is so stanch
that she would scarce change a horse grown old in her service for a
young one! Still less would she change her religion. I would not advise
any one to try it on her."

"And there is yet another still greater obstacle than even that of
religion--society. Is St. Petersburg society to be exiled from the
Czar's palace? Johanna Grudzinska may be a very angel of light, but she
would by no means make a Czarina whom the Ghedimins, Narishkins,
Trubetzuois, Muravieffs, and whatever all their names may be, would be
willing to acknowledge to stand on a par with themselves, still less to
whom they may pay allegiance."

"Then let them keep it."

"What does your Highness mean by that?"

"A very simple meaning. Let them keep their crown. I keep my wife!"

"Your Highness does not mean that in earnest?"

"In thorough earnest and in cold blood," said the Grand Duke, laying his
hand on Araktseieff's arm. "All my life through I had never known what
it was to be loved. I verily believe that the nurse who nursed me
thrashed me for being such a piece of deformity. Not even a dog have I
ever been able to attach to me. Look where I will, I see that every one
shrinks back from me. My very voice, which I try in vain to moderate, is
rough and grating, as if I were perpetually scolding. I have never heard
an endearing epithet since I was out of the nursery. And suddenly Fate,
like a blind hen, casts in my way a pearl of women, a tender soul who
loves me with all her being. She does not say it, she feels it--nay, she
lets me feel it. She lives in me like the very soul and thought of me.
The little good there is in me she awakens and makes me reconciled to
myself. She alone of all the world has brought sunshine into my dark
life. When I am ill she nurses me; when I am violent she pacifies me.
She is my better self! And do you believe that I would renounce her for
any prize the earth could give? That for any throne in the whole world I
would exchange this easy-chair where she has sat nestling up to me? Ah,
what fools you must be to think it!"

"Your Highness! I have long made the human mind an object of study, and
it is not new to find that love is the most powerful factor we have to
deal with on earth. It is strong, but not lasting. To-day your Highness
may be feeling as you say; but the human heart is as variable as the
sky; and earth, the fatherland, is its antipodes. To-day we may feel as
though we had cast away a whole paradise of bliss in descending from
heaven to earth; to-morrow we discover that our supposed heaven was but
a cloud which glistened in the sun and disappeared, leaving 'not a wrack
behind.' Earth, on the contrary, remains firm beneath our feet; it never
loses its power of gravity. What? Could your Imperial Highness stand by
with folded arms and see the whole monarchy, a prey to the flames, sink
into ashes at your feet, that your head might rest undisturbed on the
lap of the woman you love?"

"Well, and even then?"

"Even then? Even in that case I have my clear instructions. Your
Highness is the master of your own future. But the Russian Empire is the
master of its own fate. If the Czarevitch prizes the prosaic domestic
life of a citizen higher than the maintenance of the empire he has
received from his ancestors, I have yet one other proposition to make to
him. His Majesty the Czar will elevate the morganatic wife of the
Czarevitch, Johanna Grudzinska, to the rank of a Polish princess, with
the family name of 'Lovicz'! In perpetual lien he will make over to her
the royal Lovicz domain of Masover Voivodeship upon the Grand Duke
declaring her to be his legitimate wife; her children to be Princes of
Lovicz and heirs to their mother's kingdom, with the rank of Russian
bojars--_in virtue of which Grand Duke Constantine will resign the title
of Czarevitch and the right of succession to the Russian Empire, for
himself and his heirs, forever, in favor of his brother_."

Constantine struck the table emphatically with his fist.

"Rather to-day than to-morrow!"

"I entreat your Highness not to reply too hastily! The sky is ever
changing; not so the earth. I am convinced of the truth of your Imperial
Highness's words; but a short delay cannot be of any vital importance.
Let your Highness try absence from the lady, say, for a week or a month.
Or send her for a time, as in truth her delicate health requires, to Ems
or Carlsbad. Separate yourself from her, so that you are not seeing each
other daily, hourly; that she may not always be your centre, but that
you may both come in contact with other people, other surroundings,
other interests--"

"And do you suppose that absence, whether longer or shorter, could
estrange us from one another?"

"It is an old story, yet ever new."

"That one short month could suffice to cause some new face to blot out
the other from our hearts? You are a fool, man!"

"It is but giving it a trial."

"I may do it! But I tell you beforehand that you will find yourself
mistaken. Do not dream for an instant that your plan will be successful.
We do not stumble, like ordinary mortals. For a woman to love me is akin
to madness--it is incredible! But once to love me is never to part from
me! And to expect me to forget that woman is an absurdity. Then, of a
truth, should I be the blind fowl pecking at a grain of oats instead of
the pearl before her. Is the Act of Renunciation ready? Of course you
have brought it with you? Give it here. To-day, to-morrow, or as long as
my life lasts, you will receive from me but the one answer--'I will sign
it.'"

"Let us agree to delay the decision, your Highness. The subject in
question is no child's play; nor is it the fighting down any youthful
love affair. Let your Imperial Highness weigh well what you are
renouncing--the nineteen crowns of Russia! From Ivan Alexievitch's
crown, inlaid with its nine hundred brilliants, to the simple 'cap' of
Peter the Great; the Novgorod crown with the Deissus, crown of the
Republic, worn by Ruric; the Astrakhan cap of Michael Feodorvitch; the
Siberian hat of Fedor Alexievitch; lastly, the ancient, most sacred
relic, the crown of Monomachos, who dates from legendary times. And
would my illustrious chief renounce all this splendor for the sake of a
'woman's charms'?"

Here the conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Chevalier
Galban, who appeared in the doorway humming a ballet air.

"Well, Galban," shouted the Grand Duke, as he appeared, "how do you like
the Belvedere?"

"Grand!" returned the Chevalier, "and, moreover, an _impregnable
fortress_!" The two last words were directed to Araktseieff, accompanied
with a meaning look. Possibly the Grand Duke intercepted it, for with
sharp intonation he repeated:

"An impregnable fortress? I did not know that you concerned yourself
with the storming of fortresses among other things."

"Oh yes," retorted the Chevalier, in a tone equally sarcastic. "I have
had the good-fortune to succeed in storming many a castle hitherto held
to be impregnable."

Araktseieff here cut short the allegory by interposing, abruptly:

"I know the castles in the taking of which you have won your
spurs--Château Lafitte and Château Margot!"--both well-known Bordeaux
wines--at which the Grand Duke, with a laugh, rose from the table.



CHAPTER XX

THE BLIND HEN'S GENUINE PEARL


What had Chevalier Galban found so admirable on the terrace of Belvedere
Castle, and what did he find so impregnable there?

In truth, a lovely view! In the foreground the massed trees of Lazienka
forest, clad in the tender hues of spring's young green, their colors
ranging from the golden green of the maple to the reddish purple of the
sumach, delighted the eye. From amidst the thick foliage arose the zinc
roofs of John Sobieski's ancestral home, Lazienka Castle. Red and green
roofs of luxurious villas peeped out here and there from among the
trees; rows of silvery poplars overtowering the rest marked out
cross-roads. In the distance the ancient capital of Poland, living heart
of a dead body; the terraces of the once royal castle showing where its
gardens had been; on the Gothic towers of St. John's Church the golden
crosses glistening. Below the city, the winding Vistula, its islands
ablaze with spring-tide glory. To the right the great Belian forest,
with its ancient Camaldulen Monastery, its walls glowing in the light of
the evening sun; and then, dumb witness to so many an historic event,
the great Wolja plain, where formerly kings were elected. On the
horizon, fast disappearing in the golden haze of evening, the outline of
a castle--Mariemont, whilom residence of Marie Sobieski.

"A lovely view, is it not?" said Johanna to Chevalier Galban, as, having
reached the highest terrace of Belvedere, they let their eyes wander
round.

"A magnificent prison," returned the Chevalier.

Johanna looked in astonishment at him with her large brown eyes, which,
neither dazzling nor enticing, were full of soul.

"A prison--for whom?" she asked, surprised.

"For a saint and martyr, who is ready to sacrifice herself for her
nation."

"And who may this be, and wherein her sacrifice? I do not understand
you."

"Truly, it is not martyrdom to be tortured with red-hot iron if that
torture be borne in patience; but it is martyrdom to give one's heart to
be tortured in a manner more cruel than human imagination has yet
conceived. And to be torn in pieces by a wild beast is not so ghastly a
death as to kiss and embrace such a monster. Such a sacrifice could only
be conceived by a Polish woman and for the Polish nation!"

"Either I fail to understand you, or you are laboring under some
mistake," returned Johanna, handing the Chevalier a cup of fragrant
mocha as they seated themselves.

Chevalier Galban was a practised strategist at such storming operations.
He knew at once where the fortress was weakest.

"Duchess! wherever the name of the Polish Viceroy is heard, that of
Johanna Grudzinska is named with it; with adoration and affection people
utter it, for she is the guardian angel of all who are oppressed and
afflicted."

"I know nothing of all this. Here only criminals are punished; and
_such_ punishment I can do nothing to hinder."

"Perhaps not in words; perhaps only unconsciously. Yet the whole world
knows that Poland's terror has changed under the magic of your
influence. He has sane periods in which he treats his people with
clemency. And for these Poland has to thank you!"

"Herr Galban! Do you not see that any praise must be repugnant to me
which reflects upon my husband?"

"Far be it from me in any way to reflect upon the Czarevitch, my master.
He is as nature and circumstances have made him. The ruling of a nation
is no poetry, nor is it a matter of Scriptural teaching; it has its
established laws. Diplomacy is heartless, and a thorough-going statesman
must be heartless likewise. Every one knows that the Czarevitch is a
tyrant to his subjects."

"But to me he is my husband, to whom I am bound by every law of love and
duty."

"It is just that which makes my blood boil. I can talk openly to you. I
must confess, when I undertook the mission intrusted me by Araktseieff,
I had conceived a very different idea of you from what I do, now that I
am face to face with you. In the different courts I have visited I have
come across many ladies who have deluded themselves with the belief that
the love of crowned heads is quite another thing from the love of
ordinary mortals. Once their mistake found out, they have been able to
console themselves; and when higher state interests have demanded the
sacrifice of their affections, they have accepted the title of countess
or princess, with its accompanying estate as compensation, and have
survived it."

"But what analogy is there between their and my position? I was solemnly
married to my husband. At the altar I first placed my hand in his. I
bear his name, and I know he loves me truly."

"Ah, Princess, you have no conception at present of the heartless nature
of diplomacy! What you say is perfectly true; but you certainly did not
notice that in the marriage ceremony the priest placed the Grand Duke's
left--not his right--hand in yours. This was no treachery, no deception;
it is customary with princes of the blood, and their wives and children
can hold up their heads without shame. But--and here comes in the
infamy--Araktseieff is set upon proclaiming the Grand Duke as the Czar's
successor to the throne, because he is his ideal. But to this end it is
imperative that the Grand Duke should take back his first wife, who is
still living, _and who is a member of a reigning dynasty_; for the
fundamental laws of the empire allow no other woman to ascend the
throne. Do you now see the fate awaiting you?"

"However hard it be, I will endure it silently."

"You will be deprived of your husband's name; and as Count Grudzinski
cannot give you back his, you will be made Princess of Lovicz. Can you
not now picture to yourself what your future lot will be?"

"Patience and resignation!"

"Did you not notice the cruel smile on Araktseieff's face as, when
kissing your hand, he said, 'The sight of this happiness reminds me _of
mine_'? By that he intended to put you on a par with the woman called
Daimona, who is only his paramour and was a _vivandière_."

"I do not feel the intended insult."

"No, no; it is impossible! When I heard the scheme, I too thought,
'After all, what will it matter? She, like other women, will receive
compensation, and, like them, will--survive it.' But since I have been
brought face to face with those clear, pure eyes, which so faithfully
mirror the noble heart within, I ceased to consult my reasoning powers,
for they counselled me to take myself a hundred miles away and to make
myself believe that I had been dreaming. Since that moment I have been
pondering how--at the risk of my own life--I could save you. It must not
be that such an angel should fall a victim to such devilish intrigues!
It must not be that a Polish woman be forced to see her father's name
and coat of arms tarnished without any one to protect her--without means
of revenge!"

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? To tell you how you can revenge yourself! You must
anticipate those intriguers, and, in answer to their dishonoring
proposal, say, 'Keep your princedom of Lovicz for high-born courtesans.
I, a Polish noblewoman, will find a husband ready to give me the
protection of his honorable name and whole heart--a true man, who loves
and respects me!'"

Face, eyes, the Chevalier's dramatic action, all tended to illustrate
his words. It was not difficult for Johanna to divine whom he meant as
the "true man." Not the shadow of a blush tinted her cheek as, with
great composure, she replied:

"Chevalier Galban, do you see those walls surrounding Belvedere and
Lazienka? Within those walls you are my guest, and you have the right to
do exactly as you please, even to the length of insulting me; but only
within these walls, as my guest. As soon, however, as you are without
them, your immunity ceases. I will confide to no one what you have just
said to me. A Polish woman betrays no one, not even to her husband; she
revenges herself! So, once you have passed without these walls, for this
unpardonable insult I will order my people to give you a sound
thrashing! May I offer you a little more sugar in your coffee?"

Chevalier Galban burst into a peal of laughter.

"_Ma foi!_ the fate of war. Out of three assaults, one may come off
conqueror twice and yet be beaten the third time. Thank you, I will take
another piece of sugar."

Then he strolled out with Johanna into the park, admired her tulip-bed,
and, deferentially taking leave of her, went back to his chief, as
already related.

"Where did you leave my wife?" the Grand Duke asked, as he rose from
table.

"I accompanied her into the park. We parted at the Hermitage."

"Come, Araktseieff, let us go and find her! You take one way; I will
take the other. Whoever first finds her brings her back to Belvedere."

The Grand Duke was lucky. He was first to find Johanna. She was kneeling
on the grass feeding his pet rabbits; he let himself down clumsily
beside her.

"Take care!" he said; "the grass is wet with dew; you will take a
chill."

"It will not hurt me--I am strong."

"That's a story," he growled, "you are very delicate. I do not know how
to wait the season to send you to Ems, that you may take the baths for
which you are longing."

"I do not want to go there now."

"Why not?"

"I have been thinking it over. You would be unable to leave your post to
go with me; and to be weeks, months, away from you, not ever to see you,
is more than I could bear. I would so much rather stay here. Indeed, I
am quite well."

"What!" cried the Grand Duke, with a wild outburst of joy. "You love me
so much that you cannot live without me? that you would care for
nothing if you were away from me? Oh, my own true pearl of women!" And
taking up his wife in his strong arms he laughed, caressed, and covered
her with a shower of fiery kisses. "And they would separate me from my
wife! A fine idea, eh? Shall I throw you into this pond?" And he swung
her in his arms like a little child. "Are you afraid that I shall throw
you in? Ha, ha, ha! and do you think I would let them make you Princess
of Lovicz and be parted from you? That I would repay you for your love
and faithfulness with a title, and take another to wife? Are you afraid
of it? Shall I toss you into the pond? Hush!"

Johanna twined her arms round her husband's neck, kissed him, and
murmured, softly:

"Were you to dishonor me and chase me from you, I would come back to you
again. Were you to humiliate me from your wife into your mistress or
maid-servant, I would still serve and love you. I cannot do otherwise."

"Ha, ha, ha! And from such a woman they would have torn me. Hallo!
Araktseieff! This way, man. I've found her."

When Araktseieff, turning into the winding path, caught sight of the
Grand Duke with Johanna in his arms, he knew what had happened.

"Tell them," shouted the Czarevitch when he was still at some distance,
and in a voice hoarse with emotion--"tell them that _I do not give up a
wife who loves me for a whole empire that hates me_! When are you and
your Chevalier Galban going back?"

"With your Imperial Highness's permission, I will stay the night. But
Chevalier Galban has left the castle already, I see from a note he left
for me. He says he was compelled to hasten his departure; the ground
was burning under his feet, for Duchess Johanna had threatened him with
a horsewhipping for a speech which had displeased her."

"A horsewhipping!" cried the Grand Duke. "What! my Johanna order any one
to be horsewhipped? _Come on my right hand, wife!_" And releasing
Johanna from the embrace in which he still held her, he offered her his
right arm, with face beaming with joy.

"Go back to those who sent you, my good friend, and tell them that I am
about to wed Princess Lovicz in right-handed marriage. And as she may
not accompany me to St. Petersburg, I will go with her to Ems, with the
Czar's permission. And now get ready your trumpery papers that I have to
sign."

With these words he turned away, and what he had further to say to
Johanna was inaudible from kisses and laughter.

That which Krizsanowski had promised in the sitting of the Szojusz
Blagadenztoiga had come about--the incredible fact that a man could
voluntarily resign his succession to the throne of the mightiest empire
in the world, and in such a manner that, did he ever repent, he might
never undo his act. That incredible fact had become not a possibility,
but a thing accomplished. The solution to the riddle was, as Zeneida had
divined at the time, Johanna. For the present, however, none knew of it
save the participators and the trees of the ancient forest about them.

Ah! what a terrific, world-wide catastrophe was this idyl to bring
about!



CHAPTER XXI

THE MOST POWERFUL RULER OF THEM ALL


While the members of "the green book" were at work on their
wide-spreading plans, those of the Bear's Paw had made others to their
way of thinking. Passing over the military, and turning their backs upon
the league of the aristocrats, they took up a ground of their own,
calling themselves "Napoleonists!" What induced them to choose that
extraordinary name for themselves?

Well, it is easy enough to make the poor believe their lot to be a hard
one; it was at that time that the Russian Volkslied was written--

    "My soul I give to God;
    My head I give the Czar;
    My body beneath my master's feet;
    The grave is all I call my own!"

Within the last four years especially the iron hand of adversity had
pressed heavily on the country. The earth no longer gave back the seed
sown upon it; terrific fires had reduced the large cities to ashes; and
a pestilence, hitherto unknown in the land, had crept over the frontier
and devastated the population. The streams and rivulets had become
floods, carrying away whole towns at a moment's notice; locusts,
caterpillars of a kind and species never seen before, came down in
shoals, tormenting man and beast; great war-ships out at sea sank with
all their men and ammunition on board.

And all this was Heaven's retribution because the Czar had not gone to
the assistance of the Greeks fighting for their freedom. Against
miracles, counter-miracles alone can be effectual.

And the present century had produced a miracle in the form of a man: his
name, Napoleon.

It was all a lie that the English had taken him prisoner at Waterloo!
All a lie that he was being kept in confinement on the island of St.
Helena! He was in hiding, though the whereabouts must not at present be
divulged. Where was that place? Only so much might be known, that it was
somewhere in the neighborhood of Irkutsk. Thence he would come, as soon
as the people's cup of bitterness was filled to the brim, to tread down
the mighty, and free every people under the sun.

This rumor was extensively circulated everywhere. Among the conspirators
of the Bear's Paw was a plaster-modeller (our "Canova") who,
single-handed, sent out of his workshop over two hundred thousand busts
of Napoleon. These busts were worshipped by the mujiks as if they were
pictures of saints; they took the place of the crucifix to them. He was
the deliverer, before whom the mujik and his family bent the knee; he
would bring them relief from all their troubles.

Even at the present time these plaster casts are to be seen in many a
Russian peasant's hut: the well-known form, cocked hat, arms crossed
upon the breast, in overcoat or short-waisted military tunic. Forty
years after his death they still awaited his coming.

Hence the words "Only wait till Napoleon comes!" were a cry which spread
through the land.

The people only remembered that twelve years before, when Napoleon
really did come, their masters were terribly frightened, and so merciful
to the peasants. How fast they cleared out, leaving their castles as
booty behind! and money then was as plentiful as blackberries. No price
was high enough for corn and oats. And such brilliant promises were
scattered about in all directions. The mujik was led to expect
everything under heaven and earth; but his expectations were never
realized. So let Napoleon come again!

And to hasten this was the plan of the leader of the Bear's Paw party.

The 8th of November, according to the Russian calendar, is the Feast of
the Archangel Michael. On that day it is the custom to have great
rejoicings in Isaacsplatz and on the Neva. The whole population of St.
Petersburg, from the highest to the lowest, take part in it. Now when
the throng should be at its thickest, and aristocrat and plebeian well
mixed up together, suddenly at the corner of every street and square
there should arise the cry, "Here comes Napoleon!" And in the midst of
the crowd, borne on the shoulders of the enthusiastic people, should
appear the well-known figure of the Corsican hero, to be represented by
Dobujoff, one of the Bear's Paw community--a man the very image of the
great Napoleon, and an admirable mimic. The rest would follow of itself.
At the words "Napoleon has come" all St. Petersburg would be at their
mercy, and the wave, thus started, would not stop until it reached
Novgorod, where the brotherhood of "Ancient Republic" would at once
swell the tide, overflowing Moscow and all that ventured to oppose it.
They looked upon their plan as sure of success. The people may suffer
themselves to be deprived of freedom, even of bread, but no one may
deprive them of their amusements. With the days set apart as holidays no
power on earth may meddle. The plan of campaign was devised cunningly
enough. Every one having anything to do with "the classes" was carefully
excluded. And one other circumstance was favorable to the audacious
originators. The Neva that year had frozen over in October, a succession
of hard frosts had followed, but no snow, while ordinarily in November
house-roofs were covered a foot deep in snow, which lasted into May. It
would be, therefore, no difficult task to set fire to the city in
various quarters, a thing not usually so possible in the winter in St.
Petersburg as in Moscow, built as it was entirely of wooden houses. With
fire breaking out in ten or twelve places simultaneously the panic would
be complete.

The Feast of St. Michael was at that time still celebrated in the
Isaacsplatz. In one night, in the vast, usually empty space, a perfect
town had been erected, with entire streets of booths, the principal
booth being the People's Theatre. And what a theatre it was! in which
marionettes acted like real people and fought in real battles! And then
the troops of artists of all kinds, whose patron is not Apollo, but Pan,
who amuse the people, and are not at the beck and call of the rich and
learned, but are to be seen at fairs and in holiday places, and who do
not think it beneath their dignity to come down among the crowd to
collect kopecs after the performance. Then there are the people's
favorites, the Bajazzos, who are not so ambitious as to work for
posterity, but are perfectly content if they can earn to-day their
yesterday's score at the inn, playing the while, so the populace think,
every whit as well as Talma or Macready. They eat tow, draw whole
bundles of rags out of their noses, swallow red-hot coals and sharp
swords, and can scratch their ears with their toes, which is more than
either Sullivan or Kean, or even Dimitriefsky, more celebrated than
either, can do. In one booth is shown the "real original sea-maiden with
a fish's tail, who lives on live fish, and can only say 'Papa,' 'Mama.'"
In another the big drum is being beaten to call attention to the
elephants walking on a tight rope; next door to them are to be seen men
of the woods, with four hands and tusk-like teeth. The giantess is also
on view, under whose arm the tallest man can stand, although she wears
no high heels to her shoes, and, when desired, shows that the calves of
her legs are not wadded. The showman of a panorama describes, in singing
voice to an astonished public, great battles, eruptions of Vesuvius,
storms at sea, and ghastly tales of murders, the faithful representation
of all which is to be seen in his booth for the sum of two kopecs. Then,
how endless are the amusements hidden by no jealous tent! Here a group
of cornet-players, each playing a different note, and so forming a
melody; there a set of gypsies dancing and singing; windmill-like swings
swishing through the air with their delighted occupants; while crowds in
their holiday best glide over the smooth ice in sledges or on skates.
High above all these earthly delights is to be seen a rope slung across
between the tower of St. Isaac's Cathedral to the balcony of the
Admiralty, upon which a tight-rope dancer is to wheel his little son in
a wheelbarrow.

Wild spirits reign among the crowd! The samovars are inexhaustible with
their supplies of hot tea, and epicures who know how to enjoy life
swallow mountains of sweet ices, and salt cucumbers immediately after.
The people listen to Volkslied singers, and join in with them; while
those who have brought their three-sided balalaikas with them accompany
the voices--no very difficult art, as it is an instrument with only two
strings.

And it is not only a day for "the masses"; the "classes" are there also
in all their magnificence. True, every precaution has been taken to
prevent "the masses" from encroaching upon their betters. To this end
the Summer Garden is enclosed, and there the world of fashion is to be
seen driving in every variety of equipage, from the barouche to the
national _proledotky_, the owners exhibiting their costly furs and
running Bolognese dogs.

The frozen Neva, open to all, is alive with thousands and thousands of
sledges, from smart gilded ones with their English thoroughbreds to
those of simple Lapland construction drawn by reindeer, crossing and
recrossing each other on the polished surface of the river. The Northern
Babel is in full force.

As evening comes on, the terrace of the pavilion is illuminated with
Bengal lights, and huge pitch bonfires spring into flame, showing up the
animated picture of the people's feast in varied coloring.

After the fireworks three salvoes of cannon from the citadel give the
signal for the bells in all the churches to begin ringing in honor of
St. Michael.

These three salvoes and ringing of church bells are to serve as a signal
to the conspirators. At the first sound they are to rush forward, armed
with knives and torches, with the cry, "Napoleon is here! Here is
Napoleon!" When, under cover of the noise of the pealing bells, they
have forced a way into the midst of the aristocrats and soldiers, it
will be easy for them, in the universal chaos, to push on to the palace
and murder him of whom the _Song of the Knife_ was written.

The thing was plain, a foregone conclusion. That afternoon a strong
southwest wind from the sea had sprung up, to the discomfort of many.
True, the St. Petersburger is accustomed, if one fur coat be not
sufficient, to put on two; but the poor performers suffered much damage
from the wind, which blew down their booths and stopped their
performances. The tight-rope dancer dared not venture upon his
neck-breaking exhibition, for the storm would have carried off him and
his son bodily like a couple of flies. Aristocratic ladies in the
enclosure lamented that the wind tore their veils off their bonnets.
Greater still were the lamentations anent the fireworks, for none but
Bengal lights and wheels could succeed on such a night.

Towards evening the gale rose to a perfect hurricane. Suddenly came the
roar of the cannon from the citadel, and simultaneously the peal of
bells. Three hundred bells at one and the same time! A carillon truly.

The roar of the cannon deadened the bells. It is the people's habit to
count the salvoes. Three were the signal for the lighting up of the
Bengal lights.

But the cannon thundered on.

When the reports had reached twenty-one, people whispered under their
breath, "What! can it be the birth of a princess in the Winter Palace?"

No. Still the cannons thundered on.

At the fiftieth report the rumor arose that a successful naval
engagement was being celebrated.

But still the cannons continued their volley, amid the crash of church
bells.

When the iron tongue had roared for the hundred and first time, people
began to ask themselves, "Can this be the Czar's birthday?"

No; not even that. The iron monsters thundered on--102, 103, 104. At the
hundred and fifth time none asked any more what it meant; for the whole
city with one voice sent up a despairing cry, deadening even the crash
of the three hundred bells.

"It is coming! It is coming!"

But it was not the approach of Napoleon's army which aroused the voice
of panic, but that of a far mightier lord--the Neva! which, rushing back
upon the city, brings the sea with it, and with foaming, roaring,
resistless waves breaks up the ice of the river, flinging it abroad on
all sides.

That was the meaning of the incessant firing of cannon from the citadel.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Czar Peter I. first began to put into form his idea of building a
capital in the midst of the Finnish morass, and, to that end, had the
vast forest there standing exterminated, he came upon an old fir-tree,
on whose bark were cut deep lines. "What is the meaning of these lines?"
he asked an old countryman. "_These lines denote the height of the Neva
when it leaves its banks and floods the whole surrounding land._" The
Czar gave orders for tree and peasant to be cut down; but both had
spoken truly. The Neva remained the sworn enemy of the mighty city of
the Czar.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes. It is coming, rushing on with backward movement; it has left the
river-bed and increases mightily; it is no longer the Neva, but the
sea--the salt sea in all its awful immensity! And once it has gone down,
the walls of palaces and houses, as far as the water has reached, will
be covered with salt.

The sledgers on the ice were the first to become aware of the extent of
the danger. Those of them who took refuge on the right bank of the river
might esteem themselves lucky, for there the streets were clear; but
those seeking the left side spread mad panic among the unconscious
throng of pleasure-seekers with their cry, "The Neva is coming!"

The very words sufficed to strike dismay into the hearts of the bravest
and to paralyze the cowardly with terror; for in such danger there is no
way of escape. When the Neva rises it overflows the whole city, and he
who would flee the danger meets it at the next turning.

Confusion reigned supreme. The crowds of carriages in the railed-in
Summer Garden had but one way of egress, and collision was inevitable;
those which at last forced a passage came into the midst of a maddened
press of people, who carried them along, regardless of the crest upon
the panels and the supercilious lackey on the box. There were for the
time being no princes and no mujiks, only a panic-stricken mob. And
before disentanglement was possible the flood was upon them.

The first huge wave washed down the booths in Isaacsplatz. The terrified
owners came rushing out of the beer-houses, and, clambering on the tops
of their dismantled booths, shrieked for help. The giantess pushed head
and shoulders out of her tent, frightened to death. Boys dressed like
performing apes flew up their poles; the sea-maiden found her feet, and,
discarding tail, made for dry land. The performing elephant waddled
through the crowd, his roaster on his back; and the wild beasts in the
menagerie roared as if they were in their native forests. At that
instant, as though in mockery of this scene of terror, the red and green
lights on the terrace of the Summer Garden pavilion shone forth,
lighting up the flood in all its horror. The men in charge of the
fireworks were ignorant of what was happening. Only when the festive
peals of bells had died away in distant reverberations did they become
aware of their danger; and hastily putting out their lights, left the
whole city in darkness. For the slippery pavements impeded the
lamp-lighters; nor, indeed, could they have lighted their lamps in the
storm that was raging. Darkness added the final touch of horror to the
scene of danger! Among the terrified refugees were Duchess Ghedimin and
Bethsaba; their carriage, in Russian style, drawn by two horses tandem.
The first horse was wellnigh unmanageable; it was a spirited English
mare, which the Duchess had specially chosen that day to show that her
equipage was superior to Zeneida's. Only she had not attained her aim,
for Fräulein Ilmarinen had not entered an appearance.

"Drive down one of the side streets," the Duchess said, peremptorily, to
her coachman.

Easy to command, but not so easy to carry out! The mob surrounded them
on all sides.

"Get down," she ordered her jäger, "and force a way through the people!"

The jäger, a gigantic young fellow, a Finlander, seized the foremost
horse by the bridle, and, dealing out blows roundly with his other arm
on the mujiks, thought to steer the carriage in this way through the
crush. All very well; that kind of thing may do with the mujik, who is
accustomed to the lash; but your thoroughbred has noble blood in his
veins, and does not suffer himself to be led by the bridle. Violently
shaking himself loose, the horse dealt the jäger such a blow on the head
that he fell senseless to the ground.

"Oh, what are we to do now?" asked the Duchess, terror-stricken,
bursting into tears.

"I know a way," said Bethsaba. "Have the leader led in the saddle."

"But who would venture to mount it?" asked the Duchess, wringing her
hands.

"I will!" returned Bethsaba; "I am used to riding."

"Very well, then," said the Duchess.

Selfish to the last degree, she never considered that in order to reach
the farthermost horse Bethsaba would have to wade through the icy water
up to her knees, and in her light carriage-wrap expose herself to the
bitter cold of the stormy night, and to the maddened populace, who, in
the darkness and panic, recognized neither lord nor master. Also, in her
emergency, Princess Ghedimin utterly forgot that Bethsaba was, moreover,
a king's daughter, who had not been committed to her care to act as
postilion for her.

So she merely said, "Very well, then."

And the girl, throwing off her fur-lined cloak, jumped from the carriage
into the water, ran to the foremost horse, calling it by its name as she
ran; then, stroking its mane with one hand, sprang lightly upon its
back, using the leading-reins for bridle.

And now they moved on once more.

With her soft voice saying to the on-pressing crowd, "Dear cousin,
please make way! Heaven be with you!" she effected more than any amount
of violence would have done. The people made way for her, and she
succeeded in guiding the carriage into a side street, clear as yet from
the flying masses.

But there was a reason which made advance impracticable. The flood was
already ahead of them; and the farther they proceeded the more imminent
grew their danger. The waves were already washing into the carriage; the
Duchess had to take refuge on the coachman's box to keep her feet dry.
There she was so far secure, but Bethsaba was soaked to the skin from
the spray dashed up by the horses' feet, while the water covered her
knees.

"If only we could get to Nevski Prospect," gasped the Duchess.
"Hurry--hurry on! There is our castle."

At length they reached it. But what a sight met their eyes! It was as
though they were in the very midst of the Neva, with its fields of ice.
Not water alone was round them, but ice--great icebergs floating on the
black expanse of water. Through the Moika Canal the flood was coming
down upon them.

"Holy Archangel Michael!" screamed the coachman at the sight, "save us
on this your day!"

"Don't pray now, but push on the horses," commanded the Duchess,
peremptorily.

"From this only St. Michael or the devil can save us!"

"Hold your tongue!" cried the Duchess, giving him a smart blow on the
head. "I trust neither in St. Michael nor the devil, but in my good
horses, which will take me home in safety. Drive on!"

And the Duchess struck the coachman, the coachman the horses, and the
horses' feet the raging element. All three were furious. The king's
daughter alone prayed:

"My God!--oh, dear God, send some one to help us!"

She felt that she could not hold out much longer, that her limbs were
growing numb with cold.



CHAPTER XXII

THE DEVIL


Suddenly a glow of light illumined the dark waves; a red gleam,
reflected on the street of houses, was seen advancing towards them. From
a side street a boat was approaching, with a torch stuck in its bow.
Two men were pulling; a third, boat-hook in hand, was staving off the
floating masses of ice; a fourth was at the rudder. In the middle of the
boat stood a woman, her head and face entirely enveloped in a bashlik,
engaged in covering up a group of children of all ages, distributing
biscuit among them, and soothing their cries for papa and baba (little
Russian children say "baba" instead of mamma). Papa and baba do not take
the children to the fair, but lock up the poor little mites in the
houses before they go out. If any sudden calamity occurs papa and baba
escape. But what becomes of the little ones? Does a fire break out they
are burned to death; a flood, then let Providence send some good-natured
gentry-folk, such as take pleasure in rescuing children through roof or
windows. It is as good sport as wild-duck shooting. So this boat was
filled to overflowing.

The boatmen were the first to see the desperate position of the carriage
and its occupants, and they rowed towards it. The torch showered sparks
in the high wind, illuminating the face of the youth who, as he stood in
the prow of the boat gliding over the dark waters, looked like some hero
of antiquity. Masses of ice grated under the keel. The young man,
steering dexterously through the ice, reached the carriage. It was but
just in time, for Bethsaba could scarce maintain her seat upon the
horse. Without a second's hesitation he had seized the half-frozen girl,
who clutched with both hands at his arm, and the next instant she was in
the boat.

Bethsaba looked into the youth's eyes, and in that moment she knew the
exquisite joy of losing one's self in a look. Once before she had met
the fire of those eyes--then they had singed her wings; now her heart
was the victim.

"Wrap her in this fur cloak," said the lady standing in the middle of
the boat to the young man, and threw her own cloak to the girl, who was
shivering with cold; then going alongside the carriage, held out her
hand to help the lady sitting in it into the boat. As she did so the
bashlik fell back, and Bethsaba recognized the face. It was that of
Zeneida Ilmarinen--the devil! The Duchess also recognized her.

Like a fury she struck back her enemy's helping hand, crying, in a voice
hoarse with passionate excitement:

"Away, away! I will not have your help! Rather perish in the flood than
in hell with you!" And, snatching the whip from her coachman's hand, she
administered some smart lashes to the horses, who, madly rearing,
plunged deeper into the foaming waves, already up to their chests. She
would have none of Zeneida's help.

Bethsaba remained in the boat, trembling, not with cold, but at the
thought that she had fallen into the devil's clutches, who already was
making off with her as his prey. Of course he had given her his own fur
wrap in order to get more sure hold of her. How warm it was! It must
come direct from the lower regions.

"You will take cold," said the man with the boat-hook to Zeneida.

"I will row to keep myself warm," she answered; and, taking an oar in
her firm grasp, began rowing vigorously, her chest heaving with the
exertion, as does the devil when hastening off with his prey. Of course
he takes all the little children he can get hold of to hell. The boat
flew like the wind down the dark lanes.

At length they came to a large garden, the high walls of which kept back
the seething waters. Bethsaba recognized the gilded railings that
surmounted them. It was here the stag had been shot that they were
hunting last spring. The evil spirit was bringing her to his lair.

The boat pulled up to the very threshold of the castle, for the water
covered the marble steps. But the castle itself was built on such high
ground that it was secure from all inundation.

The hall was brilliantly lighted, and an army of liveried footmen with
lighted lamps hastened out to receive the party. From one end of the
long ballroom to the other were rows of beds; in the centre of the room
a table spread with food and steaming samovars. A number of beds were
already occupied by children; another group was in the act of being fed
with tea and soup. Bethsaba recognized many well-known faces among the
helpers. They were those of members of the Society of the Green Book,
who had been utilizing the Feast of St. Michael to hold a sitting, for
that is one of the days when the attention of the police is otherwise
engaged. Scarce had the sitting begun when Pushkin had burst in among
them with the alarming news that the Neva had overflowed its banks.

The common danger at once put politics, new constitutions, and
conspiracy out of their heads. Their one thought was to save those
imperilled.

In Zeneida's grounds was an immense fish-pond, on which her guests were
wont to hold regattas in the spring. In winter boats and punts were laid
up in the boat-houses. These were got out in all haste, the conspirators
told off to them with oars and boat-hooks, and they were quickly rowed
off in all directions to carry help to the inundated city. Their first
work was to rescue the children out of endangered houses, and those
women who had stayed at home with them. Zeneida placed her castle, staff
of servants, and wardrobe at the disposal of the rescuing party; but
the lion's share of the work fell to her, and she gave herself heart and
soul to it. She herself carried the young Circassian Princess in her
arms into a well-warmed apartment hung with rich tapestries. Bethsaba
had not strength to resist; she suffered herself to be carried like a
baby. Besides, what is the use of resistance to the Prince of Darkness?

First Zeneida cut away and removed the frozen clothing from Bethsaba's
numbed body--so does the Evil One with his prey! Here the king's
daughter experienced a sensation of surprise, for she was accustomed to
bathe very often with Korynthia, who never failed to admire her form,
and to say to her god-daughter, "How lovely are you!" But Zeneida
instead, with frowning brow, as if angry with her, clothed her rapidly
in a woollen garment, then commenced rubbing her limbs vigorously until
the numbness yielded and a pleasant sense of warmth was infused into her
frame. Then, wrapping her in well-warmed blankets, she laid Bethsaba in
a delicious soft bed and covered her up. Yes, so the Evil One treats his
poor victims before he takes them to the nether regions!

Then Zeneida brought a steaming drink in a delicate porcelain cup, from
which Bethsaba, taking one sip, felt warmed through as though with fire.
This must certainly be the devil's potion! And having once tasted it she
wanted more, and did not stop until she had emptied the cup. Then her
eyes closed, and, fiercely as she resisted it, sleep overpowered her. In
her dreams the Prince of Darkness led her through fairy-like places
which, narrow at first, widened out farther and farther until they
changed into one great Paradise, where people flew about instead of
walking. Once in her dreams she saw the Evil One gently attending to
her wants and removing her saturated garments. And next morning, when
she awoke, true enough, her coverings had been changed. If that was no
dream, were the other dreams equally true?

Bethsaba, sitting up in bed, looked about her. Yes; it must be the Evil
One's room. No image of a saint to be seen; only Chinese and Japanese
idols of every form and shape. Most likely images of Beelzebub and
Asmodeus!

But what most astonished her was to find her own clothes folded on a low
chair by her bedside. How could that be? Last night the Spirit of
Darkness had certainly cut and torn them to shreds; and now here they
were, whole and dry. Certainly he has numberless agents who can work
like magic? Timorously she put on the mysterious clothing, not failing
to ejaculate a "Kyrie eleison!" at each garment, in order to dispel the
power of the Evil One.

And when thus dressed she tried to find her way out of the room she was
in. Two or three of the rooms she passed through were very unlike those
of her godmother, rich princess as she was. One of these was full of
living birds; another of stuffed animals. Suddenly she heard a
whimpering of children. This must be the place where the Evil Spirit
tortures the little ones he has stolen. Curiosity made her follow the
voices, and advancing she came to a half-open door, where, looking in,
she saw Zeneida occupied in washing, combing, and dressing a group of
tiny children. Some, who were being washed, were whimpering; but others,
already dressed, were chattering, and admiring their pretty, new frocks.
Surely an odd occupation for the Evil One. They were in Zeneida's
bath-room. Bethsaba boldly entered. Curiosity begets courage.

"Ah, dressed already, little Princess?" said Zeneida.

"What are you doing to the children?" asked Bethsaba, with desire for
knowledge.

"As you see, washing and dressing them; one cannot tell where their
mother may be, poor little mites. The flood is rising higher and higher;
the whole city is under water. As long as the danger lasts we must look
after these little ones. Those who dress quickly," continued she,
turning to the children, "may run into the dining-hall, and the
housekeeper will give them some nice soup for breakfast."

Bethsaba thought she would put the Evil One to the proof.

"But who hears them say their prayers before their breakfast?"

"Nobody, dear child; for they are more hungry than devout."

"But prayer is good," returned the king's daughter.

"For what?"

"In order to avert further misfortune from the city."

"My dear little Princess!" exclaimed Zeneida, "the wind which sends the
Neva over St. Petersburg is called _Auster_, and were the whole twelve
hundred millions of people who inhabit the earth to blow together it
would not avail to blow back the _Auster_!"

This was a speech worthy of its maker. To liken the efficacy of prayer
to a blowing of breath! Bethsaba now plunged into the extreme of
audacity. She would name the Deity, and surely then the devil, amid
sulphur and brimstone, would strip himself of his seductive exterior and
appear in his conventional form of horns and goat's feet.

"So you do not believe that God has sent this awful calamity upon
mankind?"

"No, dear child. For were it God who had sent this visitation upon the
earth the flood would have destroyed the houses of the wicked and not
those of the honest, hard-working people."

Bethsaba thought, "You must be he, or you would never have dared to
utter such blasphemy." She went further; she wanted to catch the Evil
One in his own net.

"You have too much to do; may I not help you? If you would let me, I
would wash and dress the children, too. I should like to do it; it is so
amusing."

"Yes, indeed," said Zeneida, merrily. "Why not? It will give you
something to do; and I, by-the-way, must go and see that we have enough
to eat for all our multitude. I leave you in charge of the nursery."

So saying she gave up her seat to Bethsaba, and, bidding the many
unwashed little folk to be good, left the bath-room with a smile.
Bethsaba's first care was to make the children all kneel down. Then,
kneeling in their midst, she said the Lord's Prayer with them--"Deliver
us from the Evil One. Amen."

Now he must be effectually quashed!

Then she began her task of washing and dressing the little ones.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE STORY OF THE MAN WITH THE GREEN EYES


But the small mites were not as good with their new nurse as they had
been with the old one. A look from Zeneida had been enough to still
their moanings and whimperings; but Bethsaba was little more than a
child herself, they were not in the least awed by her. One child set up
the cry, the others following in chorus, "Where is baba? where is pata?"
and she might have gone on forever washing the tears from the little
faces.

Well, pata and baba she could not give back to them; but she remembered
what her nurses had done when she was a little child and used to cry for
her mamma. They had told her fairy tales.

"Don't cry! Be good and sensible, and I will tell you the story of _The
Man with the Green Eyes_. It's such a lovely story. Now listen!"

The children were quiet as mice; they clustered up to Bethsaba, clinging
to her dress, resting their chins on her knees, and listened.

"A long, long time ago there was a little prince, as little as you are,
Struwelpeter, here at my feet. He had a good papa and a good baba, who
loved him very much. But one day they had to go a long journey, and were
laid in long metal boxes, and the lids were shut down upon them. Then
they were carried out and placed upon two grand gold and silver coaches,
each drawn by six horses, and, amid bands of music, firing of cannons,
and great crowds of people, they were driven away.

"When the little prince was left alone he asked his Grand Vizier, 'To
what land did my father and mother go?'

"And the Grand Vizier answered, 'Ah, little prince, to a land far away.
To another world.'

"'And why did they go to that other world?'

"'Because it is much better there than in ours!' the vizier explained.

"Upon which the little king's son asked, 'If that world is so much
better, why did they not take me with them?'

"'Because you have yet much to work, battle, and suffer in this world
before you will be worthy to reach that other one whither your father
and mother went.'

"This admonition did not please the little prince at all, and he thought
to himself, 'We'll see. I _will_ get to papa and baba in the other
world, whatever he may say!'

"And, taking his little gun, he went out into the woods, as if to shoot
birds. There he stayed so long that he was caught in a thunder-shower;
and to avoid getting wet he looked about for a hollow tree to shelter
in. He had found one, and was looking in, when he saw that some one was
already there. Now, Struwelpeter, what would you have done in such a
case?"

"I should have cried out loud."

"Well, now, the little king's son did not do that; but, like a man, he
spoke up to the intruder: 'I say, you fellow, this wood is my wood, and
this tree is my tree, and I don't allow you to live in it. But if you
can tell me where that better land is to which papa and baba have gone I
will make you a present of wood and tree, and you shall live in them.'

"And the stranger in the hollow tree answered, 'Not so, little king's
son! I lived here before this wood existed, and no one has power to
drive me away. You want to know where the better land is? That I can
only tell you when I love you and you love me. Already I love you.'

"'But I don't love you, naughty man,' said the little prince.

"'Why not?' asked the wood sprite.

"'Because you've got _green eyes_.'

"The stranger's eyes, in truth, gleamed like two green beetles.

"'Then Heaven be with you!' said the stranger; by which the little
prince knew he was no evil spirit, else he dared not name the holy
place.

"'I'm going!' returned the little king's son; 'and I will find the
better land without you. I have often heard which way to take.'

"The little prince had often heard tell that far off, among the rocks,
lived a fierce, bloodthirsty tiger, who had despatched many a huntsman
and goatherd to the other world. He would take him along too.

"So he went on till he came to the wild beast's den. He knew it by the
many human bones strewn about on the ground. The tiger was in his den;
his growling could be heard without.

"Now, you obstreperous little man, would you have dared to go into his
den?"

"Not even if my ball had fallen in!"

"Well, then, the king's son was more courageous. He shouted into the
den, 'Heh! you tiger, come out! I am the king's son! Bear me at once
across to the better land!'

"The monster came slowly out of his lair, licking his bloody muzzle and
striking his long tail against his haunches, and preparing to make one
spring on the boy. (Don't cry, little snub-nose!) He did not gobble him
up; for at that instant a gigantic snake darted out of a cleft in the
rock, threw itself round the tiger, and, encircling neck and body, bit
the monster in the throat. The tiger uttered an awful roar, and wrestled
with the snake on the ground. Now began a battle for life and death
between the two animals, until both together they fell down the rocky
precipice. They had killed each other. The prince had to go home to his
palace.

"On his way home he met a huntsman, his bow and quiver slung on his
back.

"'That's an odd huntsman who hunts nowadays with bow and arrow,' thought
the little prince, and looked straight into his eyes. It was _the man
with the green eyes_!

"'So you can't find the way to the better land unless you love me, eh?'
said he, and disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him up.

"'We'll see,' thought the little prince. 'I heard once that there is a
great sea, and that many people who went on that sea in ships found the
way to that land. Perhaps I may succeed in finding that big sea.'

"So he commanded his Grand Vizier to fit out a great ship on the Black
Sea for him; and in this they sailed to the country of the
fire-worshippers, which had been the home of the prince's mother. The
voyage out was propitious; but coming back they were caught in a
terrific storm. It thundered and lightened, the sky grew quite dark, and
as the lightning lit it up and the rifts of cloud opened, they could
clearly see in the sky beyond the radiant angel host; and as the
storm-winds made clefts in the sea they could see the sea-nymphs at the
bottom.

"'At last!' thought the king's son. 'Whether from above or below, I
shall find the way to the better land.'

"The waves ran so high they had already broken the ship's rudder; the
man at the helm had been washed overboard; the ship was fast running on
to a huge mass of rocks; there was no doubt but that it must inevitably
go to pieces.

"At that moment the prince saw some one by the steering-gear, a
stranger, who began steering the ship with an old-fashioned helm.

"'That's an odd sort of man who thinks to steer this great ship with
that old-fashioned gear!'

"Suddenly the storm ceased; sky and sea quieted down, the ship ran
unharmed past the threatening rocky shore, and reached its homeward
destination in safety.

"The little prince looked round for the stranger steersman, whom no one
on board knew; but he, with a laugh, said:

"'You will not find the better land before you get to love me, eh?'

"And the little king's son, looking still more closely, recognized in
him _the man with the green eyes_; but he disappeared as if the sea had
swallowed him up.

"And now the little prince began to be very angry.

"'Can there be no road for me to the better land? Oh yes, there is. I
have heard that many a hero has found it on the battle-field.'

"So he commanded his Grand Vizier, then and there, to declare war
against the King of the Tartars.

"And the Grand Vizier, with his army, invaded Tartary; but its king was
very powerful. He let the little prince's army go farther and farther
into the heart of his country, then surrounded them on all sides.

"The Grand Vizier was frightened.

"'We are lost, little king's son! The Tartar knows no mercy; he will
either kill us or make us slaves. His army is countless as an army of
locusts.'

"The little king's son exulted.

"'Give the signal for attack at once, that it may be the sooner over.'

"But the Grand Vizier was so frightened that he disguised himself as a
common soldier, and hid himself, not daring to lead on his army. So the
whole army, becoming demoralized, were ready to lay down their arms to
the enemy, when suddenly there appeared at their head an unknown general
in a uniform they had never yet seen. His sword was like a flaming fire
or a serpent. He encouraged the men, and led them against the Tartars;
and scarce had the trumpet sounded for the attack before the King of
Tartary advanced towards the prince, sword in hand, barefoot, in a
raiment of goat's hair, and humbly offered him costly presents,
beseeching peace. 'For,' he said, 'I cannot fight. My soldiers are dying
off by thousands; they fall as they stand, their hands and feet writhing
and convulsed.'

"And once more the prince recognized _the man with the green eyes_ in
the unknown general. This grieved him greatly. He began to see that,
without his help, never could he find that land where his father and
mother were. Thus he made up his mind to seek out _the man with the
green eyes_ in his hiding-place, and to tell him he loved him. He went
and called him out of the hollow tree. _The man with the green eyes_ had
a garment of tinder, a hat of tinder bound with green mildew; his face
was yellow as wax, his lips blue as mulberries.

"'Well, dear child, do you love me at last?' he asked the little king's
son.

"'Yes, yes; I love you. Only show me, at last, the road to the better
land.'

"'Never fear! I will show it you. But first you must eat one of the
plums from my basket and kiss me.'

"I must tell you he had a basket in his hand, filled with plums, as
waxen yellow as was his face. The little king's son took a plum and ate
it.

"'Now, just one kiss!' and he kissed him.

"'Huh! how cold your lips were!' said the little prince, with a shudder.

"And by means of that one plum and that kiss the king's son found, what
he had long sought so yearningly, the way to that better land where his
father and mother were awaiting him. He is still there, and sends you
his greetings."

While she told her story the king's daughter had been busily combing the
fair locks of a little girl, who, with eyes and mouth wide open, took in
every word of the fable. When it came to an end she asked:

"And what is that other world?"

"Where good people live; where the sun ever shines and it is perpetual
spring-time; where man labors and every day is the Feast of St. Michael;
where all people are glad and love one another; where none are hungry or
thirsty; and where the children play with the baby angels."

"Oh, I say," quoth the little fair-haired maid, "if people must not eat
or drink in the better land, I am sure papa and baba won't go there!"

This set Bethsaba off laughing, as she covered the little speaker with
kisses. Upon which there was a loud clapping of hands from the next
room.



CHAPTER XXIV

"THEN YOU ARE NOT--?"


The pretty story-teller had had listeners.

As the door opened she perceived three well-known faces, those of
Zeneida, Pushkin, her rescuer of the night before, and Jakuskin, the man
at the helm of the boat. The two men were covered with mud; it was plain
to see that they had just come in again from their work of mercy.

"We were listening to you," said Zeneida. "Your audience were
enchanted."

"When I was travelling in the Caucasus," said Jakuskin, "I chanced to
hear that very fable. The man with the green eyes is the allegorical
symbol of Caucasian fever, so rife there. The meaning of it is, that
whoever has received the incubation of that fever, whether he be wounded
in battle, mangled by wild beasts, or swallowed up by the sea, will meet
no other death than that prepared for him by the green-eyed spectre!"

Bethsaba saw Pushkin standing before her. She gazed into those eyes in
which to look out one's very soul must be so sweet, and held out her
hand to him.

"I have not yet thanked you for having saved my life. You came just in
time. I could not have kept my seat an instant longer."

"But how could the Duchess have allowed you to be there at all?" asked
Pushkin, in tones of reproach.

"I begged her to let me do it. I was so sorry for her, for she was so
terrified, and even began to cry, a thing I could not stand. Do you know
whether she reached home safely?"

"She is perfectly well. I inquired. I assure you that my sole reason for
going expressly to her palace to make inquiries was that I knew your
first thought would be for her. There is nothing the matter with her.
She went off at once last night in her boat to Peterhof, where she is in
safety. She must have passed this very castle; but, of course, her only
reason for not stopping to take you in was because she felt satisfied
that you were in good keeping."

And Bethsaba saw no irony in the words; for, in truth, she felt quite
happy in the place where she had those eyes to look into.

"And now I can give you nothing in return for having saved me, for I am
so poor."

"Like me," returned Pushkin.

And Zeneida whispered in his ear:

"Oh, the boundless riches that would come from the union of your
poverty!"

Bethsaba turned back to her washing apparatus.

"Please let me go back to my work. Duty before everything!"

"Blessed be the hands that perform it!" said Pushkin.

And each word of his was music in Bethsaba's ears.

"Now I know that I love him," thought she to herself. "I am fully
convinced of that. But does he love me?"

"We must now leave you," said Pushkin. "I only came to bring you news
from Ghedimin Castle. We must be getting back. The flood is still
rising; the whole of St. Petersburg is under water. There is no end of
work for us to do; but we shall be coming backwards and forwards many
times in the course of the day. I shall have many gifts to lay at your
feet, dear Princess."

Gifts! Did not her godmother tell her that the Russian youth brings
gifts to his lady-love? So then--

"Gifts?" she asked, with naïve joy, an innocent flush upon her pretty
cheeks. "What kind of gifts?"

"Boatfuls of muddy, ragged children for you to wash and dress."

The girl laughed and clapped her hands with glee.

"Oh, that is capital! Do bring them--the more the better! That is the
kind of gift I love."

The two men, in their sailor's dress, all wet and muddy, hastened off.

"Pushkin," said Zeneida, accompanying him to the adjoining room, "that
girl is Heaven-sent to you."

"Since when have you believed in heaven?"

"Be off with you! You are a goose! What news had you of Ghedimin?"

Pushkin shrugged his shoulders.

"He is at home quite well. I saw him through the balcony window, but
could not speak to him, as he did not open it. He is a good sort;
spirited enough, too, when once he is put up to a thing, but with no
self-reliance. He is fond of you, and is really anxious about you; but
he knows that your palace is on sufficiently high ground to be out of
danger, and that you have a host of friends to protect you. He is
hospitable, and is generosity itself, and is certain to subscribe
hundreds of thousands for the relief of the sufferers; yet he does not
offer to take a soul into his own place, for fear of spoiling his
carpets and floors; nor does he send out a cup of soup to them, because
he has no wife to stand by him and encourage him in it. He is even
philanthropic, yet fears to go out in the damp lest he should get
rheumatism. He is an incorporated 'idea,' and he knows it."

"You are a calumniator! I am convinced that he is ill."

"He is certainly not ill unto death, or the Duchess would never have
left him behind and gone alone to Peterhof."

"Don't be in such a hurry! What of the Czar?"

"He is rowing about everywhere in his boat. Jakuskin, come here! You met
the Czar; tell us about him."

"Oh, bosh!" returned the other, impatiently.

"Come, tell. Zeneida likes to hear these things."

"I have no secrets from her; she knows me through and through, and that
I shrink from nothing. Last night in my boat I twice came upon the Czar;
we were but an arm's-length one from another. The torches of his
bodyguard lit up his figure. He himself was lifting the weeping, raving
people out of their windows--the very attitude for a pistol-shot! I had
mine loaded in my pocket. I drew it out, and, to escape temptation, held
it under water to prevent its going off."

"Do you see, Jakuskin?" exclaimed Zeneida.

"Draw no conclusions from that. That I would not shoot him at the moment
that he was helping his people is no proof that I have given up my plan.
A deed of violence at such a time would have raised up all Christendom
against the perpetrator. Let's have no sentiment. I merely let him go
free from well-grounded self-interest. Now I will confess to you what I
had not yet even confided to Pushkin. For the second time, and not by
chance, I met the Czar at the Bear's Paw. Now, the Bear's Paw is in that
quarter of the town which unites one end of Unishkoff Bridge with
Jelagnaja Street, a locality of whose existence St. Petersburg high life
has no idea. And Nevski Prospect, with its noble palaces, leads up into
that labyrinth of squalor and misery. But it is out of the range of the
carriage-drive of the magnates. There the scum of Europe mixes with the
refuse of Asia. And any catastrophe brings the refuse to the top. Our
worthy friends must have been rather unpleasantly surprised by the
Neva's unexpected performance; they had prepared one of another sort.
The rising water washed them out of their cellars into the attics. And
they knew how to howl! When the Czar heard so many clamoring voices he
had his boat turned in their direction. I followed him at a distance,
and saw him himself draw each several man out of the attic windows, and
witnessed their humble subjection to him. I had to cram my fists into my
mouth to prevent my laughter. The select company of the Bear's Paw was
taken off by the Czar to the Winter Palate, and Herr Marat and Company
will have received a cup of 'kvass' broth from the imperial hands and
returned a teeth-chattering 'thanks.' But a very convulsion of laughter
seized me when our friend Dobujoff, got up as Napoleon Bonaparte,
crawled out of the shanty. The Czar exclaimed, _'Diantre! Est-ce-que
vous êtes retourné de Sainte-Hélène?_' Upon which Napoleon had to
confess that he understood no word of French. Now comes the catastrophe.
Not by hand of man, but by means of a bit of wood. In front of the
Bear's Paw a tall pine staff had been erected, on the summit of which
was stuck a pitch wreath. From this hung a line which had been steeped
in saltpetre, and was evidently intended to have been lighted--probably
as the signal. The masses of ice washing up against it had unsettled the
staff; it began to totter, and must inevitably have crushed both the
Czar and his boat's company had not, fortunately, a man been near who,
perceiving their danger in time, seized the line with powerful grip and
swayed the staff round so that it fell beside the boat instead of upon
it."

"That man was you!" exclaimed Zeneida.

"No matter! But this much I see, that a nobleman _cannot_ be a common
murderer. He is too fastidious about time and place. So to a more
favorable opportunity!"

"One thing more," said Zeneida. "Did the Czar touch, too, at Petrovsky
Garden?"

"No."

"All right. I will not detain you any longer."

The two men hastened down to their boat. Zeneida went back to Bethsaba.
The Princess had by this time dressed all the mujik children.

"Now, children," said Zeneida, "go prettily, hand in hand, to the
winter garden; there you will get your breakfast, and then you may
play."

Winter garden! palm grove! What sounds for poor children's ears!

Then, turning to Bethsaba, she said:

"Now, dear little Princess, you remain here. Take a good hot bath; it
will do you good after your yesterday's exposure. I will be back in an
hour. There is a bell; ring for all you want."

Bethsaba's head was all confused. Everything was so new and strange to
her.

A pleasant sense of fatigue stole over nerves and imagination after the
bath. What a pity that there was no one here to whom she could confide
her thoughts and feelings! It would have been so nice! If only Sophie
were here! Ah, if she were here there would be no further reason for
alarm. Two young girls together are the very essence of heroism! And now
she began to wonder what could have happened to Sophie in this dread
time. Had any one thought to go to her assistance? had she listened to
the alarm signals and thundering cannon with despair in her heart? What
tears she must have shed as she looked out of her windows at the rising
expanse of icy water! Bethsaba shuddered. Her excited fancy pictured her
friend kneeling, with uplifted hands, before her holy images, imploring
help. Would that prayer be answered? Or was it but a faint breath, lost
in the rushing of the _Auster_?

Folding her hands, she prayed that help might be given to Sophie.
Perhaps the combined prayer of two maidens might have greater efficacy.
What a pity that there was no holy image in the room! She was forced to
shut her eyes, that some Buddhist idol might not think she was
addressing her prayer to him.

Thus Zeneida, on her return, found her.

"What, praying again, Princess? This is the time to be up and doing."

"But what can I do?"

"First of all, drink down this wine soup that I have brought for you. I
want to see you quite well and strong again, for I want your aid."

"My aid?"

"Now sit down and take your breakfast while I unfold my plan."

Bethsaba trembled. The thought of the dragon in the fairy story struck
her, who first feasts the captured children on almonds and raisins and
then slays them. She could scarce get down her soup.

"I dare say you know that one-storied house standing in a garden, near
the engineer's buildings, where a young girl and her old servant live?"

Bethsaba lost not a syllable.

"According to water-mark measurements that house stands four cubits
lower than this; hence the water which has encroached here to the castle
steps has already flooded the ground floor, and is reaching up to the
windows of the first story, and the water is still rising. But one cubit
more and it will be rushing through the windows in the first story. Now,
if the flood lasts another two or three days, which, unfortunately, is
but too certain, that poor, delicate child will be in despair. Her only
protector dare not go to her help on account of his high position; those
he has sent have gone away without accomplishing their errand, for the
girl is obstinate and mistrustful. She will not trust herself to
strangers, for she dreads meeting the same fate as did Princess
Tarrakonoff. There is therefore no other means of saving her from the
endangered house than for you to come with us, for she loves and trusts
you. On hearing your voice she will readily let herself down from her
balcony into the boat; then we will bring her here, and you can occupy
the same room together while the danger lasts. You will not be alone in
this anxious time, and she will feel comforted in your society; and, the
time of peril happily over, we will drive her back to her home."

Bethsaba had forgotten her breakfast while Zeneida was speaking; her
eyes opened wider and wider, her cheeks rounded and flushed; she laughed
with tears in her eyes; and as Zeneida finished she jumped up from her
chair, and, placing both hands on Zeneida's shoulders, looked trustfully
into her eyes, as she joyfully said:

"Oh, then, you are not the devil!"

Zeneida broke into a peal of laughter.

"Who told you that I was?"

"My godmother. But I see now that it was all a lie."

"It was only a manner of speaking. If one dislikes any one very much,
one says that he or she is a devil."

"It was on account of the stag that my godmother was so angry with you,
was it not?"

"Yes; for that."

"But she need not then have frightened me so by telling me that the
devil looked just like you."

"Oh, little goose! There is no such thing as a devil. Only that people
like to ascribe their own wicked imaginings to an ideal being, who, in
reality, has nothing to do with the evil within them."

"But you are a real fairy, then! For you read into my very soul, and how
anxious I was about Sophie, and longing to see her. It was just for that
that I was praying, that my darling little Sophie might be saved and
brought here. And then you come in and bring me, like the message in
the Gospel, the comforting answer: 'Go yourself and fetch her!' And do
you still venture to affirm that there is no good in prayer?"

"To those who believe it is good," replied Zeneida, kissing the girl's
forehead; upon which the latter, throwing her two arms lovingly round
Fräulein Ilmarinen's neck, said:

"Let us say 'thou' to each other."

And they signed the compact with a kiss. Then joyously running to the
table, Bethsaba drank her wine soup almost at a breath. There was a
little left in the glass.

"That you must drink; I left it for you."

And the bond was sealed.

"I am quite ready; let us go," said Bethsaba.

"Wait just a few minutes. We will let the gentlemen get away first. We
will go out by the garden gate, and take only one man to steer and
another for the boat-hook."

"Then we will row, won't we? I am accustomed to it, and strong as iron."

"It would be no use. The boat can only be sculled through the ice,
especially against the current, and that will be done with the
boat-hook."

"Well, I am still convinced that you are a good fairy, Zeneida. You will
call me Betsi, won't you? And I must tell you that I am not at all
afraid of good spirits. Oh, we have so many at home! Tamara is queen of
them. For if you were not a fairy, how could you know that the flood was
going to last two or three days longer?"

"There is no magic in that, dear little Betsi, for the barometer hanging
over there against the wall is pointing to continued storms. Moreover,
the city archives tell us that the danger always lasts several days
when a southwest wind causes the Neva to overflow its bank."

"Well, that certainly is simple enough. So it was no prophecy? But then
you said something else--that that gentleman, Sophie's only protector,
could not go to her help. Now what barometer told you that?"

"Humph!" Zeneida, pressing her lips together, reflected for a moment,
then said, "Do you know who that illustrious person is?"

"Of course I do. Why, how often have I met him at Sophie's and have told
him fairy tales! And Sophie has told me everything; things that no one
else knows anything about. But I will tell them to you, for people who
love each other must have no secrets--don't you think so?"

"Certainly! Well, then, dear child, all this time that illustrious
personage has been unable to go to Sophie, because, since the flooding
of the Greater Neva, it has been necessary for him to show himself
wherever the danger was greatest, in order, by his presence, to
stimulate others to the task of assistance and to insure success. Had
he, instead of this, gone to Sophie, who lives on the Lesser Neva, there
would have been fearful rioting. Do you understand this?"

"Yes, indeed, I understand too well," returned Bethsaba, sorrowfully.

"But to-day they do not allow that illustrious personage to show himself
in the inundated streets."

"Who?"

"His advisers."

"Why not?"

"Because they have discovered a plot against his life."

"Oh, how sad!" sighed Bethsaba. Then her mind flew to the last link of
her chain of thought: "A plot against the life of the Czar, and known to
Zeneida! From whom could she have obtained the knowledge so quickly?
From those two men; but from which?"

Timidly approaching Zeneida, and leaning over her shoulder, she
whispered:

"It was not the younger man of the two, was it, who told you?"

"No, no," replied Zeneida, to whom the child's whole soul was revealed.
"Fear nothing for him! His hand and heart are clear from it."

"And you are in it?" asked the girl, touching Zeneida's breast with the
tip of her finger.

Zeneida was startled by the direct questions. Was it childish curiosity,
or had it a deeper meaning? Bethsaba remarked her surprise.

"You see, there can be no secrets where love is. I will tell you all I
know, and what hitherto I have told to no one--not even to my godmother,
whom I believe I fear more than I love. But you I love so very, very
much, and that is why I am going to tell what I know, and how awfully
they plot against him. He himself told Sophie. In Petrovsko the
rebellious soldiers and peasants would not allow him to go farther; they
insulted and threatened him to that degree that he had to turn back. Now
these people were ragged and starving, and I can understand their being
angry with him. But what complaint have you against him? You are rich,
beautiful, and fêted. Why, then, are you one of the conspirators?"

An idea flashed into Zeneida's mind. This child might form the link in
the chain that was still wanting.

"Come nearer; let us whisper it, that even the walls do not hear. I,
too, love you, and will frankly tell you all I know. I, too, am in the
conspiracy, and play an important part in it."

"What reason have you?"

"I am a 'Kalevaine.'"

"And what is a 'Kalevaine'?"

"In Soumalain language, that which you are in the Circassian language. A
girl who, when she came into the world, had a home she no longer has,
whose nation, then Soumalain, is now known as Finnish. Doubtless you
remember as clearly as I do the people and places you were among up to
your sixth year, whom you may never look on again, and yet whom you
never can forget?"

"Oh, it is true."

"Is it not? Amid all the pomp and splendor the world can give, in the
midst of the most brilliant court festivities, do you not feel a sudden
pang at heart when the thought of your dark native woods flashes across
you; of the horsemen, on their fiery steeds, coursing over the rushing
mountain streams; of the blue mountains in the far distance, and your
ancestral castle, in which, enthroned, your father received the homage
of his vassals?"

"Oh yes, yes."

"And even now you remember the legends told you by the murmuring streams
of your native land?"

"You are right; you are right."

"Well, then, you see, so it is with me. My recollections, like the
mighty roll of the Imatras, are forever surging in my soul. Just as
little can I forget those moss-covered rocks, the most ancient peak in
the whole world, the Fata Morgana of our Finnish plains; the red-roofed
houses, with low beams across the rooms, from which hung strings of
loaves; the legends of Kalevala, and its people's freedom, of which my
father used so often to tell me. Then I did not understand all he said;
now I recall all and--understand him."

"I, too, recall; but I do not understand it yet."

"The Czar has deprived you, as me, of our fatherland; he has deprived
our people of their freedom! And, as through him we became orphaned,
homeless, so he became a father to us in place of our own fathers. For
our little kingdoms he has given us a great one; for our quiet homes,
pomp and splendor. As a man, he has been a father to us; as Czar, a
tyrant. For the one I cannot be ungrateful to him; for the other I
cannot forgive him. So I stand hemmed in by two conflicting duties. As
my adopted father, it is my duty to shield his sensitive heart, to
protect him from the assassin's dagger, from pain and sickness; but at
the same time I am bound to deliver my country from the iron grasp of
the tyrant, to snatch from it my people and their freedom. Do you
understand?"

"I see you fly before me; but I cannot follow your flight, cannot catch
you up. Tell me, is 'he' too in the conspiracy?"

Zeneida knew whom she meant by "he."

"No. He dare not! I will not suffer him to take part in it."

"Oh, then permit me, too, to remain out of it. Had you told me he was in
it, I must, too, have been."

"That's right! You shall keep each other out of it. But, all the same,
you must stand by me in one part of the hard duty."

"Tell me what I must do! I will obey implicitly."

"Our first thought must be to bring Sophie here, and to acquaint him
whose heart is heavy on her account that he need be anxious no longer."

"Will you allow me to be the first to go in to Sophie?"

"You alone; she would not trust any one else."

And Bethsaba could not have desired greater happiness than to be the one
privileged to step from the boat on to the balcony of the mysterious
house in Petrovsky Garden. The flood had already risen to the balcony,
and she it was who might hasten in to the neglected girl and say, "You
are saved!"

The poor child was already without provisions or fuel of any
description, for everything in the inundated cellar and dining-room was
spoiled by water. Wrapped in her furs, she sat at the window, breathing
upon it to make a clear space, and gazing with dismay at the huge blocks
of ice floating unimpeded over the wrecked fence. Some, with their sharp
edges, cut through the great trees opposing them as with a saw; others
were tossed lengthwise against their barks, those following hurled upon
them, until suddenly a great silver birch would go down with a crash.
Once the resistance formed by the trees swept down, the house must
follow. A pencil and paper lay prepared upon her writing-table, a
carrier-dove in its cage beside it. They had been brought her by the
Czar, that she might let him know when danger was imminent.

She was waiting to send off her message until the extreme moment, for
she knew the grave difficulties which surrounded his coming to her
rescue.

Thus her joy may be imagined on seeing Bethsaba appear on the balcony.

Seizing her pencil, Sophie wrote, with trembling fingers, "I am saved
and in good hands; have no further anxiety for me!" Then tying her note
on to the carrier-dove's wing, she set it loose. It flew up high in the
air, then disappeared in the direction of the Winter Palace.

She did not ask where they were taking her, but followed Bethsaba in
good faith.



CHAPTER XXV

GOG AND MAGOG


The Czar had not undressed at all that night; but, tired out, had thrown
himself upon his couch, which had no covering but a bear-skin.

Before sunrise he was up, and, without making a change of dress, went to
the window. It was frosted over; he had to open it to see out. He
quickly closed it again. The sight was terrible! In feverish excitement
he threw on his cloak and hurried out. In the anteroom his physician,
Sir James Wylie, was waiting, who at once accosted him with--

"Your Majesty may not go out to-day!"

"I may not? Who commands me?"

"I merely _prescribe_, sire--a right which physicians may exercise
towards princes."

"But there is nothing the matter with me."

"But there may be. Your health is endangered."

"That rests in the hands of God." And he passed on.

In the audience-chamber he found Araktseieff.

"Your Majesty _cannot_ go out to-day."

"So you, too, order me, as well as the physician."

"Your Majesty's life is in danger."

"Not for the first time. He who protected me yesterday will not fail me
to-day. Be a Christian, and do not treat me like a child who lets
himself be frightened by old women's tales. Remain at your post; I go to
mine."

Araktseieff knew the Czar, and that opposition only made him more
obstinate; so stood deferentially aside as the Czar strode past him.

The Czar passed, alone, down the long corridor hung with pictures of the
battles he had fought. At the end of it a little negro groom stood
waiting with a note, which he handed in silence. It was the Czarina's
page, a birthday present to her of long ago. The Czar hurriedly broke
open the note and ran it over, then looked down meditatively. Without a
word he went back to his apartment and took off his cloak.

The note was from the Czarina: "I am afraid to be alone in the palace.
Please do not leave me now!"

The words were a command; one which even the Ruler of All the Russias
had no choice but to obey. His wife was afraid!

Now he is condemned to remain within the palace, like any imprisoned
criminal.

For the first time for fourteen years his wife had made a request to
him. How could he refuse it? Not only his sense of duty as emperor
impelled him to repair to scenes of distress and danger, but also he was
urged by that mysterious impulse from within, which ever drove him from
one end of his empire to the other, leaving him no rest by night, until
he would rise, get into his carriage, and drive from street to street.
To stay in one place was torture to him. He had but returned this very
week from a journey which led him as far as to the Kirghiz steppes. And
now was he to sit idly at home? His wife had asked it. It is not much
she asks. She does not beg him to come to her in her apartments, to
stay with her, to cheer and comfort her; she only asks him to remain
under the same roof.

Now he has leisure to pace from one end to the other of his room, to
hearken to the pealing of bells, the roar of the wind, and the splash of
the waves, whose surf dashes up to his windows. Suddenly he utters a
cry--"Where are you, Sophie?" It is well that no one hears him, that he
is alone. In spirit, he is in that solitary house, surrounded by the
waves. His eyes search round the empty rooms where wind and weather
sport unchecked, and, not finding her, he cries, "Sophie! where are
you?" The vision he had called up was even more terrible than the awful
reality of raging nature without. He could better bear to look upon
that. Rushing to the balcony of the palace, he tore open the glass
doors, and gazed down upon the ghastly devastation. The sight was awful
indeed!

Wide as an ocean bay, the giant river was rolling back its waves upon
Lake Ladoga. Ever and anon from out the misty distance loomed visions
reflected in the surface of the madly rushing waters.

When Napoleon, watching the fire of Moscow from the Kremlin, saw how the
storm was rolling the sea of flame upon the city, he cried in despair,
"But what wind is this?" So now Alexander, as he watched the waves,
lashed by the furious storm, dash up against his palace, asked, "But
what wind is this?"

Houses roofless and in ruins; half-naked creatures clinging to their
framework; here, a tiny hand raised in piteous appeal from its mother's
arms; there, a man rowing with a plank, who finds no place to land on.
Every gust of wind, every wave, brings some fresh sight to view. Now
comes the remnant of a menagerie; its cages, chained together, are
being whirled about in eddying circles. A Bengal tiger, who has burst
his bonds, dashes wildly from one cage to another. Some men, clinging to
the bars, dare not climb on to the top for fear of the infuriated
animal. All must perish. Men and beasts shriek and roar in chorus. The
waves dash them pitilessly on. Then comes the fragment of a wooden
bridge wedged in between two icebergs. Upon it there still stands a
carriage, shafts in air, from the interior of which projects a pink
dress. Bridge and carriage float past, a flock of croaking ravens flying
about them.

Who is sufficient for all these horrors?

The current swept on, swift as an arrow, the waves playing with their
icy barriers; now building them into pyramids, now tearing them down,
leaving a circling eddy to mark the spot.

Close by the Winter Palace stands the Admiralty, with its copper roof.
The furious storm, tearing off a portion of this, rolls it up, with
thunderous din, like a sheet of paper, flattens it out again, tosses it
into the air, showering down fragments of it like a pack of cards; then,
finally, rips off the whole remainder of the roof, hurling it into the
principal square. Then follows many thousand casks of flour, sugar, and
spices from the flooded warehouses of the Exchange--the whole winter
store of a great capital a prey to the waves!

Again another picture. Arrayed in order of battle like a flotilla come a
series of black boats, not originally designed to carry their inmates
over the water, but under the earth. Coffins! The flood had burst the
walls of the military cemetery of Smolenskaja, washed up thousands of
graves, and was now bringing back their occupants to the city, of which
they had long ago taken farewell. The buried warriors were coming to
march past the Czar once more--the hurricane their deafening trumpets,
the waves their kettle-drums! They even bring their memorial chapel with
them, and their marble crosses, which tower in ghostly fashion from out
the icebergs!

Nor is the fearful cyclorama over yet. The horrors of it are ever
increasing. In the distance looms a three-master, bearing down upon the
city--or, rather, in the cold gray mist it looks the ghost of a
man-of-war. It had broken its moorings at Cronstadt in the gale, and
now, driven before the wind, was coming down upon the city at full
speed!

At that moment the Czar, forgetful of his dignity, hid his face and
wept, never thinking whether any eyes were upon him. And many eyes were
on him.

All those whom in the course of the previous night the Czar had rescued
from the tottering houses in the suburbs--all those who, taken unawares
in the tumult of the fair, did not know where to turn, the Czar had
lodged in the western division of the Winter Palace, giving up that
brilliant suite of rooms to the use of the poor and destitute. Such
guests as these the Winter Palace had never harbored before! True, at
New-year it was the custom for some forty thousand guests to assemble in
the Winter Palace; but they swept the floors with silk, and illuminated
the marble halls with their diamonds. Now, however, it was the
show-place for rags and tatters. An exhibition of misery and
destitution! There were collected together all those who form the shady
side of a capital, and of whom the fashionable world have no
conception--an aggregate of bitter want and of shameless depravity. They
who did not dare to creep forth by day from their dark cellars have
given each other rendezvous in the Imperial Palace. The Czar sent them
food and drink, and they spent the night singing the _Knife Song_,
taught them by the frequenters of the Bear's Paw.

Czar Alexander heard it, and doubtless rejoiced to know his guests were
in such good-humor. They opened their windows, and those in front put
their heads out, and called to the others to tell them what they saw.

The façade of the Winter Palace had two projecting wings. The refugees
were housed in the west wing. Between that and the east, like the middle
stroke of the capital letter E, stretched the covered balcony from which
the Czar had watched the panorama of destruction.

On seeing him his guests became mute.

He was an imposing figure, with expansive forehead bared to the fury of
the storm. As long as he remained impassive his self-control
communicated itself to the spectators. But when they saw him break down
and shed tears, when they saw that the Czar was but a man after all,
they grew furious. Weakness arouses indignation.

A man, brother to the French republican Marat, seizing his opportunity,
sprang upon the window-sill and shouted to the Czar:

"Yes, you may cry! Cry for the loss of your fine city! The God of
vengeance has sent this destruction upon us as a penalty for your sins!
Plague, drought, starvation--all have come upon us through you! For you
are deaf to the cry of our glorious brothers the Greeks! Their innocent
blood that has been shed cries out to Heaven for vengeance! You are the
cause of this devastation! Heaven is punishing us for what you have
done!"

The noisy voices of the people within drowned the concluding words;
their yells outvied the storm. The mutinous speech had stirred up the
already excited people to fury. The refrain of the _Song of the Knife_
resounded to an accompaniment of infuriated noise and confusion. They
tried to burst open the strong doors communicating with the corridor
leading to the Czar's apartments.

He, standing on the balcony, was rooted to the spot by a double
terror--behind him the yelling populace clamoring for his blood; before
him the approaching ship. It was one of the largest men-of-war in the
navy. When frozen up in the winter the crew is paid off, and the few men
left in charge had evidently escaped, so that it came along without
guidance of any kind, and was apparently making direct for the Winter
Palace.

At the sound of raised and fierce voices every window in the central
portion of the palace opened suddenly, displaying a treble row of
bayonets. At one of the windows stood Araktseieff, who shouted in his
cruel, harsh voice to the rebels:

"Silence, instantly, you cubs of Gog and Magog, or I will have you cast
back into the flood from which your sovereign lord saved you! Ungrateful
savages that ye are!"

This was adding oil to the flames.

"Oh, oh, Araktseieff!" roared a thousand throats. "There's the evil
genius!"

"Come on!" screamed Marat. "Let's just see if your thousand bayonets can
conquer our ten thousand knives! Make a beginning, or we will!"

The ship came nearer and nearer.

As it reached within half a cable's length of the Winter Palace, the
Czar perceived a man in the wheel-house turning the wheel.

"What are you about, man?" he shouted down angrily to him.

The man knew perfectly what he was about. It was Borbotuseff, a naval
officer and a deserter. How came he on board? No one knew. He steered
straight for the palace, with the one hope of crashing into it, in order
that all within, and he himself, might be buried under it. A red flag
was flying from the mast.

The struggling crowd and the guards saw nothing of all this; the balcony
gallery cut off their view.

Now the moment had come to prove which was the stronger, the house of
wood or the house of stone.

But the current was stronger than either, and instead of the bow of the
ship striking the palace, it came broadside on. It drew so much water
that its keel crashed on to the granite coping of the moat, throwing the
vessel on its side; while, like a knight in a tournament with
outstretched lance, it struck with its masts upon its stony adversary. A
terrific crashing and grinding--two of the masts broke to pieces against
the pillars; the third crashed through one of the windows, shaking the
whole massive structure from foundation to gable, yet the stone remained
conqueror. The ponderous vessel broke in two; the bow half of the wreck
was hurled on to Alexanderplatz; the afterpart, with the helmsman, fell
back into the vortex, and was carried away with the current.

The concussion was like an earthquake. Of a sudden there was silence.
People, soldiers, even Araktseieff, fell upon their knees. The man upon
the balcony alone remained standing. He had seen something in the air.
It was a dove.

The dove flew direct to him, hovered for a moment, and then alighted on
his shoulder.

It was Sophie's carrier-dove.

Alexander found the letter under its wing, telling him that Sophie was
in good keeping. Then, folding his hands in a prayer of thanksgiving, he
raised them to Heaven.

But the dove is the sacred and wonder-working bird of Russia.

As it descended upon the shoulder of the Czar the fury of the people
changed to superstitious worship. In it they saw the embodiment of the
Holy Ghost. He who would not be lost must be converted. It was a miracle
from Heaven.

Bozse czarja chrani! An old mujik suddenly started the hymn of praise,
and all present joined in it. Araktseieff's bayonets had become
unnecessary. Marat's brother, leaving the rostrum, disappeared among the
multitude. Who could have found him among the ten thousand there
gathered? And even if they had he would have denied his identity.

The flood lasted two days longer, leaving behind it three thousand
houses totally wrecked and a countless list of dead.

The people firmly believed that Heaven's judgment had been wrought
because the Czar had not come to the assistance of the Greeks in their
War of Independence.



CHAPTER XXVI

UNDER THE PALMS


Without, ten degrees of cold, raging storm, flood, devastation, misery,
revolution, scenes of horror. The palms knew nothing of all this. Upon
the great, high elevation, under its glazed roof, reigned perpetual
spring, where huge lamps with ground-glass globes replaced sunshine.
And the tropical world suffered itself to be deceived. King-ferns,
brought hither from the East, forgot that they were not growing in their
native soil, and that they were putting forward leaves, never blossoms.
The soil beneath them was heated with hot-air pipes and enriched by
artificial aid.

And in this artificial garden of the tropics children were playing who
had forgotten that their fathers and mothers were far away, perhaps not
even caring. Here they neither got blows nor were hungry; but danced
round the "mulberry-bush" and sang. Two beautiful young ladies--wards of
the Queen of the Fairies--looked after them, just as in fairy tales.

Bethsaba had now a real true fairy tale to tell of her miraculous rescue
from the terrible dangers; the sudden appearance of the handsome knight
in her extremity, how his beautiful eyes, his look of daring, his heroic
stature--

Sophie grew quite anxious to see him.

"You will soon see him, he is sure to come, he promised me he would.
Still it does seem to be a long time before he keeps his word!"

"He is not, on any account, to know who I am," said Sophie. "It is to be
kept secret here. Our hostess wishes it."

"Then we will only call you Sophie."

"It is singular that we three have only one Christian name; neither you,
nor I, nor Zeneida bear our mother's names in addition, as is usual
among us. I cannot understand it."

"Nor I."

"Here he comes!"

"How do you know?"

"I know his footstep."

And, in truth, he came. Zeneida brought him in, more wet and muddy than
the time before. His hair dishevelled; his face reddened by the cold
wind. Withal, so handsome!

Bethsaba had told Sophie that here, too, a conspiracy was on foot; but
that "he" was not in it. Who else, then? Sophie only believes what she
sees.

"Come, come, Pushkin!" exclaimed Zeneida, with strangely radiant look.
"Relate again, fully, what you have already told me."

And Pushkin recounted all that had happened at the Winter Palace, of
which he had been an eye-witness, with the enthusiasm of a poet inspired
by the catastrophe.

The second girl was a stranger to him. Had he known who she was he would
not have described with such poetic warmth the stirring scene when the
Czar stood bareheaded, the storm raging round him, menaced alike by the
fury of people and the fast-approaching vessel.

She listened tremblingly to his recital, drinking in his every word with
feverish anxiety, the varying expression of his face reflected in hers;
her lips seeming mutely to repeat what he was saying. Shudderingly she
hid her face when the ship collided with the palace! She felt the force
of the shock, and staggered under it.

When Pushkin went on to tell about the dove--her dove--how it descended
on to the shoulders of her father, the Czar, with what joy the august
ruler had raised his hands to heaven, and how with one voice the hymn of
praise had burst forth from the lips of the rebellious people, the poor,
overwrought girl's nerves could endure no more; with a cry of joy she
threw herself into Bethsaba's arms, laughing and crying hysterically.

Pushkin, attributing her excitement to the power of his poetic
delineation, was not a little proud of his success.

"But is all danger over now?" faltered Sophie, venturing to raise her
tearful eyes to the young man's face.

He, not understanding the question, answered:

"The danger is not over yet, although the storm is certainly lessening,
and, once lulled, the Neva will return to its bed; but until then much
damage may yet ensue."

"It was not that I meant; but if he is still in any danger--he, the
Czar!"

Pushkin was amazed. What interest could this girl, Bethsaba's friend,
feel in the Czar?

"Danger at the hand of man cannot assail him, for Araktseieff has taken
the most stringent measures for his protection. All those who were given
shelter in the Winter Palace are being transferred to the Admiralty.
Nay; at such a time his very foes, even had he any, would be the first
to protect him."

"How can that be?" she asked, and waited for Pushkin's answer with the
devout attention with which, in former times, the answers of the Oracle
were received.

A secret instinct told Pushkin that he must answer in all sincerity.

"Because the feeling of 'humanity' is stronger than that of 'love of
freedom.' It protects alike the serf when persecuted by the Czar, and
the Czar when persecuted by the serf!"

The two girls heaved a deep sigh of relief into the air, weighted with
these significant words.

"You are laying cruel waste in these two hearts," whispered Zeneida in
Pushkin's ear. "You had better go back to your work."

"And you have not brought me the presents you promised?" asked Bethsaba,
sorrowfully.

"I had not forgotten them; but from early morning we were busy trying to
make fast the wreck; there must have been some one on board cutting
through our ropes as fast as we threw them. And so I had no time to
think of saving little children."

"When next you make a promise do not forget it," returned she, in tone
of aggrieved reproach.

Pushkin could not understand her. Why that tone? How should he
understand it? He promised to come again that evening to bring her good
news, and something besides.

Neither she nor Zeneida had told him who the other girl was. Zeneida now
took both girls into her boudoir. The time was approaching when she
would be receiving many visitors whom it was not expedient for them to
see.

The catastrophe offered favorable opportunity to the "Szojusz
Blagadenztoiga" to hold uninterrupted sittings. There was to be a
meeting of "the green book" to-day.

The two girls managed to find a "green book" for themselves. They
searched about in Zeneida's boudoir until they found Pushkin's poem,
_The Gypsy Girl_. This, of course, they had not read before; for,
according to the dictum of "good" society in Russia, a well-bred girl up
to her fifteenth year may indeed see, but not read, romances. Moreover,
that poem was not to be had in print, only manuscript. Alexander Pushkin
had created quite a distinct calling which had never existed before,
that of transcriber. In every town were men who made a livelihood by
copying out Pushkin's verses, sold, despite the Censor, by the
booksellers. (There are still many houses in which only written copies
of the works of the Russian poet Petösy are to be found.)

The two girls now eagerly snatched at the forbidden fruit. First
Bethsaba read it to Sophie; then Sophie to Bethsaba. The third time they
read it together as a duet.

Then they conferred the name of its hero, "Aleko," upon the author. And
when they wanted to speak of him called him only "Aleko." And it
fitted--only the other way about. Aleko had wandered among the gypsies
(gypsy, poet, or bohemian being synonymous); this gypsy or poet had
wandered among princesses. That evening Herr Aleko came, bringing
cheering news. The storm had subsided, and the water had fallen a span;
although it must be some time before it resumed its proper level, for it
stretched away eight versts on either bank.

("Oh that it may last ever so long!" beat the heart of each maiden,
secretly.)

He had, moreover, brought something for Bethsaba--a little doll, such as
he had promised her, but not a little muddy doll in rags, but a lovely,
gayly dressed, sweet little doll, made of sugar. There were no others to
be had; all the others had melted. Pushkin expected the girl to laugh at
his offering; but she took the matter seriously, accepted it with
greatest solemnity, placed it in her bosom, and it was evident that she
was not sorry to see Sophie just a tiny bit jealous of her. Pushkin was
not slow to see that he must be careful, so he sought in his pockets
until he found something worth offering.

"See, fair Sophie"--he did not know her other name--"I have something
for you, too. You showed a special interest in the Czar this morning.
Here is a piece of copper from the vessel that ran into the Winter
Palace."

Thankfully it was received. The platinum mines of the Ural had never
produced so precious a piece of ore.

"He can be no conspirator," whispered Sophie to Bethsaba.

"Decidedly not," whispered Bethsaba back.

"The storm has quite gone down," said Zeneida. "The bells have left off
ringing. This will be a quieter night than those we have been having of
late. Good-night, Pushkin. If you do not hurry you will find your boat
running aground."

The girls would not have minded if the water had not gone down so fast.

Zeneida despatched Pushkin home, and the girls to their beds. She was
responsible for their good health.

But it was long before they could settle to sleep. They had so much to
say about Aleko. They had made up quite a different ending to the poem
than the real one: the gypsy girl was not to have been faithless, but if
she were, Aleko should have despised her and have found a more faithful
love. The gypsy girl should have implored his pardon on her knees, and
he should have forgiven her, but not have driven her away from him. In a
word, they made Aleko what they fain would have had him to be.

Zeneida, who slept in the next room, several times admonished them to go
to sleep. Then they would be quiet as mice, the next moment to begin
whispering again. At last her regular breathing proved Sophie, at least,
to have fallen asleep. Bethsaba could not sleep; her heart beat so
violently that, despite the prayers she said, midnight found her still
awake. Suddenly it seemed to her as if the occupant of the next room had
risen, and with light footsteps had gone out into the room beyond. The
night was still. Neither sound of carriage-wheels nor patrol disturbed
the quiet of the inundated streets. From a distant apartment rose a
psalm, sung in a woman's voice, low and sorrowful:

    "In every hour of grief and pain,
      To Thee for help I crave;
    O Thou to whom none cry in vain,
      Be present now to save."

Who was singing at that late hour? What grief could oppress her in this
house? Bethsaba drew the bedclothes over her head to quiet her
trembling.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days longer the two girls spent under Zeneida's protecting
care--that is, it was not until then that Princess Ghedimin ventured to
return from Peterhof, or that the slime-covered ground-floor and cellars
of the little dwelling in Petrovsky Garden could be cleansed and
thoroughly aired by old Helenka. The girls meanwhile were living Elysian
days. When Zeneida told them that they could now go to their homes,
Bethsaba sighed:

"When I came here I thought I was coming to the infernal regions; now I
feel as if I were being turned out of Paradise!"

They saw Pushkin daily, had talks with him, and delighted in the great,
noble soul which lay like an open book before them. Even earthly joys
have their revelations, awaking super-earthly joy when they cease to be
felt in secret. When the girls were alone Aleko was the sole subject of
their talk. Bethsaba thought she must love Sophie the more for holding
Aleko in such high esteem; yet she had not, even yet, breathed a word to
her friend of her love for him. At first, she had thought, it would be
an easy thing to tell. But the secret of a first love is refractory; it
will not come forth from its concealment. She delayed her confession;
guarding her secret like some hidden treasure; dissembled her love for
him, or, at least, learned to belie her feelings that she might not
betray the happiness that took possession of her at sight of him. Her
blushes she ascribed to headache, though, in reality, her head was
innocent of any such discomfort.

But at the moment of parting the confession must be made. She would
whisper it to her friend in few words, then run away.

When their sedan-chairs actually arrived--no carriages could yet be
used--the two friends could scarce make up their minds to part. They had
ever fresh confidences to whisper to each other; they wept and laughed,
and quarrelled for the sake of making it up again. They talked together
in a language which they two only understood; they promised to meet
again very soon; they gave each other the parting kiss, then began to
chatter again. Zeneida watched them attentively.

At length the declaration must come. With the last, very last, kiss the
bomb must burst.

"I love Aleko--until death."

This Sophie whispered into Bethsaba's ear, then ran away.

Zeneida saw the rosy glow suffusing the cheeks of the departing girl and
the deathly pallor overspreading those of her who remained, as though
the one had stolen the life-glow from the other. Bethsaba stood where
she had left her, white, motionless, with sunken head, and arms hanging
lifeless at her side.

Zeneida at once divined the secret. She went up to her, but hardly had
she taken the girl's hands in hers when, falling before her, bitterly
weeping, the poor child hid her face in Zeneida's dress.

"Oh, why did you bring me here?"

Zeneida raised her.

"Stand up. Do not cry. He will be yours."

"What! I take him from her?"

"Humph! Were it only 'her' you had to take him from-- But do not be
troubled. Love him; you alone deserve his love."

The poor child shook her head sorrowfully. Now she understood the
meaning of "love," and with it what "jealousy" and "resignation" meant.



CHAPTER XXVII

PANACEA


Great natural calamities often have a softening effect upon excited
masses.

The "great power," the people, and the "little master," the Emperor,
made friends again in the general distress.

The storm of November, 1824, had been a universal calamity. History
knows no other so wide-spreading in its devastating effects. Not only
did it lay St. Petersburg in ruins, but it raged throughout Asia and
inundated the shores of California. Sailors saw the clear sea in
mid-ocean thick with mud and slime; from India to Syria flourishing
towns were laid in the dust by earthquakes; volcanoes burst forth in the
Greek Archipelago; in Germany many springs were dried up. The whole
world was in a state of upheaval. It was no time to think of
revolutions.

Political secret societies changed themselves into philanthropic union.
Party spirit died out. The poor went unhesitatingly to claim relief
from the rich, and the doors of the rich were ungrudgingly opened to
them. The incitements of the "Irreconcilables" found no fruitful ground.
Prince Ghedimin and Araktseieff vied with each other in their efforts to
relieve the distress of the people. Each impartially scattered his
hundred thousand of rubles abroad: the one forgetting that his aim had
been to free, the other to oppress, the people. The people now were in
need of neither sword nor chains--only of bread.

Nor were the ladies of St. Petersburg backward in relieving the distress
caused by the inundations. Princess Ghedimin presented her diamonds to
the committee, the sale of which brought them in thirty thousand rubles,
while Zeneida gave a concert at the Exchange for the sufferers, the
tickets for which sold for enormous prices, and which realized forty
thousand rubles. Prince Ghedimin presented his wife with diamonds double
the value of those she had given away. Zeneida received a wreath of
laurel from the _jeunesse dorée_ of St. Petersburg and an ode from
Pushkin. Thus once more had Korynthia lost the game, and her adversary
had triumphed.

Those days of tribulation had made the Czar more reserved than ever. His
melancholy had dated from the day on which he had witnessed the burning
of Moscow, his capital; and now it had been his fate to witness the ruin
of his second capital. One had been destroyed by fire, the other by
water. Waking and sleeping, the dread visions were before him.

But the saddest sight to him of all was that pale child's face, to which
nothing brought animation. One day he said to Sir James Wylie:

"It is vain to try and cure me; my sickness lies within, not without.
Cure Sophie, and I shall be cured."

The physician was silent.

"Tell me frankly. Have you no hope?"

"None."

"Has your medical skill absolutely no panacea, no remedy to preserve a
precious life to us--no remedy which day by day might arrest Death
hovering on the threshold, and so prolong that dear life from spring to
autumn?"

"Yes, there is such a remedy, sire! But it does not grow among
health-giving herbs of India. In illnesses such as these the spirits of
the patient are the most important factor. Sorrow, grief, and care
hasten the catastrophe, while cheerfulness, an equable temperament, joy,
and hope delay it. The love of life renews life."

"Humph! How am I to give her joy, hope, and love of life when I have not
got them myself?"

A day came which brought joy to the Czar.

His Governor in the Urals announced to him the discovery of new deposits
of gold and platinum, with promise of abundant mining. He sent a
specimen of the platinum that had been found. A truly valuable
discovery!

At the same time arrived a report from the Governor of Jekaterinograd,
notifying the discovery in the great desert of a species of beetle which
fed on the exuberant knot-grass (_poligonum_) of those parts, a useless
plant and one impossible to extirpate. The beetle in question, known in
the learned tongue as _Coccus polonorum_, is identical with the
cochineal, and affords the most beautiful purple and pink dye. He sent
the Czar, as a sample, a piece of rose-colored silk dyed with the purple
of the native beetle.

This was a greater treasure even than gold and platinum; it grows like a
weed, gives no trouble, and will support the inhabitants of those
inhospitable steppes.

But the third consignment was the most interesting. The Governor of the
Amurs sent from Siberia a cask of wine grown in the Amur country. This
is a still greater treasure than gold or bread, for it implies a
triumph--a triumph in the face of the whole world, which proclaims
Siberia to be a frozen hell! See! this wine contradicts it! It is more
sparkling than champagne, sweeter than Tokay--at least, one must pretend
that it is. Siberia can grow wine! Henceforth every Russian must drink
it. Siberian wine must supplant foreign wines for the tables of the
great; it must compete with Burgundy, the Rhine, and the Hegyalji. To be
exiled to Siberia will no longer count as a punishment; those in search
of fruitful soil will settle there of their own free-will. Siberia can
grow wine! If any one doubts the future of that country, who would argue
with him now? One gives him a glass and fills it. "Try this; this is
Siberian wine!"

The Czar was as happy as a child! He still had one joy left.

And he hurried off, on the strength of it, to the Petrowsky Garden
house. He had the platinum, the silk, and the cask of wine brought after
him, thinking that what gladdened him must also gladden Sophie. The poor
child was looking very pale; she was not allowed to go out at all in the
winter; the cold air out-of-doors was rapid poison to her; the heated
air within-doors slow poison. A strange country, where the invalid
cannot even love his home! He hates the sky which kills him and the
earth which keeps him bound. It is the survival of the fittest; if a man
be strong enough to enjoy a winter in Russia he thrives; if not, he
dies.

In every Russian lady's drawing-room is a special corner fitted up
called the "Altana."

It is a space surrounded by a little railing grown with ivy and
containing a bower of Southern plants and flowers which, during the long
nine months of winter, thrive and blossom in the artificial light and
warmth of lamps and stove, and make one forget the rigorous weather
outside.

Alexander had had such a fragrant orange grove fitted up for Sophie when
the house had been put in order for her after the inundation. He had not
been to see her since the court gardener had carried out his
instructions; perhaps it had given her pleasure.

Alas! nothing gave her pleasure.

The Czar asked, "What is amiss with you, my darling?"

"An unspeakable sorrow."

To cheer her, he showed her the treasures he had brought with him--the
ore, silk, and wine. But her face did not brighten, she did not smile.
To his good news she had but "How nice! how fortunate! Oh, thank you!"
to say.

"Come, tell me, what is amiss with you? There is something more than
bodily illness; it is mental trouble. Tell me, what is grieving you? To
whom should you tell it if not to me? Who shall place confidence in me
if you do not feel it?"

Then, throwing her arms round her father's neck, and drawing his head
down to her, Sophie whispered, very low:

"It is love!"

Then, drawing back with abrupt movement, she buried her face in her
hands.

Astonished, the Czar asked, "But where can you have met any one to fall
in love with?"

"The flood brought us together."

"And who is the man?"

"If you speak so angrily I shall not dare to tell you."

"It is not anger but excitement that made me speak so sharply. He whom
you love is forgiven everything."

"Really? You do not forbid me to love somebody?"

"If only he is worthy of you. What is his rank?"

"An officer of the Body Guard."

"I will give him a regiment and make him a prince, so that he may ask
you in marriage."

"Let me kiss you for that! But do not give him anything, father. Let him
remain as he is; I love him for what he is now, and want him always to
remain the same. He is more than a prince, more than a general! Higher
far than they--"

"Who is it, then?"

"Well, Aleko."

"What Aleko?"

"Oh! do you not know his name? Then stoop down and I will whisper it in
your ear."

The Czar drew her to him.

"Would you like to be his wife?"

For all answer the girl looked at him with eyes opened wide and radiant
expression.

"Would you like to be his wife?"

"What else could I desire? Poor little foundling as I am, I should be
happy indeed to have such a prospect. And we would be so happy together.
Aleko would not murder me for my faithlessness. But how can we let him
know? So far, he has not had permission to come here."

"From this time forth he shall."

"But who can tell him?"

"I, myself. I will bring him to you."

"You are as good a father as in one of Bethsaba's fairy tales."

"I will see myself to all the preparations, will arrange your dowry,
settle the day, and command the Patriarch of Solowetshk here to
celebrate the marriage."

"Oh yes, in summer, when the roses are out. My bridal wreath shall be of
real roses."

"I will have your wedding ornaments made from this nugget of platinum.
And now you really are as happy as I am, are you not?"

"Oh, happier!"

"And will you have this pink silk for your wedding-dress?"

"You have just guessed my wish--that my wedding-dress should be pink.
White makes one look pale, and I am pale enough without that."

"This wine from the Amur we will drink at your wedding-breakfast."

"And I too will taste it. We will drink to each other. 'As many drops in
this goblet, so many years our love shall last!' Is not that the
saying?"

"Then you shall take up your residence on his estate. How strange that I
should have just given him back his confiscated property! He shall have
his ancestral castle put in order for you to live in, and I will come
and visit you constantly."

Sophie clapped her hands with delight, her pale cheeks aglow. Then
suddenly the light in her eyes died away.

"But is all this only joking?"

"Joking? Do I ever joke with you?"

"That Aleko should pay court to me, that you should give me to him for
wife, that the Patriarch should marry us on a lovely day in the lovely
month of roses. Is it not all a dream?"

Alexander, instead of answering, took her in his arms and closed her
mouth with kisses.

Yes, poor child, it is real. The only unreal part of it is that before
those roses shall have blossomed you will be--

Alexander commanded Pushkin to his presence that day, and made short
work of the matter.

"You have caused a young girl to fall in love with you. You must marry
her. Her name is Sophie Narishkin. Wait upon me to-morrow evening at six
o'clock. I will take you to her, that you may formally ask her hand. You
will then visit her daily, and see that you endeavor to cause her no
sorrow. Her life hangs on the slightest thread; that thread is in your
hands. Beware that you are not the cause of her death."

Pushkin was in a very awkward situation.

The hand of the Czar's favorite daughter was offered him--to him, the
conspirator, the Constitutionalist, the sworn enemy of the tyrannical
Czar. He was to ask a girl in marriage who was in love with him, whom he
pitied and admired but did not love. That girl's life hung on the hope
of becoming his wife; with the extinction of that hope the feeble spark
of life within her would be extinguished. Merely to breathe "I do not
love you" would suffice to kill her. And what made his position the more
difficult was the circumstance that at Sophie's he would be constantly
meeting that other girl whom he looked upon as his betrothed, Sophie's
only friend, Bethsaba, to whom he had given his whole soul. Two hearts
to be thus stricken and betrayed!

What bitter punishment for past frivolity brought back upon his own
head! But there was no turning back. We are in Russia, and when the Czar
commands there is no option but to obey.

The next day Alexander himself took Pushkin to Sophie. The betrothal
took place in his presence. Pushkin was able to convince himself that
the heart intrusted to him was a treasure far above the merits of any
sublunary being. He learned that there can be an ideal bliss infinitely
more sublime than any earthly enjoyment utterly without sensual
passion--a magic of sympathy which is not dependent upon the power of
possession; that spiritual attraction is stronger even than love. It was
to him as though one of those angelic souls already floating heavenward
were drawing him thither in its train.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few weeks later Sir James Wylie said to the Czar:

"Princess Sophie's health is improving visibly."

"I have found the panacea!" was the reply.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WEDDING PRESENT


As Alexander had said, so it was. His health was in close sympathy with
that of his daughter. With the return of color to her cheeks his spirits
revived. Once more he busied himself with affairs of state. In his study
were whole piles of unsigned papers from various departments and of
letters through the "St. Sophie" post-box. He set to work upon them, and
the mountain of papers was soon hugely diminished. The Sophien-post was
a singular institution of Alexander's. In Czarskoje Zelo was an office
where any one might give in letters to be delivered direct to the Czar.
The official demanded ten rubles a letter, but asked no questions either
as to the writer or its contents, whether of complaint, petition,
accusation, calumniation of those in office, or favorable mention, or
schemes for a new constitution of the empire. One hour later it was in
the Czar's hands were he in St. Petersburg, or was sent after him if he
were travelling.

The surest sign of his improvement in health and spirits was that he
ceased to tear through the streets at night, and supped on the first
holiday evening with the Czarina, having decided to communicate the
happy tidings to her. Elisabeth was the first to hear it. The Patriarch
himself had only been informed that on the 21st of June he was to be at
the late Czar Peter's residence on Petrowsky Island, where he would find
a young couple waiting to be married.

Meanwhile, every petition addressed to the Czar's clemency was being
granted. Exiles were allowed to come home, political prisoners released
from prison.

It was not in vain that Pushkin had sacrificed his love. His tenderness
charmed back to Sophie's lips the smile of happiness which is so
delusively like that of health. And that smile charmed a bright,
cloudless sky over the whole empire. When he came, punctual to the
minute, with his bouquets of flowers, and, with some pretty compliment
about the improved looks of the girl hurrying to meet him, would sit
down beside her and begin telling her the news, Pushkin was making the
happiness of an empire. Or did he ask about her last night's dreams and
tell their meaning; or play cards with her, letting her win and himself
be laughed at; or read poems and romances to her; bring her the first
hothouse fruit or delicate bonbons; watch her somewhat inartistic
attempts at drawing and painting, oft stealing a kiss the while, and
getting his hair pulled for it--then a whole empire was in sunshine!

This even the unfortunates on the far-off Baikal Lake, who break stones
in Bleiberg mines, experienced; for every kiss pressed on Sophie's brow
the fetters on a pair of hands were loosed.

The Czar, who purposely came to her late, after Pushkin had gone, always
found her luxuriating in bliss. Her talk would be all of Pushkin, and of
all he had told her.

Sometimes they talked about politics. Sophie induced Pushkin to confess
what was the exact object of the secret society she had heard about.
And, like an engaged man should, Pushkin candidly told her that what
they wanted was a parliamentary constitution; that among them there was
many a man who could speak as well as the members of the English House
of Commons, and who ought to have the right to be heard. The government
would then find a majority composed of Tartars, Kirghis, Kalmucks,
Jakutes, Bashkir, and Finnish deputies, who would outvote the Russian
revolutionists, and the country would be tranquillized. That parliament
should have the control of the exchequer, so that in the case of a
minister peculating he might be sent about his business, and, at least,
give others the chance to do the same. Freedom of the press was also
necessary, so that they might go to loggerheads among themselves instead
of growling in an undertone. That was what they hoped to arrive at. The
Czar was infinitely amused when he heard of it all, taking it very
differently from what he did when Araktseieff told him the same things.

People began to think that the good times were coming back. Some ten
years ago they had ventured to talk of constitutional liberty in
presence of the Czar, and the meetings of free masonic lodges were
openly announced in the daily papers.

The improvement in Sophie's health deceived even the doctors; the bad
symptoms had entirely disappeared. Miracles do happen sometimes! The
power of nature is inexhaustible! Preparations for the wedding began in
earnest. The Czar had the bride's trousseau, including the pink-silk
gown and platinum diadem, sent from Paris, and had the satisfaction of
revelling in Sophie's radiant face on seeing all the lovely things.

One day the Czar said to Pushkin:

"My son, if God permits us to live to that happy day, which will also be
a turning-point in my life, what shall I give you for a wedding
present?"

And Pushkin, falling on his knees, said:

"Father, on that day give your subjects a constitution."

The Czar was silent. This gave Pushkin courage to continue.

"Your Majesty, the whole world is in a state of ferment, and preparing
for eruption, like Vesuvius. The volcanic eruption can be avoided by a
roll of paper inscribed with the single word 'Charta'! Not I alone, but
your whole country, every honest man, every patriot, every one about the
throne, thinks and says the same. Do not grant us immediate freedom, do
not remodel our country on foreign lines; but lead your people
gradually, step by step, towards freedom; suffer the constitution to be
shaped according to the habits and needs of your people. But do away
with serfdom! Banish Araktseieff, who stands like an evil genius between
you and the people. Take the education of the masses out of the hands of
the Sacred Synod, and restore it to Galitzin. Call the notables of the
land to your throne-room, and command them to speak out candidly to you.
Do away with the censorship, and grant permission to every man to
publish his thoughts to the light of day; dismiss the dishonest
stewards, who are robbing you and the country. Annul the military
colonies, which are a very pest of oppression in the land; summon the
old regiments, give them back their standards, unite them in a camp, put
us at their head, and send us to the rescue of our Greek brothers in
arms, who are drowning in a sea of their own blood. You will see what a
nation is capable of when, in possession of freedom herself, she is
fighting for the independence of other nations--how she would rise above
all others! Oh, give us freedom, and we will give you glory!"

The Czar listened to the end, then said:

"Rise! I forgive you your audacious words!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Some day later Araktseieff set off, very quietly, for his country
estate, Grusino. It was whispered that, at his own request, he had been
granted a long leave of absence. His departure was emphasized the more
by Prince Ghedimin being chosen as his successor. He was now among the
confidential _entourage_ of the Czar, who might approach him, at any
hour, without being announced.

More still took place. Magriczki, the most detested member of the
Council of Enlightenment, was dismissed, and younger censors were
appointed instead of the old ones. It was also known that the Russian
Ambassador at the Porte had received instructions to energetically
promote a more humane system of warfare against the Greeks in their War
of Independence. It was also decided to form a camp instantly in the
vicinity of Bender.

Finally--clear sign of a new epoch--all the regiments of the guards were
recalled from the military colonies and concentrated in St. Petersburg.

These events filled the apostles of freedom with new hopes. The Secret
Society of the North decided, on these lines, to support the Czar by all
the means in their power, although the leaders of that society were not
misled. Pestel sent word to Ghedimin: "It is all a comedy! They want to
make fools of us; the whole business will only last three months. I
shall stick to my plan!" But the Bear's Paw by degrees lost all its
associates, and the sole use Jakuskin found for his knife at that time
was to pick his teeth with.

Pushkin, meanwhile, devoted himself completely to his duties as
bridegroom and to versifying. He wrote a charming poem under the title
of _The Spring of Baktshisseraj_, which he read aloud first to Sophie.
And the milder censorship made its publication easy.

When the Czar was informed that the poem had been submitted to the
Censor--of course such an event had to be notified to the Czar--he said
to Pushkin:

"I advise you to dedicate your poem to a certain lady."

"To my betrothed?"

"No. To the Princess Ghedimin."

Pushkin understood the hint. It was desirable in some manner to pay
court to Sophie's mother. This was the most natural way.

The Czar added:

"When you take her your poem, tell her that on the 21st of June you will
celebrate your marriage with Sophie Narishkin."

That, too, was quite _en règle_. Pushkin needed no explanation. The
bridegroom-elect must himself take Korynthia the tidings of Sophie
Narishkin's approaching marriage, and receive from her the kiss of
consent. The wooing and consent would be expressed in the form of the
dedication of the poem and its acceptance. The form was delicate, yet
expressive. Both think differently and speak differently; it was a
wooing under poetical guise.

Pushkin was quite up to the proprieties in first seeking out Prince
Ghedimin.

"Ivan Maximovitch, I have written a new poem, which I should greatly
like to dedicate to the Princess Maria Alexievna Korynthia. May I beg
you to read it, and if you deem it worthy of the honor of bearing the
Princess's name to be my advocate with her?"

"I will read your verses with pleasure, and may venture to tell you
beforehand that the Princess will esteem your dedication as a great
distinction, and will be proud to read her name in print on any work of
yours."

And Pushkin, that same day, received a note from the Prince telling him
that the Princess would receive him the next day at seven o'clock in her
summer palace on Neva Island.

The great heat prevented people going out earlier. The St. Petersburg
world of fashion had already repaired to their villas. Even the rich
burgher lived in Neva Island on his "dotcha." The Czar had accompanied
Elisabeth and her court to her favorite castle "Monplaisir," in the
vicinity of which was Sophie's dwelling.

The Czar could now visit her very seldom, for in June the nights are not
dark in St. Petersburg. But she had her lover to keep watch over her.

But one short week separated them from the wedding.



CHAPTER XXIX

MADAME POTIPHAR


At the appointed hour Pushkin presented himself at Villa Ghedimin, and
was passed on from one footman to another, until he finally arrived at
Korynthia's boudoir.

The Princess was a handsome woman; but to-day she wanted to surpass
herself. The feminine fashions of that day were very becoming. The
pale-golden silk, fine as any from the loom, thrown lightly about her
head, enhanced the gold of her waving hair, arranged in a classic coil,
and threw up her complexion; as did the soft Brussels lace the whiteness
of her neck and arms. Her shoulder-straps even were set with yellow
diamonds, and, coquettishly placed between the lace, a pale yellow
tea-rose diffused its delicate perfume. Her whole being betrayed an
agitation unusual to her. She blushed and smiled as Pushkin entered. And
both blushes and smiles repeated themselves during the greeting and
exchange of customary courtesies. Then she signed him to a chair, while
she seated herself upon a silken divan opposite to him, and opened the
conversation.

"I have shed as many tears over your lovely poem as though I had been
myself to the Baktshisseraj Well of Tears."

"I am rejoiced that the heroine of my lay should have won your
sympathy, Princess. For in her I impersonated my betrothed, Sophie
Narishkin."

Oh, what a change passed over her face!

Her cheeks aflame with anger, her eyebrows arched like bows, her eyes
shooting out arrows of fire.

"You desire to marry Sophie Narishkin?" she cried, passionately.
"Impossible!"

"I think it, on the contrary, very possible, seeing that our wedding is
already fixed for the 21st of June."

"In a week? Has the betrothal been already announced, then?"

"No! A dispensation has been granted for our marriage."

Springing from her divan, the Princess gasped:

"Impossible! Impossible!"

Pushkin retained his seat. He was not easily frightened by any man--or
woman either. So he answered, calmly:

"But, my dear Princess, what objection can you have to it?"

Korynthia saw that she had suffered her impetuosity to carry her too
far. So, commanding herself, she resumed her seat and made as if fanning
herself from the heat.

"He who advised you to this was no friend of yours!" she hissed out.

"It was the Czar!"

Korynthia, shutting her fan, put it to her lips. After a short silence
she said:

"You know, then, that the Czar is Sophie's father?"

"I have divined it."

"And have you also divined the future which awaits you in marrying a
daughter of the Czar? You will be banished from the society in which you
have hitherto lived; the circles into which you will try to force
yourself will hold you in contempt. As long as the Czar lives you will
be a prisoner in the glittering cage of the court, deprived of
free-will; an unhappy man, born to enlighten others, condemned to be the
shadow of a man! At the death of the Czar you may be appointed to a
governorship in the Caucasus or on the Amur."

"Princess! I shall neither become a prisoner at court nor governor of
Kamchatka. My wife will accompany me to my little estate of Pleskow,
where I mean to be sometime farmer, sometime poet."

"You do not love the girl. Vanity alone has led you to this step."

Pushkin never took a blow unrequited--even from a woman.

"Princess, did you know her you would know that it were impossible not
to love her!"

The Princess bit her lips until they bled. It was a cruel thrust.
Quickly upon it followed a second.

"Sophie has only inherited her father's sweetness of disposition;
nothing of her mother."

The Princess rose. She could bear it no longer. Her face was deathly
pale, her eyes gleaming with a dangerous light. Going up to Pushkin, she
seized his hand as she whispered:

"Has the Czar also confided to you the name of Sophie's mother?"

"Never!"

"Have you heard it from any one else?"

"From no one who had a right to know it."

"Come, then, sit down by me," gasped the Princess, convulsively
clutching Pushkin's arm, and drawing him on to the divan beside her.
"Listen to me! I will make a confession to you. What I have hitherto
told to none but the Patriarch I will confess to you." Sobs choked her
voice; then violently tearing the lace handkerchief with which she had
dried her tears, she continued, "Even to my husband I have never dared
to say what I now tell to you: _I am Sophie Narishkin's mother!_"

Pushkin, of course, appeared to be intensely surprised at this
discovery.

"You be my judge," continued the Princess, as she threw back the
gossamer covering from her shoulders. She drew a long breath. "I was but
a child, scarce sixteen; my parents dead. I met a man whom all conspired
to worship. The aunt who brought me up was a vain, ambitious woman, and
had made me equally so. Every one about me counselled me to return his
love, telling me that he was unhappy for cause of me. They sought out
old records of how Czars who had not loved their wives had sent them
into convents, and had raised others, more beloved, to share the
imperial throne. Flattery, ambition, inexperience, youthful fancy,
turned my head, and I--fell. Ah, how low I fell! So low that my whole
life since has been one expiation! Still, I never relinquished hope; I
ever believed that the man who had wronged me would come one day to
raise me from shame to splendor. I implored him; I knelt in the dust at
his feet. Then he published the ukase that only the daughters of
reigning families might be raised to the throne of Russia--that was the
answer to my dreams! In the depths of my despair a man in my own rank of
life came and asked my hand. True, he had no love to give me, but he
gave me his name; I, too, had no love to give him, but I have borne his
name honorably and spotlessly before the world. And now there suddenly
breaks upon me the dreaded catastrophe which for sixteen long years has
been my nightly terror: Sophie Narishkin will marry, and people will be
asking, 'But who is this Sophie Narishkin? Who is her father--who is her
mother?"

"You may make yourself at ease on that score, Princess. The wedding will
be conducted in all privacy by the Patriarch of Solowetshk in the Chapel
of Peter the Great on Petrovsky Island. After the wedding not a soul
will see the young couple in St. Petersburg, or speak about them."

This consolation was poison to the heart of the Princess. Would she see
Pushkin no more, then?

"But why this feverish haste? The girl is but a child, scarce sixteen
years old!"

"Princess," returned Pushkin, mournfully, "we do not reckon time by
years, but by the griefs we endure; and by that computation Sophie has
already lived a long life. Sixteen years of confinement, banishment,
unrecognized by any one--sixteen years without knowing a loving word or
ray of brightness should count for age enough! It is just this dream of
happiness that is keeping the poor child in life. Sophie is a
somnambulist on this earth. To awaken would be to kill her!"

"So it is a spirit of magnanimous self-sacrifice which binds you to
her--you are not in love with her?"

"I worship her; am hers forever."

"I see. Permit me to meditate over the subject. This news has taken me
so by surprise that I can give you no answer at present. Can this
marriage not be delayed?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"The Czar is going on a journey--it may be a long--very long journey. He
will shortly hold a great review of the guards, and then start. But of
this Prince Ghedimin can inform you better than I. At any rate, it is
the Czar's pleasure that our marriage takes place before he leaves."

"Then at least allow me to defer my answer to the last moment. I have so
much to say to you; do give me as long a time as you can. Come again on
the twentieth, and even then not until dusk, so that your coming may not
attract attention. In order to enter unperceived--you will readily
understand why I should not wish a visit from Sophie's bridegroom, on
the very eve of his wedding-day, to be publicly known--take this key. It
belongs to the door of the veranda which opens on to the park. Thence,
by a spiral staircase, you ascend direct to my apartments. We can then
talk over various matters undisturbed, which you ought to know."

Pushkin put the key intrusted to him in his pocket, and, kissing the
Princess's hand, took leave, Korynthia giving him the farewell kiss on
his lips and accompanying him to the door of her room.

From this we glean that the Russian scientist was right in his remarks
upon "degenerated cats"--at least, as far as this woman is concerned.



CHAPTER XXX

A MOTHER'S BLESSING


In the villa shaded by aromatic pines the bride elect awaited the happy
day. No longer a prisoner, condemned to lifelong imprisonment. For the
hardest imprisonment of all is sickness; one is made to hear at every
step, "Oh, don't run! Don't sing! You must not drink water! Keep your
shawl about your throat! Do not eat this! Mind you don't take cold!
Don't get overheated!"

Even the doctor stays away. The panacea has done wonders.

The lovely month of roses had come. The bridegroom had had the path
along which Sophie was to walk planted with roses, and the happy girl
collected the blossoms, morning and evening, that not a single leaf
might fall to the ground. Why did she do this? When the leaves were dry
she meant to fill a silken cushion with them. Sleep would be so sweet on
such a cushion.

She was even now spreading out her leaves on the sunny side of the
veranda, singing to herself as she did so. No one forbade her to sing
now; it was allowed; only old Helenka grumbled out the adage, "Sing on
Friday, cry on Sunday." But Sophie is accustomed to laugh at such wise
saws from her old nurse. Who believes in such superstitious omens
nowadays? When all of a sudden good old Helenka sighed out, anxiously:

"Holy Maria! St. Anna! What brings her here?"

And without another word she ran off, to avoid the new-comer.

Sophie, looking up wonderingly, saw a lady of striking beauty coming
down the garden path. She wore a dress of gay-colored embroidery, a bird
of paradise in her bonnet, and upon her shoulders was a costly cashmere
shawl. At sight of the stranger's seductive beauty Sophie felt a
mysterious shudder pass through her frame; her heart seemed to stop
beating. She began to believe again in omens.

The stranger came alone, and at an hour too early for ladies, as a
rule, to be out. Without hesitation she ascended the veranda steps, like
one who knew the house well.

As she reached Sophie she raised her hand with the gesture of one
expecting to have it kissed, saying, in a low voice, as she did so:

"I am Princess Ghedimin!"

The girl's heart beat audibly; but she had no alternative, she must kiss
the gloved hand.

"You have never seen me before?" the lady asked.

Sophie shook her head in silent negation.

"Let us go together into your sitting-room, then. Is there any one with
you?"

"No one."

The lady went on first, and, having reached the room, took off her
bonnet. Her abundant fair hair was dressed high, _à la giraffe_.

"Now kiss me, child. I am your mother!"

Sophie did as she was bid.

The Princess looked about her. Embroideries, pretty dresses, the whole
trousseau, lay scattered about in charming disorder.

"Ah! Your trousseau. So you are going to be married, little one? Did it
never strike you that so serious a step demanded a mother's blessing
upon it?"

The girl ventured to reply, "I had been told that I was neither to visit
nor to write to my mother."

"But you might have let me know through your little friend Bethsaba, who
has been seeing you daily."

"I thought she would have told you."

"No; not a word. Oh, girls nowadays can keep their own counsel! Not once
did she mention 'his' name to me; it was by mere chance that I heard it.
Herr Pushkin came to me yesterday to ask my permission to dedicate his
new poem, _The Spring of Baktshisseraj_, to me."

"To you?"

"Have you any objection to his doing so?"

"On the contrary, I am glad."

"And he happened casually to mention that in a week he was about to lead
Sophie Narishkin to the altar. I was astonished. I fancied you still
playing with your dolls. Who brought this big doll to you?"

"My father."

"And do you think yourself sensible enough to marry yet?"

"I do not know if I am sensible; I only know that I love him!"

"A categorical answer! How positive you are that he will marry you! And
where did you get to know Pushkin?"

"During the flood. Oh, I was in such terrible danger! Had they not come
to save me I should have been washed away."

"Who came to save you then?"

Sophie was surprised at the question.

"Do you not know? Did not Bethsaba tell you?"

"Bethsaba? No; she has not spoken to me a word of you or Pushkin. Sly
girl--she shall pay for this. So the same fairy sheltered you who
carried off Bethsaba from my carriage? That devil in woman's form! And
Bethsaba has thought well to keep it from me! And for whole days and
nights you were in that den of iniquity! Now I understand it all! It is
this fiend who has brought it all about!"

"Mother, do not curse her! I owe all my happiness to her."

"Do you know, then, what is 'happiness'?"

"To be loved."

"And do you know what is its opposite?"

"That I do not know yet."

"To be betrayed."

"Who would betray me?"

"Who but he whom you believe loves you?"

"My Aleko?"

"Yes, your Aleko, who is the property of so many besides you. A more
fickle man, a greater deceiver, more cruel, dishonorable, you could not
have met with on earth."

"What reason could he have to deceive me?"

"Because he hopes, through you, to rise to higher rank."

"Oh no! He has refused all titles, rank, and possessions. He is taking
me as I am. My trousseau and this piece of copper--a piece of the ship
which ran into the Winter Palace, and which he gave me on the day of the
catastrophe--are my whole wealth. He means to remain a poor man, and to
make himself a name which no dukedom could rival."

"How he can deceive you! His schemes stop only at the throne. He is
marrying you that in the next revolution he may figure as the Russian
'Prince Égalité.' Nay, Égalité!--as another Pugatseff! Why, do you not
know that he is one of the conspirators whose aim is to oust the Czar
from the throne?"

"But it was my father who brought him here."

"Because he has a honeyed tongue with which he can deceive the Czar--and
lull the daughter to sleep."

"Oh, mother, you hate him sorely!"

"And with reason! Does not this marriage threaten to ruin my whole life?
Will it not bring the secret of your birth to light--that birth the bane
of my early life?"

"Mother! Do you curse the day of my birth?"

"Not now only, but twice daily--when I wake and when I lie down. You
were as a death-sentence to me, the hour of which was unfixed. I have
thought with shuddering of you. You have been my accomplice, a living
witness to my wrecked honor; and now my fate is to be accomplished
through you. You announce to the whole world that you exist--look! here
am I!"

"No, mother; I will hide myself. No one shall see me. No one shall know
of me."

Korynthia here pretended that pity and maternal love had gained the
mastery. In sorrowing tones, she exclaimed:

"But, my poor child, do you not know that you are condemning yourself to
a living grave--that you are choosing a life worse than hell? You will
be the wife of an adventurer, who is sunk so low in sin, so fettered by
vicious associates, that, even if he desired it, he is powerless to
avoid the consequences. Do you want to follow him to Siberia?"

"If misfortune assails him I will share it with him."

"And suppose the mad scheme in which he is the foremost actor succeeds,
and his hands are stained with your father's blood?"

"Then I will find a path in which to implore Heaven's pardon for him."

"Blinded creature! Your self-created ideal prevents your seeing the man
as he is. Do you believe it possible to confine a heart in a cage that
is accustomed to take free flight, and which, moreover, you have by no
means made captive? For Pushkin loves you not! I tell you, he loves you
not! Be convinced; he loves you not!"

Sophie looked in bewilderment at Korynthia. The instinct of her woman's
heart, added to a nervous foreboding, told her the horrible truth.
Seizing Korynthia's hand, she exclaimed:

"_You love him!_"

"You are right!" hissed Korynthia, with wild vehemence.

Sophie, pressing her hands to her heart, turned white as death; her eyes
closed, her breathing stopped, and she fell lifeless to the ground.

The Princess went in search of Helenka.

"Go in to your mistress; she is not well."

And, drawing her cashmere close about her (the mornings are misty by the
river) and replacing her bonnet, she left the villa.

Knowing that her farewell kiss would be of no benefit to the poor
swooning girl, she let it alone.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE WILL


That day Pushkin felt as heavy-hearted as if he had not only all the
sins of the world, but the national debts of all Europe, upon his
shoulders. Was it one of those presentiments to which the race of poets,
whose stock-in-trade is nerves, are so sensitive? Nothing gave him any
pleasure. He went to Zeneida, to formally announce his approaching
marriage to her. She had long been informed of it, for she possessed a
splendid service of secret police.

Zeneida replied, with cold, stoical irony:

"I still do not believe that the Czar's daughter _will marry you_."

"Probably not; for _I_ intend to marry the Czar's daughter!"

"Is Princess Ghedimin informed of it?"

"I have announced it to her."

"Then nothing will come of it."

"It has nothing in the world to do with her."

"I prophesy it. Else why am I the pythoness? Does Prince Ghedimin know
of it?"

"Prince Ghedimin! _Mille tonnerres!_ Am I to go to the Prince, too, to
ask for Sophie's hand? He, at any rate, is out of it."

"Not on account of your wooing, my friend, but that the Prince may erase
your name from 'the green book.' You will doubtless see that the name of
the son-in-law of the Czar can hardly adorn--I will not say blacken--its
pages."

"By Jove! you are right. I had not thought of that."

With heavier heart than he had come, Pushkin left her.

Zeneida's villa was on the Kreskowsky Island, thus some distance from
Sophie's home, which lay embowered in orange groves. From afar the
light-green roof was visible, standing out from amidst the pines. Every
evening a white flag was to be seen floating from the flagstaff, hoisted
by Sophie herself, as a signal that she was expecting him. Sometimes she
would come down to the shore to meet him, her white-clad figure greeting
him when he was yet a long way off.

Now neither white flag nor white-clad maiden was visible. He hastened on
impatiently. Usually, as his boat approached the landing-stage, another,
in which sat Bethsaba, would row away. The Circassian Princess never
awaited Pushkin; they only exchanged greetings from a distance. Now he
perceived a gondola, painted in the Ghedimin family colors, still
chained to the landing-stage, the boatmen stretched on benches fast
asleep.

Without waiting for his boat to reach the land, Pushkin sprang ashore
and ran towards the house.

On either side of the path Sophie's beloved roses were blooming; the
ground was covered with their fallen leaves.

"What can have happened," thought Pushkin, "that your guardian angel has
not been gathering up your leaves this evening?"

"Go in-doors; you will soon know the reason," answered the roses.

He found no one upon the veranda. He opened the familiar tapestried door
leading into Sophie's private apartments. There he learned why the rose
leaves had not been gathered in that day.

Sophie lay upon her bed, white as death. Yesterday's soft bloom had all
fled from her cheeks; they were almost transparent. The anguish she had
undergone had left a transfigured expression upon her face. She was
clasping Bethsaba's hand, who sat by her bedside, their fingers
interlaced, in prayer.

Pushkin advanced cautiously, concealing his alarm. It is not well to let
invalids see that their appearance inspires anxiety.

"What is this? Are you not well?"

"No, Aleko; I am dying. Do not be startled; it is past now. I have
wrestled through it. You, too, will live through it."

"Oh, do not speak so, my love!" stammered Pushkin, kneeling by the bed,
and covering the girl's white face with kisses. "It is but some slight
feeling of illness that will pass off, as so often before. I will go and
fetch the doctor."

"You will go nowhere! You will stay, when I tell you to. Do not oblige
me to talk loudly, but obey. Think, were you to go and alarm Wylie with
the news that I am on my death-bed, he would at once inform the Czar.
The Czar just now is engaged upon a great work for the good of the
country; he is arming for war. Millions depend upon his decisions for
freedom, and a happier future in store. For this he needs all his
powers. My father loves me so dearly, and depends so entirely upon me,
that the news of this illness will completely unman him, and render him
unable to carry on the work he has in hand; the thought of his dying
daughter would deprive him of all energy and power. Is it not strange?
In my lifetime scarce a dozen people have known of my existence; in my
death shall millions upon millions curse the day of my birth and my
death! So, I implore you, do not disquiet the Czar with the news of my
extremity."

With passionate vehemence Pushkin answered:

"What matter to me Hellas and the Russian Constitution, now that you are
ill? I must save you!"

The reason which led Pushkin to this imbittered exclamation was
characteristic of the times. Elsewhere, and at any other era, a lover,
under similar circumstances, would have said, "Very well; I will not go
to the Czar's physician, but to the first skilful doctor whom we can
trust not to publish your illness, and he shall cure you." But at that
period no one thought of going to a Russian doctor who did not want to
hasten his death. Rather would they go to a quack, or trust to household
remedies, than confide themselves to a St. Petersburg doctor. It was the
surest way to court death. People only sent to apothecaries for
rat-powder; indeed, under Czar Alexander, Russian subjects were
forbidden to be apothecaries; Germans only were allowed. A Russian
mistrusted his countryman; he held him capable of giving a sick man--in
the interest of his enemies--poison instead of remedies. The aristocracy
would only be attended by the Czar's and Czarina's physicians. In their
absence, it was no use for any one to be ill.

"I have begged you not to excite me! In vain would you bring me all the
Galens in the world, with their potions; I would take none of them. I
will drink no more of that odious physic that tastes of bitter almonds.
I must die! Do you understand? I _must_. My death is necessary,
irremediable. Not because I am ill, but because I am condemned to die.
And it is right that it should be so!"

Pushkin, unable to solve this riddle, looked inquiringly at Bethsaba,
who, at this, made a movement to go. But Sophie held her back.

"Stay! I want you both. Pushkin, be a man--a brave, strong man! Are you
a child, that you are trembling so? Grant me what I ask. I am going to
make my will. Draw the writing-table up to my bed, light two candles,
and place the crucifix between them; but first close the shutters and
make it night! Oh, these terrible summer nights in St. Petersburg, with
their endless gathering dusk--it seems as if night would never come and
day would never cease! It is such an oppression! Ah, I feel calmer now
that it is dark. Now come and sit down by me and write; or would you
rather lay the portfolio on my bed and write kneeling? So you shall,
then. And you, Bethsaba, kneel beside him. Attend to what I say, and
write: 'Surrendering my soul to God, my ashes to earth, I, Sophie
Narishkin, bequeath, on my death, all my worldly goods to my only friend
the Circassian Princess, Bethsaba Dilarianoff. The only two things I
desire to have buried with me are the little piece of lead which I have
ever worn upon my heart, and, under my head, the little green silk
cushion filled with rose-leaves, on which I shall rest peacefully.'
What! cannot you see the letters that you are writing all across the
paper? Pushkin, what a baby you are! Write further: 'To my one and only
friend I bequeath the greatest treasure I have in the world--my Aleko
Pushkin!'"

At these words Bethsaba would have started up, but Sophie would not
allow it. Twining one arm round her neck, the other round Pushkin's, she
pressed their cheeks together.

"Am I not to be allowed to dispose of my treasure as I like in my will?
Do you think, then, that I do not know how dearly you love him? Before I
confessed to you my love for him, his praises were forever in your
mouth; since then you have never once mentioned his name. Do you think I
did not know why you always hurried away when he came? Your cheeks used
to be so rosy, and you so merry and full of fun. Now they are white, and
you are so sad and lifeless. Do you think I have not divined your grief?
You love him, as I do. Do not conceal it any longer. Tell the truth. Do
not have any secrets longer from a dying girl, who to-morrow will be a
spirit, knowing all that is in your spirit. Do not wait for my
disembodied soul to come nightly to disquiet you, asking, as a spectre,
the answer to the question you refused me in life. Confess that you love
Aleko!"

As she heard these words Bethsaba's heart felt nigh to bursting, and
with open lips and upturned eyes she fell unconscious to the ground.

"Lift her up and lay her by me on the bed," said Sophie, tranquilly.
"Now you have two dead brides to choose between. Only one will wake to
life again, for she has not been killed. You can have no doubt now but
that she loves you. Leave her unconscious. It is better that she does
not hear what I have to say to you. But you keep every word in your
heart of hearts and do as I bid you, for you know that girls who die
during their betrothal change into spirits whom it is not good to anger.
So listen. You are not to leave Bethsaba's side again. I know why I say
this. If you let her go home, she will never look on God's free heaven
again; she will be confined for life in St. Katherine's Convent."

Now Pushkin began to divine what had happened.

At the mention of St. Katherine's Convent, in Moscow, there flashed
across him all the scandalous adventures he had heard the officers of
the guards boast of at their mess dinners, outdoing even the scandals of
Paris life. The convent had a reputation only equalled by the very worst
convents of Montmartre. Young lieutenants wore the rosaries of the nuns
of St. Katherine's as bracelets, and only that year a terrible case had
happened which had been hushed up by the authorities. The last
descendant of a noble family had disappeared suddenly from society in
Moscow, and after a month of vain searching his body was discovered cut
to pieces in one of the wells at St. Katherine's. And thither her
godmother intends to send Bethsaba, where not only her happiness for
this world, but for the next, is to be lost forever. And Princess
Ghedimin was thoroughly capable of it.

"So, no indecision, no sentiment," continued Sophie. "On the day of my
death you must marry Bethsaba; if not, she is lost. True, the world will
say, 'The scoundrel! the very day he closed the coffin on his betrothed
he could open his heart to another.' But you will be in possession of my
will, dictated to you by me, and signed with my shaking hand; lay it
upon your heart, and it will give you peace. And if your conscience
acquits you, what matters the judgment of the world? Be daring! The
Patriarch of Solowetshk will be waiting in the Czar Peter's castle on
Petrovsky Island. He is charged to marry a young girl to an officer in
the guards without previous publication of banns. He does not know them
or their names. Two witnesses will be necessary; I have provided for
that. Zeneida can be one, Helenka's husband, old Ihnasko, the other;
both are trusty friends. And while the one gondola, to the voices of the
chanting choristers, glides gently along with my flower-bedecked coffin
to the lovely willow-shaded vault on this bank of the Neva, you in the
other gondola will be rowing across to the other bank of the Neva to
catch your troika, which will be in waiting. And now, God be with you!"

Pushkin paced the room in wildest excitement, tearing his dishevelled
hair.

Sophie, meanwhile, set about restoring her friend to consciousness, and,
unfastening her bodice, sprinkled her face with water. Dying, she still
thought of others.

At length Bethsaba began to revive; but as she opened her eyes she
buried her face in the cushions.

"I have arranged everything with Aleko," said the dying girl, in a low,
contented voice. "You have only to do exactly what he tells you. I leave
you my pink dress and the platinum diadem. You will soon know when you
are to wear them. Why, Pushkin, how can you be so useless? Why have you
not written it all down in my will? Now, do not forget the pink
wedding-dress and platinum diadem. Old Helenka, too, I bequeath to you;
she has always been a good, faithful nurse to me. You may trust her
through thick and thin. Now, Aleko, give Bethsaba pen and paper. She
must write to tell the Princess not to expect her, as she is not coming
back at present. Now write, dear one: 'Your Highness, my honored
godmother,--Sophie is ill and in sore need of my care. I must stay here
until the Lord take pity upon her. Your godchild, Bethsaba.' Now, dear
Aleko, send off this note to the Princess, that she may not be uneasy.
And as soon as you are ready give me my will, that I may sign it."

Sophie read it through.

"How many blots there are!" she whispered, and a smile lit up her
death-like face. Those blots were Pushkin's tears. Sophie made merry
over them, and wanted Aleko and Bethsaba to join in her merriment. She
wrote her name in large, clear handwriting, and gave back the pen to
Pushkin. Then she put both her arms round his neck and drew him down to
her.

"To-day you still belong to me! Let me look once more into those eyes
which have been so long a sweet home to me! Oh, it was a Paradise on
earth! I thank you that you let me know such exquisite happiness! I
thank you for the truth and tender love with which you blessed me!"

And she kissed him countless times. Then, letting her arms sink, she
motioned him away. It was the last caress.

"Aleko! Bethsaba! I want to see you embrace each other--now at once,
while I am still alive and can see it! If you love me, if you would have
me know you to be sincere, if you place any value on my blessing,
embrace each other."

And so across the dying girl's bed they laid their arms on each other's
shoulders.

"Ah, that is right! And now, kiss each other--on the lips. Not like
that; you have hardly touched each other; it was such a cold kiss. Give
her a real one!"

And, laying her hands on the bowed heads, she drew them together, until
their lips united in a kiss, her hands resting the while as if in the
act of blessing. Then, raising her transfigured face to heaven, and,
folding her hands, she breathed, scarce audibly:

"Mother, I have saved you from sin!"



CHAPTER XXXII

NOT ONLY A BULLET STRIKES HOME


The Czar was holding an extraordinary review.

The usual parades took place on the 21st of May, the day of the patron
saint, Nicholas, and on the 20th of September; but this time it was a
special review of the household troops alone. They are distinct from the
rest of the army; each regiment has a different uniform. The Life Guards
wear white uniforms, with shining gilt breastplates; the Cuirassiers,
light-blue tunics, with white, plated cuirass; the uniform of the
Jerusalem Regiment is crimson-red, with gilt breastplate. The ranks,
from officer down to corporal, are all knights of the Order of St. John,
and even the common soldiers are all of the nobility.

And every regiment boasts its past, its history, which passes on to the
successors as a tradition, and keeps up the glory of its name.

The regiment of St. John of Jerusalem was so cut to pieces in two
battles that in one battalion only eighteen men were left.

The Preobrazsenski Regiment has the proud distinction of having deposed
Czar Ivan and set Elisabeth in his place. Every man in the regiment
received his patent of nobility.

The Ismailoffski Regiment bears on its colors the trophies of seven
conclusive battles. At Borodino half the troops remained on the
battle-field, and not a single man came home without a wound. These
regiments compose the aristocracy of the Life Guards. The rest of the
household troops, too, are characterized by a brilliant variety of
dress. Hussars in uniforms of the most varied colors, cuirassiers,
mounted grenadiers, pontoniers, Cossacks, Asiatic hordes with their
fantastic arms, Kirgisians, Kalmucks with their slender spears, their
arrow-laden quivers on their backs; Circassians in their scale-armor,
with their pointed helmets; and then the long row of cannon, the
ammunition wagons (painted green), the pontoons, the flotilla on
wheels--and the whole mass drawn up on a boundless plain in squares, in
geometrical lines, and advancing, charging, halting motionless as a
wall, at the word of command, like a machine.

May he not rightly deem himself a god who with a gesture can set all
this in motion or make it stand? And they only need a second gesture to
charge and dye the ground beneath them with their blood.

When the household troops advance from St. Petersburg it means that the
army is on a war footing and is taking the field. Then let every man
concerned summon all his strength.

In the centre of the Field of Mars are pitched the sumptuous tents of
the Czar, the foreign ambassadors, and the members of the government;
but the Czar himself rides at the head of his suite, and passes the
assembled troops in review. As he thus rides past the separate regiments
they salute him with welcoming stanzas, in time like the chorus of a
giant theatre, with rifle, sword, and lance held rigid at present arms.
The Czar's face beams like a day in summer; every one sees again in him
the hero of Leipsic. The inspiration of the army has communicated itself
to him too.

And in the ranks of these men presenting at the word of command are all
those who have been conspiring against him. In the sabretache of the
officers is to be found the _Catechism of the Free Man_.

But the single word "Forward!" suffices to change the whole temper of
these men; the conspiring regiments will charge down on the foe with
shouts of "Long live the Czar!" When he shows them the battle-field they
forget all their complaints and grievances--forget that they are seeking
to kill him--and rush into the fight to give up their lives for him.

So it is with the Russian people. Their striving after freedom is
silenced when there is hope of war. The private, freely shedding his
blood on foreign soil, believes that therewith he will fertilize his
native meadows. The priests have indoctrinated him with the belief that
he who falls in a strange land to the enemy's bayonet will live again in
his own country, where he will find parents, wife, and children once
more; and, if he was a serf before, will rise again a free man.

After the review of the troops the Czar himself takes the command, and a
series of brilliant manœuvres begins, thought out by himself. According
to the then science of war, they were intended to be a masterpiece of
the system of attack in close order. His aides-de-camp are dashing from
battalion to battalion with orders, their spirited horses flying off in
all directions. The orders are given by the Czar himself, who watches
their fulfilment through a field-glass. Suddenly an adjutant dashes up
to him.

"Sire!"

"What is it? Make short work of it!"

The enemy's cannon are already thundering upon the attacking column.

"Sire," says the officer, "Duchess Sophie Narishkin has just delivered
up her noble soul to Eternity."

The Czar instinctively put his hand to his heart. It was there that he
was struck! And yet the cannon were only firing blank ammunition.

The sword he was wielding sank in one hand--the Czar covered his face
with the other.

"_It is the punishment for my faults!_" he uttered, in a faltering
voice.

What a change had come over the brilliant hero--the semi-god! In his
place sat a bowed figure; a man bowed down to the earth by fate.

However deafening the hurrahs--however much the earth may vibrate under
the tramp of warlike horses and horsemen--their leader's soul is
fettered by the words "Sophie is dead."

Miloradovics, the general in command, sent to ask instructions from the
Imperial Commander-in-Chief for the next movement.

"Call them back!" was the answer. "Send the troops back to barracks. The
review is over."

And, turning his horse, the Czar rode back to his tent with bowed head.
They who saw him return hardly recognized his white face. The generals
of division had great work to disentangle their troops and get them
into position again. A murmuring arose among the men, as though a
battle had been lost.

The Czar, not even awaiting the march past of the regiments, who were
wont to defile past him with pipe and drum, left the whole command to
the Grand Duke, and, throwing himself into his troika, drove back to the
Winter Palace.

There he hastened to his study. On it were spread important, weighty
documents, containing epoch-making decisions for people and nations,
only awaiting his signature. The Czar's eyes rested sadly upon them,
reading in them, not what was written upon them in ordinary characters,
but the _Palimpsest_ with which fate ever crosses the carefully
thought-out plans of mankind.

Then, seizing all the documents--painstaking labors of many a night--he
made them into a roll, and, throwing them on to the fire, watched them,
a prey to the flames. They were all to have been Sophie Narishkin's
dowry.

Soon they were a heap of ashes.

Then, sitting down, he wrote a letter. It contained but two words--"Come
back."

The envelope was addressed to Araktseieff.



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE RENDEZVOUS


There is something marvellous in the summer nights of the extreme North.
Foreigners find it harder to accustom themselves to them than they do to
the long winter nights with their cruel severity. The evening glow lasts
till midnight, and then begins the dawn. It seems endless until the
first stars appear in the still, clear sky, and under them the
brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter, burning in the firmament like
diamonds on the surface of a golden lake. The pale moon describes its
short orbit, a superfluous luminary; and on the Feast of Masinka the
half-hour of actual night is impatiently awaited, in order to let off
fireworks on the forty islands of the Neva. (For by daylight it is no
use to send up rockets!) Street lamps are not lit in St. Petersburg at
all during this month. Nor in the apartments of Korynthia's villa are
lights needed on the evening of this 20th of June. The sky diffuses
light enough until 11 P.M., and a little twilight will not seriously
disturb those of whom we are about to speak.

Korynthia, in some agitation, has strayed--who can tell how often in the
course of that evening?--on to her veranda, and let her eyes rove over
the surface of the mighty river below. It, too, is golden in the evening
light, and, like the Russian pictures of saints, on a golden ground is
reflected in its sheen the capital, with its rows of palaces, the dome
and columns of St. Isaac's, the florid architecture of the Exchange, the
bridge of Holy Trinity, the scattered islands from amid whose wooded
heights the varied forms and shapes of country-houses peep, with roofs
red, blue, green, gilded, and pagoda-like. And among the islands are
darting boats, gondolas, canoes, of every kind and description. Some
rowed by twelve boatmen, others by a solitary dreamer; the one flashing
along at lightning speed, the other letting himself drift on with the
stream. The song of the boatmen is in the air.

In the uncertain light their figures stand out like black silhouettes.
Korynthia asks herself which of the gondolas is bringing to her him she
is expecting--which is the silhouette of his figure?

To the watcher the last half-hour seems longest. Korynthia turns from
the balcony to the interior of her room, and gazes once more at herself
in her mirror. You are beautiful, very beautiful, says her mirror; that
white costume lends you quite a youthful appearance, leaving, as it
does, the rounded marble of the arms bare to the shoulder. Your wealth
of fair hair is not stiffly arranged, but floats in two thick tresses.
No ornament of any kind, bracelet or earring, enhances your charms. The
confident champion enters the battle-field without helmet or shield.
Even the wedding-ring is absent. You are beautiful indeed--says her
mirror.

And beside the mirror hangs a picture, set in a thick gold frame. It
is the picture of a young girl in the garb of a mythical
shepherdess--tender and delicate as a dream. Korynthia had received it
some years ago, a present from the Czar. She may possibly have divined
even then that it was no fancy picture, but a portrait; she may even
have guessed whom it represented. Within the last few days she knows for
certain. She has met the original. It was the portrait of Sophie
Narishkin.

Certainly she might long since have known it from Bethsaba--have seen
portrait and original often enough, had she asked her. But although
lying was foreign to the nature of the Circassian king's daughter, she
knew how to be silent, and had that much Armenian blood in her veins not
to answer when not directly questioned.

So the reflection in the mirror and the portrait in the frame were in
close proximity. And comparison left the living reflection victor.

You pale child with your dreamy eyes, your lips seeming to open in
lament; your tender, shadowy frame, how can you think to rival the
divine presence of a woman? What power can you have, melancholy
dream-picture of another world, against this earthly woman whose beauty
arouses and quenches passion, kills and inspires life? Do you possess an
Aleko, he chooses himself a gypsy maid; and that is not you. Is he not
himself a true gypsy, leading a vagabond, adventurous life? In a word,
is he not a poet?

Time went on slowly. Korynthia opened the windows looking on to the
park. A concert of nightingales came from the bushes. A butterfly--the
night peacock's eye--flew in at the open window; taking her for a
flower, it flew about her, not about the portrait. Then flew in another
night moth, differing from others in that it emits a sound--an
unpleasant, shrill, yet melancholy hum. Its name is _Sphinx Atropos_.
Why has it been called by the name of that one of the Parcæ which severs
the thread of life? Because its back and head are the exact counterpart
of a death's-head. Ss--h! The lady brushes away the weird moth; but it
had found a refuge; it had flown across to the picture and had settled
in a corner of the frame.

At length the twilight deepens. A few impatient employés let off the
first rockets from the pleasure gardens in the islands. Bengal lights
are beginning to show on Kreskowsky Island.

Ah, of course! It is Zeneida's birthday. The court calendar has found a
place for her among the saints; there are great doings to-night in her
palace. And something more, perhaps--a sitting of the Szojusz
Blagadenztoiga. Under every possible guise and excuse, it holds its
meetings at the singer's house.

When Prince Ghedimin left home that evening he had told his wife that he
was commanded to the Czar, and would be away all night discussing
important matters of state. It is therefore certain that he will be
spending the night at Zeneida's, and Korynthia need not fear to be
disturbed; it is a case of tit for tat. Any moment may now bring
him--the one so impatiently expected.

For as soon as the fireworks on the islands begin they attract all the
servants and watchmen yet awake. There is no one to keep guard on the
winding paths of the park. The great clock strikes eleven; every quarter
of an hour four bells ring a carillon. At the last stroke of the clock
she seems to hear the sound of approaching footsteps on the gravel. Who
else can it be? An aristocrat's step is so different from that of a
mujik. She is right.

The new-comer, stopping at the door of the garden veranda, opens it with
a key. His footsteps now announce his coming, as they hurriedly ascend
the spiral staircase. Korynthia has studied the pose in which she will
be surprised. Leaning over the window-sill, her face resting on her
hand--a dreamy figure so absorbed in the song of the nightingales that
she does not perceive some one approach her, bend over her, and breathe
a soft kiss upon her lovely shoulder.

The Princess seems to rouse from her reverie with a start, as, with an
air of smiling reproach, she turns to the stealer of the kiss, "Ah, how
late you are!" But as she sees him, she starts in reality. The kiss has
been no theft. The perpetrator had but taken what was his own. It was
her husband, Prince Ghedimin. Korynthia stammered out, "How early you
have come home!"

"You just said how late I was."

"I was dreaming. I did not know what I was saying. How did you get in?"

"By the garden veranda. You know that I have the key."

And now it occurs to Korynthia that that other, to whom she had given
the duplicate, may even now be coming.

"Did you fasten the door?"

"No, for in five minutes I must be off again."

"But I beg you to fasten the door, and leave your key on the inside. You
know how terrified I am of thieves."

"All right. I'll go back and close it."

During his brief absence Korynthia wrapped herself in a thick shawl. She
did not need the pretext of cold; she was shivering with agitation.

The Prince returned.

"I must briefly tell you that I come from the Czar."

"Indeed! And not from Fräulein Zeneida's soirée?"

"No, my love. I come from the Czar and Czarina."

"Of course, if you say so."

"You will not doubt it when I tell you what I have witnessed."

"Pray begin."

Korynthia remains by the window to announce by the sound of voices to
that other that she is not alone.

"His Majesty has for the past two days repeatedly commanded me to his
presence to deliberate certain matters of state; yet each time he has
either been shut up in his room, and I have not been admitted, or if he
has appointed me to go to him to Czarskoje Zelo, he has gone to the
Hermitage. This evening I was commanded to Monplaisir. I traversed every
room, right and left, until at length I found him on the upper veranda
with the Czarina. Three times, four times, I saluted the Czar, but he
took no notice of me. The Czarina signed to me to remain where I was.
The Czar stood leaning against the marble parapet, motionless as a
statue, his eyes fixed upon the Neva, the Czarina as fixedly, almost in
fear, watching his eyes. Hundreds of boats were gliding over the smooth
surface, crossing each other, shooting hither and thither. Suddenly a
large barge came in sight, going down-stream, rowed in slow, rhythmic
measure by eight boatmen. The barge was lighted by lamps fastened to
poles; in the centre was a coffin, draped with a light-blue satin pall.
In the open coffin lay a young girl in white funereal dress, a wreath of
myrtle on her head. Round it stood choristers singing a funereal chant,
which ascended to where the Czar stood:

    "'Ah, the day of tears and mourning,
    From the dust of earth returning,
    Man for judgment must prepare him.'

There were none to follow the funereal barge. As it passed Monplaisir
one could read conspicuously on the lid, placed beside the coffin, the
name studded in gold nails--_Sophie Narishkin_. Yes, you may well draw
your shawl about you, madame! It is cold, is it not?"

The Prince had no idea of the effect of his words; he was still seeing
what his memory had impressed upon him, not what was before him. He
continued:

"Human language has no words to express the anguish at that moment
imprinted on the Czar's countenance. With glowing eyes, convulsed lips,
and gathered brows, he stood there clinching his hands; and, while with
his eyes he followed the barge, a gigantic struggle seemed working
within him. I have witnessed much sorrow in my life; never did I feel
such sympathy for a man as for this one! He dared not betray his
feelings, for the Czarina was standing by his side. She, too, studied
his face with great attention. Suddenly she bent towards him, and,
taking his hand in hers, cried, 'Why do you not weep? Why keep back your
tears? It is your own dear child who is being borne to her last
resting-place!' And, as if to open the font of his grief, she threw
herself upon the Czar's breast and burst into weeping. And then the
mighty ruler, before whom millions of men tremble, knelt before his
neglected, forsaken wife, embraced her knees, and, sobbing, kissed the
hem of her dress, she joining her tears to his. It was a scene I shall
never forget. The separated husband and wife were reunited in the hour
of their bitter sorrow; they had come together again, the past
forgotten. They leaned over the balcony, saluting the disappearing barge
with a last farewell! My eyes fill with tears as I think of it."

The Prince did well to weep. It was meet that one or other of them
should shed tears at what had passed.

"Then, pressing his hand to his heart, the Czar gasped, 'And there was
not a soul to follow her to the grave!' It was indeed a bitter thought.
Even a beggar has some poor wretch to follow and mourn for him. And she
had no one! Then a thought struck me, and I rushed to my gondola and
came to you. I am the Czar's Prime-Minister, you a Princess Narishkin.
How would it be were we to catch up the funeral barge in a light,
fast-rowing gondola, and act as Sophie Narishkin's mourners? What do you
think?"

But the woman beside him had not depth of feeling enough to take her
noble-hearted husband's hand in hers, and giving her tears free course,
to say, "Yes, let us go; Sophie Narishkin is mine to mourn over!" No;
that woman had more power of self-control than had the Czar. Her woman's
pride, conquering the animal instinct--sometimes called maternal--within
her, she could answer coldly and calmly:

"What are you thinking of? How should we account to the world for our
uncalled-for escort? And, then, it is too late; before I could put on a
mourning-dress the barge would have got beyond all possibility of our
reaching it. Besides, what do I care for Sophie Narishkin?"

She could even speak thus at that supreme moment. How true was the
Muscovite scientist's classification--a degenerate cat. Even a normal
cat mourns its young.

"What is Sophie Narishkin to me?"

Prince Ghedimin shrugged his shoulders, and, taking out his
handkerchief, carefully brushed away traces of tears. It is certainly
not worth while to run the risk of making one's own nose red for the
troubles of other people.

"All right. As it does not affect you, let us turn to something else.
One other reason brought me here, which may perhaps interest you more.
As I got into my gondola my steersman handed me a letter bearing on it
'Pressing.' The letter was from _Alexander Sergievitch Pushkin_."

"Pushkin?" repeated Korynthia, in great agitation.

"Yes; from Pushkin. And the purport of the letter being so extraordinary
that my understanding could not grasp it at all, I hastened to you to
beg you to solve the riddle."

Korynthia felt the ground give way beneath her feet.

"Pushkin!" she stammered. "What should I know of Pushkin's riddles?"

"Listen. I will read the letter to you."

And, in order to see better, the Prince now approached the open window,
while Korynthia, retreating to the farther side of the room, sought to
conceal her agitation. The Prince read:

      "'DEAR IVAN MAXIMOVITCH,--I find myself compelled with
      penitent heart to make you a confession. I have
      misused the high-minded confidence with which you laid
      open to me the sacred privacy of your home. Not as my
      excuse, but as a reason, I refer to my passion, which
      was stronger than the respect I owed to you. _I have
      stolen the dearest, most carefully guarded treasure of
      your house!_'"

"Is the man mad?" thought Korynthia.

      "'If you desire to demand reparation for the affront,
      I shall be prepared to give you every satisfaction.
      You will find me in my country-seat at Pleskow.

                        "'Yours most sincerely,

                                                "'PUSHKIN.'"

The Princess was amazed. The extent of the treachery never even dawned
upon her.

"Well?" The Prince awaited an explanation. The best shield is
cold-bloodedness, the best weapon a lie.

With a shake of the head, Korynthia made answer:

"But how does Herr Pushkin concern me? What have I to do with his
mysteries?"

"Naturally, our friend Alexander Pushkin's proceedings have no special
interest for you, nor should I desire it. But in this letter another was
enclosed, having on the outside, in what seems to be a lady's
handwriting, 'Princess Korynthia Alexievna Maria Ghedimin.' Probably in
this we shall find the solution of the mystery. On that account I must
beg you to break the seal and communicate its contents to me--if you do
not feel it desirable to keep them secret."

It was now the Princess's turn to advance to the window, in order to
read. No sooner had she the letter in her hand than she exclaimed, in
surprise:

"It is Bethsaba's handwriting!"

"You know her handwriting? I have never seen it."

Korynthia tore open the letter, and as she read her cheeks flamed. Then,
crushing it in her hand, she cried, with hysterical laughter:

"Ha, ha, ha! He has run off with Bethsaba and married her!"

Ivan Maximovitch took the matter as a joke. He had expected worse.
Indeed, he could rejoice in that Bethsaba had been carried off, destined
as she had been to St. Katherine's Convent. His wife's laughter still
further misled him, and he thought well to join in it. Now, if his tears
had met with but mediocre success, his laughter obtained him an open
attack. The Princess first flung the crushed-up letter at his head,
then, rushing at him like a fury, hissed out through her clinched teeth:

"This was your work, wretch! This was connived between you!"

"Who?" asked the Prince, in amazement.

"You--and your sweetheart--that Witch of Endor! You spun the web in
which that girl was caught for Pushkin. You prepared the poison in which
this dagger is steeped."

"Madame, I am at a loss to understand why the fact of Pushkin's marrying
Bethsaba Dilarianoff should excite you to such fury!"

Korynthia saw that by her vehemence she had almost been led into
self-betrayal; so said, calmly:

"You do not understand! This is no question of love, but of
high-treason! What would it matter to me if a Circassian Princess chose
to fall in love with my lowest groom? He would probably be too good for
her! But do you know why Pushkin has married this girl? In order to
discover the Czar's secrets, which he confided to his daughter, and
which were repeated to her friend Bethsaba. Now these secrets, through
Pushkin, will become the common property of the Czar's enemies! Thus,
you ruin yourself if you are on the side of the Czar; or the Czar, if
you conspire against him. And this is what you two have done!"

Prince Ghedimin stood as if turned to stone. His wife had triumphed. Her
words bore so clearly the stamp of truth that defence was not to be
thought of.

"Yes. It was a plot among you all!" continued his wife, furiously. "You
availed yourselves of the illness of the one to entice the other from
me. In order to detain me at home, and to prevent my watching over the
child intrusted to my care, you sent Pushkin to me with a poem, and,
instead of coming to receive his answer, the cowardly fellow steals away
with a foolish, inexperienced girl from the very death-chamber of her
friend. Out with such people! Such treachery, deceit, betrayal! You are
worthy one of another. A pack of actors and actresses! Out of my room!
Away with you!"

When women take to abuse, men are nowhere. Their reasoning powers are
gone. Prince Ghedimin was a wise and good man, and innocent as a child
of this crime; which, after all, was no crime at all. Yet after this
torrent of abuse he felt a very criminal who had brought about an act of
the greatest, most irreparable evil with the coldest calculation, and,
in this frame of mind, was glad to be permitted to leave his home and
seek his gondola.

We who are in the secret can aver that he did not even now know who
Sophie Narishkin's mother was. But this Korynthia did not believe. She
looked upon the whole scene as expressly got up to torture her--from the
appearance of her husband at the very hour of the rendezvous, when he
shed upon her love-lorn heart first the ice-drops of the funeral scene,
then poured in the poison of the faithlessness of the man she adored.

It was a deadly poison, killing inwardly and outwardly. When Ghedimin
left her, Korynthia, clasping her two hands above her head, threw
herself on the ground, sobbing bitterly. Then, as there was no one to
raise her, she assumed a kneeling posture, her long plaits hanging like
serpents over her bosom; and, lifting three fingers to heaven, she
gasped out, with hideous vengeance:

"Oh that I may repay you this some day!"

Her lips parted; the gnashing of her clinched teeth was audible. She was
meditating something; her eyes flashed fire; she rose, and bared her
white, exquisitely formed arm to the shoulder. Then she pressed the
rounded muscle of the upper part of her arm between her teeth, and bit
into it until the blood flowed from it, and sucked the blood she had
drawn. It is the Russian superstition that whoever would insure the
fulfilment of his curse must, after uttering it, drink of his own blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

The melancholy hum of the death's-head moth in the corner of the
picture-frame sounded like the murmur of a lost soul.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A DIVIDED HEART


Zeneida was celebrating three days of mourning in one. The first,
Sophie's funeral; the second, Pushkin's marriage; the third, her own
name-day.

It had been Sophie's last wish that the wedding should precede her
funeral.

Her soul in its ascent to heaven would see and hear the bliss of the two
she had loved so dearly on earth.

According to Russian custom the lid was only screwed down on to the
coffin just before it was lowered into the grave; with face uncovered
the wanderer to the Hereafter is borne to his last resting-place.

"Make the ceremony a short one!" Zeneida had said to the officiating
priest.

The Patriarch of Solowetshk, whose feet had sufficient Russian
understanding to suffer from a severe attack of gout that day, had sent
a priest in his stead. Let his inferior have his beard shaved off if
things go amiss, and not him. For if a priest rashly marry a runaway
couple the marriage is legal, but _the priest's beard is shaved off_,
and he is forced to become a soldier. During the wedding ceremony,
according to custom, two doves were set flying over the heads of the
bridal pair. They fluttered for a time round the veranda, then let
themselves down on to the catafalque, at the head of the dead girl,
where the crucifix stood; there, the one on the right hand, the other
on the left, above the head of the "martyr to love," they billed and
cooed through the whole ceremony.

The dead girl might well be content. All had been done as she had
directed; Bethsaba wore the pink silk wedding-dress; the platinum diadem
adorned her brow.

"That is over," said Zeneida. "Now follows the other--quick, quick!"

Bethsaba must now change the pink wedding-dress for a black one for the
consecration of the dead. Zeneida helped her to dress; Pushkin waited
without.

Bethsaba wept on and on, whether clad in pink or black.

Zeneida betrayed no tendency that day to sentimentality. Her utter
callousness bordered on cynicism.

"But we shall see Sophie again in the next world, shall we not?" sobbed
Bethsaba.

"Yes, yes," muttered Zeneida. "And to which of you will Pushkin belong
then?"

That was the question.

Bethsaba was startled. Her large eyes remained fixed on Zeneida.

"And suppose he should belong to neither of you?" continued Zeneida,
drawing her strongly marked eyebrows together. "Or do you imagine that
in the hereafter there will still be a greater Russia crushing a lesser
Finland beneath its heel, so that even then a fool will be found to open
the gate of Paradise for some one else, while she herself goes into
perdition!"

This outburst revealed Zeneida's secret to Bethsaba. Rigid with dismay,
she stammered out:

"You, too, loved him?"

"Do not ask. Rejoice that he is yours, and do not wish yourself in the
next world with him, but do your utmost to keep him to you in this."

"And you, too, loved him?" repeated Bethsaba, sorrowfully.

"As you have discovered it, make your discovery of some use," said
Zeneida, with seeming affectation. "Now, at least, you know from whom
you have to guard him. Take care to keep him away from me. Now you know
the sort of person I am. I take pleasure in enticing away the husbands
and causing the wives bitter tears. Your godmother was right. _I am a
very devil._ Do not bring your Aleko back to St. Petersburg."

Bethsaba, throwing herself on Zeneida's bosom, embraced her.

"It is not true--not true--not true! You cannot deceive me. Tell me why
you gave me Pushkin's heart, when you might so easily have kept it for
yourself? There must be some weighty reason that induced you to do it.
Tell it me; he is my husband now. I must know all about him. Even if it
be--that he loves me not."

Zeneida, now looking down with gentle smile on the young bride in her
mourning-dress, took her in her arms, and in fond embrace drew her to
her heart.

"So you do not think me so bad that you will need to guard your husband
from me? Well, then, I will tell you from whom you must guard him. There
is a lovely woman, more captivating than any you have ever seen--more
seductive, intoxicating, more insatiable. Her name is 'Eleutheria.' She
can entice the bridegroom from his bride at the very altar rails, and
the father of a family from his dear ones; and whom she once captivates
she keeps fast hold of till his last heart's blood is spent. His every
thought is hers. It is this dread woman who is your rival. Guard your
husband from all remembrance of her, for he is in love with her."

"'Eleutheria!' that means Freedom."

"She bathes in men's blood. It is that which makes her so beautiful. The
only presents she will accept are hecatombs; and of hearts and men she
only chooses such as are worth the price of gold and diamonds. The woman
who has such a diamond to call her own should guard him well. No
pleasure-seeker, no drunkard, no gambler follows his besetting sin so
readily as he whom Eleutheria has once enslaved. She has but to
proclaim, 'My service demands the lives of men,' and thousands upon
thousands of her worshippers answer, 'Here is mine; take it.' Beware
that Pushkin be not among them!"

Bethsaba let the arms encircling Zeneida's waist sink until they
embraced her knees.

"Oh, unapproachable saint! You who rejected his heart that you might
save his head. Speak, counsel me, how shall I set about doing that which
you have charged me to do. It is so difficult. How shall I carry it out,
that my work be successful?"

And Zeneida, raising the young bride, began to whisper the sensible
advice to her that experienced women are wont to give their
inexperienced younger sisters.

"Give up to him in everything. Do not contradict him. If he change his
mind seven times in a day, change yours with him. Divine his thoughts
and forestall his wishes. If you know one thought of his, you can guess
the others. If he be out of temper, do not irritate him with questions
as to the reason. In such a mood the dearest face is unwelcome. Requite
his love with your whole soul, and do not hide your joy from him. But do
not flatter him, for that would turn him from you. Do your utmost to
make his home pleasant to him. Let your house and his surroundings be
pure and peaceful, yourself be ever cheerful and loving; never let him
hear your voice raised harshly to your servants. If he desire to show
hospitality, see that you make a good hostess. Do not keep him back from
his manly pursuits. Never ask where he is going, whence he comes. Above
all, never betray jealousy. What woman is there who can sufficiently
stifle jealousy as not to feel it? Therefore must her heart, his
advocate, keep watch that it clear him, even if eyes and ears accuse
him. Never meet him with tearful eyes, but keep a strict watch over your
own actions. It is not necessary to play the prude with strangers and to
be always flying to your husband for protection; that would only render
him ridiculous, and lead to many disagreeables. But never, whether from
high spirits or feminine vanity, allow other men to pay you attentions
which might arouse your husband's jealousy. If anything annoy you, tell
it him gently and at once. Do not brood over it until it grows and he
reads the trouble in your face. Be easily pacified. Throughout, be
yourself, equable, ever the same; for, in an evil hour, some fatal
moment may suffice to recall his forsaken love, Eleutheria, to his mind,
and to throw him again into her arms."

The little bride listened to her words as though they were the words of
Holy Scripture.

"I will help you to keep him at home and from returning to St.
Petersburg. I will write you letters saying that the Czar is furious
that he whom he had chosen as his daughter's husband should have been
capable of marrying another on the very day of her funeral. It will not
be true, for I shall show the Czar Sophie's will, and it will disarm
him, but Pushkin must be made to believe that he is in disgrace, and
dare not return to St. Petersburg without special permission. And we
will expunge his name from 'the green book,' that he receive no more
invitations to meetings. Let him be hidden in your arms until better
times dawn or--what I far rather believe in--until the day of our
extinction. When all is over, then you may come back to the world. Until
then we must keep him in the belief that for him, exiled by his Czar,
vilified by his peers, there is no other world than his love and his
Olympus. And are they not, in themselves, two worlds--two heavens?"

Pushkin entered.

"Not ready yet?"

"Leave us alone! I am just about to spoil your wife. I am advising her
how to keep you under her thumb. You are not to listen."

"All very fine. The first hour we are together she will tell me all
about it."

The choristers in the chamber of death now began their solemn chant. It
was a long ceremony, but it, too, came to an end. The priest, taking the
two candlesticks, held them over the cross while he spake the blessing,
walked three times round the coffin waving incense, then placed the
parchment containing the list of sins, at the end of which was inscribed
the absolution, into the dead child's hands as her passport into
eternity; after which the candles on the catafalque were extinguished.
The two doves upon the crucifix continued their billing and cooing.

They carried out the coffin to the barge draped with funereal hangings.
Many blossoms from the garden accompanied it; it was covered with
wreaths. The blue, green, and red lights glared in the twilight. The
choristers continued their chant, the gentle plash of the oars marking
time to it. Long those left behind gazed after the departing boat, until
the next wooded island hid it from their view.

"She has gone on her journey!" said Zeneida; there were no tears in her
eyes. "Now it is your turn. Quick! No leave-takings; they are so
wearisome. Be off with you! I have my guests to see to, a right merry
company. I must hurry back. One kiss is enough, Bethsaba; you may give
the others to your Aleko. Take quickly with you what is yours."

"Alas! that is impossible," sighed Pushkin, who had the bad habit of
being unable to keep back what was in his mind. "One part she who is
gliding away in that gondola has taken with her; a second part you take;
to this poor child belongs only the remainder."

"That is not true," returned Zeneida, with proud, radiant face. "She who
has gone back to heaven has bequeathed her part in you to your wife; she
who is here has, even now, given up to her that which she might have
possessed. Bethsaba knows all about it. You are hers, wholly, entirely.
And now, God be with you!"

And she held out her hand to him. The allies of the new epoch did not
kiss in greeting.

And as Pushkin pressed the hand she held out to him, a ray of joy passed
over Zeneida's countenance. Freemasons have a sign by which they
recognize each other in hand pressure. _Pushkin had not given the sign
this time._

Already he had forgotten his former love. To the new one, to whom he had
plighted his marital troth, he belonged wholly, entirely.

It was as "she" had desired; and smilingly Zeneida waved her white
handkerchief to the vanishing gondola, which a troika awaited on the
opposite bank. Only when she could see it no longer did she hide her
face in the said white handkerchief, and whether it was bedewed with
tears or not that handkerchief alone can tell. She did not remove it
from her eyes until her gondolier addressed her.

"If you please, madame, the rockets on Kreskowsky Island have begun."

"Ah yes. You are right. The third funeral awaits me!"

With that she hastened into her gondola, and within its closed curtains
sang, in a low voice:

    "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept;
    For they that led us away captive required of us a song,
    Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
    If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning."



CHAPTER XXXV

SPARKS AND ASHES


Zeneida's gondola glided quickly past the funeral barge back to
Kreskowsky Island. Her guests were entertaining themselves without her.
They were used to do so.

The conspirators were largely represented; even Pestel, from far-off
Nikolajevsk, was there. To-night the conflicting parties were to measure
themselves; the decision was to be made which plan should be the
accepted one: the one which should give freedom by means of the Czar; or
that which, regardless of him, living or dead, should carry the work to
its completion.

As the fireworks commenced, the Bojars withdrew from the gay scene to
the roulette chamber.

There were three-and-twenty men and Zeneida. Prince Ghedimin alone was
still expected; he was to come direct from the Czar.

He came.

He had a long envelope, sealed with five seals, in his hand.

In extreme agitation all awaited the opening of the document. The Prince
cut the seals with a pair of scissors, opened the envelope, and there
fell from it the ashes of some burned sheets of paper, as they had been
reclaimed from the fire. It was the anxiously awaited _charta_--reduced
to ashes.

"I said so!" exclaimed Pestel, with triumphant countenance. "The whole
thing was a comedy. Scarce three months has it lasted. There's an end of
fine words. Now to dark deeds!"

Nothing was left but to decide if _the deed_ should be consummated.

They voted openly and by name.

There were twelve ayes and twelve noes.

"There is still one to give the casting vote," said Pestel. "Here is the
'Votum Minervæ.' Here is Zeneida. Her vote shall decide it."

Zeneida saw the deadly pallor which had overspread Ghedimin's face.

With calm voice she said, "Aye."

Thirteen to twelve the majority for the deed. But when? That was the
next question.

Pestel said, "At once."

Ryleieff moved that in September would be their best opportunity, at the
concentration of the army.

"To-day," growled Jakuskin. "Not to-morrow!"

Fresh votes had to be taken.

"At once, or in September?"

Once more the votes were twelve to twelve. Once more Zeneida was called
upon to give the casting vote.

Upon her breath hung the decision whether the world at that very hour
should be shattered to its foundations.

"In September," she said; and Ghedimin gave a deep breath of relief.

Pestel shrugged his shoulders wrathfully.

"Then it were better to put it off until May, to try the success of the
concentration of the army in Kiew. There in the South we are the
masters."

"Shame upon us!" growled Jakuskin. "We are twelve to their twelve, and
dare not do the deed. Every one of us a Brutus! More than an Armada!
Were I alone I would do it myself."

The concluding set piece of the fireworks was greeted by the crowd
without with clapping of hands. The golden rain fell like a shower of
stars from the sky.

"Very well. The 20th of September," whispered the conspirators, as they
shook hands with each other. Loud peals of laughter were heard among the
gay company; the health of the lady of the house was drunk with acclaim.

Upon the smooth surface of the Neva, under the shower of golden rain,
gently glided the funeral barge to its destination; the dead lay with
face serene; and amid the applause and hand-clapping of the spectators
arose the dirge:

    "Ah, the day of tears and mourning,
    From the dust of earth returning,
    Man for judgment must prepare him."

The psalm and noisy crowd were silenced. The golden sparks died out, the
ashes were extinguished. Morning began to dawn. Not a soul was to be
seen on the Neva. Every one had gone home to sleep through the gray
morning hours; the forenoon in St. Petersburg is good for nothing else.

Even morning here has its special characteristics. The sky is white, and
as it is reflected on the calm surface of the Neva it seems like one
plate of burnished silver, upon which the long streaks of cloud and the
heavy foliage of the trees stand out black as night. Pomp of death in
sky and earth!



CHAPTER XXXVI

DAIMONA


The mistress of Grusino, who ruled Araktseieff as completely as he ruled
the empire, was neither young nor beautiful. She could not have laid
claim to beauty even in youth, and her stature was of manly proportions.

There are plain women who can make themselves pleasant; who, aware that
they have not the advantages of good looks, lay themselves out to charm
by their manner. But Daimona wanted to be beautiful. Her complexion was
dark--she painted herself very red and very white; but as her
beautifying only extended to her face, leaving her neck its natural hue,
it gave her the appearance of wearing a mask. Having no eyebrows, but
desiring to obtain them by artificial aid--being, moreover, extremely
short-sighted--she usually contrived to paint first one, then the other,
higher or lower than its fellow. Her teeth were blackened from much
smoking and indulgence in sweets. In addition, she selected the most
ridiculous and garish of costumes and colors, always overloaded with
ribbons and jewels. When she spoke it was in a man's barytone, which,
when agitated, broke into a sobbing squeak.

And this voice of hers, heard all day long without cessation, inspired
fear in all around her, for she only opened her mouth to scold and
abuse. In her communications to her household she made use of the most
singular punctuation; the cane formed a comma, a box on both ears a
colon, and the knout a full stop.

And this woman was the delight, the goddess, the idol, of the
all-powerful court favorite. The whole land knew the infatuation of the
great statesman for her; whoever aimed at accomplishing any end in St.
Petersburg must first make his way to Grusino; for a good word from
Daimona outbalanced a whole wagon-load of letters of introduction and
whole sackfuls of merit.

And that good word was never given for nothing. Daimona understood her
business; she had a carefully made-out tariff for favors desired: So
much for an official post; so much for a concession; so much for an
order; so much to be let off from an undesired expedition to Siberia,
with or without accompaniment of the knout on the way, on foot, or by
sledge. She could tell it all off by heart.

The most aristocratic men and women did not esteem it beneath their
dignity, whenever they deemed it advisable, to present themselves with
friendly or deferential mien to the mistress of Grusino, who, wedded
neither in right nor left handed marriage to the favorite, was
originally the cast-off wife of a sailor condemned to Siberia, and
afterwards had served her time as a _vivandière_ to the Ismailowsk
Regiment, who had given her the sobriquet of the "squinting Diana."

And, withal, she had completely captivated the clever man before whom a
vast empire trembled. Araktseieff was only at his ease when, throwing
off the "iron mask," he could be himself again in the arms of the
chatelaine of Grusino.

At court, in order to retain his influence, he had humbly, in cold
blood, to receive every affront and humiliation, to flatter, to be more
courtly and diplomatic in manner than any diplomat; the while raging
internally, filled with uncontrollable pride and savage revolt at
everything that opposed him. It was of itself a penance to him to have
always to converse in French, for it was the only language of the court,
and he who spoke Russian ran the risk of being looked upon as a
conspirator, or, worse, "member of a learned society." And he hated the
French with a deadly hatred! Their language, dress, manners, music,
drinks, diplomats, their drama and their philosophy! Then, too, he had
carefully to keep watch over every word he uttered and every glass he
put to his lips. Not only lest the contents of the glass should be
poisoned, but for fear of drinking too much! For he knew that the true
man spake in him when he was in liquor. Even worse, he had to ape the
ascetic; for women's charms were an arch snare, in which his enemies
would fain have trapped him. Thus he lived like a recluse, with the
appetites of a Sardanapalus. And when, flying court atmosphere for a
brief respite, he could seek refuge at home in his Eleusinian den, and,
throwing off the affectations of the French language, dress, and mask,
he was free to resume the despised native Russian costume, and talk the
good old true Novgorod dialect, in which the republican peasant of
those days abused Czar and yeoman alike, he felt himself happy. Then he
could vie with his well-mated companion in good round oaths, beat her in
the morning, kiss and make friends in the afternoon over the flogging of
the peasants, men-servants, and stewards who came in their way, and get
drunk together at night. Daimona was a match for him in every form of
excess. If he were violent, she incited him to increased violence; if he
would vent his wrath on some one, she found him a human object on which
to vent it, seconding him with all a woman's refinement of cruelty.

When the master showed his face at Grusino there was a hurrying and
scurrying hither and thither, lamentations, groans, and blows; eating
and drinking to excess; music and dancing through the streets; battues,
dog-fights, mad revels of every description, and at least one _swacha_
(girl market). For the Sultana provided her Padishah with his Feast of
Bairam.

In fine, Prince Alexis Andreovitch found in the hideous Daimona his
other self; and this made her more precious to him than all the beauties
under the sun.

One day that fine fellow Zsabakoff presented himself, with countless
bowings and cringings, before the mighty Daimona. Not this time in the
torn garments in which he slipped into Pushkin's quarters, but attired
as a man of position. He possessed different costumes for the different
parts he had to play.

Herr Zsabakoff came to Daimona because he had learned that the Czar was
sending an army against the Turks. The fact was known to none, not even
to Araktseieff; only one man knew of it, and that was the Czar's groom
of the chambers, the same worthy individual who one evening had lent
young Araktseieff the Czar's Vladimir star. This worthy groom of the
chambers often did his friends a good turn. Thus, for instance, it was
solely to do Herr Zsabakoff a kindness that he gave a glance at the
Czar's papers while arranging them on his writing-table. What he there
saw, no one, not even the ministers, knew; nor did he proclaim it with
beating of drums, but he sold the information without more ado. There is
no reason for surprise at this. Other times, other manners. At that time
it had happened that university professors had been known to distribute
to students on one day answers to the questions to be put to them on the
next. But in this affair Herr Zsabakoff was not interested to speculate
as to whether the Hellenic champions of freedom would be able to hold
Missolonghi until the Russian army had advanced to their aid, but merely
whether the Czar's plan that every soldier, besides his customary kit,
should carry a flask as a necessary equipment in campaign--consequently
three hundred thousand metal flasks would be required. The contractor
would make his fortune.

But the honest groom of the chambers had not only communicated this
secret intelligence to friend Zsabakoff, but also to many other similar
friends, who probably were hurrying on the production of flasks by day
and night, for in the course of a fortnight they must be ready.
Naturally it would not be the lowest contract which would obtain the
order, but he who best greased the wheels of the Intendant-General's
carriage. Herr Zsabakoff now came to the influential lady to entreat her
to use her powers with the potent Intendant-General to persuade the Czar
to have _wooden_ flasks made instead of the unwholesome metal ones.
Thus, at one fell swoop, would disappear all his metal-flask rivals;
Zsabakoff would remain in possession of the field, and could demand his
own price. In order to lend emphasis to his request he had brought a
little present with him which would exactly become its charming
wearer--an antique brilliant _ferronnière_, in the centre of which was
an exquisite solitaire of unusual fire.

"Of course that is merely earnest-money," said the mistress of the
house. "You are aware that in the case of such a large transaction I go
shares in the profit."

"Your Excellency has taken the very words out of my mouth. Depend and
rely on it, I am straightforward with you--I always speak the truth. I
always do the honest thing. Why, then, should I deny it? According to
the price of my contract I gain half a griva on every flask; of that I
will make over two copecks to your Excellency."

"I tell you what, you make your contract so that it brings you in a
whole griva apiece, and give me four copecks on each."

Herr Zsabakoff agreed to this proposition. But Daimona was none too
delicate of her guests' feelings. One of her slaves was a jeweller, and
expert in precious stones. Him she sent for, and, in Zsabakoff's
presence, had the ornament valued. This was her custom. She kept the
slave specially for that office. The expert valued it at one thousand
five hundred rubles; but had the centre stone been pure water instead of
yellow it would have been worth two thousand.

"You don't understand anything about it!" screamed Zsabakoff. "Yellow
diamonds are unique; they are called 'fantaisie.' Besides, it is an
antique, and great people like antiques best."

"Quite true. All the same, a pure-water solitaire would be worth five
hundred rubles more."

"Do you hear?" quoth Daimona. "Don't forget next time to exchange it for
a handsomer and costlier one. And then I prefer it set in gold to this
silver setting."

Zsabakoff promised to obey her behests, and took his leave with as much
kissing of hands and feet as though he had received instead of given.

Some weeks later Zsabakoff came back more amiable and deferential than
the first time.

"My word is as good as my bond," said he. "Instead of that worn-out old
_ferronnière_ I bring you a brand-new one. Look at this stone, your
Excellency. What a fire! how pure! a perfect Golconda brilliant! It
dazzles the eyes like sunlight."

And he went on crying up the new ornament until Daimona gave him back
the old one for it.

"You may have this examined. I am positive your goldsmith will value it
at three thousand rubles. And, in fact, it cost every penny as much. But
I don't grudge it you. All I ask is that you write his Excellency by
your special courier, post-haste, that the matter must be at once
decided. It is in your own interest. For every field-flask you make four
copecks. I am off; I have not a moment to lose."

And once more recommending the flasks to her Excellency's immediate
attention, Herr Zsabakoff, rushing out, jumped into his carriage, drawn
by three horses, and drove off as if possessed. This time he did not
wait for Daimona to summon the jeweller.

Daimona was in haste to write to Araktseieff anent the flasks. But
writing with her was a slow process; the pen did not readily obey her
untutored fingers. Only when the letter was finished did she submit the
jewels to her goldsmith. He, suspiciously examining the _ferronnière_,
begged permission to test it in his laboratory; then told her that, to a
jeweller, it would be worth about three rubles. The brilliants were only
Strasburg paste; the setting plated, not gold.

Daimona, at first, was merely surprised; she could not believe the man
mad enough to deceive her in a matter concerning three hundred thousand
flasks. It was such a clumsy trick, such an unheard-of affront. A
trinket worth three rubles was only the kind of present that would be
given to a _vivandière_.

"Hi, Schinko!" screeched Daimona. Whereupon her factotum appeared, a
handsome, muscular fellow of the unmistakable gypsy type. "Take a horse
at once, take three mounted men with you, and follow the man who just
drove off with three horses abreast! Seize, bind, bring him back. See
you do not come back without him!"

The next instant the gypsy was on a horse, without saddle, galloping for
his life. His three followers could scarce keep up with him. Daimona was
satisfied that Schinko would soon come up with Zsabakoff.

But within scarce half an hour the three horsemen, with Schinko at their
head, came back the way they had gone, and behind them a troika in which
sat a man alone. But not as a prisoner did they bring him; it was the
other way about, he drove them before him. From time to time he kept
putting his head out of the carriage, threatening the galloping horsemen
so ominously with his stick that, as fast as their horses would go they
tore homeward, looking back now and again with scared faces.

"What's the meaning of this?" shrieked Daimona, furiously pacing the
hall. "Schinko! You hounds! What, run away--you let yourselves be driven
back by one man?"

Yes, when it is that "one" man! Arrived at the castle, and flinging back
the leathern apron of the troika, he sprang up from his seat, roaring
with all the power of his lungs after the runaways.

"You fellows! Just you wait! I'll teach you to molest travellers in
broad daylight on the emperor's highway. A hundred lashes of the knout
for each of you! I'll have you all fastened to the handle of the pump.
Bojiriks, Bontshiks, thieves that ye are!"

It was "he" the master--Araktseieff himself. Daimona was more furious
than ever. Rushing down the entrance steps into the courtyard beneath,
she stood, gasping for breath, before the new-comer.

"Why did you hound back my people? They were pursuing a thief who had
robbed me! He brought me false stones and stole the real ones. I will
have him brought back--the thief."

But the master of the house paid no attention to her. When he was
abusing some one, whoever it might be, he had no thought for anything
else. His face was crimson as he alighted from his carriage, holding in
one hand a stout knotted stick, in the other a flask by its strap.

Daimona thought him informed of the whole affair, so, seizing him by the
collar of his cloak, she continued:

"It was Zsabakoff--do you hear?--Zsabakoff! You surely have not given
him the flasks yet?"

"Flasks?" retorted Araktseieff, amazed. "I've only got this one; and I
can't offer you anything from it, for it's empty."

"Oh, the devil take you! The three hundred thousand flasks, I mean, that
the army are to have in the Turkish War."

And now he was more astonished than ever.

"Three hundred thousand flasks? War? Give yourself time to breathe.
What have you been drinking to-day?"

The woman cursed and raved. In a medley of words she mixed up weeks and
months, copecks and flasks, diamonds worth two thousand rubles,
Missolonghi and Omer Brione Pasha, and stormed on so long that at length
her lord and master, in a fury, flinging his empty flask at her, pushed
her aside; whereupon Daimona, to recover her wounded feelings, fell upon
the jeweller, and struck his head with the _corpus delicti_, the paste
tiara. Why had he said that a yellow diamond was not as good as a white
one? It was all his fault that the thief had stolen the real one and
made off with it.

And this was the affectionate reception of the weary statesman to his
home. Perhaps others have shared his experiences--who shall say?

However, at supper they made it up again; and Daimona recounted to him
the history of the field-flasks.

"Well, my dear hen"--this was his pet name for Daimona--"you know more
about it than I do, whose province it is, as Intendant-General, to see
to the fitting out of the army. I am on leave from court--ostensibly on
account of my health. This that scoundrel Zsabakoff knew, hence he got
back his present to you. He knew that I am 'very' ill just now."

"But what's the matter with you?"

"The matter is, that I am a follower of the Czar."

"Try to get cured of that ailment."

"I know that I shall soon be recalled, and very soon fall back into my
old ailment."

"Bungler! If only you had kept the Czar's favor until the field-flask
contract had been delivered!"

"Bah! Say no more about it. Sing me something nice. It's so long since I
heard a woman's voice."

Alexis Andreovitch really meant it when he said he wanted to hear
Daimona sing. Now, the screech of a peacock was a swan's song compared
with Daimona's croak. Her voice was out of tune, throaty, and harsh; but
if it pleased her lord, what matter? And then the words of her song,
with its refrain, "Give him a taste of the knife!" In truth, an
extraordinary ditty to choose; and that it should just have come into
Daimona's head! Yet what so extraordinary in it, after all, for the
fallen favorite's _chère amie_ to choose a revolutionary song, when he
had been dismissed from court by his imperial master, and when the
matter of the flasks was not settled? Surely reason enough that he who
yesterday kissed the dust from off the tyrant's feet to-day should throw
it back in his face!

And the fallen favorite did not interrupt her. He listened to every
verse, enjoying the last so much that he chuckled with delight.

"Where did you hear that ridiculous thing?"

"You thick-head! Can't you guess? Didn't you yourself send the gypsy
girl to me to be educated? We have made a thorough success of it."

"Right. Among the many pleasures that await me here is carrying on that
joke to the bitter end. She drove my son to Archangel! Not a word have I
heard from him yet. What have you been doing to the wench?"

"Just what you directed. If you want some fun we'll have her in."

"Nothing better just now."

Daimona sent a man in search of Diabolka. Meanwhile she whispered
something to Alexis Andreovitch, her painted eyebrows dancing with
fiendish glee as she did so.

Araktseieff seemed to enter fully into the joke; he laughed so loud that
he made himself quite hoarse, and, striking his fist on the table,
shouted:

"Good! Excellent! By Jove! That'll be worth seeing!"

Both were looking grave when the girl came in. She was hardly
recognizable. A young lady in a long dress, wearing mittens, on her head
the snood of a Russian maiden. She held both hands, in national style,
hidden in the long sleeves of her dress, only withdrawing them to kiss
the hand of her master and mistress. Her eyes she kept modestly fixed on
the ground.

"Well, dear child, and how do you like being under your mistress's
protection?"

In a low whisper the girl answered:

"Thanks be to my gracious master for having sent me where I am so
happy."

Araktseieff could scarce repress his laughter.

"You speak like a book."

"That is not my merit, but that of the reverend Herr Prokop, who has
spared no pains to give me the benefit of his instruction."

"Ei, ei! You are quite a fine young lady, I see. You must sit down and
have supper with us. Come, don't be shy! Here, you long-legged fellow,
set a cover for the young lady! Here, you lout! Opposite me."

"It will be a great honor to your unworthy maid-servant to be permitted
to sit at table with you; but I must ask forgiveness if I eat nothing.
Good Father Prokop has inflicted the penance on me of eating no supper
for a whole year."

"For what sin?"

The girl heaved a deep sigh.

"Your Excellency! you know the great sin I have committed, and for which
I never can atone." And she sank her head remorsefully.

Was she really penitent, or was it only hypocrisy?

"And what do you do while others are having their meal?"

"I read the Psalms to them."

"What! you can read already? and the Psalms into the bargain! I should
like to hear that. Bring her a Psalm-book. Now sit here and read. Which
one is it?"

The girl, sitting down as she was bid, rested the finger-tip of one hand
daintily on the table, while with the forefinger of the other she marked
the syllables as she read, "Lord, the hea-then are come in-to thine
in-her-i-tance."

"Wonderful! But do you understand what you are reading about? Who are
the 'heathen'?"

"The _Turks_!" The girl spat out the words, as beseems an orthodox
Muscovite.

"Who is the 'Lord'?"

Rising, the girl answered:

"Our august master, the Czar."

"And what is his 'inheritance'?"

"Greece."

"Very good," returned her master. "How well you have learned to read!
And can you write too? And so that you need no one to guide your hand,
as when you wrote your first letter? Ha, ha! That was a joke!"

Then, turning to Daimona, he said, so that Diabolka should hear:

"Why, you have made quite a lady of her."

"And I mean to make a good Christian of her, too," responded Daimona.

Diabolka, seeming not to hear, went on spelling out her psalm.

"Come forward, Schinko!" Daimona commanded the man standing behind her
chair. "Now, have I not selected a good-looking husband for her?"

"Ah! I sent him to you, too, my lady. Is he not a certain 'cousin' of
your ward's?"

"That's why I treat him so well. A fine youth! I have no more faithful
servant than he. The peasantry fear him like the very devil. He is my
right hand."

"Then I can guess how many floggings he has already administered to
them."

"I will give them their wedding. Then I mean to make Schinko my
house-steward and Diabolka my confidential maid."

"I will provide the wedding presents."

Diabolka continued reading her psalm without interruption. Any other
girl at least would have simpered when she heard talk of her wedding in
presence of her bridegroom.

"Now we'll finish up supper with a little singing and dancing," said the
mistress of the house, signing to Schinko.

"Ah! Can Diabolka not only sing sacred songs, but dance too?"

"She neither sings nor dances; she has another calling. There is some
one else to do that."

Hereupon twelve pretty young peasant girls entered from a side-door,
each with a lute in her hand, their faces expressing more repressed fear
than pleasurable expectation. Behind them slid Schinko, a long whip in
one hand, the other leading a small, humpbacked dwarf on a chain, like a
bear, with a bagpipe under his arm. He was hideously ugly, with a hump
behind and before, his large bald head sunk between his high shoulders.
His face was the caricature of a man's face, and so distorted with
small-pox that it seemed as if the lineaments, being so grotesque, the
fell disease had tried to wipe them out; here and there remained a tuft
of beard and whisker; he had but one eye. He was revolting to look upon;
but when his cheeks distended with the bagpipe he was a perfect monster.
A worthier performer on the bleating goat-skin could scarcely be
imagined.

"That's classical music," said the master; "but what about the dancing?"

"Wait a minute. That's the best."

Going out once more, Schinko returned with the _ballerina assoluta_,
gripping her by the nape of the neck that she might not bite his hand.
She was a deformity in woman's shape--a humpbacked dwarf, with long arms
reaching to the ground; her stump nose hardly visible; matted-hair
growing down to her eyebrows; her mouth awry with great protruding
teeth--add to this an evil, bestial stamp on all her features. Such was
the creature who was to perform a ballet for the amusement of the lord
of Grusino. She was clad in a dress of gold paper; therefore it did not
matter if she tore it. She had been taught to dance as monkeys are, and
knew she had to do it.

"Blow away, Vuk! Dance, Polyka!" cried Daimona, clapping her hands; and
as the bagpipe began its melody the dancer began her parody of a
ballet-dancer, making such pirouettes that with her long arms, not her
feet, she chased away the chorus, accompanying the bagpipe with their
voices.

"Hopsa! hopsa!" cried Schinko, every now and then, and touched up the
calves of the dancer's legs with the point of his whip, if she did not
spring high enough in the air, at which she made furious grimaces.

Araktseieff and Daimona sank back in their chairs with laughter. The
great statesman, the pattern of astute diplomacy, drummed his spurs on
the table in his mirth; while Diabolka, without raising her eyes, ever
continued spelling out her psalm, as though nothing were going on about
her.

At the close of this edifying performance the female monstrosity caught
hold of the male by the collar of his coat, and twirled him and his
instrument round in a waltz, Schinko cracking his whip the while, as
though he were in a circus.

"Well, these two will make a pretty couple, too, I declare!" laughed the
master. "We will celebrate both weddings together."

Upon which Daimona gave him such a sharp pinch on his arm that he cried
out.

The very next day Diabolka's wedding-dress was put in hand. All
Daimona's female serfs were at work upon it. Diabolka now usually dined
at the minister's table when he entertained the notables of the
neighborhood, all of whom were welcome guests when they could prevail
upon themselves to kiss Daimona's hand. A dear repast, in truth!

But his guests had still more to put up with. When Araktseieff had drunk
too much he would grow quarrelsome and come to blows with them. All the
same, they would come back again next day and meet the same fate. A
still costlier price to pay!

Schinko was the chief flogger of the palace; he had to execute all the
scourging, whipping, and lashing with the knout. It was his office. He
had no choice but to carry out orders. If his master ordered him to
thrash corn, he must do it; if to thrash mujiks, he must thrash them.
Lucky that it was his part to administer, not to receive, the lash.
Moreover, he was a gypsy; and gypsies, it is known, have stronger nerves
than other men.

The eve of the wedding-day Daimona commanded Diabolka to try on her gay
wedding-dress, and to show herself in it to the master.

He admired it, and gave the girl a slap on the cheek.

"Do you see? I am glad you have grown at last into a respectable young
woman. I raised you out of the mire into which you had sunk. Is it not a
good thing to have become a well-behaved girl?"

And Diabolka, falling on her knees before him, kissed his feet.

"Nice to be a bride, eh? Now you love your cousin Schinko, don't you?"

The girl hid her face in confusion.

"Well, show how you can give a kiss. Where's Schinko?"

But Diabolka would not be kissed. Schinko might wait till he was
married.

"A sensible girl," said her master, praising her. "Now take her to the
priest, that she may tell her prayers and confess. To-morrow morning her
bridesmaids and groomsmen shall fetch her back. You go with her,
Schinko!"

After she had gone, Daimona sent for the other bridal couple. They were
worthy of each other, Vuk and Polyka.

The humpbacked bridegroom was dressed in a handsome seal-skin coat
reaching down to his toes, his cap adorned with a pair of hare's ears;
while the bride, with mouth all awry, was attired as a Turkish
odalisque, making her more hideous than ever.

"Upon my word, they're a handsome couple!" laughed Araktseieff. "I
wonder if that great hunch will prevent her kissing him?"

"That doesn't matter," returned Daimona; "her arms are long enough to
pull out his hair."

Nor did it need much encouragement for her to try it even before
marriage; a word would have sufficed to give proof of their connubial
tenderness.

"It will be rare fun to-morrow!" said Daimona.

"A splendid idea," chimed in her lord.

"Are you satisfied with it?"

"It's a masterwork."

"Well, if you love me, do as I do."

When was he not ready to do it? It was the reason the brutal pair loved
each other so well that there was nothing so mad devised by the one that
the other was not ready to join in.

Song followed the carousal. Daimona began the _Knife Song_, and
Araktseieff joined in the chorus.

For the sweetest of all the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge is
when a smooth courtier, whose wont is to flatter, to bow, and to scrape,
in the privacy of his chamber can tune up a revolutionary song, and
blacken his sovereign and fellow-courtiers to his heart's content.

"Let's have it over again! Where's a glass?" He always dashed his empty
glasses against the wall. But instead of the glass, Schinko brought on
his silver salver a letter, which a mounted messenger had just
delivered.

Araktseieff at once knew the handwriting on the cover. Releasing himself
from Daimona's arms, he sprang up from the divan, and, hastily wiping
his mouth, pressed the letter to his lips and forehead; then said, in a
hollow voice:

"Give me the scissors."

"What do you want with scissors? Break it open with your fingers."

"Give me the scissors when I ask for them!" shouted he, angrily, and
snatched roughly at the pair hanging from Daimona's girdle. And as with
trembling hand he cut the seal, he said, feverishly, "One does not break
the Czar's seal."

"The Czar's seal?" repeated Daimona, astounded.

It did not take Araktseieff long to read his letter. Besides the
signature were two words only--"Come back!"

"Bring water! Cold water!" he said, imperiously, to Schinko. And as he,
not knowing the wherefore, returned with a bucket of water, his master,
seizing the utensil with both hands, took a deep draught from it.

Daimona's astonishment increased more and more.

"What is the matter?"

"I must set off this very instant!" gasped Araktseieff. "Hurry, Schinko;
let them put the horses to; twelve horsemen to accompany me with
torches; and one to ride on before to secure post-horses. Fly!"

"You are going away?" asked Daimona, amazed.

"Instantly! The Czar commands!"

"And you hurry back at his request?"

"As a Cossack pony answers to his master's whistle."

"And will not be taking part in to-morrow's sport?"

"I must deny myself the gratification."

"You are going to leave me?" asked she, reproachfully. "You do not love
me any more?"

"The Czar has deigned to write with his own hand," returned Araktseieff,
handing her the letter.

"What do I care about his writing?" screamed Daimona; and, snatching at
the letter, she cut out a piece with her scissors, which so enraged
Araktseieff that he struck her violently on the hand.

"You have struck me! You are going away, and have struck me!" And,
turning her face away, the woman wept bitterly.

But Araktseieff had no time to pacify her now.

"_Seisasz!_ This means that the crisis is past."

Had there been an ocean before him he must have swam across it. How much
more, then, a few woman's tears!

The celebration of a double wedding will come off, but he will not be
there to enjoy the fun.

"Quick, quick, Schinko! Then come to my room to shave me."

While at Grusino the minister was in the habit of letting his beard and
mustache grow to please Daimona; but always had it shaved off before
returning to St. Petersburg.

"Take care you don't cut me with your razor," were his first words to
Schinko, as he began. Schinko was the only one there to whom he
intrusted his throat. "If you slash my face I'll shoot you dead."

His two travelling-pistols lay close to his hand. Schinko was cautious,
and completed the operation without disfiguring his master's face. A
lucky thing for Araktseieff. For the gypsy was resolved at the slightest
slip of his razor to cut his master's throat, that he might not have the
chance to carry out his threat. Never had Araktseieff been nearer to his
grave.

As he finished, the bells on the horses' necks were heard in the
courtyard below.

Thrusting the Czar's letter into his breast-pocket, Araktseieff hurried
away to say good-bye to Daimona.

She had locked herself up in the room.

"I have gone to bed."

"Then good-bye, my dear!" He had no time for more.

Daimona, from her window, could see the carriage dash away, with its
escort of torch-bearers.

It was pitch-dark, the rain coming down in torrents--weather in which
one would not have sent out a scullion.



CHAPTER XXXVII

IT'S NOT THE KNIFE ALONE THAT STRIKES TO THE HEART


Araktseieff, on arrival at the palace, was received by Chevalier Galban.

"What has happened here?" he asked, as he changed his travelling-dress
for his uniform.

"A startling change. Since his daughter's death the Czar has become
reconciled to the Czarina, and is with her constantly. Every diplomatic
action has been broken off. The Greek deputation has not been received,
the commanding officers of the various regiments of the guards have been
despatched back to their colonies."

"And what do the women say to all this? That's the main point."

"The women are deucedly hard to get at just now. Since the
reconciliation of the Czar and Czarina, domestic fidelity has become the
rage in St. Petersburg. Every man is seen driving out with his wife.
Even Princess Ghedimin ostentatiously parades everywhere on her
husband's arm, and conducts herself so prudishly that she scarce returns
my bow."

"And Zeneida?"

"Is in disgrace. The court chamberlain has intimated that it would not
give displeasure in high quarters if she were to pass the coming season
under a more genial clime. Upon which she at once sent back her
credentials as court singer. She is having a sale of her furniture, and
is preparing for immediate departure."

"And the cause of disgrace?"

"Pushkin. You are aware that he was to have married Sophie Narishkin?"

"That is--it was a piece of medical jugglery. They proposed to prolong
the invalid's life and make it happier by her betrothal."

"All the same, Pushkin was her husband elect, and the Czar was deeply
hurt that the very day of Princess Sophie's funeral Pushkin should go
and get married to the lovely Bethsaba, whom he ran away with from the
Ghedimins'!"

"Hullo! So he ran away with the little Circassian princess!"

"The Czar was very cut up at his heartlessness. Hence his displeasure
with Fräulein Ilmarinen."

"But what had she to do with it?"

"She was witness to the marriage."

"What, she? And she who worshipped Pushkin! That is a dangerous woman!"

"Fortunately she can't do much harm now. She begged an audience of the
Czar; but his Majesty answered that he would only receive her in your
presence."

"Then it shall be a hot reception for her! Thanks for the good news!"

And Araktseieff hastened off to the Hermitage, where the Czar was to be
found before noon.

Alexander extended his hand with emotion to the returned favorite, who
had travelled night and day to obey his behest.

"My only true friend!" he said, in a low voice.

"Not the only one, sire. The Czarina stands first."

"You are right. We have come together again, and I am only beginning to
learn that in her I have won back a whole world. I grudge the moments
which this pile of drafts causes me to spend from her."

"I am at your orders, sire!"

"That will greatly help. Just you look through this sheaf of papers,
which I can make nothing of, and execute everything according to your
own judgment."

"I will not stir from here before I have gone through them all."

"Among them you will find a petition for a farewell audience from
Fräulein Ilmarinen. Answer in my name that I am willing to receive her,
but solely in your presence. Now I am off to church, where I shall meet
the Czarina. We are holding a requiem mass for poor Sophie Narishkin."

Araktseieff made feint to be hearing this for the first time; and in
consequence of the melancholy surprise went through a theatrical scene
of up-turned eyes and exclamations, ending up with, as he kissed the
hand of the Czar, "I feel that my heart is torn out of my body at this
mournful news, sire!" He was the only man in the world who secretly
exulted over the news of the unhappy child's death.

The Czar left him alone in his study; and the favorite found many more
important matters to attend to than Zeneida's petition. From the
multitudinous papers it was plain to see that when the cat's away the
mice begin to play. Everything was tending to lead the Czar back to the
paths of liberalism. Here must the first clearance be made!

A few days later Zeneida was surprised, in the midst of her packing, by
a visit from Jakuskin.

"I have come to tell you how glad I am that you are leaving us."

"A singular kind of farewell."

"But comprehensible! It is well for you that you are going; and well for
us, too. The rôle you were playing is at an end, and I am glad of it!"

"So it seems."

"Araktseieff is returned, and his iron hand is wielded over our heads.
You, fair Madonna, had exiled him with your refined arts. Now it has
become evident that the refinement of intrigue does not pay in our
atmosphere. The old tyrant is back, and the Czar more completely in his
power than ever."

"I know it. I have had intimation that a farewell audience will only be
accorded me in his presence."

"And you are going?"

"Decidedly. I must reconcile the Czar with Pushkin."

"Is that your only reason?"

"What else keeps me here?"

"The wish to depose friend Araktseieff."

"I have no power to do that."

"Well, then, I have."

"By violence?"

"It is already done. To-morrow morning will no longer see him in St.
Petersburg. I have struck him to the heart, and not with a dagger. His
fate is already sealed. He is dead and buried already, though he has no
idea of it. Read this letter."

Zeneida's face changed from ghastly white to fiery red as she hastily
perused the letter handed her by Jakuskin. Her lips parted with surprise
and horror as she read.

"You are terrible men!" stammered she, as she gave it back.

"We understand what we are about, eh?"

"And he knows nothing of it?"

"There is not a man about him who dares to make it known to him.
Diabolka wrote me herself. I have copied her letter and sent the whole
affair to the Czar through the Sophien post. May he learn it from the
lips of the Czar--or, what is still more probable, may it fall into his
own hands in opening the Czar's letters. Ah, Zeneida! If only he
received the letter at the very time that you were having audience! If
only you could see him then! Oh, I could fain envy you the satisfaction
of that moment!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Zeneida's audience was appointed for the next day. It was the Czar's
usual habit, on leaving Monplaisir at five in the afternoon, to pass a
short time at the Hermitage, which stood near the Winter Palace and had
been a favorite resort of Catherine II. His library here, where he
transacted business, was furnished very simply. Hither were brought to
him the letters which came by the Sophien post. The apartment was now
reserved to Araktseieff's use, who sat there from morning to evening
settling, on his own responsibility, the affairs of the vast empire in
the name of the Czar. Matters of home and foreign policy, religion,
education, trade, finance, all were dependent on his sole will;
ministers and stadt holders alike his puppets. Alexander would take no
part in anything--signing, unread, whatever Araktseieff laid before him.
Those drafts laid aside by him were mere waste paper.

To-day, too, found the favorite hard at work at the Czar's own
writing-table, Alexander restlessly pacing the room, for Fräulein
Ilmarinen alone had been granted audience that day.

Zeneida presented herself at the appointed hour. She was dressed in deep
mourning, her golden hair forming a striking contrast to her sombre
attire.

The Czar advanced to meet her, but received her with marked coldness.

Araktseieff feigned not to see her; did not lift his eyes from the
papers before him.

"Fräulein Ilmarinen," said Alexander, "you desired to speak with me
personally. You may speak."

"Will your Majesty forgive the boldness of my request, but I have papers
to place before you which the owner intrusted to me on sole condition
that I delivered them personally into your own hands. These papers form
the diary of the late Princess Sophie Narishkin!"

With a deep sigh the Czar exclaimed, "Poor child!" his voice trembling
with agitation.

"It was her last wish, and I must fulfil it."

"You were with her, then, in her last hours?"

"And afterwards. She had sent for me."

"It was you who closed her eyes?"

Zeneida bowed her head silently.

"I thank you," said the Czar, and, taking from her the white-bound
diary, he held out his hand to her--a soft, thin hand--but the action
was not a cordial one.

Zeneida kissed the hand.

"Have you any wish, Fräulein Ilmarinen?"

"Only one, sire! That you should graciously please to read the last
three pages of Sophie's diary _in my presence_."

The Czar glanced back, as though to ask Araktseieff's permission. Then
only did he resolve to accede to her wish, and, opening the diary, he
read.

He bit his lips to conceal his emotion. But Zeneida well knew what it
was he was reading; she knew the whole contents of the diary, as well as
those last confused lines written by the convulsed hand of an unhappy
child, looking forward with yearning and dread to the cold embrace of
death. And the Czar, as he concluded the last page, looking up at
Zeneida, saw that her eyes were filled with tears.

Mutely he nodded his head and sighed.

"She wanted me to read this to exonerate Pushkin, did she not? She
wished it so. She had a great, noble soul!"

"Indeed she had, sire!"

"And it was at her desire; and Pushkin was only fulfilling her last
wishes in acting as he did?"

"He could not have done otherwise."

"I believe it. He could not have done otherwise. And yet I cannot
reconcile myself to the thought that he did it--that in the very same
hour that he had covered the face of one bride with the funereal veil he
could draw the bridal veil over the face of the other! He had to do it!
And yet it seems incomprehensible to human understanding how there can
be a whole eternity in one short hour of time; how, in one short hour, a
man can fly from the arctic pole to the equator; how, in one and the
same moment, a man can mourn over a dead love and marry a living one!"

"But if he had loved her previously?" asked Zeneida, softly.

"What did you say?"

"If that which he experienced for her who was gone was but the
adoration and boundless reverence for a being of another world, whose
wings were already bearing her heavenward when first he knew her? If all
the affection, tenderness, devotion which led him to the feet of his
worshipped bride were but sacrifices offered at the shrine of a saint to
keep her in life?"

Alexander struck his forehead with his hand.

"You are right! I never inquired into it. Never asked him if the dream
of love were more than a sick girl's fancy? He suffered himself to be
bound by that dream. That was the whole of it. In his heart he loved
another, and would have sacrificed himself for her. It was all my doing,
my fault--for everything I do is faulty, and everything that goes wrong
is through me!"

These words were spoken by the Czar of All the Russias, not in
bitterness, but with the deep melancholy of conviction. It moved the
heart to pity.

Suddenly he turned to Zeneida.

"Do you wish me, then, to grant Pushkin permission to return?"

"No, sire. He is in good hands. Whoever is a true friend to him would
rather desire that he should live a happy life _far from St.
Petersburg_!"

This surprised Araktseieff. He threw his pen down and scrutinized
Zeneida.

"And for yourself, have you no wishes?" continued the Czar.

"I am leaving St. Petersburg to-morrow, sire!"

"And do you not wish that I should send you back your credentials?"

Oh, how proudly she raised her head at the words! She, too, was a queen,
and she proved it.

"Sire, where I am once shown that my presence is unwelcome I do not
remain!"

It was an audacious speech, bordering on treason, and not the manner in
which to address the Czar of All the Russias!

Springing from his chair, it was the favorite and not the melancholy
monarch who hastened to reply to the haughty singer.

"Are you aware, young lady, that there are duties from which a feeling
of wounded pride does not exempt us? To them belongs the respect due to
the throne and ruler, to whom you owe your fame."

Zeneida's bosom heaved; her nostrils dilated like those of a zebra
prepared for the fight with a wolf. Her great dark flashing eyes
threatened to annihilate the favorite; her lips quivered as if with
fever.

"Your Excellency," she gasped, "there are men who have carried gratitude
to their benefactors to the other ends of the earth with them, and who,
though they had the misfortune to lose the favor of their august
protectors, _have not gone home to sing the 'Knife Song'_!"

This was such a smart slap in the face to Araktseieff that he went back
to his seat as though thinking it not worth his while to reply to the
insinuation. Did she really know about it? Had she her secret
spies--perhaps Diabolka?--the gypsy girl could write now!

Instead of his silenced favorite, the Czar now took up the lance. It was
but fair. If the squire defends his lord, surely his lord should defend
the squire.

"Your bitter remarks are in the wrong place, Fräulein Ilmarinen. If
there is one man in Greater Russia who deserves to be looked upon as a
perfect pattern of fidelity and loyalty, that is the man! He who has
been at my side in every battle; has shared with me every danger, yet
never claiming part in my glory; who watches, that I may sleep; who
defies the world, to defend me; who forsakes me never, when all else
desert me; that man is Araktseieff! What hard proofs of loyalty has he
not withstood! How often have his enemies prevailed to banish him! And
yet, as often as I have called, he has returned, without a word of
reproach to me! I struck him a vital blow in exiling his son, yet he
could kiss my hand and say I had done right, and remain loyal to me.
Such is Araktseieff!"

But the favorite could not glory in this imperial recognition of his
services, for, as he resumed his seat and, in order to mark his
contemptuous indifference, opened the Sophien post-bag, the very letter
Jakuskin had mentioned to Zeneida came to hand, and absorbed his
attention to such a degree that he actually became deaf to the sound of
his own praises from the lips of the Czar.

Zeneida saw how his face was working with demoniacal torture; how,
convulsed by nameless horror, it had changed to the semblance of a
maddened spectre; she saw his hair stand on end, his lips become blue,
his eyes start from their sockets.

"Oh, woe is me!" he suddenly roared out, in a tone so brutalized that
the Czar turned round in affright. Araktseieff beat his breast with the
letter, as a man tries to heal his wound with the hair of the dog that
bit him, or of a scorpion with its dead body; then, up from his seat,
"Oh, woe! oh, woe! that I came back! Why was I not there at the time?"
And he flung out of the room like a madman.

The Czar, thinking that a sudden fit of mania had seized the favorite,
endeavored to hold him back.

"Alexis Andreovitch! What is the matter--where are you rushing?"

"Pardon, your Majesty; I must go back to Grusino."

"You will not leave me now? Affairs of state--the country?"

Zeneida, placing herself directly in front of Araktseieff, with arms
crossed on her breast, gave him one look.

That look sobered him for an instant. Compelling his countenance to
resume its cold exterior, while the Czar laid his hand soothingly on his
arm, his official self fought the real Araktseieff for the mastery. But
this time the man conquered. Striking his forehead with the crushed
letter still held in his hand, he burst out:

"What do I care for Russia? What do I care for all this miserable
earth--for the Czar--for all the gods, when they could let such things
happen? Oh, woe is me!"

And, pushing away the Czar's hand, he rushed screaming from the room
like one struck to death. The letter to the Czar he took with him.

"What can have come to the man?" exclaimed the Czar in amazement.

He had but now been investing him with virtues such as had never been
possessed save by that one man, and here this very man suffers himself
to indulge in so coarse and violent an outbreak as would not be ventured
upon before a petty prince, let alone a Russian Czar.

Was there some witchcraft in Zeneida's gaze that could madden the
soberest men, until, flinging down the seals of office at the feet of
their sovereign, they should say:

"What is your country to me? What care I for you and your gods?"

The eyes of the Czar strove to read the secret from Zeneida's face.

The artiste would have withdrawn.

"Stay!"

"If your Majesty commands, I will stay altogether and not leave St.
Petersburg."

"Do you know what ails this man?"

"I do."

"Then speak."



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE TRAGI-COMEDY AT GRUSINO


The double wedding was to be celebrated. The whole of the tenantry had
been commanded to attend. The courtyard of the castle had been thronged
with wondering serfs from early dawn. Two couples--one handsome, the
other loathsome--were to be married that day.

The preparations were on a magnificent scale. For three whole days the
castle cooks had been engaged in making the national dishes. Long floral
walks had been erected in the courtyard; the gateway had been converted
into a triumphal arch by means of wreaths and colored transparencies. In
the centre of the great courtyard was a stage erected, covered with
gay-hued carpets of goat's hair. Upon it stood a table bearing an image
of the Virgin Mary, the covered plate in which were the wedding-rings, a
goblet, bread and salt--in fine, everything required for the ceremony
preceding the marriage service. For there is much to be gone through
before a bridal couple reaches the church portion of the ceremony--much
to be gone through at the hands of the bystanders, the groomsmen,
bridesmaids, and wedding-mother.

The wedding-mother has an important part to play. Until they arrive at
the church doors she is the principal personage.

Daimona is the wedding-mother in this instance. She is marrying one of
her serfs to her slave; she is mother to both. The high-backed chair
upon the tribune is for her. At first sound of the bells the ceremony
begins. From the priest's house the bridesmaids bring the bride in her
bridal array. Diabolka's dress glistens with heavy gold embroidery; a
costly girdle encircles her slender waist, on her neck hangs a fivefold
necklace of gold coins; her head-dress is of precious stones. One might
think she was a princess. From the opposite side resounds a horn, and
the bridegroom, Schinko, is seen advancing with his supporters and
groomsmen; his coal-black, curly hair, falling on to his shoulders,
betraying, despite the national costume, the bridegroom's Indian
descent.

The groomsmen welcome the approaching bride with song, and follow the
bridal pair to the altar. From out the stables the second couple are now
brought. Wild screeches and the squeak of the bagpipe accompany them in
their progress. The pomp of wedding garments only serves to make them
more ridiculous. They are received with mocking rhymes, which seem to
please them highly. Both are very drunk; they kiss every one who comes
in their way; but as they near each other they cut hideous grimaces at
one another; and as they go up to the altar steps the bride gives the
bridegroom a good pinch on the arm, while the bridegroom deals her out a
smart kick with his foot.

This couple is also placed at the table, so that bridegrooms and brides
stand one at each corner.

At the second peal of bells the wedding-mother descends with her whole
retinue from the castle. The retinue is composed of twelve female
slaves, clad in white, who line the steps on either side. The
wedding-mother mounts the tribune alone, and takes her seat upon the
throne.

She is dressed like a queen, and wears a purple mantle; her cap of
marten-skin is embroidered with gold and pearls; her face painted white
and red. She begins the ceremony.

"Schinko, what do you bring the bride for your wedding present?"

And Schinko details what he brings her:

"Two gay-colored beds, a cloak of Karassia cloth lined with fox, a
breastplate with silver buttons, a kokosnik set with pearls, two pair of
red boots, an embroidered linen shirt, twelve zinc plates, a dish, and a
gold-embroidered head-dress and veil--if she behaves well!"

All these gifts were brought round by the bridegroom's supporters, and
severally shown to the guests.

The bride, on her side, gives the bridegroom clothes, ornaments,
household utensils, and, last, a bundle of birch rods, "with which he is
to chastise me when I do not behave well."

Now it is the turn of the second couple.

"Well, Polyka, and what do you bring your bridegroom?"

But this well-assorted couple are not content that one should speak
before the other; one interrupts the other, and they splutter out:

"I, a ragged cloak."

"I, a pot with a hole in it."

"I, a footless stocking in which ten cats could not catch one mouse."

"I, an empty jug that once had brandy in it."

"I, a bed sacking, with no blankets, and that lacks feathers."

The wedding guests laughed themselves ill over this dialogue of the
bridal couple.

"And then twelve pair of 'dubina'!" shouted the bridegroom, with a loud
laugh.

"With two ends to them," returned the bride, with a giggle.

The word "dubina," so soft-sounding in Russian, signifies in the
barbaric English tongue--stick! The sack has found a mouth, the vinegar
jar a stopper, and he his match, grinned the wedding guests.

"Now exchange rings," says Daimona to the couples. "They are in this
covered plate. Those of the one couple are of gold and silver; the gold
one is the bride's; the silver, the bridegroom's. The rings of the
second couple are of copper and lead."

The wedding-mother, removing the silken cover from the plate, signed to
Diabolka to set the example.

Diabolka, taking the gold and silver ring, placed the gold one on her
own finger, and was handing the silver one to Schinko.

Daimona seized Diabolka's hand.

"Not so! You will give the silver ring to Vuk; and Schinko the copper
one to Polyka. _For your bridegroom is Vuk, and Schinko's bride is
Polyka._ That is the arrangement."

A burst of loud laughter followed upon these words. Now there would be
some real fun. Diabolka and Vuk, Polyka and Schinko. The wedding-mother
had the right to marry her serfs as she chose. Her serfs belonged to
her, hand and foot, as did her horses and her asses. She can pair her
serfs as she chooses.

The laughter of the assembled guests grew louder as the two drunken
monsters, at Daimona's words, threw themselves on the handsome prey
given over to them.

Their laughter was only stopped when Diabolka, before them all, gave Vuk
such a blow on the chest with both hands that he went backwards off the
table, and, rolling from the tribune, fell among the people.

Things were indeed going badly.

Daimona, springing towards the table like a fury, struck her fist
violently upon it. At that sound the spectators' laughter suddenly
ceased. The grin was still on their faces, but every sound died away on
their laughing lips.

It was fun no longer.

"You will not take the husband I have chosen for you?" shrieked Daimona,
in fury.

"No," returned the girl, stamping her foot, "no!"

"Dog! gypsy devil! You dare to oppose me--me, who raised you from a
dung-heap!"

"Then let me go back to the dung-heap."

"So you shall! If you will not have the bridegroom I have given you,
then take off the bridal dress I gave you, and be off in the gypsy rags
you came in. But they want something to complete them--the addition of a
thrashing for your audacity. Schinko! Here!"

He himself, her elder brother, her lover, her bridegroom!

Schinko was wearing, as bridegroom, the symbol of his office hanging
from his girdle--the short-handled whip. At his mistress's command he
raised the whip.

"Strike!" ordered Daimona.

The girl, white with fear, held her face between her hands.

"Brother, can you strike me?"

She had even got so far as to fear the lash. Or was it the thought that
it was Schinko's hand which was to strike that made her shrink back? The
gypsy's heart was not hard enough to let him strike the blow. He threw
the whip away.

"Dog, pick up that whip; or shall I have you and her tied together to
the tail of a wild horse? Go on. Slash away until I say enough; fifty
lashes for me, fifty for Junker Jevgen."

Schinko picked up the whip.

Despairing, the girl, flinging herself at Daimona's feet, clasped her
knees, and, sobbing, implored for mercy.

"Ah, you abomination, that's the place for you!" cried Daimona through
her clinched teeth; and seizing the girl at her feet by her long plaits,
she shrieked to Schinko, "Now, have at her!"

With one spring the gypsy, like a panther, was upon them, and, seizing
Daimona by the throat with his left hand, with his right he whipped out
his dagger. Terrified, Daimona released her hold of Diabolka and
defended herself with one arm; the serf's dagger had pierced her
shoulder, the blood spouted high from it.

"Heh! varlets! seize him! help!" stormed the woman.

But not a person stirred among the crowd. Daimona saw that she was left
to herself. She was a powerful woman who knew how to fight; so, freeing
herself from the gypsy's grasp, she pushed him from her, sprang off the
tribune, and rushed towards the castle steps, Schinko after her.

Nor did a hand stir to hinder the serf. The crowd, the whole body of
servants, looked on, and saw Schinko dash after the mistress and wound
her afresh. The woman, turning upon him, began to wrestle with her
pursuer; his dagger was plunged again and again into her breast. Once
more she succeeded in pushing back her adversary, and, darting into the
midst of her women servants, shouted, "Help! protect me!" The women put
their hands to their ears that they might not hear her cries. They all
hated her. Then she was seen flying down the long corridor, screaming
and shrieking, her murderer close upon her heels. Still no one went to
the rescue.

At the extreme end of the corridor was the picture of a saint. Thither
she fled, and fell down before it in beseeching attitude. But the saint
did not stir a hand to protect her. Then rushing to the parapet of the
balcony, she attempted in vain to spring from it.

The murderer slowly comes down the stone steps into the courtyard. A
path is made for him. He ascends the bridal tribune. There, her face to
the ground, lies a girl motionless with terror, shame, and despair.
Close to her the wedding garments. The murderer wipes the blood off his
dagger with the bridal veil, and, taking the girl by the hand, raises
her to her feet. They look each other in the eyes. One look, like a
couple of wild wolves. No need for speech! Then they run, hand in hand,
into the steppe, into the woods--anywhere. No one seeks to hold them
back. They were never seen again.

Who would attempt to find two wolves escaped from captivity, in their
native lair, amid the dwellers of the endless steppes, whether in forest
or jungle? Only once did the two call a halt, where Diabolka, having
reached her gypsy encampment, wrote the letter to Jakuskin, in which she
related the tragi-comedy of Grusino, and of which a copy fell into the
hands of the Czar's favorite, acquainting him with the horrors that had
taken place. The starosts of Grusino had not had the courage to give
him the tidings.

Zeneida acted wisely in having personally related the events to the
Czar; for those who later informed him of what had occurred at Grusino
made a point of causing it to appear that this murder was in connection
with St. Petersburg secret societies. Many were set upon finding the
motive for the deed in high circles, where it was a matter of interest
to keep the favorite from the person of the Czar, and where it was
hoped, by the banishment of the son, to have effected a rupture of the
close bond uniting Czar and favorite. Schinko and Diabolka were hired by
the conspirators.

Was there any truth in this? No one has ever cleared up the mystery. But
if any hand had prepared the blow, it had struck home.

Araktseieff was to be seen tearing through the streets of St.
Petersburg, hatless, with hair wildly streaming. Your orthodox Russian,
when he mourns, goes in sun and snow with head uncovered.

On the day of his flight two great wagon-loads of state papers were
despatched from the favorite's palace to the Hermitage. His orders, his
sword, his keys of office, he sent by his house-porter to the Lord
Chamberlain. And, at the moment of his departure, the thunder of "Holy
Christopher" startled the inhabitants of St. Petersburg out of their
rest. This father among cannons is only fired when a general dies. The
court favorite had himself gone to the commandant of the fortress and
ordered the cannon to be fired. The commandant had no choice but to
obey. Araktseieff was commander-in-chief of the artillery. When the
firing was over the commandant asked:

"What was the name of the deceased general?"

"Alexis Andreovitch Araktseieff!"

Some days later the Czar had terrible news of Araktseieff. His reason
had entirely left him.



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE HERMIT


Only when Araktseieff had left the Czar did the emperor realize how
completely alone he was in the world.

There was not a man in whom he could place confidence; in every one he
saw an enemy, a conspirator; and his true friends, if he still possessed
any, he had imbittered by Araktseieff's recall. His generals were
disaffected by his not supporting the Greeks. Secret treaties were
directed against him. Those who were already apprised of his declaration
of war, and had sufficient energy to act counter to him, had left the
field at the beginning of operations.

On Araktseieff's return to Grusino he had hurried without delay to the
mausoleum, and, barring the door behind him, had cast himself down
beside Daimona's coffin, and for two whole days nothing was heard within
but his bitter sobs. He would eat nothing, would make no answer to words
or entreaties. "Daimona" was the only sound he uttered.

He had loved that woman as only giant beasts love their mates; when the
hunter has shot the female he may shoot the male, for it will not leave
its dead. For two whole days Araktseieff's household in vain besieged
the door of the mausoleum; Chevalier Galban's representations also that
he should come out and take care of his valuable life were fruitless; he
paid no heed to his faithful followers. In vain they called him their
sweet, good master, "sweet friend," "Alexis Andreovitch"; he was deaf to
their voices.

On the third day Photios, the Archimandrite of the Monastery of St.
George, came to the mausoleum. He is the holy man, to receive whose
blessing hundreds of thousands make the yearly pilgrimage to the
monastery from all parts of Russia. The decree of the saint is as much
esteemed as is a papal bull.

When Czar Alexander I. gave into the hands of Prince Galitzin, the
freethinker, the portfolio of Public Instruction, the Archimandrite,
going up to the Czar, exclaimed threateningly:

"If you take the ancient faith from your people you will shake your
empire to its foundations."

Whereupon the Czar dismissed Prince Galitzin, and the education of the
people was left in the hands of the Sacred Synod. Russians always have
their "living saints," some of them miraculous.

Photios, standing at the door of the mausoleum, called to Araktseieff
within, in language unmistakably plain.

"Abandoned criminal, come out!"

The cries within were silenced.

"Come out from there!"

Araktseieff staggered out. He was scarcely recognizable. His beard,
untouched for several days, stood out in gray bristles round his face;
his eyes were bloodshot with weeping; his lips swollen; his hair lay
wildly matted on his forehead; his general's uniform was streaked with
green mould.

"What seek you in that grave?"

"Death."

"Of course you will die, we all shall do so, as penalty for our sins.
But do you desire to crown your evil deeds by dying unrepentant? Do you
desire to die beside the coffin of her for the loss of whose soul you
are guilty? You were the cause of her sin; will you drag her down to
hell? Instead of thinking of repentance, would you follow her to
condemnation? Defiantly would you burst the barriers of that fearful
next world instead of entreating admission with bended head? Of course
you will die, but not when it pleases you; rather when it pleases your
Maker to grant you death as a reward for penance.

"Your place is in the deep catacombs," continued Photios; "not by the
side of your concubine. Under the rays of the burning sun, in storm, in
the roar of the tempest, under drenching rain, shall you seek
repentance! Stand up! follow me!"

Araktseieff crawled towards him on his knees.

"Now eat!" commanded Photios, throwing him a couple of turnips.

Picking them up, Araktseieff obeyed.

"Now put on these!" And he threw a dilapidated monk's dress towards him,
faded out of all color by sun and rain. Araktseieff, taking off his
general's uniform, put it on. And as saints on this earth do not drive
in carriages, he followed the saint on foot and barefooted to the gates
of the Monastery of St. George.

St. George's is one of the wealthiest monasteries in all Russia. It is
situated near Grusino, at the end of the long peninsula formed by the
river Volkhov and Lake Ilmer. Its gilded cupolas, green from the
verdigris which centuries have brought out on the copper, tend to
spread its fame far and wide. But entrance within the walls of the
monastery oppresses the spirits. Silver dais upon silver dais reach to
the dome; the organ towers aloft, with its pipes of gold; there are
pictures of saints dazzling with rubies; mosaics composed entirely of
precious stones. Upon the elaborately decorated altars lie costly Bibles
bound in silver, and enamelled books of the mass. Over one of the altars
is a picture of St. George in beaten silver. But it is only when we come
to the "treasure chamber," with its priceless store of mitres, crooks,
crowns, pearl-embroidered stoles, golden monstrances, that we realize
how rich is Heaven's vicegerent--the Church. While the priests who guard
all these treasures wander in among them in coarse cassocks and bare
feet, that the world may see how poor is man.

But the most jealously guarded of all the treasures stood before the
altar. It was a granite pillar enclosed within silver rails.

On the granite was engraven: "Upon this spot knelt Czar Alexander,
attended by his faithful servants, the Archimandrite Photios and Alexis
Andreovitch Araktseieff, in the year 1818."

Thither Photios brought the statesman, that he might see his name
perpetuated beside that of the Czar.

"So high you had raised yourself. Now come and see how low you have
sunk!"

The Archimandrite led the penitent back to the cloister and showed him
his, the Archimandrite's, cell. It was a space six feet broad by eight
feet long. But there was one luxury in it: it had a window through which
sunshine penetrated. His bed was a coffin roughly put together; his
_prie-dieu_ a stone hollowed out by constant kneeling; a jug and a bowl
for the daily _kwas_ the sole furniture of the cell. Yet all this was
luxury compared with what awaited the penitent.

In the catacombs of the cloister were caves hewn out of solid rock, just
large enough to contain a man kneeling or recumbent; a small hole in the
heavy iron door let in air. Total darkness reigned. These caves were
inhabited by the whilom great, powerful aristocrats, masters over
hundreds of thousands, now no longer masters of their own souls. It is
not tyranny, not the power of the sacred hierarchy which holds them
bound here, but their own blind zeal. Despising, hating the world, they
are self-condemned to the awful imprisonment. The catacombs of the
cloisters of St. George and of Solowetshk ever harbor numbers thus
self-condemned to a living death.

It pleased Araktseieff.

Lying upon his straw he passed days and weeks. His door was kept locked
by day, only to be opened at sound of the vesper bell, when he went to
seek for food, for food is not brought to penitents. Only at dusk may
they steal into the cloister garden to seek for mangel-wurzel, samphire,
potatoes, and such like produce of the earth, their sole sustenance. One
day Araktseieff came across a still more remarkable penitent than
himself.

He, too, had once been a distinguished bojar; but none knew what his
real name was. Here he was only known as "Little Father Nahum."

Nahum did not even allow himself the luxury of a ragged cassock. His
sole covering is a rush mat woven by himself, his white hair and gray
beard flow wildly down over his dirt-begrimed limbs. Nahum does not
allow himself lodging in a cave. In summer he sleeps in pools, in
winter he creeps into a dung-heap. To kneel day after day in his cave is
not humiliation enough for him; he prostrates himself across the
threshold of the church door, that those who enter may walk over him,
kick him, spit on him. To gather fresh roots out of the earth and eat
them Little Father Nahum looks upon as sinful gluttony. He seeks his
evening meal from the dust-heap; what is thrown there is his sustenance.

Araktseieff had been doing penance three weeks in the catacombs when,
one evening, as he was returning with a bundle of leeks in his hand, he
came upon Nahum feasting off his self-laid dinner-table, the dust-heap.

"Ah," said Little Father Nahum, accosting the new-comer, "I have found
so much to eat here to-night I can share with a friend."

"What has Providence provided for you?"

"Mouldy cheese."

"All right. Give me some."

"Here it is. Take it all," returned Nahum. "He who hankers after a
penitent's food should have it all given up to him."

And he handed him the mouldy cheese, with the paper in which it had been
wrapped and thrown upon the dust-heap. Truly, loathsome food! But
Araktseieff's attention was not so much arrested by the contents as by
the paper in which the cheese was enclosed. It was a letter, and in it
Araktseieff at once recognized the handwriting of the Czar. His blood
surged within him. The Czar's writing a cover for stale cheese! And then
the contents! It was a letter addressed to Photios.

"Call him to you. Speak to him in the name of holy religion; strengthen
him in the faith. Admonish him to preserve his life for the good of his
country, which is beyond all other considerations. Thus will you
preserve to the empire a servant of inestimable loyalty, and to me a
faithful friend whom I sincerely honor and esteem."

And this was the paper chosen as a cover for mouldy cheese and thrown
upon a dust-heap!

"Well, eat away, man," murmured Little Father Nahum, and, taking up the
cheese which Araktseieff had let fall on the dust-heap, offered it him
in the flat of his dirty hand.

Thrusting his fellow-penitent aside, Araktseieff hastened to Photios.

Photios was in the act of reading vespers. Araktseieff did not suffer
him to come to an end.

"Was this letter from the Czar addressed to you?"

"To me."

"And you threw it on the dust-heap?"

"That you might find it there."

"I have found it. My penance is over. I return to St. Petersburg."

"Just what I wished to accomplish."

"You have accomplished it. But you do not yet know what you were doing
when you brought Alexis Araktseieff forth from the grave? You
constrained him back to life and the world, once more to prove the stuff
that is in him. Well may you tremble before a resuscitated Araktseieff!"

"A blessing be upon all your actions!" stammered the Archimandrite, and
continued his vespers.

Araktseieff left the monastery that very hour. He left it with the same
wild frenzy of destruction with which he had entered it, only that then
his desire was for self-destruction; now had returned the old desire
for the destruction of others.

When Araktseieff, after those three weeks, was seen again in St.
Petersburg, every one started back in terror at his appearance. His face
was emaciated, his hair had turned quite white. It was plain to see that
he had risen from the grave.



CHAPTER XL

DISCORDS


Zeneida was strolling alone through the shady winding paths of her park
in the twilight of evening. Nightingales were singing; from a pond close
by came the sound of croaking frogs; ever and anon the song of a boatman
on the Neva broke the stillness, or the distant sound of a violin or
clarinet in an inn, or the howl of a chained-up dog. Again would come
the tones of the passing-bell, announcing a death, or from the vicinity
of Monplaisir a sharp "Who goes there?" "Halt!" sometimes followed by a
shot. Why that shot? Then again the song of nightingales, the croak of
frogs, sounds of clarinet and passing-bell. These discords found
answering echo in her heart.

Araktseieff's second return was hurrying on the crisis. No sooner had
the Czar passed over the cares of government again to his favorite's
shoulders than he had secluded himself completely in the solitude of
Monplaisir. Just as he had formerly avoided his consort, so now did he
devote himself exclusively to her. He seemed as if he could not live an
hour without her, as though he were endeavoring to atone by this
devotion for his fourteen years of neglect. Now first he recognized the
treasure he possessed and had neglected; now first he perceived that the
wife he loved was ill, that her protracted sorrows, her secret grief,
had undermined her strength. And he trembled to think he might lose her.

But the Czarina was happy. She blessed the sickness which had given her
back her husband. The Czarina's physician, Dr. Stoffregen, had
recommended a milder climate for her through the severity of winter,
perhaps that of Venice; but Elisabeth had answered, "A Russian empress
should not die anywhere else than on Russian soil." And it was this
thought alone which absorbed the soul of the Czar.

Of the devastations wrought by Araktseieff, armed as he was with
unfettered power, none told the Czar. Of all that was passing on the
other side of the poplars of Monplaisir he was ignorant. He was not
informed that Araktseieff's first step was to have the entire household
of Grusino, who had been witnesses to the murder, consisting of ten men
and twelve maid-servants, brought to St. Petersburg to the pillory and
lashed until they were half-flayed, for not having gone to Daimona's
rescue. He was ignorant that the severity he had previously practised as
a system was now, by his thirst for vengeance, increased to gross
cruelty; that he had dismissed high officials of every kind from their
posts without any other reason than simply because they did not please
him; that he was filling the dungeons on mere suspicion; that he had
even cruelly oppressed the poor Finns. Possessing nothing more that he
could take from them, he punished them through that which he "gave"
them, his latest edict being that their toasts at public dinners must
be given in Russian. All this had strained disaffection and discontent
to its utmost limit. Of all this Alexander knew nothing. No. He was
absorbed in devising how to procure fresh air without draught in his
beloved patient's room; how to keep out the gnats; and, among the
flowers for her apartment, how to select those that would not give her a
headache.

And Zeneida well knows what is looming in the distance. Secret societies
are no longer holding meetings; they are agreed what is to be done. The
only question now is--"When?"

The outbreak must be general throughout the empire. The threads are in
Zeneida's hands. The artiste has retired from the stage. Moreover, the
opera is closed during the summer months in St. Petersburg, and she will
not again appear as a member of the Imperial Opera Company, but will
give a concert for a charitable purpose in the course of the autumn. The
day was to be publicly announced in official papers ten days previously.
When the announcement, therefore, appeared that "Fräulein Ilmarinen
would sing for the benefit of the Orphanage" on such and such a date the
conspirators would know that this was the day fixed for the rebellion.
The government organ would itself spread the word throughout the empire.
Thus in her hand are the shears which shall sever the fatal thread; and
the grave foreknowledge of all that it must bring with it is oppressing
her spirit. The rebellion is unavoidable; no one will longer bear the
heavy burden; from ragged mujik to titled magnate, all are yearning to
burst the yoke, and the Kalevaines have more reason to weep than their
fellows. But what is to happen to the imperial pair in the outbreak?
Both have been such kind protectors to Zeneida. The palace had been a
home to her. How will it be possible to save their lives without proving
a traitor to their cause?

And then a second trouble--Pushkin. True, he had promised her he would
withdraw his name from "the green book"; but, when giving the promise,
he had thought he would have the daughter of the Czar to wife. That is
over now, and Pushkin has no further reason to withdraw from the
Northern Union. He, too, is in possession of the conspirators' plans;
there is not a doubt but that as soon as he reads the announcement that
Zeneida will sing for the benefit of the Orphanage he will appear that
day in St. Petersburg, even he must leave Paradise itself to be there.

How is she to hinder this without casting the slur of cowardice upon
Pushkin? The delights of love alone would not be strong enough to hold
him back--a yet stronger motive must be found. And she paces backward
and forward under the trees in the dusk; in her soul reign the same
discords which disturb the brilliant night, and she seeks in vain some
quieting thought.

The Czar has grown melancholy; the Czarina is sick unto death; they live
but for each other; have shut themselves up from the world. Their
example is contagious. Even Prince Ghedimin has become reconciled to his
wife, and no longer visits Zeneida. St. Petersburg society has scattered
itself among the forty islands of the Neva. Every one lives to himself;
all social life is extinct. Every visitor is looked upon suspiciously by
the host as one of Araktseieff's spies. There is an oppressive calm over
everything. People do not even write to each other any more. They
tremble at the black inquisition.

Pushkin gives no news of himself. He sits at home in his desert at
Pleskow. If he keeps silent about his happiness, he has a hundred good
reasons for that silence. It is possible that Bethsaba has written more
than once to Zeneida; but letters are an uncertain medium of
communication. Who knows into whose hands they may fall?

This great calm, this isolation, this striving to keep up the spirits,
began to be oppressive. Chevalier Galban received orders to go from
villa to villa and organize some amusements among the aristocracy.
Husbands were no longer to be tied to their wives' apron-strings.

It was rumored that the lovely Princess Ghedimin would break the ice and
bring society together again by means of a great reception on the day of
the Feast of Masinka, and, in order to make the reconciliation of the
Prince and Princess more publicly known, that Zeneida would be included
among the Princess's invited guests.

The haughty Princess sending an invitation to the equally haughty Queen
of Song, whom the world credited with having been one of the Prince's
flames! It is hard to say which woman has the greater courage, the one
who sends or the one who accepts the invitation.

But Korynthia has made a still more difficult decision. She means to
send Bethsaba an invitation, accompanied by a coaxing, forgiving,
affectionate letter, written by her own hand. And in order to insure the
young wife's acceptance, the Princess intends to offer the prospect of
the imperial pardon. Bethsaba shall have the opportunity of soliciting
forgiveness from the Czar for her own bold step, and the return of
imperial favor towards her husband, banished by the Czar's displeasure
to Pleskow. This bait would be irresistible.

All this had Zeneida gathered from Chevalier Galban.

What did Korynthia hope to achieve by this? What does she aim at in
getting hold of Bethsaba?

It is next to impossible that the young wife should be tempted to leave
her home during her honeymoon, and alone, without her husband, who may
not leave the precincts of his estate. And yet, did she do so, what
would be the consequences?

Zeneida thought she had found in the person of Bethsaba the missing link
in the chain. Now it is her work to fit that link in its place.



CHAPTER XLI

HOW TO ROB A MAN OF HIS WIFE


It must be a poor toy that cannot amuse children. And there can be no
greater children than a newly married couple who are deeply in love with
each other.

There is kite-flying in the park at Pleskow; Bethsaba is in high glee at
her kite always flying straight up and remaining aloft, while
Alexander's is always coming to grief. Her kite, too, is much handsomer
than his. In the form of a dragon, it has two large eyes, a mouth, nose,
and movable ears; while Alexander's is just a commonplace thing, made
out of old scraps of manuscripts pasted together. The wide expanse
affords the two grown-up children room enough to run with their kites.
No eyes to see them but those of the stag on the edge of the forest.

A post-chaise rolls quickly along the highway skirting the park walls;
the postilion blows his horn cheerily.

"I think that post-chaise must have stopped at our gate," observes
Bethsaba.

"So it has. It means either a guest or a letter."

"Oh, I hope no guest," sighed the little wife.

Newly married folk are not hospitable, as a rule. Still, somebody
appeared to have come. The dvornik came out towards them from the
castle. They hastily let down their kites; they must not be caught at
such childish amusements. In the hurry the dragon caught in the withered
bough of a pine-tree and lost one eye.

"What a pity!" murmured Bethsaba, in vexation. "Now my dragon has only
got one eye. Have you a scrap of paper about you to repair the damage?"

"Where should I get it from? Haven't you already seized upon every
vestige of paper to make your dragon with?"

"Do look! Perhaps you'll find some old bill or other."

Meanwhile the dvornik had come up to them.

"Well, Tanaschi, what is it?"

"A letter."

"To whom?"

Bethsaba seized the letter from the dvornik.

"Oh, oh! A woman's handwriting! Take it. A love-letter. Some former
flame writing to reproach you. Read it. Of course it is to make an
appointment."

"You are right enough. It is a woman's handwriting, but addressed to
you, not to me, my dear."

"To me?" cried Bethsaba, in surprise. "Who can have written to me?
Perhaps Zeneida?"

"No, it's not Zeneida. I know her handwriting."

"Perhaps too well. But who else could have written to me?"

And they began guessing who the writer could have been while the letter
passed from one to the other. At last Alexander proposed that the best
way to see who had written the letter would be to open it.

As they saw the signature both simultaneously cried, "My godmother!"
"Your godmother!"

"What can she have written about?"

Presently, as if it were intended for a joke, Bethsaba laughed heartily
over the letter.

"Ha, ha, ha! She wants me to go to the Masinka Fête! Alone! Without
Alexander! 'It is to be a grand affair; the Czar and Czarina and several
foreign princes will be there; I shall have an opportunity to entreat
the Czar to grant Alexander permission to go back to St. Petersburg!'
Ha, ha, ha! Did you hear that, Alexander Sergievitch? My godmother sends
me an invitation to a ball without you! The letter could not have come
at a more opportune moment--I just wanted it!"

And with these words she seized the precious epistle; it just covered
the damage the dragon had sustained, and a couple of pins fixed it in
place--the black seal just forming the pupil of the eye. (The court had
gone into mourning for six weeks after Sophie's death, and society used
black sealing-wax during the period.)

"A large case also arrived by post-chaise," said the dvornik.

"Put it on one side. I have no time now to look at it."

What more incomprehensible than that one of the fair sex should have no
time to look at a ball-dress sent direct from the capital? The dragon
was mended, and ready now to resume its flight in the air.

Laughing and shouting, Bethsaba ran along with the tail of her kite
dragging after her; the second child stood looking on, laughing, while
the dragon disapprovingly waggled its foolish-looking head. While
starting a kite, the flyer has to run back with head turned upward.
Bethsaba, therefore, was not aware that she was running directly against
some one coming towards her from the English garden; and was startled
to find herself suddenly embraced from behind, and a long kiss impressed
upon her face. Then she gave a loud, joyous cry, and the next instant
her arms were round the intruder's neck; and, not content with hanging
upon that neck, she pulled its owner on to the grass, and, rolling over,
kissed her enthusiastically, interposing the most endearing epithets:
"You love!--you darling!--you precious!" Pushkin was fain to go to the
rescue, and help them both up again.

It needed no extraordinary acumen to guess who the guest, so
affectionately welcomed, could be.

"Do not quite strangle me, you little goose!" exclaimed Zeneida. "Look;
your dragon has meanwhile flown away."

"Let it fly out into the wide world, and my godmother's letter with it.
Do you know I have had a letter from my godmother? Do you know she has
invited me to the Masinka Fête without Alexander? Do you know what I did
with her letter? My dragon had a slit, and I mended the slit with it.
How dear and good of you to come and see us!"

"It is the correct thing. Six weeks after marriage it is the
wedding-mother's duty to come and look after the young couple and see
that they are happy together--and if they really care for each other.
Has your husband beaten you yet?"

"Oh, dreadfully," said Bethsaba, pretending to complain. "The last time
it was here!" And she secretly rubbed a place on her arm until she had
made it red; but a redness, Zeneida detected, which had come from no
blows.

"And you, Pushkin, have you been writing many fine verses?"

"Not a line! You know my muse is never active in fine weather. It
requires storm, rain, and snow."

"And your sky has remained sunny?"

"As you see. I have not written a word."

This was very possible. There are times in his life when a poet only
feels poetry, does not write it.

"Why, we have not a sheet of paper in the house," said Bethsaba, whose
woman's instinct whispers to her it is her greatest boast when a poet's
wife can say that it has been through her that the poet has been
faithless to his muse. "We really have not. I had to use my godmother's
letter to make my dragon's eye."

"Indeed! Is that how you treat your correspondence? That is a good thing
to know. I will never write to you then, but, when I have anything to
tell you, will rather come myself."

"That will be nice."

"Or I will take you with me."

To this the same response, "That will be nice," did not come. Clinging
to Alexander's arm she looked up to him, saying:

"You will not let me go, will you?"

Zeneida answered for him:

"To that we shall not ask Alexander Sergievitch. His business it is when
his little wife wants to go visiting to order out the carriage and
horses, and to take care of the house in her absence."

"But I could not go anywhere if I wished it. Do you not see how I am
dressed? It is the Pleskow costume! Alexander tells me it was also the
costume of the first Russian Christian, Princess Olga. And I like it so
much. Admire this sarafan with its many buttons, the pearl-embroidered
povojnyik on my head, my red boots and striped silk stockings!" And with
childish _naïveté_ she lifted up her dress to her knees. "How people
would stare if I were to appear among them in this costume! I have no
other dress; this is what pleases my Alexander to see me in!"

She told the truth. The ball-dresses sent her were not her own property
yet; she had not accepted the present.

Alexander drew his little nestling wife closer to him.

"We have become thorough peasant farmers."

"Heaven grant that you may remain so!" thought Zeneida to herself. "I
fear, however, that some day you will be leaving wife and village, and
it will no longer be the pearl-embroidered cap upon your wife's head you
will then consider the greatest adornment, but the Phrygian cap you will
be running after!"

That which Dante omitted among the tortures of hell was that a woman
should be condemned to see the man she loves, who might have been hers,
revelling in the love of another woman, and she his wife. Had Zeneida's
love been that of ordinary women, it would have mattered little to her
that the man, round whom her fetters had been cast, should, sooner or
later, be dragged by these very fetters to the grave. The joys of the
present would have outweighed the tortures of the future, the dread
secrets of eternity. But so dearly had she loved Pushkin that she sought
for him a happiness in which she had no part. It was an unnatural
situation, and one requiring a nobler courage than most possess. But is
not the woman who devotes herself to play a part in politics an
unnatural, abnormal creation? Upon the altar of politics the heart is
the lamb of sacrifice. In the service of a Moloch sensual passion may
exist, but not love. Those who become political leaders have no longer
father or mother, brother or sister, lover or friend; they recognize no
difference between honesty and roguery, between the laws of God and the
expediencies of man. Hence the pursuit of politics is an unnatural
occupation for women, with whom love and justice are ruling principles.
The Amazon who went forth to war had first rooted out the gentler
feelings.

The possibility of women taking up such a part is only comprehensible in
countries where oppression is so unbearable, so utter, that the thirst
for freedom extends from the starved hearts of the men to those of the
women. The poet-laureate might love the court prima donna, but not the
plenipotentiary of the Szojusz Blagodenztoiga. Between those two lay
"the green book"--a far more efficient obstacle than the green ocean.

But, all the same, the anchorites of St. George's Monastery had not
carried their self-torture to greater perfection than had this woman who
had forced herself to come as a guest to the house where she would be
witness to the happiness denied her, and which she had voluntarily given
to another. And now she has come to guard that happiness against the
storms of the future. And she is not only witness to their happiness
when they are together, but even when his farm-yard or stables tear
Pushkin for a short hour from Bethsaba's side, the young wife can talk
of nothing but to boast of her happiness. No peacock is so proud of
spreading his tail as is a fond wife of telling of her happy lot. She
has so many things to tell. Her husband is a perfect model of virtue and
perfection! And to all this Zeneida must listen with utmost composure;
to see, if the husband were absent over the expected half-hour, how
uneasy and distraught the young wife grows; to read from her face: "Oh,
you dear benefactress mine, my good fairy, my goddess, how gladly, were
you not with me, would I run out to seek him!" And this, too, must she
bear with a smile on her face! Oh, this Moloch!

"Listen, child: my sole object in coming was to steal you away from
Alexander Sergievitch for a time."

"Ah! If you want to steal either, take both of us. Alexander would not
mind being run off with by you."

"Only, as it happens, he is neither invited, nor may he come. You must
accept your godmother's invitation."

"What! The invitation to her ball!"

"There you will meet the Czar and Czarina; they will speak to you."

"I--there--without Alexander?"

"Upon you it depends that Pushkin may be free to go where you go. Your
marriage with him has entirely marred his career. He does not feel it
now, but in the course of a year or two he will remember that formerly
every step he took was accompanied by the clank of spurs. The soul of a
man is not to be confined in a cage like a tame bird, especially when he
has eagle's wings. Be it your task to implore forgiveness from the Czar
for your husband, that Pushkin may proceed on his interrupted career.
Now the meadows are still green; in another month they will be covered
with snow, and the couple condemned to fireside and indoor life will not
be so light-hearted as the one flying their kites in the open meadow."

"Then it is your wish that I should intercede for Alexander's return to
St. Petersburg?"

"Not for all the world! No; a thousand times rather entreat the Czar to
give him a mission that shall take you and him to your own people and
country. Describe to the Czar and Czarina the land in which you were
born, as it lives in your memory, with its genial climate, its aromatic
woods, its fruit-bearing trees. Tell them all the lovely and beautiful
things of it that your memory can recall, and entreat the Czar, as an
act of mercy to yourself, to send your husband there."

"Oh, the tempting thought!" sighed Bethsaba.

"But he will never consent that I should leave him and go away, and stay
days and weeks away from him."

"It would only be one week."

"But that is a century! Oh no! Alexander would never consent to it."

"You leave that to me; I will talk him over."

"Oh, if you succeed in that you will be a real fairy. But what an odd
fairy! Had you wanted to carry off Alexander from me, I could have
understood it; but me from Alexander--that I cannot understand."

"See! here he comes through the garden. Place yourself here at the
window and watch. I will go and meet him. You listen how I am going to
bewitch him!"

"That I am curious to hear."

One intrenchment was already taken. Zeneida hastened to besiege the
second.

Pushkin, crossing the lawn, was astonished to see Zeneida hurrying
towards him.

"Turn back, and let's have a little talk," said she, putting her hand on
Pushkin's arm. "Are you quite happy?"

"One can never be too happy."

"My object in coming is to ask you to spare me a portion of your
happiness. I want to run away with your wife for a week."

"My little wife! What to do with her? Already she loves you ever so much
better than she does me."

"Do not fear. She loves you above everything in heaven and earth, and
all that lies between them. She positively must accept the invitation to
Princess Ghedimin's ball."

The girl wife, watching at her window, sees how her husband vehemently
draws away his arm from Zeneida's retaining hand. Zeneida does not
shrink; she takes possession of his arm again.

"Hot head! She will not be staying with the Princess, but with me; I
will be her chaperon. Since I gave up the stage my house has become
strictly proper; I have held no more frivolous gatherings; since the
Szojusz Blagadenztoiga made its final decision I have had no more
conspirators coming near me; no need for masquerades or riotous
meetings; I live a quiet, secluded life. The Czar has sent me the Order
of the Cross as an amend for my recent dismissal; and, _noblesse
oblige_, the bestarred Zeneida no longer consorts with Diabolkas. So,
have you not the courage to trust your wife to me if I keep vigilant
watch over her?"

"But to what purpose? If you want to beg some favor of the Czar for
me--you little know me!"

The woman at the window saw Pushkin fiercely slash off the heads of the
asters at his feet.

"I know you perfectly well. You have made up your mind to stay on here
at Pleskow, see the grass grow, hunt hares, shoot wild duck, smoke the
house out, play ombre, and discourse of dogs and horses. It will be your
ambition to keep a good cellar, be known as a good dancer, to
occasionally slash an officer or two in duels, and to leave your papers
and periodicals uncut. You would have just strength and energy for such
a life! But there are others interested in your wife's coming."

"Who?"

"First the Szojusz Blagadenztoiga; then the Czar."

"At my little Bethsaba's coming?"

"Do not interrupt me; I must speak quickly. You are aware that this
second return of Araktseieff has made it impossible to stave off
rebellion. His violent measures have had so imbittering an effect that
no one any longer attempts to defend the life of the Czar save I alone.
Perhaps because I am a woman; yet there have been illustrious examples
enough to show that women can be as cruel in the matter of
blood-shedding as men, and even in a more cold and calculating fashion.
Any outbreak initiated by Kubusoff's air-guns or Kakhowsky's infernal
machine, or, as Jakuskin has planned, by an opportune ball, giving the
signal for attack upon the entire imperial family, would have no
beneficial result. It would simply bring about the overthrow of the
empire, the war of the knife and the axe _versus_ bayonet, the war of
rags _versus_ gold lace, inaugurating a reign of chaos which would make
the country bless the return of despotism, and welcome a peace, even
though accompanied by their old fetters. Now the Czar and Czarina must
not be hurt! This reason, not sentiment, dictates.

"My plan is as follows: The Czarina's physician has advised her being
taken to a milder climate. But her Majesty will not hear of leaving the
Russian dominions, and the Caucasus she looks upon as a wilderness in
which it is impossible to live. She gives no heed to the naturalists who
describe the country, saying they are mere flattering official
reporters. But if a young, unsophisticated little bride, presenting
herself to the imperial pair, were to petition as a special favor to be
allowed to go back with her husband to her beautiful native land,
describing this native land with enthusiasm of early and tender
recollection, it is possible that though this request may be refused,
yet the Czarina herself might be attracted to the idea of going to that
lovely land. The Czar worships his consort to such a degree that he
would accompany and stay with her there; with this result, that those
who want to inaugurate the outbreak with the violent death of the Czar
would be constrained to devise some other nobler, more humane, more
politic plan of action. On the Black Sea the Czar will live his life
without cares; here we should have the imperious favorite only to bring
to judgment. The constitution would be proclaimed in St. Petersburg
without blood-shedding; the army would declare in its favor; and Czar
Alexander will be free to choose either to fulfil the universal wish of
his people, and come back as their beloved monarch, or, if he prefer it,
to embark on board a ship in the Black Sea and sail away to seek the
hospitality of--say, the Sultan of Turkey, if he wish it. Anyway, his
life would be preserved."

The young wife at the window sees her husband kiss the hand of his
guest. He is won over already. Zeneida has succeeded in carrying off the
wife from the husband.

"Those whom you love are loved indeed, even when they are tyrants!" said
Pushkin, deeply moved.

"It is the holy cause, not the Czar, I wish to save!"

"Both! Come, I will trust my wife to you! Take her with you! Let her,
with her lark's song, bid the storm to cease!"

Bethsaba standing at the window sees her husband and Zeneida come
quickly back to her. "Truly you are an enchantress!" she thinks.

Pushkin comes in to his wife.

"Only think! your kite has been brought back from the far end of the
town! Here is your godmother's letter, as kind as can be. You must do as
she wishes. How could you refuse an invitation so worded, especially as
Zeneida undertakes to be your chaperon?"

Bethsaba looked at each in amazement, and then raised a threatening
finger and shook it at Zeneida.

"You are a fiend, after all, then. Well, then, come along, and let's see
what kind of ball-dress my godmother has sent me."

This may be called a thorough capitulation.

The box was brought in and opened, the most exquisite of ball-dresses
produced, and, with Zeneida's aid, duly tried on. In it Bethsaba showed
herself to her husband.

"Shall I look lovely? Shall I turn many men's heads?"

"Every one of them!"

"Oh, take care, take care! You must not embrace me; you will crush my
lace!"

This is the way in which a man is deprived of his wife in the very midst
of his honeymoon.



CHAPTER XLII

THE FEAST OF MASINKA


The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is, according to the Russian calendar,
at the end of August, thus twelve days later than according to the
astronomical calendar. By this we see that the Czar of Russia has power
to command even the sun. As, according to the Russian calendar, every
four hundredth year is short of three days, in the course of twenty
thousand years it will be summer in the winter quarter, and winter in
the summer quarter, in Russia. The Czar can even effect this.

However, now it is the beginning of autumn, the best time of all the
year in St. Petersburg. The days are shorter and not so hot; the nights
are moonlight; and, one-third of Russian women being named Mary, there
is a festive tone in all houses; and at night, when fireworks begin,
there are more stars to be seen on the earth than in the sky.

Korynthia, too, was a Mary; hence had every right to celebrate the day.

The summer palace of Prince Ghedimin on the island of the Neva rivalled
in magnificence the Imperial Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The
ballroom was large enough to hold a thousand people.

Among those invited were the Czar and Czarina, the Grand Dukes and Grand
Duchesses, their relatives then staying at the Russian court, the Czar's
brother, the Grand Duke and Duchess of Weimar, the Prince and Princess
of Orange. All combined to add brilliancy to Prince Ghedimin's ball. And
yet Maria Alexievna Korynthia was far more anxious to know if Zeneida
and Bethsaba were coming than about any other of her guests.

Fräulein Ilmarinen and Frau Pushkin had certainly written in most
courteous and gushing terms the day before, stating that they would be
there. Russian women, by-the-way, surpass even French women in the art
of writing flowery notes--especially if they hate each other. But every
one knows the value of such promises. No one can write the day before,
"I shall be having a headache to-morrow," but an hour before the ball
any one can send a note of excuse by the footman, "I am in despair at
being unable to come. I have such a violent headache." Of such excuses
women possess a perfect arsenal.

To the Princess's great content, however, instead of the expected letter
of excuse, both ladies put in an appearance; and in good time, before
the dance music had begun, it being etiquette to arrive before the
imperial guests. Zeneida always knew what was the right thing to do.

Fräulein Ilmarinen was wearing for the first time that evening the order
conferred upon her by the Czar; Bethsaba, the ball-dress sent her by her
godmother. She was strikingly lovely; even the close vicinity of Zeneida
did not detract from her charms.

Korynthia, rising, advanced to meet them; first she greeted Bethsaba as
the married woman, then she turned to Zeneida. Zeneida forestalled her
greeting.

"You forestall me!" exclaimed the Princess. "Of course, _queens_ ever
give the first greeting."

"Not so, Princess; but they who desire to offer their congratulations on
their hostess's name-day."

And the two ladies shook hands. They knew that every eye was upon them,
wondering how they would meet.

Both were well-seasoned warriors.

The ballroom was so arranged that all about were small groves of
exotics, with openings just large enough for a couple to retreat into,
and talk scandal or flirt, as the case might be. Little tables were
there placed, and footmen went in and out handing refreshments.

Korynthia drew Zeneida into one of these floral retreats, and, as they
sat down together, whispered laughingly into her ear:

"You understood me. I expected no less from your clever intellect."

Zeneida, adopting her tone, replied in equally laughing voice.

"That I have brought you the dove out of her nest?"

"Just so--that we have thus become allies?" resumed the Princess.

"An alliance _ad hoc_, in the language of diplomacy," interpreted
Fräulein Ilmarinen.

"For the object of discomfiting a third adversary," filled in Korynthia.

"And meanwhile England and Russia have signed defensive and offensive
alliance--"

"In order, as allied powers, to conquer Paris," laughed Korynthia.

"The same Paris who keeps the golden apple, in order to give it
to--whom?" exclaimed Zeneida, with a peal of silvery laughter.

"You are a demoniacal woman!"

"That I know. Your Highness has said it already."

"How you remember everything! But, to change the subject, three of your
admirers are here to-night. We will soon settle the third of them. See,
your little _protégée_ is already absorbed. Her former admirer,
Chevalier Galban, has caught her like a spider in his web. Do not be
uneasy about her; she will not go back heart-whole. We will see to that.
We understand one another!"

"Perfectly, Princess."

"No harm to her! All loss is gain to her, but I do not think it will be
her last conquest. For any one who has _begun_ as has my goddaughter, it
requires no great sagacity to prophesy how she will _go on_. No need
for us to grieve about her."

"Nor in such a case can we show any mercy."

"So, for the present, peace is concluded between us! After that, war to
the knife."

"I first pull down my flag."

"Oh, that is only tactics, Fräulein Ilmarinen. Women never capitulate.
That we both know too well. Do you know, I have never had opportunity to
see you so close, though I have been so curious to get a good view of
you. Tell me, do you dye your hair with saffron to make it such a lovely
gold color?"

The golden hue of Zeneida's hair was a natural beauty, but she whispered
confidentially to the Princess:

"No; saffron has too pungent a smell. I dye my hair with berberis roots
in which purple snails have been steeped."

"And I never could understand how you get that exquisite complexion. Do
you use violet roots?"

Zeneida laughed; the blush which heightened her complexion should have
been answer enough--could she have told the truth. But she had come here
to lie; therefore answered, in laughing accents:

"Oh, Princess, the preservation of this complexion is a perfect science.
I have an old book, published in the times of Poppæa, which contains the
receipt."

"Oh, among other things does that receipt advise laying a slice of beef
upon one's face on going to bed?"

"Yes, that and other things. I could send you the book; though, in
truth, you do not need it. It would be the Graces clothing Anadyomene."

"Oh, you are as magnanimous an adversary as that French naval captain
who shared his powder with the Englishman and let himself be shot by
him. To that I can only answer as did the Persian king to the
Armenians: 'What use is it to send me your sword if therewith you do not
send me your arm also?' Of what use the secret of the cosmetic if you do
not make me an adept in that bewitching smile which none may resist?"

"Princess, you are just like Napoleon, who had the art of raising a
fallen foe."

"This time we are not foes, but allies."

The common foe (Bethsaba) here interrupted the amicable warfare by
coming up to put the naïve question if she might dance the first
polonaise with Chevalier Galban? She was heartily laughed at.

"You may do whatever you like. You are a married woman now."

What is known as a polonaise in the court balls of St. Petersburg is a
promenade round the ballroom in short dance step, performed by the whole
company according to the fancy of the first couple. We are therefore not
to understand under that appellation the wild mazurka of former days,
when the floor groaned under the stamp of the dancers. That was the
dance of a period when every Polish nobleman was as good as the king;
this is the dance of a time when every Polish nobleman is equal to--a
peasant.

In former times both Czar and Czarina had headed the dance; and it
happened to have been a polonaise in which Alexander had wounded the
feelings of Elisabeth for the sake of the beautiful Korynthia
Narishkin--an insult the former had never forgotten.

The arrivals of the great, greater, and greatest personages put an end
to conversation. Once arrived, people formed themselves into a circle
and waited for the august couple to make the round of the ballroom,
after which the polonaise began.

Zeneida was presented to all the foreign princes, and received so much
homage that in its intoxicating atmosphere she might well have lost
sight of the one intrusted to her care. She was, however, a tried
general in such campaigns, and knew how to keep the whole field well
under supervision, even to the slightest detail. Attentively her eyes
follow Bethsaba. She sees Chevalier Galban, with languishing expression,
whisper in her ear; sees the young wife hasten up to her godmother with
glowing cheek; sit down by her and then listen, surprised and startled,
betwixt laughter and tears, to what her godmother is saying to her. She
even divined what it was that was being said to her. She also saw the
Czarina address Bethsaba, and enter into conversation with her with
gracious condescension. And she saw, moreover, that these thousand
guests here assembled to discourse sweet nothings, to jest, to trifle
away the hours with orgeat, sorbet, and punch, were often the bitterest
enemies, full of deadly hatred, ready at the first opportunity to give
vent to their true feelings; that the men in their uniforms, stiff with
gold lace, their breasts liberally sown with orders, who, hat under arm,
bowed low to the Czar or to each other, were thinking, "To-day or
to-morrow either you or I will be giving each other a 'How d'ye do?'
with our heads, instead of our hats, under our arm"; that she, the
singer, had but to say, "I am singing for the benefit of the Orphanage,"
and in an instant every sword would be out of its scabbard, and the men
now dancing _vis-à-vis_ to each other would be running their swords
through each other's bodies, and the crowned chairs on the dais be
overturned, no one asking themselves, "Who is sitting on those chairs?"
or, worse still, that same dais be turned into a scaffold. Conspirators
and oppressors, murderers and executioners, all assembled in one
ballroom; every one knowing who everybody is so well that when the
master of ceremonies, in mistake, called out, "_Coup de main!_" instead
of "_Tour de main!_" there was a shout of laughter. Only the Czar asked,
"Why are the gentlemen so merry?"

All this Zeneida saw. The secret of every man there lay in her hands.
Ah, she saw, too, very well, what motive the gracious lady of the house
had in giving this brilliant entertainment. In order to seduce a young
wife from her truth? Oh no! But in order to discover the key to a secret
which he to whom it was intrusted had not divulged to any one--not even
to his well-beloved wife.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the departure of the court from the ballroom the whole assemblage,
as etiquette dictated, at once broke up. No one, moreover, was inclined
to stay for the sake of enjoyment on that occasion.

Zeneida, taking Bethsaba under her protecting wings, went off with her
to Kreskowsky Island. In the gondola the young wife was very silent, and
Zeneida purposely abstained from asking her how she had enjoyed herself.
Even after the two women had divested themselves of their ball-dresses
Bethsaba remained dreamy and melancholy. The chill of the river made hot
tea a necessity before going to bed--in the paradise reclaimed from the
marshes lurked ague. When they were alone together, wrapped in warm
dressing-gowns and drinking their steaming tea, Bethsaba broke her
melancholy meditations with:

"But tell me then, is this, too, a part of religion?"

"What?"

"That a Christian wife, should another man choose to say to her, 'I am
wretched, dying for love of you, I will shoot myself if you remain cruel
to me,' be bound to turn her love from her husband, and give it to that
other, that he may not be unhappy--may not be forced to misery and
suicide."

"And they have told you that such is a woman's duty?"

"Yes. And if religion requires that woman's love should resemble that of
St. Martin, who, when he met a shivering beggar, tore off half his
mantle to give it him, I will return to my heathen belief, in which I am
not required to distress myself about the welfare of any one but of my
husband."

"And all this was new to you?"

"I could have cried outright when I heard it. I thought my eyes would be
burned out of my head; I felt contaminated at listening to such words.
The mere separation from Alexander had already made my heart as heavy as
if I were mourning my dead; the very touch of another man's hand in the
dance had pained me as if, in taking it, I were killing a dove; when I
laughed my heart accused me as if I were committing a theft; and with
the laugh came the thought, 'And he has nothing now to cheer him. He is
sighing for me, he is lonely, while I am merry!' And all the time an
evil curiosity was urging me on to hear more, to sound to the very
depths the quagmire from which I was shrinking; and so I feigned to
listen willingly."

"In that you did well."

"It would not have been good manners to run away, would it?"

"You would simply have been lost. A woman should never let it be seen
that a man's seductive arts terrify her; a demonstrative repulse makes
her at once his prey. I was watching you--you behaved admirably. Your
expression was that of a woman who does not understand what is being
said to her, who takes it all as a joke; and by so doing you led him on
to speak still more explicitly."

"That is just what he did. Only think, impertinent fellow! He actually
had the audacity to tell me that for love of me he had bought an estate
but half a day's distance from Pleskow, where he means to be spending
the winter and to be visiting us constantly. I was inclined to say, 'Oh,
please, do not come!'"

"You did well not to say it; rather you should have replied, 'Alexander
Sergievitch will always be glad to see you.'"

"That is what I did say. But then he sighed so deeply: 'Oh, if you will
only tell me one day Alexander Sergievitch is going from home
to-morrow!' I should so have liked to give him a box on the ears for
saying it!"

"But, instead of doing that, with naïve, unconscious expression you
asked, 'What good would that be? You surely would not be coming to see
me when my husband was not at home? All the world would know of it.' To
which he made reply, 'You are right. But you could come to my castle.'"

"How _do_ you know that?"

"From what you have told me and from what I saw. It was then that you
felt inclined to cry."

"He said still more. 'You would have an excellent excuse to leave home
while Alexander Sergievitch is away. Your mother, the Queen of
Circassia, is in St. Ann's Convent in Novgorod. You would only have to
say, "I am going to my mother, who has not seen me since I was a child,
to tell her of my marriage, and ask her blessing upon it."' So even my
poor mother he dragged into this infamy!"

"And upon that, leaving him, you took refuge with your godmother?"

"Did you notice that, too?"

"In doing so you had gone to the right place, and could tell all your
troubles to sympathetic ears."

"Oh, if only you had heard what she did say!"

"I saw."

"How saw?"

"By your face. Every word of hers was reflected on your face. Did she
not say, 'Poor Galban! If only you knew how much he has suffered on your
account! He has actually been on the point of making away with himself.
Then he wanted to bury himself in the catacombs of Solowetshk. It would
but be giving a copper to a starving man out of your wealth. It should
be kept secret; no one should know. It is the way all we women act;
there is not a single exception among us. Besides, it is only paying
back in the same coin. Every one of us is deceived by our husbands; you
and I, and all of us. At the moment that Galban made his confession to
you, you may take it for granted that Pushkin was vowing his love to
some other woman, who would not be so scrupulous as you.'"

"So he really did say; and yet more. This man--whose name my lips can
never more utter--is capable, for sake of me, of exiling himself from
St. Petersburg, of renouncing his brilliant position, merely that he may
live near me! He is capable, in his despair, of killing Alexander, me,
himself, if I torture him longer. Oh, how he has terrified me! As soon
as I get home I will tell it all to Alexander, and, taking his hand in
mine, will implore him to run away to the other end of the earth with
me."

"By so doing you would attain just the contrary to what you desire. Just
this: that Pushkin would be aroused, and, not having been conceded
permission to return to St. Petersburg, would challenge Galban to go to
him, and their duel would end fatally. Do not be afraid of him! Fight
him yourself!"

"I? I fight him? Galban? I, a weak, foolish, cowardly little creature,
who tremble at every word he utters?"

"You tremble and are fearful because you believe your heart in danger.
But how if you knew that the net is not thrown out to catch your heart,
but Pushkin's head--that it is his life against which every mesh has
been woven? Then you would not be a coward."

"What do you say?--that it is against Alexander's life their plots are
directed?"

"Silence! Question no further! When we have retired to bed, when we are
quite alone, and there is no ear to overhear us, I will tell you all,
and will teach you what you have to do. And now put your hair in
curl-papers. The day after to-morrow we have to attend the grand
farewell ball at Peterhof. There you may tremble; there show what a
weak, innocent, timid little wife is capable of when her husband's life
is at stake!"

"If that be so I will not be afraid; I will be bold and sly as a cat! I
have not the courage of myself to pin a butterfly, but the man who
threatens my Alexander I could pierce to the heart. Mashallah! _I am the
daughter of my mother!_"

Zeneida then instructed Bethsaba in a part which she played to
perfection to the end. At present, however, we may not divulge the plot
of the play.

The link had been successfully forged into the chain. At the brilliant
farewell ball given by the Czar to his royal guests at Peterhof, the
Russian Versailles, Bethsaba had the honor conferred on her of being
presented to the Czarina. The Czar had long known her as Sophie's
playfellow. It was he who led the Georgian princess to tell the Czarina
of the land of her birth. Bethsaba, the little Scheherezade, half
closing her eyes that she might not see those around her, began to tell
of the land where winter is unknown. Who could fail to be eloquent when
speaking of his native land? Of sky clear as crystal, of air aromatic
with balsamic fragrance, of woods where the leaves of the trees neither
wither nor fall, of rivers which never freeze, of fields always gay with
flowers, of the mighty ice-covered mountains which shut in the laughing
valleys; and where vital power and buoyancy are diffused in grass,
trees, water, and air, and the dwellers in that sunny clime know neither
sickness nor decay?

That to which all the most learned doctors in the world had been
powerless to persuade the Czarina--the change to another climate--was
brought about by the enchanted chatter of simple, childlike lips.

Taking her husband's hand, the Czarina uttered:

"I should like to see that sunny land."

Those words, "I should like," are often more powerful than any mere word
of command.

Courtiers and conspirators, who at this dazzling entertainment had
grouped themselves about the superb fountains of the Sampson Springs,
had not the slightest conception that in the course of a short ten
minutes one delicate woman, with her rosy, childlike lips would effect
such a complete revolution--that one peal of silvery laughter would
blow to the winds their cannon, their army, their plan of campaign. The
fairy tale of the Circassian king's daughter had this pre-eminence over
all other fairy wonders, that it extinguished the impending outbreak of
a volcano by a drop of water.

This drop of water had shone in the Czarina's eyes when she said:

"I should so like to go there! There I should get well again!"

       *       *       *       *       *

That same evening Chevalier Galban met Bethsaba again. She was afraid of
him no longer; she had learned from Zeneida how it beseemed her mother's
daughter to act.

At the close of the ball the Princess and Zeneida met in the vestibule.
They were waiting for their carriages. From Peterhof to St. Petersburg
people go by road.

The Princess accosted Zeneida with:

"It is settled. I thank you for your co-operation."

(Bethsaba was under the escort of Chevalier Galban.)

"We are quits now."

"The little goose has confessed all. She has gone thoroughly astray. She
even acknowledged that you had helped her on."

"The chatterbox!"

"I fancy that she will be making somebody very, very unhappy."

"So do I."

"Then the fight between us can begin afresh."

"I think not. I renounce any claim to console the unhappy."

"Oh, you do not want to make me believe that you are acting without
personal feeling."

"Certainly not. But what will result from this evening's work will be a
monster needing two mothers. The one revenge; the other love."

"And you choose revenge?"

"I give you the second, Princess."

"I have not yet forgotten the diplomatic saying that two only make a
compact together in order that one may deceive the other."

Meanwhile Prince Ghedimin had come up to conduct his wife to her
carriage. Seeing Zeneida, he started.

"Do just see," exclaimed the Princess, in an affected tone, "how
low-spirited he is! He has grown quite melancholy. For days together I
cannot drive him from my side; he will not stir from me. If only he had
something to talk about! But all he can do is to knit his brows and
ruminate. I do beg of you, Fräulein Ilmarinen, in consideration of our
alliance, to do me a favor. You are a perfect enchantress--just say one
word to him. I am convinced it will cheer him."

"Do you really desire it?"

The look Prince Ghedimin cast upon Zeneida expressed both fear and
uneasiness. He was "the chosen dictator." If Zeneida uttered the words
"I sing," he must forthwith draw his sword out of its scabbard,
exclaiming "I fight!"

Zeneida attempted the magician's feat of curing the Prince's melancholy
with one word.

"The summer has quite left us, Prince, has it not? Winter is upon us."

A sufficiently commonplace remark! Imagine talking about the weather!

Prince Ghedimin acquiesced.

"And I fear we shall have a very unpleasant winter if we 'too' do not go
to the Crimea or the Caucasus to luxuriate in a second summer."

A very ordinary speech! But that little word "too" had electrified the
Prince. He seemed a changed man. His face brightened, his figure grew
elastic; surely a miracle had happened to him!

"Come, my love," he said to the Princess, and, to her amazement, began
humming an air from the overture of the _Czarenwalzers_ as they went
down the stairs.

That woman is surely the devil in person! She says the most commonplace
nothings, and, doing so, brings a dead man back to life.

And yet the Princess has carefully weighed every word spoken by Zeneida.
Which can have been the magical one? There was none. The little word
"too" had escaped her attention.

And it was from that one word that the Prince knew that the Czarina
would go to the Crimea, and with her the Czar. His breast was relieved
of a heavy load.

Chevalier Galban escorted the ladies to their carriage, and Bethsaba,
leaning out of the carriage-window, looked back at him.

"I have caught her!" thought Chevalier Galban to himself.



CHAPTER XLIII

UNDER THE COMETS


In the summer of the year 1825 no oil was needed for the streets of St.
Petersburg, the nights were so light. The first lighting of the lamps
falls on the day the court leaves Peterhof for the Winter Palace. The
lighting of the lamps, on this occasion, was looked forward to by many.

A great plan was in course of operation among the lower strata of
society, which they had imparted neither to the _matadores_ of the
_Szojusz Blagodenztoiga_ nor to the _Szojusz Spacinia_.

A succession of gloomy, rainy days came with the new moon. When on the
fourth day a keen north wind blew away the clouds from the sky, people
were astonished to see near the silver sickle of the moon yet another
wonder, like a fiery sword--a comet. So quickly had it come that it was
only perceived when in its full blaze of glory.

What is a comet?

Scientific men themselves do not know; how, then, can poor ordinary
mortals?

A comet is the herald of pest, of war, of downfall! Let him who does not
believe this show reason why he is unbelieving. In wine-growing
countries it is true that a comet year is said to promise a good wine
year. But that does not affect the people of St. Petersburg, where they
only make brandy. And a comet has no influence upon the increase of
brandy. On the contrary, when there is any trouble brewing in the empire
there is always but little brandy consumed. It is a peculiarity of the
Russian that he does not drink when in great trouble. When the head of
the police learns that in St. Petersburg, instead of a daily consumption
of five thousand casks of brandy, only two thousand are being consumed,
he redoubles the patrols.

The appearance of the comet only heightened the general feeling of
excitement. A comet is the prophet's material symbol concerning which he
can cry, "Look! the fiery sword has appeared too in the heavens!"

When Czar Alexander was leaving Peterhof he gave orders that the Lord
Chamberlain should precede the Czarina, to see that her apartments were
in order on her arrival.

It was evening when the Czar, with a small retinue, neared the capital.
Arrived at Alexander Nevski Monastery, he called a halt, and, going into
the church, commanded that a mass for the dead should be read the next
day. As he left the church, standing on the terrace, he cast one long
look at the capital, lying before him veiled in mist. The distant sounds
came up to him like the roar of the sea; the traffic in the streets, the
murmur of voices mingled together like the buzz of a beehive.

He stood there a long time, lost in meditation. The giant conflicts of a
quarter of a century rose before his eyes out of the sea of mist, and he
experienced that agony almost beyond human endurance--the consciousness
of an approaching end, the mighty tasks of his life still
unaccomplished. He had risen so high that he had half thought himself a
god; he had fallen so low that there was not a man who would have
changed places with him. Napoleon and he had been the dominating
personalities of that quarter of a century.

Nor did that lonely figure on St. Helena look with other feelings on the
ocean surrounding him than does Czar Alexander on the mist falling
thickly over his capital. This mist is vaster than the ocean, because it
is formed by the breath of man; and as many breaths, so many curses
against him--against him, once so idolized.

The only difference between them is that Napoleon's people ardently
yearn to have their conquered hero back, while this conquering hero has
become a weariness to his country.

And that comet in the sky is like an illuminated pen with which an
invisible hand is writing the fate of empires and their rulers amid the
stars. Alexander's spirit was ever inclined to mysticism. He was filled
with forebodings and terrors. He was a believer in fate and its
portents. Comet and moon had both sunk beneath the horizon of the thick
sea of mist.

The Czar had an old coachman, known to every one by his long, gray
beard, which reached down to his girdle. This coachman always drove the
Czar long distances; he was the most faithful servant he had. As, on
returning to his three-horsed troika, Alexander asked:

"Ilias, did you see the comet?"

"I saw it, your Majesty."

"Do you know that the comet is the forerunner of misfortune and
mourning? Ah, well! The Lord's will be done!"

And he gave orders to drive to the noisy city.

People told each other that the Czar was about to take a long journey;
whither was not known. He intended taking the Czarina away from the
inclement climate of the capital to more genial skies; whither he had as
yet told no one. He was himself going first, to secure quarters.
Whenever he undertook a long journey it was his custom to hear the _Veni
Sancte_ in the Church of the Holy Virgin of Kasan. It was his own
church; he had built it, and had had it consecrated, and from its
threshold he would get into his travelling carriage. The entire body of
the clergy would await him there betimes, wearing their richest
vestments; his favorite choir, too, would be in attendance, to sing the
collects. And the murmuring capital whispered to itself, when once
priests, Czar, and Grand Dukes were collected together in the Church of
the Holy Virgin of Kasan: suddenly, at the invocation, "Come, Holy
Ghost!" a determined man would start up from the crypt below, and,
presenting a loaded pistol, would say, "Come down, then, to him!" And
straightway church, holy images, Czar, Grand Dukes, priests, and
choristers would be blown into the sky. An awful thought!

Perhaps to be realized. Perhaps already for days past some bold
spirit--one of the Irreconcilables--has been crouching below in the
crypt, the coffins filled with gunpowder, waiting for the signal of the
bell which calls the faithful together to carry out the awful deed which
shall overturn a mighty empire. The fatality was prevented--forbidden by
the ashes of the dead.

The next day, at early morning, the Czar was not driven to the Church of
the Holy Virgin of Kasan, where the richly clad Metropolitan awaited
him, but to the Chapel of Alexander Nevski, where an ascetic attired in
black, the "Simnik," advanced to conduct him to the mass for the dead.

An official paper has categorically described this ceremony. How the
Czar knelt before the Icons; how the protopope Seraphim placed the New
Testament upon his head, lying prostrate in the dust; how the Ruler of
All the Russias did penance in the poor Simnik's cell, and how the
Simnik told him of the degeneracy of the people. The account being
authentic, it, of course, does not contain a single word that is not
true.

A very different reason was it that had brought the Czar within those
walls. Here rested the ashes of his three dead daughters, side by
side--for he had had Sophie's remains brought here secretly. And it was
these three children, deep down in the earth as they were, who combined
to save their father, calling him to their calm, secure resting-place.

What had the father to say to his dead? The walls alone can make reply.
Official report is silent.

As the Czar left the church, in which he had heard the mass for the
dead to the end, the sun was just rising, its reddish rays gilding the
towers of the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, and the cupolas and cross of
the Isaac Cathedral, through the sea of mist, the hollow tones of the
early bells vibrating long in the stillness.

All sounds were hushed as Czar Alexander looked upon the capital of his
vast empire for the last time. And as the troika, drawn by its fiery
team, rolled rapidly away, the Czar turned to gaze, the better to
impress the scene upon his memory, a scene which the rising mist was
slowly, slowly shutting out from his view.



CHAPTER XLIV

THE MAN WITH THE GREEN EYES


There was alarm, almost panic, in the capital when the news became known
that the Czar had started by the Sea of Azof and the Crimea to the
Caucasus! Now people understood the meaning of the comet! It was the
agent which had upset the calculations of wise men and fools alike.

Fearful curses echoed through the catacombs of the Church of the Holy
Virgin of Kasan when it became known that the Czar had changed his plans
and gone to Alexander Nevski Chapel! The plots, the fulfilment of which
was to shake the world, had been a failure! The Czar had left St.
Petersburg and betaken himself to a remote spot nineteen hundred versts
away, nearer by thirteen degrees to the equator. He had betaken himself
to a land where conspiracies do not flourish; he had escaped the giant
trap laid for him. The plot of the "Free Slavs" had come to naught,
which was to have begun the work of freedom with the immediate murder
of the Czar. Now the plot formed by the "Northern Union" came to the
fore, which was to carry out the constitution planned by "the green
book," either by forcing the Czar to initiate it or by his exile. In
either case, without violence to the crown.

The Czar started on September 13th, seven days before the date fixed for
the grand review. By this means the net of the military conspiracy was
also rudely torn asunder.

The members of the Szojusz Blagadenztoiga hastened to confer at
Zeneida's palace, not waiting invitation. What was to be done now?

Twenty-three among the twenty-four said the whole thing must be begun
afresh. The four-and-twentieth was Jakuskin, who said:

"If all of you fall away, I remain firm. Discuss as you choose; I act."
And with these words he left the meeting.

Hence the chase had begun. As the hungry wolf pursues the hare through
steppes, forests, marshes, so Jakuskin pursued his prey.

The Czar had a six hours' start of his enemy, who fully expected to get
over the ground quickly enough to come up with him. He had a strong
Caucasian mare accustomed to do its twenty hours a day and then graze on
any grass at hand. The rider was worthy of his horse; he, too, could
content himself with a piece of bread and bacon, and take his four
hours' sleep under any shrub by the wayside.

But the pursued went fast. Every day the Czar covered one hundred and
fifty kilometres--_i.e._, a twenty hours' post--only allowing himself
four hours' sleep. He was also accompanied by a large escort; but that
was no impediment to Jakuskin's plan.

Once to stand face to face with him was all he needed. He knew the way
in which the Czar travelled. First a picket of Cossacks, well in advance
of the rest of the cortege, that the Czar might not be incommoded by the
dust of their horses' feet. Then in the first carriage the Czar, easily
to be recognized by his coachman, Ilias, his long beard fluttering like
a couple of flags on either side the carriage. With him is his adjutant,
Count Wolkonsky. The Count is a small, undersized man; the Czar a man of
splendid physique--tall, athletic, with a head small in proportion to
his size. Impossible not to recognize him.

If only Jakuskin could get in advance of his intended victim! But this
he could not do. The pursuer's worst hinderance was the moonlight,
which, turning night into day, enabled the imperial cortege to travel
continuously, and thus prevented his stealing a march. Fortunately, on
the seventh day, when they reached Kursk, the sky suddenly clouded over
and stormy weather set in. The moon no longer replaced the sun, and
driving by night was impossible--but not riding.

This gave hopes of overtaking the Czar. But these hopes also were doomed
to be frustrated.

He was to experience that nothing is impossible to the great of the
earth. When the Czar is in haste even darkness must yield. Once when
Jakuskin, galloping in the pitch darkness over breakneck paths, had got
nearly up with the escort, it was but to see that the Czar's way was
illuminated. Men carrying lighted torches were riding on either side of
the imperial carriage.

"All the better!" thought Jakuskin to himself. But when he reached the
high-road, he saw that as far as the eye reached, at a distance of
three hundred paces, were fagot heaps, serfs standing beside them with
lighted matches; and as the Czar approached, one fagot heap after
another, blazing up, lighted the way. This went on till break of day.
The Czar rattled over the ground by artificial light.

Thus the wolf hangs back, gnashing his hungry teeth, when he sees
fire-light. These bonfires along the highway destroyed his calculations.
He must give up the pursuit; now he might allow himself time for sleep.

He did not move from the hut in which he had taken shelter for a whole
week, till the second cortege came up with the Czarina. She travelled
more slowly; that which had taken the Czar twelve days she accomplished
in twenty-four. Jakuskin followed on her track. The journey came to an
end at Taganrog.

Taganrog is a seaport on the Sea of Azof. It is a modest little town
which has twice been entirely deserted by its inhabitants, having once
been made over by the Russians to the Turks; the next time, at
conclusion of peace, by the Sultan of Turkey to the Czar. At present it
is inhabited by Greeks. It was only due to the chance throw of a knife
that it did not form the site of the capital of the empire. When Czar
Peter conceived the idea of founding a new capital on the sea he was in
doubt whether to build it in the Finnish marshes or the Tartar steppes.
The throwing of a knife decided it. If it had fallen point downward
Taganrog would now be St. Petersburg, and the cupolas of Isaac Cathedral
would be reflected in the Sea of Azof instead of in the Neva.

Jakuskin knew beforehand that the Czarina would not be staying here.
There was not a single garden in the whole town. No one planted a tree
lest his neighbor should gather the fruit. The first cutting wind that
blew would teach the Czarina's physicians that a place is not Italy
because it happens to be a certain latitude. The Czar would seek some
place in his vast empire for his beloved invalid to rest where the trees
are green all the year round. He has two places to choose between,
Georgia and the Crimea--both countries a paradise to the Russians, who
for eight months in the year are accustomed to see nothing but icicles
about them.

Hardly had the Empress Elisabeth installed herself in the castle at
Taganrog when the Czar started upon his voyage of discovery. He set out
in the direction of Novocserkask.

Jakuskin concluded that he would go on to the Caucasus. All preparations
were made to that end--post-horses and escorts bespoken as far as
Tiflis. Easy to choose a point where to lie in ambush.

But the Governor of the Crimea, Prince Woronzoff, came, and had so much
to tell of the lovely climate and surroundings of the Crimea that the
Czar, suddenly altering his itinerary, turned back; and Jakuskin only
first knew of the change when he had got on a day's journey before the
Czar.

Once more he posted after him until he reached the marshes of the Dead
Sea, where the evil spirits of malaria await the traveller. He did not
catch up with the Czar until his arrival at Simpheropol, reaching it at
the very moment when the whole city was blazing with illuminations in
honor of its illustrious guest.

But the Czar did not go out again to enjoy the brilliant sight. Tired
out, he had gone to bed. Jakuskin learned that the horses were ordered
early next morning; the Czar was going to visit Prince Woronzoff's
far-famed palace in Jusuff.

Jakuskin caught up the carriages at Bagdar; they were empty. Leaving his
carriage to pursue its way along the high-road, the Czar, on horseback,
accompanied by his escort, had taken the steep mountain-path of Tsatir
Dagh, a distance of some five-and-thirty versts.

The Czar's whole journey was conducted in as capricious a manner as if
it had been dictated by some one knowing that he was being pursued, and
as if this zig-zag progress from valley to valley by impassable paths
were intended to deceive.

And how many favorable opportunities had Jakuskin missed! The Czar had
felt so free from care among the simple Mohammedan populace that he had
wandered for hours on foot and on horseback among the exquisite gardens
and woods. As he strolled along the lovely valley of Oriander, in full
bloom, he had said, meditatively, "Here I would fain spend the rest of
my days!" Torturing care, melancholy's dark phantom, found no place
here; they were as effectually scared away as were the conspirators. At
his physician's earnest entreaty, at length leaving the sea-coast, he
turned to the interior of the peninsula, to the whilom capital of the
Tartar Sultan, Bakcsi Seraj; and in the palace of the former Ghiraids
passed the night.

All through that night and the following day there sat at the gate of
the palace, beneath the cypresses which have made Bakcsi Seraj so
famous, a dervish. That dervish was Jakuskin.

At length he had found the Czar. Wrapping himself in his burnous, he sat
and waited until the Czar should come forth. He is certain of his
object. In his girdle glistens a good sharp dagger. His hand does not
tremble.

And yet once more the Czar escapes him. He passed close to him; his
dress brushed him by, and yet Jakuskin does not recognize him; for,
dressed as a Tartar chief, the Czar had gone out of the palace quite
alone, without attendant of any kind. Had he but been attended by a
single person Jakuskin must have detected him; but one man alone escapes
notice. The Czar had wished to visit the "Valley of Tears," about which
the bridegroom of his favorite child had written. This romantic fancy
had saved him from the assassin's knife. Thence he went, still in the
same dress, to a Mohammedan mosque and stayed through a Moslem service.
After which, not returning to the palace, he met his retinue at the
Stadtholder's castle. There he found a despatch containing news of the
death of King Maximilian of Bavaria, brother-in-law to the Czarina.

Alexander was alarmed. Should this news have reached his wife it might,
in her delicate state of health, have seriously affected her. So, giving
command to start instantly, he did not return to the palace.

The dervish sitting at the gate awaited his prey in vain. When at length
he heard that the Czar had gone, the latter had already got a
considerable way towards the other side of the isthmus.

And now the pursuit began once more, and with it came to his mind the
saying, "For him who has been chosen by the man with the green eyes it
is in vain to whet the knife." He was growing superstitious--his
imagination filled with green-eyed spectres.

The Czar pursued his way by the Dnieper, thence through the Nogai
Steppe, and over the silk-growing plains of Mariopolis to the shores of
the Sea of Azof, where his beloved consort was awaiting him.

Jakuskin followed close upon his track. As he crossed a bridge, after
passing Orekhov, his horse, stumbling, broke his leg. Jakuskin had to
proceed on foot. It was not far from the post-house; thither he went. A
horse he must have at any price.

The postmaster led him to the stable.

"Look, my lord, I have not a horse left. The Czar has just passed
through; every horse I had has been taken for himself and retinue."

"And that one in the corner?"

"That horse is not mine. It belongs to a courier just arrived from Kiew,
who went at once to bed and is fast asleep."

"A courier who can allow himself to sleep on the way cannot have any
very urgent business. Perhaps I can persuade him, for some good gold
pieces, to sleep on until I have reached Mariopolis on his horse, whence
it shall be sent back to him."

"You can try it, my lord!" It was not such an unheard-of thing in Russia
for a courier to sell his horse from under him.

"If he will not lend me his horse I'll put a bullet through him,"
muttered Jakuskin to himself as he entered the guest-chamber.

A young officer of a lancer regiment lay on the bed wrapped in his
cloak.

"Good-day, comrade," said Jakuskin.

"Don't talk of good days," returned he, his teeth chattering. "I am
shivering all over. That confounded Caucasian fever has laid hold of me
on the road. It's all up with me. And I had a despatch to deliver into
the hands of the Czar himself wherever I might come up with him. General
Roth sent me--delay is most serious. And I cannot sit my horse! I say,
my dear fellow, do me a good turn and take charge of this despatch.
Take my horse. The Czar has gone to Taganrog Hasten after him! Give him
this despatch--into his own hands. Those were my orders! As for me, I
shall only be able to report myself to him in the next world. Lose no
time, I entreat you."

Nothing could have been more welcome to Jakuskin. A despatch which must
be delivered into the Czar's own hands--the Czar!

"Heaven be with you, comrade! You may die with an easy mind. I will
faithfully carry out your commission; and if you have a betrothed I will
write her where you breathed your last, and will send your mother your
watch and chain. You could not have found a better substitute."

The officer probably died and was buried in that picturesque steppe.
Jakuskin, mounting his horse, placed the despatch intrusted to him in
his breast-pocket.

But the horse given over to him was a sorry jade, and not accustomed, as
his other had been, to the steppes. He could make but few miles a day,
and whenever he came to a bridge his rider had to dismount and drag the
animal across. He would not go over a bridge.

Owing to such a bad mount he did not reach Taganrog until four days
after the arrival of the Czar.

One day Jakuskin found out that the Czar intended going from Alapka to
Mordinof. Now there was but one road to it, and that only a
bridle-path--a path called by the natives "the ladder." It well merited
its cognomen, rising so steeply up the mountain-side that sometimes the
horse has to force its way through narrow clefts in the rock.

Jakuskin hired a Tartar guide, who was to lead him through the forest to
the summit of "the ladder."

Before dawn, in the dead of night, he made his start, to be there before
the Czar. He was dressed in the costume of a Tartar huntsman, a
double-barrelled gun slung over his shoulder. Emerging from the thick
forest, he saw the steep mountain path before him. Over a spring,
gushing from out the rocky wall, grew a bush some ten feet distant from
the path. The path itself was intercepted here by a cleft in the rock,
across which a narrow bridge had been thrown, only wide enough for one
horseman to pass at a time.

The most favorable spot possible for an ambush.

"Hi, lad! How green your eyes are!"

The man laughed a hollow, low laugh, as though out of an empty cask.

"You're right; my eyes are green." He spoke, and disappeared in the
thick underwood.

Bethsaba's tale came into Jakuskin's mind. He drew back behind the tree,
loaded his gun, and waited.

A vulture flew over him with hoarse scream; he took the waiting man for
a corpse, so motionless was he.

At length was heard the long-expected signal. The path groaned beneath
the tramp of horses. The horsemen must perforce pass quite close to him.
He could aim as slowly as he pleased.

Only when the horsemen came up did he see how he had been the sport of
fate. They were only outriders; the company passed; the Czar was not
among them.

Where could he be?

"Confound you, you fellow, with your green eyes!" said Jakuskin, with an
oath. "You will be making me into a superstitious fool!"

There was no sign of the Czar. He had escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a delicious autumn day, such as is only to be met with in the
enchantingly beautiful mountains of Tauris. The air is so pure that the
distant ranges are brought near; silvery threads of gossamer flutter
from every branch; the autumnal tints are an exquisite mixture of gold
and red; the turf is strewn with pink anemones. That little spot of
earth is the orchard of the world. There is a perfect forest of
fruit-trees here, groaning under their ripe loads. Fallen apples and
pears cover the ground. Blackbirds sing their praises to the owner of
the woods, who grudges of his plenty neither to the wanderer nor to the
birds of the air. The giant trees, which in other countries only bring
forth wild pears, are here laden with luscious fruit sweet as honey.
What can be gathered with the hand is the passer-by's; the rest is the
property of the owner.

Czar Alexander was delighted with the wealth of fruit in this
fairy-land. He began to believe in Bethsaba's fairy stories.

In one place, where the path led up through two rocky walls, the sound
of bells came wafted down below.

The Czar, accosting a Tartar who was coming down the rocky path towards
him, asked:

"Where are those bells which are ringing?"

"In St. George's Monastery," was the answer.

"Who built a monastery in this wilderness?"

"It is the former Temple of Diana. Among its ruins the black monks, who
came here from Mount Athos, have settled."

"So this is, then, the famous Temple of Diana in Tauris?" returned the
Czar, suddenly recalling to memory the tradition of the lovely priestess
of Artemis, Iphigenia, of whom poets from Euripides down to Goethe have
sung. "And is this temple a monastery now?"

The Czar never passed by a church without entering it. And here was an
attraction over and beyond his yearning for the sacred building. It was
a piece of historical antiquity, a relic of classic times, as well as a
Christian asylum in a Mohammedan province.

"How does one get to the monastery?" he asked the Tartar.

"By a footpath which forks off from the ascent and leads round past the
monastery to the regular path again. The horses would have to be sent
on; the way can be only accomplished on foot. It is somewhat difficult
to find. I could guide you."

The Czar was now more than ever anxious to see it; so, alighting from
his horse, he ascended the path with the guide to the Temple of Diana.
It led through a thick forest. On either side picturesque groups of
trees lined the way; wild vines festooned the branches, forming a green
roof overhead, from which hung bunches of little round grapes, called in
Tartar language "kacsi." Other fruit-bearing trees abounded; among them
towered two thorn-bushes bearing plums--the one rosy red, the other
waxen yellow. The yellow plum has a large stone; the red one grows in
the form of a grape, like cherry-plums.

"What do you call this fruit?" the Czar asked his guide.

"The yellow is called 'alirek,' the red 'isziumirek.'"

"Gather me some. I should like to taste them."

The guide, hastily breaking off some blackberry leaves, formed them into
a basket and filled it with red and yellow plums.

The Czar was heated from the mountain ascent, and thirsty. The ripe,
juicy fruit, with its pleasant acid, was very grateful to him. He left
none. Only on returning the empty basket to his guide was he struck by
something in the man's appearance.

"Countryman, what peculiar green eyes you have!"

"Yes, so people say. I have never seen my own eyes."

After an hour's walking the Czar and his attendant reached the classic
ruins, now the monastery. He was wet through with perspiration from the
exertion of the long climb on a hot autumn day; still overheated, he
passed through the subterranean passages, visited the caves at one time
appropriated to youths destined for sacrifice, and those secret
hiding-places cut out of the rock whence Orestes had formerly stolen the
golden statue of Artemis. After which he visited the chapel and remained
some time in prayer.

On leaving the monastery he sent to seek his guide, but he was nowhere
to be found. No one had noticed when he left them. The monks themselves
conducted the Czar through the woods on the way to "the ladder," where
his horse and horsemen awaited him.

Thus the Czar avoided passing the yew-tree where Jakuskin lay in wait
for him.

That same day the Czar was forced to confess to his physician that he
was feeling a strange languor in all his limbs, accompanied by attacks
of shivering. But he would not be persuaded to take any remedies, saying
it would pass off of itself, and continued his journey.

He visited the ancient Akhtia, which now bears the high-sounding name of
Sebastopol, was present at the launch of a man-of-war, and inspected the
Pontus fleet. Despite the recurrence of fever, he was untiringly
occupied throughout the day; late in the evening he again went into the
church to pray.

When Jakuskin took the despatch from the dying messenger and placed it
in his bosom the thought flashed through his mind that it might carry
infection; but he dismissed it with:

"Bah! How ridiculous to fear a scrap of folded paper!"

And yet Jakuskin would have done himself and his friends better service
had he taken to his bosom one of the horned serpents which lie in wait
for the traveller by the side of ditches, or in coach-tracks, rather
than that piece of paper.

He thought to himself, "Let the despatch contain what it may, as long as
I deliver it to the man for whom it is intended!"

The story of the despatch was this:

In the Southern Army all preparations had been made for the proclamation
of the Constitution. Pestel--called the Russian Riego--had up to now won
over one thousand officers, including even generals, to the conspiracy.
Pestel himself had been chosen as the future Dictator, who, with the
Southern Army, was to hasten to aid in proclaiming the Greek Republic;
while Ghedimin, as civil governor, was to construct the new republic
within the empire. It had been planned that on January 1st, 1826, the
"Viatka" regiment commanded by Pestel should march into the headquarters
of Tultsin. And that very day every officer not among the conspirators
should be slaughtered. From Tultsin they were to rush on to Kiew, take
the commandant of the First Army Corps, General Osten-Sacken, prisoner;
proclaim the Republic; incite the Poles to rebellion, and declare the
abdication of the Czar. Entire regiments of infantry, hussars, and
artillery had been won over to this scheme, the commandants never even
dreaming what was going on about them. Privates were won over by being
told that the "German" officers were to be massacred. To massacre the
Germans is naturally always a popular idea. The generals at the head of
the army, Osten-Sacken, Wittgenstein, Roth, Diebitsch, were all Germans.

The whole of this bold plot had been wrecked by the weakness of one man.
One among a thousand, a certain Captain Mairoboda, could not act against
his conscience, and confided to his commandant, General Roth, the whole
details of the conspiracy, giving the names of the superior officers,
the leaders of the whole affair.

General Roth had written fully to the Czar, sending his report by an
officer to his imperial master at Taganrog.

The officer was seized by fever on the way, which quickly turned to
typhus; he was unable to press on to Taganrog. Fate brought Jakuskin
that way, that he might be the one to replace the broken wheel of its
chariot. Such were the contents of the despatch he had undertaken to
deliver. With it in his bosom he was himself converted into a witness
against his fellow-conspirators.

When at last he pulled up his poor staggering horse at the gates of the
imperial castle at Taganrog, his first question to the officer on guard
was if the Czar were here?

The answer was that the Czar was here, and had not left his room for
some days past. It was understood that the Czar was ill, but scarce four
hours since an imperial messenger had been despatched to carry the
joyful news to the Czar's mother that last night his illness had
suddenly taken a favorable turn and he was recovering.

"Heaven be thanked!" sighed Jakuskin, while his hand sought his dagger.

Every circumstance combined to favor his awful scheme. The guard of
honor of the imperial palace happened to have been taken from the
"Viatka" regiment, both officers and men of whom had been won over to
the conspirators. Well-known faces on all sides gave him secret looks of
intelligence.

With determined tread he hastened up the staircase. The two grenadiers
on guard at the door of the Czar's room, saluting, let him pass.

In the anteroom was the officer on duty, who greeted him by name as a
friend.

"I seek the Czar, with an urgent despatch."

"Go through. You will find there Adjutant Diebitsch, who will announce
you."

Jakuskin opened the door. At the same time the door was opened from the
inside, and the man coming out and the one going in met on the
threshold.

Jakuskin trembled. The face before him had _green eyes_. Or was it only
his fancy? The man was wearing a Tartar costume; his expression at once
so singular, awe-inspiring, defiant, arrogant! Contempt, scorn, and
sorrow mingled in his look; his eyes glittered like green beetles. As he
pushed by, an icy shudder passed through Jakuskin.

Jakuskin staggered.

"I say!" he exclaimed to the officer, as he pointed to the man passing
through, "who is that fellow?"

"Some messenger or other."

"Did you not notice what green eyes he has?"

"'Pon my word, no. What the deuce do his green eyes concern you?"

Jakuskin passed on to the inner room. Here he found Diebitsch sitting at
a table writing. He seemed in haste, for he did not raise his head.

"Am I permitted to go in to the Czar?"

"You are."

"Is he alone?"

"Alone."

"What is he doing?"

"Sleeping."

"I am the bearer of an urgent despatch to him. May I wake him?"

"Wake him."

The general did not look up from his writing--did not observe to whom he
was speaking. Jakuskin resolutely approached the door of the adjoining
room. It seemed remarkable that the man he had addressed had not
perceived, by the wild beating of his heart, what he was meditating! A
door only separated him from his victim--and that door stood open!

The Czar was already very ill on his return to Taganrog. Still he would
hear of no remedies. It is a characteristic trait of Russian czars to
defy illness. They will not believe that Death (their chief agent), who
has been so long in their service, who at their word of command has mown
down rows of men like ears of corn, should ever--brandishing his scythe
backward--cut down his lord and master. They are far too proud to
concede that the pale spectre should ever see their weakness, hear their
groans, limit their wills. Even Death, when he knocks at their door,
they would bid to "wait."

Or, was it not so? Was it that the great colossal figure which, like a
second Atlas, had so long borne the whole world on its shoulders, had
grown weary of the burden? That he who had been accustomed to hear his
praises echoed from the four corners of the earth now shrank from
hearing the murmurs born of revenge and bitterness, and that his soul
yearned for the rest of the grave? Earth has nothing more for him to
do. He feels that he stands in the way of history. He has lost all that
his heart held dear; his last ray of sunshine, his sick wife's smile, is
but a fading light in the sky of evening. Is it not possible that the
giant, weary of life, and becoming aware of a call to another world,
should, far from shutting out that call, open wide the doors, saying,
"Here am I--let us go"?

That day he had so far recovered that his illness seemed entirely to
have disappeared. Even his physician was deceived by the outward
symptoms; and late that evening a courier had been despatched to the
Dowager Czarina in St. Petersburg with the glad news, "Alexander out of
all danger. No further fears for him." (None further than some hundred
thousand attempts at assassination.)

But the next morning the benevolent spirit, which comes alike to kings
and beggars to ease them of their burdens, had appeared to him, saying,
"Come home." For three days and nights Elisabeth had not left her sick
husband's room. She was his constant nurse, her wifely affection his one
consolation.

And to the Czar of All the Russias was granted the happiness--at the
moment when every arm was turned against him, when the altar itself at
which he prayed was undermined, when a whole vast empire was about to
crumble to pieces about him--that for the last time, by the rays of the
rising sun, with the life-giving warmth of the day-star bathing his
brow, he could yield up his soul to Him who gave it with the words "_Ah,
le beau jour!_"--the happiness of having tender hands to close his eyes,
and to cross his arms upon his breast.

Then the sick wife's strength broke down entirely, and she sank
swooning to the ground. The two physicians, hastening to her, lifted
her, and carried her to her apartment. The third man, who had been
witness to the dying scene, hastened back to the study to send off the
despatch to the Czarina-mother announcing the death of the Czar, giving
the messenger instructions to make all speed in order to overtake the
courier of the previous night, and, if possible, precede him. After
which his next care was to send off a letter to the Grand Duke
Constantine, in Warsaw.

At that moment Jakuskin had entered.

Diebitsch hastened on with his writing, his mood that of Russian cynical
humor. "What is the Czar doing?" "Sleeping." "Dare I wake him?" "Wake
him if you like!"

Or had there been something in Jakuskin's face which betrayed his plans,
and was that why the adjutant's utterances had been framed so
sarcastically?

       *       *       *       *       *

The conspirator advanced into the room. At that moment no one else was
there. The Czar was alone. Jakuskin saw him whom he had been seeking
lying before him--silent, motionless, with eyes closed, his arms folded
on his breast.

A mighty man--invulnerable--dead. Jakuskin dared not draw nearer. Before
the dead Czar he trembled.

He rushed staggering back into the adjacent room, holding the despatch
still in his hand.

"The Czar--" he stammered.

"Is dead!"

"When?"

"In this very hour."

"Why did I not arrive one day sooner, in order to deliver up this
despatch to him!"

The adjutant thought this exclamation somewhat odd.

"I give you a piece of advice," said he to Jakuskin. "Make this letter
into a bullet, and shoot yourself through the head, and you will
overtake him yet."

In truth, no bad piece of advice! Jakuskin would have done better had he
followed it; instead, he dashed the despatch on the table, and flung
from the room, uttering curses on his fate.

At the gate of the palace he again came across the man of the green eyes
in the act of mounting his horse. Looking at him with his cat-like eyes,
he laughed.

"You came too late, eh?" cried he, and, driving his spurs into his
horse's sides, dashed away.

Jakuskin shivered and trembled in every limb.

Elisabeth, as soon as she had recovered from her swoon, went back to her
dead, and wrote the following letter to the Czarina-mother from the
chamber of death:

      "BELOVED MOTHER,--Our angel is already in heaven, and
      I still am left on earth. Who would have thought that
      I, the invalid, should have outlived him? Mother, do
      not forsake me, who now stand alone in this world of
      care and suffering. Our beloved has recovered all his
      sweetness of expression in death; the smile upon his
      face shows that he is looking upon more lovely things
      in the next world than here on earth. My one
      consolation is that I shall not long survive him, and
      shall soon be reunited to him."

Her presentiment was a true one. Next spring brought her to that land
where Czar and serf alike are happy and there is no difference between
them.



CHAPTER XLV

THE HERALD


The science was not then discovered by which man can compel lightning to
convey his messages, and by means of which any linen-draper nowadays can
flash to the other half of the world the news that a son is born to him,
or extend an invitation to his partner at the other end of the kingdom
to attend the christening next day.

At that period it took eight days before so important a matter as the
death of Czar Alexander could be transmitted, by means of the fleetest
Ukraine pony and its rider, from the remote end of the Russian dominions
where it had occurred to the capital. The first messenger bringing the
news of the Czar's recovery, in fact, arrived before the second. He was
spurred by the good tidings; sorrow went a more leaden pace.

Upon the arrival of the good news, ten members of the imperial house of
Romanoff--the eleventh, Grand Duke Michael, being then at Warsaw with
the Grand Duke Constantine--assembled to early mass in the chapel of the
Winter Palace, the highest ecclesiastical dignitary being the celebrant.
The chapel was crowded with high officials, magnates, and officers of
rank. The choir intoned the collect, "God preserve the Czar!"

As the protopope was in the act of opening the jewelled book upon the
altar, and with trembling voice was about to begin intoning the prayer
for the Czar's recovery, suddenly, in the devotional stillness, a harsh
voice, like the sharp stroke of a bell, called out:

"He is dead already!"

The terrified congregation mechanically made a passage for the
new-comer, whose light-green beshmet was streaming with the mud of many
a Russian province--the black mud of the Nogai steppes, the yellow mud
of Moscow, the chalky clay of Novgorod, and the greeny slime of
Czarskoje Zelo. In his hand the messenger held a letter, with which he
pressed forward through the throng direct to the Grand Duke Nicholas. It
was the Czarina's letter to the Dowager Czarina.

The Grand Duke, taking the letter, opened it himself.

Then, hurriedly going up to the protopope, whispered something in his
ear. Upon which the protopope, covering the crucifix he held in his hand
with crape, advanced to the Czarina Marie, saying:

"Thy son is dead!"

And, the choir breaking off their _Te Deum_, in another minute the
burial hymn mournfully resounded through the chapel:

"Lord! send him eternal peace!"

The service which had begun as a _Te Deum_ had ended as a requiem.



CHAPTER XLVI

"BEATUS ILLE ..."


What, on this earth, is true happiness?

To be able to dissociate one's self from the tussle and tangle of the
political arena.

There is no such happy man on this earth as your landed proprietor, who
only learns what is going on in the political world from the columns of
his daily paper.

In the morning he goes out coursing; starts three hares, two of which
are caught by his terriers; this is a real triumph. The third they let
run; this is a disgrace. But on the way home his dogs seize and throttle
a wildcat; that makes up for the former vexation. His horse stumbles
over a stone; that is a great misfortune. But neither man nor horse are
any the worse for it; and that is a piece of good-luck.

Within easy distance live some men--jolly fellows--to whom he can detail
the morning's doings, and who, in return, give their adventures.

At noon the wife awaits her husband's return to a well-spread board, and
she hospitably presses his friends to stay. Cabbage with fried sausages
is very acceptable after such an active morning! After dinner they find
they are just enough for a game of tarok, and the husband can boast next
day how he has conquered against long odds.

The only political allusion made was when Pushkin named the "fox"
Araktseieff; but even at that the postmaster shook his head
disapprovingly. Why disturb the harmony of the evening by such
reference?

Then, as the company is about to separate, the postmaster suddenly
remembers that he has forgotten to give Pushkin his newspaper, which he
had brought in his coat-pocket.

The paper was opened. Old-fashioned newspapers used to be sent out in
envelopes. What news?

"A military review."

No one reads that.

Well, then, France: The French are content. How satisfactory! Turkey:
Peace concluded with the Greeks. Evident enough! England: The Channel
Fleet returned to Dover. And a good thing too! In Russia nothing of
interest has transpired. Heaven be praised!

After which each, lighting his lantern, repairs home. The master of the
house seeks his wife's room. The good little woman has had time for her
first sleep, and is not angry with his friends for staying so long at
cards. Good little wife! Next day they rise late, because the snow has
fallen so deep in the night that their windows are blocked and they
cannot see out. What matter! One is not merely a Nimrod, but a Tyrtæus
as well. If one cannot go forth to Diana, one can toy with the muses at
home; they are good friends, too.

A man lights his pipe, paces the room, and poetizes, pausing at every
comma and full stop to give his dear little wife a kiss; she, the while,
busied in doing her hair in becoming fashion. If a rhyme be hard to
find, he takes his wife on his knee and looks into her eyes, and--the
rhyme is soon found.

In the afternoon the friends turn up again--the postmaster, a gentleman
farmer, and a landed proprietor. They have not been deterred by the
heavy snow. Two had driven over; for the third, Bethsaba had sent the
sledge, that the party might be complete. She set out the card-table.

"It is paradise--perfect paradise!"

But once the serpent succeeded in wriggling into paradise.

At the end of the game, when the long score had to be reckoned up, in
order to see how many copecks had been won, the postmaster was fain to
turn out all his pockets to scrape together enough small coin wherewith
to pay his debts. In so doing he extracted several letters.

"No news to-day?" the gentleman farmer asks him.

The only newspaper in that part came to Pushkin, so the neighbors always
came to him to hear the news.

"What are you twaddling about? Did I not bring a paper yesterday? Do you
think a press correspondent can afford to lie every day? Quite enough to
have to do it three times a week. Poor devil! he must bless the
intermediate days. If you must have a paper, read yesterday's."

"So we have, from beginning to end."

"I bet you've not read about the review."

"Right you are. Hand it over."

And it repaid the trouble of reading. For it stated that each regiment
of guards quartered in St. Petersburg had severally taken the oath of
allegiance in the chapel of the Winter Palace. And why not, if they
liked to do so? It would do the soldiers no harm. Ah, but it was to Czar
_Constantine_ that they had sworn allegiance.

"Czar _Constantine_? Who ever heard of a Czar Constantine?"

In the great confusion the press had _entirely forgotten_ to officially
announce the death of Czar Alexander.

"It's a slip of the pen," quoth the postmaster. "Perhaps the
correspondent was drunk. Why should they not get drunk, poor devils,
just once a year?"

So the matter dropped. The writer of the article in question had been
celebrating his name-day too freely, had got mixed, and had written,
instead of Alexander, Constantine.

In the next number, under _errata_, the mistake would be rectified.

But the next number brought no correction; rather the "error" was
repeated twofold, threefold--all edicts being published in the name of
"His Majesty Czar Constantine."

The death of Czar Alexander was never officially announced.

The worthy news-reading public only saw from their Sunday papers what
was going on. These papers gave full details of the funeral services
held in all the churches of St. Petersburg, and the official odes to the
dead, which sang the fame of the deceased Czar in Russian, Latin, and
Greek.

After that no one wondered that future edicts were promulgated in
Constantine's name; he was the Czarevitch, and, according to Russian
laws of succession, heir to the throne. That the people did not love him
did not affect the question. What had the people to do with it? The
soldiers had sworn him allegiance, and the soldiers are the empire.

And what matters all this to those "happy folk" in the country-house?
Their home was dear to them in Czar Alexander's time; that Constantine
now reigns in his stead only makes that home dearer.

The Winter Palace has got a new inmate more unwelcome than the last. The
former, as he wandered silent and melancholy among his courtiers, was
hard to serve; how much more the new one, who knouts, kicks, breaks
men's bones, and swears! His cheerful moods excite more terror than did
the other's depression.

On these accounts the officer of the guards, among whose private papers
was a ukase, "by command of the Czar" forbidding him to leave Pleskow
beyond a day's journey, might well be called a lucky fellow.



CHAPTER XLVII

THE TEMPTER


One stormy winter's day, on which not even his neighbors dared venture
out of their houses to make their customary visit to Pushkin, a sledge,
amid the tinkling of many bells, drove into the courtyard, and from out
the midst of his fur wrappings and high felt boots emerged Chevalier
Galban.

A host stifles all inimical feeling towards his guest, the more so when
he comes in such vile weather. The road was invisible from snow-drifts;
it was impossible to see where one was driving.

Pushkin welcomed Galban cordially. The pipe of peace was lighted in the
warm, cosey room. Bethsaba prepared the tea.

"But, in the name of all that's wonderful, what brought you out of St.
Petersburg in such weather?"

"H'm! My dear fellow, that your own experience can give you a good
inkling of! Your windows do not look on to Nevski Prospect either! You,
too, have your reasons for being here."

"Right you are," said Pushkin, blowing the smoke in blue rings into the
air, which rings gathered together over Bethsaba's head, as an aureole
over the head of a saint; and, ostentatiously drawing his wife towards
him, he put his arm round her waist as he said, "This is my reason!"

Galban laughed. "Well, I certainly cannot lay claim to such a reason! As
far as I am concerned, it is _Veteres migrate coloni_" (Old cottagers
take to wandering). "The world is topsy-turvy. The old set have to fly
for their lives. Even Araktseieff is smoking his pipe at Grusino."

"That surprises me. Czar Constantine was his ideal. And I know that
there is no one Araktseieff loves better than Czar Constantine."

"Yes; if Constantine were the Czar, I, too, should have known what I was
about; but he is not."

"Not Czar?" said Pushkin, amazed. "But the papers give his name in all
proclamations."

"But, my dear Alexander Sergievitch! You a writer yourself, and yet are
naïve enough to believe what is in the papers?"

"The devil! But one must believe them when they announce that the Senate
has proclaimed Constantine to be Czar, and that the household troops
have sworn the oath of allegiance to him."

"All the same, Constantine is not Czar. We live, my friend, in an age of
miracles and absurdities. Official papers do not publish everything;
still, in St. Petersburg people pretty well know what is happening. When
Constantine was proclaimed Czar, and from Grand Dukes to guards all had
duly sworn the oath of allegiance to him, the President of the Senate,
Lapukhin, produces a sealed packet, upon which was inscribed, in the
late Czar's handwriting--'To be opened in cabinet council after my
death.' The seals were broken, and within was found a document in which
Grand Duke Constantine, the Czarevitch, renounced his succession to the
throne in favor of his younger brother, Grand Duke Nicholas. A second
document contained in the packet was Alexander's will, wherein he
states that he had accepted Constantine's renunciation of the throne,
and naming Grand Duke Nicholas as his heir."

"So, then, Constantine is not Czar, but Nicholas. That is plain."
Pushkin said this in a tone from which it was easy to infer that it was
a matter of indifference to him.

"Not quite so plain as you think. Grand Duke Nicholas refuses to accept
the succession. He is a follower of the old régime, which suffers no
changes, and now the war of high-mindedness runs high between St.
Petersburg and Warsaw. Grand Duke Michael, the third brother, acting as
intermediary, goes from one brother to the other with the request that
he should accept the crown."

"Anyway, a display of great brotherly love, unexampled in the world's
history. Up to now princes have been more apt to dispute a crown!"

"And what makes the farce complete is that two accomplished facts,
contradictory to each other, have to be surmounted. It is an
accomplished fact that Constantine has been proclaimed Czar and cannot
relinquish the throne; and, equally so, that he has taken to wife
Johanna Grudzinska, a Pole, a Catholic, and only of aristocratic birth,
three circumstances which render it impossible for her husband to wear
the crown. And so, on the one hand, Constantine _cannot_ relinquish the
throne; on the other, he _cannot_ ascend it."

"For all I care, let him stay where he is."

"You, in your Tusculum, can afford to make cheap jokes; but what are all
the poor devils about the court to do in such an imbroglio?"

"Especially as his wife is more to the Czarevitch than his crown!"

"No more of that! With that overdrawn conjugal love we do not throw sand
into other people's eyes. I had opportunity of putting that love to the
proof. I assure you that it needed no magic to have led Frau Johanna to
forget her Grand Ducal lover for a _knightly_ one. At that time she had
not the right to call him husband. Ah! had not a more powerful feeling
swayed my heart"--a suppressed sigh and secret side-glance at Bethsaba
here explained his words--"truly in my hands would have lain the power
to present Grand Duke Constantine the nineteen crowns of Russia--even a
twentieth. It only needed me to have stayed one day longer in the
gardens of the lovely Lazienka."

Pushkin was disgusted at this bragging. He knocked the ashes out of his
pipe. Galban's boasting he valued at the same rate as those ashes.

"I happen to know, however, that the Czarevitch and his wife are so
devotedly attached to each other that Constantine would not exchange
Johanna's head-dress for Rurik's crown."

"But what if that is not due to Johanna's head-dress, but is the fault
of Rurik's crown? A sensible man does not shelter from the storm under a
fir-tree if he means to keep dry, and of all fir-trees the crown of a
Russian fir is the most dangerous in a storm. Every one knows--even the
sparrows twitter it--that the late Czar was only saved by the kind
agency of Caucasian fever from the fatality which awaits every Russian
czar. There are many rumors, even, about his end. People talk of poison.
The _bon-mot_ of Talleyrand is going the round: 'It is really time that
Russian czars changed their manner of dying.' One shudders to say it,
how assassination, treachery, conspiracy, await him who sits upon
Rurik's throne. The very kneeling-chair, the altar, the church wherein
he prays, are undermined. Is not this explanation enough why one brother
vies with another in refusing the throne? The most open expression of
feeling was that which caused the Czarevitch to explain the reason of
his hesitation to the Queen Dowager of Saxony in these words: 'Russian
czars need to have very strong necks, and I am not fond of having my
neck tickled.'"

So outspoken! Only _agents provocateurs_ venture to say such audacious
things.

Pushkin shoved the amber mouth-piece so far into his mouth that he could
not bring out a word. Bethsaba saw that her husband was on thorns, and
left the room. She had divined his wish, and ordered three sledges to be
horsed and despatched to fetch their neighbors, hindered from coming by
the snow-storm.

Galban, meanwhile, continued the conversation.

"You know very well who I was and what I am. My whole life long I have
been a courtier. I loved to serve, to obey, to intrigue. Never did I
have the least inclination to join a league of conspirators. I tell the
truth. But under the present circumstances a man's ordinary loyalty is
of no account whatever. The whole country is at sixes and sevens. Even
political leagues are disrupted. By the death of the Czar the ground has
been cut from under their feet. There is no Czar. Against whom should
they conspire? They have split up into two parties. If Constantine take
the crown, Nicholas will immediately be proclaimed Czar as well; if
Nicholas, Constantine will be set up against him. The soldiers are ready
to fire upon each other; each party will fight for their legitimate
head. Under the counter battle-cry, 'Long live the Czar!' we shall have
a fine revolution breaking out. Nor can one tell who will come out
conqueror. If Constantine's party win the day, Nicholas's followers will
be the rebels; if Nicholas's party gain the upperhand, it will be
Constantine's followers who will suffer. The position of a man like
myself is simply terrible. Whichever side I take to-day, how am I to
tell if, with all my loyal devotion, I shall not to-morrow be proscribed
as a rebel? Under such circumstances a wise man cannot do better than to
leave the chaos to take care of itself and flee to the woods to hunt
wolves. And, I trust, Alexander Sergievitch, that we shall often join in
that healthful pursuit together."

"I am not allowed to go a day's journey from Pleskow."

"Well, then, my estate lies within your boundary--just a short winter
day's distance. Let us get all the enjoyment out of it we can as long as
this chaotic world endures."

Pushkin promised to return the visit shortly.

"Then, now we are friends and companions," continued Galban,
garrulously. "You may imagine the lamentations under the tsinovniks in
St. Petersburg. Next March Czar Alexander was to have celebrated his
five-and-twentieth year of accession. Every man about the court was
congratulating himself on the prospect of ascending a step on this
ladder of rank; instead of being 'vasé blagorodié' that he would become
'vasé vomszkoblagorodié.' Numbers of them had had their uniforms made
beforehand, and had prepared their answers for the forthcoming
examinations. You are aware that all of us, when we get preferment, have
to undergo an examination? Luckily for us the professors give out the
papers in good time; a golden key lets them out the sooner. And now all
this has come to naught. I myself stood on the list, in the third rank
of nobility, as director of the St. Petersburg Theatre, and you figured
in it in the rank of major. Three thousand aspirants! most of whom had
paid pretty heavily for their chances into Daimona's fair hands. Money
thrown away now."

This dangerous conversation was brought to an end by the noisy entrance
of the three neighbors. Never had doors opened to more welcome guests.
They had not, moreover, come to quarrel over involved questions of
succession, but to play tarok; and it is an acknowledged axiom--tarok
before everything!

Chevalier Galban excused himself on the plea that he only played hazard,
and that for high stakes.

"Well, then, sit down and have a game of chess with my wife. But look to
your laurels; Bethsaba plays a good game."

Thus Chevalier Galban settled to a game that is the greatest hazard in
all the world, and is played for the highest stakes of all.



CHAPTER XLVIII

THE MOUSE PLAYS WITH THE CAT


The men flung their cards upon the table as though they meant to make it
suffer, and after every game set to quarrelling. "This card should have
been played, not that, for we were winning!"

The men said things to each other which, had not the cards been in their
hands, must have led to affairs of honor. In the opposite corner of the
room things went much more quietly. Here they only spoke in whispers, as
is customary at chess.

"Sun of my life, now you can see of what a wounded heart is capable! Who
other than a man made a very fool by his love would be paying visits at
such a time?"

"Then you have not fled, in the political chaos, from the capital?"

"I? It is my element, in which I live as a fish does in water. It is my
natural element. There has not been a change of sovereign throughout
Europe at which I have not assisted. When Mars armed himself for the
battle-field I was the Mercury who bore his message. It is in order to
win your smile that I have rent a career in sunder, have thrust a
princely crown from me."

"And if I do not smile?"

"I should go mad."

"Oh, you are going back on your words! The last time we met you vowed
you were mad for love of me; and now are you only beginning to take
precaution against it?"

"Every day I begin to get mad afresh."

"That proves that every day your madness is cured."

"Does not my presence here prove that I am incurable?"

"It was only the snow-storm that brought you here."

"The storm befriended me! It gave me the right to come."

"Oh, our house is always open to guests."

"Our house! What torture in those two words!"

"Shall I say, 'My husband's house'?"

"That is preferable! That manner of speaking in the plural only beseems
kings, not even queens."

"Russian women are no queens; they serve a praiseworthy custom of
antiquity."

"But your province is to make slaves."

"I have heard tell that the Turks once conquered a citadel which they
had been permitted to enter as guests. Do you not perceive that you are
misusing the rights of hospitality?"

"Show me by one look that my presence here is obnoxious to you, and
neither storm nor night will exist for me. I will have my horses put to,
and, despite snow-drifts, despite the howling of wolves, I will set out
on my way."

"You are perfectly aware that you could find no reasonable pretext for
such a step--that Pushkin would not suffer it."

"I knew how it was! Check to your king! You will soon have lost the
game. Then you will jump up indignantly, complain of the smoky
atmosphere, and retire to your own room. I shall sit down behind
Alexander Sergievitch's chair and criticise his play. That is the way
the best of friends fall out. One word leads to another. I am
hot-headed, so is he. Finally, I let myself be turned out of doors. Now
do you understand my game?"

"Not yet. I can still castle my king. I will not allow you to leave our
house."

"If you say 'our' house again I will leave it on the spot. The very
thought that the same roof covers me, my happiness, and the robber of
that happiness makes even this paradise into purgatory to me. Check to
your king and queen!"

"Then we shall be compelled to exchange queens. I take yours, you mine.
I will not have you leave me. Who knows, after all, if the angel be as
white as she is painted?" she added, with a fascinating glance at the
Chevalier. Zeneida had thus taught her. "You overlooked this move.
Checkmate!"

"By Jove! you have won!"

"Shall we begin another game?"

"The conqueror has the first move."

"Have you heard anything since of my poor, dear mother?"

"It is well that you have touched on the theme yourself. I assure you,
had you not asked me I would not have started it. And yet it was
principally that which brought me here. The queen wishes to see you."

"Really? Since I was parted from her I have only seen her twice, in the
Winter Palace, on New-year's day."

"Now you will be seeing your mother face to face. I have managed to
obtain permission for you to visit the queen in her convent."

"Have you got it with you?"

"Do you want to show it to Alexander Sergievitch?"

"Oh no. It must be kept secret from him."

"Then leave the permit in my keeping. It is in very good hands. Pushkin
dare not accompany you himself; it were an act of misdemeanor. As soon
as you have opportunity to use it, you can obtain the permit from me."

"Yes. If Pushkin were leaving home for a few days."

"You send to me and I will forward it to you at once."

"But with this sending backward and forward two whole precious days will
be lost. Would it not be better if I were to come and fetch it myself?"

Clever little woman!

"Were this happiness to fall to my lot I would set fire to all four
corners of my castle instantly upon your departure, that, after you, no
other guest should be received there."

"Checkmate! I led you on beautifully! I merely went on chattering to
take your attention off the game. It was a thorough stalemate. And now
you can retire to rest, Chevalier. Good-night!"

Bethsaba left the room. Chevalier Galban, however, rose from the
chess-table with a full sense of triumph; he was convinced that he had
won the game. As a rule he was accustomed to win two out of every three
games he played. The third he usually lost.

The tarok-players had perceived nothing of what had passed. It had been
a fearful battle that had been fought at this table. Alexander
Sergievitch had lost a "solo" with Quint Major, _tous les trois_. It was
a thorough defeat.

"Two kings in my hand, and both taken--a hundred thousand devils!" swore
Alexander Sergievitch.

"Yes, those kings," boasted the postmaster, proud of his achievement.
"We beat every one of those kings!"

"What!" began Chevalier Galban. "You beat kings? Upon my word! A
thorough republican movement!"

The postmaster's interest in the game was so sensibly diminished by this
speech that he proposed adjourning, and the exciting game came to an
end.

Pushkin accompanied his guests to their sledges, then returned to
Chevalier Galban.

"Well, how did your game go with my little one?"

"I was thoroughly thrashed. She played with me like a cat with a mouse.
From whom did she learn to play such a capital game?"

"What, chess? Our dear Sophie Narishkin was her teacher. They used to
play together every day."

But that was not the case. It was not Sophie, but Zeneida, who had
taught the "little one" this game. This time it had been the mouse
playing with the cat to her heart's content.



CHAPTER XLIX

THE ANTIDOTE


Lovely, sunny December days followed on the past arctic weather, with
its snow-storms. Chevalier Galban returned home, having received a
promise from Pushkin to make him a return visit very soon. Post traffic
was resumed; that is, communication by means of sledging was once more
practicable.

The official newspaper outdid itself in dulness. But at the end of the
so-called news of the day was an announcement to the effect that "_on
December 26th Fräulein Ilmarinen would sing in the Imperial Exchange for
the benefit of the Orphanage_!"

The concert was announced eight days in advance, in order that all who
desired to attend should have due notice.

Pleskow to St. Petersburg is two good days' journey. Allowing for the
time for post to reach, Pushkin had six days' notice.

Bethsaba, too, read the announcement, and said:

"Oh dear! How I should like to be there, to hear my dear Zeneida sing!"

Her heart was filled with dread. She, too, knew full well--Zeneida had
told her--what this concert and this singing heralded.

From that moment Pushkin was utterly changed--morose, melancholy.
Bethsaba read in his face as in an open book. Had she not had the key
to the hieroglyphics from Zeneida? She knew exactly what Pushkin was
brooding over; she knew perfectly well that "Eleutheria" was the name of
his old love. And she concentrated all her love upon him to hold him
fast.

Was it such an unheard-of thing for men, renowned statesmen, to forget,
in their domestic happiness, an appointment they had made with friend or
enemy on the battle-field? How often it had happened that great men,
when once they had learned to know "the little world of love," had been
fain to think how good it was to be "little" men! What happy people
Lilliputians must be!

Vain endeavor!

For two whole days Pushkin fought with himself; then told Bethsaba that
he must leave home on December 24th.

Bethsaba never asked whither, nor for how long; she only said, "And you
are not taking me with you?"

"No, love. It would be impossible for you to travel in this cold
weather; the roads are so bad."

"But not too bad for you! Can you not put off this journey?"

"Impossible!" returned Pushkin, irritably.

The tone in which he spoke forbade further question. Bethsaba saw that
the hour of the dreaded danger had come. The poison was already working
in his veins. An antidote must be administered.

Going to her room, she wrote to Chevalier Galban:

      "Alexander Sergievitch is making preparations for a
      journey very shortly. I await your answer."

This significant letter she gave to a footman, with instructions to
convey it to its address as fast as a sledge would take him.

After their conversation, Pushkin, seeing that his moroseness betrayed
him, forced himself to be in high spirits. His friends said they had
never seen him so merry. Bethsaba alone was not deceived.

At last came the morning of the dreaded day. Both rose early, that
Pushkin might not be late in starting. Just as he was getting into his
fur coat, Bethsaba, throwing herself on his breast, said, tremblingly:

"I cannot let you go without confessing a sin which I have committed
against you."

"Against me? What can that be?"

"I have been jealous."

"About this journey?"

"Yes."

"You are a little goose! Are you always going to be jealous when I go
away for a day or two?"

"Only this time. I had been told that you were going to visit your old
love, and that is why you wanted to go alone."

"Was it Galban who gave you this information?"

"He said so when he was here. I asked him the lady's name. He answered
me he would tell it me _if I asked it again_. When I saw you making
ready for departure, jealousy revived in me in all its strength. I lost
my judgment. Kill me! Trample me underfoot! I wrote to Galban,
entreating him to tell me the name of her for love of whom my husband
was leaving me, and asked him to prove to me in writing the statement he
had made by word of mouth. Read what he answers."

And she gave him Galban's letter.

As Pushkin read the letter to the end the world seemed to swim in blood
before his eyes.

      "ADORED LADY,--If you would possess the desired
      document, deign to visit my modest dwelling; I cannot
      intrust it to strange hands.

                        Your ever-faithful slave,

                                                "GALBAN."

Pushkin looked in amazement at Bethsaba.

Trembling, his wife fell on her knees.

"Oh, forgive me! I did not know what I was doing! Do not beat me; I am
punished enough by the shame I have brought upon myself! I am forever
disgraced!"

Pushkin gently raised his wife.

"Do not cry. You have been a foolish child, that is all. In my eyes you
are purer than the angels. And I swear by Heaven that no shame shall
ever attach to you for this. Kiss me, and take comfort."

"And you forgive me?"

"I have nothing to forgive. A woman has the right to demand that her
husband is as true to her as she to him. Such truth I will preserve to
you. Now embrace me, and take good care of your dear little self. On my
return I will tell you who she was at whose invitation I am undertaking
this journey."

Bethsaba knew her well--"Eleutheria."

Pushkin, taking his weapons, sprang into his sledge, giving his coachman
instructions where to drive.

The jemsik shook his head. They would never reach St. Petersburg by that
road.

It was evening before Pushkin arrived at Galban's castle. It was an
old-fashioned building, standing in the midst of extensive pine woods--a
hunting-box.

The antidote was working splendidly.

Happiness had never succeeded in causing Pushkin to overlook an
appointment; but jealousy is a strong antidote. There are men enough
ready to give up love, happiness, means, rank, for freedom; but the
world has not yet seen the man who would sacrifice honor for it. Place
in one scale all the workings of passion, in another those of
jealousy--the latter would weigh heavier. No tyrant in the world is
hated so intensely as is a rival.

Had Brutus been told on the Ides of March that Casca had paid court to
his wife, it would have been Casca, not Cæsar, who would have died.

Zeneida had laid the train cleverly. She knew the whole position.

For months past the two parties had been playing with open cards. Their
plans had long been known to one another by means of secret agencies;
their very names known. But each hesitated to begin the attack. The
members of the constitutional party were to be found among the highest
statesmen, and even generals. That a collision would take place all were
convinced, but none knew when. But there was a key to the exact period
of the outbreak; that key was the day of Pushkin's leaving home. The day
he left Pleskow to appear against his edict of banishment in St.
Petersburg was the signal. Chevalier Galban, Princess Ghedimin, and the
followers of Araktseieff were on the watch for it.

Knowing this, Zeneida had planned the intrigue which would effectually
keep Pushkin out of the charmed circle on the eventful day.

Among certain nationalities her little game might easily have ended
dangerously. Jealousy has often led to fatal results. But in Russia
social opinion is different. At that time duels were almost unknown
there. We saw from Jakuskin's experience that the challenger was simply
despatched forthwith to the Caucasus. Bethsaba risked nothing more than
that her husband should be sent to Georgia, in the event of his
challenging Galban, for Galban was certain not to fight. At the worst,
it would only lead to fisticuffs, and there the strong-wristed country
gentleman would be more than a match for the effeminate courtier.

In order that the noise of his approaching sledge might not attract
attention, Pushkin left it in the road, and, taking his case of pistols
and whip in his hand, walked to the house.

It had a deserted appearance; not even a dog barked in the courtyard. It
was after some time that Pushkin at last succeeded in getting a dvornik
to open the door in answer to his repeated knocking.

"Where is Chevalier Galban?"

"Ah, little master, that I can't tell. He went away yesterday."

"Tell me no lies, or you shall have a taste of my whip! Go and tell him
that some one from Pushkin's is here."

"Ah, soul of mine, you have come, then, at the right time, for the
Chevalier left a letter for the Pushkins. True, he said it would be a
lady who came for it; but I suppose it's all the same if I give it to
you?"

So saying, he drew out a letter from the leg of his boot. No matter if
the scent of patchouli became slightly mixed with the smell of leather.

Pushkin, tearing open the letter, read:

      "MADAME,--I ask you ten thousand pardons; but this
      time it was not your heart but your husband's head I
      was after. I hasten to meet him beside the lovely
      woman whose name is 'Scaffold.'

                                                "GALBAN."

"Drive back!" growled Pushkin to his jemsik. "Drive as hard as your
horses will go to St. Petersburg!"

It was too late. A day had been lost. Pushkin could not possibly arrive
at the scene of action on December 26th. A woman's intrigue had
succeeded admirably. If all else were lost, the poet's head was saved.



CHAPTER L

"DEREVASKI DALOI"


Things had never gone so quietly in St. Petersburg as during those three
months preceding the 26th of December. Night noises, public-house
gatherings, had ceased entirely. In the kabas, instead of the daily
three thousand pots of drink, not more than two hundred were given out.
It is a serious outlook when the Russian people do not drink.

For five-and-twenty days Russia had been without a Regent. What had
occurred during those five-and-twenty days?

The vast empire had had two heads and two hearts: one at Warsaw, the
other at St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, the Viceroy of Warsaw had
been proclaimed Czar; in Warsaw, the Grand Duke Nicholas.

Their youngest brother, Michael, was on a visit to Constantine when the
news of Alexander's death at Taganrog reached him--two days earlier than
it was received at St. Petersburg. A grand gala was going on at the
time, which was stopped at once on receipt of the melancholy
intelligence. Constantine begged his brother to return instantly to St.
Petersburg and repeat his declaration of renunciation of the succession.
The Grand Duke Michael crossed the deputation sent from St. Petersburg.
At the same time that he reached the capital with his brother's fresh
repudiation, Labanoff arrived at Warsaw with documents stating that
Constantine had been chosen, and containing the oaths of fealty of the
army, and the people's address to him bearing a hundred thousand
signatures. Every one had been required to affix his signature, on the
previous Sunday, on leaving the churches; such as could not write had
their hands guided. But Johanna Grudzinska's power was still victorious.
The sealed document bore the inscription, "To His Imperial Majesty."

"I know the contents," said Constantine. "I am to separate from my wife
and espouse the imperial throne. Much obliged! This document is not
addressed to me; I am no 'Imperial Majesty.' Take it back to those who
sent it."

And with seals unbroken he sent back the documents.

The Grand Duke Michael's mission met with similar success. The letter of
Constantine was addressed to Czar Nicholas. He would not receive it.
Constantine had already been elected; the army had sworn allegiance to
him; the people had signed an address; important state papers were being
prepared in his name. It was unalterable.

Michael had to return once more to Warsaw and endeavor to move
Constantine. This time he met the returning deputation at Dorpat, taking
back the bull with seals unbroken.

Thus Russia had no Czar. The republicans said: "All right. If they can't
settle with one, let them try two."

Suddenly came news in St. Petersburg that a seditious rising had been
detected in the Southern Army.

Now neither party could hesitate any longer. Pestel and ten leaders of
battalions were arrested; but this, far from suppressing the
insurrection, only hurried it on.

Late in the evening of the 25th of December Nicholas decided to accept
the crown. This brought things to a crisis.

The manifesto of his accession was drawn up at two o'clock in the
morning, thus could not be made public then and there. On the following
morning the regiments were to swear the oath to the new Czar, without
knowing what had happened to the one to whom they pledged allegiance but
a fortnight before. The conspirators passed the night deliberating what
should be done.

"All is ready for the war of freedom," said enthusiastic Ryleieff.

"But one thing is wanting," answered Zeneida Ilmarinen; "and that is
that the people do not know what freedom is."

"True!" said Ghedimin. "The people do not understand our views. We ought
to have begun by teaching them what is freedom."

"We must begin by freeing the people from their tyrants," broke in
Jakuskin, "then they will soon learn the meaning of freedom."

War was declared. The conspirators, going back to their regiments, took
possession, with their mutinous troops, of the square in front of the
Winter Palace in the mist of early morning. Their watchword was
"Derevaski daloi" (throw away your touchwood). In ordinary gun practice
touchwood was used. Now all hastened to change this for steel and flint.
Then came the cry, "Hurrah, Constantine!" Only Constantine then; and no
word of freedom? But that had been provided for. The mutinous soldiers
set up the shout, "Long live the Constitution!" They had been made to
believe that "Constitucia" _was the wife of Grand Duke Constantine_, and
thus waxed enthusiastic for freedom as the Czar's wife.

Freedom itself lay deep, deep under the snow like a buried acorn,
needing the rays of the sun to awaken it to vitality. On the morning of
his accession, the first day of his rule, the Czar was greeted by the
tumult of a revolution. They were the household troops, the crack
regiments, that rose against him. Their hurrahs resounded from Czar
Peter's Platz to the Winter Palace, which Nicholas had exchanged for the
little, quiet, old-fashioned Anikof Palace, where he formerly resided.
Pale with terror, his generals rushed up to tell him of the danger of
the rebellion. Nicholas had seen one like it before, five-and-twenty
years ago. Then, a little boy, he was sleeping peacefully in his bed,
when his mother, suddenly rushing into the room, snatched him up in her
arms, and ran the length of the dark apartments crying for help. One of
the doors she was passing opened, and a pale man emerged from it. From a
neighboring room came the sounds of a furious struggle--some one within
was fighting for his life. That some one was his father. The pale man,
Count Pahlen, tore the mother and her trembling burden away from the
scene of terror. This episode Nicholas had never forgotten. He, too, now
had a little son, still slumbering in his bed. And he, too, snatching up
the child in his arms, dashed with it down the stairs of the palace. But
before handing over his son to the soldiers he took his wife into the
chapel. There, kneeling side by side, they swore to die in a manner
worthy of rulers of the empire. That moment of terror gave the Czarina a
palsied movement of the head which she never lost in after-life. Then
the Czar, taking his son up in his arms, went out with him into the
courtyard. The battalion on guard at the Winter Palace chanced to be of
a Finnish regiment. Kalevaines, despised as Tschuds by the Suomalai
tribes--they were no Russians--what interest had they in Rurik's empire?

The new Czar, going up to them, his son in his arms, tore open his
uniform, and, presenting his bare breast to the bayonets, said:

"If you have cause against me, fire at my defenceless breast!"

And Pushkin was right.

The feeling of humanity is stronger than the thirst for freedom. It
protects the serf when the Czar persecutes him, and protects the Czar
when persecuted by the serf.

"Fear not. We will protect you!" cried Zeneida's countrymen.

"_Then to you I intrust my child; take care of him. If I fall, he is
your future Czar._" And he threw his pale little successor, Alexander
II., into the arms of the most heavily oppressed of all his subjects.

He knew the hearts of men. By this action he had turned their weapons
from his own bosom upon his assailants.

That one Finnish battalion defended the Winter Palace from the morning
to the evening against the whole revolutionary force.

Nicholas, however, springing on his horse, dashed through the gates,
followed by his generals.

In front of the palace surged a dense mass of the lowest of the low,
roaring out _The Song of the Knife_--its harvest-time had come. Riding
into their very midst, Nicholas said:

"What are you doing here, dear children? This is no place for you."

The people looked at one another.

"Eh! He is a kind man! He calls us his dear children, and tells us so
kindly to go away from here. Let's go home!"

And they dispersed.

Outside the Admiralty he was received by some well-affected battalions.
At their head he marched to the vast Czar Peter's Platz, where was the
insurgents' camp. One-half of the square was occupied by them; the other
half by the troops loyal to him. Betwixt the opposing armies was the
colossal statue on its granite pedestal, with hands outstretched, no one
knows whether to command or bless. One party of insurgents stormed the
castle on the other side of the frozen Neva; the other pressed on
towards the gates of the Winter Palace, Nicholas wandering, meanwhile,
undecidedly up and down the great square, weighing on which cast of the
die hung the fate of his imperial house and empire. He had first
endeavored by every means in his power to avoid the conflict--had sent
the most popular leader of the army, General Miloradovics, to parley
with the insurgents and move them to submission. A ball had struck him
from his horse before he could speak; it was Kakhowsky who had shot him.
The heroic general died in the Czar's arms. Then he had sent the highest
Church dignitary of the country, the metropolitan Seraphim, in full
canonicals, to parley with his enemies.

What cared they now for priests? Seizing the venerable man by his
snow-white beard, they had roared in his ears:

"If you are a priest, read your breviary, and don't meddle to your hurt
in military matters!"

The insurgents received unexpected support. The marines and half the
grenadier regiments joined them. Their numbers grew and grew; the
square echoed with the cry, "Long live the Constitution!"

Then the Czar himself rode up to them. The rebels saw him coming. It was
a temptation to them to see him ride up unattended. A cavalry officer
galloped up to him, a loaded pistol in his hand.

"What is your business?" the Czar asked, threateningly, as he came near.
There was such a spell in his cold look that the foolhardy man, hiding
his face, turned away his head and galloped back.

It was only by force that his followers could tear the Czar away from
the scene of revolt.

It began to grow dusk.

The armies of Gog and Magog went on ever increasing, and darkness added
its terrors to the rest. With night, axe and knife would begin their
work; seventy thousand mujiks would decide who should be Russia's future
ruler!

The generals entreated the Czar to give the signal to attack. He still
hesitated. First, he tried to disperse the insurgents by means of a
feigned attack upon the square of the enemy, and gave the Horse Guards
orders to this effect. They were received by a salvo of artillery, and
the Horse Guards retreated decimated. At that critical moment drums
beating to attack were heard advancing from Morskoje Street, and Grand
Duke Michael appeared at the head of the Moscow regiment. He had just
returned from Moscow, and, hastily summoning those of his own regiment
who had remained faithful to him, advanced against the rebels, and the
fight began.

The noisiest of the insurgents, the heroes of the Bear's Paw, cleared
out of the square at the first volley; the soldiers alone stood fire.
The heroes of freedom fought heroically. The poor soldier, however, who
fell without knowing why or wherefore, perhaps learned in his
death-agony that she for whom he had fallen was a living goddess, who in
some future time would make his descendants happy--the goddess of
Freedom.

Until late in the night they held the square and repulsed the attacks of
the imperial troops.

Then, in the deep darkness, a division of artillery suddenly approached
up Nevski Prospect. This broad, radial street opens in such a manner on
to the great square, which lies between the Admiralty, the Winter
Palace, and Isaac Cathedral, that it commands both sides of the square.

The fire of the approaching cannon might as easily be directed against
the Czar's army as against the rebels' camp; and nearly all the officers
in the artillery were in league with the insurgents! They were received
by the latter with cheers as they unlimbered their guns at the corner of
the street. Of course, they had come to the aid of the rebel army! At
that critical moment Grand Duke Michael, dashing up to the foremost gun,
snatched the fuse from the gunner's hand, sighted on to the mass of the
insurgents, and the first thunder of cannon belched forth into their
ranks a fire of destructive grape.

That first cannon-shot decided the fate of the day and of the epoch.
Others followed. The whole division turned their destroying force upon
the insurgent army.



CHAPTER LI

THE NAMELESS WIFE OF A NAMELESS MAN


But, meanwhile, what had become of the Dictator--the leader--the active
spirit of the whole movement? He had been seeking all day for a man he
could not find--himself.

How should he find him, when he was running away from himself?

The task he had undertaken was neither suited to him physically nor
morally. At the very first step he had become conscious of the awful
chasm into which the whole affair he had undertaken must drag himself
and all concerned in it.

Instead of an enthusiastic people, excited to heroic resolves by the
baptism of fire, he found a mob of soldiers, fooled by the pretext that
their leaders wanted to steal away from them their former Czar, whom,
by-the-way, they hated, but to whom they had sworn allegiance; a
senseless band of soldiery clamoring for "Constitucia," whom they
believed to be the wife of the Czar! What would be the consequence did
they gain the victory to-day? To-morrow some new lie must be fabricated
for them, that they might not find out that it was Freedom for which
they had fought. What was Hecuba to them, they to Hecuba? What had
Freedom and Life Guards in common with each other? How would
"Constitucia" better their condition?

True, their commanding officers had promised them that "Constitucia"
would double their monthly pay; but the people must be doubly taxed if
the soldiers were to get double pay. Is that freedom? And what would
ensue if he for whom they had been fighting, Constantine, were to come
among them? Might he not come from Warsaw at the head of the army he had
brought with him, and say, "You wanted me; here I am. The constitution I
bring with me is not my wife, but a stout stick!" What would follow
then?

And the people? These poor wretches, resigned to rags and misery,
working day by day to keep body and soul together. Seventy thousand
mujiks, representatives of the oppressed of the four corners of the
earth--not the Russian people, but the dregs of all imaginable Slav
races--Finnish, Lithuanian, Lapp, and Wallachian--who do not speak each
other's tongues, who are only united by their common misery. And their
leaders? A set of runaway French adventurers. What do they understand by
Freedom? The wrecking of a brandy-store or plundering palaces and shops.
A mutinous word sets them on fire like straw, and a charge of grape-shot
scatters them like chaff before the wind.

His soul could find no guiding thought. He went hither and thither, and
could rest on no single idea. In the course of his wanderings he came
upon Ryleieff, in whose face were reflected his own feelings. The poet
sadly grasped his hand.

"The time was not ripe," he whispered in his ear, and hurried away.

In another street he met Colonel Bulatoff in mufti. Bulatoff had been
chosen as military leader of the rebellion, and here was he, going
abroad in frock-coat and tall hat. They did not wish to recognize each
other, so passed hurriedly by, one on one side, the other on the
opposite side of the street.

Less than all had he the courage to go to Zeneida's palace. He dreaded
more to look into her face than into the mouth of a cannon. She defied
danger, while he, who had dragged her into it, fled from it. At last,
however, he could no longer delay seeking her. He must cross Moika
bridge. But the toll-keepers would see him; the canal was frozen, so,
descending the steps of the stone quay, Ghedimin prepared to cross the
ice in order to reach the other side.

Scarce had he gone two steps before he heard his name whispered behind
him. Startled, he turned. From under one of the arches peeped a
well-known face--that of Duke Odojefski, a bloodthirsty braggart, who
but that morning would have mown men down right and left; now all his
courage had oozed out, and he was hiding under the arch of a bridge!

"Don't venture near Zeneida's! Her palace is surrounded!" whispered he,
and crept back into his hiding-place again.

What a sight! Odojefski in hiding! The colonel, whose battalion is even
now fighting on Isaacsplatz; the duke, whose palace is among the
grandest of the capital, whose family name is renowned in history, who
himself has claimed a place between Brutus and Riego--in hiding behind a
snow-drift! And what is he about there? Scarring his face with a stick
of caustic to render himself unrecognizable.

Ghedimin lost his head completely. Turning back by the other bank, he
hurried home. There arrived, he wrote on a visiting-card, "I entreat
you, for Heaven's sake, to come across to my grandmother's house. I have
important secrets to confide to you."

This card he sent up by his house-porter to Korynthia. He himself then
repaired to his grandmother's. It was his last refuge.

Without it was already night. The roar of cannon did not cease. The
watch-fires were the only lights in the imperial capital.

       *       *       *       *       *

Good old Anna Feodorovna was still alive among her fortune-telling
cards, her purring cats, and her faithful Ihnasko, with whom she counted
the days still remaining before the New-year.

"Another New-year! What will it bring with it? Who will live through
it?"

It is the day after Christmas day. If two tapers of equal length are
lighted on that evening, one can tell who will die first, the husband or
the wife, by seeing whose taper is the first to burn out.

This time it was the wife's taper.

"Well, God's will be done," sighed the old woman, "if I must go first.
And it is time; I have lived long enough! But I cannot but pity the poor
old man, whose life will be so lonely without me. He must not be told
that I am dead. Let him think I am still alive. And see that every
birthday and name-day he gets one of the red nightcaps I always give
him. Do you hear, Ihnasko?"

"Oh, don't keep on talking so much about dying, your Highness,"
ejaculated the old man, with chattering teeth. "All my bones are
shaking, without that, from the thunder of those cannons."

"Because you are a coward, and because you have never been a soldier.
The idea of being frightened at the sound of cannon that are only
inviting people to join the great Christmas procession! The Czar is now
giving a gala banquet to the court and a display of fireworks to the
people. Do you hear those reports? They are rockets. Now the great set
piece is going off! And when six such volleys are fired, one after
another, it means that the Czar is raising his glass for a toast. Oho!
how often have I attended such festivities! Not one took place without
me. Ah, I was beautiful as a young woman, and my voice was musical as
silver. Czar Paul was constantly asking me to sing him his favorite
song--_When by Evening's Latest Rays_. It is a pretty song still. But I
have no one now to sing it to."

At that very moment came some one who liked to listen to the "pretty"
song.

"Blessed be the Lord of all!" cried Anna Feodorovna, clapping her hands.
"Has her nest-bird remembered his old grandmother? What? You have left
the Czar's brilliant banquet in the lurch, to come and pay a visit to
your poor old grandam on this second Christmas day? Now that is really
very good of you, Ivan Maximovitch. But you must be going back. Don't on
my account do anything to excite the Czar's displeasure. For the favor
of the Czar is like a virgin's innocence; there must not be a breath
upon it. If he has happened to notice that you have left before the
time, seek an audience with him. Confess to him that you came away early
in order to visit your old grandmother. He knows me, and used to be very
fond of me as a little boy. Ah! I was quite a young woman then!"

The old lady was talking of Czar Alexander, only twenty-seven years
younger than herself.

"How often have I hushed him on my lap when, to please his father, I
sang the song he was so fond of--_When by Evening's Latest Rays_. Don't
you know it? Come; I will sing it. Sit down on my footstool and rest
your head on my hands."

Ivan sat at his grandmother's feet. How restful it was to be a child
once more! And the old lady began her song. True, her voice sounded like
some old harpsichord hidden away and forgotten in some king's palace for
five-and-twenty years, out of tune, and with some of the strings broken;
but, all the same, she sang to her grandson:

    "'When by evening's latest rays
    Thou art resting 'neath the trees,
    And a silent peaceful form
    Wakes thee out of sweetest dreams,
    Thy true friend it is who nears--
    Seek, oh, seek, not to avoid him;
    For he thinks of you and brings
    Joy, true joy, upon his wings.'"

Ivan kissed his grandmother's hand for her sweet song.

"But you are so sad to-day, Ivan! Tell me, what is troubling you? Are
you going, perhaps, on some journey--a long, far journey?"

"A very far journey."

"Ah, I can guess whither!" she said, laughing. "You are going to see
your father, my beloved Maxim."

She had guessed truly!

"You are right, dear granny. That is where I am going." (To the other
world.)

"Then take him these kisses--and a hundred more! See, I cannot cry. Old
eyes are forever weeping--that is, when one does not want to weep; when
one fain would, there are no tears to shed."

Ivan Maximovitch wept in her stead. He was such an "affectionate boy."

"Now, you see, you are going away and leaving me here. And going without
having married, without being able to leave me your wife here in your
stead."

"But I have married, granny dear," returned Ivan. "And I came purposely
to-night to present my wife to you."

"Oh, what a happy day! You are married--you have a little wife! A dear,
charming little angel of a wife! And I shall see her soon? That I call
indeed a Christmas present!"

But then the old lady must needs temper the joyful news with a little
reproach.

"But why have you kept this to yourself until after your wedding, when I
have so often told you that I specially wished that your wife should
receive her bridal tiara from my hands? That was not right of you! I
hope she is of noble blood."

"She is a Princess Narishkin."

"I suppose you sought the Czar's permission to your marriage?"

"He granted it, grandmother."

"Then I cannot guess why you should have kept it secret from me. Perhaps
she did not know Russian when you married, and you were obliged to teach
it her first, that she might be able to speak to me, for I know no other
language--I am a Muscovite."

Ivan let her suppose that to have been the reason. It was nothing
unusual. The St. Petersburg princesses know but little Russian--as
little as, at that period, the great ladies of Hungary knew Hungarian.

The sound of the bell at the outer door interrupted their talk. The
rustle of a silk dress was heard in the adjoining room. Then Korynthia
had fulfilled her husband's wish; she had come, at his entreaty, to meet
him at his grandmother's. There were good reasons why Ivan had not gone
to her instead of begging her to come here to him--reasons his wife knew
well. In society they were to be seen, she leaning on his arm, all
affection. But did the husband knock at his wife's door the answer was
"You cannot come in." So it had been ever since the night of the 21st of
June. Korynthia was unusually pale; her expression cold and resolute.

"Thank you for coming," said her husband to her, in a whisper; and,
taking her hand, led her to his grandmother. "My wife, grandmother."

Korynthia bent one knee to Anna Feodorovna, then presented her cheek to
the kiss of the "mummy." To-day she was bent on doing all that was
required of her. Even the old lady's hand--that hand so withered and
parchment-like--she kissed.

The good old woman was beside herself with happiness.

"What a splendid creature! How charming, how lovely she is! How
beautifully brought up! And what an exquisite ball-dress she is wearing.
It is easy to see that she has come from the Czar's ball."

Good old lady! She took Korynthia's gown for a ball-dress. In her day
silk dresses, trimmed with the delicate lace Korynthia wore upon her
dressing-gown, were only worn at court balls. The grandmother had not
seen a fashion-book or interviewed a dressmaker for the past
five-and-twenty years. So she thought it was a ball-dress.

"I do not know how the tiara I have been keeping for you will suit that
dress. Ihnasko, bring me my jewel-case."

The old lady looked out the antique ornament set with pearls and
brilliants, almost worth an earl's ransom, and was in sore perplexity
how to place it upon Korynthia's giraffe-like mode of wearing her hair,
not arranged to support it. Yet she must, at any price, see it worn.

Korynthia suffered herself to be adorned.

"Ah! now you are handsomer than ever! Wearing that tiara, you can well
take her back to the Czar's ball, to be the envy of all."

"No, grandmother, we are not going back," said Ivan. "If you will allow
us we will stay with you and pass our Christmas evening here."

"But what will the Czar say to that?"

"He knows that we are here, and has given us permission to remain."

"Oh, if you have his permission, that is quite another thing, and I
shall be glad to have you here. But how can I amuse you? Can your wife
play ombre?"

"Oh yes."

"But my cards I play with every day are soiled. I should be ashamed to
bring them out."

"My wife will see about getting a fresh pack. Give me permission to tell
her where she will find some."

"Of course, dear boy. Ihnasko, you meanwhile can be getting the
card-table ready. Dear me! How long it is since I had a game of ombre!
Never since the little dark duchess and the general's wife have been
unable to mount the stairs. Then put out tea and cakes. Now some logs on
the fire. We will see who will be the first to get sleepy when once we
have warmed to our game. I know I shall not!"

Meanwhile Ivan began speaking in French to his wife, constraining his
face to wear as calm an expression as though he were merely explaining
whereabouts in his room she would find the cards.

"I am lost. The insurrection which has broken out to-day, and which, I
believe, is already quelled, was secretly instigated by me. Prince
Trubetzkoi was the _nominal_ Dictator; in reality it was I. I was the
guiding hand, he only the mask. Trubetzkoi has already washed his hands
of it; he has been to the commander-in-chief and taken the oath of
allegiance to the Czar. This leaves me alone in the post of danger. The
leadership falls upon me. Nor would I put it back upon his shoulders.
The poor fellow has a young wife who is devotedly fond of him. That I
have taken no part in to-day's revolt helps me not in the slightest,
for, all the same, I was Dictator. If the papers connected with this
movement are discovered I am irrevocably lost, and with me thousands of
the highest in the land whose names are inscribed in a book we call 'the
green book.' This book must be destroyed!"

"Will you intrust that to me?"

"To whom else? All that I have I possess in common with you. My name, my
wealth, my rank are yours; my honor, too, is yours. All this is now at
stake; and you can help me--none other."

"Command what shall I do."

"Oh, do not speak so! It is not command, but entreaty. For what I now
ask of you I crave as ardently as a man craves forgiveness from his
Maker for his sins. That book is in Zeneida Ilmarinen's keeping."

"Ah!"

"I know that you hate her; but without reason, I swear to you! But of
what value is the oath of a desperate man? No feeling has ever bound me
to that lady that could in any way hurt your woman's pride. It was
another tie--far more dangerous to me--but innocuous to you. But you do
not believe me. Nor do I ask it. What I do implore is that in this hour
of supreme danger you should show yourself magnanimous. If you have had
cause of anger against me, forget it for the sake of the honor of the
Ghedimin escutcheon, and lose no time in going to Fräulein Ilmarinen's
house with this key, which unlocks the hiding-place. I well know the
sacrifice I ask of you in begging you to cross that threshold. But I
dare not go myself, for were I to be seen in the vicinity of that house
I should be at once arrested. But no one will suspect you. See Fräulein
Ilmarinen without delay, and tell her of the imminence of the danger, of
which she may know nothing. She may have been informed, and, in that
case, would certainly have destroyed 'the green book' were it not locked
away in a place of safety, only to be broken open with great strength
and much loss of time. Throw the book on the fire, and wait until you
have seen it reduced to ashes; then hasten back to rescue me from my
desperate situation!"

"I will act as beseems a Princess Ghedimin."

"My life and honor I give into your hands."

"I know it." And, taking the key, Korynthia hurried away.

"What a hurry the child is in!" said the old lady.

"She will soon be back."

"With the cards?"

"Yes; with the cards."

"Then, meanwhile, I will make myself smart, that she does not find me
looking so untidy."

The smartness consisted in the old lady's having her new cap--fashioned
in 1807--brought to her with its large yellow ostrich feather. This she
duly put on, and with it her two false curls. Her hair was white, the
curls black.

A full hour went slowly by.

"What a long time the child is finding the cards! She will be changing
her dress, taking off her grand ball-dress, and slipping into a cotton
morning-wrapper. Wait a minute; it will be such fun. How it will make
her laugh! I will sing the Matrimonial Ditty. It is really very pretty.
Bring me my guitar, Ihnasko. Ah, how well I used to play it!"

And the good matron took the ancient instrument, and, encouraged by her
previous success, set about amusing her little nest-bird with a cheery
old song--he sitting there, the drops of cold perspiration on his brow.

"Listen--

    "'It is a good wife's part
      To honor and obey,
    In gossiping and dress
      Time ne'er to pass away.
    By daybreak she is up,
      His breakfast to prepare;
    Then a good roast and wine
      With him at noon to share.'

Isn't it pretty? This is the second verse:

    "'A husband's part it is
      With her wishes to comply,
    And whatsoe'er she ask
      In no case to deny.
    Through fire itself to go,
      If but her hand to kiss,
    And ever to be slow
      To mark what's done amiss.'

Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the good old grandmother, in praise of her own
merry ditty, and quite disposed, had Ivan expressed but the slightest
word of entreaty, to repeat it for his benefit. "I only hope your little
wife will soon come back to hear it."

But Ivan was no longer paying attention to her--a sound was audible from
without. There had been time for Korynthia to have gone to Zeneida's
and to have returned. He hurriedly opened the door.

But it was not the expected Korynthia who entered, but one whom of all
others he desired least to meet with in this sublunary world--Galban.

The Chevalier was not alone; four grenadiers of the Finnish regiment
stood behind him.

The Chevalier, without taking off his hat in presence of the lady of the
house, or in any way saluting her into whose apartment he was thus
forcing an entrance, exclaimed:

"Ivan Maximovitch Ghedimin, you are my prisoner! Surrender your sword!"

Without a word, Ivan, unbuckling his sword, handed it to him.

Anna Feodorovna was furious.

"What does this fellow mean by breaking into my apartment and presuming
to take away my grandson's sword, the sword of a Duke Ghedimin? Who is
this gentleman?"

"Who I am, madame, it is absolutely unnecessary for you to know; but I
will tell you who your grandson is. He is the _Dictator of yonder
mutinous rebels_ who attempted to murder the Czar and have been
defeated."

"Ihnasko! Ihnasko!" shrieked the matron, "come here, and laugh instead
of me! I cannot; help me to laugh. Look at this carnival buffoon who is
performing here. He says that my nest-bird is the Dictator of the
rebels! Where have you crept to? Laugh--laugh!"

Ivan said in a low voice, and in French, to Galban, "I can exculpate
myself to the Czar. There is no proof against me."

"How about 'the green book?'"

"I know nothing of it."

"Do not build up vain hopes, Ivan Maximovitch! You are thoroughly
undone. Your wife has betrayed you. No sooner did you give over into her
hands a certain key which, as you are aware, opens a certain
roulette-bank at Fräulein Zeneida's than she went directly to the
President of Police and placed that key in his hands. 'The green book'
is now in good keeping."

Ghedimin felt his knees totter at these words, as though the stars had
fallen from the skies upon his head. His head sank upon his breast.
Horror so illimitable numbed his power of thought. The next moment,
however, the blood within him took fire; he trembled with rage and
indignation.

"No, no! It is impossible that a woman should betray her own husband,
and sacrifice her honor, her means, by so doing! Such a monster the
world has never known! Nor have I ever committed such grave sins as to
demand such sore punishment at God's hands!"

"You have a short memory, Ivan Maximovitch," whispered Galban in his
ear. "Remember the night on which you conveyed to Korynthia the news of
Sophie Narishkin's death, and with it the news of Bethsaba's flight with
Pushkin. Did you not know that Sophie Narishkin was her daughter, and
that even then she was awaiting Pushkin and not you?"

This disclosure was a heavier blow to Ghedimin than even his disgrace.
With rigid, wide-open mouth he gasped for breath; his hands convulsively
grasped at some invisible phantom, his heart was nigh to bursting.

"But do not disturb yourself with jealousy, either on account of Pushkin
or of your wife. Pushkin will have a ball through his head when and
wherever he is found. Your wife will receive back her wealth and rank,
and husband also, in compensation. You will perform your little walk to
the scaffold; but your fine possessions and titles--most probably your
wife into the bargain--will be inherited by one who knows better how to
value them than you have done--possibly by Chevalier Galban!"

At these words Ivan's arms sank helplessly to his side. He saw and heard
no further. Chevalier Galban's next duty was to finish the condemned
man's "toilet."

First he tore the orders from his breast, then the epaulettes from his
shoulders; finally cut off every regimental button bearing the imperial
arms.

The grandmother did not understand the subject of their talk, but when
she saw her grandson being stripped of every vestige of his military and
civil rank, and of all his orders, she found herself endowed with
strength, if not to rush to his assistance, still to rise from her
chair, and, supporting herself by the table, to cry to the audacious
intruders:

"You murderer! Godless man! how dare you assail my grandson? Stop!
Insult him no further. Your accusations are lies! I will go myself to
the Czar; he will hear me. He has ever been gracious to me. Ihnasko,
give me my mantle; I will go myself to the Czar! Leave off your
mutilations, you executioner! You shall not put a convict's dress upon
my grandson, my Ivan! A convict's dress! Before my very eyes! You
varlets! And cut off his hair! Where is the Czar? I will go to the
Czar--to Czar Alexander, to implore mercy!"

Her strength of will worked miracles. Her infirm, paralyzed body seemed
to be galvanized into life like a walking ghost. She succeeded in
staggering up to where Galban stood, and seized his hands.

"To Czar Alexander," she breathed, "for pardon!"

"He has already gone to heaven," said the Chevalier, brutally.

"Then I will go after him," sighed the venerable lady, and fell where
she stood. She had said truly.

She had gone after him--thither where even the Czars of All the Russias
do not grant, but must entreat, pardon.

       *       *       *       *       *

The last locks of hair were severed from the head of Ghedimin, no longer
a prince. This is the tonsure of those condemned to death. He stood
alone. He had no one to mourn his fate. The old servant, concealed
behind the stove, sobbed uninterruptedly over the shameful operation.

Ivan was not even permitted to raise his dead grandmother from the
ground. A condemned rebel has henceforth no family either among the
living or the dead.

They fettered him hand and foot with the heavy iron fetters, of which
the Counsellor of Enlightenment was wont to say, "Never you fear, you
won't have to pay for them!" And, being an officer of high rank, he had
received as distinction a heavy ball fastened to the end of his chain,
which he was compelled to drag along at every step.

"Now, shoulder arms! The prisoner in the middle! Forward--march!"

But in the doorway their advance was hindered by some one with the
words:

"In the name of the Czar!"

It was Zeneida Ilmarinen.

Chevalier Galban looked at her in astonishment.

"Ah, Fräulein, you still at large?"

"As you see. I come from the Czar."

"How could you get to him?"

"Did not my countrymen, the Kalevaines, take the son, mother, and wife
of the Czar under their protection to-day?"

"I see; it was they who gave you admission to the Czar. And then?"

"The Czar has pardoned Ivan Maximovitch Ghedimin. Here is his pardon."

"Ah! you have saved Ivan Ghedimin from the scaffold?"

"And also from the mines. The Czar is graciously pleased to exile him to
Tobolsk among the sable-hunters, whither he will go at once."

"On foot, it is to be hoped."

"Not so--in his own sledge, and alone!"

"And all this has been effected by your dark eyes, fair lady? But allow
me, an instant. At the time that the Czar signed this pardon he was not
aware that 'the green book' had been discovered."

"What 'green book?'"

"Ah, my charming _diva_, you are playing the unconscious innocent! But
the part does not suit you. This time I fear I shall have to hiss. Do
you not know that the key to your secret roulette-bank is in the hands
of the police?"

"I know; and then?"

"And this time the police will not be fooled as I once was, when Michael
Turgenieff said, '_Je suis un président sans phrase. Messieurs, faites
vos jeux._' 'The green book' has been found!"

"As far as I know a _yellow_ book has been found."

"And in it the conspirators had signed their names to the Constitution,
and the several schemes of rebellion were traced."

"In it were the names of those gentlemen who remained debtors to the
banker of the roulette-table and those whose debts of honor were
unredeemed."

"You act comedy well, exceedingly well, Fräulein; but, all the same,
you will be hissed off the stage. _Written characters_ must witness
against you."

"They will witness against no one. Knowing that roulette is a forbidden
game, being unable to open the safe, I took the precaution to pour
aquafortis through the keyhole; and they into whose hands the 'yellow'
book has fallen have not found a single name inscribed upon its pages,
for they are all effaced. I was present when it was produced; there was
no writing to be seen."

At these words there was a loud clanking of chains, Ivan striking
together those which fettered his hands.

Chevalier Galban was wild with rage.

"You are truly an imp of Satan, Zeneida Ilmarinen. By this demoniacal
act you have deprived Siberia and the scaffold of ten thousand
conspirators!"

"Let us add their families, and reckon it at a hundred thousand."

"Only a woman could be capable of such an abomination. And you dare to
tell it to me?"

"What have I to fear from you? I have in my possession a letter from the
Czar, authorizing me to leave this unhappy country and to go wherever I
like."

Chevalier Galban, seeing that she was thus outside the pale of his
castigation, wished to return to his tone of studied French courtesy.

"The world of St. Petersburg, madame, will deeply regret its loss after
this 'farewell' performance of yours to-day. And where may you be going,
if I may take the liberty of asking, that I may instruct the police to
allow you to pass unmolested?"

"Where else than where my _master_ leads--to Tobolsk?"

"What! You are going with Ghedimin to Siberia?"

"Why not? I am not his wife, to separate from him when misfortune
overtakes him. I am only his friend; I cannot desert him." And, going to
the chained prisoner, she took the heavy ball hanging to his feet in her
hands; it was her bridal dowry. "We can go now, master."

At this moment Ivan proudly raised his head, a glow upon his face. The
attitude of the shaven head was what it should have been before--that of
a hero--the statuesque head of one fighting for his country's freedom.
With his fettered hands he raised Zeneida's to his lips and cried, in
the full metallic tones of his manly voice:

"I thank thee, O my God! Thou hast made me richer now than ever I was
before!"

Zeneida, nestling up to him, put her arms about him.

"Now you may hiss to your heart's content, Chevalier Galban. The play is
over!"

But Galban had no desire to do so. Even his despicable heart was touched
by so much nobility of spirit. The four grenadiers, too, stood with
sunken heads, against all military discipline.

"But, Fräulein," stammered the Chevalier, "only consider what is in
store for you if you seriously carry out this tremendous determination."

Zeneida looked at Ivan Maximovitch, her whole soul in that look.

"I will be a _nameless wife_ to this _nameless man_. Let us go."

The heavy chains clanked at each step. In the deserted room the only
sound now heard was the sobbing of the faithful old serving-man; but on
the face of the dead, stretched upon the floor, all lines had been
smoothed away. She smiled.

Similar figures, sketched in with equally grand lines, were abundant in
that great historic epoch. Thus the young wife of Trubetzkoi, the
nominal Dictator, accompanied him to Siberia; so did the wives of the
two Muravieffs and Narishkins. Ryleieff's widow haughtily refused to
accept the pension assigned her by the Czar. A young governess, who had
had the strength to shut up within her own heart her love for a Russian
prince while his rank raised him so high above her, confessed her
feelings for him to his parents when he was degraded and sentenced to
serfdom in Siberia. She became his wife and went with him into exile.

But the dark side of the picture stood out also in grewsome detail. The
Prince Odojefski, who hid himself under the bridge, was betrayed by his
own relatives; and one might form a long list of those who, on the same
melancholy day that their people were setting out for Siberia, crossed
hands with Korynthia Ghedimin in a country-dance at the Winter Palace.



EPISODES

THE RESCUED POET


The revolution was entirely suppressed. The last body of insurgents,
under the leadership of Jakuskin, had thrown themselves into a palace
and defended it with the heroism of despair until it had been attacked
on all sides. This ended the St. Petersburg attempt.

Equally disastrous was the Southern insurrection. The two brothers
Muravieff Apostol,[1] being taken prisoners, were rescued by some
officers belonging to the republican "League of United Serfs." Then,
placing themselves at the head of the Southern Army, they proclaimed a
republic in Vasilkov, its priest blessing their arms. But the blessing
bore no fruit. The soldiers had nothing to urge against a republic; but
_who would be its Czar_? For a republic must necessarily have a Czar!
Upon the hills of Ustinoskai they lie buried, where they were shot down
in whole companies and trodden under the horses' feet. Upon the grave
which covers their remains a gallows has been erected as their memorial.

[Footnote 1: Apostol was the family name.]

The dead of the Northern Union did not even receive a memorial such as
that. From the beginning of the fight they were hustled under the ice of
the Neva, and the Neva retains its coating of ice for five whole months.
Jakuskin was taken prisoner; but in his prison he dashed his brains out
against the stone walls of his cell.

Pushkin was miraculously saved. The hearts of two women accomplished the
miracle--two women who united so perfectly in their love for him that to
both, equally, he owed his life.

The digression he had made in going first to Galban's delayed his
arrival on time at St. Petersburg on the eventful day. Before he had
even reached Czarskoje Zelo his horses had broken down under the strain
of the long journey, on the road he met Battenkoff, fleeing from the St.
Petersburg slaughter, and learned from him that all was lost, that
Prince Ghedimin was exiled to Siberia, whither Zeneida was voluntarily
accompanying him.

Pushkin was free to turn back to his wife. There was no longer an
Eleutheria. She was dead and buried.

There was no one to accuse him of having belonged to the League of the
Partisans of Freedom. His name had been inscribed among that ten
thousand whom the "demoniacal" whim of an actress had saved from the
scaffold and from banishment to Siberia.

After that came enough of the hard times beloved by Pushkin's muse.

And, that he might belong entirely to his muse, Bethsaba, too, forsook
him.

She went--to rejoin Sophie. She could no longer endure this cold
prison-world of ours. And Pushkin then remained alone in his desolate
castle, with no other confidante than old Helenka. To her he read his
verses.

In the spring of the following year he received a command from Czar
Nicholas to present himself at St. Petersburg.

His imprisoned friends at that time were to be executed.

That, too, was a tragic episode! It would need the pen of a Victor Hugo
to describe how, at the very moment of execution, the whole bloody
holocaust broke down, and condemned, executioners, and officers of
justice were alike buried beneath it.

It was then that the Czar commanded Pushkin in audience before him.
Pushkin was wearing mourning.

"For whom do you mourn?" the Czar asked.

"For my wife, sire."

"So, not for your dead friends? Now, confess. _On which side would you
have stood had you been here in St. Petersburg?_"

Pushkin felt the cold edge of the executioner's sword at his throat.
Dare one answer such a question with a lie? According to the world's
ethics, one may--one does. The conspirator is not in duty bound to
accuse himself, to make confession of what cannot be proved against him,
is not required to open out the secrets of his heart. And yet Pushkin
could not bring a lie to his lips. Reason dictated it, but his proud
heart went counter to it.

"_Had I been present_," he answered the Czar, "_I should have taken my
place by the side of my friends._"

"I am glad that you have answered me thus," returned the Czar. "I am
about to have the period of Peter the Great written, and seek a man for
the purpose who can poetize, but who cannot lie. That man I have found!
I commit the writing of that epoch to you. Go back to your home and
begin; and to all that you from henceforth write I will myself be
censor."

Thus did one of Russia's greatest poets and personalities escape the
fatal catastrophe.

At the Bear's Paw they certainly proscribed him as a traitor; for
although all other secret societies had paid for their opinions with
their blood, that of the Bear's Paw still existed, and did not cease
even then to thirst for Freedom.



GHEDIMIN AND ZENEIDA


Ghedimin was no longer a prince, but became, in Tobolsk, the happiest of
men.

Five children, all sons, were born to him there, not one of whom has
become a prince. One is a tanner, another a furrier; but they are
prosperous, and know nothing of the ancestral palace in St. Petersburg.

This, it is true, is a prosaic ending; but we may not observe silence
upon it, for it is true to history, and, moreover, no exceptional case.
How many a descendant of princely families tans and works the skins of
that ermine once worn by his ancestors!

The eldest of the three brothers Turgenieff, Michael, who presided at
that memorable "green-book" conference, was, although absent in a
foreign country at the time of the insurrection, condemned to death, and
his property confiscated. The news of this sentence broke the heart of
his younger brother Sergius. His other brother, Alexander, followed the
condemned man into exile and shared his own fortune with him.

Such hearts as these, too, the fatherland of ice can bring forth!



THE ROMANCE OF CONSTANTINE


Krizsanowski was perfectly right when he maintained that the Poles had
no reason to unite their fate with any schemes of Russian aspirants
after freedom.

The Polish people needed no explanation of the meaning of
"Constitution."

But this, too, is true--that to a Pole the wife of Constantine was
wellnigh the equivalent. She was their Providence--turning evil into
good, wrath into gentleness, remitting punishments--a Providence
bringing blessings in its train.

The famous _Nie pozwolim_! ("I will not have it!") had certainly never
so often swayed the wills of the kings of Poland as had the gentle "I
should so like it" the will of the Viceroy.

And when time and opportunity were ripe, and the necessary strength had
been attained, the whole nation rose in its might--five months after the
flight of the French king, Charles X.

One night the Polish youths broke open the gates of Belvedere and
pressed, armed to a man, to the Grand Duke's bedchamber. But first they
had to break into Johanna's room.

She started from sleep as the dagger was already pointed at her heart.

"Keep silence! Not a sound!"

"What!" she cried, "a Pole turning assassin! Infamous!" And, springing
from the other side of her bed, she rushed into her husband's room, not
even feeling the dagger-thrust in her back. Hastily bolting the
tapestried door through which she had passed, she flew to the heavily
sleeping Viceroy.

"Wake! we are surprised!"

"What! Assassins?" exclaimed the Viceroy, seizing his weapons.

"Not assassins," returned his wife, proudly concealing her indignation,
"but heroes of liberty! The Polish people have risen against you. Fly!"

"What! The Polish people risen? And you, a daughter of Poland, not
siding with your own people? You protecting me? Is it a miracle?"

"Husband, I love you! I will save you!"

And with these words, pressing a spring in a corner of the room, she
disclosed the secret passage by which the veteran Krizsanowski had come
to her, and of which Constantine knew nothing.

"We must be quick! These stairs lead down to the garden gate."

The tapestried door was backed with iron; the assailants could not force
it. Johanna threw a cloak about her, not mentioning her wound, and
seizing her husband's hand led him hurriedly through the familiar
passage until they had reached the gate of the subterranean way under
the garden.

They were saved. But only for a brief period. From the adjacent city of
Warsaw resounded the clang of alarm-bells: the insurrection had
triumphed.

Outside the walls of Lazienka they met with a mounted lancer. Calling to
him, the Viceroy bade him dismount and give him his horse, and,
springing on to it, he lifted Johanna behind him and galloped away.

But the lancer making haste to inform the insurgents of the Viceroy's
flight, he was quickly followed.

A division of lancers reached the fugitives in the forest of Bjelograd.
The double burden was too much for the horse. The leader of the troops
was Krizsanowski himself.

As they came up to her husband Johanna encircled him with her arms.

"Only through my body do you reach his!"

Krizsanowski replaced his sword in its scabbard.

"Good! So let it be! There's not a man who could injure _your_ husband!
We will form Constantine's escort."

And the troop of Polish cavalry gave escort to the fugitive Viceroy
until he had reached the encampment just assembled for manœuvres.

An enemy protecting a fugitive!

Magnanimity is sometimes contagious, not always; but occasionally people
are carried away by it.

It was only in camp that Constantine knew that Johanna, in saving his
life, had been wounded. It touched him to the heart. Only such deep
emotion as he then experienced makes it intelligible that a Russian
Grand Duke, viceroy and field-marshal, could rise to the unexampled
magnanimity of uttering in camp such words as these to the troops ranged
before him in battle-array:

"He who is a Pole, and loves his fatherland more than he does me, may
step forth from the ranks and go free."

And, with arms and banners, he suffered every Polish regiment under his
command to march out, and then with his remaining Russian troops
withdrew from Poland, and, at their head, returned to Russian territory.

Could such immense magnanimity be forgiven?

Never!

Upon arrival at Minsk the Grand Duke Constantine died suddenly.

By whose hand?

No other than that of _the man with the green eyes_. Only that this time
it was not he of the Tsatir Dagh, but he of the banks of the
Ganges--cholera.

It was said, too, that he was buried--that his coffin had been lowered
into the vault in the Church of Peter-Paul at St. Petersburg. But the
people would not believe it.

Tradition has it that he was taken prisoner and conveyed to "Holy
Island."

Not many years after there was a peasant rising, and it was rumored that
their leader was Constantine. The rising was suppressed, but the leader
was not captured; the people had hidden him too securely.

And to this day the belief is that Grand Duke Constantine is still
alive.

The fishermen of Lapland, when at nights their boats beat about off
Solowetshk Monastery, often see the figure of a tall, gray-headed man
wandering about the bastions. It is attended by two armed sentinels; and
ever and anon the spectre raises its clasped hands to heaven, as if in
supplication.

Then they whisper to one another that the mysterious prisoner of Holy
Island is none other than the vanished Constantine, though forty years
have passed since his disappearance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Snow lies deep all around--so deep that no roads are visible. A gray,
leaden firmament spans the horizon. All is intense silence.

But beneath the deep snow something is still growing, and the roots of
which will never die.


THE END



Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter V, "Another was 'Szojus Spacinia'" was changed to "Another
was 'Szojusz Spacinia'", and "a fourth 'Szojus Blagadenstoiga'" was
changed to "a fourth 'Szojusz Blagadenztoiga'".

In Chapter VI, "faithful Ihuasko" was changed to "faithful Ihnasko", and
"Count Paklem's conspiracy" was changed to "Count Pahlen's conspiracy".

In Chapter VIII, a quotation mark was removed after "before going to
bed".

In Chapter IX, a quotation mark was added after "the yoke that is bowing
down its neck", and "Krizsanowski, the delegate of the Polish
'Kosyniery'" was changed to "Krizsanowski, the delegate of the Polish
'Kosynyery'".

In Chapter X, "Commandant Diebitsh prisoners" was changed to "Commandant
Diebitsch prisoners".

In Chapter XII, a quotation mark was removed after "put a good face on
it", and a quotation mark was added after "paid them twice over in
interest".

In Chapter XXIV, a question mark was changed to a period after "I can
understand their being angry with him".

In Chapter XXVI, a quotation mark was added before "Relate again".

In Chapter XXVII, "Araktsejeff vied" was changed to "Araktseieff vied".

In Chapter XXVIII, "Banish Araktsejeff" was changed to "Banish
Araktseieff".

In Chapter XXXI, "Helenka's husband, old Ihnasco" was changed to
"Helenka's husband, old Ihnasko".

In Chapter XXXIII, a quotation mark was added after "desirable to keep
them secret".

In Chapter XXXVI, a quotation mark was added before "Just what you
directed".

In Chapter XXXVIII, "wrote the letter to Jukuskin" was changed to "wrote
the letter to Jakuskin".

In Chapter XL, a quotation mark was removed after "Who knows into whose
hands they may fall?", and "the Kalevains have more reason to weep" was
changed to "the Kalevaines have more reason to weep".

In Chapter XLI, "as Jukuskin has planned" was changed to "as Jakuskin
has planned", and "plenipotentiary of the Szojusz Blagodenztoga" was
changed to "plenipotentiary of the Szojusz Blagodenztoiga".

In Chapter XLII, a quotation mark was added before "No harm to her!",
"their breasts literally sown with orders" was changed to "their breasts
liberally sown with orders", and "with naive, unconscious expression"
was changed to "with naïve, unconscious expression".

In Chapter XLIII, "the _matadores_ of the _Szojusz Blagodenztoga_" was
changed to "the _matadores_ of the _Szojusz Blagodenztoiga_".

In "The Romance of Constantine", "Outside the walls of Lazienska" was
changed to "Outside the walls of Lazienka", and "off Solowesk Monastery"
was changed to "off Solowetshk Monastery".





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