The secret of the night, p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Secret of the Night, p.1
Download  in MP3 audio

           Gaston Leroux
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
The Secret of the Night


  By Gaston Leroux






  "BARINIA, the young stranger has arrived."

  "Where is he?"

  "Oh, he is waiting at the lodge."

  "I told you to show him to Natacha's sitting-room. Didn't you understandme, Ermolai?"

  "Pardon, Barinia, but the young stranger, when I asked to search him, asyou directed, flatly refused to let me."

  "Did you explain to him that everybody is searched before being allowedto enter, that it is the order, and that even my mother herself hassubmitted to it?"

  "I told him all that, Barinia; and I told him about madame your mother."

  "What did he say to that?"

  "That he was not madame your mother. He acted angry."

  "Well, let him come in without being searched."

  "The Chief of Police won't like it."

  "Do as I say."

  Ermolai bowed and returned to the garden. The "barinia" left theveranda, where she had come for this conversation with the old servantof General Trebassof, her husband, and returned to the dining-roomin the datcha des Iles, where the gay Councilor Ivan Petrovitch wasregaling his amused associates with his latest exploit at Cubat'sresort. They were a noisy company, and certainly the quietest among themwas not the general, who nursed on a sofa the leg which still held himcaptive after the recent attack, that to his old coachman and his twopiebald horses had proved fatal. The story of the always-amiable IvanPetrovitch (a lively, little, elderly man with his head bald as anegg) was about the evening before. After having, as he said, "recurela bouche" for these gentlemen spoke French like their own languageand used it among themselves to keep their servants fromunderstanding--after having wet his whistle with a large glass ofsparkling rosy French wine, he cried:

  "You would have laughed, Feodor Feodorovitch. We had sung songs on theBarque* and then the Bohemians left with their music and we went outonto the river-bank to stretch our legs and cool our faces in thefreshness of the dawn, when a company of Cossacks of the Guard camealong. I knew the officer in command and invited him to come along withus and drink the Emperor's health at Cubat's place. That officer, FeodorFeodorovitch, is a man who knows vintages and boasts that he has neverswallowed a glass of anything so common as Crimean wine. When I namedchampagne he cried, 'Vive l'Empereur!' A true patriot. So we started,merry as school-children. The entire company followed, then all thediners playing little whistles, and all the servants besides, singlefile. At Cubat's I hated to leave the companion-officers of my friend atthe door, so I invited them in, too. They accepted, naturally. But thesubalterns were thirsty as well. I understand discipline. You know,Feodor Feodorovitch, that I am a stickler for discipline. Just becauseone is gay of a spring morning, discipline should not be forgotten. Iinvited the officers to drink in a private room, and sent the subalternsinto the main hall of the restaurant. Then the soldiers were thirsty,too, and I had drinks served to them out in the courtyard. Then, myword, there was a perplexing business, for now the horses whinnied. Thebrave horses, Feodor Feodorovitch, who also wished to drink the healthof the Emperor. I was bothered about the discipline. Hall, court, allwere full. And I could not put the horses in private rooms. Well, I madethem carry out champagne in pails and then came the perplexing businessI had tried so hard to avoid, a grand mixture of boots and horse-shoesthat was certainly the liveliest thing I have ever seen in my life. Butthe horses were the most joyous, and danced as if a torch was held undertheir nostrils, and all of them, my word! were ready to throw theirriders because the men were not of the same mind with them as to theroute to follow! From our window we laughed fit to kill at such amixture of sprawling boots and dancing hoofs. But the troopers finallygot all their horses to barracks, with patience, for the Emperor'scavalry are the best riders in the world, Feodor Feodorovitch. And wecertainly had a great laugh!--Your health, Matrena Petrovna."

  [* The "Barque" is a restaurant on a boat, among the isles, near the Gulf of Finland, on a bank of the Neva.]

  These last graceful words were addressed to Madame Trebassof, whoshrugged her shoulders at the undesired gallantry of the gay Councilor.She did not join in the conversation, excepting to calm the general, whowished to send the whole regiment to the guard-house, men and horses.And while the roisterers laughed over the adventure she said to herhusband in the advisory voice of the helpful wife:

  "Feodor, you must not attach importance to what that old fool Ivantells you. He is the most imaginative man in the capital when he has hadchampagne."

  "Ivan, you certainly have not had horses served with champagne inpails," the old boaster, Athanase Georgevitch, protested jealously. Hewas an advocate, well-known for his table-feats, who claimed the hardestdrinking reputation of any man in the capital, and he regretted not tohave invented that tale.

  "On my word! And the best brands! I had won four thousand roubles. Ileft the little fete with fifteen kopecks."

  Matrena Petrovna was listening to Ermolai, the faithful country servantwho wore always, even here in the city, his habit of fresh nankeen, hisblack leather belt, his large blue pantaloons and his boots glisteninglike ice, his country costume in his master's city home. Madame Matrenarose, after lightly stroking the hair of her step-daughter Natacha,whose eyes followed her to the door, indifferent apparently to thetender manifestations of her father's orderly, the soldier-poet, BorisMourazoff, who had written beautiful verses on the death of theMoscow students, after having shot them, in the way of duty, on theirbarricades.

  Ermolai conducted his mistress to the drawing-room and pointed acrossto a door that he had left open, which led to the sitting-room beforeNatacha's chamber.

  "He is there," said Ermolai in a low voice.

  Ermolai need have said nothing, for that matter, since MadameMatrena was aware of a stranger's presence in the sitting-room by theextraordinary attitude of an individual in a maroon frock-coat borderedwith false astrakhan, such as is on the coats of all the Russian policeagents and makes the secret agents recognizable at first glance. Thispoliceman was on his knees in the drawing-room watching what passed inthe next room through the narrow space of light in the hinge-way of thedoor. In this manner, or some other, all persons who wished to approachGeneral Trebassof were kept under observation without their knowing it,after having been first searched at the lodge, a measure adopted sincethe latest attack.

  Madame Matrena touched the policeman's shoulder with that heroic handwhich had saved her husband's life and which still bore traces of theterrible explosion in the last attack, when she had seized the infernalmachine intended for the general with her bare hand. The policeman roseand silently left the room, reached the veranda and lounged there on asofa, pretending to be asleep, but in reality watching the garden paths.

  Matrena Petrovna took his place at the hinge-vent. This was her rule;she always took the final glance at everything and everybody. Sheroved at all hours of the day and night round about the general, like awatch-dog, ready to bite, to throw itself before the danger, to receivethe blows, to perish for its master. Thi
s had commenced at Moscow afterthe terrible repression, the massacre of revolutionaries under the wallsof Presnia, when the surviving Nihilists left behind them a placardcondemning the victorious General Trebassof to death. Matrena Petrovnalived only for the general. She had vowed that she would not survivehim. So she had double reason to guard him.

  But she had lost all confidence even within the walls of her own home.

  Things had happened even there that defied her caution, her instinct,her love. She had not spoken of these things save to the Chief ofPolice, Koupriane, who had reported them to the Emperor. And here nowwas the man whom the Emperor had sent, as the supreme resource, thisyoung stranger--Joseph Rouletabille, reporter.

  "But he is a mere boy!" she exclaimed, without at all understanding thematter, this youthful figure, with soft, rounded cheeks, eyes clear and,at first view, extraordinarily naive, the eyes of an infant. True, atthe moment Rouletabille's expression hardly suggested any superhumanprofundity of thought, for, left in view of a table, spread withhors-d'oeuvres, the young man appeared solely occupied in digging outwith a spoon all the caviare that remained in the jars. Matrena notedthe rosy freshness of his cheeks, the absence of down on his lip and nota hint of beard, the thick hair, with the curl over the forehead. Ah,that forehead--the forehead was curious, with great over-hanging craniallumps which moved above the deep arcade of the eye-sockets while themouth was busy--well, one would have said that Rouletabille had noteaten for a week. He was demolishing a great slice of Volgan sturgeon,contemplating at the same time with immense interest a salad of creamedcucumbers, when Matrena Petrovna appeared.

  He wished to excuse himself at once and spoke with his mouth full.

  "I beg your pardon, madame, but the Czar forgot to invite me tobreakfast."

  Madame Matrena smiled and gave him a hearty handshake as she urged himto be seated.

  "You have seen His Majesty?"

  "I come from him, madame. It is to Madame Trebassof that I have thehonor of speaking?"

  "Yes. And you are Monsieur--?"

  "Joseph Rouletabille, madame. I do not add, 'At your service--becauseI do not know about that yet. That is what I said just now to HisMajesty."

  "Then?" asked Madame Matrena, rather amused by the tone the conversationhad taken and the slightly flurried air of Rouletabille.

  "Why, then, I am a reporter, you see. That is what I said at once to myeditor in Paris, 'I am not going to take part in revolutionary affairsthat do not concern my country,' to which my editor replied, 'You donot have to take part. You must go to Russia to make an inquiry intothe present status of the different parties. You will commence byinterviewing the Emperor.' I said, 'Well, then, here goes,' and took thetrain."

  "And you have interviewed the Emperor?"

  "Oh, yes, that has not been difficult. I expected to arrive directat St. Petersburg, but at Krasnoie-Coelo the train stopped and thegrand-marshal of the court came to me and asked me to follow him. Itwas very flattering. Twenty minutes later I was before His Majesty. Heawaited me! I understood at once that this was obviously for somethingout of the ordinary."

  "And what did he say to you?"

  "He is a man of genuine majesty. He reassured me at once when Iexplained my scruples to him. He said there was no occasion for me totake part in the politics of the matter, but to save his most faithfulservant, who was on the point of becoming the victim of the strangestfamily drama ever conceived."

  Madame Matrena, white as a sheet, rose to her feet.

  "Ah," she said simply.

  But Rouletabille, whom nothing escaped, saw her hand tremble on the backof the chair.

  He went on, not appearing to have noticed her emotion:

  "His Majesty added these exact words: 'It is I who ask it of you; I andMadame Trebassof. Go, monsieur, she awaits you.'"

  He ceased and waited for Madame Trebassof to speak.

  She made up her mind after brief reflection.

  "Have you seen Koupriane?"

  "The Chief of Police? Yes. The grand-marshal accompanied me back to thestation at Krasnoie-Coelo, and the Chief of Police accompanied me to St.Petersburg station. One could not have been better received."

  "Monsieur Rouletabille," said Matrena, who visibly strove to regain herself-control, "I am not of Koupriane's opinion and I am not"--here shelowered her trembling voice--"of the opinion His Majesty holds. Itis better for me to tell you at once, so that you may notregret intervening in an affair where there are--where thereare--risks--terrible risks to run. No, this is not a family drama. Thefamily is small, very small: the general, his daughter Natacha (by hisformer marriage), and myself. There could not be a family drama amongus three. It is simply about my husband, monsieur, who did his duty asa soldier in defending the throne of his sovereign, my husband whom theymean to assassinate! There is nothing else, no other situation, my dearlittle guest."

  To hide her distress she started to carve a slice of jellied veal andcarrot.

  "You have not eaten, you are hungry. It is dreadful, my dear young man.See, you must dine with us, and then--you will say adieu. Yes, you willleave me all alone. I will undertake to save him all alone. Certainly, Iwill undertake it."

  A tear fell on the slice she was cutting. Rouletabille, who felt thebrave woman's emotion affecting him also, braced himself to keep fromshowing it.

  "I am able to help you a little all the same," he said. "MonsieurKoupriane has told me that there is a deep mystery. It is my vocation toget to the bottom of mysteries."

  "I know what Koupriane thinks," she said, shaking her head. "But ifI could bring myself to think that for a single day I would rather bedead."

  The good Matrena Petrovna lifted her beautiful eyes to Rouletabille,brimming with the tears she held back.

  She added quickly:

  "But eat now, my dear guest; eat. My dear child, you must forget whatKoupriane has said to you, when you are back in France."

  "I promise you that, madame."

  "It is the Emperor who has caused you this long journey. For me, Idid not wish it. Has he, indeed, so much confidence in you?" she askednaively, gazing at him fixedly through her tears.

  "Madame, I was just about to tell you. I have been active in someimportant matters that have been reported to him, and then sometimesyour Emperor is allowed to see the papers. He has heard talk, too (foreverybody talked of them, madame), about the Mystery of the Yellow Roomand the Perfume of the Lady in Black."

  Here Rouletabille watched Madame Trebassof and was much mortified at theundoubted ignorance that showed in her frank face of either the yellowroom or the black perfume.

  "My young friend," said she, in a voice more and more hesitant, "youmust excuse me, but it is a long time since I have had good eyes forreading."

  Tears, at last, ran down her cheeks.

  Rouletabille could not restrain himself any further. He saw in one flashall this heroic woman had suffered in her combat day by day with thedeath which hovered. He took her little fat hands, whose fingers wereoverloaded with rings, tremulously into his own:

  "Madame, do not weep. They wish to kill your husband. Well then, we willbe two at least to defend him, I swear to you."

  "Even against the Nihilists!"

  "Aye, madame, against all the world. I have eaten all your caviare. I amyour guest. I am your friend."

  As he said this he was so excited, so sincere and so droll that MadameTrebassof could not help smiling through her tears. She made him sitdown beside her.

  "The Chief of Police has talked of you a great deal. He came hereabruptly after the last attack and a mysterious happening that I willtell you about. He cried, 'Ah, we need Rouletabille to unravel this!'The next day he came here again. He had gone to the Court. There,everybody, it appears, was talking of you. The Emperor wished to knowyou. That is why steps were taken through the ambassador at Paris."

  "Yes, yes. And naturally all the world has learned of it. That makes itso lively. The Nihilists warned me immediately that I would not reachRussia
alive. That, finally, was what decided me on coming. I amnaturally very contrary."

  "And how did you get through the journey?"

  "Not badly. I discovered at once in the train a young Slav assignedto kill me, and I reached an understanding with him. He was a charmingyouth, so it was easily arranged."

  Rouletabille was eating away now at strange viands that it would havebeen difficult for him to name. Matrena Petrovna laid her fat littlehand on his arm:

  "You speak seriously?"

  "Very seriously."

  "A small glass of vodka?"

  "No alcohol."

  Madame Matrena emptied her little glass at a draught.

  "And how did you discover him? How did you know him?"

  "First, he wore glasses. All Nihilists wear glasses when traveling. Andthen I had a good clew. A minute before the departure from Paris I had afriend go into the corridor of the sleeping-car, a reporter who would doanything I said without even wanting to know why. I said, 'You call outsuddenly and very loud, "Hello, here is Rouletabille."' So he called,'Hello, here is Rouletabille,' and all those who were in the corridorturned and all those who were already in the compartments came out,excepting the man with the glasses. Then I was sure about him."

  Madame Trebassof looked at Rouletabile, who turned as red as the comb ofa rooster and was rather embarrassed at his fatuity.

  "That deserves a rebuff, I know, madame, but from the moment the Emperorof all the Russias had desired to see me I could not admit that any mereman with glasses had not the curiosity to see what I looked like. Itwas not natural. As soon as the train was off I sat down by this man andtold him who I thought he was. I was right. He removed his glasses and,looking me straight in the eyes, said he was glad to have a little talkwith me before anything unfortunate happened. A half-hour later theentente-cordiale was signed. I gave him to understand that I was cominghere simply on business as a reporter and that there was always time tocheck me if I should be indiscreet. At the German frontier he left me togo on, and returned tranquilly to his nitro-glycerine."

  "You are a marked man also, my poor boy."

  "Oh, they have not got us yet."

  Matrena Petrovna coughed. That _us_ overwhelmed her. With what calmnessthis boy that she had not known an hour proposed to share the dangersof a situation that excited general pity but from which the bravest keptaloof either from prudence or dismay.

  "Ah, my friend, a little of this fine smoked Hamburg beef?"

  But the young man was already pouring out fresh yellow beer.

  "There," said he. "Now, madame, I am listening. Tell me first about theearliest attack."

  "Now," said Matrena, "we must go to dinner."

  Rouletabille looked at her wide-eyed.

  "But, madame, what have I just been doing?"

  Madame Matrena smiled. All these strangers were alike. Because theyhad eaten some hors-d'oeuvres, some zakouskis, they imagined their hostwould be satisfied. They did not know how to eat.

  "We will go to the dining-room. The general is expecting you. They areat table."

  "I understand I am supposed to know him."

  "Yes, you have met in Paris. It is entirely natural that in passingthrough St. Petersburg you should make him a visit. You know himvery well indeed, so well that he opens his home to you. Ah, yes, mystep-daughter also"--she flushed a little--"Natacha believes that herfather knows you."

  She opened the door of the drawing-room, which they had to cross inorder to reach the dining-room.

  From his present position Rouletabille could see all the corners ofthe drawing-room, the veranda, the garden and the entrance lodge at thegate. In the veranda the man in the maroon frock-coat trimmed with falseastrakhan seemed still to be asleep on the sofa; in one of the cornersof the drawing-room another individual, silent and motionless as astatue, dressed exactly the same, in a maroon frock-coat with falseastrakhan, stood with his hands behind his back seemingly struck withgeneral paralysis at the sight of a flaring sunset which illumined aswith a torch the golden spires of Saints Peter and Paul. And in thegarden and before the lodge three others dressed in maroon rovedlike souls in pain over the lawn or back and forth at the entrance.Rouletabille motioned to Madame Matrena, stepped back into thesitting-room and closed the door.

  "Police?" he asked.

  Matrena Petrovna nodded her head and put her finger to her mouth in anaive way, as one would caution a child to silence. Rouletabille smiled.

  "How many are there?"

  "Ten, relieved every six hours."

  "That makes forty unknown men around your house each day."

  "Not unknown," she replied. "Police."

  "Yet, in spite of them, you have had the affair of the bouquet in thegeneral's chamber."

  "No, there were only three then. It is since the affair of the bouquetthat there have been ten."

  "It hardly matters. It is since these ten that you have had..."

  "What?" she demanded anxiously.

  "You know well--the flooring."


  She glanced at the door, watching the policeman statuesque before thesetting sun.

  "No one knows that--not even my husband."

  "So M. Koupriane told me. Then it is you who have arranged for these tenpolice-agents?"


  "Well, we will commence now by sending all these police away."

  Matrena Petrovna grasped his hand, astounded.

  "Surely you don't think of doing such a thing as that!"

  "Yes. We must know where the blow is coming from. You have fourdifferent groups of people around here--the police, the domestics, yourfriends, your family. Get rid of the police first. They must not bepermitted to cross your threshold. They have not been able to protectyou. You have nothing to regret. And if, after they are gone, somethingnew turns up, we can leave M. Koupriane to conduct the inquiries withouthis being preoccupied here at the house."

  "But you do not know the admirable police of Koupriane. These brave menhave given proof of their devotion."

  "Madame, if I were face to face with a Nihilist the first thing I wouldask myself about him would be, 'Is he one of the police?' The firstthing I ask in the presence of an agent of your police is, 'Is he not aNihilist?'"

  "But they will not wish to go."

  "Do any of them speak French?"

  "Yes, their sergeant, who is out there in the salon."

  "Pray call him."

  Madame Trebassof walked into the salon and signaled. The man appeared.Rouletabille handed him a paper, which the other read.

  "You will gather your men together and quit the villa," orderedRouletabille. "You will return to the police Headguarters. Say to M.Koupriane that I have commanded this and that I require all policeservice around the villa to be suspended until further orders."

  The man bowed, appeared not to understand, looked at Madame Trebassofand said to the young man:

  "At your service."

  He went out.

  "Wait here a moment," urged Madame Trebassof, who did not know how totake this abrupt action and whose anxiety was really painful to see.

  She disappeared after the man of the false astrakhan. A few momentsafterwards she returned. She appeared even more agitated.

  "I beg your pardon," she murmured, "but I cannot let them go like this.They are much chagrined. They have insisted on knowing where they havefailed in their service. I have appeased them with money."

  "Yes, and tell me the whole truth, madame. You have directed them not togo far away, but to remain near the villa so as to watch it as closelyas possible."

  She reddened.

  "It is true. But they have gone, nevertheless. They had to obey you.What can that paper be you have shown them?"

  Rouletabille drew out again the billet covered with seals and signs andcabalistics that he did not understand. Madame Trebassof translated italoud: "Order to all officials in surveillance of the Villa Trebassof toobey the bearer absolutely. Signed: Koupriane."

  "Is it possible!" murmured Matrena Petrovna. "But Koupriane would neverhave given you this paper if he had imagined that you would use it todismiss his agents."

  "Evidently. I have not asked him his advice, madame, you may be sure.But I will see him to-morrow and he will understand."

  "Meanwhile, who is going to watch over him?" cried she.

  Rouletabille took her hands again. He saw her suffering, a prey toanguish almost prostrating. He pitied her. He wished to give herimmediate confidence.

  "We will," he said.

  She saw his young, clear eyes, so deep, so intelligent, the well-formedyoung head, the willing face, all his young ardency for her, and itreassured her. Rouletabille waited for what she might say. She saidnothing. She took him in her arms and embraced him.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up